The First 1966 Coup: Do You Also Share The View That The Coup Was an Igbo Coup?

The first 1966 coup: Though painful, I’m happy I witnessed the killing of my parents.- Ademulegun-Agbi

Saturday, January 15, 1966 is arguably one of the days to remember in the history of Nigeria. It was the first military coup, and it took place barely six years after Nigeria gained independence from Britain.

Some senior military officers, including the then Chief Instructor at the Nigerian Defence Academy in Kaduna, Major Kaduna Nzeogwu, his co-conspirators, Major Timothy Onwuatuewgu, Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna, Major Adewale Ademoyega and Major Chris Anuforo, among others, made attempts to overthrow the democratic government in place at the time, headed by Nnamdi Azikiwe as the President and Abubakar Balewa as the Prime Minister.

The President was away in the Caribbean on vacation, thus, the Prime Minister and other ministers were inadvertently the target of the coup.

These UK-trained military officers began plotting the coup in August 1965 because, according to them, the leaders at that time were corrupt and living in flamboyance at the expense of the citizens.

The violent coup began as a mere night-time training exercise for junior officers, known as ‘Exercise Damisa’ and it was held close to the premises of Ahmadu Bello, the then Premier of the Northern region, but it turned out to be one of Nigeria’s bloodiest coups, as many government officials and soldiers were killed.

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On that Saturday, the coup plotters had spread themselves across their target areas: Kaduna, Lagos and Ibadan, where they murdered the likes of Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Brig. Samuel Ademulegun, who was then the commander of the 2nd Brigade, Col. Ralph Shodeinde, Chief Samuel Akintola, Festus Okotie-Eboh, Brig. Zakariya Maimalari, and others.

Interestingly, Mrs. Solape Ademulegun-Agbi, the only daughter of Brig. Ademulegun, witnessed the gruesome killing of her father and mother by the mutinous soldiers.

Even though she was just six years and one month old at that time, now at 57, the mother of two, who is now a school proprietress, tells TUNDE AJAJA in this interview what happened that night

January 15, 1966 is a day to remember in your family. What are the memories you still have about that day?

It’s amazing you asked this question, because the memory of that day never went away.

You would imagine that memories of the parties and the fun I have had in the past had all gone away, but memories of that day just didn’t go anywhere.

You were six years old at that time, what do you remember about that day?

We were living in Kaduna and my dad was the General Officer Commanding, 1st Division, Kaduna.

The house was on Kashim Ibrahim Road in Kaduna, and from what I gather, the house is still there. It was a lovely day and there was nothing to suggest that anything was going to happen.

My father travelled, I don’t recall where he went but he had just come back that day. I’m sure if he knew something like that was about to happen, he would have taken some precautions.

He wasn’t aware. So, evening came and we all went to bed. I shared my parents’ bedroom that night because I had chicken pox and I had calamine lotion all over my face.

My younger brother, Goke, was sleeping in a cot in the room while my elder brother, Kole, was in another room. We were all asleep.

In the middle of the night, we heard noises, and as I opened my eyes, soldiers were already in our bedroom upstairs; they were familiar with the house anyway because they always came around.

How they even came in through the guards, I don’t know. Of course, the guards were soldiers too. I recognised a few of them because some of them had come in the afternoon, maybe to survey the house and see how their plan would work in the night.

What did your father do when he saw them?

We were all in bed. My father was putting on white singlet and his underwear. He asked what they were doing in the house, and then, he tried to reach for his drawer, as a trained military officer.

I cannot recall now whether it was Onwuatuegwu or Nzeogwu, but I recall asking the person ‘uncle what are you doing here?’

My mother also wanted to play the heroine, by asking what they were doing in our house – our bedroom. They dealt with her first. They shot her on the chest and she started bleeding.

Then they took my father out. While they took him out, my mum was gasping, trying to talk. She was calling my elder brother, who was in another room, apparently to give her last instruction.

I think Kole came out of his bedroom but the atmosphere was so hostile and there was so much shooting such that he couldn’t even step in to see her or hear what mum was trying to say.

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She also called our housemaid, Gbele, but no one would show up at that time. Two soldiers stayed in the room with us. For a long time, she kept trying to talk but she was losing strength.

While that was on, they brought my father back into the room, dead. He wasn’t shot in bed like some people reported. They took him out, shot him and brought back his corpse.

So, we don’t know what happened when they took him out, but they just laid him there on the floor.

My mum didn’t die very quickly; she was still gasping but her speech had become very weak and slow because blood was gushing out of her body. I know that if she had got help, she probably wouldn’t have died.

When they were done, they left, because she was as good as dead anyway. When they left, my brother led us out of the house to the boy’s quarters where we were for the rest of the night.

Do you also share the view that the coup was an Igbo coup?

Well, it would seem that all the officers they killed were Yoruba and Hausa. So, it was an Igbo coup and those who perpetrated it were Igbo. Yes, it was. But what goes around comes around, because in the counter-coup in July, it was the other way round.

So, the balance was maintained at the end of the day. I guess it was from that time that the idea of taking over came. All these led eventually to the Biafran war. It would seem that they wanted power but they didn’t seem to get it.

Then, there was a counter-coup and they still didn’t seem to get it. They wanted to be out of Nigeria so they could rule themselves, but it still didn’t work. It was just an unnecessary waste of lives. It was a bad waste of lives.

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We could have all worked together for a bigger, better Nigeria, using the intelligence and the know-how of the senior officers. They could have been retired, rather than shed their blood. He was my hero and he still is.

Source: Read full story from PUNCH

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