The Nigerian January 15, 1966 Coup and Biafra: Truth & Fallacy


In March 2014, a three-day International Colloquium on the Igbo Question in Nigeria: Before, during, and after Biafra, was organized by a body of Igbo Intellectuals, Elders, Clergy, Patriotic Business men, Public Figures, Women and Youth. The event was conceived in the light of the persistent deliberately organized physical, economic, political, diplomatic and psychological attritions against Ndigbo that have continued since the end of the Biafra war. No, it began even before then; from the colonial period, because Ndigbo (their men and women) incurred the wrath of the British colonial authorities for their stout anti-colonial disposition. Consequently, the British colonialists viewed the Igbo penchant for freedom, cosmopolitan, liberal, entrepreneurial and democratic character negatively, despite the fact that these are attributes Igbos share in common with the British. This contempt and ill disposition of the British colonialists towards the Igbos was exacerbated by the fact that prominent Igbo politicians of the era: Mbonu Ojike, Mokwugo Okoye and Rt. Hon. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, etc were agitating for de-colonization of the entire African continent, not just Nigeria; while at home, Igbo women were the first to organize a successful revolt against colonial unfair taxation. The British, therefore, took every step to encourage alienation of Igbos in Nigeria and made sure they were kept in check. For example, just before independence, the British significantly reduced the territory and population of Eastern Nigeria by returning Western Cameroons to the French; and at the same time increased the population and territorial spread of Northern Nigeria by making France cede Adamawa province to British Northern Nigeria.

Three Nigerian State propaganda, aided by the British government official experts. have weaved two major fallacies to justify their innate hatred and contempt of the Igbo and the consequent recrudesces of mass slaughter of Igbos in Nigeria. They are:-

  1. That the January 15, 1966 coup was an Igbo coup, by which Ndigbo intended to dominate the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
  2. That the incursion of the Biafran forces into the Mid-West in August 1967 was part of Igbo ambition to seize other territories in Nigeria.

Since January 15, 1966 several coups have taken place in Nigeria and none has been baptized with the name of the plotters’ ethnic group:

The 1975 coup led by Murtala Mohammed that overthrew Gowon was not tagged a Fulani Coup, Hausa Coup or Middle belt Coup. The Dimka Coup against Murtala Mohammed was not labeled a Wukari/ Jukun Coup. Gen. Buhari’s coup against Shagari was not baptized as a Fulani coup. Babangida’s coup against Buhari was not called a Gwari Coup. Abacha’s coup against Shonekan was not christened a Kanuri coup. They are all about some elements in the Nigerian Army getting together across ethnic lines and planning what they want to do. Only the so-called “Nzeogwu coup” has been branded an Ethnic coup only because a man called Nzeogwu, an Igbo name, announced it.

ADF began this plead for CONFESSION OF TRUTH of the1966 coups and the civil war of 1966-70 by calling on Gen Gowon, through a public letter advertorial, requesting him to tell the world the TRUTH, as he knows it. He was the man who was entrusted with the classified and suppressed SACRED TRUTHS of that very difficult and turbulent period of our History. He was General Ironsi’s closest and most trusted lieutenant. General Gowon did not only replace Gen Ironsi as Head of state, he conducted a military inquiry into the January 15th, 1966 Coup and prosecuted Biafra War for which Ndigbo have suffered and continue to suffer physical, political, economic and psychological attritions; constantly butchered and alienated, no matter their goodwill, since the end of the Biafra war.

Beyond the evidence that now abound in some published and non-published sources on the events of 1966, none could be seen as authentic as that truthfully volunteered by General Yakubu Gowon, being the man who headed the tribunal set up by General J.T. U. Aguiyi Ironsi, as his Chief of Staff, which conducted investigations of the coups of 1966. Where is the report of those investigations? Why have they not been released and publicized? Ndigbo insists that they be now released. After more than 50 years, they ought to be declassified. While we continue to plead for Gen Gowon to tell the TRUTH, ADF has set up a Committee and mandated it, in the spirit of scientific inquiry, to conduct research and present to the world an Authentic Account of those events with or without General Gowon’s response. We do this because ADF is aware that those who benefit from the “concoction of an Igbo coup” will advise and even threaten General Gowon not to open up.

What ADF presents to the world in this seminal publication: January 15, 1966 Coup and Biafra: Myth and Realities, is the Authentic Account of those events of the January 1966 Coup and the incursion of the Biafran military into the Midwest, on their way to Lagos and the Western Region, as a Liberation Army under the command of Col Victor Banjo, himself a Yoruba man .

In summary,

  1. The January 1966 coup was not an Igbo Coup, and Nzeogwu was not the leader of the coup.

The January 15th 1966 coup was not just an action to correct some political problems bedeviling the Federal Republic of Nigeria at the time, but also a strategic and pre-emptive strike to counter and frustrate another bloody coup plot that had been in the making and scheduled for January 17th, 1966. That other coup was being master-minded by the NNA (Nigerian National Alliance) axis and was to be effected as a jihadist push engineered by Alhaji Ahmadu Bello and his allies in both political and military circles.

Among numerous other sources, this was confirmed by late M.T. Mbu, the Minister of State for Defense at the time, a non-Igbo, in his recent book, Dignity in Service. Mr. Mbu stated that when he visited Kaduna on January 5, 1966, soldiers under Brigadier Ademulegun were openly discussing an upcoming coup to overthrow the Prime Minister Balewa’s (a moderate) Federal government. He said that when

he confronted Ademulegun with what his soldiers were discussing, Brigadier Ademulegun assured him (Mbu) that he is not one of the targets. Mr. Mbu explained that when he returned to Lagos and intimated his observation to Prime Minister, Tafawa Balewa, he told him (Mbu) “Matthew, you worry too much…” (See Dignity in Service by M.T. Mbu, 2018, Berkhout Publishers).

According to the real mastermind of the January 1966 coup, Captain Adewale Ademoyega, in corroboration of Mr. Mbu’s statement, stating thus: “The Federal Government was to use loyal troops for this purpose and the 4th Battalion in Ibadan commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Lagerma and the 2nd Battalion in Ikeja temporarily commanded by Major Igboba, but soon to be taken over by Lieutenant- Colonel Gowon, were designated for this assignment.”[1]

Ademoyega [2] had carried out the investigations with his friend and co-plotter, Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna, and their discovery was that the Jihad operation was fixed for the third week of January 1966, when Ahmadu Bello would have returned from his pilgrimage, and Gowon’s takeover of the Ikeja Battalion would have been completed. The Federal Government had, as a build-up to this act, carried out a reshuffling of the high echelons of the Army and the Police. Major-General Ironsi, the Army Commander, was ordered to proceed on leave from mid-January. Brigadier Maimalari was standing by as his replacement, in the stead of Brigadier Ademulegun; while the 2nd Brigade Headquarter at Apapa was to be temporarily commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Njoku. In the Police Force, the shuffling had Inspector-General Edet sent on leave from December 20, 1965, whereas the officer closest to him was retired and the third officer, Alhaji Kam Salem, was brought in as the new Inspector-General. From all indications, the ball was set rolling for a thorough wallop-ing of the anti-Akintola intellectuals and UPGA politicians and “rioters” of the West. The January 15, 1966 coup was, therefore, necessarily staged as a counter-measure to this planned January 17 1966 coup.

Captain Ben Gbulie[3], one of plotters of January 1966 coup, confirmed that indeed a coup operation code-named “Jihad” under the scheming of NNA politicians consisting of the Ahmadu Bello-led North- ern Peoples’ Congress (NPC) with their allies in the Akintola-led Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP), and with the military backing of topmost military stalwarts. Among the later were Brigadier Maimalari, Brigadier Ademulegun and Col. Shodeinde, who were being prepared in the quest to spread Islamic domination across the country, after the fashion of Uthman Dan Fodio. As narrated by Gbulie, he was informed by Major Nzeogwu, a one-time military intelligence chief, that the operation was directed against the leading UPGA, United Progressive Grand Alliance (of Awolowo-Okpara) politicians and their Christian followers in the Southern parts of the country.

Let it be said loud and clear that that coup, namely January 15, 1966 coup, was not an Igbo coup. It was a coup led by certain progressive Yoruba and Igbo Officers, involving the active participation of soldiers and officers from the North and other ethnic minorities in Nigeria.

The aim, as has been stated again and again by the leaders of the coup, was to release Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who was in detention at the time and install him as the Prime Minister of Nigeria. The only excuse the British and their Fulani allies had for tagging it “an Igbo coup” was that it was Major Nzeogwu who announced the coup from Kaduna. Captain Adewale Ademoyega explained that the coup was

to be announced from NBC (Nigeria Broadcasting Corporation) Lagos, the seat of the Government, if it had not been foiled by Gen Ironsi. He made it clear that upon troops loyal to Gen. Ironsi taking over Army Signals at Apapa and the telephone exchanges in Lagos, Kaduna was completely isolated; and Nzeogwu, having carried out his “assignment” successfully in Kaduna, made the broadcast out of frustration. Besides, it is a historical fact in Nigeria that a coup leader is NOT the one that announces the coup. Brigadier Abacha announced Gen Buhari’s coup; Lt. Col Ukpo announced Babangida’s coup; Gideon Orka announced Col Nyiam’s coup. The only exception, where the announcer was labeled the coup leader, was the case of Major Nzeogwu; by virtue of which it became a coup planned by Igbos, the ethnic group of the announcer! Gen Olusegun Obasanjo, in his book, My Command, made it clear that Major Nzeogwu was not capable of, and would never have participated in, a coup with an ethnic or sectional bias.

January 15, 1966 Coup and Biafra Myth and Realities exposes in graphic details the truth about that coup and the list of the participants and victims. By default, it was the last minute refusalto participate in the coupby an Igbo officer, Major Obienu, who failed to bring up the armored cars to back up the seizure of Lagos as planned, that made it possible for Gen Ironsi to successfully round up the culprits. Gowon knows this truth. T.Y Danjuma, whose gang (ironically) murdered Obienu on July 29th 1966, also knows this for a fact. It is curious that the alleged Igbo coup plot was unknown to the highest ranking Igbo officer in the North at the time, Lt. Col. Odumegwu –Ojukwu who mustered his troops in Kano to march down to Kaduna to crush Nzeogwu and those loyal to him. Gen Obasanjo, in his book narrated his ordeal in the hands of Ojukwu who suspected that he (Obasanjo, being Nzeogwu’s best friend), must have been one of the plotters. Ojukwu promptly put him under arrest until a signal came from Army Headquarters in Lagos for Ojukwu to release him. Thus, we have an alleged “Igbo Coup” where, the most senior military officer, in the whole country, an Igbo, foiled the coup in the South and Lagos; while the most senior Igbo military officer in the North, Lt. Col. Odumegwu Ojukwu, frustrated it in the North by denying Major Nzeogwu fighting troops he needed to challenge Lagos. Both T.Y Danjuma and Gen Gowon know these facts.

Nzeogwu and his colleagues had nothing but patriotic aims in staging that coup, first to abort and preempt the sustenance of the anachronistic regime of the time that had planned to sustain itself via a coup on 17th January 1966; secondly, to replace it (the anachronistic regime) by a more progressive one to be led by a man many of them had confidence in, namely Chief Obafemi Awolwo; thirdly, to support him (Chief Awolowo) to govern together with patriotic citizens to turn Nigeria into a more progressive united course. Both Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, Col Victor Banjo and Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna carried this dream to their last days. It is noteworthy that Col Victor Banjo and Major Emanuel Ifeajuna were executed by Col Ojukwu, the Biafran Leader, for their abiding faith in that Nigeria of their dream, instead of giving full support for Biafra.

Title of Book:  January 15, 1966 Coup and Biafra: Myth and Realities.


Authors: Dr Luke Aneke and Prof. Uzodinma Nwala


Book Reviewer: Abia Onyike

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