1966 COUP: I WAS IMPRISONED FOR FAILING TO IMPLICATE OBASANJO
by Alex Abutu
StaffSgt. Daniel Egwu (rtd)was recruited into the Nigerian Army in 1958 and trained as a driver. When the 1966 coup occured he was at the centre of the whole episode. He drove Major Chukwuma Nzegowu throughout the night of the coup, and in the days that followed. In this interview with Daily Trust he opens up on these issues, saying he was sent to prison without sentence, for not implicating former President Olusegun Obasanjo in the coup.
When did you join the army? I joined the Nigerian Army in 1958 and was sent to Abeokuta to train as a driver.After our training and certification, I was posted to Enugu where I served for 2 years before I was then posted to Kaduna state. After about four months in Kaduna we were deployed to the war zone in Congo, with the fifth battalion of the Nigerian Army, and included in this battalion were the likes of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu, and Aguiyi Ironsi. Ironsi was the head of the Nigerian troops in Congo. I spent 6 months in Congo driving Major Chukwuma and then Captain Obasanjo, before our return to Kanta road in Kaduna. So what happened on your return to Kaduna? On return from Congo, we went back to normal army duties and I was assigned to drive Nzeogwu, Obasanjo and other officers’ dropping and picking them from their offices. This is what I was doing till the first coup happened. What happened during the coup? I was the one who drove Major Chukwuma all through the night of the coup. Wherever he went I drove him. What happened that night? A lot happened that night. But I am not in a position to say anything. As I told you before my duty was to drive my master, Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu, to wherever he asked me to. Were you aware that anything was wrong that night? Initially, I had no idea what was happening, but as the day progressed, and given the kind of places and activities taking place at the locations where we went, I knew something was wrong. But specifically what, I didn’t know. Did Chukwuma tell you what he was doing or what was going on? No. I was just a pool driver serving him and others. He never discussed his official duties with me, even though I was very close to him, as he has a listening ear and was very supportive. He never told me what was happening. So why were you sent to prison? The morning after the coup, Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu had a brief meeting with Obasanjo at a roundabout in Kaduna. I was the one who drove him there, but had no idea what they discussed. But the tribunal that handled the trials after the coup, wanted to know what both officers discussed. From the way I was questioned, their plan from all indications was to rope in Obasanjo as one of the coup plotters. I told them the truth that to the best of my knowledge Obasanjo was not part of the coup, nor do I know any other officers, and that I was not privy to what both officers discussed. After attempts to force me to say things I know nothing about, which were targeted at implicating Obasanjo, I was then sent to jail without a form of sentence.
Where was Obasanjo at this time, and was he aware of what you went through? I had no idea. I don’t know if he was aware. I only met him after so many years. He came to Owerri in 1979 as the Head of State on a state visit, preparatory to his handing over to the elected civilian administration of Alhaji Shehu Shagari. Then we mounted a guard of honour in his respect. It was there he saw me, and asked me if I was still in the army. How did you get out of prison? I was in the prison till the civil war started, and because there were only three of us trained in the use of the 106, a special purpose armoured car, some Generals came to the prison where I was remanded, to find out if I was still there. The Prison guards told them I was not there. But I overheard the discussion and shouted that I am here and the Generals ordered my release. I was released and given a complete set of uniforms, and moved immediately to Adikpo, to participate in the training for the civil war.