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Monday, 26 September 2016

British secret files on Nigeria’s first bloody coup, path to Biafra

British secret files on Nigeria’s first bloody coup, path to Biafra

Gen. Ironsi (middle) with the four military governor: Katsina, Fajuiyi, Ojukwu & Ejoor

Continued from last week
Down in Lagos, at 11 Thompson Avenue Ikoyi, home of Brigadier Zakariya Maimalari, the commander of the 2nd Brigade, there was an elaborate gathering of all the senior officers and some junior officers for a cocktail party. It started at seven in the evening. The compound was a green sprawl patterned with stout palm trees and garden benches. Ramadan was ongoing but Maimalari did not concern himself with such rituals. Instead, military stewards in white gloves moved gracefully around with trays on which were delicately perched wine bottles with bow ribbons tied to their necks. All senior officers including their ADCs were in mufti except the Joe Nez-led regimental orchestra who amongst other songs played popular hits from the British comic play, Pinafore. Zak Maimalari was under his jacaranda tree with the GOC, Major General ‘John’ Aguiyi-Ironsi, Lt Col Yakubu ‘Jack’ Gowon and Patrick Keatley, a British journalist for the London Guardian. (Note: all Nigerian officers had English nicknames so that their erstwhile colonial officers could easily remember them) As the guests swayed to the orchestra, Jack Gowon said, “There was song of revelry by night.” It was the famous opening line of Lord Byron’s poem The Eve of Waterloo in which Byron narrates how the night before their defeat at Waterloo, French soldiers kept on drinking and dancing and womanising at a party thereby ignoring the advancement of death and destruction from the animated enemy forces. In his later account of that night, Keatley said he replied Jack Gowon:
“But surely we need not conclude that Nigeria is facing her Waterloo?”
Jack replied deferring to his superior, the guest of honour for the night: “The politicians may not know it but John sees danger but you can take it from me John will never allow this country to be torn apart. The Federal Army is his pride and joy and its final barrier that will save us from tribal warfare.” It was a tactical cleverness on the part of Major Ifeajuna, Maimalari’s Chief of Staff who organised the party to make “General John” the special guest of honour. That made it impossible for the pre-selected senior officers in Lagos to find an excuse not to attend and miss their appointment with death.
Tiv drummers and dancers from 2nd battalion in Ikeja who had performed at the send-off party for outgoing commander of the battalion Lt Col Hillary Njoku on 12th January filled up the serene Ikoyi air with a native flavour after the regimental orchestra paused for drinks. Maimalari used the occasion to show-off his new wife from Kano. His previous wife, Doinmansey Mariamu was killed on Major Fajuyi’s balcony. They were officially married on 4th January 1961 and they had two children: Abubakar, born December 1961; Amina, 1962. Fajuyi was returning from a hunting expedition when he noticed Mrs Maimalari and Mrs Fajuyi sitting at the balcony. He greeted them cordially, went into the sitting room and propped his Beretta 12 gauge shotgun against the wall. He had forgotten he still kept the shotgun loaded and primed when he left for the bedroom. Then came his little son who began to play with it. The powerful explosion razed down the sitting room window and ended the previous Mrs Maimalari outside.
On December 1965, Maimalari took another wife in Kano. The reception was held with great pomp and pageantry at 5th battalion officer’s mess with the guard of honour raising swords to form a colonnade for the newly wed to pass under. The wife was 15 years old, the brigadier, 34 years old. And so he used the cocktail as an opportunity to introduce the young girl to the South. The Queen’s cousin, Prince William of Gloucester and two other British diplomats were there at the party. There also was Colonel Tom Hunt, the former GSO1 at the Army HQ who had turned into the British High Commission’s military adviser. Colonel Berger of the US Defence Intelligence Agency was also there under an embassy defence attaché cover. While he was primarily an overt collector of open source information, he also engaged in covert collection operations. The CIA station chief’s house was nearby too. Yet no one suspected that in a few hours’ time, some junior officers who were drinking and joking with their senior officers would soon end the lives of one colonel, three lieutenant colonels and turn Maimalari’s new bride into a teenage widow. It was the eve of Waterloo and the drinks and dance continued.
Around ten o’clock, the junior officers left the party only after all the senior officers had left as it was customary. To avoid suspicion, they left one by one to dress up in full combat dress. Ifeajuna was the last to leave being the busiest person that night. He coordinated the bar, the dancers, drummers, the food and drinks servers, the orchestra, the cleaners. Once he ensured everyone was done and left, he went to salute his boss who thanked him for a job well done.
At 1 o’clock, Ifeajuna having changed into combat dress, stood up to address the 13 officers including four Majors that had been converging in his sitting room in Apapa since 11 o’clock. Major Mobolaji Johnson, a staff officer at the Army HQ and neighbour to Ifeajuna saw nothing unusual in their convergence at such an hour. Unlike Nzeogwu who at the same time was giving his pre-battle rousing speech to his fellow soldiers up North to pump up their morale, Ifeajuna did not have his finger to the trigger. Operation Damisa was organised in the North to draw and nightly train unsuspecting NCOs (Non Commissioned Officers) from various military installations under the 1st Brigade for their Revolution while their officers lied to them that it was part of a course designed to teach new nocturnal attack procedures. When in December Ifeajuna asked Maimalari for permission to do the same for the Federal Guards, the Brigadier refused. Not only because Ikoyi was the national capital with international presences, but because there was constant uneasiness that the violence in the Western Region would soon overrun Lagos as well. Conducting nightly manoeuvres even with dummy bullets and flares instead of grenades would only heighten public panic and hence was unacceptable.
However, Ifeajuna had a Plan B. Unlike in the North where the military units did not have call outs for IS (internal security operations), troops and transport from various units in 2nd Brigade down South and were frequently requested by the Police high command for IS operations to reinforce police activities in stamping down riots at a new flash point in the Western Region. This was the South’s Operation Damisa cover that Ifeajuna used to draw the pre-selected but unsuspecting NCOs for the Revolution and he had forged the necessary documents to justify the troops mobilisation. Why was it necessary to lie to the NCOs? Because no matter their feelings about the government, none would willingly take up arms against it.
After Ifeajuna finished addressing the officers and reminding them their assignments and their duty to the nation, he went to the brigade HQ to the waiting head of the NCOs – Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) – James Ogbu who went to turn out the NCOs of Camp, Signal Squadron barracks and Lagos Garrison Organisation for the so-called emergency IS operation. They were issued arms and ammunition and divided into units to be commanded by the 4 majors. Only Major Okafor left without an allocation of troops because he needed special troops for his own assignment. Away at Ikoyi, Lt. Ezedigbo and 2/Lt. Igweze had roused and primed these special troops and they were at the Federal Guards guardroom awaiting further instructions. At exactly 2am, convinced they were the five points of a bright new star for a new Nigeria and not the five fingers of a leprous hand, the five Majors led their various units to enact the Revolution. They never called it a coup nor a mutiny; they convinced themselves it was a Revolution comparable to Fidel Castro’s.
One of the Majors, Chris Anuforo was a General Staff Officer II (training) at the Army Headquarters. Assisted by second lieutenant (2/Lt.) C. Ngwuluka, he led 6 NCOs in private cars to his boss Lt Colonel Kur Mohammed on 1st Park Lane, Apapa. Mohammed had been acting chief of staff at the Army HQ since November 1965 when Adeyinka Adebayo went for a course at Imperial Defence College in London. It was Mohammed that Maimalari always requested to act when he was not in the country. When Major Anuforo’s unit arrived at his front gate on foot having left the cars some distance from the house, they tricked the guards, put them at gunpoint and conducted a room-to-room search for the Colonel. Mohammed recognised Chris being his immediate superior at the HQ but Chris had become a rebel and no longer recognised Mohammed as his superior but an enemy. Anuforo ordered the NCOs to tie his hands with rifle sling.
To be continued

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