50 Years Ago


January 12 used to be a public holiday in Nigeria. I don’t remember when it ceased to be so, but the gang that stopped the holiday probably wanted to erase the ugliest chapter in Nigeria’s history so far from the younger generation’s memory.

Has “Army Day” or “Remembrance Day” truly been lost in Nigerians’ consciousness? When I was young, it used to be a special day for me. Before 1966, I learnt, it was celebrated on November 11 – in commemoration of the end of World War I.

In Nigeria, Army Day marks the day the civil war ended. On the day we remember our fallen heroes – the over 2 million Nigerians (including my father) who died in the war. Members of the Nigerian Legion (former soldiers), dressed in their uniform, join serving soldiers in organising parades, and various leaders pay respects to the fallen heroes by laying wreaths at the foot of a statue of “the unknown soldier”.

The event ought to be celebrated in a special way this week because it also marks the 50th anniversary of the first military coup ever executed on the Nigerian soil. Staged by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu and four other army majors on January 15, 1966, the coup triggered a chain of other events that resulted in a fratricidal war. Several books have been written on the events of 1966—70, though some contain lies; some are close to the truth, while some are mere fabrications. I say so because I’m trained to find out the truth. As a journalist with 30 years of experience, I’ve had the privilege of conversing with many of the major actors when they were still alive. (Some are still alive.) Besides, I too am involved – only a fool would fail to launch an inquiry into what killed his father.

Fifty years after the first coup, the truth must have dawned on everyone now. Those who still attempt to hide the truth do so in vain. And the truth as I know it is this: Nzeogwu and co set out to change a bad system. However, with the benefit of what we know now (such as Armsgate or Halliburton or Siemens or Gulf War oil windfall), the First Republic politicians were Nigeria’s finest saints. The coup plotters did not pursue an ethnic cause in any way. Their mistake was that they murdered some of the nation’s leaders.

General JTU Aguiyi-Ironsi, who foiled the coup, sought to unite Nigerians but he was misunderstood and betrayed. He was accused of introducing the unitary system of government, yet the Federal Republic of Nigeria has operated the unitary system to this day. Xenophobia combined with jealousy to produce the pogroms. And the civil war happened probably because Yakubu Gowon, 32 then, and Emeka Ojukwu, 33 then, were youngsters who couldn’t resist bad advice especially from ethnic jingoists and vendetta seekers.

Indeed, the bravest soldier is the one who saved his life: While Nigeria’s best and brightest perished in the war against Biafra, timid soldiers who hid under their mistresses’ beds at the time became the bravest who “fought” to keep Nigeria one. Some who never got to the war front but shot at innocent men, women and children in villages later became “statesmen” who wrote books to highlight their exploits!

Anyway, this is neither the time for fault-finding nor the time to reopen old wounds. Suffice it to say, however, that the events of 1966–70 were a time-bomb set by British colonialists. The colonisers were aware of the great potential Nigeria had, and they feared the emergence of a black power. The trick then was to set one section against the other. The black things would never have time to think well or overcome their stupidity!

The white man, on the other hand, thinks a century ahead. Thus, he has ensured that a nation like Nigeria never achieves true independence, that is, economic independence. How did the British do it? Before his death in 2010, one of the colonialists, Harold Smith, confessed that they rigged the census results as well as the 1959 general election. Acting on the directive of Her Majesty’s Government, he admitted, the departing colonialists cleverly denied a man like Nnamdi Azikiwe political power. Zik was tricked to accept the position of president in a parliamentary system, Smith said.

The Igbo say that he who does not know where the rain started beating him will not know where it stopped. That has been our lot in Nigeria. History is supposed to be a teacher, but Nigeria keeps repeating history. At huge cost: Is it not strange that, 50 years after the coup and 46 years after the Nigeria-Biafra war, Nigeria is still at war? And the agitation for Biafra has become even more strident? If the first coup was misguided, why did we witness a second coup? And a third, fourth, fifth… there have been at least 10 coups since 1966!

We victims of violence would have been a lot happier if the January 1966 coup and the civil war never happened. Things would have been better for all Nigeria. My guess, however, is that a coup would still have been attempted if Nzeogwu and co had not struck at the time they did. Lest we forget, they did not stage the first coup in Nigeria. Obafemi Awolowo and his group did, but they were arrested before they could execute their plot in 1962. So long as a system is bad, there will always be attempts to remove it.


Better Business for Traders

My sympathies go to traders who lost their shops and wares at Oshodi Market in Lagos a few days ago following the market’s demolition by the Lagos State government. The other day, traders at Ladipo Market were seen lamenting. In each case, the traders were said to have been given enough time to move out. Nigerians always wait until the last minute.

In this space, two years ago (Nov. 17, 2013), I also gave a longer notice to all traders in the country. “The coming of ultra-modern shopping malls like Shoprite and Next to Nigeria is sure to drive many traders into bankruptcy and then joblessness… My advice to all traders across Nigeria is: look for something else to do immediately,” I stated, adding: “…the fortune of Nigerian traders will soon nosedive, if it has not started dwindling already… All those who earn a living by buying and selling goods have been given advance warning or quit notice. Let them now seek opportunities elsewhere.”

Apart from demolished or burnt shops and displacement by shopping malls, Nigerian traders are faced with import restrictions. The destination of all cargo planes, I’m told, is now Kano. And foreign exchange is no longer available to importers.

Let the traders be aware that nobody is going to relax the new economic policy, for no responsible government throws its borders open to foreign goods like toothpicks. Rather than wait for a reversal of the ban placed on 41 items, Nigerian traders should seek other means of livelihood. Agriculture seems the right way to go.


Most Popular

To Top