Given the fact that we are still commemorating the fifty year anniversary of the January 15th 1966 coup I have decided to write a follow-up essay to last week’s column. It is interesting to note the fact that virtually every single one of those that actually carried out the killings and pulled the triggers during the course of that horrendous night of slaughter met a terrible end themselves.
This is a fulfillment of the scripture that says ‘’he who lives by the sword shall die by the sword’’ and we must all learn from it. Shedding innocent blood is an expensive business and drawing the first blood in any conflict always comes with a very heavy price. In secular circles this is known as the ‘’law of karma’’ but in spiritual ones it is called ‘’the law of reaping and sowing’’.
Nothing reflects this principle better than what happened to those that actually murdered others (as opposed to those that simply participated) during the course of Nigeria’s first military coup on the night of January 15th 1966. The facts are as follows.
Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna, who was the leader of the coup, went to the home of Brigadier Zakariya Maimalari (who was the Commanding Officer of the Second Brigade) and personally shot him. This was despite the fact that he was one of his most trusted officers and confidantes and despite the fact that earlier that evening he had attended a cocktail party in his house. After killing Maimalari, Ifeajuna went to Ikoyi Hotel, where Lt. Col. Abogo Largema, who was the Commander of the Fourth Battalion in Ibadan, was staying and he personally shot and killed him too.
After that both he and Major Donatus Okafor, another of the mutineers, abducted Sir Tafawa Balewa, the Prime Minister, from his home and took him to the Officers Mess at Dodan Barracks. Once it was clear to them that the coup was unraveling they fled from Dodan Barracks, drove to the Lagos Abeokuta road, shot the Prime Minister and then dumped his body in a bush. The Special Branch reports show that both Ifeajuna and Major Okafor shot Tafawa Balewa at point blank range in the head and body.
Yet their end was no better. Ifeajuna, after fleeing to Ghana after the failure of the coup, returned back to Nigeria the following year to fight for Biafra during the civil war. He was later accused of plotting a coup to remove Colonel Emeka Ojukwu as Head of State of Biafra and he was executed on Ojukwu’s orders after being court martialled. Major Okafor’s end was even worse. He was locked up in Abeokuta prison after the coup failed because he was unable to escape. Six months later, on July 29th 1966 during the northern revenge coup, he was dragged out of his cell and buried alive by northern soldiers.
Major Anufuro, who in my view was the most bloodthirsty and brutal of all the mutineers, personally shot and killed four people in Lagos on the night of January 15th 1966. He went to the homes of Colonel Kur Mohammed, the Chief of Army Staff, and Lt. Col. Arthur Unegbe, the Army Quarter-Master General, both of whom lived in Apapa GRA and shot them both to death in front of their families. After that he went to Dodan Barracks where some of the other mutineers, led by Major Humphrey Chukwuka, had forcefully taken Lt. Col. James Pam, the Adjutant General of the Nigerian Army, and Chief Festus Okotie- Eboh, the Minister of Finance.
As the coup started unraveling Anufuro fled Dodan Barracks and took Lt. Col. Pam and Chief Okotie Eboh with him. As he drove further into Ikoyi he stopped the convoy of vehicles, parked his car and told Pam and Okotie-Eboh to step down. As they did so he shot them both at close range, put their bodies in the same Bedford truck that the bodies of Col. Kur Mohammed and Lt. Col. Arthur Unegbe had earlier been dumped and drove to the meeting point at the Lagos Abeokuta Road. On arrival at the meeting point Anufuro and his men proceeded to remove the four bodies from the Bedford truck and as they did so they discovered that Okotie-Eboh was still alive though badly wounded. Anufuro asked the Minister to walk into the bush and as he did so he shot him in the back of the head. After that the four bodies were dumped into a shallow grave and the mutineers fled.
Major Anuforo’s end was as bad as the end of those he murdered, if not worse. After the failure of the coup he was captured and locked up in Benin prison. One year later after the civil war began, Federal troops discovered that he was locked up in Benin. They promptly stormed the prison, found him in his cell, dragged him out and beheaded him. Given the fact that Anufuro had been so heartless on the night of January 15th I am not surprised by the brutality of the Federal troops.
Major Timothy Onwuatuegwu was one of those that led the Kaduna operation of the mutiny. He went to the home of Colonel Ralph Shodeinde, the Deputy Commandant of the Nigerian Military Training College, and he personally shot him to death. He also wounded his wife. After that he went to the home of Brigadier Samuel Ademulegun, the Commandant of the First Brigade, burst into his bedroom and personally shot him and his eight month pregnant wife to death with a machine gun.
Onwuatuegwu’s end was no better than that of those that he murdered on the night of January 15th 1966. He was captured and locked up after the failure of the coup. During the civil war, which started one year later, he fought on the Biafran side. A few days after the end of the war he was lured into a hotel room in the east by a group of men and women for a meeting where he was murdered in the most gruesome manner.
I will not give details of how he was killed here because they are far too gruesome for publication. Little did Onwuatuegwu know that the men and women that had invited him into the hotel room were working for the Nigerian secret service and that they were in the company of Federal troops. What an irony it is that he had killed others in the presence of their wives whilst he himself was killed in the presence of strange women.
Major Kaduna Nzeogwu, the leader of the mutiny in the northern part of the country, stormed the home of Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Saurdana of Sokoto and the Premier of the North, in Kaduna on the night of the coup. He personally shot the Saurdana, his wife (whose name was Habsetu) and his traditional bodyguard (whose name was Zarumi) and who had fought back with a sword. After the coup failed Nzeogwu was captured and locked up. He fought on the side of Biafra during the civil war but he was badly wounded and eventually killed in the Nsukka sector whilst he was on a reconnaissance night mission by Federal troops.
Captain Emmanuel Nwobosi led the Ibadan axis of the mutiny that took place on the night of January 15th 1966. He led his soldiers to our house and he took my father, Chief Remilekun Fani-Kayode, the Balogun of Ife and the Deputy Premier of the West, away. I witnessed the whole affair and the abduction and, as I wrote in this column last week, it was frightful and horrific. After leaving our house Nwobosi led his soldiers to the home of my uncle, Chief S.L. Akintola, the Aare Kakanfo of the Yoruba and the Premier of the West. When they got there Chief Akintola resisted arrest and there was a one hour long gun battle. After his ammunition ran out Akintola stepped out of his house and he was shot by virtually every single one of the soldiers as he did so. This was because two of them had been badly wounded by Akintola and his policemen during the course of the gunfight. The first was a soldier by the name of James, who had his fingers blown off, and the second was a soldier whose name was not recorded but who screamed very loudly after his ear was blown off.
Interestingly of all the officers that personally shot anyone that night it is only Nwobosi that remains alive. He fought for Biafra during the civil war and after the war he was given a very key position in the Guyanese army. After serving for a number of years there he left Guyana and went to live in Canada for many years. He has since returned to Nigeria and he now lives in Onitsha. His end has not yet come but I have little doubt that he is still haunted by the innocent blood that he shed that night even if he finds it difficult to admit it. I wholeheartedly condemn his actions that night and I still mourn my dear uncle S.L. Akintola and all the other innocent souls that were killed that night yet I do not judge him or any of the other mutineers. It is God alone that can judge us for our actions and inactions and I harbor no hate, bitterness or malice for those that abducted and murdered our fathers, leaders and heroes on the night of January 15th 1966. I simply leave them to God.
I will say though that I find it instructive that every single one of those that actually pulled the trigger and killed their victims during the course of the operation and that participated in the heartless orgy of violence and slaughter that took place that night, with the exception of Nwobosi, ended in a terrible way. Of the eight majors and one captain (Captain Ogbo Oji) that were the ringleaders of the coup it is interesting to note that only Major Chukwuka and Major Ademoyega never killed anyone during the course of the operation. They participated fully in the mutiny, they terrorized and abducted people from their homes but history records that they didn’t actually kill anyone or pull the trigger themselves at any time. The two fought on the Biafran side during the civil war, under Lt. Col. Victor Banjo, and they not only survived the war but they also lived for many years thereafter.
Ademoyega died in 2005 whilst Chukwuka is still alive and lives in the east. I have little doubt that they would both have shared the same miserable fate of their co-conspirators and fellow mutineers and they would both been also cut short if they had personally shed innocent blood on the night of January 15th 1966 as well. The Lord is merciful to those that show mercy: He visits His judgement upon those that delight in spilling blood and in taking the life of their prey.
Femi-Fani Kayode is a lawyer, a Nigerian politician, an evangelical christian, an essayist, a poet and he was the Special Assistant (Public Affairs) to President Olusegun Obasanjo from July 2003 until June 2006. He was the minister of culture and tourism of the Federal Republic of Nigeria from June 22nd to Nov 7th 2006 and as the minister of Aviation from Nov 7th 2006 to May 29th 2007. He tweets from @realFFK.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.