January 15 1966 coup: Why they called it an Igbo coup — Mbazulike Amechi
Chief Mbazulike Amechi, popularly known as ‘The boy is good’ was a first republic parliamentarian and first post Independence Minister of Aviation. He was a strong member of the defunct Zikist Movement and since the first bloody military coup on January 1966, which sacked the politicians, Amechi has been living in his community, Ukpor in Nnewi South local government area. He spoke on his experience:
By Vincent Ujumadu
ON the coup: On January 15, 1966, themy struck and turned the weapons which we issued to them to defend the country, on the government and the leaders that issued the weapons to them. In the process, they killed the Prime minister of the country; they killed the premier of the West; they killed the premier of the North. They were about to kill the premier of the East but what saved Dr Michael Okpara was that Archbishop Macarious, the president of Cyprus, was his guest that night and probably they wouldn’t want war between Cyprus and Nigeria.
On the other hand they could not kill Chief Dennis Osadebey because there was no Army in Benin at the time of the coup and so Osadebey managed to escape. They also killed Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh, the Federal Minister of Finance. They also killed some members of their own group. For example, Brigadier Maimalari was innocently killed. My close friend, Colonel Arthur Unegbe was also killed. He was in charge of the Armoury and because he was reluctant to release the Armoury to them, they shot and killed him in his house. Since then, Nigeria has never been the same and Nigeria has never attained anything near the dreams of the founding fathers and nationalists and fought for independence of the nation.
Many people had the impression that the coup was tribal in nature in view of the way casualties were recorded.
I don’t know about that but I have told you the reason why Okpara could not be killed. I was going home myself. The first time the military entered the Midwest, I met them at Abudu because my wife had a baby at Charles Borromeo Hospital at Onitsha and that day they were to be discharged from hospital. So after the parliamentary session on 14th January, 1966, I drove from Lagos through Benin. I slept in Benin so that I could get to Onitsha in good time to be able to pick my wife and the baby. They were moving to Benin from Enugu or so. By then I didn’t know that something happened in the night because it was already morning. My car was carrying the NCNC and the Nigeria flag and at Abudu, one Army jeep swerved off the road and ran into our lane. My driver swerved into the field and the jeep came into the field also. An Army captain came out of the jeep and ordered his driver to move on.
I didn’t know a coup had taken place. I just took it that the soldiers could be drunk and could do anything. It was only when I got to Onitsha that my mother in-law told me that the Army had taken over government and killed the prime minister and others. She said the radio had been announcing it and that was how I knew that there was a coup. There and then, I told my driver to remove the flags on the car.
By then, the coup plotters had announced that Dr Nwafor Orizu, the acting president had been removed because the president, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, was abroad on medical trip. They said they were handing over the government to General Aguiyi Ironsi and were expecting a broadcast. So I rang my confidential secretary, one Mrs. Marinho to go to my house in Ikoyi to ask one Joe Obi to pack all my things, separating government property from my own and put my things in a lorry and send home. That was how I ended my ministerial appointment. By the third day of the coup, everything I had was at home here and I said thank God.
Well, the Army took over and they continued to blunder. They continued to do what they were trained to do; that is to destroy; to kill and to loot. Then the quarrel between two Lieutenant Colonels – Ojukwu and Yakubu Gowon – eventually led the country to a civil war. Ojukwu said he was senior to Gowon and that Gowon cannot be the head of state when he (Ojukwu) was a governor.
Killing of Igbo soldiers
Gowon said if you want to be head of state, come to Lagos so that soldiers could take order from you. The argument continued until it led to the killing of Igbos in the north and killing of Igbo soldiers all over the country, with one of them buried alive in Ibadan. The young man had insisted on not doing what they wanted and they threatened to kill him. He said he was prepared to die; after all it was only one bullet that could kill him. So they told him they were not going to waste a bullet on him and buried him alive after forcing him to dig his grave. He was a major in the Army. A lot of atrocities were committed then.
What do you could be the reason for the coup?
I wouldn’t say I knew the intention of the boys who took over government because Ademulegun and other Yoruba officers never admitted that it was an Igbo coup. It only happened that there were more Igbo officers involved in the coup because there were so many Igbo officers in the army at that time.