By Chuks Iloegbunam
Pastor Tunde Bakare of The Citadel Global Community Church recently spoke through his hat while preaching a sermon. He told his congregation that, during the January 15, 1966 military action that toppled the First Republic, the soldiers that took Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa removed his turban, poured wine on his head and force-fed him with the alcohol. For abominating him, Balewa, just before he was shot, pronounced a cause on Ndigbo, to the effect that no one from the ethnic group will ever bear rule over Nigeria. Mr. Bakare’s story, fanciful as it sounds, is a pack of lies. This article, therefore, is to educate Mr. Bakare and others of his misguided persuasion with the truth, of which Jesus, the Christ said in John 8: 32: “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”
On the mundane level, no one removed any turban from Sir Abubakar’s head. The turban is a headdress. Soldiers invaded the Prime Minister’s official residence at around 3am, when the man was in bed. Did he sleep turbaned? Do people sleep in their headdresses? Apart from that picture in which presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari appeared in suit and tie, wearing a wan smile and looking almost comical with his receding hairline, there hardly is another photograph of the man in which a cap does not adorn his head. Would his traditional fondness for full dressing gear ever mean that he went to bed in a hat? Do women sleep with all those accessories they routinely assembled on their heads for public events? Tafawa Balewa’s turban was not removed because he wasn’t wearing one when his adversaries closed in on him.
Muslims are by injunction forbidden to consume alcoholic beverages. The story that the Prime Minister was bathed in wine and inebriated with it is aimed at sustaining the opprobrium first established by revisionists in 1966. Also his recovered body showed clearly that he hadn’t been shot. The lies spewed by Mr. Bakare have one source. They always had a single objective: the monopoly of political power by the geo-political north. There are many such lies still enjoying vibrancy in the country. Three of them should suffice for our argument. One, when General Aguiyi-Ironsi’s regime was toppled, Lieutenant Colonel Yakubu Gowon, who succeeded him, was going to sunder the country by announcing the Republic of Northern Nigeria, for the simple reason that political power had left the region. Gowon is still denying this fact, despite incontrovertible evidence to its certitude. (See the document marked CAB/128/41 at the British Public Records Office at Kew Gardens, London. It contained the minutes of the British Cabinet meeting of August 2, 1966 that was declassified after a 30-year moratorium. It incontrovertibly shows Gowon’s secessionist tendency after they assassinated General Aguiyi-Ironsi.) Two, Gowon said in his maiden speech as Head of State that there was no basis for Nigerian unity. He denies the statement to this day. As a matter of fact, his government disingenuously published a misleading version of his speech, claiming that he had only discounted national unity in a unitary dispensation. But, the BBC Monitoring Service recorded Gowon’s broadcast live, and the transcript is forever available. It has Gowon saying, “Suffice it to say that putting all considerations to the test, political, economic as well as social, the basis of unity is not there…” Three. Nigeria’s military leaders met in Aburi, Ghana, on January 4 & 5, 1967, for a conference to avert the contingency of civil war. They reached an agreement. Back in Nigeria, Gowon reneged on the agreement, an infamy he denies to this day, even though the Aburi proceedings were audio-recorded from start to finish. Had the agreement been implemented, the civil war might well have never occurred.
The military action of January 1966 was called and is still called an Igbo coup. How could a putsch intended to install the Yoruba Chief Obafemi Awolowo, as Prime Minister be an Igbo coup? Here’s Major Patrick Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu: “Neither myself nor any other lads was in the least interested in governing the country. We were soldiers and not politicians. We had earmarked from the list known to every soldier in this operation who would be what. Chief Obafemi Awolowo was, for example, to be released from jail immediately and to be made the Executive President of Nigeria.” See West Africa magazine of July 29, 1967, page 981. And here’s Major Adewale Ademoyega: “At the end of the first week of January, Major Anuforo and I arranged to meet Captain Udeaja, a young engineering graduate from the Royal Military College of Science, Shrivenham, UK. We met in Major Chukwuka’s house at the Ikeja Cantonment but Chukwuka himself was not there. Having briefed Udeaja generally and got his consent, we gave him his task. He was to fly a special plane provided for the purpose to Calabar on the morning of D-Day, to effect the release of Chief Awolowo and bring him to Lagos on the plane. We had already arranged for a plane of the Nigeria Air Force to be made available that morning. This was done through Major Nzegwu (not Nzeogwu) of the Air Force.” See Adewale Ademoyega: Why We Struck: The Story of the First Nigerian Coup, Evans Brothers Limited, Ibadan, 1981; pp 68-69.
The Nzeogwu and Ademoyega stories were corroborated by no less a person than Chief Awolowo, thusly: “It was learnt after the January coup that the authors had planned to release me from Calabar, fly me to Lagos, and install me as Head of State whether I liked it or not. If I refused the offer, they were prepared to govern in my name until I was persuaded to accept the offer. The authors of the coup had no plan to govern the country under a military administration.” See Obafemi Awolowo, My March Through Prison, Macmillan Nigeria Publishers Limited, Ilupeju Lagos, 1985; page 297.
In spite of incontrovertible evidence to the contrary, the myth of the Igbo coup has been sustained to this day. According to Ademoyega, the innermost circle of the coup plot was composed of three Majors: Adewale Ademoyega from Ode Remo in today’s Ogun State, a History graduate of the University of London; Emmanuel Ifeajuna from Onitsha, a University of Ibadan Science graduate; and Chukwuma Nzeogwu from Okpanam, a town bordering Asaba in present day Delta State. Besides these facts, there were 50 Majors in the Nigerian Army on the morning of the coup; 24 of them were Igbo. About 20 of these knew nothing of the coup and never participated in its execution. The coup cost the life of Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Chinyelu Unegbe, the Quarter-Master General of the Nigerian Army. Chinyelu Unegbe was Igbo from Ozubulu in today’s Anambra State. General Aguiyi-Ironsi put down the coup; he was Igbo from Umuana Ndume in Umuhia in the present Abia State. These facts have never constituted extenuating circumstances. The coup must forever be labelled an Igbo coup, a lie from the pit of hell that continues to be used as a basis for the sporadic massacring of Ndigbo and their consignment to fourth-class citizenship in their own country.
All these lies are the reason Nigeria is a failed state. And unless these lies and countless others are finally and permanently abrogated, Nigeria’s chances of resurrection are unequivocally non-existent. In a sense Pastor Bakare is a tool in the hands of forces he scarcely recognises. The fibs he told his church members were as old as 1966. The precursors are from the top echelons of Northern Nigerian hegemony, but their lies first surfaced in book form when the Hudahuda Publishing Company of Zaria published John M. Paden’s Ahmadu Bello, Sardauna of Sokoto in 1986. This is Professor Omo Omoruyi in The Tale of June 12; The Betrayal of the Democratic Rights of Nigerians (1993) (Press Alliance Network Limited; 1999.) “President Babangida ruled out any Yoruba person if Chief Abiola who had been with the military and the North in various capacities could not win the support of the ethno-military clique. He ruled out the Igbo on the argument that the country and definitely the North would not buy an Igbo then or in the near future. More seriously, he argued that the Yoruba and the Igbo did not have strong representation in the Armed Forces to provide them with the kind of protection they would need. This is still at the heart of democratisation today” (page 253).
Professor Omoruyi, who was the Director-General of the Centre for Democratic Studies and, more importantly, Babangida’s closest confidant, sought clarification from the military President. “This was when (General Babangida) called my attention to the feeling in the North about an Igbo as President. He thought that it would violate the curse placed on the Igbo by the late Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa before he was executed on January 15, 1966. Sir Abubakar was quoted to have said: ‘I know you are going to kill me; you will never get a Prime Minister like me. The Igbo will suffer for twenty-five years.’” (Page 262.)
Now, under Pastor Bakare, the consummate wielder of the microphone, the falsehoods got added embellishment. The curse preventing any Igbo from becoming President over a period of 25 years assumed eternal dimensions. The snippety nonsense of turban and wine got thrown in. No one seemed to underscore the impotence of the curse by General Aguiyi-Ironsi, an Igbo being Balewa’s immediate successor. I reacted thus to this story in Ironsi: Nigeria, The Army, Power And Politics (Press Alliance 1999; and Eminent Biographies 2019): “The story that was put out claimed that Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa ‘cursed’ the Igbo, saying they will not rule Nigeria for 25 years. By the time Babangida used this fiction to discount an Igbo President in 1993, 27 years had elapsed since Sir Abubakar died. Yet, the “curse” was still potent. Babangida himself had no qualms marrying into a “cursed” ethnic group and raising four children who by extension must be half cursed. The main point here is that, apart from Sir Abubakar’s lack of locus standi to curse the Igbo, (how many million curses will the thousands of Igbo victims of the 1966 pogrom utter?), the story is patently false. Its authors lacked authenticity because their story was bereft of citation and attribution. The most detailed account of the interrogation of those that carried out the coup of January 1966 was released by the regime of General Yakubu Gowon. The details also appear in Crisis And Conflict in Nigeria: A Documentary Sourcebook (Oxford University Press, 1971) by A. H. M Kirk-Greene. Nowhere is there anything about any curse. No authority ever corroborated the story. Yet this fiction is what the Clique has held on to in the protracted subjugation of Ndigbo. That was why Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe, a principled officer and gentleman, was ignominiously removed as Chief of General Staff within months of his appointment. That was why Ndigbo led the formation of the PDP and gave it their all, only for the currently acclaimed Igbo leader, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, to be given a short shrift.” (pp 242-243.)
According to Omo Omoruyi, Chief M. K. O. Abiola’s presidential election victory was nullified because it was not backed by what he called Ethno-Military Clique of Northern Nigeria. General Babangida posited in 1993 that, “the Yoruba and the Igbo did not have strong representation in the Armed Forces to provide them with the kind of protection they would need.” Yoruba and Igbo representation in the military today are for more minuscular today than ever before, due to the conscious and deliberate nepotistic policy of the man at the helm today. Besides, no one has bothered to decipher the Caliphate’s thinking on 2023. Perhaps the assumption is that its deafening silence is symptomatic of non-alignment? How could this be when Sultan Dasuki was one of the prime forces against Chief Abiola’s presidential election? All these point to the fact that, in the ultimate, even the Jagaban would discover that he washed his hands and cracked a nut for an errant fowl to carry the seed away. At that point only would the incalculable harm done to Yoruba and Southern interests by the forward-looking politics of Alhaji Bola Ahmed Tinubu become ever so clear.
To return to phantom curses and negative repercussions! Pastor Bakare needs to ask himself this fundamental question: Why is the curse for bad behaviour unidirectional? A sensible answer to that question may assist him in coming to terms with a myriad of other questions. Those who killed General Aguiyi-Ironsi in July 1966 have the longest streets in Abuja named after them. Apart from Aguiyi-Ironsi, they also killed countless other officers, including Lieutenant Colonels Israel Okoro, Gabriel Okonweze and Francis Adekunle Fajuyi, and Majors Nzegwu, Emelifonwu, Nnamani, Ihedigbo, Obienu, Ekanem, P. C. Obi, Isong, Ogunro; and 11 Captains, and 13 Lieutenants, and 128 NCOs and Other Ranks. They went ahead with a pogrom that cost 50,000 lives of Eastern Nigerians, mostly Ndigbo. Why have the perpetrators of the nsoani never been visited by a curse? Nigeria has five functional international airports. Two of them are named after the mass murderers of July, August, September and October 1966.
They claimed that wine was poured on Tafawa Balewa, and that alcohol was forced down his throat. Compare it to the following: “Thirdly, the evidence disclosed that it was not merely a case of Northerners descending on Easterners and shooting, matcheting and clubbing them to death. They embarked on various methods of torture and humiliation. One method was described by the 72nd witness – Dick Iwebi. This punishment is one of the most dreadful ways of crucifying a person. A heavy rod is tied across the back of the chest of the victim with the hands stretched and secured firmly on the rod. While the victim may still be standing on his legs, he is as helpless as a man nailed to a cross. In this position they then proceed to torture the victim by plucking his eyes, cutting his tongue and cutting his testicles.” See The Report of the Justice G. C. M Onyiuke Tribunal on the Massacre of Ndigbo in 1966, Tollbrook Publishers Limited, Ikeja Lagos, pp 125-126. Dear Pastor Bakare, who got cursed for this atrocity?
The thoughtful must ask what informed Pastor Bakare’s timing for his peculiar sermon. But the answer is all too obvious. The presidential election is next year and people who should only be seen and never heard are bursting eardrums hectoring all-comers for an Igbo President of Nigeria. It is important that their agitation is shot down before it gets a chance of taking off and actually flying. Of course, anti-Igbo propaganda was never a spontaneous thing. Its real name is INSIDOUS. To exemplify: In 1954, Emmanuel Ifeajuna won the gold medal in the High Jump event of the British Empire and Commonwealth Games held in Vancouver, Canada. Ifeajuna was not just the first Nigerian, but also the first Black African, to win an international sports event. Back here in Nigeria, those that must never be cursed set up a national Sports Hall of Fame, which, to this day, does not include Ifeajuna’s name. Those who recall that Chioma Ajunwa is the first Nigerian to win an Olympic gold (in the long jump in Atlanta 1996) must go check out “their” sports “Hall of Fame”. Chances are that her name is not there. Not because she committed any offence but because of “from where she from come from”! Yes, it is a capital offence to come from the Igbo country. In 1995, Gideon Akaluka, a young Igbo trader based in Kano was accused of desecrating the Koran. He was locked up. But an organised mob broke into his Police cell, dragged him out, beheaded him and danced through Kano metropolis with his bodiless head. Does Bakare know that not one person was cursed for this atrocity?
The injustice against Ndigbo is pervasive. Take the National Honours. Every head of every hamlet in the far North is an MFR or an OFR or a CFR or a CON or a GCON. Not so for Ndigbo. That is why a personage like Eze (Professor) Green Onyekaba Nwankwo, a distinguished traditional ruler, an accomplished academic who set up the Department of Finance at the University of Lagos, a former Executive Director in charge of banking and monetary policy in the Central Bank of Nigeria and the author of over 20 books has only the MON – the least of all the honours Nigeria can offer. The iniquity is most eloquent in the military. Unless they are in the Education Corps or the Medical Corps or the Physical Training Corps, hardly any Igbo gets promoted above the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
Those of us campaigning for an Igbo President of Nigeria are looking at more than the spectacle of a politician from the ethnic group enjoying the tenancy of Aso Rock. That is too simple. We are demanding equal rights. We are saying that a country indexed on lies already collapsed before it got the chance to take a first step to nationhood. An Igbo President is supposed to be the antidote to nearly 60 years of a people’s subjugation. People have no business forgetting that there is a distinction between being a slave and being enslaved. Ndigbo are no slaves. That was why in 1803, 75 of them rebelled at Dunbar Creek in Georgia, USA, took control of the slave ship carrying them, drowned their captors and chose to walk into the ocean rather than be slaves to white slave masters. That was why, between 1791 and 1804 they rebelled and overthrew the French regime in Haiti to establish an independent country founded and governed by ex-slaves. That is why the Igbo, indigenous to their current geographical space for millennia, find intolerable their insolent subjugation by recent migrants from the Fouta Djalon whose numbers no credible census has put at more than 5 percent of the Nigerian population.
The systematic enslavement of Ndigbo in what is supposed to be their own country has got to be terminated. The epic Igbo struggle has taken various forms and will continue to do so. A prime example is their attempt at secession in the 1960s. Britain, and a genocidal war in which “Starvation is a legitimate instrument of warfare” thwarted them. Back inside Nigeria they are compelled to permanently stand back and keep bloody quiet forever. For any sigh, groan or moan of theirs, goons, troops, the Police and paramilitary contingents are deployed with extreme prejudice and excessive numbers against them. They are called terrorists while those that have stopped Kaduna State and wiped out innocent thousands in many parts of the country are termed bandits and treated with kid gloves. They have been branded “a spot in a circle,” a military euphemism underscoring their unenviable situation as targets for continued massacring.
There is news for the liars and the killers. Nigeria is unsustainable on the diet of lies and more lies. It is true that those that laid into Ndigbo in the 1960s and killed them in the tens of thousands got rewarded with high political offices and oil blocks and whatnot. But the kill-and-go ship of Ndigbo finally steamed into turbulent waters. Although census exercises in Nigeria are a huge joke, there are at least 40 million Ndigbo in Nigeria today. Nobody and no country can manufacture enough weapons to wipe them off the face of the country. Even in the extremely unlikely event of all Igbo in Nigeria getting killed, there are millions of them abroad today. From their number, at least a thousand will eventually pay a visit to the mother country, these question pouring from their flaming tongues: “Why did you slay my mother? Why did you massacre my father? Why did you annihilate my sister? Why did you exterminate my brother?”
For all of the above, and especially at the lectern, the microphone should never be a justification for verbal diarrhoea. So, Mr. Preacher Bakare, the next time the sound of your voice is amplified by the electronics of public address systems, you must endeavour to annexe some circumspection. On disseminating the falsehoods of those who claim the right to perpetually sit and fart on all our heads, you must do two things: DESIST and CEASE!
* Chuks Iloegbunam is the author of The Case for an Igbo President of Nigeria.