15th January and 500 Years of Nigeria’s History

J. K. Randle


|  By J.K. Randle  |

IN four days’ time it will be 15th January 2015 – fifty years after Nigeria’s first military coup d’etat to be followed a few weeks later by 13th February 2015 – forty years after General Murtala Mohammed was assassinated by Lt-Colonel D.S. Dimka and his accomplices.  It is no surprise that the major global media outlets from CNN to Fox News; BBC; CBS; Al Jazeera; SKY News as well as “The Times”; “Financial Times”; “Sunday Times”; “Observer”; “The Independent”; “New York Times”, “Washington Post” and the major radio stations are all on their way here to beam their searchlight on these two epochal tragedies in the life of our beloved nation.

Beyond that, eminent academics from Harvard, Cambridge, Oxford, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, Chicago, the Sorborne, Nottingham, London universities etc have embarked on a project: “500 YEARS OF NIGERIA’S HISTORY” which has turned out to be a block buster – film, documentary, special edition, “Breaking News”, etc.  It looks as if it is going to be a major hit on HBO and The Discovery Channel.

Undoubtedly, it captures the grand sweep of our nation’s history in its entire majesty as well as melancholy and despair.  The melange of corruption, fear, anger and suspicion serve as a powerful reminder that our problems did not start today.  On the contrary, they go back a long way and remain deep-seated roaring to emerge once the superficial layer is scratched or the hornet’s nest stirred.  The product of intellectual curiosity by so many distinguished professors is a testimony to muscular scholarship and meticulousness.  The exit poll has already delivered its verdict in favour of an enterprise that has turned out to be both seminal and cerebral.

It is in segments of one hundred years each.  For now, let us confine ourselves to the last segment as regards which there are two distinct partitions of fifty years each without undermining the symmetry.

Nothing is lost by revealing that the legendary late Sir Samuel Layinka Ayodeji Manuwa (1903-1976) an Ilaje from Ondo Province Nigeria is captured in a clip as the best graduating student in medicine at Edinburgh University where he won all the prizes in his final year (1934).   Even more poignant was the comment by Sir Malcolm Cairns who had been conferred with numerous awards and honours including the Nobel Prize for medicine.

He was featured on BBC on his 85th birthday many years ago but he stunned the audience with his genuine and radiant humility:

“I am humbled by my Knighthood and the other awards.  However, I must let you know that there was a Nigerian chap in my class who was much more brilliant than me.  He was knighted ten years before me but nobody protested because he earned it entirely on merit.  I cannot now remember his full name but we called him Samuel.”

It was at that point that a listener phoned in “Do You mean Samuel Manuwa?”

The old man promptly delivered confirmation:

“Yes.  That is him indeed.  Great chap.  He was not just a surgeon, he subsequently became a physician and medical scholar in record time.  I understand he was the pioneer president of the West African College of Surgeons as well as Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of the Governing Council of the University of Ibadan when it was truly a first class university.

There was also a footage on Sir Henry Carr, a devout Christian and a Lagosian who almost singlehandedly championed the drive to ensure that education was not confined to Christians in Lagos.   He played a prominent role in founding moslem schools and colleges such as Ahmaddiya College and Ansarudeen College in Lagos.

Equally riveting are the superlative academic prowess of the likes of Adelabu Adegoke (“Penkelemesi”) and Victor Omololu Olunloye of Government College, Ibadan.   Adegoke till today remains by all accounts the most brilliant student ever produced by the college.  He was given double promotion twice and still ended at the top of the class in his final year.

As for Olunloyo, he was not only the youngest boy in the class, (in Form One) but the most playful.  Suddendly, in Form Three, he took off like a meteor/rocket and never looked back.  He went on to bag a first class degree followed with a Ph.D in Mathematics combined with Engineering from St. Andrews University, Scotland.  His Thesis for his post-graduate degree was on : “The Numerical Determination of The Solutions of Eigenvalue Problems.”  He eventually became the governor of Oyo State, in Western Nigeria in 1983.  Thankfully, the octogenarian is alive to tell his own story.

Also, featured is Professor Jubril Aminu from Song, Adamawa State in NorthEast Nigeria.  He was already nine years old before he set foot in a classroom for the first time but that did not stop him from winning academic laurels at the University of Ibadan where he studied medicine.  He eventually became the Executive Secretary, National Universities Commission; Vice-Chancellor of the University of Maiduguri and Minister of Petroleum Resources (under General Ibrahim Babangida).

Perhaps the most fascinating segment is the list of “firsts” by the Igbo – in various spheres of human endeavour, particularly academics (mostly science).  It is indeed a very long list and it is most intimidating especially as most of the distinctions were earned at the international level – entirely on merit.

I owe Admiral Femi Olumide, former Commissioner [Minister] of Works under General Olusegun Obasanjo a huge debt of gratitude for his graciousness and magnanimity.  In his cameo appearance on CNN, he delivered the goods without any prompting from me.  It was a pleasant surprise.

“It is most astonishing that virtually all the problems which J.K. Randle documented in his masterpiece:

“THE GODFATHER NEVER SLEEPS” are his still very much with us forty years after the book was published.  “This is one book all our leaders must read.”

The tempo quickly shifted and the camera zoomed off to focus eventually on “Historical Flashback” (February 11 to March 3 2015) with screeming headlines:






“Former civilian governor of Ogun State Chief Bisi Onabanjo was sentenced to 66 years imprisonment yesterday by the Special Military Tribunal On Recovery of Public Property (Lagos Zone).  The Tribunal also ordered that N2.8 million traced to the account of United Party of Nigeria [UPN] No. 3 at Union Bank of Nigeria, Yaba, Lagos be forfeited to the Federal Military Government.  The Ex-Governor was found guilty by the tribunal on a three-count charge of “improperly enriching a person, namely the Unity Party of Nigeria [UPN] with N2.8 million kick-back, representing 10 per cent of the contract awarded to Bouygues Nigeria Limited for the construction of the Great Nigeria House by Great Nigeria Insurance Company Limited.”

Nwobodo was the former Governor of East Central State, while Ambrose Alli, Barkin Zuwo and Solomon Lar were the former Governors of Bendel, Kano and Plateau States respectively.

On October 10, 2015, “Saturday Sun”, newspaper carried in bold headlines on its front page:



  • Intimate portrait of the Bayelsa born princes who bestrode Aso Rock with pomp………now in UK police net.

It was “ThisDay” newspaper of January 6, 2016 which carried the following front page report:


“After spending 22 years in a California prison, Musa Jack Ngonadi, the son of former military Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, is back in the country.

The 47-year-old son of Gowon was reported to have arrived Nigeria on January 1.  According to Naij.com, he was released last year on a state pardon granted by President Barack Obama after spending 22 years in jail.

Musa was living in the United States with his mother, the late Edith Ike Okongwu, when he was arrested on November 18, 1992 at the age of 23.  Agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the United States Customs Service arrested him for conspiring to import in excess of one kilogramme of heroin.  He was sentenced to 40 years in prison for smuggling heroin, although Ngonadi protested vehemently through his legal team that he was innocent and was framed.   However, Ngonadi decided being in prison was not the end of life.  He enrolled in a university and successfully graduated with a degree in law as a prison inmate.  He was also a role model and a legal adviser to all the inmates.  He carried himself with dignity and was a source of inspiration to co-inmates who had given up on life.  He was rewarded for his good conduct several times by the prison authorities.

His family, however, did not relent in their efforts to get him out of prison.  Calls for his release began to grow louder and President Obama eventually relented by granting him parole.  Ngonadi walked out of Taft Correctional Facility, Bakersfield, California as a free man on November 2, 2015.  Just recently, General Gowon said his experience after governing the country showed that Nigeria is not an easy country to lead.”

By using a very clever switchback digital technique, the documentary was able to interject photographs of young and dashing Lieutenant-Colonel “Jack” Yakubu Gowon on his arrival at Ikeja airport on 14th January 1966 after completing a course at the Staff College in the UK.  He was booked to stay at Ikoyi Hotel where several other senior military officers were also booked ahead of a cocktail party being hosted by Major-General J.T.U. Aguyi-Ironsi who was the Army Chief of Staff.  However, rather than stay at the hotel, Gowon zoomed off after the cocktail party to spend the night with his girlfriend Edith Ike (subsequently mother of Musa).  That was how Gowon escaped being a victim of the coup d’etat of 15th January 1966 when the junior officers, mostly majors, led by Major Patrick Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu (1937 to 1967) in Kaduna and Major Emmanuel Ifejuana struck.  It was a bloody affair which terminated the lives of the Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and the Minister of Finance, Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh in Lagos; Chief S.L.A. Akintola, Premier of the Western Region, in Ibadan; and Sir Ahmadu Bello, Sarduana of Sokoto (a direct descendant of Sultan Uthman Dan Fodio) and Premier of the Northern Region in Kaduna.

Gowon is featured alongside Murtala Mohammed.  They are clearly traumatised by the loss of the most senior northern officers – Brigadier Maimalari, Largena and several others.   Like Gowon and Murtala Mohammed they were trained at Sandhurst, the elite British military academy.

Here is the text of the broadcast by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu:

Radio broadcast by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu – announcing Nigeria’s first military coup on Radio Nigeria, Kaduna on January 15, 1966

IN the name of the Supreme Council of the Revolution of the Nigerian Armed Forces, I declare martial law over the Northern Provinces of Nigeria. The Constitution is
suspended and the regional government and elected assemblies are hereby dissolved.

All political, cultural, tribal and trade union activities, together with all demonstrations and unauthorised gatherings, excluding religious worship, are banned until further notice.

The aim of the Revolutionary Council is to establish a strong united and prosperous nation, free from corruption and internal strife. Our method of  achieving this is strictly military but we have no doubt that every Nigerian  will give us maximum cooperation by assisting the regime and not disturbing the  peace during the slight changes that are taking place.

I am to assure all foreigners living and working in this part of Nigeria that their rights will continue to be respected. All treaty obligations previously entered into with any foreign nation will be respected and we hope that such nations will respect our country’s territorial integrity and will avoid taking sides with enemies of  the revolution and enemies of the people.

My dear countrymen, you will hear, and probably see a lot being done by certain bodies charged by the Supreme Council with the duties of national integration, supreme justice, general security and property recovery.

As an interim measure all permanent secretaries, corporation chairmen and senior heads of departments are allowed to make decisions until the new organs are functioning, so long as  such decisions are not contrary to the aims and wishes of the Supreme Council.

No Minister or Parliamentary Secretary possesses administrative or other forms of control over any Ministry, even if they are not considered too dangerous to  be arrested.

This is not a time for long speech-making and so let me acquaint you with ten proclamations in the Extraordinary Orders of the Day which the Supreme Council has promulgated.

These will be modified as the situation improves.

You are hereby warned that looting, arson, homosexuality, rape, embezzlement,  bribery or corruption, obstruction of the revolution, sabotage, subversion, false alarms and assistance to foreign invaders, are all offences punishable by  death sentence.

Demonstrations and unauthorised assembly, non-cooperation with revolutionary troops are punishable in grave manner up to death. Refusal or neglect to perform normal duties or any task that may of necessity be ordered by local military commanders in support of the change will be punishable by a sentence imposed by the local military commander.

Spying, harmful or injurious publications, and broadcasts of troop movements or actions, will be punished by any suitable sentence deemed fit by the local military commander. Shouting of slogans, loitering and rowdy behaviour will be rectified by any sentence of  incarceration, or any more severe punishment deemed fit by the local military commander.

Doubtful loyalty will be penalised by imprisonment or any more severe sentence. Illegal possession or carrying of firearms, smuggling or trying to  escape with documents, valuables, including money or other assets vital to the  running of any establishment will be punished by death sentence.

Wavering or sitting on the fence and failing to declare open loyalty with the revolution will be regarded as an act of hostility punishable by any sentence deemed  suitable by the local military commander. Tearing down an order of the day or proclamation or other authorised notices will be penalised by death.

This is the end of the Extraordinary Order of the Day which you will soon begin to see displayed in public. My dear countrymen, no citizen should have anything to fear, so long as that citizen is law abiding and if that citizen has  religiously obeyed the native laws of the country and those set down in every heart and conscience since 1st October, 1960.

Our enemies are the political profiteers, the swindlers, the men in high and low  places that seek bribes and demand 10 percent; those that seek to keep the  country divided permanently so that they can remain in office as ministers or  VIPs at least, the tribalists, the nepotists, those that make the country look big for nothing before international circles, those that have corrupted our society and put the Nigerian political calendar back by their words and deeds.

Like good soldiers we are not promising anything miraculous or spectacular. But what we do promise every law abiding citizen is freedom from fear and all forms of oppression, freedom from general inefficiency and freedom to live and strive  in every field of human endeavour, both nationally and internationally. We promise that you will no more be ashamed to say that you are a Nigerian.

I leave you with a message of good wishes and ask for your support at all times, so that our land, watered by the Niger and Benue, between the sandy wastes and Gulf of Guinea, washed in salt by the mighty Atlantic, shall not detract Nigeria from gaining sway in any great aspect of international endeavour. My dear countrymen, this is the end of this speech.

I wish you all good luck and I hope you will cooperate to the fullest in this job which we have set for ourselves of establishing a prosperous nation and achieving solidarity.

The documentary dwells at great length on the confusion that ensured.  There had been a military coup d’etat in Togo in 1963 but most Nigerians never imagined that it would creep into our country.  At any rate, what loomed large were chaos and anarchy as the northerners were incandescent with rage – the coup d’etat was sectional according to them.  It had assumed an Igbo colouration and dimension as the President, Rt. Hon. Nnamdi Azikiwe was out of the country while Dr. Michael Okpara the Premier of the Eastern Region was spared.  As far as the northerners were concerned it was a power grab by the Igbo.  To further compound matters, Major-General Aguiyi-Ironsi (an Igbo) was alleged to have cajoled the surviving Ministers of the Balewa government, with the connivance of the acting President, Rt. Hon. Nwafor Orizu (also an Igbo) to hand over power to him rather than swear in the most senior northern Minister to replace Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa.

The plot thickens with gory tales of treachery and betrayal.  A case in point is that of Brigadier Maimalari who thought he had escaped from the soldiers who had been sent to kill him and felt that it was his good fortune to hail a military Land Rover at Onikan, only to find that it was being driven by his adopted and beloved godson Major Emmanuel Ifejuana.  Maimalari was shot immediately.  Over in Kaduna, Brigadier Ademulegun and his wife lost their lives to their much beloved Colonel Emeka (an Igbo officer) who they considered to be a member of their family.  The footage showed Mrs. Ademulegun welcoming Emeka, “Your daddy is in the bedroom”.

It was when she heard gunshots that it dawned on her that his mission was dastardly.  She tried to escape over the fence into the safety of a neighbour’s compound.  She was shot in cold blood.

For the six months that General J.T.U. Aguiyi-Ironsi was Military Head of State, there was palpable tension all over the land.  Matters were certainly not helped by pictures of Igbo residents of Kano and Kaduna jubilating over the assassination of Sir Ahmadu Bello.

To make matters worse, Ironsi was accused of handling the coup leader – Nzeogwu and others with kid gloves instead of sending them for court martial for mutiny.  In the meantime, Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna (who had graduated from the University of Ibadan before joining the army and was also a Commonwealth bronze medallist in High Jump) had escaped to Ghana.

It is all indeed a murky tale.

Worse was to come.

As a sub-text to the narrative of the marathon documentary, an entire segment is devoted to the amazing lives of Chief M.N. Ugochukwu, Arc (Dr.) Alex Ekwueme and Lt.General T.Y. Danjuma whose lives criss-cross at various intersections over a period of almost fifty years.  Chief Ugochukwu turned his £50,000 (fifty thousand pounds) manna from heaven – Irish lottery, into a massive industrial and commercial empire.  However, twenty-five years after his demise what has become of his companies in Nigeria’s economic landscape?

As for Arc (Dr.) Ekwueme, even before he became Vice-President of Nigeria he had established a niche for himself in architecture – schools and colleges mostly funded by international agencies.  Perhaps, he was influenced by Chief Ugochukwu into investing wisely – mostly in hotels, facilities management and real estate.

Beyond that, he has won kudos for his boldness :

“Ekwueme was the arrowhead of the group of 34 [G-34] eminent Nigerians who risked their lives to stand up against the dictatorship of General Sani Abacha during the era of military rule in Nigeria.”

For now let us pause for the break for commercials.  Thereafter, we shall focus on the segment on General Danjuma:

“In 1995, T.Y. Danjuma took another bold step into the highest money spinning business across the globe when he floated the famous South Atlantic Petroleum Limited an oil exploration company.

He flies a Hawker 900 x P private jet and is also the owner of a Challenger 605 Bombadier.  In a speech at the Presidential Villa in Abuja, on 16 July 2014, Danjuma told the then President Goodluck Jonathan that the Boko Haram insurgents appeared to be having the upper hand, as they chose where to strike and capture territory, pointing out that the battle to win the insurgency war had already taken too long.”

Bashorun J.K. Randle is a former President of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) and former Chairman of KPMG Nigeria and Africa Region.  He is currently the Chairman, JK Randle Professional Services. Email:   [email protected]

—  Jan 18, 2016 @ 01:00 GMT


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