The Self-Loading Rifle and Keeping Pace with 500 Years of Nigeria’s History

J. K. Randle


By J.K. Randle  |

IT IS one of the ironies of history that the amalgamation of Southern and Northern Nigeria by Lord Frederick Lugard in 1914 was somehow contradicted shortly afterwards by the 1916 Sykes – Picot agreement which ISIS [Islamic State in Iraq and Syria] has been vigorously denouncing:

“We don’t recognise it and we will never recognise it.  Inshallah, this is not the first border we will break. Inshallah, we shall break other borders also, but we start with this one inshallah.  The oppressors broke up the Islamic caliphate and made it into countries like Syria and Iraq, ruled by manmade laws.  We’ve begun today to unite in the face of the plots of the oppressors.  Their plot was to divide and conquer.”

Somehow, we appear to have underestimated this powerful force or factor in deciphering the sheer brutality and blood-chilling cruelty unleashed on Nigeria by Boko Haram insurgents who have been unrelenting in terrorising our beloved country.  The figures speak for themselves.  Boko Haram is undisputedly at the top of the global league of killing machines with ISIS a distant second.

Perhaps, it is necessary to explain that the Sykes-Picot document was a secret Anglo-French agreement to partition the Ottoman empire in anticipation of its defeat in the First World War which raged from 1914-1918.  France would take over southeastern Turkey; Lebanon; Syria; and northern Iraq while Britain would be bequeathed southern Iraq; Haifa and Acre; and Jordan.  Russia bagged Instabul and the Turkish Straits.  Palestine was rebranded and placed under “international administration”.

Also, much intrigue has been woven around the identities of the signatories – Sir Mark Sykes was a civil servant and former Tory MP while Francois George – Picot was a French diplomat.  For the one hundred years thereafter, the area has known no peace and there is not much likelihood of anything but turmoil and conflict in the foreseeable future.  Indeed, warning of future trouble came early. The agreement was signed in May 1916 but according to the historian Andrew Roberts:

“The worst day of bloodshed in the history of the British Army occurred in July 1, 1916.  On the first day of the Somme offensive in northern France, no fewer than 19,240 men were killed and 35,494 were wounded with thousands more captured.  Almost half of the 120,000 men who went “over the top” that dreadful morning had become casualties by the time it ended, a truly terrible proportion for any military engagement, ancient or modern.”

Whether we are dealing with amalgamation or fragmentation, the relevance of William Shakespeare is confirmed by his ominous verdict:

“Whatever is created by force, must by force be held together.”

However, the weapons at our disposal are profoundly different.  Just before Nigeria’s Independence Day on 1st October 1960, those of us in the military cadet unit of King’s College, Lagos, were lined up for parade in the improvised parade ground in the forecourt of the college.  There was excitement in the air.  My rank as a “sergeant” entitled me to swap my rifle (single bullet) for a Self Loading Rifle (automatic) !!  Now, with the benefit of hindsight (fifty-six years after) I can only conjecture the thrill the experience of the change-over must have meant to those who opted to join the military the following year rather than proceed to the sixth form.  They all achieved remarkably rapid promotion in the military – Duro Ajayi eventually became Deputy Chief of Army Staff with the rank of major-general.  Babatunde Odedina became a Commander in the Navy; Kunle Elegbede was a Major in the Army; Juventus Ojukwu became a Lieutenant in the Army and Nnamdi Obi-Rapu who was our junior by two years became a Commander in the Navy.  Also, Olaseinde Ishola-Williams (a year behind us) retired with the rank of Major-General from the Army.

Coincidentally, Juventus C. Ojukwu has been on CNN’s “African News”

Headline: BUHARI, THE NEW NZEOGWU – Ojukwu”

(front page report of “The Authority On Sunday” newspaper of January 17, 2016).

“President Muhammadu Buhari has been described as an identical twin, in character and disposition, to the late Major Patrick Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, who led the first abortive military coup in Nigeria, which took place on January 15, 1966.

This characterization was made by Honourable Juventus C. Ojukwu, one of the key actors in the botched 1966 coup.  He told The AUTHORITY on Sunday in an exclusive interview in Enugu, that he knows the two men very closely.

The ex-military officer, who as a lieutenant participated in the coup in Kaduna and was jailed for several years for his involvement, insisted that Buhari’s coming to power at this point in time is “the best thing that can happen to Nigeria” because, according to him, Buhari has assumed the mantle of leadership in the country to tackle those same ills which Nzeogwu and his team had attempted to root out in 1966.

“There are many similarities between Nzeogwu and Buhari”, Honourable Ojukwu who represented Idemili Federal Constituency twice at the House of Representatives, during the defunct Second Republic pointed out, saying that, “Nzeogwu was a no-nonsense person who believed in probity and integrity and as well, as being a very religious person.  We were all in Kaduna, and I knew him as a very religious and very just person”.

Continuing, the ex-military officer remarked, “Buhari is also a no-nonsense person, too, who does not stomach injustice and corruption”.

Honourable Ojukwu maintained that when he talks about being religious, he is referring to “people who are just and have the fear of God and not people who wear long robes and go to church or mosque”, as according to him, even though he knew Nzeogwu as an ardent Catholic who went to Mass every day, it was more important that Nzeogwu was more reputed because he honoured and feared God and respected people.  Far from religion, merely going to the church and the mosque, he sees both men as possessing similar attributes, in terms of the aversion for “injustice and evil”, adding that the two personalities were determined to fight them.

According to Hon. Ojukwu, who claimed he was a contemporary of President Buhari and were commissioned at the same time in the Nigerian Army, he insisted that Nigeria must be grateful to God that Buhari was coming at this point in time when Nigeria needs a man whose courage and actions are guided by the fear of God and natural sense of justice.

“I knew Buhari well enough, and continued to know him even after we had left the Army, and so, I am qualified to characterize him,” ex-Lieutenant Ojukwu maintained.

“Buhari’s administration should be likened to a continuation of 1966 and we need it.  We, the young officers that struck in 1966 were imbued with high idealism and a deep sense of patriotism, but as it turned out, with hindsight, we were too idealistic and misguided, and maybe naïve too,” Ojukwu lamented.

Stressing that Nigeria needs Buhari he maintained that “anybody who wants to tell himself the truth will admit that the corruption that existed in Nigeria as from 1959 through to 1966, and which the people who lived at that time thought was gargantuan, was just like a child’s play, in comparison to the situation which Buhari has inherited in Nigeria today.”

He pointed out that the situation at the time which the late Major Nzeogwu spoke about in his coup speech, had grown into hydra-headed dimensions, which President Buhari has come to confront head-on, emphasising that he has all it takes to tackle the malaise.

“For once, let it be known that someone can say ‘no’ to evil; let it be known that someone cannot only say ‘no’ to evil, but can stand against evil.  For once, let it be known that you cannot just do anything because you have money and power and get away with  it; that was how Nzeogwu felt then; that is how Buhari feels now”, he enthused.

According to Ojukwu, who is not a relation of the leader of the defunct Biafra (Dim Odumegwu Ojukwu), but rather hails from Awka Etiti in Anambra State, “whether the people like Buhari or not, the fact remains that like the late Nzeogwu, he is ultra-patriotic; he may make some human mistakes in style, but juxtapose that with our needs and problems, I insist that Buhari is the best thing to happen to us now and for a long time to come”.

Subsequent events have re-inforced the poignancy of that moment when all of us teenagers (just above the age of child soldiers) were handed those lethal weapons of destruction – SLR (Self Loading Riffles).

Previously, what we were provided with were the sturdy wooden rifles with a carefully counted number of blank ammunition (bullets).

Now we had the real stuff and in addition we were provided with live ammunition with the strict warning that under no circumstances were we to point our guns at anyone – not even in jest.

It was left to our in-house “Commanding Officer” (Sergeant-Major Fort Lami) to belt out the orders and proceed with the drill in full glare of the rest of the college.   In order to further emphasise our new status a section of Hyde Johnson’s House was carved out to serve as “The Armoury” to which all weapons were dutifully returned.  Before the day was over, we were also introduced to the “LMG” [Light Machine Gun] as well as the intricacies of how to dismantle it and swiftly re-assemble it.  The sense of power that came with cradling such weapons was awesome.  Then came the introduction to the even more lethal hand grenades.  It turned out that the same introduction was going on at Barewa College, Zaria.

In their own case, several of their old boys were already in the army – Lt-Colonel Yakubu Gowon who had been the senior prefect (and would become Military Head of State in 1966); Brigadier-Genera; Zakariya Maimalari [B.573]; Lt. Colonel Abogo Largema [B.601]; Colonel Kur Mohammed [B.627] and Lt. Colonel Yakuba James Pam [B.722].  Straight from Barewa College, they proceeded to Sandhurst, the Royal Military Academy in Camberley, near the village of Sandhurst, Berkshire about 55 kilometres southwest of London.  That is where all officers in the British Army are trained to take on the responsibilities of leading the soldiers under their command.

Duro Ajayi was at Sandhurst and Nnamdi Obi-Rapu went off to the Navy equivalent – Brittania Royal Naval College, Dartmonth.  I had the privilege of attending his graduation dinner in the Officers Mess.  The sheer opulence and splendour of the dining room would rival even Buckingham Palace.

Considering we were teenagers, we should be forgiven for missing the historic significance of what we had witnessed at first hand – the changing of the old guard (hand-held wooden rifles to be slung across the left shoulder were being supplanted by the SLR’s and SMG’s).  With the old rifle, the rules of engagement demanded that you would cock the rifle; then aim at the target; hold your breath and press trigger.  What followed was a loud explosion.  Whoa!!

If you wanted to take another shot, you would have to reload and start the drill all over again.

However, with the SLR’s (Self Loading Rifles) and the SMG’s [Semi-Automatic Guns], the weapon did all the work!!  It just went off tut, tut, tut.  All you needed to do was to press the button or trigger and all hell would break loose.  The result was instant; the target was guaranteed to crumble.  The fire power was simply overwhelming, ruthless and vicious.  It was not until several decades later (in 1992) that the then President of Nigeria, General Ibrahim Badamosi summed it all up as the “Balance Of Forces”!!  Little did we know back in 1960 that the military would be the dominant force for most of the succeeding decades – in one way or the other (directly or indirectly) right up to now that we have a former military Head of State,  General Muhammed Buhari as our democratically elected president.

We have now gone full circle and we are back to the climate of fear and suspicion.  In the intervening period we fought a civil war from 1967 to 1970 during which over a million lives were lost and many more were physically maimed while many more millions became the victims of post traumatic stress disorder [PTSD].  Those who survived have nothing but gory tales of dehumanisation and brutality to share with the next generation.  Even then they may choose to edit and exclude the rapes and slaughter as well as the consumption of leaves and lizards as the staple diet for survival when famine and starvation engulfed the villages and towns in the Eastern Region.  Even Lagos came within a whisker of being invaded by Biafran troops.

On the Federal side, Major Kunle Elegbede and Commander Babatunde Odedina did not survive the civil war.  Neither did Commander Nnamdi Ob-Rapu on the Biafrian side.  Those were King’s College boys who were sent to their graves early without the benefit of knowing that their bravery and sacrifices would be subverted by the front page publications in the national newspapers of Saturday 16th January 2015 as confirmation that matters had deteriorated to the point of danger (and even beyond).



(i) Saturday Vanguard:

  • Buhari orders probe of ex-military chiefs.
  • NAF bought 2 non airworthy helicopters for $136 million instead of $30 million each.

(ii) Saturday Tribune: Shocking Defence Contract Revelations

  • N634 billion; $2.1 billion for procurements in 8 years
  • N4 billion paid on unexecuted contracts
  • Officer awards N25 billion; $5 million contracts to self
  • Buhari orders EFCC to probe 17 ex-military chiefs, others.

(iii) Saturday Mirror: $2.1 billion arms deal latest

Buhari orders probe of Jonathan’s service chiefs

“The procurement processes were arbitrarily carried out and generally characterised by irregularities and fraud.  In many cases, the procured items failed to meet the purposes they were procured for, especially the counter insurgency in the North-East.

(iv) “Daily Trust”

Arms Deals:  EFCC To Probe Badeh, Umar, Amosu others.

(v) “Saturday Telegraph”

“Anti-Graft War”

EFCC To Probe Badeh, 30 Officers’ 12 “Dirty” deals

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