The July 29 revanchist coup (3)
“Major Ibanga Ekanem and his driver were shot dead at the Iddo end of the Carter Bridge, August 2, 1966. He was the Provost Marshall, Nigerian Army and was on duty at that time….having just been sent for by Col. Gowon. Major Ekanem was not Igbo, he was of the Annang tribe and hailed from Ikot Ekpene. Of all the killings, his was the most wanton and senseless and Joseph Garba’s (Nigerian Revolution…. Another View) impression that Ekanem was ‘very pompous and not liked by his men’ was not enough legitimate reasons to eliminate such a fine officer….”
See General Philip Effiong, Nigeria and Biafra, My Story, Aba, 2000, page 115.
The July 29 1966 Revanchist coup was planned primarily to unscramble the Nigerian Federation and for the foraging northern troops who were bent on “Araba”…. the end game was the forced secession of the north from the country. The ring leaders of that bloody putsch derailed progressively from that original disposition when the brutality and savagery of their operations uprooted all possible adversaries and coupled with the interested advice from the imperialistic west, they revised the gear and from the ‘no basis for Nigerian unity’ jumped into a new mantra of ‘to keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done.’ More troops were drafted to take over the plains and from the scratches of the desert to the Niger confluence, down to the Atlantic seas, there was blood flowing from the lands of Sahel to the banks of the oceans.
Elsewhere, from that July 29th date of infamy, Abeokuta, Lagos, Ibadan, Kano, Kaduna, Sokoto, Katsina, Maiduguri, Jos, Makurdi, etc. the blood fiesta dragged on for months. Soldiers like Major Obienu who fought against the January 15 Revolution, civilians, innocent pregnant women, children and babies of the Jews of Africa were massacred. The asinine rationalisation of this pogrom was that the Igbo – millions of them – were to be held accountable for a coup planned by five army majors two of whom were not even Igbo and two, Yoruba Colonels Adekunle Fajuyi and Adebukunola Banjo, participated in the planning and invariably took action before and during the only Nigerian Revolution that was aborted before success. The Igbo – millions of them – were to be killed as reprisals for the deaths of about half a dozen Muslim northerners in the first coup.
Before the cold blooded slaughter on Carter bridge of Major Ibanga Ekanem, the late Provost Marshall of the Nigerian Army, we go back to Abeokuta, the Garrison that saw the green light opening operations which led to the deaths of its Commander, Col. Gabriel Okonweze and Major Obienu, the Igbo Major that single handedly betrayed the January 15 Revolution when he at the zero hour declined to move the armor Recce Unit from Abeokuta to support the Ifeajuna operations in Lagos.
As we indicated last week, the Garrison was put on alert over a purported kidnap scare and the Chief of Army staff, Col. Gowon had asked the Garrison Commander in a telephone message to summon its officers. Whereas the officers were in argument, “our Nursing Sister, Lt. Bassey said that the stories of the impending coup were but a hoax; rather she accused the Nigerian soldiers berating them as Peeping Toms. Officers summoned to the mess were all drinking….” and “I remember the woman was the first to open her Star Beer and gulped down the entire content and was about refilling her glass when the NCO platoon outside opened fire on the entire officers drinking in the mess. Major Obienu, two more officers, Olaniye and Kasaba were dispatched. The commanding officer Col. Okonweze and Captain Orok fled, only for the latter to stage a comeback to rescue the Nursing Sister, Lt. Bassey. A.B. Maman escaped with the Commander. Tragically, Gabriel Okonweze did not go far, in limping above the wall his Baba-riga stuck at the barb wire top fencing. He was a sitting duck when the murderous Sergeant Sabo Kwale platoon fished him out and finished him off. Orok was equally dispatched and the soldiers descended on Lt. Bassey and raped her to unconsciousness. She never recovered from that ordeal and was running mad in Abeokuta streets before kicking the bucket.” See Emma Okocha, Chris Okigbo, Kaduna Nzeogwu, Awo and the Death of the Prime Minister, Gomslam, 2017.
While Joseph Garba, a notable northern Christian leader of that ’66 bloodbath may have his reasons for involving himself with other Christian officers, in that coup, General Effiong, stressed that even if Major Ekanem was inefficient, “that would not constitute a valid reason for murdering him…. I know that Joe Garba as a junior had an axe to grind with the late Major Ekanem when the latter caused the second Lt. Garba to shave for Garba grew a strong Bristol and easily developed painful ugly rashes when he shaved.”
Perhaps for the benefit of non-military personnel, I should point out that a good Provost Marshall is usually the most feared and hated officer within a Brigade, because he has the authority to enforce, discipline even officers of higher ranks. Furthermore, in the massacre that followed that revanchist coup, scores of fine officers some of whom were innocent; civilians who were in no way interested in what was happening both in the barracks and in the politics of the country were targeted and exterminated.
Whatever, we can now with authority reveal that the cold blooded murder of the Army Provost Marshall can be traceable to the findings of Col. Ibanga Ekanem Report on the January 15 Revolution. This Report sponsored by the Army Headquarters was ordered by General Aguiyi Ironsi and it investigated thoroughly the motives, the reasons, the officers, and the endgame of the January 15 coup. Ekanem after his investigations always carried the papers of his enquiries with him anywhere he went. On that fateful August the 3rd when he was gunned down with his driver, the Col. as usual carried along his Ekanem papers on the January 15 Revolution. Like the Oputa White Papers, the enquiries and the probe that investigated the Asaba genocide of 1967, the Ekanem Papers which was the first to reveal that the January 15 boys primary objective was to release Chief Awolowo from Calabar prisons and install him the Prime Minister of Nigeria, never saw the light of the day. Ekanem Papers frightened the Ironsi administration when it revealed also that the boys had moved on the 15, in order to preempt the conservative coup that was coming on January the 17. That coup was financially supported by the Premiers of the North and the West. The 17th coup was to eliminate all the western intellectuals namely; Professor S. Onabamiro, late Papa Ajasin, former Governor, Ondo State, Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, the late Principal of May Flower College, Tai Solarin and his English wife. See Wole Soyinka, The Man Died, and the former Governor of Lagos State, Lateef Jakande Interview with the Comet Newspaper as quoted in Blood on the Niger, page 222.)
Finally, according to the Ekanem Report; the boys especially supported by Col. Adekunle Fajuyi needed Awo because they considered him a socialist revolutionary, as the Prime Minister and they did not want anything for themselves but expected Chief Awolowo to support their immediate planned movement to South Africa to fight in the black liberation war against the white apartheid regime.