The Key Players of the 1966 Rebellions-Where Are They Today?
Dr. Nowa Omoigui
PART 1 - January 1966 Mutiny
MAJOR E. A. IFEAJUNA (Infantry/Signals)
Major Ifeajuna, graduate of University College Ibadan, Mons Officer Cadet School trained, was the overall leader of the January 15 mutiny and operational commander of Lagos activities. Along with Major Okafor and Captain Oji he was a member of the original core of conspirators which farmed out to recruit others. Ifeajuna assassinated Brigadier Zak Maimalari, Lt. Col. Abogo Largema and the Prime Minister, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa.
When it became obvious that Lagos ops had failed, he and Major DO Okafor bolted for the East, where they are said to have had a meeting with the regional Premier, Michael Okpara. Ifeajuna later sneaked back to Lagos from where he was driven to the border with Dahomey by two federal civil servants (one of whom was his brother-in-law), enroute to Ghana. He was welcomed by President Nkrumah and sent to Winneba to stay with Sam Ikoku.
When Nkrumah was overthrown in late February, Ifeajuna was no longer welcome in Ghana and was subsequently sent back to Nigeria. He was detained at the Uyo Prison where he had an altercation with Major Ademoyega over the failure of their plot and his behavior afterwards. He was later transferred to Enugu and subsequently released by Colonel Ojukwu in 1967 along with other January mutineers in Eastern region prisons.
On August 9, 1967, as a Biafran Lt. Col., Ifeajuna was the first Chief of Staff of the 'Midwest Liberation Force' (101 Division) under Victor Banjo. However, he got involved in an alleged plot to overthrow Ojukwu, was tried under Ojukwu's Biafran Law and Order (maintenance) Decree of 1967, before being executed in Enugu on September 25, 1967 along with Banjo, Alale and Agbam.
According to Odogwu, among Ifeajuna's last words were: "You may kill me now, but I am afraid it is too late. I am sorry for you all because it won't be long before they get all of you. The Nigerians are already in your midst."
Ten days later, on October 4, Enugu fell to federal troops under Lt. Col. TY Danjuma.
SAMUEL AGBAM (AGBAMUCHE) - Diplomat
Mr. Agbam, graduate of University College Ibadan, a Nigerian foreign service officer, was the only civilian physically involved in operations on the night of January 15 - although many other civilians were involved in the background as agents-provocateur and enablers. Mr. Agbam grew up in Warri (where his father was the Post-Master) and was a very close friend of Major Ifeajuna. They both married midwesterners. During Lagos operations he accompanied Ifeajuna for some time and provided his car to help transport Prime Minister Balewa and Lt. Col Largema's corpse when the latter was killed at Ikoyi Hotel.
During the civil war Agbam became involved in the alleged plot to overthrow Ojukwu and was tried under Ojukwu's Biafran Law and Order (maintenance) Decree of 1967. He was executed along with Ifeajuna, Alale and Banjo on September 25, 1967.
MAJOR PATRICK CHUKWUMA KADUNA NZEOGWU - Infantry/Intelligence
Sandhurst trained, Leader of Northern Operations, spokesperson for the January 15 mutiny, assassin of the Sardauna of Sokoto and participant in the assassination of Colonel R. Shodeinde. He was arrested after arriving in Lagos on January 18, 1966 in the company of Lt. Col. Conrad Nwawo, following his five point agreement with General Ironsi. Initially detained at Kirikiri but then transferred to the East, he and other January 15 mutiny detainees in the East were released from jail by Lt. Col. Ojukwu at the end of the first quarter of 1967 - following demonstrations by students of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
Nzeogwu's relationship with Ojukwu was never good to begin with, because as CO of the 5th Battalion in Kano, Col. Ojukwu (in the view of January mutineers) had betrayed them back in January 1966. However, following his release, in April 1967, Nzeogwu (along with some other officers) took part in plans for an innocuous but unauthorized night military exercise around Enugu by the Eastern Area Command and was subsequently publicly quoted widely in his now famous interview with Dennis Ejindu. Ojukwu was very angry about both issues, fearful on one hand that the "exercise" was another coup in the making and on the other, that Nzeogwu's public opposition to secession would undermine the momentum he had been cultivating toward that outcome. Nzeogwu was, therefore, placed on suspension by Colonel Ojukwu who demanded that he recant his views against secession - which he refused to do.
After Ojukwu's May 30 declaration, Nzeogwu was released from close observation, and finding himself bored, asked to go into battle, albeit, without the appropriate level of support for an officer of his caliber and rank. On July 29, 1967 (some say July 26th) , Nzeogwu - who had been promoted to the rank of Biafran Lt. Col - was trapped in an ambush near Nsukka while conducting a night recce operation against federal troops in the 21st battalion under Captain Mohammed Inua Wushishi. He made an effort to identify himself to the soldiers before he was killed. His corpse was subsequently identified and orders given by Major General Gowon for him to be buried with full military honors at the military cemetry in Kaduna. However, by the time the corpse arrived in Kaduna, it had been mutilated by unknown persons and his eyes gouged out. A photograph of Nzeogwu's corpse is available at the National Archives in Kaduna.
It should be noted that there are alternative theories about how Nzeogwu was killed, including one that places the blame squarely on Ojukwu himself. However, soldiers present at the scene of his death have stated otherwise. Nzeogwu died in the same sector during the same period as Tom Bigger (Ojukwu's half-brother) and, subsequently, Chris Okigbo]
CAPTAIN E. NWOBOSI - Artillery
Captain Emmanuel Nwobosi, Sandhurst trained, was the leader of operations in the Western region. It was his group that killed Premier Samuel Akintola after the Premier opened fire at them wounding the Captain and others. The generator attendant was also killed. Nwobosi was arrested upon arrival in Lagos with Chief Fani-Kayode. He was initially detained at Kiri-Kiri before being transferred to the East. He was released by Ojukwu in 1967.
As a Colonel in the Biafran Army, Nwobosi held a field command until he was wounded. He later became Ojukwu's Chief of Staff.
Nwobosi is still alive and holds the traditional title of Ugene of Obosi
T/ MAJOR TIM ONWATUEGWU - Infantry
January co-conspirator, Sandhurst trained, assassin of Brigadier A. Ademulegun, and co-assassin of Colonel R. Shodeinde. He was initially detained at Kiri-Kiri before being transferred to the East. He was released by Ojukwu in 1967.
Onwatuegwu survived the civil war and is reported to have been a very good Biafran commander, particularly in defensive operations. However, he was killed shortly after the Biafran surrender in January 1970 - which it is said, he refused to accept. He was even accused of plotting an ambush of Colonel Obasanjo near Owerri after the official Biafran surrender.
There are two accounts of how he died. In one account he was tricked (through a friend) into a hotel meeting with a federal officer of the 3rd Marine Commando where he was murdered in cold blood. In another account, he was killed in a skirmish by soldiers of the 1st division near the Cameroun border.
MAJOR ADEWALE ADEMOYEGA - Infantry
Graduate of London University, Mons Officer Cadet School trained, January co-conspirator and liaison between Nzeogwu and Ifeajuna. Co-assassin of Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh.
After escaping from the failed Lagos scene of operations, Major Ademoyega was eventually arrested in Kaduna, brought to Lagos and later detained in the East by General Ironsi. He was transferred to Warri Prison after an altercation with Major Ifeajuna who had been repatriated from Ghana by the new military regime there.
When Biafran troops invaded the Midwest in August 1967, units under Major H. Chukwuka released him from prison. He was subsequently appointed Chief of Staff of the "Liberation Army" under Banjo to replace Ifeajuna when the latter returned to Enugu, allegedly to act as a Liaison officer.
When the Midwest front collapsed, Ademoyega and several other officers connected with that operation were detained by Ojukwu for "sabotage" until the end of the war. After the war, he was released from Biafran detention and then re-arrested by federal authorities (for participation in the Midwest invasion and, therefore, attempt to overthrow Gowon) until he was released in October 1974. He wrote the book "Why we Struck" and remains alive.
MAJOR C. I. ANUFORO (Recce)
Major Christian Anuforo, Sandhurst trained, was a January co-conspirator, personal friend of Major Nzeogwu, and the executioner of Col. Kur Mohammed, Lt. Col. A. Unegbe, Col. J. Y. Pam and Chief Okotie- Eboh.
He was arrested after the failure of the plot and detained initially in Lagos, then moved to Ilesha, and then Benin-City.
On August 16, 1966 a unit of troops from the 4th battalion at Ibadan brought him out of the Benin Prison, drove him (and others) away, tortured and later shot him along the Benin-Ore road.
MAJOR I. H. CHUKWUKA - Infantry
Major Humphrey Chukwuka (Chukuka), Sandhurst trained, was a Staff Officer at AHQ under Lt. Col. James Pam. As a co-conspirator in January he arrested Col. Pam at his house and drove him initially to the Brigade Officers mess. Later on a decision was made to kill Pam. Therefore, Chukwuka and Anuforo along with some soldiers drove Pam away. Pam was later personally shot by Anuforo near the Polo course, not far from the spot where Maimalari was killed (and incidentally not far from where Murtala Muhammed was killed in 1976). Chukwuka was detained by Ironsi in the East and released by Colonel Ojukwu in 1967. As a Biafran Lt. Col., he was the commander of the Task Force that took Warri during the Biafran invasion of the Midwest. However, when that front collapsed he too was detained like other officers and accused of sabotage. Chukwuka was initially detained at Aba where he started a Divine Ministry. Then he was moved to Owerri prison after the fall of Aba. From Owerri he was moved to Umuahia and then to Ntueke. At Ntueke prison he clashed with Charles Nwokedi and ended up being transferred to the recaptured Owerri prison. A few weeks later he was quickly evacuated from Owerri when it finally fell to Federal troops. He returned to Ntueke from where he gained freedom at the end of the civil war. He was among those who faced a Board of Inquiry in Port-Harcourt under Brigadier Adebayo.
I have not heard about him for many years and presume he is still alive.
MAJOR D. O. OKAFOR - Infantry
Major Okafor, Mons Officer Cadet School trained, former Commander of the Federal Guard and co-assassin of the Prime Minister, initially escaped to Enugu with Ifeajuna. He was later arrested by General Ironsi, detained at Kiri-Kiri and then moved to Abeokuta Prison.
Over the weekend of July 29, soldiers at the Abeokuta Garrison broke into the Prison and killed him (some say by being buried alive).
CAPTAIN O. OJI - Infantry
Captain Oji, Mons Officer Cadet School trained, one of the original three January conspirators, took part in the initially unsuccessful effort to arrest Brigadier Maimalari, killing a Lance Corporal of his guard in the process. Some sources claim that it was Oji that Okafor sent to accost General Ironsi but that Oji did not find him at home - an oddly timed assignment considering that Oji spent so much time at Maimalari's house at the outset. Anyhow, Oji later went to Ikeja Barracks for reconnaisance before the mutiny collapsed. It may have been Oji's group Gowon was referring to when he complained to Madiebo that he was being shadowed at Ikeja.
Oji was arrested by Ironsi and detained in the East. He too was released by Ojukwu in 1967. One account says he died in action during the civil war in 1968. Another claims he survived the war.
CAPTAIN BEN GBULIE - Army Engineers
Sandhurst trained, operated in Kaduna during the night of the January 15 coup. He was detained by Ironsi in the East, released by Ojukwu in 1967, fought during the war and survived it. He is alive and is the author of the Book "Nigeria's Five Majors."
MAJOR JOHN OBIENU (Recce)
Obienu was the best overall overseas cadet in his set at Sandhurst. He is alleged by Major Ademoyega to have backed out of the January plot at the end - although he was never detained in connection with it and one account says he actually helped to crush it. The implication is that he was playing both sides - and one account even suggests he leaked the plot to Ironsi beforehand. He was killed at the Abeokuta Officers Mess on July 28, 1966 by northern NCOs.
His wife, Mrs. Obienu, moved back to Enugu during the subsequent crises and for some time was in the good books of the Ojukwu regime. After the fall of Midwest and subsequent execution of Banjo and others, Mrs. Obienu (like many others, including Mrs. Alale) came under suspicion and fell from favor. All sorts of stories were circulated about her in an attempt to demystify her. She was later arrested and detained at the Aba prison from where she transferred to Umuahia and finally to Achina until the end of the war. Fellow prisoners describe her as a "born leader".
Lts. Ezedigbo, E. Okafor, and Okaka as well as 2/Lt. ES Nweke all died in action during the civil war. (As noted above there is controversy about Captain Oji's status) Ezedigbo was responsible for arresting Okotie- Eboh and assisted Ifeajuna in the executions of Brigadier Maimalari and Lt. Col. Largema. Lt. E. Okafor operated in Kaduna under Nzeogwu and was deployed to the State House that night. Lt. Okaka helped Ifeajuna issue ammunition to mutineers at 2 Brigade HQ in Lagos on the night of the mutiny while 2/Lt. ES Nweke occupied the Police HQ at Lion Buildings.
List of Officers detained by General Ironsi at Prisons in the Western, Midwestern and Eastern regions for the January Mutiny. Not all officers involved in the mutiny were detained or accounted for in official lists.
1. Major E Ifeajuna
2. Major PCK Nzeogwu
3. Major DO Okafor
4. Major IH Chukwuka
5. Major A. Ademoyega
6. Major C. Anuforo
7. Major T. Onwatuegwu
8. Captain Ben Gbulie
9. Captain E. Nwobosi
10. Captain Oji
11. Captain Udeaja
12. Captain Ude
13. Lt. B. Oyewole
14. Lt. Ganiyu Adeleke
15. Lt. Ezedigbo
16. Lt. Okafor
17. Lt. Okaka
18. Lt. Anyafulu
19. Lt. Okocha
20. Lt. Amuchienwa (NAF)
21. 2/Lt Azubuogor
22. 2/Lt. Nwokocha
23. 2/Lt. J.C. Ojukwu
24. 2/Lt. Onyefuru
25. 2/Lt. Igweze
26. 2/Lt. Egbikor
27. 2/Lt. Olafimihan
28. 2/Lt. Ngwuluka
29. 2/Lt. Nweke
30. 2/Lt. Ikejiofor
*Lt. Col. Victor Banjo was also detained for an unrelated incident after the mutiny in which he was accused of carrying a gun to a meeting with General Ironsi with intent to do harm. He was Head of Army Electrical/Mechanical Engineers (NAEME). Major Aghaya was also a NAEME officer who was detained along with other mutineers but may not have been directly involved. A few others who are known to have been told of the January plot or were actively involved were not detained at all.
TO BE CONTINUED IN PART 2 - JULY 1966 COUNTER-REBELLION