By EC Ejiogu***(Benjamin Adekunle)
I do not want to see any Red Cross, and Caritas, any World Council of Churches, any Pope, any
, or any United Nations Delegation. I want to prevent even one I[g]bo having even one piece to eat before their capitulation. (Major Benjamin Adekunle, The Economist [ Mission August 14, 1968) London]
As it turned out, in the super-charged atmosphere that arose then and has sustained in varied forms in the Nigeria project ever since, that promotion exercise, which “Under normal circumstances…would not have raised eyebrows” became an excuse for the hateful to let mayhem loose on the Igbo. Although it “could be justified on the basis of merit and correcting the anomaly of deserving officers that had been passed over for promotion in the past …”, still, it “was interpreted as favoring Igbo (sic)” (Siollun, 2009: 91).
Although, a significant number of the 21 officers who benefited in the May 1966 promotion exercise were Igbo, clarity remains that: “several majors were promoted to acting lt.-colonel and some others were promoted substantive lt-colonels” (Siollun, 2009: 91). Those of them who were in the latter category, were prior to the coup d’état, “already acting lt-colonels, and simply had their temporary/acting ranks confirmed”. Another reality worthy of mention is that although the Igbo predominated the officer corps especially the middle rank of major at the time, it was an ‘advantage’ that accrued to the Igbo by default: ‘The imminent end of de facto colonial rule forced the British who needed to replace the all-British officer corps with indigenous men, to alter their recruitment policy into the colonial military forces in the Nigeria project beginning from the 1950s to look for qualified indigenous men with the requisite Western educational qualifications. They found them mostly in the nationalities that inhabit the lower
Ahead in Western education, and being a nationality in which the individual is free in society to embark on pursuits for personal advancement without first securing the approval of the ruling elite, the Igbo quickly took advantage of the window of opportunity which opened in the officer corps and enlisted in record numbers. In 1956 and in 1960 when colonial ended, 68% of the officer corps was composed of the Igbo (Ejiogu, 2011: 164).
Conversely, most junior officers and NCOs were Northerners and the primary beneficiaries of the promotion exercise in the junior ranks were logically also Northerners. The promoted Northern soldiers included Theophilus Danjuma, Muhammadu Buhari, Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, Abdullahi Shelleng, Ibrahim Bako, Muhammadu Jega, Garba Dada (“Paiko”) and Paul Tarfa. Strangely there were no complaints about the preponderance of Northern promotions in this category. All eyes remained formed on the Igbo majors promoted to lt.-colonel. A group of Northern air force cadets were also dismissed due to their underwhelming educational achievements. The exercise seemed to be part of a broader leaning by Aguiy-Ironsi away from quota towards more merit based system (Siollun, 2009: 92).
(Siollun, 2009: 105)
Ogunewe found Northern soldiers inn his battalion (including Captain Gibson Jalo and Lieutenants Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, M. D. Jega and A. A. Abubakar) dressed in combat fatigues and readying themselves to commence an assault in Enugu. Using all his persuasive powers, he managed to convince them to hand over the armory keys and negotiated a tense but effective truce with Northern soldiers” (Siollun, 2009: 16). That, not withstanding, Murtala Muhammed’s repeated signals to his fellow northerners still galvanized some of them who still “attempted to break into the Enugu armory but were overpowered (Siollun, 2009: 16).
the deputy commander of the 1st battalion in
… [w]hen a decision was made to repatriate army officers [and rank and file] to their regions of origin, Adekunle and Northern soldiers in his unit (sic) were to leave Enugu and head first to Kaduna, and then to Lagos. Simultaneously a group of surviving Igbo soldiers that had been detained in Enugu Kadunaprison for their safety were to be repatriated to Enugwu via . When they were released for transportation by train to Lagos Enugu, Adekunle promised them safe passage to Lagosfrom where they could then proceed to . Northern soldiers in Adekunle’s battalion and the Igbo soldiers were placed on the same train. Some Northern soldiers having long been frustrated at their inability to kill Igbo thus far, finally got their opportunity. They descended upon the Igbo soldiers, killed them and threw their bodies off the train. For promising safe passage to the Igbo soldiers, Adekunle too was attacked, but was saved by the intervention of Captain Jalo. Although his father was a Yoruba from Enugu , Adekunle’s mother was like Jalo, from the Bachama ethnic group of the Northern Region (Siollun, 2009: 132-3). Ogbomosho