In the eyes of the world we were one big nation basking in the joy of independence, the long awaited freedom from foreign leadership on home soil. Only the people could tell where the new shoe of self leadership hurt, but it did not take long before they shared their pain and made their grievances known to the world.

Trouble was looming in the country as anger and dissatisfaction by several groups were boiling and awaiting eruption. These feelings were fuelled by internal division in one region, the feeling of marginalization by another region, ethnocentrism and dominance of Federal legislature by another region on a country whose freedom was a collective effort.

The politicians exercised so much power and only acted to satisfy their own interest and that of foreign investors who controlled major sectors of the economy, from whom they received lump sums. The country’s politics became more of a game played by few individuals who where constantly creating parties and forming coalition.

Chief S.L. Akintola after defiling the leadership of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, left the Action Group (AG) and joined the Western branch of the National Convention of Nigeria Citizen (NCNC), only to leave afterwards to form his own party, the National Democratic Party (NDP), which later joined forces with Northern People’s Congress (NPC) to birth the Nigeria National Alliance (NNA).

The Action Group on the other hand, formed alliance with the National Convention of Nigeria Citizen to become the United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA) in readiness for the 1964 elections, the result of which was not generally accepted due to claims of unfair practices after the Nigeria National Alliance was announced winner.

So it happened that after several agitations that were born by the dissatisfaction surrounding the controversial 1962 census, the jailing of Chief Obafemi Awolowo for charges on treason, the division in the Western region whose loyalty was shared between Chief Akintola and Chief Awolowo, the riot in the West after Chief Akintola’s group retained leadership of the region after being declared winner of the 1965 Western regional elections, the seclusion of the Eastern region from Federal power, and the excessive authority lying in the North, a Coup d’état was the solution proffered by the Nigerian military whose motive was to eradicate tribalism, nepotism, corruption, and incompetence, as well as restore peace, law and order to this great nation.

How it happened

In the morning of January 15, 1966, a coup d’état which eliminated the prime minister (Alhaji Tafawa Balewa), minister of finance (Festus Okotie-Eboh), and other top politicians and leaders from the north and west, as well as some senior officers in the military was successfully executed by a section of the Nigerian army in Kaduna, Enugu, and Ibadan. The coup was not successful in Lagos as the Nigerian army under the control of the General Commanding Officer and loyal to the National Government took adequate measures to control the situation.

This development led the civilian government headed by Acting President Nwafor Orizu on the advice of the Council of Ministers to hand over power to an interim military government headed by General J.T Umunakwe Aguiyi Ironsi on the 16th of January, 1966. It was expected that the new military government would restore law and order, maintain peace, and forestall further threats to the country’s unified existence.

Jahfaith Irokanulo.

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