Dedicated to Nigeria's socio-political issues
October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007
Military Rebellion of July 29, 1975:
The Coup Against Gowon - Part 3
continued from: http://www.dawodu.com/omoigui39.htm
The Nine Point Plan
In October 1970, Gowon announced a six-year nine-point plan, which he said, must be accomplished “before the government of the country can be handed over with a full sense of responsibility”.
The points were as follows:
According to Gowon, “The target year for
completing our political program and returning the country to normal
constitutional government is 1976.”
The pursuit of post-war reconstruction and constitutional and administrative reforms prior to handing over to civilians appeared logical. The devil, however, was in the details. Problems arose not only in terms of the specifics of what was being proposed (and by whom and for how long) but also in terms of perceptions of relative access, power and influence among competing groups in the State apparatus and their clients.
The Civil Service and its relationship to the
S.O. Wey was the first Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Defence, and Head of the Cabinet Office from January 1961 until August 1966. According to him, the role of the civil service after the coup of January 1966 was legally crystallized by Government Notice No. 152 in the extraordinary gazette of January 26, 1966. The Secretary to the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers became the Secretary to the Federal Military Government and Head of the Civil Service; while the Secretary to the President became the Principal Secretary, State House, Lagos.
The SMC at that time was comprised of military regional governors but not the Heads of Military Services or the Inspector-General of Police (IGP). They met very infrequently. Although there was theoretically a Federal Executive Council, General Ironsi (as “Supreme Commander”) was in direct contact with the Permanent Secretaries, making day-to-day decisions.
However, when in May 1966, Mr. Wey recollects, Major General Ironsi presented proposals for the abolition of regions and unification of the Civil Services to the Supreme Military Council, he did so without consultation with the civil service. The proposed administrative reforms were being made – on the recommendation of one permanent secretary, Mr. F. Nwokedi - even before the Constitution Review Commission - under Chief Rotimi Williams - was able to begin its work. Indeed the Secretary to the Federal Military Government and Head of the Civil Service found out about the proposal during the SMC meeting. The SFMG reminded the council that when General Ironsi took power in January he had said that his régime would last for two years (1966-68) during which a new constitution would be prepared “by the people” and “presented to themselves.” According to the SFMG, the two new decrees, 33 and 34 would amount to introducing a new constitution without consultation. His advice went unheeded – with unfortunate consequences.
For the first ten months of the Gowon regime, there was no federal cabinet. Permanent Secretaries who dealt directly with Gowon headed Federal Ministries. In the confusion of the weekend of July 29, 1966, the birth of his government at the Ikeja Barracks had been partially mediated by a group of federal permanent secretaries. These included Abdul Aziz Attah, Phillip Asiodu, Allison Ayida, Musa Daggash, Ibrahim Damcida, HA Ejueyitchie, Yusuf Gobir, BN Okagbue, and others. Other prominent federal public servants included the Chairman of the Public Service Commission, Alhaji Sule Katagum. Along with others, as well as the British and American envoys, these men counseled caution in the heat of the events that were unfolding. The position they advocated was opposed at the time by many of the soldiers - including Lt. Col. Murtala Mohammed - present at the Barracks during those highly charged hours.
HA Ejueyitchie, an Itsekiri from the Midwest, was appointed the new Secretary to the Federal Military Government and Head of the Civil Service. He, along with Yusuf Gobir, Allison Ayida, Phillip Asiodu and Eme Ebong, would constitute an inner circle of trusted civil servants (most of whom were from the Midwest). All of the subsequent high-tension events of the period from August 1966 to May 1967, when Nigeria was on the brink of disintegration, were conducted under the watchful eyes of these civil servants and their colleagues. They guided the young Lt. Col. Gowon through the Ad Hoc Constitutional Conferences of August and September 1966, (at which only the Midwest Region advocated the preservation of the federation). They did “Monday quarter-backing” after the fiasco of Aburi. They drafted Decree No. 8, which conceded on nearly all points demanded by the Eastern regional Governor, but, suspicious of Ojukwu’s intentions, gave Gowon the power to declare a state of emergency in any region. When on May 26, 1967, the Eastern regional Consultative Assembly apparently gave Ojukwu a mandate to declare secession, federal civil servants advised Gowon to create 12 states the next day as a strategic palliative response - and declare a state of emergency.
According to S. O. Wey, civil servants argued behind the scenes that to mobilize the country against the threat to its existence, the pre-1958 North-South parity should be restored (rather than defining it on the basis of controversial population figures). He was advised to create exactly the same number of States in the North (6) as in the South (6). The break-up of the Northern region was generally along the lines proposed by the Middle Belt delegates during the Ad Hoc Constitutional Conferences of 1966, thus placating that vital interest. The creation of ‘Lagos State’ was in response to the conditional threat of secession from the West and the demands for ‘northern troops’ to leave. The break-up of the eastern region was in deference to the long standing demands of the ethnic minorities of Calabar, Ogoja and Rivers provinces for their own state. Reportedly against the advice of the Secretary to the Eastern Region Government, Mr. NU Akpan, who was an eastern minority, and allegedly without consulting senior Eastern military officers, Lt. Col. C. O. Ojukwu went ahead and declared Biafra on May 30, 1967. In doing so, he cited the fear of insecurity occasioned by the tragic mass killings of mainly Igbo speaking peoples in May, July and September 1966.
These pre-war grand strategic and political machinations aside, the federal civil service played a complex role during the war, alternately being viewed as an ally or irritant by the front-line military. Civil servants suggested the establishment of security and civil defence organizations in various states, tapping into logistic resources provided by various ministries. They counseled the promulgation of many war-time decrees, such as the Public Security Decree (No. 31 of 1967) which outlawed the private possession of weapons and ammunition, and the Military Courts (Special Powers) Decree (No. 4. of 1968) designed to enforce discipline among federal troops. A whole variety of Trade disputes emergency decrees were also promulgated to settle wartime trade disputes.
Mr. Gray Longe, who later became the Head of Service, recalls that initially there was an Armed Forces Committee on the procurement of Supplies. This committee included the Deputy Permanent Secretary at the MOD, along with the Army QMG, Air Force Logistics Officer and a representative from the Ministry of Finance. As a result of inter-service rivalries, and the specialized differences between service needs, this Committee gave way to a purely military Joint Supplies Board to reconcile competing requests. Then in October 1969, apparently in response to abuses in the system, as well as competition between Army Divisions (who were each doing their own thing), Gowon created a central Procurement Committee that would make recommendations to him on the basis of input from the Joint Supplies Board. However, initial offers for weapons, ammo and supplies were to be channeled directly to the Service Chiefs and the Director-General of the Armed Forces Medical Services.
But there were other angles. The mobilization of personnel and resources across the country was stepped up at an unprecedented rate. For example, control of monetary and banking policies were more tightly controlled by the Federal Executive Council. The Central Bank was empowered to purchase, sell, discount and rediscount Treasury Bills and Treasury certificates in order to increase the borrowing power of the government at war. When the consortium under the Standard Charter of Britain became reluctant to do so (because of wartime risks and export disruptions), the CBN was also directed to finance produce-marketing boards. Mr. IJ Ebong, then Deputy Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance, chaired the first wartime propaganda committee.
Civil servants even participated in some military operations. When Lagos was threatened by the Biafran invasion of the Midwest and West, initial holding action was achieved by the destruction of the Shasha Bridge on mile 82 of the Ore road. However, the subsequent epic battle of Ore on August 29, 1967, at which the Biafran advance towards Lagos was decidedly reversed, was conducted with disused old colonial maps of tracks in the area. The maps were provided by a surveyor in the civil service who passed them on to the then Deputy Permanent Secretary at the MOD. Such vital intelligence enabled the encirclement and destruction of Biafran troops in that sector.
To limit the utility of internationally
exchangeable money allegedly looted by secessionists from the vaults of the
Central Banks in Enugu, Port Harcourt and Benin, the federal government changed
the Nigerian currency in 1968. As various localities were recaptured by federal
forces, normalcy administration loans were granted to help reactivate local
Civil servants in the Foreign Service traveled to numerous countries all over the world on diplomatic missions in support of the war effort.
The civil service helped to enforce import control
policies to conserve foreign exchange, and all civil servants contributed to
what was known as the Compulsory Savings Scheme and Armed Forces
Comfort Fund. Relying on the strategy of deficit financing, the Federal
Ministry of Finance made funds available for the prosecution of the war.
Recurrent expenditure for all arms of government except the MOD was
restricted. Credit facilities were liberalized. Promissory notes were used
more frequently. Treasury certificates were issued, beginning in 1968. The
statutory limit to issuance of Treasury Bills was raised again and again. In
fact the funds used for early reconstruction efforts in 1970 came from such
sources. The net disadvantage of some these emergency wartime measures,
however, was post-war inflation.
It was inevitable that with such a deep degree of involvement in the political and economic decision making process of the country during the war, the civil service became more powerful than it had ever been. Some senior civil servants became known as “Super Permanent Secretaries,” a designation which would later create conflict with former politicians serving as Federal Commissioners, as well as the regular military, as then Major-General Gowon began to contemplate and implement his “Nine-Point Plan.”
The tensions reached critical mass when Oil became an increasingly important element of the Nigerian economy and everyone – including some soldiers in the barracks - wanted a piece of the action. In 1969/70 Oil accounted for 26.3% of the federal revenue. In 1970/71 it accounted for 43.6%. By 1975 it was accounting for 45.9% of the federal revenue. There was “so much” money from Oil that General Gowon once commented that Nigeria’s problem was not money, but how to spend it. The Second National Development Plan (1970 – 74) was, for all practical intents and purposes, put together by an all-Nigerian team of federal economic technocrats, with little input from most states. It proposed spending N4 Billion – a dramatic increase in federal capital expenditure brought about by Oil. It focused on post-war reconstruction, self-reliance, indigenisation and industrialization. Contracts for reconstruction and rehabilitation alone amounted to about N2.2 Billion.
The subsequent Third National Development Plan (1975-80), which was actually also planned by the Gowon regime before it was overthrown, proposed spending N33 Billion on – as the late Professor Billy Dudley put it - a long shopping list. As more money came in during the “Oil Boom” heydays of OPEC following the October 1973 Middle East war, it was even revised upwards to N43 Billion. It was assumed – wrongly - that by 1980 Nigeria would be producing 3 million barrels of oil a day. This did not happen, and even the price of Oil was unpredictable. Subsequent budget shortfalls in implementing the plan were financed through $2.0 billion Jumbo loans taken by the Obasanjo regime – which then took credit (and still takes credit) for many of the Gowon projects it did not in fact play any role in planning.
In any case, as of 1970, the Supreme Military Council was well established as a final ‘ratifying’ organ overseeing the activities of the Federal Executive Council (FEC). But Gowon retained his powers as “Supreme Commander”, even though he was more often referred to as “C-in-C”. The reason was because Ojukwu rejected Decree No. 8 of 1967 in the run-up to the war and Gowon subsequently declared a State of Emergency. With Gowon as Chairman, the SMC comprised the State Governors and Service Chiefs. Curiously, permanent secretaries were expected to be “in attendance” at SMC meetings but Federal Commissioners (including old politicians like Chiefs Awolowo and Enahoro, and some military men) could only attend if invited. This arrangement made it possible for the permanent secretaries to bypass their Ministers and send memoranda through General Gowon directly to the SMC.
The post-war Army
Meanwhile, the huge post-war Army had undergone major changes in its internal culture. It had expanded in size beyond anything anyone had imagined possible and many recruits were stark illiterates. As noted before, early plans to demobilize ex-servicemen and others that had been emergently recruited and commissioned nearly led to a mutiny in the 2nd Division. In the 3MCDO, however, Colonel Obasanjo had undertaken some demobilization without due process. Many soldiers were disabled from war wounds – and their rehabilitation and demobilization was limited by the capacity of the Oshodi resettlement scheme.
The Army was certainly not morally above board, as evidenced by some of the high profile cases of fraud that were publicized at the time. The problem with wartime MOD arms deals and supplies have previously been mentioned. In many units troop strength was often fabricated and salaries of casualties stolen by commanders who would not inform AHQ of the deaths of their soldiers but kept drawing funds. In late 1970 fifteen officers were arrested for expropriating 0.25 million pounds of salaries for 10,000 ghost soldiers! In later years many officers – including, allegedly, at least one future Nigerian leader - would face administrative sanctions for stealing unit salaries and other funds. In addition, several officers and soldiers were executed during the war for “war crimes” while others got away with it. Some – particularly in the 3rd MCDO - became notorious for making “blood money.”
Early after the war, there were cases of weapons being kept for personal use (and sale to robbers), looting, rape of women, murder, etc. Soldiers, particularly those in "Pay and Roll" units (now known as the Finance corps) and "Supply and Transport", were a major factor in the explosion of prostitution in many parts of the southeast and south south. In other words, they were "paying" (with cash meant for the troops) and the women were "rolling." In May 1970, soldiers, under the influence of alcohol, unjustifiably killed one prominent Hotelier in Benin. A few years later, a Naval Officer, Sub-Lieutenant William Oyazimo, was convicted by one of the many Firearms and Armed Robbery tribunals set up by the Gowon government and executed at the Bar Beach in Lagos - as he continued, nevertheless, to plead his innocence.
In addition, some officers and men in the
sprawling post-war “Army of occupation” along with “military contractors” also
reportedly began joining secret societies and cults, thus creating a whole new
social problem entangled with the judicial system. But the massive presence of
soldiers in the south-east and south-south states also spurned some legitimate
associated small scale economic activities, the significance of which has not
been more fully appreciated as a factor in the economic recovery of many of
those states. Unfortunately, however, many military tenants, particularly
officers, inspite of their relative financial wherewithal, often refused to pay
their rent bills. Indeed, many simply stayed on in "rented" housing long after
rent 'contracts' had expired. For many landlords, getting one's money from the
MOD thereafter was like asking a camel to pass through the eye of a needle -
unless one had "connections" or was willing to bribe somebody. Once an officer
occupied your property, getting him out was a problem – in part because of lack
of officer accommodation in Barracks, but also because they were "above the
law". This became a sore point in the mercantile-military relations of that era.
Then there was the problem of military postings.
Many officers insisted on being posted to their home states. Others – like
Colonel Ayo-Ariyo - did not want to be posted to the north because of their
experiences in 1966. But there were some – including officers of ‘northern’
origin - that just wanted to be posted to Lagos (the capital) and nowhere else.
Some had since married women of southern origin, or were enthralled by the more
permissive moral environment of southern Nigeria. To deal with this issue the
divisions were reorganized in such a way that they had a North-South polarity.
Every Division’s area of responsibility (except the Lagos Garrison) covered at
least a part of both the North and South. Once posted to a Division, therefore,
you could end up anywhere, north or south, even if the Division’s headquarters
was in one or the other.
Former Nigerian Officers who had served in the
Biafran Army at the rank of Major and above were interrogated by a Board -
chaired by Brigadier Adeyinka Adebayo - for involvement in the secession
attempt. Those reabsorbed lost seniority for the period they served in the
Biafran Army. Some were dismissed and others retired. A few were jailed for
some years if they were involved in either the January 1966 coup and/or the
invasion of the Midwest in 1967 or accused of war crimes. No one was judicially
Nevertheless, career officers had to be put back
on career development paths that had been interrupted by the war. Many were
thus sent abroad for Staff College training to prepare them for higher command.
In mid-1970, therefore, then Colonel Murtala Mohammed was sent to Britain to
attend the Senior Officers course at the Joint Services Staff College (JSSC).
At the end of his course in December 1970, a section of his confidential report
‘He has a quick, agile mind, considerable ability
and common sense. He holds strong views, which he puts forward in a forthright
manner. He speaks well and his performance on presentations has been impressive.
He is a strong character and determined. However, he finds it difficult to
moderate his opinions and enter into discussion with others whose views he may
Many others were also sent abroad. For example,
Lt. Col. Shehu Yar’Adua was sent to the Pakistan Staff College at Quetta in
1971. When he returned, he was deployed as Commander of the 9th
Infantry Brigade that was then in the Midwest and was a military member of the
Midwest Executive Council.
New officers also had to be recruited. The
Nigerian Defence Academy was now fully under Nigerian control and the quota
system – totally disrupted by the war effort - was re-introduced. It would be
many years, though, before the gross imbalance in regional and state recruitment
and representation occasioned by the events of 1966-70 would be redressed – if
However, Barrack facilities were simply non-existent for an Army of 250,000 men. Soldiers had to construct their own makeshift barracks in shacks that were called “Bashas.” The environmental and sanitary consequences were terrible. Water-borne diseases claimed the lives of many soldiers’ children.
Indeed, the civil service had made proposals for demobilization as far back as 1968 during the war. But for various reasons, especially opposition from the Army rank and file, Gowon demurred. However, even in 1972, there were still senior officers (like Colonel Murtala Mohammed) who were opposed to demobilization. The Army became a social service for providing refuge to men who felt they had made great sacrifices when the country was at grave risk.
Unfortunately, the budget implications were
horrendous. The country was getting increasingly restive about the proportion
of national revenues being spent on defence. In 1971/72, N285.89 million was
spent on capital and recurrent defence expenditures, compared with N5.16 million
on education and N15.43 million on health. By 1973/74, the amounts were N420.16
million, N12.21 million, and N19.97 million respectively. By 1975/76 the
amounts were N1166.69 million, N295.23 million, and N69.77 million respectively.
“Real” versus “Political” military
While of all
this was going on, there was a growing perception of the “real” versus
“political” military. It will be recalled that when Gowon created 12 States,
he appointed the following persons as Governors:
Except then Major Ogbemudia, who fought during the
campaign to retake the Midwest, none of the others saw action during the war.
As their lifestyles, alleged acquisitions of property, and public profile became
increasingly provocative, former front-line soldiers began to feel
short-changed. They had risked everything, they thought, but others were
Thus, the outlines of a dangerous dichotomy in the
military had been established. Those who physically fought in the war saw
themselves as the “real military.” Rightly or wrongly, they viewed Gowon, his
High Command in Lagos, his military Governors and their commissioners and the
federal “super permanent secretaries” as the “political military.” They were
particularly irritated with (and jealous of) his Governors, who not only did not
fight (and were regularly promoted on time), but had missed out on traditional
military courses they had been expected to take in the course of their career
development. In time to come, this dichotomy would be exploited.
Gowon’s Transition: Options for
Shortly after Gowon’s announcement in 1970 that he planned to hand over in 1976, an internal debate erupted within the bureaucracy regarding options for the country. The four main options canvassed by policy analysts and advisers were
Your write up as published on the gamji.com is very educative and interesting, Could you please explain the role played by Papa Awo as the Igbos felt he misled them after the Aburi conference, yet you stated the super Permanent Secretaries drafted and agreed to all Igbo demands? Secondly, may I know if the Yorubas were fair to the Igbos during and after the war? This should help to remove ill- feelings among this two tribes.
Yes, nearly all (but not all) Ojukwu demanded at Aburi were met, except the one about the ability of Gowon to declare a state of emergency in ANY part of the federation - which was part of Nigerian law. That was the sticking point. That was why Akpan (the Eastern Region Secretary to Government and the only other member of the Eastern delegation) told Ojukwu to accept Decree #8 to avoid war, since he had received 95% of what he wanted. [Akpan, NU. The Struggle for Secession in Nigeria 1966-70. Frank Cass, 1971]
Note also that, according to Allison Ayida, one of Gowon's problems at Aburi was the portion of the meeting that was not recorded. The military officers had excused everyone else to speak among themselves in camera and it was alleged that during this informal chat Ojukwu (the only Eastern officer there) made certain 'gentleman' commitments to Gowon. However, this part was not - allegedly - on the Phonodisc (24 sides, 12 discs) recorded by the Ghana government and subsequently released in Enugu by command of Ojukwu. It is very hard to know what to make of this information from Ayida but it is certainly interesting. Its another one of those little titbits about the war and all the intrigue.
Awo was not at Aburi. Apart from Ojukwu no other Eastern officer (or politician) was there either. Akpan was a civil servant. Awo did not join Gowon's government until June 3, 1967.
What Awo did was make a public announcement on May 1st, 1967* that if the East was "allowed" to go then the West would not stay in the Federation. (see below)[http://www.dawodu.com/awolowo2.htm] He also engineered for others (like Adebayo, Obasanjo, etc..) to ask for northern troops to leave "the West." […….That, with immediate effect, all military personnel should be posted to their regions of origin....] At the same time he tried to get Yoruba officers in the North to come back "home." [Oluleye, Military Leadership in Nigeria]
Assuming this was his primary consideration, Ojukwu may have gotten the impression, therefore, that the North was isolated and went ahead (against the advice of his Head of Service, and without consulting senior Igbo officers) to declare Biafra. He may have assumed that the West would follow MERELY because he declared it. [Note, however, that Brigadier Hilary Njoku and Major General Alexander Madiebo have different hypotheses for why Ojukwu did what he did and when. Ojukwu did not declare secession on May 30 just because he ‘misunderstood’ Awolowo. Then Biafra's Intelligence Chief (Odogwu) does not think so either.]
Gowon, supported by civil servants, mainly from the Midwest, decided not to "allow" the East to go (to borrow Awo's word). The North had finally come around to accept this view even though it originally wanted Nigeria broken up or confederated (in July/August 1966). (Since Gowon did not "allow" the East to secede, Awolowo turned around to support his government, particularly when he perceived – rightly or wrongly - that the "Liberation Army" was advancing toward Ibadan "to compel us to enter into association with it on its own terms.") See below.
Note that ill-feeling (and ethnic rivalry) between Yorubas and Igbos antedated the war. There was a write up recently in the Vanguard about it. Even when Awo was in Prison Yorubas and Igbos were still at it. The problem dates back to the forties. (However, it must be noted that some of the young Igbo officers (like Capt. Emma Nwobosi) who staged the January 15 1966 coup say they meant to release Awo from jail and that many Igbo speaking people did in fact vote for Abiola in 1993 (according to alleged results). What I am still looking for is evidence – in the last 40 years - of significant numbers of Yorubas voting for Igbo candidates – at least, based on "announced results." This is a point an Igbo friend of mine makes forcefully. He also points out that the North has a track record of voting for non-northern candidates too. Why not the Yoruba west, he asks?)
During the war, after some prevarication, the Yoruba, led by Awo, after the invasion of the Midwest and West, supported the federal effort against the East. [Note that this reaction by Awo was in fact predictable. In his speech to Western Leaders of Thought on May 1st, he said: "If any region in Nigeria considers itself strong enough to compel us to enter into association with it on its own terms, I would only wish such a region luck. But such luck, I must warn, will, in the long run be no better than that which has attended the doings of all colonial powers down the ages. "] Since he did not specify which region he was referring to at the time, this pretty much explains his subsequent reaction to Colonel Banjo and the "Liberation Army" – even though there were certainly elements in the West (like Wole Soyinka) who were preparing to receive Banjo. However, see: http://www.dawodu.com/biafra1.htm
Then there was the question of what role Awolowo played in the issue of starvation as a weapon of war. After the war there was the issue of Yorubas taking the places of Igbos vacated in the civil service and Universities, issuing all Igbos the same amount of money (N20), the indigenisation decree (which the Yorubas benefited from the most), the ban on the importation of stockfish and second hand goods which hit the Igbos etc..... To address these "conventional wisdoms" and assess their veracity will require a lot of time and analysis. That is for another day.
Nevertheless, Awo had left the cabinet (1971) before the indigenisation decree came out (1972) and went into full operation (1974). [The Federal Commissioner for Finance during the Indigenisation exercise was Alhaji Shehu Shagari] It is true that the Yorubas were later viewed (by northerners and easterners) as having benefited the most from it, and got to allegedly "control" the economy thereafter. There was a perception that - after the war - they also got to "gain" on the Igbos in the civil service, foreign service, Universities and Army.
But some of these developments were not - as far as I know - deliberately planned, even if the opportunity presented was certainly aggressively exploited.
Were the Yorubas "fair to the Igbos during and after the war?"
I may not be the best person to address that question. "Fairness", like Beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.
*"The Eastern Region must be encouraged to remain part of the Federation. If the Eastern Region is allowed by acts of omission or commission to secede from or opt out of Nigeria, then the Western Region and Lagos must also stay out of the Federation."
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