WITNESSES TO HISTORY:
- LT. COL. M. O. NZEFILI (rtd) – Part 4
In this fourth and concluding part,
Lt. Col. MO Nzefili (rtd) responds to the last set of questions sent in by
TOPIC: ABOUT COL. ABOGO LARGEMA
[Lt-Col. A. Largema, Commanding
Officer 4th Battalion Ibadan, assassinated January 15, 1966]* (see below)
A reader sent in a question about the late Col.
1. He was my Commanding Officer and I was his Second-in-Command. It is unusual
for officers to be writing short biographical texts of their Commanding Officers
late or alive. Even to start praising your Senior Officers in the media would be
2. Ordinarily, you write people's biographical texts with their permission and
it becomes difficult if one has to seek the late officer's family's consent for
that after his death. It would not be a palatable mission nor am I prepared to
venture. It is not the Military's way.
3. Please leave Col. Largema to rest in peace. He loved and was loved by his
officers and men of the 4th Battalion N.A, We all mourned the loss of this
detribalized Sandhurst trained officer. He asked for me by name to be posted to
him as Second-in-Command.
4. The Rumour [as related by ex-Major Adewale Ademoyega in his book "Why we
struck: The story of the first Nigerian coup, Evans, Ibadan (Nigeria) 1981] that
he was teaching a certain Premier [SL Akintola], weapon handling, could never
have been true. A Colonel could never deign to turn himself into a weapons
instructor to anybody, a Premier inclusive. What would the instructors that
abound in the Battalion be doing? Nor would any Colonel call a Sergeant and
order him to go and instruct a civilian on how to handle a pistol or Rifle in
his house or anywhere. It is not done. What if there is an accident? Military
Officers are Federal NOT Regional.
5. I wonder what the man who asked to know whether I was surprised when I heard
that Col. Largema had been killed in Lagos by Ifeajuna at Ikoyi Hotel, meant by
his question. He should come out openly to be identified. He may not be an
African. An officer loved by his officers and men? I wish this questioner was
with us in the Battalion the first few days after, to experience the tension
pregnant with danger even when Gen. Gowon was assuring me of his safety, the
truth hidden and unknown to me or anybody around to avoid conflagration.
TOPIC: ABOUT COL. HENRY IGBOBA
A reader sent in a question trying to clarify the circumstances of late Col.
1. I wrote the much I knew from what Henry Igboba told me. I spent the night
with him in my house at Ekenwan Road, Benin City, while he was under the
so-called house arrest.
2. If Col. Igboba knew he was going to be sent to prison, he never would have
gone back to Victor Banjo. He would not even have thought of promising to send
me the land rover which he came to my house with, Col. Banjo having earlier
cunningly seized my official Mercedes Benz 200, as a way of trapping me. Col.
Igboba knew Benin and it's neighbourhood well even up to his native village
IBUSA. To get to me that evening, he had clearly got out of whatever protection
there was and so could have escaped if he felt like doing so. He was not in
3. If Col. Victor Banjo wanted to shoot down Henry Igboba, he would not have
done it through a third party. Wale Ademoyega, if he wanted to shoot down Henry
Igboba, had ample opportunity but he did not. Henry went as far as Okitipupa in
command of troops with Ademoyega in Benin and Banjo at Enugu.
4. The above leaves me with the information I had that Henry was speaking in
Hausa to his assailants when he was gunned down. Ademoyega was not deploying
Hausa soldiers. Col. Victor Banjo who arrested him knew why he sent him to
prison. The pull out from Benin was a retreat and was quite chaotic as well.
However, Ademoyega is alive and may be in a better position to throw light on
TOPIC: THE OFFICERS AND NCOs WHO SERVED WITH ME AT THE 4BN NA Ibadan
Reader: Can the Colonel recall the names of the officers and NCOs who served
with him at the 4th Battalion at Ibadan?
1. I do not know the necessity for this enquiry. If the enquirer checked from 4
Bn, there should be a Board or Boards listing the officers that served in it
since inception. I hold no records, all having been lost during the crisis. They
could have helped me to recollect events from 1960, forty-four years ago when I
was first posted to 4Bn NA. All the same, I will try.
2. As for the officers, I remember Col. Price (C.O) Maj. Collins (2i/c), Maj.
Edge, Maj. Robertson, Capt. Collins, 2/Lt. Crawford as they then were, all
British. Major Fajuyi, Capt. Ejoor, Gowon, Lt. Ivenso, Lt. Amadi, Lt. Ajayi,
2/Lt. Aniebo, Wale, Oji as they then were. Capts. Ejoor and Gowon were senior to
me even from Sandhurst although I was also a Captain then.
3. I served in three Battalions, 4, 5 and 2 and I fear mixing up names hence I
am hesitating to mention some names that have come to mind. So, any such
officers alive should please pardon my memory.
4. Second Coming, 1965:- Col. Abogo Largema (C.O) Maj. Nzefili 2i/c Majors Amadi,
Ohanehi, Daramola, Captains Kweti, Anagho, Onifade, Adeleke. Lieutenants Egbune,
Achebe, Iloputaife, Iweanya, Second Lieutenants Bako, Vatsa, Idiagbon, Magoro,
Haladu, Paiko, Yelwa, Jasper e.t.c.
TOPIC: Military Professionalism then and now
A reader asked whether military professionalism today is what it was back then
and whether it could be restored.
1. Professionalism in the Army has no double meaning. I mentioned earlier that
we were commissioned in the U.K by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II along with
officers from Britain, the Commonwealth and other parts of the world. That
should tell you the standard of the Nigerian Army professionally.
2. The questioner then asked "can it ever be restored?" implying that he now
believes that professionalism after 1966 has gone. I am not aware that there is
no more professionalism in the post 1966 Army. I will not discuss. Nigerian
troops have been engaged since 1960 in United Nations operations worldwide. I
know of no adverse comments trailing them. In KANTANGA, DRC, ONUC 1960, in my
Battalion under Col. Price, I commanded an operation in which Captain Collins
(British) was my Second-in- Command. I was also a Captain. Surely Army training
is continuous and from outside operations with other nations, they maintain and
guard the standards already achieved.
TOPIC: THE LIEUTENANT L.V. UGBOMA STORY
There has been some controversy about whether the officer honored as N1, (late
Brigadier WU Bassey) was actually the first Nigerian to be commissioned as an
officer. Other accounts indicate that the first Nigerian to be commisssioned was
actually the late Lt. LV Ugboma. Here is Col. Nzefili's perspective:
1. I know that he [Ugboma] was commissioned Lieutenant in 1948. I know that he
was instrumental in the recommendation of Sgt.W.U. Bassey, Sgt. J.T.U.
Aguiyi-Ironsi and RSM S.A Ademulegun for commission which effect was as follows:
a. W.U. Bassey, commissioned Lieutenant 30 Apr. 1949
b. J.T.U. Aguiyi-Ironsi, commissioned Lieutenant 12 Jun 1949
c. S.A . Ademulegun, commissioned 12 Jun. 1949 in that order.
2. As at June 1949, they were the first four Nigerians to be commissioned into
the Army. I got all the above information from him [Ugboma] when he was invited
by Army Headquarters, Lagos following a statement he made at a Reception at
Onitsha, Anambra State, to the effect that he was the first Nigerian to be
commissioned into the Army. He had bundles of publications, which he carried
with him to the Military Secretary, AHQ Bonny Camp, Victoria Island, Lagos. This
was around 1984 [shortly after the coup that brought then Brig. M Buhari to
power]. The dates against the names of the officers mentioned above are
self-explanatory. In those days we heard of Lt. Ugboma of Nigeria and Major
Anthony of the Gold Coast, now Ghana and we hoped to be like them since Africans
could become officers from then on.
TOPIC: Nigerian Railway Corporation
1. Could the Colonel relate his experiences as the General Manager of the
Nigerian Railway Corporation?
2. In his opinion, what were the key problems of that Corporation at the time
1. I am being asked to relate my experience in 1966, i.e. thirty-eight years
ago. I am afraid it will not be possible here without access to old documents.
But I shall attempt to recall what I can.
2. In 1966, I toured the entire Railway System accompanied by a senior
Information Staff, Chief Sam Epelle, whose Staff recorded all my observations.
On return and after being fully briefed by the Departmental Heads. I compiled a
report which was well received and approval was given me to implement.
3. There was a Board of the Nigerian Railway Corporation but I depended more on
the Supreme Headquarters for most of the things I did for speedy execution. The
outbreak of the crisis [July 29, 1966 and aftermath] brought about an abrupt
halt even to the Adefarasin Commission of Inquiry.
4. My posting to the Railway Corporation was not part of my professional calling
as a Military Officer. I went to do a job, finish hopefully and rejoin my unit.
I was to be there for two and a half years out of the Military's given three
years, after handing over to my under-study.
5. Since I left the Railways, many General Managers, Managing Directors,
Consultants, the RITES OF INDIA and others from CHINA have been there. It will
be ridiculous to be talking about problems in the Railways in 1966, now, in
2004. They must have been over-taken many times by events.
6. As for the problems there now, only an official Inquiry will reasonably
answer your question. I have been completely outside the Nigeria Railway
Corporation since 1966. What about talking to the management now?
7. However, one unfortunate observation was the unhealthy competition and even
jealousy between the Igbos and Yorubas in that organization then. It was so
serious that most of the appointments from the General Manager down, were
duplicated, one being a supernumerary.
8. While this was going on between both ethnic groups they appeared blinded to
the very rapid advancement by Northerners through multiple jumps over promotion
grades. This had been on before I arrived there. The irregularities were
reported to Supreme Headquarters with diagrammatic illustration. The records in
the Railways if not destroyed will show this.
9. The former Secretary to the Railway was a British lawyer. His retirement
opened the way for the position to be shared in two, Secretary-Legal backed by
the Chairman, Secretary-Administration who was backed by a very highly placed
personality in Government. The two people had officers in the Legal and
Administration Departments senior to them and whom they were heading. We were in
the process of rectifying this demoralizing Anomaly, when the crisis started.
10. The Railway Senior Staff were very highly qualified. Academically and
practically, they were capable of producing most of what the Railways needed,
day to day. They were not encouraged. Money was never provided to make the
Railways work. The Railways could be productive but what was realized was fed
through the chairman, I was told, to the Party in Government, which utilized the
bulk of such funds for the Party.
11. They welcomed challenges, which the Head of State was very prepared and
willing to offer. With the authority of Supreme Headquarters, I challenged the
Electrical and Mechanical Department on the prompting by Engr. Nat. Obinnwa, to
produce Break Shoes locally. They did and saved the Railways, an Order worth
300, 000 stlg, (Three hundred thousand pounds) then.
12. They were prepared for more and the Advertising Dept. was being prepared for
full commercial and competitive activities outside the Railways and anywhere
within the country when the crisis started.
13. The Railway Extension to NGURU and MAIDUGURI was done without expatriate
supervision by an entirely Nigerian team of Engineers and technicians. I met the
Chief Engineer then. A World Bank Report rated one Nigerian Railway Engineer as
the best Railway Engineer who could head the Nigerian Railway Corporation for
the next ten years from 1966. Ironically, this man was kept at bay and another
Engineer was acting as the General Manager at the time I was appointed. So there
were two General Managers, one on seat acting and both receiving their salaries
attached to the office in full.
14. However, apart from the unnecessary extra staffing, it showed that they had
so many qualified men in the corporation since this was replicated in some other
15. From the above it could be reasoned that bringing people from outside the
country like the RITES OF INDIA and Engineers from CHINA and those so called
EXPERTS not being as knowledgeable as our own Engineers, I am sure, must have
demoralized our own experts who quite naturally would be unwilling to co-operate
with these FOREIGNERS. Money suddenly became available to the FOREIGNERS in
quantum and their salaries regularly paid, were much higher than what our
experts ever earned. This was the Nigerian problem, the case of NFA and foreign
*Excerpt from Special Branch report
"ASSASSINATION OF LT. COL. LARGEMA
67. Although not initially alloted to Major Ifeajuna as a target for
assassination, Major Ifeajuna proceeded to Ikoyi Hotel to kill Lt. Col. Largema.
On arrival at the hotel Major Ifeajuna told the receptionist on duty that he had
an urgent message for Lt. Col. Largema of Room 115. The time was between 0330
and 0400. He then asked the hotel receptionist to supply him with the master key
which can open all doors in the hotel but was told that this was not available.
He then ordered the receptionist to lead him to the room in which Lt. Col.
Largema was staying, warning the receptionist on the way that he would be shot
if he refused to comply with whatever he might be ordered to do.
68. On their arrival on the first floor Major Ifeajuna, accompanied by 2/Lt
Ezedigbo instructed the hotel receptionist to knock on the door of Lt. Col.
Largema and to inform him that he was wanted on the telephone. It should be
pointed out here that rooms in this hotel have no telephones. There are situated
in small alcoves in the corridors. In the case of Room 115, the telephone alcove
is only a few paces away.
69. Lt. Col Largema responded and came out dressed in pyjamas and slightly dazed
by sleep. In the meantime the two armed soldiers had stepped back into the
corner near the lifts from where they could not be observed by Lt. Col. Largema
when he came out of his door. The Lt. Col. then picked up the receiver, which
was off the hook. At this moment both the soldiers near the lift opened fire
with their SMG. Lt. Col. Largema fell down and died.
70. The killers went downstairs and called the third man to come up. Between the
three of them they then carried the dead body down the stairs and deposited it
on the floor. They then called yet another soldier from the Mercedes car who
helped the other three to carry the body to the car. The whole party then drove