This post is about the first ever military coup in Nigeria.
In the quest for power and control of the Nigerian state, there arose a group of young soldiers in the Nigerian Army who were not satisfied about how the affairs of the country was run and sought to correct the system.
They took matters into their hands and went about their correction of the Nigerian political system in the wrongest of ways which led to the death of certain key Nigerian political figures. This has overtime become known as the first military coup in Nigeria.
On January 15, 1966 the first ever Coup d’etat in Nigeria was staged. It was carried out by a group of young leftists under Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna and Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu.
The coup plotters assassinated the Prime Minister of Nigeria, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello and Premier of the Western Region, Ladoke Akintola. Even after these widespread assassinations, the masterminds of the coup could not set up a central government.
After the murder of high ranking politicians in the country, Prince Nwafor Orizu who was President of the Senate, who also doubled as Acting President of Nigeria at that time, while President Nnamdi Azikiwe was on vacation, was pressured to hand over government to the Nigeria Army, under the command of General JTU Aguyi-Ironsi.
The first coup in 1966 was a result of the deteriorating situation in western Nigeria where politicians had failed to find a solution. ‘Political killings had risen to a dangerous level’ and the whole country was heading towards chaos and disaster. The coup leaders were backed by a combination of officers and junior officers. The Prime Minister, a federal minister, two regional premiers, and top Army officers from the Northern and Western regions of the nation were brutally murdered.
The army quickly suppressed the revolt but assumed power when it was evident that almost all the leadership of the republic had been eliminated, including Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Premier of Northern Region Sir Ahmadu Bello and Premier of the Western Region, Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola. Orizu made a nationwide broadcast, after he had briefed Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe on the phone on the decision of the cabinet, announcing the cabinet’s “voluntary” decision to transfer power to the armed forces. Major General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi then made his own broadcast, accepting the “invitation”. On January 17, Major General Ironsi established the Supreme Military Council in Lagos and effectively suspended the constitution.