ITS JANUARY 15 AGAIN: ARMED FORCES REMEMBRANCE DAY (ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW)
In Nigeria, Armed Forces Day, also known as Remembrance Day, is celebrated on 15 January. It was formerly marked on 11 November of every year to coincide with the Remembrance Day (Poppy Day) for the World War II veterans in the British Commonwealth of Nations, but it was changed to 15 January of every year in Nigeria in commemoration of the surrender of Biafran troops to the Federal troops on 15 January 1970 thus signalling the end of the Nigerian Civil War.
The day is marked with a Remembrance Day parade at the Cenotaph in Abuja and in the 36 state capitals. The ceremony includes 21 gun salute, playing of the Last Post, a minute’s silence, laying of wreaths and release of pigeons to symbolise peace.
In the past month armed forces remembrance day emblems have been on sale across the country. Proceeds of the sale of the remembrance emblem go to the Nigerian Legion.
The Nigerian Legion is the Nigerian association of ex-servicemen, i.e former members of the Nigerian Army, Navy and Air Force.
Officers and men of the armed forces are trained to fight and kill. When they retire, they discover that there are no jobs for them (some of them have been in the armed forces since they were teenagers and military work is all they know). Others were forced to retire from the armed forces due to injuries sustained in battle. The Legion helps them to integrate into society and take care of themselves.
By law the Legion is permitted to operate certain businesses in order to raise money for its members. Members of the legion also serve as security guards at government establishments (you often see them in their brown uniforms). The Legion also raises money through the sale of Armed Forces and Remembrance Day emblems.
In recent years (especially since the return to civilian rule) members of the Legion have gone through great hardship while trying to collect their pensions and gratuity. Sometimes their pensions are not paid for many months. At other times, legionnaires, who could be as old as 60, 70, or 80 years old are made to travel long distances and queue in the hot sun, all in the name of pension verification exercise. Many legionnaires have died during this process.
Nigerians woke up on the dawn of Saturday January15, 1966 to behold the rear reality of the gory escapade by some hot-headed Majors who seek to impose reforms by exterminating every element that could hinder it – it was the first putsch in the most populous black nation on earth! This January 15, 1966 coup would culminate in a civil war that would end on another January 15, 1970.
Who were the Principal Actors?
The following Majors and Captains played preponderance roles in the organization and execution of the January 1966 coup:
• Maj. Christian Anuforo (General Staff Officer (Grade II), Army Headquarters, Lagos)
• Maj. Chukwuma K. Nzeogwu (Chief Instructor, NMTC, Kaduna)
• Maj. Donatus Okafor (Commanding Officer, Federal Guards, Lagos)
• Maj. Emmanuel Ifeajuna (Brigade Major, 2 Brigade, Lagos)
• Maj. Humphrey Chukwuka (Deputy Adjutant-General, Army Headquarters, Lagos)
• Maj. Timothy Onwuatuegwu (Instructor, NMTC, Kaduna)
• Maj. Adewale Ademoyega (NMTC (sub-unit), Abeokuta)
• Capt. Ben Gbulie (Commander, Army Engineers, Kaduna)
• Capt. Ogbonna Oji (Army Headquarters, Lagos)
What were the Alibis?
• A faulty and fragile structure bequeathed the country by Britain which created room for intense regional politics and perilous inter-ethnic diffidence. This was evidenced in the vituperations of the so-called national leaders, the Kano Riot of 1953, the Census Crisis of 1962/63, the handling of the Action Group Crisis of 1962, “Do or Die” politics as demonstrated by the handling of the 1964 Federal Elections, overt emasculation of opposition as evidenced in the 1965 Western Election, acute corruption, cronyism, nepotism, ominous ethnic chauvinism and other leadership malfeasances.
What were the Facilitating Factors?
• The premature “Nigerianisation” of the Nigerian Army in 1965 which saw the rapid promotion of Nigerians into the vacuum created by the exit of colonial experts who served in the Nigerian Army corps.
• The politicization of the army due to  the constant deployment of the army in political crises (e.g Tiv Crisis)  the commissioning into the army, of university graduates (with Marxist-Leninist inclinations)  the politicians’ insidious gimmicks in the army corps with regards to the introduction into the army of quota system, etc. Both Sani Abacha and Bukar Dimka were profiteers of this policy.
Were there Casualties?
The putsch was indeed a very gory one characterized by “high quality” killings. Some of the heavyweight victims include:
• Alhaji Sir Ahmadu Bello (Sardauna of Sokoto)
• Alhaji Sir Abubakar T. Balewa (Prime Minister)
• Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh (Federal Finance Minister)
• Chief Samuel Akintola (Premier of the Western Region)
• Brigadier Samuel Ademulegun
• Brigadier Zakari Maimalari
• Colonel Ralph Shodeinde
• Colonel Kur Mohammed
• Lt. Colonel Abogo Largema
• Lt. Colonel Yakubu Pam
• Lt. Colonel Arthur Unegbe
Evidence of Ethnic Colouration?
The January 15, 1966 coup is often adjudged some ethnic interpretation because:
• A plethora of the principal actors were of the Igbo ethnic group
• While the Premier of the North and the West were shot and killed, that of the East and Mid-West somehow escaped.
• While top ranked officers of the North and West suffered casualties, only one (Arthur Unegbe) of the Eastern stock was eliminated.
• The climax of the putsch saw the emergence of an Igbo (Aguyi Ironsi) as the Head of State
• The above sentiment speculated by the North is best captured by Siollun’s (Oil, Politics and Violence…2009:79) thus:“why was it that no Igbo politician had been killed? Why was it that only one Igbo soldier had been killed? Why was it that Aguyi Ironsi managed to survive the January coup and emerge as head of state? Why were the northern region’s two most prominent politicians and four highest ranking soldiers killed?”
Was the Coup Actually an Igbo Coup?
Ordinarily, the echelon of the putschist’s composition, the victims and the aftermath of the January coup should wake Goosebumps, considering the ethnic tension and diffidence that existed then. However, there are some indices to conjecture that the whole scenario could have been more of an “innocent coincidences” than “evidences of a Machiavellian Igbo plot”.
• Firstly, though the Igbo Majors dominated, there were influential Yoruba (Maj. Ademoyega, Capt. Adeleke, Lieut. Oyewole and Olafimihan) and over 20 northern NCOs who were utilized by Nzeogwu. It should be noted that coup planning is often between officers of close-knit to avoid leak. Federal character as an argument here is flawed.
• Secondly, the coup as acknowledged by Ademoyega (and corroborated by Ifeajuna) was primarily to forestall the planned “plummeting” of the Western Region by the FG.
• Thirdly, the foremost profiteer of the coup as maintained by Ademoyega (and corroborated by Odia Ofeimum – Awolowo’s former secretary in 2007) was to be Chief Obafemi Awolowo who was to be freed and made the President.
• More so, it took the coordination and gallantry of Igbo officers such as Aguyi Ironsi, Alex Madiebo and Emeka Ojukwu to ensure that the coup attempt was crushed with Major Unegbe even paying the ultimate price.
• Also, the coup dismissed an Igbo President, Vice President, President of the Senate, Foreign Minister, Minister of Education, Transport and Aviation and two Premiers.
• Furthermore, when Ironsi assumed power, he arrested and incarcerated politicians from the past regimes EXCEPT those of the NPC. Also, of a FEC of 20 members, only 2 were Igbos. Again, non-Igbo participants such as Captain Swanton and 2nd Lieutenants Kpera, Eghagha, Ibik and Waribor were not arrested.
• Succinctly, there no evidence to indicate that the coup had Eastern political or civilian backings.
Was there any Implication Thereafter?
• Yes! The coup was seen as a ploy against the north by the Igbo to enshrine a new order – the order of the “Igbo planet”.
• Ironsi’s policies with regards to the treatment of the January 15 mutineers, the Unification Decree, alleged cronyism and faulty promotions in the army, coupled with sophistries on a planned Igbo genocide against the north, amongst others, led to a counter mutiny in July 29, 1966.
• This mutiny culminated in the killing of about 200 soldiers of Eastern origin (including Aguyi Ironsi) and another 30,000 civilians by the northerners.
• The fracas between the Igbo and North led to the civil war which started on the 6th of July, 1967 and ended on 15th January, 1970.
What is the Present Situation?
The July, 1966 massacres of the Igbo and the concomitant Civil War altered the dynamism of Nigeria’s political evolution, leaving the north as the sole determinant of the nation’s political trajectory. There exists a strong cold war between the north and the east – a situation which is crystallized in the emergence of groups such as MASSOB, BZM, BZF, and IPOB.
What needs to be done?
As it stands, the root problem is never about “One Nigeria” but the gimmicks by the major ethnic groups to outmaneuver each other and tilt the levers of political power to their favour. Hence, any form of government that would encourage “separate development” would ease the tension and concomitantly, rid the country of several contradictions.
Sources; Wikipedia, Google, Personal Research and Charles E. Ekpo (Facebook)