OPERATION AURE ANNIVERSARY: THE REVENGE AND BLOODIEST COUP IN NIGERIA’S HISTORY By Terhemba Osuji

Fifty three years ago, “Five Majors” and a group of subalterns predominantly of Igbo or eastern extraction struck with Nigeria’s first coup and by the time their guns were silent, several prominent politicians and military officers of Northern, Hausa and or Fulani origin lay dead murdered in cold blood, including:

Politicians:

1. Prime Minister Abubakar Balewa (North)

2. Premier Ahmadu Bello (north)

3. Premier Samuel Akintola (west)

4. Finance Minister Festus Okotie Eboh (Midwest)

Military Officers:

1. Brig. Samuel Ademulegun (west)

2. Brig Zakariya Maimalari (north)

3. Col. Kur Mohammed (north)

4. Col. Ralph Shodeinde (west)

5. Lt. Col. Abogo Largema (north)

6. Lt. Col. James Pam (north)

7. Lt. Col. Arthur Unegbe (east)

Due to the ethnic origin of the “five majors”, the coup was generally perceived as an Igbo coup and viewed as a conspiracy by the Igbo to seize power and dominate the federal government aided by the seemingly selective nature of the killings because no prominent eastern politician or military leader was killed.

As events were unfolding reports about the way Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Northern Region Premier and spiritual leader of the Muslim North, was shot in front of his wives filtered to the masses, fueling the thirst for vengeance and they need to stop the Igbo.

It did not help that Major General Ironsi, an Igbo became Head of state and his field promotions of some Igbo officers to command positions in the Army where viewed as further proof of Igbo plans to dominate the military as well. That, followed by the promulgation of Unification Decree 34 which centralized federal control was the seen as the conclusion of these plans and the last straw.

Eventually the need for vengeance gravitated under the leadership of Major Murtala Mohammed, a firebrand Northern extremist, who was very vehement about the North’s anger at the killings at military meetings to reduce disquiet amongst the troops by the Ironsi administration, but he was not brought to heel as the regime was still trying to placate the military, in the interim plans to avenge continued clandestinely.

The Nigerian Army had its origins in the North from the old colonial West African frontier force and most of the Junior Officers and enlisted men were of ethnic northern Muslim origin. They did not take the killings of their charismatic commanders like Maimalari lightly and the primary motivation of many soldiers was to avenge the deaths of their military leaders and restore the old status quo.

On July 29, 1966, the Northern counter offensive, Operation Aure, to regain power was launched and “Within three days of the July outbreak, every Igbo soldier serving in the army outside the East was dead, imprisoned or fleeing eastward for his life”, observed Professor Ruth First in The Barrel of a Gun: The Politics of Coups d’états in Africa [Allen Lane The Penguin Press, London, 1970, p317.].

Northern soldiers systematically and savagely executed Igbo soldiers across all the major commands in the Nigerian Army particularly Zaria, Kaduna and Kano were most of the army establishments were located. Some soldiers like Major Okafor, former commander of the federal guards was marched out of Gboko prisons and buried alive. Other officers were executed in officer messes and others were called out from parades or through rouses, and executed.

Search parties were conducted to find Igbo officers and many were intercepted at the Makurdi bridge rail link and shot, their bodies were tossed into River Benue.

Following the coup, the pent-up fury of northern civilians against many easterners in their midst exploded and riots and mass lynching’s broke out targeting many easterners who were set ablaze forcing thousands to flee back to the Igbo homeland.

The combined killings by the Northern controlled military and mobs in the north was the prelude to the Nigerian Civil war led by the Northern Officer command against the beleaguered Igbo people in the east manned by former officers of the Nigerian Army who escaped eastward.

There has been no official roll call of all the soldiers executed or killed in the months following the counter coup but a couple of historians have been able to piece together the following incomplete list of soldiers of eastern extraction, particularly Igbo, who died during Operation Aure and they include the following all of Igbo or eastern extraction:

1. Major General Aguiyi Ironsi (Head of State)

2. Capt. G.N.E. Ugoala

3. Major C.J. Anuforo

4. Major D.O. Okafor

5. 2/Lt. A.D. Mbadiwe

6. Lt. A.D.C. Egbuna

7. Capt. A.L. Orok

8. Capt. A.O. Akpet

9. Major B.E. Nnamani

10. Major Christopher Emelifonwu

11. Capt. Chukwueke

12. Lt. E.C.N. Achebe

13. 2/Lt. E. Ogbonnaye

14. Lt.Col. G.O. Okonweze

15. Lt. G.O. Mbabie

16. Capt. H.A. Iloputaife

18. Lt.Col. I.C. Okoro

19. Capt. I.U. Idika

20. Major J.I. Obienu

21. Major J.O.C. Ihedigbo

22. Lt. J.D. Ovuezirie

23. Lt. J.U. Ugba

24. Capt. Jonathan Egere

25. Lt. K. Day Waribor

26. Capt. L.C. Dillibe

27. Major Obi

28. Major O. Isong

29. Capt. P.C. Okoye

30. 2/Lt P.K. Onyeneho

31. 2/Lt. P.D. Ekediyo

32. Lt. S.E. Onwukwe

33. Capt. S.E. Mmaduabum – East

34. Major T.E. Nzegwu

35. Lt. P.O. Ibik

36. Capt. R. Agbazue

37. W.O. 1 Elijah Anosike

38. S/Sgt. Ewom Ejiogu

39. W.O. 11 Ndarake Uyah

40. S/Sgt. Davison Njoku

41. S/Sgt. Sylvanus Ezekwu

42. Sgt. Evan Jim Udoh

43. Cpl. Pius Dike Orlu

44. Cpl. Michael Akwudike

45. Cpl. Johnson Agwu

46. L/Cpl. Gabriel Okezie

47. L/Cpl. David Ishikwuma

48. Pt. Fidelis Onyekwe

49. Pt. Mba Iroha

50. Sgt. Celestine Okafor

51. L/Cpl. William Omani

52. Pt. Innocent

53. L/Cpl. Josiah Onyejiaka

54. W.O. 1 Joseph Mba

55. L/Cpl. Mathew Njumike

56. S/Sgt. Joseph Ibekwe

57. S/Sgt. Afogboro

58. S/Sgt. Peter Bassey

59. Sgt. Robert Bassey

60. Sgt. Michael Uche

61. Sgt. Boniface Njemanze

62. Cpl. Timothy Isienyi

63. Cpl. Sunday Amaoli

64. Cpl. Anthony Amaoli

65. Cpl. Paul Udakwu

66. Cpl. Festus Nwaodika

67. Cpl. William Agbata

68. Cpl. Okorie Agwu

69. Cpl. Wilfred Azubuike

70. Cpl. Reginald Green

71. Cpl. Joseph Adaka

72. L/Cpl. Silas Uzomba

73. LCpl. Maurice Ibekwe

74. Pt. Joseph Ibe

75. Pt. Conelius Uwuoha

76. Pt. John Ekejuba

77. Pt. Egbu Ogbukagha

78. Pt. Gaius Ezinilo

79. Pt. Donatus Ngadukwu

80. Pt. Simon Anigbogu

81. Pt. Augustus Obasi

82. Pt. Joseph Chukwu

83. Pt. John Okpe

84. Pt. Wilfred Ugwu

85. Pt. Puis Egbe

86. Pt. Emmanuel Okorafor

87. Pt. Blessed Okonkwo

88. Pt. Samuel Chukwu

89. Pt. Frederick Ogbuchi

90. Pt. Rufus Okolo

91. Pt. Frederick Egbo

92. Pt. Alphonsus Nwaosu.

This disproportionate response, especially the execution of these Igbo soldiers who had nothing to do with the first coup has never been fully addressed or appreciated by the public or the planners of Operation Aure and the Nigerian Army and the North has remained silent about the issue.

Similarly, none of these victims were given military funerals, except for a few like Ironsi, as some of their corpses were never recovered or fully identified.

Besides some of the senior officers, families did not receive any official communication informing them of the death of these soldiers and no spirited efforts have been made to pay any pensions or gratuities to their surviving kit and kin.

No tribunals or board of inquiries have been instituted to give a full accounting or to bring the officers and men who committed these murders to a court of military justice either, and the Oputa Commission skirted around the Revenge coup.

Similarly, none of the five majors or subalterns who launched Nigeria’s first coup were brought before a court of military justice, but they all were either killed, or died and were dismissed without pensions from the Nigerian Army while the ring leaders of Operation Aure, the bloodiest coup in Nigeria’s history, went on to the pinnacle of military and political power.

With the passage of time, faded memories, retirements and deaths it is unlikely justice will be served, but there is still time to bring all the perpetuators of the first and revenge coup to justice as some are still alive today.

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