We will discuss the military leadership in Nigeria in two aspects which are:
1. Military In Nigerian Politics
2. The Division In The Military
Military In Nigerian Politics
It is quite arguable whether the collapse of the First Republic in 1966 was the fault of the 1960 Constitution or the attitude of the politicians. But the fact remains that, the convening of a Constituent Assembly by military in 1977 that produced the 1979 Constitution, was a submission of the failure of the previous Constitutions. However, much as there were remote and immediate factors responsible for the military coup of January 15, 1965, the cumulative effects of these coupled with lack of deep-seated values within the military hierarchy rapidly grew out of control into the thirty-month civil war in Nigeria.
According to Oyediran (1979), the January 15, 1966 coup was a super imposition of unfavorable environmental conditions from the civil violence in the Western Region, set off by the Regional election of October, 1965. The coup plotters who were all in the rank of Major were led by Chukwuma Okafor and Ademoyega. They struck on Saturday, January 15, 1966 by kidnapping and killing both political and military leaders, mostly of Yoruba and Hausa ethnic nationality.
They sprag by pulling the trigger in Lagos, Ibadan and Kaduna but Enugu was spared through fickleness and conspiracy. Political analysts believe that even the coup had been planned with the best of intentions, its outcome looked patently to the other ethnic groups, particularly in the North and West, like an Ibo conspiracy.
After killing of the Prime Minister during the coup and the President Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe could not be found, Senate President Dr. Nwafor Orizu made a broadcast to the nation at 11.30 pm. That he had been advised by the Council of Ministers and that they had unanimously decided to hand over the government of the Federation to the Armed Forces in view of the present situation in the country.
The Division In The Military
The mantle of leadership fell on General Johnson Thomas Aguiyi-Ironsi who was the most senior military officer, as the Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. Military Governors were appointed for the Regions. Col. Adekunke Fajuyi for the West; Lt. Cols. Odumegwu Ojukwu and Hassan Usman Katstina for the East and North respectively while David Ejoor was appointed for the Mid-West.
According to Oluleye (In 1985) Gen. Ironsi, was accused as follows that:
1. He failed to release Chief Obafemi Awolowo and other politicians in jail in line with the demands of the opposition group in the country.
2. In pursuance with Ibo ambition, he made some highly unbalanced promotions in the Army which favoured the Ibo officers and he got them appointed to key commands and political appointments.
3. He promulgated Decree No. 34 (Otherwise known as unification decree) which was a major constitutional and political issue, without consultation.
4. The unification decree sought to abolish the federal structure of the country and replaced it with a unitary system.
5. He also decreed the political parties and tribal unions out of existence. These actions were regarded as circulated attempts by the Ibos to dominate the other tribes in the country.
The Northern Riots of May 29, 1966
The cloud of uncertainties which pervaded the nation later resulted into torrential civil disturbances in some parts of Northern provinces where the Ibos were attacked and killed. As Dudley Observes, the Ibos were attacked not because they were Ibos but because the name Ibo had become more or less synonymous with exploitations and humiliation. The attack which was the preliminary action to the July 29, 1966 counter-coup led to the mass exodus of the Ibos from the North.
The July 29, 1966 Counter-Coup
This coup d’etat, unlike that of January 15, which involved civilian victims, was confined within the military circle. The soldiers of Northern origin rose to the call by Northerners to defend the honour of the Northern region by avenging the killing of Northern political and Military leaders by the coup presumably masterminded by the Ibos. The Supreme Commander, General Ironsi who was on a nation-wide tour in Ibadan, and his host, Col. Francis Adekunle Fajuyi the Military Governor of the Western Region were kidnapped and killed.
Many senior military officers of Eastern origin were also killed in the coup. This led to further migration of Ibos from the Northern and Western parts of the country to their home land. Reflecting on the mood of the nation: from the time of the kidnapping of Major-General Aguiyi-Ironsi on the morning of 29 July, 1966, the country witnessed an interregnum. The entire nation was confused until August 1, 1966 when Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon assumed the leadership of the new military government and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
However, the Military General of the Eastern Region, Lt. Col. Odumegwu Ojukwu was not satisfied with the new military leadership in Lagos as he contended that there were yet more senior military officers rather then Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon to succeed Gen. Aguiyi-Ironsi as the new Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. This marked the beginning of animosity in the military hierarchy until Odumegwu was forced to surrender in 1970 after the Nigerian Civil War.