The Cabinet Take Over 2

**Lagos: The "Theatre Of Operation" Then**

At Ikeja, just before Ejoor left Ironsi and Njoku to proceed to the Airport for a security flight to Enugu, a helicopter hovered over the 2nd battalion prompting the B Company to quickly put themselves in firing positions as the helicopter landed close to the parade ground. Out came L.A. Marsden, the Acting Deputy Inspector General of police and Duckett, the Assistant Superintendent of Police.
Ironsi and Njoku who did not travel with Gowon on Land Rovers to confront the coup plotters promptly joined the British expatriates on a flight back to Lagos for the meeting. Francis Cumming-Bruce wrote of the meeting in a despatch to London on 16th January 1966:
“Dipcharima was in the chair with Minister of External Affairs, Acting Minister of Defence and Attorney General with Cabinet; with Cabinet Secretary in attendance. Dipcharima said that an approach was being made to me on behalf of those members of the Cabinet that had been able to assemble at his house. He was under considerable strain but coolheaded. When Elias (the Attorney General), who had heard nothing until he joined the meeting wept at news of assassination and expressed his fears for Abubakar’s life, Dipcharima rebuked him for showing emotion; need was for firm action. He gave me summary of situation as understood by Government.
Acting Inspector General of police and G.O.C. were then called in and asked to give summary statements of situation.” The previous night, Taslim Elias transmitted to the Prime Minister an urgent message from Dr Busia, the head of opposition to Nkrumah’s government in Ghana warning that a coup in an advanced state was about to break out.
For four years since the commencement of the Western Region crisis, he had been receiving secret messages of bloodletting and impending doom on his person on a constant basis even from high places. Just on that very day, he had received two warnings. First, Shagari had received warning from a man who came to his house and described himself as “NPC intelligence man” He said that the custom officers who had been in industrial dispute with the Federal Government some time had made the borders porous; that weapons of military grade were being smuggled in easily from the borders.
That the keg of gunpowder which the country and in particular, the West was sitting on was about to explode. But the message from the Attorney General was the most specific yet, stating who and who would be terminated and the night the terminations would take place. But Abubakar characteristically did not allow his heart to skip a beat as Elias delivered the message.
He was a simple and humble man who refused to live in a fortress or have a fortress mentality. And so when Elias was told at the special cabinet meeting that a mutiny had taken place and the PM was missing, more than the others, he knew straight away the PM was dead. He burst into tears. Dipcharima on behalf of the cabinet wanted FBC to transmit an urgent request for British military assistance to stabilise the situation. The main fear was that the army would dissolve and law and order would break down completely with loyal troops willing to shoot down mutineers and the battalions becoming warring bands.
The ministers thought that a show of force from an external power would deter Nzeogwu and the rebels who had promised to march down on the South.
Francis Cumming - Bruce went to the meeting with his First Secretary Mr P.D. McEntree who took down minutes. The high commissioner responded that since this was a country-to-country request, it had to be written down and signed by the appropriate authority. The ministers looked round at themselves. But who was the appropriate authority in the absence of the Prime Minister when there was no deputy prime minister?
After the 1959 Federal elections to usher in a government for the soon-to-be independent Nigeria, there was no clear winner between the three main parties NPC, NCNC and AG. A coalition government had to be formed. Azikiwe and Okpara of the NCNC went to Kaduna to forge an alliance with Sardauna’s NPC simply to deny Awolowo and his Action Group the power to have a say in the affairs of the new nation. The moved shocked many.
Southerners had spent the previous 15 years complaining that the colonial masters had imposed a powerful North on Nigeria to continue to dominate and hold back the progress of the rest country. And yet there came the opportunity to nullify once and for all the colonial design. Azikiwe refused partnership with AG and went up North to form a coalition government with Sardauna and the NPC.
That was Nigeria’s original sin which Ifeajuna and his Ibadan progressive intellectuals wanted to undo with the coup. But a government without Awolowo was still a government about Awolowo. Abubakar expressed his wish that Awolowo deserved to be part and parcel of the historic government not only for the recognition of his remarkable role during the colonial times, but that his brilliant ideas, his practical and sustainable policies which were there to see in the West were needed for the development of the young nation in general. Therefore, instead of offering NCNC’s parliamentary leader and coalition partner Dr Ozumba Mbadiwe the post of Deputy Prime Minister, Abubakar offered Awolowo. Awolowo refused, preferring to be positioned across the bench as the head of opposition.
***Obafemi Awolowo Preferred To Uphold Modern Principles And Tenets Of Democracy To Personal And Selfish Gains Of Perks Office

To Awolowo, a democracy without a rigorous and robust opposition was like a ship without its sails. Since 1960, Abubakar left the post vacant even with the insistence of Azikiwe, the titular head and owner of the government. In the absence of Abubakar, the minister of defence, Muhammadu Ribadu usually acted as the Prime Minister. Ribadu had been in Council of Ministers with Abubakar since it was formed on Thursday 24 January 1952 according to sections 162 -164 of the order in council. But he died in on 1 May 1965 and Inua Wada took over. On the coup day, Wada was in London en-route Zurich for an eye operation. The next on the power organogram was Dipcharima.
Dipcharima was first appointed as the parliamentary secretary for the minister of Transport in 1956. He was later made a minister without portfolio the following year and by 1966 he became the most senior NPC politician in the Council of Ministers in the absence of Abubakar and Inua Wada.
Dipcharima was already chairing situation meetings, he was already coordinating with the Police and the Army to arrest the situation and find the abducted. The first official radio and television announcement of the coup and the press release to local and foreign media was signed by him.
The British High commissioner gave a condition that for British security assistance to happen, a written request had to be made by someone in a constitutionally- approved position of authority. What did the Ministers do next? With the roaring pace of development in the country, the situation on ground was indeed a very dicey one.
FBC arrived at the High Commission at Kajola House, 62-64 Campbell Street, his First Secretary, Mr P.C. McIntyre who only took down minutes at Cabinet meeting then voiced his opinion.
He advised his boss to be careful about the Ministers’ request for security assistance. He said from what they knew so far, the coup seemed to be an insurrection against the North. Britain sending troops would be used to reinforce the false narrative out there that Britain was “backing up the North.” FBC saw merit in the analysis. By noon the following day, he went to see Dipcharima at his Bourdillon Road, Ikoyi residence to withdraw his promise of cooperation.
They also jointly agreed that should they be asked by the press, they would deny such a security request was ever made. The privacy of the tête-à-tête with FBC gave Dipcharima the confidence to speak his mind. He told FBC that the GOC’s loyalty remains a major question mark. He said his behaviour in various respects had been very odd and that his guess was that he had been associated with the mutineers at some stage.
He said Ironsi, the General Officer Commanding told him at the end of the meeting the previous day that he was prepared to participate in some form of civilian-military regime to give the appearance that the army is helping to clean up the administration. FBC only listened. He was careful not to voice his thinking or give hints of the intelligence assessment the High Commission’s military adviser, Col Tom Hunt was conducting. Meanwhile as FBC left the Council of Ministers meeting the previous day, the Ministers started a disagreement over whom should be taken to the Senate President to be sworn in as the Acting Prime Minister to fulfil the British condition.
***Minister Of Finance Or Minister Or Minister Of Profligacy?***

Dipcharima was already acting being the most NPC politician in the Cabinet. But the NCNC ministers challenged this basis saying Dr Ozumba Mbadiwe, the Minister of Trade and the NCNC parliamentary leader should be sworn in instead because he was the most senior minister in the Cabinet.
This was true. Mbadiwe joined the Council of Ministers after Azikiwe resigned from being leader of Opposition in Western House and went to take over the leadership of the Eastern House in 1953. New elections were held and Mbadiwe left for the central legislature in Lagos.
The party that won the federal elections in each of the three regions was supposed to nominate three ministers to the federal council of ministers for the next five years. As the country’s independence was being negotiated, the office of Prime Minister was created in September 1957 and the Governor General Sir James Robertson asked the twelve cabinet ministers to nominate one person out of themselves to be the experimental Prime Minister. Abubakar nominated himself and never backed down. Mbadiwe explained that he was supposed to be the PM afterall NPC had only 4 ministers and the NCNC had 8 ministers – 4 each from Eastern and Western regions.
But how come 4 from Western region?
Awolowo had insisted that as from April 1, 1953 capitation tax would increase to 10 shillings and 6 pence in the whole of Western Region except in Lagos where due to their lower economic status, the new rate will be 10 shillings and 3 pence. It was to fund the radically new and uplifting but widely unpopular free education, free healthcare and other public development schemes that would be rolled out in the Western Region in January 1955. NCNC the party in opposition in the West, seized the public dissatisfaction and deployed Nnamdi Azikiwe, Kola Balogun, Ozumba Mbadiwe, Dennis Osadebey and Adegoke Adelabu to campaign that Free Education was a scam; free healthcare was a trick to punish people with more taxes; that the AG was interested only in causing pain to the people unlike the NCNC. Resoundingly, the Action Group lost the Federal elections and the four Action Group.
Federal ministers, Bode Thomas (Transport), Arthur Prest (Communication) and Samuel Akintola(Labour) and Oba Adesoji Aderemi(no portfolio), were cleared from their posts to make way for the four extra NCNC Federal Ministers. If it boiled down to a vote among the council members, Mbadiwe would have become Nigeria’s first PM as a result of Awolowo’s loss of Cabinet influence. However, by willing to forego this influence, defy public opinion, flout pressures from his own ministers, invite election defeat for the sake of free and compulsory education for all children living in the West, Awolowo endeared himself as a demi-god to his people for life. With the exception of few detractors, even political scoundrels that time, history and posterity later proved to have nothing to offer any but the real political rogues.
His programmes later placed the West beyond the reach of other regions and he in turn became the best politician ever in the history of Nigeria. The additional four NCNC ministers did not deter Abubakar from standing his ground as the right nominee for the Prime Minister. According to Mbadiwe, he did not press the case because he did not want to give the British an excuse to delay or derail Nigeria’s unstoppable march towards Independence and so the post slipped away from his clutch like a breeze between his fingers.
To be concluded tomorrow.