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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
But how come 4 from Western region?
To be concluded tomorrow.