January 15, 1966, will always remain remarkable in the annals of Nigeria. That was the day when some idealistic young men from the Nigerian Armed Forces sought to overthrow the country’s political leadership.
Nigeria was brought together in a fragile relationship on January 1, 1914, by the British colonialists, called Amalgamation of Northern and Southern Protectorates. But the relationship never worked because Britain did not want it to work.
For instance, while the wind of change was blowing incessantly in the South, the North was shielded from the influence of Western civilization. Also, while a legislative council was making laws for the South, the North was ruled by proclamations made by the Governor.
It was only until 1945 that a single legislative council began to make laws for the entire country. But even at that, as part of its divide and rule tactics, Britain imposed on the people, a constitution which arbitrarily divided the country into three regions, so that Nigerians would no longer see themselves as one, but according to their regional and ethnic biases.
This was reflected in the election which ushered in the country’s political independence in 1960, which no political party was able to win. The result was a marriage of convenience between the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) from the North, and the National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) from the East, which was a patch work of expedients, where the NPC produced the Prime Minister and the NCNC, the President without power, leaving the Action Group from the West, in opposition. That was the setting when Nigeria was granted political independence by Great Britain in 1960.
For six years after independence, Nigeria was wobbling. This stemmed from series of crises that rocked the country, such as the inconclusive 1962 population head count; the trial and inprisonment of Chief Obafemi Awolowo and his followers on allegation of treasonable felony; the declaration of a state of emergency on the Western Region; the 1964 general election imbliglio, when for three days, Nigeria was without government, due to irreconcilable differences among the country’s political leadership, etc.
What broke the camel’s back was the 1965 Western Nigerian election, when the cat was let out of the bag. The election was not only massively rigged, but also led almost to a descent into hell. There was general insecurity of lives and property in the region. People were being kidnapped or killed by the day. Houses were burnt and property looted or destroyed. Nobody was sure of tomorrow as hoodlums had taken over every place.
While all these things were happening, the country’s political leadership remained indifferent and unconcerned. They were so confident of Nigeria’s institutional and political arrangements, which would make revoltion impossible.
Instead, they became more concerned with what was happening in Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, where the country’s Prime Minister, Ian Smith. had proclaimed a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI).
So, in order to make the world believe that the country was very safe and secure, Nigeria’s Prime Minister, Tafawa Balewa, summoned a Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference in Lagos, to discuss the Rhodesian crisis.
Two days after the Commonwealth’s meeting in Lagos, the military struck and overturned Nigeria’s political leadership. The Prime Minister was killed, so also were a number of political and military officers. The military gave its reasons for its action to include corruption, nepotism and lack of political direction.
Unfortunately, the group that planned that action did not succeeded in their bid as the exercise was aborted and highjacked by the top echelon of the armed forces, who insisted that the fledgeling remaining members of the civilian government must handover power to them if they were to guarantee peace and security in the country.
Even though we will never approve any unlawful seizure of political power by whatever reason, we strongly believe that if the group that actually planned the January 15, 1966 uprising had had the opportunity to implement their programmes, Nigeria would not have been in the mess in which she finds herself today. This was because the group appeared very focused and poised to right the wrongs prevalent in the country.
It is also possible that there would not have been several opportunistic military coups’ d’etat that took place in Nigeria. Look at Ghana, since Jerry Rawlings’ revolution, the country has waken up from slumber and begin to walk.
What the January 15, 1966 Revolution also meant was that the country’s political leadership should no longer take Nigerians for granted. All we keep hearing is 2019, as if that will be the end of life. Nobody is talking about how to address the current problems facing Nigeria. It is unfortunate that while the house is on fire, some of us are only busy chasing rodents.