50 years after Gamji’s ghastly murder By Aliyu Ali Musa

50 years after Gamji’s ghastly murder By Aliyu Ali Musa
January 16 12:22 2016

On this day 50 years ago soldiers, mostly conscripts from Major Kaduna Nzeogwu’s Exercise Damisa, bombed their way into the Kaduna residence of the Premier of Northern Region Sir Ahmadu Bello (Sardauna of Sokoto) and murdered him, on the orders of Nzeogwu, alongside one of his wives, Hafsaf, who had sworn not to let her husband die alone.

In Lagos another group of officers and soldiers of the Nigerian Army led by Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna abducted and later killed Nigeria’s first Prime Minister Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Finance Minister Festus Okotie-Eboh and Col. Kur Mohammed. Many prominent military officers including Brig. Samuel Ademulegun (Commander of the 2nd Brigade), Col. Ralph Shodiende (Head of NMTC), Brig. Zakariya Maimalari, Lt. Col. Arthur Unegbe (a close friend of Brig. Maimalari), and Lt Col. James Pam were also killed in the coup d’état, which was eventually foiled.

Prior to the coup the premier of the Western Region S.L. Akintola had a tipoff and travelled to Kaduna to warn Sardauna, who had just returned from lesser Hajj. In a BBC interview earlier this week the late Sardauna’s personal driver (who witnessed the killing of his boss) confirmed that Chief Akintola visited on the eve of coup and that after he left Sardauna told them he believed Allah had accepted his Hajj and did not wish to live another five years. In Ibadan, on the day of the coup, one of the executioners of the coup Capt. Emmanuel Nwobosi led soldiers to kill Akintola.

By coincidence or deliberate design all but one of the key leaders of the January 15, 1966 coup were Igbo. Only Major Adewale Ademoyega was Yoruba. And of all the military or political leaders killed only one, Lt Col. Arthur Unegbe, was Igbo.

In a speech hastily written and broadcast on Radio Nigeria Kaduna, leader of the coup Major Nzeogwu claimed: “The aim of the Revolutionary Council is to establish a strong united and prosperous nation, free from corruption and internal strife.”

Nzeogwu and his co-conspirators had accused the Balewa regime of corruption, tribalism and nepotism among other allegations. But History Professor Elizabeth Isichei argues that the composition of the coup ringleaders suggests tribalism, which was one of the problems they, ironically, sought to address. According to her:

“…the coup’s execution gave, probably unintentionally, the appearance of that very tribalism the plotters sought to destroy. Six of the seven majors involved were Igbos. They killed two Northern leaders – the Sardauna of Sokoto and Tafawa Balewa – the Western Premier Akintola, Okotie-Eboh (the Finance Minister and Mid-Westerner), and several high army officers.”

Their allegation of corruption also turned out to be untrue because it was found after their assassination that neither Sardauna nor Balewa had any savings. Sardauna left his family a house.

Balewa, according to his only surviving wife, Hajiya Jummai whose interview was broadcast on the BBC Hausa today, left two cars (one was his personal car and the other for rest members of the family), a house that was only refurbished years after his death and 10 pounds (Nigeria’s currency then, which was equivalent to 20 naira when the currency was changed in 1973).

Sardauna, like Balewa, was an exceptionally humble man. My father told me a story of his encounter with the premier shortly before the ghastly coup of January 1966. He said he was working with a team of workers constructing roads between Zaria and Kaduna when Sardauna drove past them and that on his way back he stopped to ask for the leader of the team. My father said he introduced himself and Sardauna told him and all the workers how impressed he was with the quality of work they had done. He left with a promise to get back to them. It was not long after that he was killed. But my father said he received an official commendation letter from the premier after his death, which had obviously been written shortly after he returned to Kaduna.

Sardauna’s exit, no doubt, created a huge vacuum in the north that no one from the region has been able to effectively fill, yet. In a three-part letter to northern leaders in October 2013 I wrote:

“A friend and I were once taking stock of developments in the region since the death of Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto, a man whose generosity doubtlessly impacted on our lives immensely. It was with a great shock that we realised that those who benefitted most from his vision and selflessness and were hoped to continue this act of altruism have done almost nothing for the region and people.

“Gamji’s days were full of intense but healthy competitions among the regions that constituted Nigeria. For example, while the southwest under the leadership of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s Action Group was actively investing in people from the grassroots Sardauna, I was told, travelled from village to village and house-to-house to personally recruit many of you into the strategic professions that prepared you for essential roles in the hope that you will replicate the gesture to successive generations of northerners.

“It was through this effort many of you became leaders in politics, military, judiciary, civil service, academia and so on. You did not have to pay fees for training locally or abroad. Irrespective of tribe, religion or social status, I heard, you were awarded scholarships. And because you were pioneers from the region in all the fields you found yourselves your rise was almost effortlessly smooth.

“Sirs, pardon my vulgarity, but if you contrast your situations then to those that confront many of us today you will appreciate that you have not done much to reciprocate Gamji’s action. Only, maybe, a handful of you actively offer support to people outside of your own family and cohorts, despite being in positions to successfully champion Gamji’s dream.”

Things have continued to get worse since I wrote the letter and it’s even much worse that people from the region diverted funds meant for fighting the insurgency that has killed several thousands and traumatised millions.

May the souls of our fallen heroes rest in peace. God bless Nigeria.