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5 unfulfilled promises of failed Jan 15, 1966 coup

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(THE CABLE) JANUARY 14, 2017:  Six years after Nigeria became a sovereign nation, the country witnessed an unprecedented development, which still haunts it 51 years after.

Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu (pictured speaking the rebellion), a major in the army, led some of his colleagues to overthrow a civilian government.

The casualties of that coup d’etat, which occurred on January 15, 1966, are Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, then the prime minister; Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto; Samuel Akintola, the premier of the Western Region; Festus Okotie-Eboh, the finance minister, among others.

Between then and now, Nigeria has witnessed at least eight coups and the objectives given for carrying out the coups were not achieved, meaning that military intervention is far from the solution that a country needs. In this piece, we highlight five lessons that Nigeria ought to have learnt from the first ever putsch.


In his speech, Nzeogwu said the aim of the revolutionary council was to establish “a strong united and prosperous nation, free from corruption and internal strife”.

But corruption is far from over in Nigeria despite the efforts of successive governments to rid the country of the menace. The problem of corruption is even getting deeper, proving that the the coup failed to achieve what was perhaps its most important aim.


“Our enemies are the political profiteers, the swindlers, the men in high and low places that seek bribes and demand 10 percent; those that seek to keep the country divided permanently so that they can remain in office as ministers or VIPs at least, the tribalists, the nepotists, those that make the country look big for nothing before international circles, those that have corrupted our society and put the Nigerian political calendar back by their words and deeds,” Nzeogwu said.

The coup leader made it clear that through the support and assistance of Nigerians, the so-called enemies would be defeated. One look at the polity and all these people are still intact.


Whether the coup plotters meant it or not, one of their objectives was to make the citizens “no more ashamed to say that they are Nigerians”.

But the present realities show otherwise. Fifty years after that event, many Nigerians do not have patriotic spirit. While many countries which were at par with the country in the 60s have since joined global economies, Nigeria is still grappling with numerous challenges, leaving many with nothing but just associating with the country through identity. In any case, too many Nigerians are not proud of their nationality; not that they are unpatriotic, they’re just finding it hard to pinpoint how their country is serving them.


As a measure to check immorality, the military regime of Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi, which seized power after the coup, introduced death penalty to prevent excesses such as looting, arson, homosexuality, rape, embezzlement, bribery or corruption, obstruction of the revolution, sabotage, subversion”.

Has the maximum sentence restored orderliness into the country? Everyone has the answer!


“We are not promising anything miraculous or spectacular. But what we do promise every law-abiding citizen is freedom from fear and all forms of oppression,” Nzeogwu had said.

Like other promises, the short-lived regime could not liberate the people in the exact manner it promised, and signs of oppression, even by the military itself, remain commonplace.

The plotters of that coup hinged their action on marginalistation of their ethnic group. Incidentally, there is a renewed campaign against this same ‘marginalisation’, with attempt to resuscitate the Republic of Biafra.

Nigeria’s unravelling over the past decades has shown that coups are far from the solution to any of the country’s problems. Hard to say if Nigerians have learnt this lesson, but time will surely tell.

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