•By Coup Plotter IFEANJUNA In 1966
Besides those who play Russian roulette, a game of death, only a very few persons could hear that their death is imminent and remain unruffled, maintaining a calm undisturbed in the face of eternal exit from the world. On hearing of their imminent death, most people would not only literally collapse and panic, but tremble and shiver as leaves on a tree in a strong wind. Death is a necessary end, man has learnt that early as he grows up. Despite that man lives with what could be called a cold cheerless, basic fact of life, most people, if they knew they were going to die, would attempt to save it by putting up a valiant fight to prevent it and thereby elongate their living in the world.
That perhaps is why man is said to be at his best mentally when he finds himself face-to-face with a messenger of death. He would sprout to the fore all his faculties that have been lying supine, harnessing them to provide an escape route from death back to a bubbling healthy life. This is a manifestation of the First Law of life, survival. It is the guardian code for existence in the animal’s world.
There are even those who would resort to lamentation at the approach of death, muttering meaningless names and jumbos as they descend into delirium. Only a few strong personalities are impervious, guarded by thick skin to being intimidated or swallowed by the fear of death. The first and perhaps the only prime minister of Nigeria, Sir Abubarka Tafawa Balewa, was among those who are not afraid of death. Yes, he stood up to death, looking plotters who came for his life in the eyes. An account said Tawa Balewa told coup plotters who stormed his house to wait and allow him to pray before taking his life. Tafawa Balewa observed his racas in accordance with Islamic injunction. That, to say the least, was extreme bravery and daring unmatched.
The account unveiled that Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna one of the principal mutineers who torpedoed the first Republic was charged with killing the prime minister. Ifeajuna a university graduate and a Sandhurst-trained military officer was a sportsman per excellency. He was the first Nigerian to scale over six feet 9 inches high jump at the 1954 Commonwealth Games in Canada. He led a catchment of soldiers to the residence of the prime minister. The soldiers stormed Balewa’s house and quickly neutralized the policemen who mounted guard at the quarters and arrested them all. Ifeajuna didn’t waste time in moving into the house and pronto, he went straight to the prime minister’s room, kicked open the door, an act which forcefully woke Balewa and Ifeajuna allegedly pointed his submachine gun at him.
At that point, the prime minister looked straight into Ifeajuna’s eyes and told him to allow him to pray, at least, for the last time. The plotter could not say no, despite the daredevil conditions on which coup hangs. Coup is a game of death for the plotters if it fails, death awaits plotters. They are predators, if it fails, death is the verdict that they will face, while the preys equally go to heaven, if the coup succeeds. That was why the opportunity which Ifeajuna gave the prime minister to pray was dangerous and puerile, considering that the request for prayer by the prime minister could be a sleight of hand by the prime minister to delay the killer squad a bit and thereby allow a rescue team arrive and catch the plotters in the act and give them the treatment they deserve.
Immediately after the prayers, blood-thirsty Ifeajuna shot the prime minister and his corpse was dragged to the lane where an army lorry was parked. The corpse was thrown into the vehicle. Quickly the soldiers boarded the vehicle, drove out of the premises and later joined their other colleagues in the city, who had gone and executed similar assignments as they drove on Lagos-Abeokuta road to a point where the corpses of the coup’s victims were offloaded on a lone pathway where the corpses of the coup’s victims were found three days later by a search party.
There was, of course, another faction of the account of the death of Tafawa Balewa. About 50 years down the line, the fourth and last surviving wife of the prime minister, Hajia Aisha gave a different account of how she lost her husband to the cold hands of death, prompted by the hot lead the plotters pumped into her husband’s body. She said her husband was tricked out of the prime minister’s residence by one of the houses orderly. That, according to her, was how her husband was arrested, thrown into an army waiting for a lorry and driven away. Rumour was thick in the air about the uncertainty that hovered over the first and only prime minister of Nigeria.
The account that said the prime minister was driven out of premises revealed that he was driven in a military lorry into the metropolitan city of Lagos. He was said to have been later joined by other politicians and stakeholders who were equally arrested. The plotters drove them out of the city on Lagos -Abeokuta road. At a point on a deserted lonely road, the army lorry stopped and ordered its passengers to disembark. One after the other, they were shot dead.
Abubarka Tafafa Balewa was the deputy leader of the then ruling Northern People’s Congress (NPC), a politician from an area and village bearing the same name with him in today’s Bauchi State. He was born in 1912. A son of Yakubu Dan Sala. He was not a Fulani but from Gere ethnicity. Balewa started his education at a Quranic school. He later went to Bauchi provincial school and proceeded to Katsina College, which later became Barewa College, He was student No 145. It was at Barewa College that he met the first premier of the defunct northern region, Sir. Ahmadu Bello, who was two years ahead of Balewa.
After a five-year programme at Barewa College, he returned to his native area in Bauchi to become a teacher at the provincial school and later became the headteacher. Tafawa Balewa later went to brush up his academic career as he went to the University of London, where he studied and obtained a diploma in education and administration. It was, therefore, not difficult for him to go into party politicking and found himself in the same party with his senior at Barewa College, Sir Ahmadu Bello, who was the leader of the NPC, the party that formed government at the regional and federal level. It was the emergence of the NPC as the party in government at the federal level and the support of Ahmadu Bello that saw Balewa emerge as the first Nigerian prime minister.
Despite that Sir. Abubarka Tafawa Balewa and other coup’s victims were killed on 15 January in 1966, the coup plotters were later to regret that the coup had failed. On their return to Lagos, The Late Major-General Aguyi Ironsi had succeeded in rallying loyal troops to foil the coup as Ifeajuna and other mutineers were arrested and detained in military facilities. To southerners, the plotters were national heroes, while they were villains to northerners. That, perhaps was why Ironsi was in a dilemma and was reluctant to prosecute the coup plotters and give them the treatment they deserved.
Major Ifeajuna was, however, to go down in history as the only Nigerian who scaled 6 feet 9 inches at the 1954 Commonwealth Games in Canada. It was, however, unfortunate that he died unsung for his exploit in sport.