Let me begin by commending Mr. O’seun Ogunseitan and the convenors of this vital discussion on the death of Sir Tafawa Balewa who have given us the opportunity to iron out this vital issue of monumental historical importance once and for all and then hopefully, at the end of it all, we can perhaps bring the matter to closure.
With the new perspectives and interesting contributions made by my dear egbon Chief Segun Osoba the debate on the issue of precisely how Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the much loved first and last Prime Minister of Nigeria, actually died is building up nicely and frankly I think that this is in the best interest of the public, in the best interest of history and the best way of finally ascertaining the truth about this long-standing, vexed and painful issue which has continued to provoke deep-seated and passionate emotions on both sides of the intellectual, regional, ethnic and political divide.
My attitude to such matters is simply that for the sake of posterity, we owe it to ourselves, to future generations of Nigerians, to the families of those who were killed on January 15th 1966 and to those who were killed themselves and are no doubt watching this historical discussion from the great beyond. The quest for ascertaining and establishing the truth in this matter is my primary motivation for participation and it is certainly not to disparage, discredit or question anyone’s integrity or sanity or to impugn anyone’s character or their recollection of events. However I have to say that I really do find some of the assertions that were originally made by Chief Matthew Mbu (to the effect that Sir Tafawa Balewa was not shot by soldiers but that he had died of asthma) which I attempted to address in my essay last week a little alarming and I still do.
In this second essay I will attempt to address some of the fresh and pertinent issues raised by Chief Segun Osoba who happens to be one of my favourite egbons and a formidable writer, journalist, politician and elder-statesman in his own right. Here goes.
If at the age of 50 I do not know a thing or two about the history of my country, then I really can’t lay claim to being educated or enlightened. To those that say that some of us were too young at the time of Balewa’s death and therefore could not have known what really happened I say this: I was not born when Hitler ruled Germany and gassed six million Jews to death or when the Roman empire ruled the world or when the Russian Revolution took place or when the first and second World Wars were fought or when Lord Lugard and the British amalgamated the southern and northern protectorates of Nigeria or when the slave trade took place.
But I have read books and seen records that confirm all these monumental events and there is little that I do not know about them. And that goes for most of us. It comes with a good education and being widely read and well acquainted with all the relevant sources, credible references, research materials and historical documentation.
We must assume that these are accurate until better and new evidence is provided and adduced. We cannot just change our knowledge of history based on hearsay evidence such as that which Chief Mbu is now providing.
He said that Major Ifejuana told Christopher Okigbo who then told him that the Prime Minister was not shot but rather that he died of asthma. That is hearsay and most unreliable not because Chief Mbu is dishonest, because I happen to know that he is one of our most eminent statesmen , a wonderful father and a fine and upstanding gentleman, but because somewhere along the line the story may have been distorted or Ifejuana may have just lied. This is why I dismissed Chief Mbu’s assertion especially since it conflicted with the eye witness accounts of many others like Alhaji Babankowa who claimed that they discovered the body, saw it clearly in a decomposed state and with bullet wounds, cleaned it and wrapped it up and then took it to Bauchi for burial. This account is buttressed and corroborated by Alhaji M.D. Yusuf, Alhaji Gambo Jimeta and Alhaji Umaru Shinkafi who were all policeman that were directly involved in the investigation or were privy to it and who have all seen the official reports and claim that there was a post mortem.
To add to this are all the history books written by foreigners and Nigerians alike on this matter, most of which I have read. They also corroborate the allegation that Ifejuana and Okafor shot Balewa and left his body to rot by the roadside. Again there were the various submissions at the Oputa panel in 2001 in which no-one refuted this but rather everyone confirmed it. I also heard the accounts of General Danjuma and others who I have discussed this matter with on various occasions over the years. They also corroborate the suggestion that the Prime Minister was shot, mutilated and left to rot. So with all this and coupled with all the official police investigation reports, security reports and eye witness accounts which until just last week had not been publicly refuted in 44 years, it is fair to assume that this is really what happened.
However Chief Segun Osoba’s new eye witness account today and the story that he wrote in the Daily Times newspaper on Jan. 22nd 1966 where he said that he saw the Prime Minister’s body propped up in a sitting position lying on a tree seven days later and that it was not bullet ridden but was in fact ‘’fresh’’, whilst the body of Okotie-Eboh, beside it, was decomposed and bullet ridden, raises a lot of new questions. If this report is true, it suggests that Sir Tafawa Balewa lived for a few days longer than we had been lead to believe, that he died later than the others and that his body was then placed there by someone who wished to give the impression that he had been shot to death in the presence of Chief Okotie-Eboh and the others.
It would also mean that there was a massive official cover-up probably with the collusion of British Special Branch, the Nigerian Police, the doctor from LUTH who did the post mortem, the Nigerian Federal Government and so many others over this issue and over the last 44 years.
If the body was really fresh six days after the coup and if Ifejuana really did leave for Enugu the day the coup failed on the 15th of January, then these questions have to be asked: who was the Prime Minister with for six days after the coup? Who killed him? How did he die? Who moved his body to that spot? What was the motive? And finally why this official cover up and reign of disinformation.
If Osoba is right and the others are wrong, then these questions must be answered. Nigerians have a right to know the truth about what really happened to their Prime Minister.
I believe that this is why it is vital that we have a Freedom of Information Act as soon as possible and that all these documents are declassified. The testimony of a man of the sheer stature of Chief Segun Osoba cannot be waived away or dismissed easily by any responsible historian or commentator especially since, at least to a certain extent, it seems to corroborate and support Chief Matthew Mbu’s assertion that Sir Tafawa Balewa “was not killed by soldiers but by asthma”. I must say however that I, for one, do view Osoba’s submissions with some level of skepticism and surprise despite the fact that I have nothing but the deepest respect for him, just as I do for Chief Matthew Mbu.
This is because it flies in the face of the testimony and account that has been given by virtually every person that attended the Prime Minister’s burial itself, including members of the Balewa family and his private secretary Alhaji Ahmed Kari who all firstly testified to the fact that the body of the Prime Minister was so badly decomposed and so badly mutilated that it had to be covered and could not be shown publicly and secondly that it was smelling so badly that water had to be regularly poured on it in order to help to douse the terrible stench. This could hardly have been the case if the body had been “fresh” as Osoba is claiming. In the light of this painful burial testimony together with that of the respected elder statesman Alhaji Maitama Sule’s account that he also saw the body of the late Prime Minister in a terribly decomposed state at the site where the body was found and before it was taken to the airport for the burial in Bauchi, how I wish that Osoba had taken a picture of the supposedly “fresh body” that he claimed that he saw and that he wrote about on January 22nd 1966 in order to help substantiate his astonishing claim.
I should also add that regardless of whatever it was that actually did cause the death of Sir Tafawa Balewa, whether it be gun shot wounds, a bout of asthma or a fear-induced heart attack (as some have sought to argue), the fact remains that if he hadn’t been brutally abducted and kidnapped by Major Ifejuana and Captain Okafor and if they had not carried out an extremely violent and bloody coup on January 15th 1966, he would not have lost his life at that time. If there had been no coup on that day and if he had not been abducted from his home, he most probably would have lived longer and continued to rule Nigeria. General Aguiyi-Ironsi may never have been our Head of State. There may never have been the July 1966 northern revenge coup. There may never have been any pogrom of Igbos in the north which ultimately led to the civil war and the history of our country may well have been very different today.
Well providence made it otherwise but whichever way you look at it, Ifejuana, Okafor and their co-conspirators were wholly responsible for the Prime Minister’s death and by their actions, whether directly or indirectly, they caused it. Even though Major Ifejuana, with the assistance of the renowned poet Christopher Okigbo, managed to escape to Ghana after the event, Captain Okafor, his second in command and co-conspirator, was apprehended, arrested, thoroughly interrogated and placed in detention and whilst there he reportedly admitted the fact that both he and Ifejuana had killed the Prime Minister.
It is no wonder that just a few months later during the execution of the northern revenge coup of July 1966, Okafor, who was at that time being detained at Abeokuta prison, was taken out of his cell by northern soldiers and, again reportedly amidst the most terrible and horrific screams, he was slowly tortured and then buried alive. This is a terrible tragedy and I consider it to be a sad and utterly barbaric event. On his own part and on his return to Biafra from Ghana during the civil war, Major Ifejuana was later executed by Colonel Ojukwu, the leader of Biafra, by firing squad for attempting to plan yet another coup and for again involving himself in the act of treason. It appears that, once again, the man could not find the courage to be loyal and he shamefully betrayed and plotted the downfall of his own principal and leader. This time around however there was no escape to Ghana or anywhere else for him and he paid the supreme price for his treachery .
What a sad and sorry end that this young man came to and this surely is the greatest testimony to the veracity of the biblical injunction and spiritual truism that says “he who lives by the sword, dies by the sword”. In conclusion I would just like to issue a few posers which are based on information that I gathered from just one of the numerous books that I have read on this issue over the years. Firstly how true is it that the assassins first took Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa to the palace of the Oba of Lagos where “the mutineers stubbed cigarette butts on his hands” among other things and “told him to drink wine to save himself?” He apparently replied that “he had never drunk alcohol in his life and he was not going to do so at the point of death”. These were just some of the assertions made by a British Colonial Officer who was in Nigeria at the time by the name of David Muffet in his book titled “Let The Truth Be Told (The Nigerian Civil War)”. Similar issues were raised in the British Daily Telegraph newspaper many years later and these can be found at “telegraph.co.uk” of Oct. 13th 2007. In Muffet’s book he repeated verbatim reports given by some eye-witnesses, notably Kaptan Topyomoli, who was the Prime Minister’s orderly, confidant and friend. If anyone that is interested cannot find the book anywhere please look for it on “Ebay” or “Amazon.com” on the internet. Secondly, who told Chief Osoba where the corpse was? Who went with him that can corroborate what he has said and what he wrote? Did he go with the police team at 2.00a.m? Commissioner Babankowa said in his interview with Trust Newspaper in 2004 that he overheard some people talking about a foul smell coming from the forest near the roadside and then he started his search and later found the body. Was the police “beaten to the scene” by this adept and incredibly brave young reporter? These are vital questions that need to be answered. I would urge those that are interested in establishing the truth and getting the answers to ask the elder-statesman Alhaji Maitama Sule, the former Inspector General of Police and former National Security Advisor, Alhaji Gambo Jimeta, the former Minister of Defence and Chief of Army Staff General T.Y. Danjuma and the former Inspector General of Police, Alhaji M.D. Yusuf exactly what they know about these matters, claims and counterclaims as they were all living witnesses to all these events. That is the only way that we can really establish the truth and bring this matter to closure.