This article was first published on 9 July 2000
I Was in the first cabinet that was overthrown by the military in this country. I entered parliament in December 12, 1959. And I remained in Parliament until January 15, 1966 when the Government was overthrown. I was the Federal Minister of Education in that cabinet.
I woke up in the morning in my official house in Ikoyi to discover that my telephone was not working. I had never experienced coup before nor did I know that it was a coup, thinking it was just a telephone fault; until a colleague of mine in the cabinet Chief Abiodun Akerele, came in and told me there had been a military coup. So I had the fortune or the misfortune of being a victim of the first coup ever in this country.
Many people may not know that I spent 18 months in detention in prisons across the country. I've spent the time in Kirikiri prison, Ilesha prison, Ibadan prison and the Abeokuta prison Two of us who were in Balewa's government emerged when the military handed over to civilians in 1979 as part of the civilian Government. In Balewa's government, Alhaji Shehu Shagari was the Minister of Works while I was the Minister of Education. When the Military handed over to us after about 14 years, Shagari emerged as the President, while I became the Attorney - General and Minister of Justice. Again, Shagari's government was overthrown just a few months after I left the cabinet. Of course, we suspected it was coming.
A lot of things that happened between that period and now would never see the light of the day. When you are in government, you know a lot of things; you see a lot of things. A lot of things you know or did or saw will die with you. This is the practice the whole world. People have asked me to write my memoirs, I just laugh because there are certain things I can never reveal. When I was in Tafawa Balewa's Cabinet, all Cabinet ministers had access to written intelligence report every month. That was the practice at that time. But when Shagari came in, for reasons, which I cannot explain, that practice was no longer followed. But by virtue of my duties as the Attorney - General and as a member of the National Security Council, I continued to have access to some sensitive matters.
Anybody who wants to know the root cause of all the coups and our present problems, and who does not know the evolution
Nigerians, too, should operate in the interest of their country. When Lugard formed the West African Frontier Force with 2,000 troops, about 90 percent of them were from the North mainly from the Middle belt. And his dispatches to
The Order - in - Council was drawn up in November 1913 signed and came into force in January 1914. In those dispatches, Lugard said a number of things, which are at the root causes of yesterday and today's problems.
The British needed the Railway from the North to the Coast in the interest of British business. Amalgamation of the South (not of the people) became of crucial importance to British business interest. He said the North and the South should be amalgamated. Southern Nigeria came into existence on January 1900 ... At the Centenary of the fall of
If you remember, Sokoto was not conquered until 1903. So, there was no question of
The first Yoruba lawyer was called to the Bar in 1861. Therefore, because it was not the policy of the British Government to bring the taxpayers money to run the protectorate, it was in the interest of the British business and the British taxpayer that there should be Amalgamation. But what the British amalgamated was the Administration of the North and South and not the people of the North and the South, that is one of the root causes of the problems of
When the amalgamation took effect, the British government sealed off the South from the North. And between 1914 andl960, that's a period of 46 years, the British allowed minimum contact between the North and South because it was not in the British interest that the North be allowed to be polluted by the educated South. That was the basis on which we got our independence in 1960 when I was in the parliament. I entered Parliament on December 12, 1959. When the North formed a political party, the northern leaders called it Northern Peoples Congress (NPC). They didn't call it Nigeria Peoples Congress. That was in accordance with the dictum and policies of Lugard. When Aminu Kano formed his own party, it was called Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) not Nigerian Progressive
It was only Awolowo and Zik who were mistaken that there was anything called
That was what Lugard created in
A computer is as good as its programmer. A computer will produce what you ask it to produce. I have read this book from cover to cover. This is a fantastic book. I want us to find a way to ensure that as many Nigerians read this book. It is a raw material for future authors. There is one thing which is missing in the book and that is the first broadcast of General Ibrahim Babangida when he assumed power in 1985. That broadcast is very crucial to the economic problems we have today. ... Talking on the first coup, when Balewa got missing, we knew Okotie- Eboh had been Hied, we knew Akintola had been killed. We, the members of the Balewa cabinet started meeting. But how can you have a cabinet meeting without the Prime Minister acting or Prime Minister presiding. So, unanimously, we nominated acting Prime Minister amongst us. Then we continued holding our meetings. Then we got a message that we should all assemble at the Cabinet office. All the Ministers were requested by the G.O.C. of the Nigerian Army, General Ironsi to assemble.
What was amazing at that time was that Ironsi was going all over
Under the law, that is, the Interpretation Act, as acting President, Nwazor Orizu had all the powers of the President. The GOC said he wanted to see all the cabinet ministers. And so we assembled at the cabinet office. Well, I have read in many books saying that we handed over to the military. We did not hand-over. Ironsi told us that "you either hand over as gentlemen or you hand-over by force". These were his words. Is that voluntary hand-over? So we did not hand-over. We wanted an Acting Prime Minister to be in place but Ironsi forced us, and I use the word force advisedly, to handover to him. He was controlling the soldiers.
The acting President, Nwafor Orizu, who did not cooperate with us, cooperated with the GOC. Dr. Orizu and the GOC prepared speeches which Nwafor Orizu broadcast handing over the government of the country to the army. I here state again categorically as a member of that cabinet that we did not hand-over voluntarily. It was a coup. This is a very good book, which everybody must read. It is raw material for future authors. Anybody, who wants to know some of the causes of our problems, military instability should read this book. I even recommend this book to all universities and secondary schools, so that they can know how we get to where we are now. What this book shows is that if anybody stages a coup and if people don't accept it, it would not succeed. What puzzles me is how the author got all these materials. He must have connections in high places to be able to get a lot of these materials.
These materials should not be in the archives, they should be in the public domain so that we know the causes of our problems. I pray that all Nigerians should rise up and say no if anybody seizes a radio station and says "fellow countrymen". I hope that this book will find its way into all university libraries throughout this country, to all secondary school library and abroad. I appeal to the media to give this book a comprehensive and desired review.
The more I open the book, the more I see something to talk about. This book is going to represent one of those chapters in the tragedy of
Richard Akinjide, QC, SAN - July 9, 2000