The city of Lagos was covered in haze on the morning of January 16, 1966. The air was bad and filled with tension. January 15, the previous day, had been the longest day in the country’s history. A group of dissident, young blooded soldiers headed by Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, had succeeded in annihilating the democratically elected civilian government.
The Sardauna of Sokoto and Premier of the Northern-region, Ahmadu Bello, was assassinated in his Kaduna home, the coup leader. Kaduna Nzeogwu, with boldness, flippantly disclosed how the Sardauna displayed absolute cowardice by hiding himself among his children and wives.
In Lagos, Tafawa Balewa, the prime minister, was killed alongside Okotie Eboh, the bodacious Ibibio finance minister. Action moved to Ibadan as Akintola,the premier of the western Region, despite his machine gun battle with the soldiers in his house didn’t live to see the light of the next day. R Fani-Kayode, the deputy premier of the western region, who lived a stone throw from Akintola’s house, lacked the guts Akintola possessed – he surrendered himself to the coup plotters without a fight.
Gen Aguiyi Ironsi the head of the Nigerian Army narrowly escaped being assassinated by the dissident soldiers. Nmamdi Azikwe, the ceremonial president (of Igbo extraction) was spared.
Chuka Nnduka had lived in Kano all his life, his father was among the earliest Igbos who moved to the North In search of greener pastures. He was born in Sabon gari, growing up he adopted the native Hausa children as friends, they played together, ate together and trotted to school together, Chuka despite being a Christian participated in the yearly Ramadan fast, a decision his parents rarely objected.
His ability to speak fluent Hausa and a little bit of Arabic gave him away as Hausa. He also possessed the ebony like complexion and the slim-tall physique that men from that tribe are known for.
It was a very cold evening in Kano, the proximity of the ancient city to the Sahara desert and the northern wind had made the evening temperature unbearably low. The North, popular for its sultry weather had suddenly turned – Russia in Africa. Chuka and his childhood friends: Usman, Eze and Jubril defied the teeth cracking weather and went to their favourite pub, where they drink, discuss politics and sometimes gossip their wives.
The entrance to the pub was quaintly small, it was devoid of inscriptions, it had no name. The ambience always portends trouble but Chuka despite being a proper gentle man prefers to have chitchats with his friends here. Chuka was among the few people in Kano who had received the news of the coup with joy.
“Aren’t you glad that the corrupt politicians are gone?” Chuka said to his friends cheerfully. Eze was the only person who responded with an ebullient “yes”, Usman and Jubril refused to speak as they continued to sip their lager. “I even heard that the Sardauna hid between his children and wives when the soldiers stormed his house”, Eze added. The two (Chuka and Eze) began to laugh boisterously, oblivious of the fact that Usman and Jubril didn’t consider their jokes funny.
”That chauvinistic man, he has made life very miserable for Southerners living in the North” Chuka said. “Especially the Igbos, some of us have known no other land apart from this land, yet he deprives our children education because they do not have Hausa blood running in their veins. Our youths can’t get jobs in the civil service. May he rot in hell” Eze added. “Amen” Chuka exclaimed.
Usman and Jubril could no longer hold their anger, they were so infuriated at the flagrant series of invectives hurled at their traditional and political leader by their childhood friends. “Usman, Jubril, why aren’t you guys saying anything” Eze asked. Without uttering a word, Usman and Jubril left the bar.
About five months after the January 15 coup, tension started brewing in the country. The North considered the coup an Igbo coup – the coup leader was Igbo, they executed majorly non-Igbos. The fact that Nnamdi Azikwe was spared infuriated the Northerners. There was chaos in the Army; Hausa soldiers executed the carnage of their fellow Igbo soldiers in the Army. Aguyi Ironsi was dragged into the bush and murdered by his close aide (an Hausa man) at Ibadan. This marked the emergence of a second military coup.
It was a cold afternoon in Kano, the sky was filled with rain pregnant clouds. Chuka came unusually early from work, he had pleaded with his colleague, Ahmed, to cover up for him, his head ached severely and he felt sharp pains in his joints. He didn’t expect to meet his wife, Adaobi at home, but he wished she was around to take care of him anyway. Adaobi works in the civil service as a clerk, she would not be home until 4:00pm.
After taking pain relievers, Chuka lay on his bed to take a nap. Suddenly, he heard chants of “they must go!!” Peeping through the window, Chuka saw a huge cloud of smoke hovering in the sky. “Is there a riot?” he thought. Out of the blues, he saw strange men roaring like wounded lions with machetes roaming the street, he could not believe his eyes, as he saw Usman and Jubril leading the rioters towards his house. He heard Usman shout: “one of them lives here; there is an Igbo man here!” Chuka began to shiver – he was completely confused, different thoughts ran through his mind. He thought about Adaobi “is she safe where ever she is right now?”
Chuka exited the house through the back door and bolted into the bush. He ran so fast, he could not believe he was lying ill on the bed several minutes ago. He was heading towards Sutti, his wife worked there. Chuka, knew it won’t be long before he got killed if he does not disguise as a protester. He stopped to break a branch from a mango tree and held it high as a sign of solidarity with the furious Hausa mob. He saw dead bodies litter the road, he saw men and women with slit throat lie across the street. Burnt vehicles and burnt houses were very conspicuous, although he felt devastated, he didn’t allow anything he saw to deter him from finding his wife.
On reaching the Ministry of Health, where his wife worked, Chuka could not believe what he saw. The premises had been turned into a ghost town. He could see charred remains of men and women, at this point his lips began to quiver. He could remember his wife wore a blue dress to work. He hoped not to find his wife among the bodies that were laid on the floor. Suddenly he sighted a woman with a protruding belly lying on the lush green lawn of the premises.
Chuka began to tremble as he slowly moved towards the body; the body was covered in blood. “Adaobi!!” Chuka yelled. Chuka squeezed the blood stained body of his wife as he began to weep incessantly, she had been seven months pregnant. Unknown to Chuka, the rioters still roamed the premises, they sighted Chuka weeping, holding tight to his wife’s body. Chuka was severely mutilated at that point. On the 30th of July alone, hundreds of Igbos were murdered in Kano.
The Military head of the Eastern region, Gen Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, called for the return of every Ndi-Igbo living in other parts of Nigeria to the East. The Igbos seceded from Nigeria and formed the Republic of Biafra on May30 1967 in defiance of the Aburi accord. On 6th July, 1967, Nigeria, under Gen Yakubu Gowon, declared war on the Republic of Biafra.