Story Four: Chideraa in Post-Independence Era
Less than six years after independence, in January 1966, Nigeria experienced her fist ever military coup. It was spearheaded by Major Kaduna Nzeogwu. The coup, a forceful overthrow of the then civilian government of the country, had been inspired by blatant corrupt practices of the leaders. They meddled with electoral practices to get re-elected into political positions and made themselves wealthy on public funds – the very same things the white men did. Two of the founding fathers of Nigeria lost their lives in the bloody coup, Sir Tafawa Balewa, the Prime minister and Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Premier of the Northern region.
In Umuagwo, Obierika and his friends drank palm wine in celebration of the removal of those corrupt and selfish leaders. But Chideraa, a twelve year old boy in Primary Six, was afraid as he heard them talk about the numbers of men that were killed in the process and even his leaders that he held in high esteem. His father saw the look on his face and was sure he had questions for him. When his friends had left, Chideraa moved to closer to his father. “Papa, but why are we rejoicing that our leaders have been killed by some wicked soldiers?”
“No my son. They are not wicked soldiers but sincere patriots and have only done what they had to do to sanitize the country.” He replied.
“But Papa, the Bible says that we should not kill and that we should respect our leaders.” His father, a devout Christian, was taken aback and sought for a suitable response, but Chideraa added another question “Papa, but why did they say the coup was unsuccessful?” Ironically, he could respond now.
“Aguiyi Ironsi, the Head of Army, should have been killed too, but he escaped and brought an army that chased the coup plotters away.” He replied.
“But Papa, Aguiyi Ironsi is now the Head of State?” he asked his father.
“Yes my son.” He replied “A patriotic Major General” He added.
“But why did the military attack the coup plotters and yet accepted the power that the coup plotters collected from the civilian government?” He seemed very worried as he asked.
Obierika thought a little “Em, the civilians willingly handed over power to the military because the country had become too unstable for the civilians to rule.”
“So Papa, is our country truly unstable?” Chideraa asked.
Obierika heaved heavily. Was little Chideraa seeing something that nobody else saw? The coup plotters that they were celebrating had made their beloved country unstable. In a low voice he answered “Yes. That is what they said. I don’t know.” He cleared his throat. “Chideraa enough questions for tonight, we would have to sleep so that we would wake up on time.”
Some months later, six months precisely, there was an exodus of Igbo people from the North back to their homelands. Umuagwo wasn’t left out. Chideraa’s cousins and their mother had returned back to Umuagwo from Kaduna. Their father, Chideraa’s uncle, and their first son, Ibekwe, weren’t with them. They had been killed by the Northerners. Wails and tears flooded Umuagwo and so did it flood every other Igbo community far and wide. The newspapers reported that over twenty thousand Igbos had been killed in the bloody Northern pogrom and that the Northern soldiers had also murdered a good number of Igbo soldiers and officers in a bloody mutiny in Ibadan. The nation was in a state of unrest once again, as the then Eastern Military Governor, Lt. Col. Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, tried to calm the minds of the Easterners down. He later went on to become a celebrated hero of the Igbo people. Obierika was inconsolable over the death of his younger brother. The painful fact that his body couldn’t be retrieved to at least give him a decent burial broke his spirit.
Obierika was reading a newspaper in his living room. He loved to follow politics closely and whenever he went to the more developed cities he bought newspapers. He suddenly exclaimed as he read, “Those people are crazy!” Obierika flared up with the newspaper in his hands. “How could there have been another coup?” He was alone in the living room.
Urenma rushed in. “My husband, what is the matter?” Chideraa had followed her immediately, staring at his father.
He paced up and down the living room with a grimaced face and said nothing. Chideraa could spot the newspaper in his father’s hand and had already decided he was going to go through it until he found out why Papa was angry.
By evening, after they had eaten, he approached his father and sat at his feet. “Papa, why did the military carry out a coup against their fellow military rulers?” He couldn’t understand fully the whole story in the newspaper, so he needed his father to explain.
“Those wicked Northern soldiers and their people. They had killed our brothers in the north and now they have killed and overthrown the Head of State and put in an Hausa man, Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon.” He replied. Chideraa could sense the pain in his voice. He continued “They said that the previous military coup was influenced by Igbo officers and that they had killed Hausa strong politicians and officers and placed the Igbos in top positions in the country.” This second coup was led by Murtala Mohammed and Theophilus Danjuma.
Chideraa wondered why his father called the former coup plotters patriots and these ones wicked, but his father wasn’t in the mood to entertain that kind of question. Obviously, the reason for the second coup was hinged solely on tribalism. Waving his head and looking sore, “So the Northerners took their revenge on the death of their leaders by killing our own people mercilessly.”
“Yes my son” He replied in a damp tone.
“Papa, would the Igbos revenge again in another military coup?” He asked.
“I do not know my son. Our Governor, Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, says that we should be calm. But I doubt the possibility. We are tired of being in this country. The prominent Igbos in the country want him to take us out of Nigeria and I, your father, am willing to fight for that course. Enough is enough.” Chideraa saw the fury in his father’s eye even in that gloomy evening. He knew his father hadn’t recovered from the loss of his brother and nephew. They had been buried, but will only pictures in their coffins. Chideraa prayed earnestly for peace in the country. He feared something grave was about to happen.