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On a flight from Dulles International Airport in Virginia, USA, to Heathrow, London, I found myself seated next to a former Ambassador of the United States of America to Nigeria who seemed to know far more about my country than anyone I had ever come across. I celebrated my 74th birthday on January 13, 2018 which puts me firmly in the same age bracket as President Muhammadu Buhari who celebrated his 74th birthday on December 17, 2016. Never mind that he altered the figure when he declared: “It has been a tumultuous year. I am thinking I am 75. I thought I was 74 but I was told I was 75.
I have never been so sick, not even during the 30-month civil war that I was stumbling under farm of yams or cassava.
But this sickness…I don’t know, but I came out better. All those who saw me before said I look much better when I came back.
But I have explained it to the public that as a General, I used to give orders. But now, I take orders.
The doctors told me to feed my stomach and sleep for longer hours. That is why I am looking much better.”
That is not the subject of the main discussion – our collective knowledge gap. I really wish that I was able to record the avalanche of data, statistics and incisive insights with which the ambassador (who is now a Professor at Yale University) bombarded me. His opening salvo was that Nigeria was broken INSIDE on January 15, 1966 when we suffered our first coup d’état which was supposedly led by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu who was based in Kaduna. Since then, we have been banging our heads against the wall trying to panel-beat our nation and “patch patch” it from OUTSIDE.
Just one press of the button on the ambassador’s smartphone delivered the following witness statement by Brig Gen. Atom Kpera (retd.): “MY ROLE IN NIGERIA’S FIRST COUP – BRIG GEN ATOM KPERA (RETD)”
“I was in Kaduna as a Second Lieutenant in 1966, having returned to Nigeria in August the previous year. I joined the engineering section of the military service where I was before the 1966 coup. I was commanding a troop, as it was called in the engineers, while in the infantry, it is called a platoon. So, I was there in Kaduna. I know the next question would be how did it happen? The long and short is that I took part in that coup because my Officer Commanding organised what was called ‘Exercise Damisa’ and on our own, we called it orders. It was that exercise that we were going for, a training exercise in the second night. My whole squadron was also part of the exercise. So we went out there in the night where we could do a night (attack) and then occupy strategic places.
That was the instruction and my troop was assigned to seize and protect the then National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) in Kaduna. After the night attack in the bush, our commanders enumerated the various places called VPs (vital points).
In my own case, I was assigned to defend the radio station. Within the first night, we did the night attack on Zaria Road, then came to the radio station, surrounded it and put troops to guard it. The Officer Commanding then came and inspected and said, ‘Okay, stand down’ which means you can now go. That was good.

Then, the following night… we assembled at 7 pm, went through the same exercise and my O/C came and inspected, but this time he didn’t say, “Stand down.” He just said, “Okay, you will get your stand down orders later.” The following day, I saw one officer named J. C. Ojukwu (an old boy of King’s College, Lagos) who came and said the exercise was completed and Major Hassan Katsina was with us and I asked him: “What are you talking about?” That was when I started having an idea that it was a coup. Then, our O/C came and said we should stay at our posts and should not allow anybody to come in or go out. That was the second night when I started having the idea that it was a coup. That is why I said I participated in it blindfolded. I wasn’t the only one; all our officers, probably only the Igbo officers knew that it was a coup. In that squadron, we were four that were non-Igbo, every other person was an officer of Igbo extraction. That was how it went.”

What truly amazed me were the massive details the ambassador had garnered as a consequence of his research endeavours into why coup d’états occurred in any part of the world (both 20th and 21st century) and how these could be linked with the epochal “9/11” on September 11, 2001 when Al-Qaeda terrorists launched an unprecedented attack on the bastion of American capitalism – the World Trade Centre, in Manhattan, New York City, as well as The Pentagon in Arlington County, Virginia and another failed attempt on Washington D.C.

Since then, terrorists have erupted all over the world under numerous nomenclatures and insignias – Islamic State of Iraq and Syria; Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen (Al-Shabaab); Boko Haram etc.
What remains baffling is the consistency of the steamy potion of hate, resentment, desperation, envy, revenge and total disregard for human lives, especially their own, (as suicide bombers). By the same token, their own parents as well as wives and children are readily sacrificed at the altar of fanaticism and insurgency. As for friends, mistresses, casual girlfriends and acquaintances, they are just cannon fodders. Of least concern to them are the pain and suffering inflicted on total strangers.

Traditionally, wars were fought by soldiers and mercenaries against soldiers. Not anymore. The battle line has changed. The boundaries have collapsed and the arena of war as well as the tactics have become asymmetrical. The war is no longer over (and about) territory. Rather, it is about the supremacy of one religion over another and by a cruel irony, it is also about the dominance of one sect within the same religion over another. Most times, the conflicts are premeditated and self-contrived on the march towards martyrdom.
Even more startling is the secrecy of terrorists amongst themselves in sharp contrast to their feisty bravado and callousness whenever they choose to make a public statement – beheading, shooting, hanging, whipping, raping, kidnapping, and enslaving of their captives or random victims for even the smallest infractions e.g. smoking, drinking alcohol or shaving off hair/beard.
Rage is the currency of their trade while outrage and defiance are their demons. They maim, kill and draw blood at will. No qualms whatever.
Their background provides no clues. In the case of Nigeria’s first coup, Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna, who was one of the ringleaders, graduated from the University of Ibadan which would have afforded (even guaranteed) him a comfortable existence either in the civil service or the military.

Regardless, he could lay legitimate claim to being the architect and planner-in-chief of the coup. As a university student, his room was right next to that of Emeka Anyaoku who was sandwiched between Ifeajuna and Jide Alo.
Anyaoku proceeded to the world of diplomacy and dazzled as the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth (from July 1, 1990 –March 31, 2000) along with a brief stint as Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1983. Alo was reputed to have drafted the announcement of the coup which Nzeogwu read to a bewildered nation. He later became Nigeria’s Ambassador to Brazil but eventually disappeared under mysterious circumstances.

What is self-evident is that once the seal that glues a nation together is broken, to put it back is in the same category as a Herculean task or mission impossible. Thereafter, what you are left with is deep-seated animosity, mutual suspicion and finally revenge in the game of death preceded by ethnic cleansing and/or genocide – along with looting and plunder.


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