FORMER Federal Commissioner for Information and South South leader, Chief Edwin Clark has said that one of the reasons the Government of former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon was overthrown was the appointment of of Engr. Odoh, a Kalabari man from Rivers State as the General Manager of Nigerian National Oil Corporation (NNOC), which became Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC).
Clark who noted this in his 688 page Brutally Frank (his autobiography), said that late former Head of State and Federal Commissioner for Communications in Gowon’s government and some others were not happy with the appointment of Odoh, whom they saw as a Igbo man and therefore a security risk to the country. He said that when Gowon announced Engr. Odoh as the new General Manager which was accepted by a majority of Council members, the then Brig. Gen. Muhammed immediately took his case and swagger stick and walked out without saying a word.
THE OVERTHROW OF GENERAL YAKUBU GOWON’S GOVERNMENT
Clark wrote: “I have read several views on why General Yakubu Gowon’s government was overthrown on July 29, 1975. Dan Agbese in his book, Ibrahim Babangida: The Military, Politics and Power in Nigeria, gave some background when he rightly asserted that the General Yakubu Gowon’s government was doing extremely fine economically and had lots of money for the development of infrastructure across Nigeria.
The Head of State also used the available resources at his disposal to earn the respect and admiration of the working class people in the country when he appointed the Chief Udoji Commission to review salaries and allowances of government workers. That therefore made General Gowon a “Man of the Moment”.
“However, while the civil and public servants were basking in the euphoria of the salary review, some military officers – including those in Gowon’s cabinet – had their reservations about his administration. On page 109 of the book, Agbese narrated a discussion Col. Ibrahim Babangida and Col. Shehu Yar’Adua had in January 1975 on their disenchantment with Gowon’s administration.
Further in that discussion, Col. Yar’Adua was said to have announced to his colleague that he was planning to stage a coup against Gen. Yakubu Gowon. Several reasons were given for the proposed coup which included the belief that Gowon’s 3R policy of Reconciliation, Reconstruction and Rehabilitation was quite unnecessary, and that Gowon’s shift in the earlier proposed 1973 date of handing over power to a democratically elected civilian government was a plot for him to continue holding on to power, amongst several others.
“It was those two officers who brought in others to plan and execute the July 1975 coup. According to the author, the inner core of the coup plotters included Col. Yar’Adua, Col. Babangida, Col. Joe Garba, Col. Anthony Ochefu, Col. Ibrahim Taiwo and Col. Abdullahi Mohammed. While it was stated in the book that some senior officers like Brigadier Theophilus Danjuma, Brigadier Olusegun Obasanjo, Brigadier Martin Adamu, Brigadier Murtala Mohammed, Brigadier Olufemi Olutoye and some others were contacted and informed of the plot of the inner core.
Murtala Mohammed was reported to have told them to go ahead with the plan and that he would try to protect them if it failed; however, he would not be a part of it. A similar posture was taken by Danjuma when he was said to have informed the coup plotters of not joining them nor stopping them, but he warned them to avoid bloodshed.
“It seems the coup plot was already on when General Gowon, for reasons best known to him, decided to reshuffle his cabinet in late 1974 and I was pleasantly surprised that he brought me into his government in 1975. From my family background and experience in Col. Ogbemudias government in the Mid-West State as a two-time Commissioner and as Chairman of various boards and companies, loyalty to the government and country was paramount, but this was not so at my new duty post. In the Federal Government Cabinet where I became a member, I soon discovered that some members were very recalcitrant and rather disloyal to the government and the nation.
“It may be necessary to now give a personal view of why I think the 1975 coup was staged against a very humble, respectful and dignified Head of State, particularly by those close to him (military officers). As Federal Commissioner for Information, I worked very closely with Mr. M.D. Yusuf, a fine polished gentleman who was the Commissioner of Police Special Duties which is today known as the Director-General of Department of State Services (DSS). M.D. Yusuf later became the Inspector General of Police. We used to exchange notes once or twice in a week at my residence.
“It may be necessary to mention a few of the incidents that happened that exposed the resentment and disloyalty of some of the senior officers, particularly those occupying the rank of Colonel.
These aggrieved officers were headed by a fine military officer, the late Col. Shehu YarAdua whose father was the Minister of Lagos Affairs in the First Republic when Alhaji Tafawa Balewa was the Prime Minister and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was the Governor-General.
“Other officers associated with this group included Col. Wushishi, who later rose to the rank of Major General before he retired, and Col. Joe Garba who has an affinity with General Yakubu Gowon and was Commander Brigade of Guards, Dodan Barracks. Gowon housed him and depended on him. One thought the reason for putting him there was the relative loyalty and outward affection of a younger brother whose appointment as Brigade Commander at Dodan Barracks was to ensure the safety and security of the Head of State.
“I noticed that between 1973 and 1974 when I was the Commissioner for Finance in the Mid-West under Ogbemudia, Col. Joe Garba once visited Benin City and he was quartered in our No. 2 VIP Guest House along Golf Road. I visited him one evening at the guest house and we had a very cordial discussion as to his responsibility as Brigade Commander in Dodan Barracks. It was then he told me how close he was to General Gowon. He and Joe Garba are Angas from Benue/Plateau State and was married to Victoria Zakari a trained nurse in 1969.
“During our discussion, the telephone rang and he took it, gave a salute and responded, “Yes sir.” The person at the other end conversed with Col. Garba in their native language and after the phone conversation, he sat down and informed me he was speaking to his big brother, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, the Head of State. It therefore came as a surprise when the announcement of the coup overthrowing Gen. Gowon’s government was made by Col. Garba (from Kanke Local Government of Plateau State), I almost melted. I was fully aware of grumbling among some Nigerians and a few open critics of Gen. Gowon, both military men and some politicians. I remember that after having a discussion with Gen. Yakubu Gowon on his misgivings concerning certain aspects of politics, he set up a committee to work out the details of how and when civilian administration should be reintroduced.
“The committee was made up of technocrats, including some university lecturers and professors. Incidentally, I was invited to be part of that committee and1 also remember that our late radical lecturer in ABU,Professor Tahir from Bauchi State was also a member. Unfortunately, the committee had not submitted its report before the government was overthrown by soldiers. The growing tension being created by these dissatisfied young military officers made Gen. Yakubu Gowon to reshuffle his cabinet in January 1975 to enable him to bring into his cabinet some of these young officers. That was how Col. Wushishi, Capt. Dan Suleiman, Capt. Olumide were brought into the cabinet.
“Another embarrassing incident which showed the disloyalty of some military officers was when General Gowon was to attend the Commonwealth Conference in the West Indies in 1975. At that time, there was a general strike action by the Nigeria Airways pilots.
”The issue at the time was how the Head of State would travel to the West Indies. Some suggested that an Air Force Captain should fly him to the West Indies. When we were sure that all was ready for him to fly to West Indies to attend the conference, and in my position as Federal Commissioner for Information and Culture, I organised dancers to go to the airport to bid the Head of State farewell. I was approached by some military officers, including one Military Governor that it was not necessary to arrange such a reception for Gen.Gowon because he did not deserve it. I disregarded the suggestion.
“One of the immediate causes for overthrowing Gen. Gowon’s government was the appointment of Engr. Odoh, a Kalabari man from Rivers State as the General Manager of Nigerian National Oil Corporation (NNOC), now Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC). The government set up machinery to appoint a Nigerian to take over the management of the establishment. The Minister of Mines and Power was Alh. Shettima Ali Monguno, a polished and well-educated northerner from Maiduguri. His candidate for the position was Engr. Abba Gana. Chief Philip Asiodu was the Permanent Secretary of that Ministry. I discovered at the meeting that both of them had separate candidates.
While the Minister suggested Engr. Abba Gana who hailed from Maiduguri, Engr. Odoh was sponsored by Chief Philip Asiodu. Another name being mentioned was Engr. Gbadebo from Western Nigeria. Some of us in a memo suggested the retention of an expatriate General Manager and that a Nigerian should be appointed to understudy him. The Head of State however insisted that a Nigerian should be appointed. We now had three contestants for the position.
“In discussing these names, a section of the members led by Brigadier Murtala Muhammed, Federal Commissioner for Communications strongly objected Odoh’s nomination because he was an Igbo man and a security risk.
“A member of the Council then asked why Odoh was regarded as a security risk to which Murtala Muhammed responded that he was an Igbo man who identified himself as Biafran during the civil war and was responsible for the destruction of the refinery in Port Harcourt. Some of us felt that statement was irresponsible and unpatriotic, considering the fact that Gen. Yakubu Gowon had made an effort to bring the country together after the civil war. It was now five years post-civil war.
“In my contribution, I wanted to know from His Excellency, the Head of State, how it was not dangerous and discriminatory for an Igbo man to be called a security risk, five years after the war. There would have been no need to fight a war where we lost so many lives and property to bring Nigeria together. I noticed that Gen. Gowon was upset from his countenance. He thereafter announced Engr. Odoh as the new General Manager of NNOC, which was accepted by a majority of Council members. Brig. Gen. Muhammed immediately took his case and swagger stick and walked out without saying another word.
“Three days later, M.D. Yusuf, Commissioner of Special Duties, visited me in the evening at my residence, 23 Temple Road Ikoyi. During the discussion, he informed me that Brig. Gen. Muhammed went to Enugu to meet the Army Area Commander and did not bother to pay a courtesy call to the Administrator of East Central State, Dr. Ukpabi Asika who was at the time away on an official visit to Oji River Power Station. He went further to say that he paid similar visits to other military headquarters, including Calabar, Port Harcourt and Benin City and that he suspected he was planning something.
“We were later informed that Her Majesty, the Queen of England may visit Nigeria in the month of September 1975. During that period, our Four-Year Development Plan had been prepared and approved by the Council. I was therefore directed by the Head of State to proceed to London to discuss the visit with the British press and to also take along with me several copies of the Four-Year Development Plan, which should be delivered to the Nigerian High Commissioner, His Excellency, Alhaji Sule Kolo.
“Coincidentally, Brigadier General Murtala Muhammed and Colonel Dan Suleiman were also travelling the same day with me on a Nigeria Airways flight. Our flight could not land in Kano due to some technical faults, so it had to return to Lagos. During this period on our return, we sat together at the VIP lounge at the airport in Ikeja. We were many that sat together, including M.K.O. Abiola of IT’T fame and Alhaji Isiaku Rabiu, a wealthy man from Kano, also travelling with Gen. Murtala Muhammed. I understand his son, Alhaji Abdul Samad Isiaku Rabiu, the Chairman of BUA group, continued with the family business. Other prominent passengers were Senator Victor Akan from Cross River and Mr. Silas Daniya, MD of NIDB. My Permanent Secretary, Alhaji Tatari Ali was also at the airport to see me off.
“My disagreement with Gen. Murtala Muhammed continued when he asked me why I was defending Gen. Gowon and his government every time and whether I did not know that they made him the Head of State and could also remove him if they wanted. My answer was short: “I am a practising lawyer, ready to go back to my practice anytime it pleases you and your colleagues to remove Gen. Gowon from office, but I would like to know what you think Gen. Gowon and his government are not doing well.”
“He declared that Gen. Gowon was inefficient and corrupt. I answered that he was not corrupt and added that if corruption is defined as spending more money than what you are officially entitled to, then he (Murtala) was also corrupt. He angrily asked in what way he was corrupt and I said, “I know your salary as Brigadier General but you have done things your salary cannot afford.” He retorted that I should state them.
“ I said, “Your wife’s baby was dedicated at your residence on 2nd Avenue Ikoyi. You killed 2 cows and held a lavish party where Ebenezer Obey from Abeokuta played. Col. Shehu Yar’Adua was the MC and I also attended. You gave me part of the meat. Secondly, when you were a Colonel in the Nigerian Army in charge of the signals, you used to visit London on several occasions and lodged in a hotel close to Buckingham Palace.
I was the Commissioner for Education in the Mid-West State and I used to visit London and stayed in the same hotel without seeing or meeting each other. You used to drive a Jaguar car whenever you were in London and to crown it all, you have just asked Abiola to ask his Manager to send money to your mother in Kano since we could not land in Kano and I asked if you are a shareholder in ITT” Everyone at the VIP Lounge laughed at my statement.
“The military attaché in London was Col. Baba Usman and he was to meet Murtala at Heathrow Airport, while Lawrence Emuoakpor who was the info attaché in London was to meet me at the same airport. Fortunately for me, my Permanent Secretary, Alhaji Tatari Ali from Bauchi who later became the elected Governor of Bauchi State was able to inform the info attaché to go to Gatwick Airport that we had changed our flight from Nigeria Airways to BOAC, which had its base at Gatwick Airport and I believed such a message was not sent to the military attaché who must have gone to Heathrow Airport.
“I think we were in London for 2 days before the coup took place. While I was in London, I had audience with the Nigeria High Commissioner, Alhaji Sule Kolo, and delivered the Four-Years Development Plan as directed.
He then invited me to lodge at a very big hotel at the strand very close to BBC Bush House. On arrival, I met my former boss, the Governor of Mid-Nest State, Col. 5.0. Oebemudia, the First Lady, Mrs. Victoria Gown and her children and Mr. Moses Ihonde, a close friend of General Gowon and a dedicated Christian From Sabon Gida Ora in Mid-West State, now Edo State.
Where it was expected that he would hand over the chairmanship of OAU to Gen. Idi Amin Dada. I added that they suggested that he should send a representative who would then hand over the chairmanship to Idi Amin Dada. “They think you are too decent to hand over the Chairmanship yourself, I told him. He retorted by asking “Who are they to interfere with the affairs of Africa?”
Then I asked. “Sir, must you really go?” and he said, yes. “Sir, Your Excellency, are you sure of the state of security in the country? Because we have unconfirmed information that all may not be well if you travel” I added.
He said everything was okay. The call ended and I returned to my seat.
“Gen. Gowon’s wife then asked whether they were planning a coup and I replied in the negative We left for our separate places in London after lunch. The next day, I got a telephone call from one very tall gentleman, Alhaji Galadima from Borno who informed me of the coup against Gen. Gowon the previous night and that General Muhammed who had been holding meetings at his hotel with officers in London and Europe at the time and had been flown-in in a KLM flight to Nigeria via Amsterdam to take over the leadership of the government.
“He advised me not to return home as soldiers were posted to surround my house from the moment the coup happened. He also said that the ADC to Gen. Gowon, Col. Wilbert who was sent by Gen. Gowon to bring a certain briefcase to Kampala was detained in Nigeria and he was shocked and surprised that Col. Joe Garba, a relation of Gen. Gowon and close confidant and Head of the Brigade of Guards was the one who made the announcement that Gowon’s government had been overthrown for corruption, inefficiency and refusal to hand over to civilians.
“Professor J. P. Clark, my younger brother, phoned to inform me that he took a lorry to pack my things from the government quarters but there were soldiers who prevented him from doing so. I then asked of my children and my maid. He said he did not see them and I became worried. However, minutes later, I got a call from Mrs. Evie Ejiwumi who was an Occupational Physiotherapist at LUTH that when the coup was announced, she rushed to my house and collected my children and some papers in my bedroom because she did not want to leave them behind. Recently, when I was discussing with Gen. Alani Akinrinade (Rid), he said he was in London at the time of the coup and had been invited to Murtala Muhammed’s meeting but did not attend. He however confirmed that some senior officers met with Muhammed at his hotel. coup, and that he was first invited to take over.
“It is therefore not true that Murtala Muhammed did not know about the coup, and that he was first invited to take over. Perhaps at this juncture, it is necessary to comment on the role of Brigadier General Mutala Muhammed during the Nigerian Civil War.
“It is important to note that when Murtala Mohammed was in charge of the Federal troops trying to cross over into Onitsha from Asaba to capture the city from rebel forces during the civil war, he encountered great difficulties and was advised against frontal tactics by Lt. Col. Larry Konyan and Lt. Col. Alani Akinrinade. Murtala Mohammed, however, disregarded the advice and had many of his troops killed and drowned in the River Niger. It was indeed a great disaster and he could have been sent away from the army for that, but Gen. Gowon retained him for reasons best known to him and posted him to Signals. He later appointed Murtala as one of the Federal Commissioners. It is however sad that Murtala turned ungrateful to his benefactor. I have included this account here to show that Murtala Mohammed like any other person was not a perfect man, neither was he infallible.
Even though he did not participate in the coup in Lagos, he was actively involved in the planning in London.”