1966: Nnamdi Azikiwe’s Reaction to Nigeria’s First Military Coup
The military coup of January 15, 1966, is a critical aspect of Nigeria’s history that saw the death of leading politicians and Army officers of the First Republic. In the aftermath of the coup, Major-General Johnson Thomas Aguiyi-Ironsi came to power as the country’s first Head-of-State and President Azikiwe, who was absent at the time of the coup, condemned the military putsch in all totality. The speech below is the reaction of Azikiwe to the unfortunate carnage that truncated Nigeria’s First Republic which consequently ushered in military rule.
Violence has never been an instrument used by us, as founding fathers of the Nigerian Republic, to solve political problems. In the British tradition, we talked the Colonial Office into accepting our challenges for the demerits and merits of our case for self-government.
After six constitutional conferences in 1953, 1954, 1957, 1958, 1959, and 1960, Great Britain conceded to us the right to assert our political independence as from October 1, 1960. None of the Nigerian political parties ever adopted violent means to gain our political freedom and we are happy to claim that not a drop of British or Nigerian blood was shed in the course of our national struggle for our place in the sun.
This historical fact enabled me to state publicly in Nigeria that Her Majesty’s Government has presented self-government to us on a platter of gold. Of course, my contemporaries scorned at me, but the facts of history are irrefutable. I consider it most unfortunate that our ‘Young Turks’ decided to introduce the element of violent revolution into Nigerian politics.
None of the Nigerian political parties ever adopted violent means to gain our political freedom and we are happy to claim that not a drop of British or Nigerian blood was shed in the course of our national struggle for our place in the sun.
No matter how they and our general public might have been provoked by obstinate and perhaps grasping politicians, it is an unwise policy. I have contacted General Aguiyi-Ironsi, General Officer Commanding the Nigerian Armed Forces, who I understand, has now assumed the reins of the Federal Government.
I offer my services for any peace overtures to stop further bloodshed, to placate the mutinous officers, and to restore law and order. As soon as I hear from him, I shall make arrangements to return home. As far as I am concerned, I regard the killings of our political and military leaders as a national calamity.
Unbowed! Unbent! Unbroken! A Perfect Gentleman…