Major Patrick Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu was the first Nigerian to become an officer in Military Intelligence. Born on February 26, 1937, Nzeogwu was only 20 when he joined the Nigerian Army in March 1957.

From officer training in Teshie, Ghana, the young man was moved to the elite Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, the United Kingdom, where after two years of training he was commissioned Second-Lieutenant in 1959.

Kaduna Nzeogwu: An Enigma

In April 1967, Kaduna Nzeogwu, in an interview with the journalist, Denis Ejindu of ‘Africa and the World‘, dispelled fears of a looming war. He said:

Image of Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu
Major Kaduna Nzeogwu, after the January 15 killings, wears his arm in a sling at a press conference in Kaduna, January 19, 1966/Historic Images.

No, nobody wants to fight. The East which is best equipped and best prepared for war does not want to attack anybody. The North cannot fight and Lagos cannot fight now. If they had attacked the East in August or September, they would have had a walkover. Today, I think they will be ill-advised to try.”

Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu was simply a man carried away by youthful exuberance. A soldier who wanted the best for his country, bold and brave, who did not understand that the problem with Nigeria was more than a band of young Majors could solve with the barrel of the gun.

Nzeogwu was smart and lucky. He was well loved by many of his fellow officers and subordinates. His superiors loathed him. The Major was seen as one who believed he knew it all. They therefore sent him to the Nigeria Military Training College (NMTC) Kaduna to train future officers. He was not to be trusted with a command position. And Nzeogwu was there as Chief Instructor.

Nigeria’s First Military Coup

The First Military Coup carried out in Nigeria on January 15, 1966, was bound to fail because as an Intelligent Officer of three years, Kaduna Nzeogwu’s intelligence did not teach him not to embark on such a near-impossible dream, even though they achieved some of their aims which were to eliminate the senior officers who occupied strategic positions.

Image of Abubakar Tafawa Balewa Independence Day Speech
Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa (1912-1966), Prime Minister, Federal Republic of Nigeria (1957-1966) Photo Credits: Terry Disney/Getty Images

The Commanding Officer, One Brigade, Kaduna, Brigadier Samuel Adesujo Ademulegun was killed with his pregnant wife, Latifat (Sisi Nurse) in their bedroom.

In Lagos, Brigadier Zakariya Maimalari was executed; Chief-of-Staff Army Headquarters, Colonel Kur Mohammed, Adjutant General, Lieutenant-Colonel James Yakubu Pam, Quarter Master General, Lieutenant-Colonel Arthur Chinyelu Unegbe, and Commanding Officer, Fourth Battalion Ibadan, Lieutenant-Colonel Abogo Largema were all killed in cold blood.

The nation’s first and only Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was not spared. Two Premiers, Sir Ahmadu Bello of the North and Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola of the West died as well as Finance Minister Festus Okotie-Eboh.

How it was foiled

In May 1967, just a month after Kaduna Nzeogwu’s chat with Ejindu, the war was imminent. Nzeogwu did not see it coming. And it consumed him. Now, this is where the irony lies. The civil war happened just because some sections of Nigeria felt the January coup, which Nzeogwu was instrumental in, was a grand plan by the Igbo to take over Nigeria. Thus, the North paid back with a counter-coup on July 29, 1966.

About 30,000 innocent soldiers and civilians were murdered in the 1966 anti-Igbo pogrom. Some millions more were to be later killed during the war.

Interestingly, those who foiled the coup were senior Igbo officers. Major-General Johnson Aguiyi- Ironsi, Lieutenant-Colonels Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, Conrad Chukwujimje Dibia Nwawo, Alexander Attah Madiebo, and Major Alphonso Keshi.

As Brigade Major, Two Brigade, Kaduna, Keshi informed Madiebo of the coup. Madiebo moved over to the Brigade Headquarters where Nzeogwu had taken over Ademulegun’s seat and worked on Nzeogwu. Ojukwu, Commanding Officer Fifth Battalion, Kano stood his ground strategically and all worked with Ironsi to fly in Nwawo, then Defence Attaché in London, and Nzeogwu’s teacher. Only then could the Major be softened.

Kaduna Nzeogwu: Death and Legacy

Kaduna Nzeogwu did not believe in Biafra. He was named Kaduna by his Northern friends and spoke Hausa fluently, even more than the Igbo language. He wore Hausa clothing in lieu of Igbo’s. However, he was killed by Nigerian soldiers of the 21st Battalion near Nsukka on July 29, 1967.

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THE ASABA MASSACRE, OCTOBER 7, 1967⠀ ⠀ The Nigerian troops had entered Asaba on the 4th day of October 1967, in pursuit of Biafran soldiers who had earlier crossed Ore after taking Benin and dislodging Nigerian troops there.⠀ ⠀ But because the Biafran soldiers had blown up the Niger bridge to make it impossible for the Nigerian side to pursue them, Nigerian soldiers led by Lieutenant-Colonel Murtala Muhammed simply settled in Asaba where they started going from house-to-house killing people of the town who were accused of aiding the Biafran soldiers.⠀ ⠀ On the 7th day of October, after the house-to-house killing had gone on for days, the leaders of the town, in a bid to convince the Nigerian troops of their loyalty and support, summoned their people to come out in the street.⠀ ⠀ Hundreds of men, women, and children obeyed the summon and came out, mostly dressed in ceremonial white attire, singing, dancing, and chanting "One Nigeria". But the moment they got to the Ogbe-Osawa village square where the Nigerian troops were gathered, the soldiers separated the men and boys of 12 years and above from the women.⠀ ⠀ Orders were shouted. The guns were raised. The men and boys were showered with bullets, cut down in their prime. At the end of the bullet festival, more than 700 of them lay lifeless. There were dead bodies everywhere. ⠀ ⠀ Most of them were later buried in a mass grave while the Nigerian troops still occupied the town, hunting down men and boys who escaped the October 7 massacre, and raping and forcefully “marrying” off women and young girls.⠀ ⠀ Ironically, those who led this massacre rose to become national heroes, with monuments named after them, and beautiful stories told about them.⠀ ⠀ However, for the Asaba people, the horrific and traumatic experience of the October 7 massacre still haunts them, even in silence, to this day, unless “something” is done and quickly. #HistoryVille #OnThisDay

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The troops were under Captain Inua Mohammed Wushishi. The sector was led by Nzeogwu’s friend, Lieutenant-Colonel Folusho Sotomi. He was only 30.

Chukwuma Nzeogwu hailed from Okpanam, near Asaba, present-day Delta State, Southern Nigeria but he remain buried in an Army cemetery in Kaduna, his place of birth, in full military honours, with his body mutilated and eyes gorged out by unknown irate Nigerian soldiers.

Image of Kaduna Nzeogwu interview
Kaduna Nzeogwu’s interview with the BBC in Kaduna, January 15, 1966.

Nigeria made Nzeogwu. Nigeria killed Nzeogwu. Nigeria buried Nzeogwu and gave him full military honours.

Despite being a bachelor, Kaduna Nzeogwu was never a womanizer nor was he a drunk. He believed in the country, Nigeria. But the Igbo, especially the Okpanam people, continue to suffer because of a bloody coup he was involved in and explicitly carried out.

So, was Major Patrick Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu a hero or a villain? Let us know in the comment box below.

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  1. Nzogwu is the real hero of Nigeria. He would have been held in high regard as Rowlings in Ghana. If the coup had succeeded we could have had a different country like Ghana today. However, Nigeria is a highly tribalistic state so it was bound to fail. All other leaders from the time are vallians

  2. And we named an international airport after a genocidal man. …. MM
    Shame on nigeria, this should be the next pdotest.

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