Who Killed Major Nzeogwu?

Last week marked the 42nd anniversary of the death of Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu. Nzeogwu died in the final week of July 1967. While there is consensus that he died, exactly how he died and at the hands of whom has remained in dispute. In conspiracy rife Nigeria, all manner of rumours and apocryphal stories have alleged that Nzeogwu was murdered in a Machiavellian plot engineered by Ojukwu to eliminate him or perhaps that he was killed while trying to defect to join the federal army. As always, the truth is much more mundane.

Nzeogwu in Prison

For his role in Nigeria's first military coup, Nzeogwu was imprisoned by the military regime of Major-General Aguiyi-Ironsi at the notorious Kiri-Kiri maximum security prison in Lagos. His co-conspirators were also initially detained there but many of them were later moved to prisons in the Eastern Region: including Majors Ifeajuna (Uyo prison), Ademoyega, Onwuatuegwu (Enugu prison), Captain Gbulie (Abakaliki prison), Major Chukwuka, Captain Nwobosi (both Owerri prison). Nzeogwu was the only officer among the plotters that was moved to Aba prison.  After Ironsi was overthrown in July 1966, Nzeogwu remained in prison until he was released in March 1967 by the Eastern Region's Military Governor Lt-Colonel Ojukwu. 

Nzeogwu's Rift With Ojukwu

However after his release his activities were curtailed. He and Ojukwu did not see eye to eye.

Nzeogwu was never enthusiastic about secession. As late as 1967 he articulated in an interview with Dennis Ejindu his view that:

"secession will be ill-advised, indeed impossible. Even if the East fights a war of secession and wins, it still cannot secede. Personally, I don't like secession and if this country disintegrates, I shall pack up my things and go. In the present circumstances, confederation is the best answer as a temporary measure. In time, we shall have complete unity."

The interview did not go down well with Ojukwu and Nzeogwu's words to Ejindu were the last official statements attributed to him before his death.  Relations between Ojukwu and Nzeogwu deteriorated further as Nzeogwu made no secret of his desire for a united Nigeria. Even though war between Nigeria and Biafra was imminent, in April 1967 Nzeogwu was suspended from all military activities by Ojukwu.  The immediate pretext was Nzeogwu's involvement in a battle simulation military training exercise in Abakaliki and other towns in the Eastern Region.  Recalling that Nzeogwu had turned the night time training "Exercise Damissa" into a full blown coup the previous year, Ojukwu banned all such further exercises. Relations between Ojukwu and Nzeogwu got bad enough for Ojukwu to consider putting Nzeogwu back in prison.

In a June 17, 1967 letter to his friend Olusegun Obasanjo, Nzeogwu confessed:

"You have no doubt heard a lot of rumours about my relations with Ojukwu. We obviously see things quite differently after what he did to my supporters in January 1966. He is also worried about my popularity among his own people. I was to be put back in prison, but he was afraid of repercussions. Right now I am not allowed contact with troops nor am I permitted to operate on the staff. One gentleman's agreement we have is that I can carry on with what ever pleases me."

Nzeogwu - A One Nigeria Man?

Amazingly even at this late stage, Nzeogwu was still entertaining fantasies of Nigerian unity and reintegrating the Nigerian army:

"I will create a new Nigerian army inside Biafra!! With Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba and all other ethnic groups."

Nzeogwu inspired and frightened with equal measure. A personality cult bordering on hero worship grew up around him in the Eastern Region and he was being feted as an immortal indestructible warrior. Although Ojukwu gave Nzeogwu the Biafran rank of Brigadier, he was not given any formal command in the Biafran army.

Despite not officially being part of the Biafran army command, Nzeogwu was not the type of character that could remain idle. His impulsive nature and rebelliousness towards superior officers has been documented. Lt-Col Patrick Anwunah went so far as to describe Nzeogwu as:

"a radical and an inwardly insubordinate young officer…..(who was) full of his own ideas and probably thought he had the answers to all problems. His statements and comments at that time gave me the impression that he could become insubordinate as he had no regard for senior officers."

Frustrated at his exclusion from military duties, Nzeogwu took to informal ad hoc guerilla raids against the federal army. He would impulsively conscript other soldiers to join him during these raids. It is not certain that these raids and conscriptions were authorised by Ojukwu.

Nzeogwu was admired and feared in equal measure. He was admired for his intelligence, warmth and charm. He was feared because of his suicidal courage. Junior Biafran foot soldiers were reluctant to be conscripted by Nzeogwu. Conscription by Nzeogwu meant being taken to the front line and faced with grave danger. Nzeogwu was brave enough to cross behind enemy lines, carry out reconnaissance and engage the federal army in close quarter combat. In late July 1967, his courage took him a step too far.

The Death of Nzeogwu

Nzeogwu had gone out on a reconnaissance mission in the Nsukka sector. He was travelling in an improvised armoured vehicle (known as a "Biafran Red Devil") that had been converted by the ingenious Biafran engineers from a Bedford truck. The vehicle was cumbersome despite its impressive ingenuity. The vehicle became immobilised and was surrounded by federal troops of the 21st battalion at a roadblock near the University of Nigeria Nsukka campus. The troops were led by Captain Abubakar Gora, and they opened fired on it. The vehicle's improvised armour withstood their bullets until it was attacked with the fearsome 106mm recoilless rifle which pierced its body.  Ironically, the 106mm recoilless rifle was the same anti-tank weapon that Nzeogwu and other soldiers used in January 1966 to attack and destroy the official lodge of the Sardauna of Sokoto.

At this point, the accounts diverge. Olu Mamdap (former military driver to General Domkat Bali) witnessed the incident and claims that Nzeogwu and the other "two or three" occupants in the vehicle were killed while still inside the vehicle. Mamdap claims that it was not known that Nzeogwu was inside until the corpses were dragged out. 

However Major-Generals Mohammed Shuwa and Abdullahi Shelleng (who were not present when Nzeogwu was killed but saw his corpse) claimed that while being fired on, Nzeogwu jumped out from the vehicle, shouted in Hausa and identified himself as Major Nzeogwu but was shot dead anyway. Ojukwu's mixed race half brother Tom Biggar was also killed along with Nzeogwu.  Biggar was the child of Ojukwu's mother after she divorced Sir Louis Odumegwu and married a European engineer of the Nigerian Railway Corporation named Biggar.

Nzeogwu's corpse was identified by Lieutenant Abdullahi Shelleng who ordered that it should be stored firstly in the University of Nigeria campus at Nsukka. However, by the time Shelleng arrived, Nzeogwu's eyes had been plucked out in what appears to have been a ritual mutilation. According to Shelleng the soldier who shot Nzeogwu was ironically Nzeogwu's former batman. The corpse was later sent to 1 division headquarters in Makurdi where the 1 division commander Colonel Mohammed Shuwa informed the head of state Major-General Gowon. Despite the fact that Nzeogwu was now technically an enemy soldier killed in combat against the Nigerian army, Gowon ordered that Nzeogwu's body should be flown to Kaduna and buried with full military honours at the Kaduna military cemetery – even as the war raged on in the Eastern Region.

Even in death, Nzeogwu was still respected by federal and northern troops. Domkat Bali referred to him as:

"a nice, charismatic and disciplined officer, highly admired and respected by his colleagues. At least he was not in the habit of being found in the company of women all the time messing about with them in the officers mess, a pastime of many young officers then….we believed that he was a genuinely patriotic officer who organised the 1966 coup with the best of intentions who was let down by his collaborators….If we had captured him alive, he would not have been killed. I believe he probably would have been tried for his role in the January 15 coup, jailed and probably freed after some time. His death was regrettable."

maxsiollun@yahoo.com

http://maxsiollun.wordpress.com/my-book/



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Re: Who Killed Major Nzeogwu?
Mark Lar posted on 08-04-2009, 17:41:53 PM
What a crass and rhetorical question, stupid! Nzeogwu was slaughtered by your Nigerian-hero, Murtala Mohammed, the armed robber of the Central Bank-annex in Benin City; he was slaughtered together with other south-eaterners because the "North" knew it could get away with it. Reality check, check what is now happening in the Niger Delta and how silent, indolent and impotent the south and the middle belt has remainded. Move over, mate!
Re: Who Killed Major Nzeogwu?
Akuluouno posted on 08-04-2009, 18:14:39 PM
Sir M S
Villagers,

I just want to thank MS for his efforts to keep the history of Nigeria between 1966 and 1970 alive. The foreign dimension to all these drama and the impact they have to the present challenges in Nigeria needs to be explored further. Let no mischief be made while stating these facts because as you wrote, he died in the company of Ojukwu's half-brother shows that there was no animosity between both.
His interview with Ejindu did not bode well for the security of a new republic at war. I think he was too far ahead with his ideals and was unable to get a lot of northerners to buy into his passion for Nigeria. If only the dead could talk we would have heard from the horses mouth but testimonies from many including the last Nigerian Emperor who even wrote a book about him shows that at least, he was a patriotic Nigerian
Re: Who Killed Major Nzeogwu?
LoveNigeria posted on 08-04-2009, 19:06:47 PM
The vision Nzeogwu was trying to accomplish is still for the appointed time. He was way ahead of his time, I really feel for him.

The appointed time is imminent though -those who have ears........
Re: Who Killed Major Nzeogwu?
Emenanjo posted on 08-04-2009, 19:53:04 PM
MS,
There are so far about five to six theories surrounding the death of Nzeogwu, just as there are by my estimate, about seven different reasons so far advanced by different writers and the Nigerian bourgeiosies for the annulment of June 12, 1993 election. I am still counting.

The theories about Nzeogwu's death were well summised in his brother, Dr. Peter Okeleke Nzeogwu's book titled: Major C.K. Nzeogwu: FIGHTING THE ILLUSIVE NIGERIAN ENEMY FROM CHILDHOOD TO DEATH. A reading of this book will help complete your research. Again, another book of interest and possible citation is one little book titled: WHO KILLED NZEOGWU? written by Phillip Enonchong, the producer of the film on the Nigerian/ Biafran civil war. In that booklet, Enonchong asked some very crucial questions on the circumstances surrounding Nzeogwu's death.

In the end after reading the above books and some others, I came to the conclusion that Nzeogwu 'killed' himself. He just wanted to die and he died. Period!
Re: Who Killed Major Nzeogwu?
Maxsiollun posted on 08-04-2009, 20:50:24 PM
Mark Lar, FYI at the time Nzeogwu was killed Murtala Muhammed was stationed in Lagos. The sector in which Nzeogwu was killed was being attacked by the 1st Division of the Nigerian army - then commanded by Lt-Col Mohammed Shuwa. Murtala Muhammed was nowhere near Nsukka at the time Nzeogwu was killed.

QUOTE:
What a crass and rhetorical question, stupid! Nzeogwu was slaughtered by your Nigerian-hero, Murtala Mohammed, the armed robber of the Central Bank-annex in Benin City; he was slaughtered together with other south-eaterners because the \"North\" knew it could get away with it. Reality check, check what is now happening in the Niger Delta and how silent, indolent and impotent the south and the middle belt has remainded. Move over, mate!
Re: Who Killed Major Nzeogwu?
Maxsiollun posted on 08-04-2009, 21:22:49 PM
Emenanjo, I have read both books by Peter Okeleke Nzoegwu AND Enonchong's book. Both books disappointed. Okeleke's book ws surprisingly bereft of new information - which is somewhat of a surprise given that he is the author's brother! It was largely a regurgitation of existing texts with copious quotations from the books by OBJ and Gbulie. It did not tell us anything new. Enonchong's book did not enlighten further either.

Given that neither Okeleke or Enonchong were witnesses to Nzeogwu's death, I produced this article based on the recollections of those who were either physically present when Nzeogwu was killed or otherwise were there soon afterwards. Figures like Olu Mamdap, Domkat Bali, Abdullahi Shelleng, Mohammed Shuwa and Joe Madugu were all either witnesses, or otherwise involved in the identification, storage and retrieval of Nzeogwu's corpse.

QUOTE:
MS,
There are so far about five to six theories surrounding the death of Nzeogwu, just as there are by my estimate, about seven different reasons so far advanced by different writers and the Nigerian bourgeiosies for the annulment of June 12, 1993 election. I am still counting.

The theories about Nzeogwu's death were well summised in his brother, Dr. Peter Okeleke Nzeogwu's book titled: Major C.K. Nzeogwu: FIGHTING THE ILLUSIVE NIGERIAN ENEMY FROM CHILDHOOD TO DEATH. A reading of this book will help complete your research. Again, another book of interest and possible citation is one little book titled: WHO KILLED NZEOGWU? written by Phillip Enonchong, the producer of the film on the Nigerian/ Biafran civil war. In that booklet, Enonchong asked some very crucial questions on the circumstances surrounding Nzeogwu's death.

In the end after reading the above books and some others, I came to the conclusion that Nzeogwu 'killed' himself. He just wanted to die and he died. Period!
Re: Who Killed Major Nzeogwu?
Sunnycool posted on 08-04-2009, 22:27:18 PM
DEATH killed him of course.
Re: Who Killed Major Nzeogwu?
KingFisher posted on 08-05-2009, 10:35:34 AM
Thank you for this beautiful write-up on Major Kaduna Nzeogwu of blessed memory.

The legacy of Nzeogwu lies in the reactions often generated by his name, many years sfter his death. This remains an apt testimony to the popular saying: the evil that men do lives after them....

Emenanjo could be right that the man wanted to die and simply died, in the sense that everything about the enigma called Nzeogwu pointed to a life of purpose, adventure and to a certain degree, deliberate recklessness. Recklessness in that, unlike many Nigerians today who see corruption as a bedmate and acquisition of wealth as a compulsory pasttime, Nzeogwu was reckless with his life in his pursuit of his ideals and dreams about Nigeria. I cannot but agree more, Nigeria killed Nzeogwu. Just like it had killed many others after him. This same Nigeria killed Gideon Orkar and many such fine officers.

Trying to unravel the responsibility for the death of Nzeogwu may be elusive. The key thing is that the man died. Period. He died in the pursuit of a noble ideal after sowing seeds that even generations then yet unborn would deliberate on later. Never mind that he died behind the "enemy" line. He still died trying to find a solution to the problems caused by Nigeria!

May the soul of this gallant officer rest in peace. At least, unlike his friend (the last Emperor of Nigeria) he demonstrated that there is grace in virtue and homour in gallantry. He will forever live in our our memory. Adieu!!
Re: Who Killed Major Nzeogwu?
Zababbe posted on 08-05-2009, 11:03:37 AM
The man lived by the trigger and some rogues expected that he should die otherwise. Such is the natural way the Creator meant the world to be. A deserving end for a wicked, trigger-happy fool!
Re: Who Killed Major Nzeogwu?
Emenanjo posted on 08-05-2009, 11:04:47 AM
QUOTE:
Emenanjo, I have read both books by Peter Okeleke Nzoegwu AND Enonchong's book. Both books disappointed. Okeleke's book ws surprisingly bereft of new information - which is somewhat of a surprise given that he is the author's brother! It was largely a regurgitation of existing texts with copious quotations from the books by OBJ and Gbulie. It did not tell us anything new. Enonchong's book did not enlighten further either.

Given that neither Okeleke or Enonchong were witnesses to Nzeogwu's death, I produced this article based on the recollections of those who were either physically present when Nzeogwu was killed or otherwise were there soon afterwards. Figures like Olu Mamdap, Domkat Bali, Abdullahi Shelleng, Mohammed Shuwa and Joe Madugu were all either witnesses, or otherwise involved in the identification, storage and retrieval of Nzeogwu's corpse.



Dear MS,
Apart from recollections by those officers you'd mentioned, some of us need reference materials which supported those officers' position and, your write up.

I am learning and there is no day I do not learn one or two more historical revelations about this very funny signature called Nigeria. Everyday some of us read very strange revelations.
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