Memories Of Our Founding Fathers


Two historical events contributed, in no small measure, to defining Nigeria’s political history. They are the first military coup d’ etat ever executed on the Nigerian soil on January 15, 1966, which claimed the lives of most of our early nationalists and politicians, and the thirty-month civil war, which claimed the lives of over 2 million Nigerians. In this piece, LEADERSHIP Friday presents a spotlight on the legacies of the January 15 patriots. Abah Adah, Paul Chiama, and Andrew Essien, Abuja, write.

Sir Ahmadu Bello

Sir Ahmadu Bello KBE (June 12, 1910– January 15, 1966), one of Nigeria’s greatest politicians ever, was the first premier of the Northern Nigeria region from 1954-1966 and the Sardauna of Sokoto. He and Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, were prominent in negotiations about the region’s place in an independent Nigeria. He was killed in the first ever coup that happened in Independent Nigeria on the 15th of January, 1966.

Bello’s greatest legacy was the modernization and unification of the diverse people of Northern Nigeria. He was awarded several honorary doctorates, including the Doctor of Law from UNN (University of Nigeria Nsukka) in December 1961. He was honoured by the country from which he had helped to negotiate independence, being made a Knight of the British Empire (KBE) by Queen Elizabeth II in 1959 just before the end of colonial rule.

He founded the Ahmadu Bello University (1962) in Zaria, the second largest University in Africa, which is named after him, and was the University’s first Chancellor. Nigeria’s 200 naira carries his portrait.

He was shot by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu.


Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa

Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa KBE (December 1912 – 15 January 1966), a Nigerian prototype politician, was the only prime minister of an independent Nigeria.

He was overthrown and murdered in a military coup on January 15, 1966, as were other leaders, including his old companion Ahmadu Bello. The circumstances of his death still remain unresolved. His body was discovered at a roadside near Lagos six days after he was ousted from office. Balewa was buried in Bauchi.

As Prime Minister of Nigeria, he played important roles in the continent’s formative indigenous rule. He was an important leader in the formation of the Organisation of African Unity and creating a cooperative relationship with French speaking African countries. He was also instrumental in negotiations between Moise Tshombe and the Congolese authorities during the Congo Crisis of 1960–1964. He led a vocal protest against the Sharpeville Massacre of 1960 and also entered into an alliance with Commonwealth ministers who wanted South Africa to leave the Commonwealth in 1961.

Today, his portrait adorns the 5 Naira Note. The Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University in Bauchi is named in his honour.

He was arrested, abducted and killed.


Festus Okotie-Eboh

Festus Okotie-Eboh (1919-1966) was a Nigeria’s First Republic politician and former Minister of Finance during the administration of Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. Born to Urhobo parents from Uwherun and known as Festus Samuel Edah, he adopted the Itsekiri as his tribe after marriage into an Itsekiri family and changed name.

Okotie-Eboh was assassinated along with Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa in the January 15, 1966 military coup which terminated the Nigerian First Republic, and thus civilian rule.

In 1951, after some influence from Azikiwe, he contested for a seat and was elected into the western region House of Assembly. In 1954, he was elected treasurer of the N.C.N.C. and was successful as the party’s candidate to represent Warri division in the House of Representatives. He was nominated as the Federal Minister of Labour and Welfare in January, 1955 and two years later, he was made Finance Minister.


Zakariya Abubakar Maimalari

Brigadier Zakariya Abubakar Hassan Maimalari, born on the 17th of January 1930 into the royal family of Maimalari, in Maimalari village of present day Yobe State, Nigeria, was a Nigerian Army General during the First Republic.

On the night of 15th January, 1966, Brigadier Zakariya Maimalari had hosted a party in his residence in Ikoyi. Later in the early hours of the following morning some of the very officers who had warmly fraternized with others at the party that same evening returned to his house and attacked the Brigadier under guise of staging a coup d’état. He was able to escape the initial attackers and exited through the backyard of the residence, only to fall into the hands of his own Brigade Major who it turned out was a part of the coupists. They shot him to death.

From 1957 – 1959, Zakariya Maimalari commanded the Officer Cadet training wing of what used to be known as the “Boys Company” in Zaria. It was in this capacity that he trained and motivated some of the top ranking Generals of the Nigerian Army, all of who are now either retired or dead today.

The Maimalari Barracks in Maiduguri was named after the late General.

He was killed by someone who he assisted to buy a Mercedes Benz.


Samuel Ladoke Akintola

Samuel Ladoke Akintola was not only a politician; he was also a lawyer, aristocrat and orator. Akintola who was one of the founding fathers of modern Nigeria, was one of the victims of January, 15, 1966 coup in Nigeria which truncated the First Republic.

He was one of the founders of Action Group (AG) under the leadership of Chief Obafemi Awolowo. He therefore served as deputy leader of the AG. While Awolowo served as premier of the Western Regional Government, Akintola was AG’s parliamentary leader/leader of opposition in the House of Representatives at the federal level. of Nigeria. He also served as minister for health and minister for communications and aviation at a later time at the federal level. Akintola would always be fondly in the minds of Nigerians for being responsible for completing the founding of University of Ife hich was though Awolowo’s brainchild in 1962.


Johnson Aguiyi Ironsi

Major General Johnson Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi was Nigeria’s second head of state and first military ruler. Following the January 15, 1966 coup, he seized power and took over the seat of government in Lagos. He served briefly as head of state from 16 January, 1966 to 29 July, 1966, when he was assassinated by a group of other army officers who revolted against his government in what was popularly called the July counter-coup.

Though Ironsi was purportedly slated for assassination in the January, 1966 coup, he effectively took control of Lagos, the Federal Capital Territory. At gun-point, he forced the members of Balewa’s government to resign and then made the Senate president, Nwafor Orizu, who was serving as acting president in Azikiwe’s absence, to formally surrender to him.

The circumstances leading to Ironsi’s death still remain a subject of much controversy in Nigeria. His body and that of Fajuyi were later discovered in a nearby forest.



Although not initially alloted to Major Ifeajuna as a target for assassination, Major Ifeajuna proceeded to Ikoyi Hotel to kill Lt. Col. Largema. On arrival at the hotel Major Ifeajuna told the receptionist on duty that he had an urgent message for Lt. Col. Largema of Room 115. The time was between 0330 and 0400. He then asked the hotel receptionist to supply him with the master key which can open all doors in the hotel but was told that this was not available. He then ordered the receptionist to lead him to the room in which Lt. Col. Largema was staying, warning the receptionist on the way that he would be shot if he refused to comply with whatever he might be ordered to do.

On their arrival on the first floor Major Ifeajuna, accompanied by 2/Lt Ezedigbo instructed the hotel receptionist to knock on the door of Lt. Col. Largema and to inform him that he was wanted on the telephone. It should be pointed out here that rooms in this hotel have no telephones. There are situated in small alcoves in the corridors. In the case of Room 115, the telephone alcove is only a few paces away.

Lt Col Largema responded and came out dressed in pyjamas and slightly dazed by sleep. In the meantime the two armed soldiers had stepped back into the corner near the lifts from where they could not be observed by LT Col Largema when he came out of his door. The Lt Col then picked up the receiver, which was off the hook. At this moment both the soldiers near the lift opened fire with their SMG. Lt Col Largema fell down and died.

The killers went downstairs and called the third man to come up. Between the three of them they then carried the dead body down the stairs and deposited it on the floor. They then called yet another soldier from the Mercedes car who helped the other three to carry the body to the car. The whole party then drove off.”


Lt Col James Yakubu Pam

Born November 23, 1993, Lt Col James Yakubu Pam, MFR one of nigeria’s finest officer, He was killed in the January 15, 1966 coup. Pam served as Adjutant General, Nigeria Army First Artillery Officer (NA 14).


Brig Samuel Ademulegun

According to an account by his son, Mr. Bankole Ademulegun, His father was killed in Kaduna. “I remember vividly that on January 15, 1966, we received a lot of visitors. At the time, I was 13-year-old and I was schooling in Abeokuta while my younger ones were living in Kaduna with my parents. My father had just returned from a trip, I think from Ghana; I can’t really recall. So, when he returned to Lagos, he sent the driver to pick me up from school and we travelled back to Kaduna together on an aircraft. We had the likes of the late Maj. Gen. Hassan Katsina visiting and my father went round telling people that he was back. At midnight or should I say in the early hours of January 15, we all went to bed. I cannot say precisely what time it was but what I heard next was fire from guns. The bullets were shattering the windows and the doors and naturally, as a young boy, I came out from my room to see what was happening because my father’s room was adjacent to mine and next was another room where my younger ones were. My father, being a soldier, was barking out orders and he was saying ‘stop shooting’ until eventually, his voice started fading. Those guys shot their way up the stairs and after that, I had to grab my younger ones. In my room, where my father kept some of his things, there was a door leading to a flight of stairs that led to the ‘boys’ quarters’. So, I took them there,” he said.

Conclusion: The January 16, 1966 coup ushered in ethnicity into the Nigerian polity. Six month later (July 16, 1966), there was a counter-coup which some tag as ‘Northern Coup’.

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