Dr Ishaku Chollom Pam FRCP, Consultant Physician, has narrated the details of the conversations that preceded the cold-blooded execution of Lt Col James Pam, the adjutant-general of the Nigerian Army in the hands of the January 15, 1966 mutineers, Leadership reports.
Lt Col Pam stood out as the officer who broke the news of the coup to Major General Johnson Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi, the would-be Head of State.
Recall that on the night of January 15th, 1966, a coup d’etat took place in Nigeria which resulted in the murder of a number of leading political figures and senior army officers. This was the first coup in the history of our country, and 98% of the officers that planned and led it were Igbo.
11 prominent Nigerian politicians and some senior army officers met their fatal end from the guns of officers and men loyal to some mutineering middle rank officers of the Nigerian Army, led by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu.
But aside Lt Col Pam, other Army officers the coup claimed include Lt Col Abogo Largema, (the Commanding Officer of the 4th Battalion, Ibadan), Brig Zakariya Maimalari, (Commander 2nd Brigade, Lagos), Brig Ademulegun, Col Kur Mohammed, (Chief of Army Staff) and Lt Col Arthur Unegbe (Quarter Master General Nigerian Army and the only officer of Igbo extraction to be executed by the coup plotters).
From the political class those that were killed included the following: Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the prime minister, who was abducted from his home and whose body was dumped somewhere along the Lagos-Abeokuta road. Sir Ahmadu Bello, the premier of the old Northern region, who was killed in the sanctity of his own home together with his wife, his driver and his security assistant. Chief S.L. Akintola, the premier of the old Western region, who was gunned down in the presence of his family and Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh, the minister of finance, who was brutalized, abducted from his home and whose body was later dumped in a bush.
It was gathered that Lt Col Pam rather than being more concerned about the safety of his life, defied all odds and tipped off Ironsi, the army GOC on telephone about the mutiny.
And shortly after ending the call to Ironsi, Pam’s apartment was invaded and he was abducted and later shot dead by Maj Anuforo.
It was on a Saturday night, about 2am, January 15, 1966. Lt Col Pam, his wife Elizabeth and all other members of his family have been asleep for several hours in their Nigerian Army residence at 8 Ikoyi Crescent, Ikoyi, Lagos, but awoke to behold the sight of soldiers, squatting decidedly towards their house.
As a sign of loyalty, Lt Col Pam picked up the telephone in the bedroom and called the Nigerian Army GOC, Major General Aguiyi Ironsi.
The following narrative is captured by Dr Ishaku Chollom Pam FRCP, Consultant Physician between Pam and Ironsi:
Lt. Col JY Pam: “Sir, there have been gunshots around my house and there is a party of armed soldiers making its way towards my home.”
GOC: sounding alert “Ummm. Don’t worry. I will do everything I can to help. Good bye.” Lt Col Pam dialled a second number. This time to Brigadier Maimalari, and repeated what he has just relayed to the GOC.
Unaware of the call, the fully-armed soldiers continued to make their way to Lt Col Pam home. Those approaching the kitchen chose to make their entrance by shooting through the door. A quick run up the stairs and the soldiers took over the bedrooms. By this time Elizabeth was no longer in doubt that something has badly gone wrong. As she ran to the children’s rooms in her distress and confusion, she screamed for her oldest child and daughter who was eight years old. “Kaneng ! Kaneng! Help me! Help me!” she called out.
However, the invading soldiers had come face-to-face with her husband, Lt Col Pam, led by a man very familiar to him, Major (HC) Humphrey Chukwuka, his second-in-command, and Deputy Adjutant General (DAG)1 whom Major Benjamin Adekunle who was DAG 2 had earlier warned him to beware of and Major Anuforo.
The rest of the party comprised 2nd Lt G. Onyefuru, Sergeants NN Ugongene, H.Okibe, B.Anyanwu, L.Egbukichi and P.Iwueke
Below is the conversation between Major Chukwuka and Lt Col. Pam
Major Humphrey Chukwuka (HC): “Sir, we have come to take you with us.”
JY: “Why? What is the meaning of this?”
HC: “Sir, please come with us.”
Lt. Col JY Pam at this point was joined by his heart-broken wife, Elizabeth as he retreated into the bedroom and changed swiftly into a pair of trousers, a vest and shirt and put on his watch. He returned to the waiting soldiers as Elizabeth pleaded with Major Chukwuka who was well known to her to spare her husband’s life.
Elizabeth pleads: “please don’t kill him, please don’t kill my husband”
HC: “No. We won’t Madam. Don’t worry. I will bring him back to you.”
Major Chukwuka, who had rather become impatient, began to march Lt Col Pam out of his home but not without first advising him to put on a coat because it was cold outside due to the harmattan season.
As Pam was led out, Kaneng, his daughter, aware of the present danger, ran to her father and hugged him. Col Pam promptly turned to Elizabeth his wife and said in Hausa: “Liz, ki lura da yara,” which means “Liz, look after the children.”
Those were his last words to his wife. It was also the last time he will have a glimpse of his family that comprised Jummai, six years; Yusufu, four years; identical twins Ishaku and Ishaya, one year nine months and Ibrahim (Gambo), four months and two weeks.
On the journey of a few kilometres from Ikoyi Crescent to the Federal Guards Officers Mess Ikoyi, Lt Col Pam sat in the back of a camouflage green Nigerian Army Land Rover under armed guard. They remain in the premises of the Officers Mess for less than an hour when Major Christian Anuforo arrived from Apapa, where he had gone to execute Colonel Kur Mohammed.
But upon discovery that it was Lt Col JY Pam who was under guard, Major Chukwuka expressed surprise that Lt Col Pam has not been eliminated.
He thereafter ordered the driver to take the party to Ikoyi Golf Course. At a convenient point he ordered the driver to stop and for Lt Col Pam to disembark.
The conversation between Major Anuforo and Lt Col. Pam followed.
Major Christian Anuforo (CA): “You are to be shot Sir.”
JY: “Chris why?”
CA: “That is our decision”
JY: “I have a young family of six. This makes no sense.”
CA: “I have no choice. I am simply obeying orders.”
JY: “Allow me to say my prayers.”
CA: “Please do.”
Dawn has not broken, and Lt Col Pam, 32, knelt on the soft, cold grass. His last thoughts were obviously for his devoted wife Elizabeth and their children.“Lord save them. Lord bless them and Lord keep them.”
Shortly after, Anuforo’s gun cracked and two bullets flew out in the first volley, hitting his Pam’s chest and jaw.
He immediately fell to the ground and then eleven more bullets pierced through from his the back.
Major General Ironsi became the Head of State but a bloody retaliation followed in July same year, with over a million lives lost in the war.