Excerpts culled from Pages 58 – 61 of the book Poorlitics by Bukar ABBA Ibrahim and Sam Agha Egwu.
“Ahmadu Bello’s greatest legacy from a northern point of view was the unification of Northern Nigeria, in his first period as Premier before Independence. In his later period, after Independence, this was resisted by the people of the Middle-belt, especially the Tivs, led by Joseph Tarka and his United Middle Belt Congress (UMBC) the Tiv riots. They wanted to be free from what they saw as the dominance of the Sokoto Caliphate. The Tivs were to pay dearly for this in the loss of lives as the Police, and then the Army, was sent in to suppress them.
“In Western Nigeria, other events were unravelling the First Republic. Samuel Akintola, Awolowo’s Deputy won the 1959 elections and became Premier of the Western Region. Nnamdi Azikiwe became President, and Tafawa Balewa became Prime Minister and the actual wielder of power.
“Awolowo, a socialist progressive with a massive Yoruba following, was the leader of the opposition. He was against Feudalism in Nigeria and to him, the Government of Tafawa Balewa embodied Feudalism. To Ahmadu Bello this had to be broken and they wooed Akintola who began romancing with the North. Many Yorubas saw this as a betrayal and a sell out to northern feudalists and all hell broke loose. “Operation Wetie” was a series of violent protests between political factions of Awolowo and Akintola. Nobody kept tags on the numbers killed. The Western Region became known as the Wild Wild West. The Federal Government declared a State of Emergency. Prime Minister Balewa charged Awolowo with treason. More riots broke out as Awolowo’s supporters fought attempts by the Federal Government to impose Akintola.
“By 1st January, 1963, Akintola became the Premier, but the highest Appeal Court, the Privy Council in London, had ruled against this. The Federal Government ignored the decision and jailed Awolowo for treason. This left an indelible mark of Federal Government bias. In the Army, young revolutionary socialist officers trained in the United Kingdom and influenced by the Marxist and pan-african philosophies were watching their socialist hero, Awolowo being humiliated. They began to think the unthinkable.
“By 1964, besides the violent crises in the Middle-Belt and the Western Region, the Federal Government was accused of manipulating census figures and a new crisis erupted. By June of that year the largest socialist progressive coalition ever was formed as the United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA), comprising Action Group, NCNC, NEPU, UMBC and other socialist progressive, anti-feudal parties across the North. Bello and Balewa went into an alliance with Akintola and won a disputed majority in the 1964 elections. At first Nnamdi Azikiwe refused to call Balewa to form the Government citing electoral malpractices, but on 4th January, 1965, Prime Minister Balewa formed a new government. In the South, they believed UPGA was rigged out. This belief also permeated the Military.
“The crises did not end there. By the end of 1965, the NNDP claimed a disputed regional election, and the Western Region exploded. The actions of Bello and Balewa was perceived as a northern attempt to dominate the South using Federal military might, as the army went in to quell the riots. On 15th January, 1966, a group of socialist progressive military boys decided to reverse what they saw as northern religious and regional domination and struck in Nigeria’s first military coup.
“Bello was killed with other leaders of the NPC such as Tafawa Balewa, the Prime Minister, and political partners such as Samuel Akintola, the Premier of Western Nigeria, were also killed. The coup plotters led by Major Kaduna Nzeogwu, cited corruption and the killings in the Middle-belt and the Western Region as the reasons for the coup.”
CONCLUSION: IT IS OFTEN SEEN THAT BELLO AND BALEWA WERE INNOCENT MEN THAT WERE ATTACKED BY AMBITIOUS IGBOS. BUT HISTORICAL FACTS SUGGEST OTHERWISE. CLEARLY IT WAS THEIR INTOLERABLE REPRESSIONS IN TIV LAND AND YORUBA LAND THAT LED TO A GROUP OF MILITARY OFFICERS ATTACKING THEM TO STOP THE KILLINGS. BELLO AND BALEWA BROUGHT THE DEATH UPON THEMSELVES BY THEIR REPRESSIVE ACTIONS IN THE MIDDLE BELT AND THE WEST.