People

Kaduna Nzeogwu

QUICK FACTS

NAME
Patrick Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu

OCCUPATION
Soldier

DATE of BIRTH
1937

DATE of DEATH
29th July, 1967

EDUCATION
Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, England 

PLACE OF BIRTH
Kaduna State, Nigeria

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The post-independence ethnic riots, government corruption and incompetence of political leaders created an unstable and tense climate in Nigeria in the early to mid-1960s. This visible and brewing upheaval led to the country’s first military coup on January 15, 1966. This coup will open the door to the Nigerian Counter-Coup of July 1966 and will serve as a contributing factor in the Nigerian Civil War that lasted for 30 months. The major player in this coup was Major Kaduna Nzeogwu, an Infantry and Intelligence officer in the Nigerian Army.

Background

Major Kaduna Nzeogwu was born as Patrick Chukwuma Nzeogwu to Igbo immigrant parents who lived in Kaduna. Born in 1937, Nzeogwu got the name “Kaduna” from his fellow military officers because of his love for the town. He was one of the post-independence Nigerian military officers who got trained at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in England. Later on, he became the Chief Instructor at the Nigerian Defence Academy in Kaduna and the first Nigerian Officer in charge of the Field Security Section (FSS) of the Nigerian Army from 1962 to 1964. In his role at the FSS, he was involved in the vetting of army personnel, document safekeeping and counter intelligence.

The January 1966 Coup

The January 1966 coup came to represent the first notable incident that ruptured the fabric of the country after independence.

Gen. Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi, Nigeria’s military ruler after the Jan. 1966 Coup
Gen. Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi, Nigeria’s military ruler after the Jan. 1966 Coup

This coup was called the “Igbo Coup” because prominent northern leaders such as Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa and Premier Ahmadu Bello (Northern Region) were assassinated. The January 1966 coup also resulted in the murder of other chief politicians such as Premier Samuel Ladoke Akintola (Western Region) and Finance Minister Festus Okotie-Eboh.  Even though Nzeogwu was able to eliminate most of the prominent leaders, the coup was still a failure because he was unable to seize total control of the military force across the country. The coup served as an opportunity for senior military officer, General Aguiyi Ironsi, who stepped in and seized the opportunity of establishing himself as a vocal leader in the midst of the mayhem caused by the ongoing bloody coup. Below is an excerpt of Nzeogwu speech that he delivered via Radio Kaduna (in Kaduna) shortly after he found out that Ironsi had neutralized his efforts and those of his fellow coupon plotters in Lagos.

“My dear countrymen, no citizen should have anything to fear, so long as that citizen is law abiding and if that citizen has religiously obeyed the native laws of the country and those set down in every heart and conscience since 1st October, 1960.  Our enemies are the political profiteers, the swindlers, the men in high and low places that seek bribes and demand 10 percent; those that seek to keep the country divided permanently so that they can remain in office as ministers or VIPs at least, the tribalists, the nepotists, those that make the country look big for nothing before international circles, those that have corrupted our society and put the Nigerian political calendar back by their words and deeds.  Like good soldiers we are not promising anything miraculous or spectacular.  But what we do promise every law abiding citizen is freedom from fear and all forms of oppression, freedom from general inefficiency and freedom to live and strive in every field of human endeavour, both nationally and internationally.  We promise that you will no more be ashamed to say that you are a Nigerian.”

A few days later, President Nnamdi Azikiwe will relinquish power to the armed forces under Ironsi which leads to Ironsi assuming full leadership control of the country with the formation of the Supreme Military Council in Lagos. Nzeogwu will also relinquish control of Northern Nigeria to Major Hassan Katsina and later on surrendered to the new government in Lagos thus marking the end of Nigeria’s first coup.

After the Coup

Nzeogwu was at first detained at Kirikiri Prison in Lagos and was later transferred to a prison in the East. His detention, rather than death sentence, by the military government of Ironsi who is of Igbo descent displeased a lot of northerners. The northerners considered the sentencing a slap in the face and this decision by Ironsi’s government will lead to the July 29th, 1966 coup and his death.  Shortly after the death of Ironsi at the hands of northern military officers led by General Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma, extensive killings of Igbos in the north increased and the government of General Yakubu Gowon, Nigeria’s new military leader, was very apathetic in their response. Eventually, the Igbos decided to secede with Lt. Col. Emeka Ojukwu declaring the free Republic of Biafra and ushering in the Nigerian Civil War.

Ojukwu declares Biafra Republic
Ojukwu declares Biafra Republic

After the civil war broke out, Major Kaduna was released from detention in the east by Ojukwu and promoted to the rank of Lt. Col. in the Biafran army. During the final week of July 1967, Nzeogwu was killed in an ambush laid by the Nigerian troops during one of his reconnaissance operations. His corpse was identified and later buried with full military honors at the Kaduna military cemetery. In death, Nzeogwu has been hailed as both a hero and a villain. Retired four-star General Domkat Bali, who was a regimental commander during the civil war, spoke of the reverence most military personnel had for Nzeogwu when he said he was

“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 organized 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.”

234Impact


In death, Nzeogwu has been hailed as both a hero and a villain. Retired four-star General Domkat Bali, who was a regimental commander during the civil war, spoke of the reverence most military personnel had for Nzeogwu when he said he was

“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 organized 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.”

Even though Nzeogwu was the face of the January 1966 coup, many considered him a potential leader who truly had a genuine interest in weeding out corruption present within the government establishment. It has been argued that his participation in the coup was not borne out of his disdain for non-Igbo tribes as evident by the fact that he was more fluent in Hausa than Igbo, he adopted the Northern culture of taking the name of the town of one’s birth as a given name, hence he was known as “Kaduna” and his acknowledged best friend during his lifetime was former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who was also a Major like him, and of Yoruba nationality. He was a man that didn’t have an ethnic agenda but pushed more for responsible governance that will put the interest of Nigeria and her citizens first

 Sources:
  1. “Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu” – Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Modified June 2 2016. Web. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chukwuma_Kaduna_Nzeogwu
  2. newsadmin. “Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu’s January 15, 1966 Coup Speech” The Anchor Online. Web. https://theanchoronline.com.ng/major-chukwuma-kaduna-nzeogwus-january-15-1966-coup-speech/

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