- Post 22 November 2010
- Last Updated on 22 November 2010
- By George Onmonya
In other civilized countries of the world, the controversies and mysteries that shrouded how Tafawa Balewa, Nigeria’s first Prime Minister, died during the first military putsch of January, 1966, would have generated a lot of interests in the media and academic discuss among academics and intelligentsias. However, in Nigeria I noticed a lack of interest in such interesting historical story and an attempt to politicize it by some section of the media.
As a student of history I am following the story with keen interest and over the weeks since the story breakout, I have asked myself questions after questions, and the one question that keeps popping into my head is that, did Tafawa Balewa really died on 15 January, 1966, at the hand of the coup plotters? If he did not as historical facts are now questioning, wouldn’t it be right to find out how he died? And how can we find out the truth if suggestions by Daily Trust columnist, Mohammed Haruna, in his column of Wednesday, September 29, 2010, titled ‘The Balewa Saga’ are to be taken seriously? In the last paragraph of that article, Haruna concluded and I quote, “Balewa has been dead for 44 year now. I don’t know what useful purpose is served by splitting our heads in raising questions that we will probably never find any useful answers to. The good man deserves to be left alone to rest in his grave and his family deserves to be left alone to grieve their eternal loss.”
If Tafawa Balewa did not die in the circumstances recorded in our history books, wouldn’t the family want to find out how he really died? In this case the issue has gone beyond family or ethnic sentiments; it is for the interest of the nation to find out what really happened that day and period in history.
I read Fani Kayode’s version of the story. He was very angry, slightly abusive, and he has every right to be since his father luckily escaped death that day after being captured by the coup plotters. But this is beyond personal grudges. In history, we cannot believe just one side of the story. We have to look at every angle before coming to a final conclusion and if there is no final conclusion we must keep digging and digging for facts. In cases where facts seem remote we have to theorize base on the information we have. And the theory that Tafawa Balewa did not die on 15th January 1966 must not be discarded.
Fani Kayode accused Chief Mathew Mbu, a minister in Balewa’s cabinet and pioneer Nigerian High Commissioner to the UK, who started all these, of basing his information on what his friend, Major Ifeajuna, an active member of the coup who supposedly shot Balewa told him. Why would Ifeajuna lie to Mbu? Couple of journalists and eye witnesses’ accounts at that period repeatedly reiterated that the body of Balewa they saw had no sign of violence 44 years ago in a sharp contrast to Okotie-Eboh’s body which was covered in blood and had already decomposed.
It is the duty of journalists and historians to investigate and unravel the mysteries surrounding Tafawa Balewa’s death to keep the records straight. O’seun Ogunseitan, The Nation’s reporter who started the story with his Mbu interview must be given every support and encouraged to unravel the mystery of Tafawa Balewa death instead of being condemned by some sections of the press. Mbu will not be with us forever, so we must record the details of what he knows about those sad events of January, 1966. As my cousin, Moses Ebe Ochonu, Professor of Africa History, University of Vanderbilt, Nashville, Tennessee, USA, puts it, “ There is a need to reach backwards in order to move forward. Many countries do this, but in Nigeria history is seen as a dangerous excursion, not a source of instrumental and instructive information.” That explains a lot, unfortunately about Nigeria.
The unpublished Secret Service report published in The Nation on Sunday, October 3, 2010, by O’seun Ogunseitan, also did not give details of how Tafawa Balewa died. The report simply said he was ordered out of the car by Ifeajuna and simply shot. The report gave pictorial details and dramas of how all the principal actors in that tragic story acted. It gave details of how the Prime Minister was taken from his home on that eventful day but no details of how he was killed.
Professor Femi Aderibigbe, 85 years retired university don, a close friend of Maitama Sule and Mathew Mbu, in an interview with The Nation of October 3, 2010, also gave details of what happened that day. Even though he did not agree with Mathew Mbu that Tafawa Balewa died of asthma, he clearly agreed that the Prime Minister was not killed on 15th January, 1966. As an eye witness he also agreed that there was no wound on Tafawa Balewa’s body and it had not decomposed. He agreed that if Balewa had died earlier his body would have started to decompose. With these assertions it is possible that Major Ifeajuna did not kill Tafawa Balewa on 15th January, 1966.
Now the question is not whether the coup plotters killed Tafawa Balewa or not. They obviously had intention of doing that that was if they did not kill him. If the coup plotters did, which obviously may not have been on 15th January, 1966, then how and when did they kill the Prime Minister? If they did not, and he did not die of asthma, then who did? I am sure few people still have information on what happened that day and we have the right to know what happened in our history. We cannot just believe the version of stories in our history books blindly. If we did not go back and look through the past, how can we match into the future? That is what history is all about.
George Onmonya Daniel
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