“This is a battle I will fight until recognition comes the way of Nigeria’s first Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters, Brig.[Gen.] Babafemi Olatunde Ogundipe. History must be fair to this man even if compatriots look the other way.The story that he ran away from Nigeria because he was not brave enough to take over as Head of State following the assassination of Gen. Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi is not true. It is like calling a dog a bad name to hang it.”
POSTHUMOUS OGUNDIPE THE COLOURS OF CONFLICTING COURAGE CONFRONTING COWARDICE.
Today, Tuesday, November 20, marks the 47th posthumous death, of the 47-year-old general for whom the flags have not flown at half-mast, on the flagpole of history, is the conflict of courage confronting cowardice.
47 YEAR BACKGROUND OF THE 47 YEAR OLD, 47 YEARS AGO.
….and his heart stopped beating, it was a heart attack that happened on 20 November 1971, exactly 47 years ago, when he was 47 years old. He was the Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters, the second most senior Nigerian army officer next to Ironsi, who should have taken over but never did, for which history has painted him in the unfair colours of cowardice.
When the dead is giving a bad name (by reputation for perception behind their back) and that reputation is held in trust by what should be the safest vault….history, injustice would have been defined! Reputation and perception of everyone is at the mercy of the media and influencers, but truth establishes the authenticity of facts.
THE WEEKEND THAT BECAME OGUNDIPE’S “WEAK END”
Max Siollun on the 120th and 121st pages of his 2009 (New York) Algora published book he titled “Oil, Politics and Violence Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture (1966-1976), provided this insight to the man, this way, with respect to the July 1966 counter coup.
The year was 1966, the venue? What is now Ikeja cantonment: “Over the weekend of July 30 and 31, the Northern soldiers engaged the civilians in an apocalyptic and emotional explosive debate. The debate raged in a dangerous power vacuum as the nation drifted precariously without a head of state. The most vociferous and uncompromising advocate of the Northern Region’s secession was 28-year-old Murtala Muhammed. He dominated the debate, verbally harangued the civilians in a forceful manner and became the official spokesman for the mutineers. The military governor of the Eastern Region, Lt-Colonel Emeka Ojukwu was continually excluded from the debate and took it upon himself to contact Gowon by telephone. However, Murtala Muhammed continued to be the mutineers’ spokesman until he suddenly and unexpectedly acknowledged Gowon’s seniority over him. According to Captain Garba, Murtala suddenly turned to Gowon and told him, “you are the senior, go ahead.” However, Murtala repeatedly interrupted Gowon as the debate continued, leading Gowon to become so exasperated that at one point he threatened to step down unless the hard-line Northern soldiers agreed to listen to his views. The British and American ambassadors, Sir Francis Cumming-Bruce and Elbert Matthews, respectively, also joined the parley…..
Both US Ambassador Matthews and UKHICOM Cumming-Bruce have made strong representation in opposition to secession of any area of Nigeria. We consider such development would be major political and economic disaster for Nigerian people and severe setback to independent Africa
Prominent Northern politicians such as Sir Kashim Ibrahim added their view via telephone. Kasim felt that it would be foolhardy for Northern soldiers to hand power back to another Southerner on a platter. Allowing a southern soldier to succeed Aguiyi-Ironsi also carried the risk that the mutinous Northern soldiers would be prosecuted and punished by the new southern leader ”
UKHICOM stands for United Kingdom’s High Commissioner. High Commissioner is used in place of ambassador by Commonwealth nations)
SEALED FATE BEYOND REDEMPTION:
That new southern leader, Sir Kashim was referring to was Ogundipe! By the evidence of Siollun, it was Kashim, that sealed Ogundipe’s fate, well beyond redemption, Ogundipe’s sun had set at midday, Ogundipe had been rendered irrelevant and impotent by the man Nzeogwu showed respect too, on that bloody morning of January 15, 1966.
- J. M. Muffett, the “research fellow of the center for International Affairs, Harvard University and Professor of African Studies, Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania”, in his book ” Let Truth be Told, The Coups d’Etat of 1966″, wrote the following on the 35th page of 1982, Zaria published Hudahuda book about Nzeogwu and Sir Kasim:
“From the Recce Sqn. lines, Nzeogwu went back to Brigade Headquarters, where Sir Kashim Ibrahim had been taken. ‘We were there some time under guard until Nzeogwu arrived. He came to me and said ” I am sorry, Sir, this is a mistake; we do not want people like you! The only people we want to kill are Azikiwe, Ahmadu Bello, Akintola, Okpara, Okotie-Eboh and Orizu,”
Siollun again, this time on the 117th page, provided the following insight:
“However, this was a situation beyond Ogundipe’s military capabilities and he could not assert his authority over the northern troops”
Then on the 123rd page of the same book, Siollun wrote:
“To the Northerners, the only way that the federation could continue without dissolution was on the basis of a Northern soldier replacing Aguiyi-Ironsi”.
With that, Ogudipe’s fate was sealed beyond redemption.
Ogundipe was the victim of a Jose Mourinho like Grand Conspiracy theory. Before the outspoken coach left Chelsea football club, he had recorded a series of losses. A lot of conspiracy theories to the effect that he was sabotaged by his own players to get him fired, spread.
On February 28, 2015, Michael Deacon, in his article in the UK Telegraph, titled “Exposed: The grand conspiracy against Jose Mourinho”, with a rider, he titled: “The ever-suspicious Chelsea manager explains all the different ways in which the world is out to get him” https://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/managers/jose-mourinho/11440860/Exposed-The-grand-conspiracy-against-Jose-Mourinho.html
For Ogundipe his fate was sealed:
1 By Northern Officers, Non Commissioned Officers NCOs and ranks led by Murtala.
2 By Northern politicians.
3 The British High Commissioner to Nigeria at the time.Sir Francis Cumming-Bruce
4 The American ambassador Elbert Matthews
5 Top civil servants
They had concluded his Fate and agreed on whom Ironsi’s successor would be. His successor would be an army officer from the North, his junior, the one he sent like Biblical David to the war front, who eventually became King. That officer was Lt. Col Yakubu Gowon, the compromise for getting the Murtala to drop Secession, regardless of the hierarchy of seniority. Ogundipe had become a fish without water.
PROBING QUESTION BASED ON HIS SEALED FATE:
1 Was he a coward or a courageous man?
WHO WAS OGUNDIPE? MAX SIOLLUN’S ACCOUNT
1 Max Siollun, again on the 24th page of the same book, wrote about him this way:
“Brigadier Ogundipe was a veteran who had served in Burma and India during the Second World War. He personality was easier going than those of Brigadiers Ademulegun and Maimalari. He fought in India and Burma as a member of the British army and re-enlisted (this time into the RWAFF) after the Second World War. He also served as Chief of Staff during the Congo UN peacekeeping operation”
Who was Ogundipe 2: On the 117th page of the same book, the author provided evidence of Major-General Welby-Everard’s recommendation of Ogundipe to replace him as the first Nigerian General Officer Commanding the Nigerian army, as a part of the Nigerianization policy of Muhammadu Ribadu, the minister of Defense, Ironsi got the job, Everard’s 1964 letter addressed to the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Defense, read:
“….the outgoing GOC, Major-General Welby-Everard had recommended Ogundipe as his replacement without success. In a confidential report written in 1964, Welby-Everard gave Ogundipe a glowing reference:
“Brigadier Ogundipe has proved himself to be a splendid Commander and has been an excellent influence both on 2 brigades and on the army as a whole. His quite but firm manner is very impressive and his marked leadership qualities produce first-class results. He is greatly respected and held in high esteem by his subordinates of all ranks and by his brother officers. His military knowledge and judgement are very sound and his ideas are always constructive. I have a very high opinion of his character and his outlook is invariably absolutely fair and impartial. He sets the highest standards and will accept nothing less. He has been absolutely loyal to me at all times. . . . . He is fully equipped to be GOC and would make a very good one.”
With this recommendation, when did Ogundipe become a coward in the eye of public perception, especially with the events of July 29-31, 1966
Who was Ogundipe 3:
Siollun, in the same work, on pages 21-22 pages wrote this about the man:
“In 1953 the first Nigerian Sandhurst-trained officers were commissioned: Zakariya Maimalari and Umar Lawan. Later that year, two NCOs Babafemi Ogundipe and Robert Adebayo also underwent short service commission officer training and became officers”
UNDERSTANDING OGUNDIPE’S PREDICAMENT WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF THE IRAQI ARMY’S, AND SUNNI SHIITES/RELIGIOUS RIVALRY, WITH THE BRITISH INTEREST IN VIEW.
When the complex political web of interest is understood, Ogundipe’s position on the rail tracks with an approaching train would be better understood. The Nigerian Army of July 1966, had a lot in common with the Iraqi army of Saddam Hussein, British interest being the common factor that favoured the minority Sunni over the majority Shiite Muslim, the way they agreed to power going to the North at the expense of Ogundipe’s seniority.
-CIA Facts Book on Iraq puts the population distribution of Iraq this way:
“Muslim (official) 95-98% (Shia 64-69%, Sunni 29-34%), Christian 1% (includes Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Assyrian Church of the East), other 1-4% (2015 est.)”
AMBASSADOR L. PAUL BREMER III’S VALUABLE INSIGHT.
Providing further information on the background on Iraq Ambassador L. Paul Bremer iii , the American Viceroy of Iraq, on the 81st- 82nd page of his 2006 Simon & Schuster book, he titled, “My Year in Iraq”, wrote about the 1920 Sha error this way:
“After the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979, many in the West thought that all Shiites were primitive religious fanatics….’Dr. Jaafari,’ Repeated television images of self-flagellating Shiite pilgrims circling the nearby shrine of the Martyr Ali, blood soaking their shirts, had reinforced this mistaken belief. But there were probably at least as many secular as there were devout Iraqi Shiites. Ibrahim Jaafari had elements of both, I appealed to his secular side. “Dr. Jaafari,” I said, “In accordance with the United Nations resolution, the Coalition plans to form an interim administration as quickly as possible. We hope that responsible leaders in the Shai community will cooperate with this effort. It would certainly be a tragedy for the Shias to make the same mistake today they did in 1920.”
He nodded, acknowledging my reference. After World War 1, when British forces moved into the defunct Ottoman Empire’s provinces in Mesopotamia, the Iraqi Shiites had Obeyed the fatwa (religious order) of their clerical hierarchy to resist cooperation with the “Crusaders.” This decision further marginalized the Shias in the governance of their own country. Now eighty years later, Liberation was giving them a new opportunity.
By contrast, the Iraqi Arab Sunnis, who had enjoyed centuries of preferential treatment under their Sunni Ottoman Turkish rulers, had cooperated with the British occupation and remained the privileged caste, first under the British installed monarchy, and later in the Baathist regime. Jaafari became pensive.”
-Sunni Officer corps Majority Against Shiites Majority Ranks
“On the 55th page of the book, the viceroy made this important observation: “…the top-heavy structure of Saddam’s army. Sitting atop The 400,000 largely Shai draftees had been an army officer corps of several hundred thousand, mostly Sunnis. Saddam’s army had been about the size of the American army. But America was a country with more than ten times the population of Iraq, and the Iraqi army had 11,000 generals, whereas America’s had only 300”.
Bremer added on the 26th page: “The Pentagon had also anticipated that most of the Iraqi army of 715,000, men, 400,000 of whom were Shiite conscripts would surrender en mass.”
The strategic analysis was correct!
-Shiites Soldier Walk out on Sunni Officer Corps
On the P 27, Paul Bremer, provided this information that changed the face of the battle against Iraq
“Shiite draftees who had endured Spartan rations, token pay, brutal hazing, and arbitrary execution at the hands of their mostly Sunnis officers. These soldiers felt no allegiance to hated commanders and had little incentive to maintain unit integrity. Under relentless bombardment from precision-guided weapons that struck their targets unerringly on the darkest night or during the fiercest shamel sandstorm, they shouldered their rifles and trekked home to their farms, village, and cities across Iraq. At Liberation, there was not a single Iraqi military unit standing intact anywhere in the country.”
The stage is now set for understanding the complex political equation that involving British interests, that would render Ogundipe irrelevant!
Those who fail to understand that Nigeria as a British political economic creation played a vital part in those three days in 1966, at the venue now called Ikeja cantonment.
The three serial for Ogundipe continues
To be continued…
An opinion piece by Amaso Jack. Jack is a political strategist and analyst, he lectures at Nigerian Institute of Journalism, Lagos State.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and not of Concise News.