Murtala Backed Coup Against Gowon For Appointing Igbo Man NNPC GM – Clark

Murtala Backed Coup Against Gowon For Appointing Igbo Man NNPC GM – Clark
  • PublishedAugust 27, 2023

Former Federal Commissioner for Information and South South leader, Chief Edwin Clark has said that one of the reasons the Government of former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon was overthrown was the appointment of of Engr. Odoh, a Kalabari man from Rivers State as the General Manager of Nigerian National Oil Corporation (NNOC), which became Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC).

Clark who noted this in his 688 page Brutally Frank, his autobiography, said that late former Head of State and Federal Commissioner for Communications in Gowon’s government and some others were not happy with the appointment of Odoh, whom they saw as a Igbo man and therefore a security risk to the country.

The late Murtala Muhammed

He said that when Gowon announced Engr. Odoh as the new General Manager which was accepted by a majority of Council members, the then Brig. Gen. Muhammed immediately took his case and swagger stick and walked out without saying a word.

Clark wrote: “I have read several views on why General Yakubu Gowon’s government was overthrown on July 29, 1975. Dan Agbese in his book, Ibrahim Babangida: The Military, Politics and Power in Nigeria, gave some background when he rightly asserted that the General Yakubu Gowon’s government was doing extremely fine economically and had lots of money for the development of infrastructure across Nigeria.

“The Head of State also used the available resources at his disposal to earn the respect and admiration of the working class people in the country when he appointed the Chief Udoji Commission to review salaries and allowances of government workers. That therefore made General Gowon a “Man of the Moment.

“However, while the civil and public servants were basking in the euphoria of the salary review, some military officers – including those in Gowon’s cabinet – had their reservations about his administration. On page 109 of the book, Agbese narrated a discussion Col. Ibrahim Babangida and Col. Shehu Yar’Adua had in January 1975 on their disenchantment with Gowon’s administration.

Further in that discussion, Col. Yar’Adua was said to have announced to his colleague that he was planning to stage a coup against Gen. Yakubu Gowon. Several reasons were given for the proposed coup which included the belief that Gowon’s 3R policy of Reconciliation, Reconstruction and Rehabilitation was quite unnecessary, and that Gowon’s shift in the earlier proposed 1973 date of handing over power to a democratically elected civilian government was a plot for him to continue holding on to power, amongst several others.

“It was those two officers who brought in others to plan and execute the July 1975 coup. According to the author, the inner core of the coup plotters included Col. Yar’Adua, Col. Babangida, Col. Joe Garba, Col. Anthony Ochefu, Col. Ibrahim Taiwo and Col. Abdullahi Mohammed. While it was stated in the book that some senior officers like Brigadier Theophilus Danjuma, Brigadier Olusegun Obasanjo, Brigadier Martin Adamu, Brigadier Murtala Mohammed, Brigadier Olufemi Olutoye and some others were contacted and informed of the plot of the inner core”.

Murtala Mohammed was reported to have told them to go ahead with the plan and that he would try to protect them if it failed; however, he would not be a part of it. A similar posture was taken by Danjuma when he was said to have informed the coup plotters of not joining them nor stopping them, but he warned them to avoid bloodshed.

“It seems the coup plot was already on when General Gowon, for reasons best known to him, decided to reshuffle his cabinet in late 1974 and I was pleasantly surprised that he brought me into his government in 1975. From my family background and experience in Col. Ogbemudias government in the Mid-West State as a two-time Commissioner and as Chairman of various boards and companies, loyalty to the government and country was paramount, but this was not so at my new duty post. In the Federal Government Cabinet where I became a member, I soon discovered that some members were very recalcitrant and rather disloyal to the government and the nation.

“It may be necessary to now give a personal view of why I think the 1975 coup was staged against a very humble, respectful and dignified Head of State, particularly by those close to him (military officers). As Federal Commissioner for Information, I worked very closely with Mr. M.D. Yusuf, a fine polished gentleman who was the Commissioner of Police Special Duties which is today known as the Director-General of Department of State Services (DSS). M.D. Yusuf later became the Inspector General of Police. We used to exchange notes once or twice in a week at my residence.

“It may be necessary to mention a few of the incidents that happened that exposed the resentment and disloyalty of some of the senior officers, particularly those occupying the rank of Colonel.

These aggrieved officers were headed by a fine military officer, the late Col. Shehu YarAdua whose father was the Minister of Lagos Affairs in the First Republic when Alhaji Tafawa Balewa was the Prime Minister and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was the Governor-General.

“Other officers associated with this group included Col. Wushishi, who later rose to the rank of Major General before he retired, and Col. Joe Garba who has an affinity with General Yakubu Gowon and was Commander Brigade of Guards, Dodan Barracks. Gowon housed him and depended on him. One thought the reason for putting him there was the relative loyalty and outward affection of a younger brother whose appointment as Brigade Commander at Dodan Barracks was to ensure the safety and security of the Head of State.

“I noticed that between 1973 and 1974 when I was the Commissioner for Finance in the Mid-West under Ogbemudia, Col. Joe Garba once visited Benin City and he was quartered in our No. 2 VIP Guest House along Golf Road. I visited him one evening at the guest house and we had a very cordial discussion as to his responsibility as Brigade Commander in Dodan Barracks. It was then he told me how close he was to General Gowon. He and Joe Garba are Angas from Benue/Plateau State and was married to Victoria Zakari a trained nurse in 1969.

“During our discussion, the telephone rang and he took it, gave a salute and responded, “Yes sir.” The person at the other end conversed with Col. Garba in their native language and after the phone conversation, he sat down and informed me he was speaking to his big brother, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, the Head of State. It therefore came as a surprise when the announcement of the coup overthrowing Gen. Gowon’s government was made by Col. Garba (from Kanke Local Government of Plateau State), I almost melted. I was fully aware of grumbling among some Nigerians and a few open critics of Gen. Gowon, both military men and some politicians. I remember that after having a discussion with Gen. Yakubu Gowon on his misgivings concerning certain aspects of politics, he set up a committee to work out the details of how and when civilian administration should be reintroduced.

“The committee was made up of technocrats, including some university lecturers and professors. Incidentally, I was invited to be part of that committee and1 also remember that our late radical lecturer in ABU,Professor Tahir from Bauchi State was also a member. Unfortunately, the committee had not submitted its report before the government was overthrown by soldiers. The growing tension being created by these dissatisfied young military officers made Gen. Yakubu Gowon to reshuffle his cabinet in January 1975 to enable him to bring into his cabinet some of these young officers. That was how Col. Wushishi, Capt. Dan Suleiman, Capt. Olumide were brought into the cabinet.

“Another embarrassing incident which showed the disloyalty of some military officers was when General Gowon was to attend the Commonwealth Conference in the West Indies in 1975. At that time, there was a general strike action by the Nigeria Airways pilots.

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