Who Killed Major Nzeogwu?

A Grim Anniversary

Last week marked the 42nd anniversary of the death of Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu. Nzeogwu died in the final week of July 1967. While there is consensus that he died, exactly how he died and at the hands of whom has remained in dispute. In conspiracy rife Nigeria, all manner of rumours and apocryphal stories have alleged that Nzeogwu was murdered in a Machiavellian plot engineered by Ojukwu to eliminate him or perhaps that he was killed while trying to defect to join the federal army. As always, the truth is much more mundane.

Nzeogwu in Prison

For his role in Nigeria’s first military coup, Nzeogwu was imprisoned by the military regime of Major-General Aguiyi-Ironsi at the notorious Kiri-Kiri maximum security prison in Lagos. His co-conspirators were also initially detained there but many of them were later moved to prisons in the Eastern Region: including Majors Ifeajuna (Uyo prison), Ademoyega, Onwuatuegwu (Enugu prison), Captain Gbulie (Abakaliki prison), Major Chukwuka, Captain Nwobosi (both Owerri prison). Nzeogwu was the only officer among the plotters that was moved to Aba prison. After Ironsi was overthrown in July 1966, Nzeogwu remained in prison until he was released in March 1967 by the Eastern Region’s Military Governor Lt-Colonel Ojukwu.

Nzeogwu’s Rift With Ojukwu

However after his release his activities were curtailed. He and Ojukwu did not see eye to eye.
Nzeogwu was never enthusiastic about secession. As late as 1967 he articulated in an interview with Dennis Ejindu his view that:

“secession will be ill-advised, indeed impossible. Even if the East fights a war of secession and wins, it still cannot secede. Personally, I don’t like secession and if this country disintegrates, I shall pack up my things and go. In the present circumstances, confederation is the best answer as a temporary measure. In time, we shall have complete unity.”

The interview did not go down well with Ojukwu and Nzeogwu’s words to Ejindu were the last official statements attributed to him before his death. Relations between Ojukwu and Nzeogwu deteriorated further as Nzeogwu made no secret of his desire for a united Nigeria. Even though war between Nigeria and Biafra was imminent, in April 1967 Nzeogwu was suspended from all military activities by Ojukwu. The immediate pretext was Nzeogwu’s involvement in a battle simulation military training exercise in Abakaliki and other towns in the Eastern Region. Recalling that Nzeogwu had turned the night time training “Exercise Damissa” into a full blown coup the previous year, Ojukwu banned all such further exercises. Relations between Ojukwu and Nzeogwu got bad enough for Ojukwu to consider putting Nzeogwu back in prison.

In a June 17, 1967 letter to his friend Olusegun Obasanjo, Nzeogwu confessed:

“You have no doubt heard a lot of rumours about my relations with Ojukwu. We obviously see things quite differently after what he did to my supporters in January 1966. He is also worried about my popularity among his own people. I was to be put back in prison, but he was afraid of repercussions. Right now I am not allowed contact with troops nor am I permitted to operate on the staff. One gentleman’s agreement we have is that I can carry on with what ever pleases me.”

Amazingly even at this late stage, Nzeogwu was still entertaining fantasies of Nigerian unity and reintegrating the Nigerian army:

“I will create a new Nigerian army inside Biafra!! With Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba and all other ethnic groups.”

Nzeogwu inspired and frightened with equal measure. A personality cult bordering on hero worship grew up around him in the Eastern Region and he was being feted as an immortal indestructible warrior. Although Ojukwu gave Nzeogwu the Biafran rank of Brigadier, he was not given any formal command in the Biafran army.

Despite not officially being part of the Biafran army command, Nzeogwu was not the type of character that could remain idle. His impulsive nature and rebelliousness towards superior officers has been documented. Lt-Col Patrick Anwunah went so far as to describe Nzeogwu as:

“a radical and an inwardly insubordinate young officer…..(who was) full of his own ideas and probably thought he had the answers to all problems. His statements and comments at that time gave me the impression that he could become insubordinate as he had no regard for senior officers.”

Frustrated at his exclusion from military duties, Nzeogwu took to informal ad hoc guerilla raids against the federal army. He would impulsively conscript other soldiers to join him during these raids. It is not certain that these raids and conscriptions were authorised by Ojukwu.

Nzeogwu was admired and feared in equal measure. He was admired for his intelligence, warmth and charm. He was feared because of his suicidal courage. Junior Biafran foot soldiers were reluctant to be conscripted by Nzeogwu. Conscription by Nzeogwu meant being taken to the front line and faced with grave danger. Nzeogwu was brave enough to cross behind enemy lines, carry out reconnaissance and engage the federal army in close quarter combat. In late July 1967, his courage took him a step too far.

The Death of Nzeogwu

Nzeogwu had gone out on a reconnaissance mission in the Nsukka sector. He was travelling in an improvised armoured vehicle (known as a “Biafran Red Devil”) that had been converted by the ingenious Biafran engineers from a Bedford truck. The vehicle was cumbersome despite its impressive ingenuity. The vehicle became immobilised and was surrounded by federal troops of the 21st battalion at a roadblock near the University of Nigeria Nsukka campus. The troops were led by Captain Abubakar Gora, and they opened fired on it. The vehicle’s improvised armour withstood their bullets until it was attacked with the fearsome 106mm recoilless rifle which pierced its body. Ironically, the 106mm recoilless rifle was the same anti-tank weapon that Nzeogwu and other soldiers used in January 1966 to attack and destroy the official lodge of the Sardauna of Sokoto.

At this point, the accounts diverge. Olu Mamdap (former military driver to General Domkat Bali) witnessed the incident and claims that Nzeogwu and the other “two or three” occupants in the vehicle were killed while still inside the vehicle. Mamdap claims that it was not known that Nzeogwu was inside until the corpses were dragged out.

However Major-Generals Mohammed Shuwa and Abdullahi Shelleng (who were not present when Nzeogwu was killed but saw his corpse) claimed that while being fired on, Nzeogwu jumped out from the vehicle, shouted in Hausa and identified himself as Major Nzeogwu but was shot dead anyway. Ojukwu’s mixed race half brother Tom Biggar was also killed along with Nzeogwu. Biggar was the child of Ojukwu’s mother after she divorced Sir Louis Odumegwu and married a European named Biggar.

Nzeogwu’s corpse was identified by Lieutenant Abdullahi Shelleng who ordered that it should be stored firstly in the University of Nigeria campus at Nsukka. However, by the time Shelleng arrived, Nzeogwu’s eyes had been plucked out in what appears to have been a ritual mutilation. According to Shelleng the soldier who shot Nzeogwu was ironically Nzeogwu’s former batman. The corpse was later sent to 1 division headquarters in Makurdi where the 1 division co

mmander Colonel Mohammed Shuwa informed the head of state Major-General Gowon. Despite the fact that Nzeogwu was now technically an enemy soldier killed in combat against the Nigerian army, Gowon ordered that Nzeogwu’s body should be flown to Kaduna and buried with full military honours – even as the war raged on in the Eastern Region.

Even in death, Nzeogwu was still respected by federal and northern troops. Domkat Bali referred to him as:

“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 organised 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.”

Written by
Max Siollun
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13 comments
  • Nzeogwu was a patriotic Nigerian. When he carried out the attack on the saduana majority of his followers where northerners an example is Col Atom kpera etc. The only problem was the blood shed which was wrong. But speculation had it that Awolowo was to be made president after the coup that is why particular people where killed.

  • There is a saying among christian faithfuls that there is a way that seems right to a man but the end thereof is evil.Nzeogwu might have had apositive intent initially but the measure he took was completely radical and unrefined.He has gone down into the books of history nonetheless as a wild agitator for sanity

  • Mr Bashir, I agree with you that he miscaculated, Did you know that they were Junior Hausa soldiers who was with Nzeogwu that night? I dont condone what he did but corruption was in Nigeria in all levels at that time . Nothern soldiers who knew him admited he was for united Nigeria. What triggered the counter coup was the ibo military tauting the hausa officers.

  • To me Nzeogwu,wasn’t circumspective enough and diplomatic in his ambitions.which lead to his untimely death,putting “nigeria”in a big unsolvable problem.(sorry nigeria could not see peace so far history remains) i pity my generation, generations to come and the name nigeria, i aways pray that GOD should send to us a messiah.

  • Mistake Dim Chkwuemeka Oduemegwu Ojukwu did in 1967-1970 Bifra civil war with Nigeria was to

    stop “Excercise Damissa” which if they have continued the participants

    will recived key upon their shoulder from house of David which is Judah way of Killing people and they lost Nigeria invasion of Biafra territory the way,Judah nation lost soo many wars with Israel because they forgot the Judah postion which is like yoga meditation

    technique and styles.

  • Nzeogwu is my hero anytime, anyday, anyway…what he did was very patriotic as far as i am concerned. Nigeria is by far greater than yoruba, hausa & ibo (wazobia). What is killing nigeria is the concept of yoruba, hausa & ibo… There are other far more great tribes like birom my tribe in nigeria. The hausa/fulani in nigeria have been & still are carrying out the original terrorist plans of sardauna ahmadu bello especially in the middle belt where usman dan fodio did not succeed… Its very unfortunate that nzeogwu did not live long enough… Live on our hero major chukwuma nzeogwu… Live on!!!

  • I think Nzeogwu was just a fool who seriously miscalculated… if not how on earth would you kill Sardauna and get away with it. It triggered the counter coup which triggered the civil war. His actions and tht of his co-conspirators effects this country to this day…. Tht from my view is the root of this country’s problems.

  • Their was Brithish commandos they were suppose to receive militaryt hardwares and amourmrnt near Uli airport in town called Oba.When the Flight wille enter Port Harcourt in 45,000 ft-30,000 ft across atlantic ocean enroute Gabon,then decend to 15,000ft near Osomalu and negotiate a paratshoot at 5000 ft near Oba and Idemili stream bewteen 15,000 ft when it will drop the good to the commando of Bifra Secret service which the Plane turned out to be enemy at the gate which bombarded the commandos at the forest and killed which was an informant plane that promised as soon as the received it the best men from Commando teaam will proceed to abroad training few days it will land at Uli airport to pick the agents who train with some other countries secret service like Ivory coast,later when the plane as suppose to pick up a team of the Secret service of Biafra it bombarded Uli airport.

    Gen. chukwuemeka Odumegwu ojukwu was suppose to visit a ivory coast to pick one of the best men to train a new set of secret service which he will com back with at the place were he went his second in command Effiong Philip surrender to Nigeria Military goverment and today i have rounded the enemies that disturbed me at the place i was before death and i must kill them with my own method.

  • When darkness was over the whole earth their was the same time of night and dayin the different zones of oceans the people living then knows a spirit is not Gip.That worked to separate night and day due to what they are working for animals and humans on the universe which was revaled to us through the rising sun.if i was among the people that killed philophers who reasoned we will separate the unification of sun that creation of night and day across the oceans and far lands understanding to me if i can reverse it,if iam not among wisdom to centralize its benefit today.

  • Major Nzewogwu Chukwuma problem with Chukwuemeka Odumegwu ojukwu was inclusion of Calabar and Akwaibom in Republic of Biafra who were Efik and Ibibio.which he will find it very difficult to erase his shadow as a prisoner,which Ojukwu put him on probation, if he was still alive till phatom coup trial of Biafran leaders of Emmanuel Ifeajuna,Sam Agbamuche,Philip Alale and banjo he would been executed with them.

  • The Red cross plane that was bombed by Nigeria Air force.

    The person that recieved a radio message frequence spectrum from major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzewogwu,that a plane will enter Biafra airspace through ogoja and land at Enugu airport,with a tracking

    tracking device that will follow up the plane from as soon as the shadow Nsukka boundary river Benue with representative of Sir Louise Oduemgwu Business protocol,that will station at Nsukka near Obolo-afor was how Dim Chkwu Emeka Oudmegwu ojukwu younger brother died,with people at the building,when a person gave the radio number to Nigeria air force,which he told them that Major chukwuma kaduna Nzeogwu was their if they doubt it let them radio that station again

    and the replied not too long the bombarded the place and they every occupant died instantly.

  • Domkat Bali is being diplomatic with words, talking bullshit. It was the frenzy era of grab opportunities in the military to those on the Federal side. So, they would still have killed him.