One of the reasons for the July 29, 1966 counter coup in Nigeria was because majority of the coup plotters were Igbos, and because of that it was tagged an Igbo coup. The Northern military officers then vowed to take revenge, though the fact remains that the coup was plotted by military officers from different ethnic nationalities in Nigeria, not just Igbo military officers.
Another reason was that Alhaji Abubakar T. Balewa and Ahmadu Bello were killed in the military coup plus other top military officers, only Okote Eboh, a non Igbo and NCNC Finance Minister were killed. Neither Zik nor Michael Okpara, the Premier of Eastern Region was killed during the coup.
Another reason for the counter coup is because the coup leaders were not produced in court or court martial for involvement in attempted coup. Rather they were detained without any form of trial.
This non action by Major Genaral Aguiyi Ironsi was disappointing to Northern leaders and military officers, which made them to plan for counter coup, they started gathering in Mosque and Emirs Palace to plot for another coup.
Aguiyi Ironsi promulgated many decrees to arrest political violence in the country and restore order and unity. Amongst them was the constitution and modification Degree No.5 otherwise known as the ‘Unification Decree”.
This decree was intended to restore national unity, which had been shattered by extreme regionalism and tribalism. By this decree Nigeria was to become a unitary state instead of federation.
The decree took effect from May 24th 1966. The abolished regions were replaced with group of provinces. Each region had its group of provinces but these provinces were under the control of military governor.
The eastern region had her group of provinces and so was other regions named. The decree unified the civil service of the Republic. This move came under severe attack from the North who saw it as a plan to dominate the North perpetually by the South. The South were educationally advantaged over the North, the North followed Islamic Education.
The promulgation of this decree sparked off violent demonstration in the North against the National Military Government. The demonstration led to full scale strife and killing of the Igbos in the North. Not less than 35, 000 Igbo men and women lost their life in that Pogrom. It is one of the bitter killings of the Igbos in the Northern Nigeria.
The Mistrust of Aguiyi Ironsi by both North and South: Aguiyi Ironsi surrendered himself with Northern soldiers to allay the fears of the North that he was not anti-North and was not a partner to the January coup.
In the south, Ironsi was not trusted as the South saw him as an agent of the North yet some of his advisers came from a section of the country. The situation was volatile and would explode any time.
Unfortunately, Aguiyi Ironsi did not possess some of the qualities required in crisis management. He did not take prompt action to punish political offence and other mutineers who took advantage of his weakness and staged coup that toppled his Regime on July 29, 1966.
Aguiyi Ironsi and Lieutenant Colonel Adekunle Fajuyi were kidnapped in Ibadan and taken to an unknown place and were killed by the Northern soldiers. This coup led to the mass killings in the North.
The soldiers and civilians joined hands in the killings in which more than 35,000 Easterners living in the North were killed. The massacre led to the mass exodus of the Igbos from the North back to their home land in the East.
Reasons for the first military coup in Nigeria