It is no more a news that 67-year-old Pastor Tunde Bakare, a Serving Overseer of the Citadel Global Community Church, Nigeria, has declared his presidential ambition on 9th May 2022, at the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Centre, Abuja, after obtaining a throat-cutting 100 million naira Presidential Expression of Interest and Nomination Forms from the ruling party, All Progressives Congress.
What triggers the minds of the Igbo people before Bakare”s expression of presidential aspiration is the timing of his needless sermon against the Igbo people on the alleged humiliation and death of Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. It was an unprovoked inciting sermon that could disproportionately refresh the minds of the Northern Nigerians of the 15th January 1966 coup and spur them up to vote against the South-East Igbo 2023 presidency.
During his church sermon, Pastor Bakare had alleged: “Why should anyone in this country say the Igbo man cannot be president of Nigeria? I was at Imo State and I told them the reason why the Igbo cannot rule Nigeria and I want to remove the curse today.” According to him,
“Do you know what happened? The day Tafawa Balewa was killed, they removed his turban, poured wine on his head, forced him to drink, and shot him. In the process, he cursed them saying, ‘none of your tribe will ever rule Nigeria.”
At first glance, one would think that his narration was ultimate and in the interest of the Igbo people considering that he was a highly-rated and respected preacher and the controversial sermon preached at his church. But the primary sources that abound contradicted Bakare’s tale, which seemed to dwell partly on a book (Ahmadu Bello, Sardauna of Sokoto: Values and Leadership in Nigeria) written by John N Paden, a Northern apologist, and Professor of Public Administration at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria. In his controversial account of how Balewa died, Paden wrote that Belewa told Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna shortly before he died: “I know you are going to kill me; you will never get a Prime Minister like me. The Igbo will suffer for 25 years.” Another arm-chair writer, Trevor Clark, in his book titled “A Right honorable Gentleman: The Life and Time of Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa,” alleged that Major Donatus Okafor offered to save Balewa’s life if he would take some alcohol, which he rejected and cursed the Igbo people. To people like Femi Fani-Kayode, such a third party and hearsay version came from an “excellent book.” Be that as it may, for the sake of the credible version of the death of Balewa, it will not be worthwhile to support this version another porous account.
On the other hand, Chief Segun Osoba, a crime reporting journalist that worked with the Daily Times newspaper, in January 1966, gave a convincing eyewitness account of the death of Balewa. According to his report: “About 220 yards from Mile 27 on the Lagos-Abeokuta road, I saw the dead body of the former Prime Minister Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and what appeared to me to be the body of Chief Festus Okotie Eboh on Friday evening. I got there with a friend Titus Shokanlu about 7 p.m. that Friday and saw the two bodies placed in a ditch by the roadside…About four yards away was Alhaji Balewa’s body. He was placed by the side of a kola nut tree in a sitting posture. He had a snow-white toga a part of which was wrapped over his head. No marks of bullets on both bodies…While the body of Alhaji Balewa was still fresh, that of Chief Okotie Eboh was swollen and in a decomposed state.”
Interestingly, one of the finest authorities on Nigeria’s Military history, Max Siollun, noted on page 47 of his book titled “OIL, POLITICS, AND VIOLENCE: NIGERIA’S MILITARY COUP CULTURE (1966-1976)”, how Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna arrested Balewa. He wrote that when Ifeajuna besieged Balewa’s house: “The Prime Minister opened his bedroom door to find Major Ifeajuna brandishing a gun. Ifeajuna saluted and informed the Prime Minister that he was under arrest. The Prime Minister asked for, and was given, time to say his prayers before being led out wearing a white gown, white trousers, and slippers (the Prime Minister’s attire will become relevant later). When they got downstairs Major Ifeajuna ordered the other soldiers to salute the Prime Minister, and they complied.”
Does it suffice that Major Ifeajuna that saluted Balewa, allowed him to say his prayer, and ordered other officers to salute him as a mark of deference would humiliate Balewa by pouring wine on his head and subjecting him, against his religious beliefs, to drink it? Major Adewale Ademoyega, one of the coupists, noted on page 60 of his book (WHY WE STRUCK: The Story of the First Nigerian Coup): “Political leaders and their military collaborators were to be arrested, but wherever an arrest was resisted, it was to be met with force. Otherwise, no one was to be killed.” In this case, Balewa, a cool-headed, amiable, and exemplary personality did not resist arrest and it is highly unlikely that Ifeajuna killed him. After all, a controversial politician like Fani Kayode, who did not resist arrest, was not killed by his captors.
Once more, Segun Osoba made it clear that he saw Balewa in a seating position by a Kola nut tree with no gunshot and no bloodstain on his cloth. Balewa’s headscarf could not have been snow-white when his body was discovered if his captors had poured wine on his head. If really Balewa was forced to drink wine and cursed the Igbo people, such should have angered Ifeajuna to shoot him. But that was not the case, the available eyewitness report has it that no sign of a gunshot was seen on his body and stain blood socked on his clothes.
There is reason to believe Osoba’s primary cum eyewitness account. His words with the Vanguard news on 26 September 2010: “The first thing my editor told me about the story [Balewa death story] as I got to the office that day was that, ‘don’t embellish your report, don’t be flamboyant, just be factual,’ and the facts I stated in my story have never ever been denied, debunked, controverted…”
Ambassador Matthew Mbu (Balewa’s close ally), according to The Nation Databank, recounted what late Christopher Okigbo claimed that his close friend Major Ifeajuna told him about the arrest and death of Balewa. “The plans of the putschists according to Mbu’s account, did not include killing the Prime Minister. He was to be taken to Calabar and forced to release and handover power to Chief Obafemi Awolowo, then in prison for treasonable felony.
“Balewa unfortunately did not make it out of Lagos. He reportedly suffered an asthmatic attack and died in the car. The announcement by the Army chief, General Aguiyi Ironsi of a failed coup, led to the dumping of the late Prime Minister’s body in the forest off the road to Abeokuta.”
These shreds of evidence show that Pastor Bakare could have relied largely on a weak and contorted historical account without due verification of his sources. The pertinent questions are: who was the eyewitness when Major Ifeajuna allegedly offered wine to Balewa and shot him? If actually, as Bakare said, that Balewa cursed Igbo people that they wouldn’t ever rule Nigeria, how could he explain that an Igbo man, Major General Ironsi succeeded Balewa? How could he explain that during the 2nd Republic, Dr. Alex Ekwueme was the Vice President of Nigeria to President Shehu Shagari – a loyalist of Balewa? If Balewa was arrested on 15th January 1966, why is it, relying on Osoba’s account, that his corpse was still fresh when he saw it on 21st January 1966? This could have led Osoba to allege: “The death of Tafawa Balewa may have been influenced by elements in the government who wanted to cover certain things up and now had to put his body on the same spot with Okotie-Eboh so that the story would be that the coupists put the two bodies there. I have reason to believe that there are some games played by some people in government who had a hand in it.”
Assuming but not conceding that Balewa cursed the Igbo people, must Pastor Bakare make the matter viral to score his point? Did the Igbo people ask for intercession to break the so-called curse? Why should it be during the election period, when it is the turn of Igbo South-Easterners to become the president of Nigeria that Bakare would remember to mesmerize his congregation with an unfounded and toxic history that could ignite and incite Northerners against the Igbo people?
It will be very difficult for Igbo people to see reason with Bakare, who is aspiring to become a Nigerian President. Bakare’s political ambition could have been propelling force that sprouted the sermon. He had said during one of his Church sermons: “I will succeed Buhari as President of Nigeria, nothing can change it. I am number 16, Buhari is number 15. I never said it to you before. I am saying it now and nothing can change it. In the name of Jesus, he (Buhari) is number 15. I am number 16. To this end was I born and for this purpose came I into the world. I have prepared you for this for more than 30 years”.
There is no doubt that Bakare was not fair to the Igbo people. He would not feign ignorance of the fact that considering the power-sharing formula, it is the turn of South-East people to produce the next president of Nigeria since South-West (Chief Olusegun Obasanjo) and South-South (Dr. Ebele Jonathan) people from southern Nigeria had taken their share of the presidency. His political sermon was unwarranted and unfair to the Igbo people. It was a sermon of an ambitious political pastor.
Photo: Credited to dailytrust.com