January 15, 1966:  The role of Major Hassan Usman Katsina

By

Nowa Omoigui

nowa_o@yahoo.com

As is well known, following a signal sent from Lagos to Kaduna by Major Adewale Ademoyega giving the all clear for H-Hour, Major PCK Nzeogwu, leader of the northern theater of operations along with his accomplices struck on the night of January 14/15 1966 (Exercise "Damisa").  In a wave of forced entries into family homes, critical elements of the political and military leadership based in Kaduna were murdered or arrested between 2am and 4am, effectively giving the Major control of the city and to some extent the Northern region. 

By 10 am, however, there were signs that all was not well.  First, Nzeogwu confronted Captain Isong, then second-in-command at the 1 Recce Squadron, on account of a rumor that Isong was allegedly spreading in the barracks about the ethnic coloration of the unfolding events.  Shortly thereafter, at a quick press conference Nzeogwu had called to announce that he was authorizing Ali Akilu to take charge of the civil service, an information officer pointed out to Nzeogwu that there had been no radio broadcast announcing the coup or its objectives on Radio Nigeria.  (Indeed the only available radio reference as of this time originated from a French news clip in Brussels about a vague one-time announcement on Lagos radio which has never been clarified even to this day.) 

The chance tip from the civilian, taking together with absence of any communication from Majors Ifeajuna or Ademoyega in Lagos, is what initially prompted Nzeogwu to head for Radio Kaduna to make his now well known "Extraordinary Order of the Day" speech at noon in which he declared martial law over the Northern provinces.    Shortly thereafter, for reasons that have never been clarified, the commander of the 5th battalion in Kano, Lt. Col C. O. Ojukwu, invited the Emir of Kano, Alhaji Ado Bayero to make a broadcast on Kano radio. (This action, among several others, including the seizure of Kano airport and interception of an aircraft sent by Nzeogwu to collect money from the Central bank in Kano, created suspicion between Nzeogwu and Ojukwu which was to last until Nzeogwu met his death in July 1967 at Obollo-Eke near Nsukka).

Later that afternoon, separate phone calls came in to Kaduna from Lagos by Lt. Colonels Patrick Anwuna and Victor Banjo confirming the failure of operations in the federal capital and seeking information about events in Kaduna.  At about 4 pm Lagos time radio Nigeria finally broadcast an announcement that there had been a mutiny the night before in which key functionaries had been kidnapped, and that efforts were being made to crush it.  But just before midnight on January 16, following a complex series of events, the GOC of the Army, General Ironsi, preceded by a short statement by acting President Nwafor Orizu, announced that he was taking over the country following an "invitation" from the Council of Ministers.  He subsequently named military governors for the regions - including Major Hassan Usman Katsina, son of Alhaji Usman Nagogo, then Emir of Katsina, for the Northern Provinces.

On Monday January 17, 1966, having recalled a military task force he had initially dispatched to the Jebba and Makurdi bridges on the Niger and Benue rivers, Major Nzeogwu announced in Kaduna that he had reached a 5-point surrender agreement with Major General JTU Aguiyi-Ironsi in Lagos.    However, until his bosom friend, Lt. Colonel Conrad Nwawo, then Nigeria's Defence Attache in London was later flown into the country as a confidence building measure, Nzeogwu refused to travel to Lagos to turn himself in.  

While all this was going on in the background, on Tuesday January 18, Major Hassan Katsina addressed a Press conference in Kaduna.  He said:

"Fellow country-men and women. I, Major Hassan Usuman Katsina, having been appointed by the Supreme Military Commander as the Military Governor for the Northern Provinces of the Republic of Nigeria wish to address you all on the responsibilities falling on all of us and the new philosophy we intend to follow.

It is our intention to build the nation on the foundation of honesty and hard work and to bring about unity among all Nigerians living in whatever part of the country with respect, love and understanding towards one another.  Everyone must realize that we are one nation irrespective of the tribe from which each of us originates.  At our present stage of development we need not be divided by tribal unions, political parties or trade unions.  It is our experience in the past that such bodies had not worked for the common good but for sectional interest.  I do not need their greetings or congratulations as this is not the time for jubilation or flattery but for hard work and selfless service.  This is the way to reach our common goal in satisfying the aspirations of the common man. 

My assumption of office does not change the administrative structure, and machinery set up by my colleague, Major Nzeogwu at the end of the last Government.  Civil servants will continue to run the civil administration under my authority.  I warn them, however, that they must be honest and show in everything they do concern for the rights of the common man.  They are not masters but servants of the public.

In local administration the Native Authority system will continue but reform will be introduced.  Native Authorities must cut down on unnecessary expenses, do away with redundant staff and use public funds correctly and efficiently.  Misuse of authority will not be tolerated.  Administrative Officers who are charged with advising Native Authorities in the Provinces and seeing to it that Government directives are carried out must wake up to their duty with vigour and zest.

The new Government will support private initiative in industry, commerce and agriculture.  However we must wipe away immediately the attitude of the past when it was regarded that Government money could be borrowed with no intention of repaying.  In future the Government will only help businessmen who are serious and honest.  The Government will also see to it that past debts arising from loans by public corporations are repaid according to the terms of the loans.  Those who refuse to pay will have to face the consequences.

Public funds must be spent wisely and honestly.  The new Government has no intention to be vindictive but it will at the same time watch closely the activities of people who had in the past engaged in corrupt practices.  Any subversive activity on their part will be severely dealt with.  The Military Command will maintain vigilance.

I said at the beginning that I need your support.  I expect this from those in the public services whether Government or Native Authorities or the private sector but what I particularly pray for is the support of the ordinary private Nigerian citizen.

Jama'a Allah shi ba mu alheri"

Finally, on January 19, 1966, with Nwawo now present, Major P. C. K. Nzeogwu formally "handed over" power in the northern region to Major Hassan Usman Katsina.

Note, however, that Hassan had already addressed a Press conference a few days before that as the Governor.  It is not clear, therefore, exactly what Nzeogwu was 'handing over' at that stage.

Hassan, who was appointed by General Ironsi as Governor on January 17th, and was somewhat deferent to Nzeogwu ("my colleague") during his first press conference on the 18th, even accompanied Nzeogwu to the Airport on January 19th and arranged a quarter-guard for the "send-off" ceremonies.   On arrival in Lagos, Nzeogwu was welcomed and then whisked off into detention at KiriKiri prison before later being transferred to a Prison in the eastern region.

These confusing sequences of events in addition to some comments made by Hassan himself have prompted questions about his role in the events of January 15, 1966.  For example, at a question and answer session during the Press Conference in Kaduna on January 19, 1966 as Nzeogwu was leaving for Lagos, Hassan said "I have been able to help Major Nzeogwu with some of his problems during the past few days. I am his good friend and I am sure that he will now help me." 

Who was Major Hassan Usman Katsina and what was the timing of and context in which this 'help' to Major Nzeogwu was rendered?

Hassan Usman Katsina was born in Katsina on March 31, 1933. After education at the Kankinya Elementary and Katsina Middle Schools, he attended the Kaduna College and Institute of Administration in Zaria.  He later enrolled at the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology, Zaria, before joining the Army in 1956.  Following an initial six months officer cadet training at Teshie, Ghana, Hassan underwent an array of courses at  the MONS officer cadet school, Aldershot,  the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, the Small Arms School in Kent and the School of Infantry, Warminster.

 "Initially a platoon commander in the 2nd Battalion, he was later reposted to the demonstration platoon at the NMTC in Kaduna, as commander. " In 1961, he served in the Congo as an Intelligence officer.  The following year, in 1962, he underwent further advanced infantry training in the United States after which he became company commander in the 5th Battalion of the Nigerian Army in Kano.  When the Recce unit of the Army was created, Hassan was among the earliest Nigerians to be trained in Britain on the use of "Ferrets" in armored reconnaissance warfare, the others being Majors Christian Anuforo and John Obienu.  As of the night of January 14/15 1966, Hassan was commanding the 1 Recce Squadron in Kaduna, while Obienu was commanding the 2 Recce squadron in Abeokuta, and Anuforo was the staff officer representing Recce interests at the Army HQ in Lagos. 

Neither Hassan nor any of the soldiers in the 1 Recce squadron were deployed on the night of "Exercise Damisa".  According to Nzeogwu himself, Hassan's first knowledge of the coup was early after daybreak on Saturday when Nzeogwu, having already killed or directed the killing of the Sardauna, the Brigade Commander and the 2/IC at the NMTC, went to Hassan's house with a sterling Sub Machine Gun in his hand and asked:   "What side are you on? Are you with me or with them?"   Hassan's response was "Don't bother, I am on your side."

However, what subsequently happened was that Major Hassan (along with Major Alexander Madiebo (of Artillery in Kaduna) and Lt. Col. Chukwuemeka Ojukwu in Kano with whom he was in touch by phone and signals) began playing a very cunning game of isolating Nzeogwu, while appearing to cooperate by assisting in sending out some signals and making troops available for odds and ends.  Indeed, it was the undercover role played by Ojukwu and Hassan in support of Ironsi during this stand-off that got them both the military governorships of the East and North respectively. 

Although Hassan, faced with a gun and the fait accompli of the mutiny, gave Nzeogwu an affirmative response early on Saturday January 16th, he did not show up at the meeting of Officers with civil servants at 1 Brigade HQ later that day.  Thus, an angry Nzeogwu ordered a team of soldiers led by Captain Isong to have Hassan arrested and "dealt with". Plans for Ojukwu's arrest were also made.  Both of these moves were, however, subsequently thwarted by wise counsel from Major Alexander Madiebo who also refused to travel to Lagos to negotiate with Ironsi on Nzeogwu's behalf, preferring to stay in Kaduna to steady the somewhat impulsive young Major.  That is how Major Olusegun Obasanjo, Nzeogwu's friend who had just returned from a course abroad, got chosen instead to go to Lagos.  After this incident, Hassan became very cautious in dealing with Nzeogwu - until Nzeogwu was "safely" airborne on his way to prison a few days later.

Post-Script

Hassan Usman Katsina was subsequently promoted to Lt.Col. by General Ironsi, eventually rising to the rank of Major General under General Gowon.  He was a key participant during the Aburi meetings in Ghana.  His recorded comments during that conference describe some very difficult and dangerous days facing the mutiny of northern troops, particularly in Kano, in July and August 1966.  During the civil war he was at one point the Chief of Staff, Army.  At the time he was retired by Brigadier Murtala Mohammed, following the July 29, 1975 coup, he was deputy Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters and Federal Commissioner for Establishments.  On the basis of an alleged off-hand comment made while playing Polo, he was briefly mentioned in connection with the Dimka coup of February 1976, invited to then Brigadier Yar'Adua's office in Lagos for questioning, and then released.

He stayed away from the public limelight during most of the rest of his days.

Major General Hassan Usman Katsina (rtd) is deceased.