Every year, on the 15th of January, the Armed Forces Remembrance Day is observed. In times gone by, prior to 1970, this commemoration occurred on the 11th of November, a nod to the conclusion of the First World War.
This particular date was chosen due to the signing of the Armistice Treaty that marked the war’s end, transpiring on November 11th, 1918. Nigeria, following its independence on October 1st, 1960, adopted this date as its own (November 11th).
The Commonwealth of Nations, a confederation of former British territories, remains a pertinent entity in this context. But returning to the focus of the Armed Forces Remembrance Day.
The No Victor, No Vanquished Declaration, proclaimed by General Yakubu Gowon upon the surrender of the Biafran faction to the Nigerian Government on January 15th, 1970, prompted the Nigerian Government to shift the Armed Forces Remembrance Day from November 11th (the Armistice Day) to January 15th.
Also, it is worth noting that the first military coup d’état in Nigeria unfolded on January 15th, 1966. Spearheaded by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, this coup was marked by violence. It claimed the lives of several prominent figures, including the then Prime Minister of Nigeria, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa; the Premier of the Western Region, Sir Samuel Ladoke Akintola; the Premier of the Northern Region and Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello; the Minister of Finance, Okotie Eboh; and a handful of others.
Due to the composition of the main coup plotters and the surviving politicians, the coup was commonly perceived as an Igbo Coup.
This event consequently ushered in General Aguiyi Ironsi as the first Military Head of State.
Nonetheless, Ironsi’s reign was brief, as a counter coup occurred on July 29th, 1966. Tragically, Aguiyi Ironsi and the Military Governor of the Western Region, Lt. Col. Adekunle Fajuyi, were both assassinated at the Government House in Ibadan. This counter coup led to the ascent of General Yakubu Gowon as the second military Head of State, a position he held from 1966 to 1975.
While he was a Colonel during the initial coup, upon assuming office, he was elevated to the rank of General. Gowon’s tenure was marked by the Nigerian civil war, also known as the Biafran War, which raged between 1967 and 1970.