With a narrative from Dr Ishaku Chollom Pam FRCP, Consultant Physician, Tony Egbulefu captures the ghastly details of the conversations that preceded the cold-blooded execution of Lt Col James Pam, the Adjutant-general of the Nigerian Army in the hands of the January 15, 1966 mutineers.
As the guns cracked in the early hours of January 15, 1966 from the officers and men loyal to some mutineering middle rank officers of the Nigerian Army, led by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, 11 prominent Nigerian politicians and some senior army officers met their fatal end in its trail.
Gone with the coup that spanned across the cities of Lagos (then federal capital ), Kaduna, (capital of Northern Region), and Ibadan, (capital of the Western Region) were the Nigerian Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Ahmadu Bello, Premier of the Northern Region, Chief Samuel Akintola, Premier of the Western Region, and minister of finance, Festus Okotie Eboh.
Ostensibly targeted at the ruling political class, whom the mutineers accused of bad governance and systemic destruction of the bonds of country’s unity, the coup which had other protagonist as Maj Timothy Onwuatuegwu, Maj Emmanuel Ifeajuna, Maj Don Okafor, Maj Ademola Ademoyega, Maj Chris Anuforo, Maj Humphrey Chukwuka and Capt Emmanuel Nwobosi, brought the country’s nascent democracy, which was just six years old to a screeching halt. Major-general JTU Aguiyi Ironsi, Commander of the Nigerian Army, GOC, who became the prime beneficiary of the coup as the Head of State sought to consolidate his hold on power, and on the country by enacting a decree that made the country turn to a unitary system of government. Though the Nigeria is still nominally designated as a federal entity, Ironsi’s unitary structure in effect, has been the operational model till date.
Army officers the coup claimed include Lt Col Abogo Largema, (the Commanding Officer of the 4th Battalion, Ibadan), Brig Zakariya Maimalari, (Commander 2nd Brigade, Lagos), Brig Ademulegun, Col Kur Mohammed, (Chief of Army Staff), Lt Col Arthur Unegbe (Quarter Master General Nigerian Army, and the only officer of Igbo extraction to be executed by the coup plotters) and Lt Col James Pam.
Lt Col Pam, however, stood out as the officer, who broke the news of the coup to Ironsi, the would-be Head of State.
In the dead of the night, Pam rather than being more concerned about the safety of his life, braced the odds and tipped off Ironsi, the army GOC on telephone about the mutiny. Shortly after ending the call to Ironsi, Pam’s apartment was invaded and he was abducted and later shot dead by Maj Anuforo.
It was on a grim Saturday night, about 2am, January 15, 1966. Pam, Adjutant-general of the Nigerian Army, his wife Elizabeth and all other members of his family have been asleep for several hours in their Nigerian Army residence at 8 Ikoyi Crescent, Ikoyi, Lagos, when they awoke to a start to behold the sight of soldiers, crouching decidedly towards their house. By a sense of duty, concern and loyalty, he picked up the telephone in the bedroom and called the Nigerian Army GOC, Major General Aguiyi Ironsi.
The following narrative is captured by Dr Ishaku Chollom Pam FRCP, Consultant Physician between Pam and Ironsi:
Lt. Col JY Pam: “Sir, there have been gunshots around my house and there is a party of armed soldiers making its way towards my home.”
GOC: sounding alert “Ummm. Don’t worry. I will do everything I can to help. Good bye.” Lt Col Pam dialled a second number. This time to Brigadier Maimalari, and repeated what he has just relayed to the GOC.
Back at 8 Ikoyi Crescent, the fully-armed soldiers were deployed with deadly efficiency at the gate, at the front entrance, to the kitchenDOOR and to the Boys Quarters. Those approaching the kitchen chose to make their entrance by shooting through the door. A quick run up the stairs and the soldiers took over the bedrooms. By thisBy this time Elizabeth was no longer in doubt that something has badly gone wrong. As she ran to the children’s rooms in her distress and confusion, she screamed for her oldest child and daughter who was eight years old. “Kaneng ! Kaneng! Help me! Help me!” she called out.
The invading soldiers had come face-to-face with her husband, Lt Col Pam, led by a man very familiar to him, Major (HC) Humphrey Chukwuka, his second-in-command, and Deputy Adjutant General (DAG)1 whom Major Benjamin Adekunle who was DAG 2 had earlier warned him to beware of and Major Anuforo.
The rest of the party comprised 2nd Lt G. Onyefuru, Sergeants NN Ugongene, H.Okibe, B.Anyanwu, L.Egbukichi and P.Iwueke
Major Humphrey Chukwuka (HC): “Sir, we have come to take you with us.”
JY: “Why? What is the meaning of this?”
HC: “Sir, please come with us.”
JY: “Ok. Allow me toDRESS”
Lt. Col JY Pam at this point was joined by his heart-broken wife, Elizabeth as he retreated into the bedroom and changed swiftly into a pair of trousers, a vest and shirt and put on his watch. He returned to the waiting soldiers as Elizabeth pleaded with Major Chukwuka who was well known to her to spare her husband’s life.
Elizabeth pleads: “please don’t kill him, please don’t kill my husband”
HC: “No. We won’t Madam. Don’t worry. I will bring him back to you.”
Major Chukwuka, who had rather become impatient began to march Lt Col Pam out of his home but not without first advising him to put on a coat because it was the harmattan season and was cold outside.
As Pam was led out, Kaneng, his daughter, aware of the present danger, ran to her father and hugged him. Col Pam promptly turned to Elizabeth his wife and said in Hausa: “Liz, ki lura da yara,” which means “Liz, look after the children.”
These as it were, became the last words that she will hear her husband speak. And that was also the last glimpse he would have of his family that comprised Jummai, six years; Yusufu, four years; identical twins Ishaku and Ishaya, one year nine months and Ibrahim (Gambo), four months and two weeks.
The abduction party left the house, leaving behind the wailings from the Pam family. On the journey of a few kilometres from Ikoyi Crescent to the Federal Guards Officers Mess Ikoyi, Lt Col Pam sat in the back of a camouflage green Nigerian Army Land Rover under armed guard. They remain in the premises of the Officers Mess for less than an hour when Major Christian Anuforo arrived of from Apapa, where he had gone to execute Colonel Kur Mohammed. Upon discovery that it was Lt Col JY Pam who was under guard, Major Chukwuka expressed surprise that Lt Col Pam has not been eliminated.
Major Anuforo who had taken charge at the Federal Guards’ Officers Mess, ordered the driver to take the party to Ikoyi Golf Course. At a convenient point he ordered the driver to stop and for Lt Col Pam to disembark. Though not in operational command of troops, Col Pam was the most senior administrative officer in the Nigerian Army, in charge of institutional support and personnel; and for reasons best known to them, Major Anuforo and his co-conspirators had ordained that he was to die.
Major Christian Anuforo (CA): “You are to be shot Sir.”
JY: “Chris why?”
CA: “That is our decision”
JY: “I have a young family of six. This makes no sense.”
CA: “I have no choice. I am simply obeying orders.”
JY: “Allow me to say my prayers.”
CA: “Please do.”
Dawn has not broken, and Lt Col Pam, 32, knelt on the soft, cold grass. His last thoughts were obviously for his devoted wife Elizabeth and their children. “Lord save them. Lord bless them and Lord keep them.”
Anuforo’s gun cracked, two bullets flew out in the first volley, hitting his chest and jaw. Pam crumbled to the ground and then eleven more bullets pierced through from his the back. And life was over.
Major General Ironsi became the Head of State. Bloody retaliation followed in July same year, and over a million lives were lost in the orgy of violence that eruptedFifty-one years on and the country is still counting the cost,” notes Dr Pam.
Col Pam was part of the soldiers that quelled the Tiv Riots. Tasked with the duty of reorganising and training the fledgling Tanganyika (later Tanzanian) Army, he accomplished it with an outstanding efficiency, and returned with the gift of a leopard skin and shield from a grateful President Julius Nyerere. He was awarded MFR (Member of the Federal Republic of Nigeria) for his industry and professionalism.