Prominent Nigerians Who Escaped Death in 1966 Coup

Nigeria experienced a military coup in 1966 which ended a post-independence era known as the First Republic. The event marked a new beginning in the country’s history. The power struggle saw some of Nigeria’s most prominent personalities being killed or forced into exile. It was an especially difficult period for the then Prime Minister, Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, and several military officers who were leaders in their various fields and held crucial positions in government and the Nigerian armed forces. Although many eminent figures perished in the coup, some of them managed to escape death, either through good luck or prompt action. This article takes a look at those prominent Nigerians who were able to survive the deadly 1966 coup. 

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The most prominent figure who managed to survive the coup was the then Governor of the Eastern Nigeria region, Dr. Michael Okpara. Okpara is widely regarded as one of the most outstanding Nigerian politicians of the post-independence era.He had a deep commitment to democracy, justice, and the development of education and infrastructure in Nigeria. With his influential position in the government, he was a potential target of the coup plotters, who viewed him as a threat to their power. Okpara escaped death when he was in the United States attending a conference and was forced to remain there. 

Another prominent Nigerian who survived the coup was Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the Prime Minister of Nigeria at the time.A skillful politician, statesman, and international diplomat, he was highly respected for his peaceful nature and his commitment to democratic and economic reforms. After the coup, he was arrested and later released. He opted not to leave Nigeria and instead continued his work until he died in 1975.

Chief Obafemi Awolowo was also among the list of prominent Nigeria who escaped death. A renowned freedom fighter, Awolowo had a strong belief in the democratic rule and fought for it during the pre-independence era.He was a prominent politician who served as the Premier of Western Nigeria between 1954 and 1960. After the coup, he was arrested and charged with treason. Though he was found guilty, his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment and he was later released. 

Chief Anthony Enahoro was another prominent figure who managed to escape death in the 1966 coup. A leading voice of the country’s independence movement, Enahoro was a strong advocate of democracy who sought to establish a united, democratic, and prosperous Nigeria. He was arrested soon after the coup and released after long negotiations with the military government. Even in his exile, he continued to speak for the Nigerian people’s rights and democracy.

Lastly, Chief Remi Fani-Kayode, a prominent Nigerian lawyer, was lucky to escape death in the 1966 coup. Fani-Kayode was a very influential lawyer who defended various cases during the time and championed the cause of democracy. He was arrested shortly after the coup and reportedly escaped execution only minutes before the execution lists were read. He was later released and left for exile in England.

These prominent Nigerians who managed to survive the military coup in 1966 were indeed very fortunate. The years following the coup were fraught with political turmoil and uncertainty, much of which remained unresolved until the end of military rule in 1999. With their incredible contributions to the country, these individuals were a much-needed source of hope and guidance during a dark period in Nigeria’s history.

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