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Barracks: The History Behind Those Names - Part 5

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Nowa Omoigui



Although it is not unheard of to find officers living among civilians in town, Nigerian soldiers are typically quartered in over 75 Barracks, Cantonments, Camps and Forts.  The terms refer to temporary or permanent billets for troops of various size and complexity.   Supposedly temporary billets go by the more commonly known nickname “Basha” which refers to a zinc or aluminum roofed shack.  The word “Cantonment” is specifically derived from the word “Canton” which means “to quarter soldiers”.   It has a more permanent connotation than the word “Barracks”.  The word “Fort” comes from fortis, which means “strong”.  Over the years, beginning as far back as ancient Roman and Greek times, strong defensive military points, usually located on Hills and other points of elevation, have been called alternative names like Bastion, Citadel, Acropolis, Fort, Fortress, Fortification, Redoubt, Strong point etc.    In feudal England for example, a Castle was a typical military fortification, surrounded by moats or canals with draw-bridges etc. Forts became less popular with the end of the era of siege warfare and the advent of mobile warfare based on the principles of Fire and movement. In the quest to conquer the west all the way to the Pacific Ocean, American soldiers and Indian Scouts often had to build Forts to protect themselves from Native Indian Tribes defending their lands. Therefore, the curious concept of a “Fort” in modern Nigeria is far removed from the medieval historical context in which they originally got their names.


Nevertheless, for some reason, Nigeria has – in the last 12 years – classified some fairly conventional Army Barracks as  “Forts” in the usual Nigerian practice of copying things from abroad without deep thought.  The individual names of these various Barracks, Cantonments, Camps and ‘Forts’ fall into three categories:



1. Those named after the locations in which they are situated  (i.e. the Town, City or local section of Town).  Examples include Katsina, Keffi, Okitipupa, Calabar, Onitsha, Lafenwa (Abeokuta), Ekenwan (Benin), Makurdi, Abakpa (Enugu), Awkunanu  (Enugu), Bama and Yola Barracks etc.; Ikeja (Lagos), Ojo (Lagos), Rukuba (Jos), Odogbo (Ibadan) Cantonments, etc; Bori Camp (Bori, Rivers State). The Bassawa Barracks in Zaria was originally named after Bassawa, a former slave village belonging to the Mallawa family of Zaria.  The original village is a classical relic of traditional Hausa Architecture.



Comparatively speaking, this geographic method of naming barracks appears to be preferred in Kenya where Barracks go by such local names as Nairobi, Gilgil, Lanet, Mombasa, Isiolo, Nanyuki Barracks etc.  all of which are the towns or surrounding villages in which they are located  The Bombo, Gulu, Masindi, Magamaga and Makindye barracks in Uganda also appear to follow this model.



2. Those named after military battles or campaigns or memorable locations or cultural symbols of specific military theaters of war. Examples include Bonny Camp, Abalti, Dodan, An, Myohaung, Arakan, Tego, Beho Beho, Marda, and Ashanti Barracks in Lagos; Letmauk Barracks in Ibadan; Bukavu Barracks in Kano; Kotoko, Dalet, Mogadishu, Colito and Kalapanzin Barracks in Kaduna; Chindit Barracks in Zaria etc.

Comparatively speaking there is a Burma Camp in Ghana, Arakan Barracks in Zambia, Kabrit (former Rhodesian SAS) Barracks in Harare, Zimbabwe - named after the former Royal Air Force Base at Kabrit in the Suez Canal zone etc.



3. Those named after individuals. These include Ribadu Cantonment in Kaduna; Adaka Boro Barracks (Elele, Rivers State); Giwa and Maimalari Barracks (Borno); Fort Nagwamatse (Kontagora, Niger State); Obienu Barracks (Bauchi, Bauchi State); Ejoor Barracks (Effurun/Warri, Delta State); Camp Wu Bassey, Fort IBB (former Fort Obasanjo), Sani Abacha, Yakubu Gowon, Aguiyi-Ironsi and Gado Nasko Barracks (Abuja); etc.

Comparatively speaking Zimbabwe has the Cranborne, King George VI (KG6), Nkomo and Pomona (Engineers) Barracks in Harare; Llewellin, Induna, and Imbizo Barracks in Bulawayo. In Uganda, there used to be a Gaddafi Barracks at Jinja.



4. Those named after Brigades and other Army Formations.  These include 31 Artillery Brigade Barracks, Minna, 33 Artillery Brigade Barracks, Bauchi etc. 


Comparatively speaking Zimbabwe has the 1st  Commando Regiment barracks in Harare, Three Brigade Barracks in Mutare, Four Brigade Barracks in Masvingo, Presidential Guard barracks at Dzivaresekwa etc.  There is a Territorial Army Barracks in South Africa.


Let us delve a little more deeply into those names that commemorate individuals and military campaigns.






In the 19th century, under the guise of eradicating slavery, promoting Christianity and “lawful trade”,  there were many “Ashanti campaigns” conducted by British and colonial troops against the Ashanti (Asante) Empire of modern Ghana.  With the exception of cavalry, the Asante army had an excellent infantry structure including musketeers, bowmen, and spearsmen. They had scouts (Akwansraf); an advance Recce guard (Twaf); a main fighting force (Adonte); the imperial personal bodyguard (Gyas); a rear protection guard (Kyido); and two flanking wings, the left (Benku) and the right (Nif).   They also had a medical corps (Esumankwaf).


In 1824, the 2nd West India Regiment, Royal African Corps and Royal Artillery were involved in the first of several wars with the Asante – in which British Governor Charles MacCarthy was killed.  Two years later the British employed Congreve rockets to scatter an Asante attack on the coast, eventually forcing the peace treaty of 1831.  In 1843, the British moved in to administer coastal Forts following which relations deteriorated and there was a further skirmish in 1863.  From 1873-1874, the 2/23rd Regiment of Foot, 42nd Regiment of Foot, 2/Rifle Brigade, 1st West India Regiment, 2nd West India Regiment, Royal Artillery Royal Engineers and Royal Marine Light Infantry were involved in the second of the Ashanti wars. This was precipitated by the efforts of the Asantehene to protect access to the sea at Elmina – which failed.  On March 14, 1874, the Treaty of Fomena was signed.  However, from 1895-96, a third Ashanti Expedition was organized under Major-General Sir F. C. Scott against Asantehene Prempeh I King Prempeh I of the Asante, who had been accused of human sacrifice.  It resulted in the exile of Asantehene Prempeh to the Seychelles Islands and declaration of a British protectorate over Ashanti Land.  However, all was not lost.  When the British attempted to gain control of the Asantehene's Golden Stool, symbol of Asante power and independence, the last of the Ashanti wars broke out and lasted from March 31 to December 25, 1900.  It was mainly with the last Anglo-Asante war that “Nigeria” was involved, although elements of the Hausa Constabulary had fought in some of the previous battles. 


In May 1900, the Northern Nigeria Regiment, West African Frontier Force was established by amalgamation of West African Field Force and Royal Niger Constabulary companies in Northern Nigeria. Later that year 1200 troops of the regiment under British Lt-Col. James Willcocks were sent to Ghana to partake in the Asante campaign.  This is the war that finally broke the back of Asante independence. 


The “ASHANTI BARRACKS” IN APAPA, LAGOS, and the “KOTOKO BARRACKS” IN KADUNA were named to commemorate Nigeria’s role in that colonial adventure. In 1948, Nigerian troops were again sent to Ghana to quell serious riots there.







The Nigeria Regiment, West African Frontier Force, was formed by amalgamation of Northern and Southern Nigeria Regiments on January 1st 1914.    During the First World War, supported by tens of thousands of carriers, nine (9) battalions of the Nigeria regiment (along with elements from Gold Coast, and Sierra-Leone) fought and distinguished themselves under British command at Douala, Garoua and Banyo in the Cameroons from 1914-16.


The Cameroons campaign was very difficult.  Three columns crossed into Kamerun and were initially beaten back with heavy casualties. The northern wing advanced toward Mora, near Lake Chad.  The middle wing went for Garoua.  The southern wing made a thrust toward Nsanakang.  After the failure of the initial overland assault from the west, a sea borne counter-thrust was made toward Douala, which was taken on September 27, 1914.  Thereafter a difficult campaign was waged from south to north, inch by inch in bad weather in dense jungle and rolling savannah until Garoua fell in February 1916.  It is said that when official military rations were low, Nigerian soldiers reacted by cultivating farms.


They went on to fight from 1916-18 at Behobeho and Nyangao in Tanganyika (East Africa) against the famous German guerilla warfare genius, Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck.


The “BEHO BEHO BARRACKS” IN APAPA, LAGOS was named to commemorate colonial Nigeria’s role during the East African Campaign in the First World War.  In modern Tanzania, Beho Beho is a town near the famous Selous Game reserve, named after Captain Frederick Courtney Selous, a British hunter, soldier and naturalist who was killed by sniper fire in the Beho Beho area in 1917.  Selous was as much a guerilla as Von Lettow and was later memorialized in Rhodesia with the name of the “Selous Scouts”, Rhodesia’s notorious counter-insurgency unit during the front-line wars of liberation in the seventies.






Thirty thousand Nigerians fought in World War 2.  They saw action at Juba, Goluin, Marda Pass, Babile Gap, Bisidimo, Colito, Omo and Lechemti during the Abyssinian campaign in East Africa from 1940-41.   The 12th African division in that theater consisted of the 1st South African Brigade Group, 22nd, 25th, 26th and 28th East African, 23rd Nigerian and 24th Gold Coast Brigades.   The brunt of actual fighting beginning in Somaliland (Mogadishu) through to Ethiopia was borne by the 23rd Nigerian Brigade. Nigerian soldiers were right there with Orde Wingate when Emperor Haile Selassie was returned to power in Addis Ababa.  The Nigerian and Gold Coast troops who fought in East Africa later joined the 82nd (West Africa) Division in Burma.


In Burma, from 1943-45, as part of the 81st and 82nd West African Divisions, the Nigeria regiment of the West African Frontier Force also fought in North Arakan, Kaladan, Mayu Valley, Myohaung, Arakan Beaches, Kangaw, Dalet and Tamandu and was a component of Chindit operations in 1944.    The high point of the Nigerian regiment in Burma was the fall of Myohaung on January 24-25, 1945.  Before independence, January 25 used to be celebrated annually in Nigeria as an official military day.


The 81st (West Africa) Division


The 81st (West Africa) Division was created in March 1943 in Nigeria under Major General C. G. Woolner, CB, MC.    It consisted of the 3rd, 5th and 6th (West Africa) Brigades.   The 3rd Brigade under Brigadier H. U

Richards comprised the 6th, 7th and 12th Nigerian Battalions.  The 5th (West Africa) Brigade was entirely Ghanaian (Gold Coast). The 6th Brigade combined battalions from Nigeria, Gambia and Sierra Leone under Brigadier J. W. A. Hayes DSO.


Between August 14th and November 8th, 1943, various Brigades of the 81st Division arrived in Burma and concentrated at Chiringa, which thus became the West African Base and Rear Headquarters.  Barely after arrival, with no animals or vehicles in support, the Division was “volunteered” by General Giffard, C-in-C Eastern Command, to advance independently of the main Arakan formation along the Kaladan River on the left, threatening the Japanese flank and their west-east lines of communication at Kanzauk Pass. General Slim regarded this area of operations as “the dangerous spot in Arakan”.  The axis of advance meant the Africans would have to totally rely on air re-supply – the first time an entire unit of that size would be deployed under such circumstances.  The 81st created a jeep track through 75 miles of jungle from Chiringa to Satpaung  (nicknamed ‘West Africa Way’) and constructed airstrips along the Kaladan River.  From a springpoint at Daletme, they thrust southwards against Japanese resistance toward Paletwa.  As they neared Kyauktaw they began to threaten the Japanese right rear.    


Perhaps as a result of prior positive experience with Nigerians under Orde Wingate in Ethiopia, the 3rd (Nigerian) Brigade of the 81st Division was transferred to the Special Forces Unit (Chindits) back on November 8th 1943 and was thus detached from its parent force.  East African and Indian detachments replaced the Nigerian Brigade.  Thus, in January 1944, during “Operation Thursday”, most Nigerian troops in the 81st were actually deployed with the legendary Chindits under Major General Orde Wingate  – a long-range group of Special Forces trained to fight and survive deep behind enemy lines, supplied only by air.   The 6th, 7th and 12th Nigerian regiments in the Thunder (3rd West African) Brigade were designated as Fortress or airfield Protection troops. 


In the meantime, the remaining 4th Battalion, Nigeria Regiment, of the main 81st Division, seized Kyauktaw and Apaukwa.  The Division was, however, later thrown back in confusion (after the Battle of Pagoda Hill on March 1st and 2nd) to an area near Taung Bazaar. This was caused by a determined Japanese counter-attack led by one Colonel (later Major General) Koba and lack of resolute command by 81st Div Commander Major General Woolner. In April 1944, the 81st Division was redeployed from the Kaladan valley across the Kaladan ranges into the Kalapanzin valley to fill a gap created by the deployment of the 7th Indian Division to the Imphal front.   In August, there were wholesale changes in its command structure. In addition, its reconnaissance battalion, the 81st (West Africa) Reconnaissance Battalion of the West Africa Armoured Corps, which had been removed (along with the 3rd Nigerian Brigade) from its Order of Battle back in late 1943, was returned to the parent Division.


With the Monsoon rains over, the 81st Division, now under Major General Loftus-Tottenham, regained the offensive and advanced once again down the Kaladan Valley. By October 18, they had cleared Singpa and Mowdok.  After a series of pitched battles in very difficult terrain, they crossed the Kaladan River on December 4th,, outflanking Kyauktaw and Thayettabin.  The Divisional Reconnaissance Regiment (DRR) advanced towards Apaukwa and Kanzauk in support of the main Arakan offensive by the 25 Indian Division.  Meanwhile, the 82nd West Africa Division advanced down the Kalapanzin Valley.   On January 7, 1945, at Kanzauk, the DRR linked up with the 4th Brigade of the 82nd Division, which had crossed the range from Hzitwe.     The 81st Divisional Reconnaissance Regiment thus came under the command of the 82nd West African Division for the final push to take the strategic Japanese Communication Center at Myohaung, the ancient capital of Arakan.   This forced the Japanese to order a general retreat from the area, barely extricating themselves from isolation between Minbya and Kangaw.   Elements of both West African divisions, under Maj. Gen. H.G. Stockwell (D.S.O.) joined elements of the Indian and British Divisions with supporting armour for the final assault on Mandalay and Rangoon, in order to drive the Japanese out of Burma.



At the end of March 1945, however, the 81st (West Africa) Division was withdrawn from Burma (to ease the strain on maintenance) and thus left for India. They had suffered 74 killed, 343 wounded and 21 missing in the Arakan campaign.   Later on, in August 1944, the 3rd (West Africa/Nigerian) Brigade of the Chindits, under Brigadier A. H. Gillmore was also withdrawn from Burma.  Brigadier P. M. Hughes later replaced Gillmore.  They were re-united with the main 81st Division on March 20th, 1945 in India.  As plans were being made for the Division to take part in the reconquest of Malaya  (Operation Zipper), the Japanese surrendered.  In May 1946, therefore, the 81st (West Africa) Division returned to Nigeria. 


The 82nd (West Africa) Division


The 82nd West African Division, at various times under under Maj. Gen. H.G. Stockwell (D.S.O.), Maj. Gen. G. Mc. I.I. Scott-Bruce (O.B.E. M.C.) and Maj. Gen. C.R.A. Swynnerton (D.S.O.) was dispatched to India in July 1944, to join the XV corps as part of the " Fourteenth Army" under Slim.


On December 15, 1944 the 82nd Div captured Buthidaung and created a bridgehead on the east bank of the Kalapanzin. This allowed allied troops to control the Maungdaw-Buthidaung road and enabled the transportation of 650 river craft by road through tunnels to Buthidaung.  These were needed for Indian operations east of the Mayu range.


From the Kalapanzin Valley, it moved down the Mayu Peninsula and then linked up with the 81st West African Division in the assault on Myohaung and subsequent operations. This division had six (6) Nigerian battalions, three (3) of whom were the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Nigerian Rifles of the 1st West African Brigade led by Brigadier C.R.A.Swynnerton (D.S.O.) and Brigadier. F.W. Clowes. The other three (3) were the 8th, 9th and 10th battalions Nigerian Rifles of the 4th West African Brigade led (at various times) by Brigadier. H. Gibbons (M.C.), Brig. A.H.G. Ricketts (O.B.E. D.S.O.) and Brigadier H.G. Stockwell (C.B.E. D.S.O.). The 2nd West African Brigade was comprised of Ghanaian troops.


After the fall of Myohaung, Kangaw, Ramree and Cheduba, the Japanese 54th Division were divided in two, around An and Taungup.  In order to dissuade the Japanese 55th division from coming to the rescue, pressure had to be placed on the Taungup road.  The 82nd Div was asked to cross the tough Mountain Hills of Dalet Chaung (dependent on air supply) in order to approach the An Pass from the North west direction while the 26th Division captured Ru-ywa.    The 1st and 4th (Nigerian) Brigades suffered heavy casualties in breaking the routes open to Kaw and Kyweguseik in late February.   The 4th Brigade even lost two of its commanding officers.  However, by March, in coordination with Indian units, Dalet Chaung and the strategic supply base of Tamandu, were taken.


With Tamandu taken, the 82nd Division focused on An. The Gold Coast 2nd Brigade based at Letmauk became the focus of intense Japanese attacks, sustaining heavy casualties in the process. They only barely withdrew under covering fire from the 1st (Nigerian) Brigade.  By sending long distance fighting patrols to harass the Japanese flanks the Nigerian unit was able to force a Japanese retreat and retake An on May 13, 1945.


It was mainly Nigerians of the 82nd Division that achieved the subsequent clearance of Japanese forces from the coastal belt of the south Arakan.     In April, the Division, with the East African 22nd Brigade now under command, advanced south from Tamandu.   By the end of May, Kindaungyyi, Taungup and Sandoway had been captured.  The end was in sight.


Both the 81st and 82nd Divisions achieved their duties with excellence.   Their casualties were the heaviest in the XV Corps under Christison. According to the Commonwealth Graves Commission, total numbers of lost, killed and wounded were 438 for the 81st (W.A.) Div and 2,085 for the 82nd (W.A.) Div. In addition to those buried in jungle tracts, many Nigerian graves remain in cemeteries of Burma like the Dalet Chaung near Tamandu and the Taukyan War Cemetery. Others are remembered at the War Memorial in Rangoon.



It is in commemoration of these heroic battles of the Second World War as well as various units, towns and villages in East Africa and Burma that DODAN, AN, MYOHAUNG, ARAKAN, MARDA BARRACKS IN LAGOS; LETMAUK BARRACKS IN IBADAN; DALET, MOGADISHU, COLITO AND KALAPANZIN BARRACKS IN KADUNA; AND THE CHINDIT BARRACKS IN ZARIA are named. 


It is to be noted too that Nigerian Troops returned to Tanzania in 1964 for battalion support operations to replace British Troops that had intervened to put down a mutiny.  One of the barracks they were based at in Tanzania was the Colito Barracks located in the town of Colito.





Shortly after Independence, Nigeria was invited to take part in UN peace-keeping operations in the Congo.   On November 9, 1960, the 5 Queens Nigeria Regiment (5QNR), under the command of Lt. Col. JTU Aguiyi-Ironsi  entrained in Kaduna and left for Kano from where they were airlifted by US Air Force Transport planes to the Congo.


On arrival, the 5QNR was deployed to Bukavu, capital of the Kivu province in eastern Congo.


In commemoration of the role of Nigerian units in ONUC, the BUKAVU BARRACKS IN KANO was named after Bukavu, the first Battalion HQ location of Nigerian operations in that country.





BONNY CAMP IN VICTORIA ISLAND, LAGOS commemorates the fall of Bonny on July 26/27, 1967 during the Nigerian Civil War.  Supported by an 11-ship Naval Task Force under Captain Soroh and Commander Adelanwa, the Lagos Garrison Organization under then Lt. Col. Benjamin Adekunle took the town. Following a fierce bloody sea and land battle, Bonny fell to the 6th battalion with the 7th and 8th in support.  Majors GS Jalo, A. Abubakar and A. Ochefu commanded the three battalions respectively.  Company Commanders in the 6th Battalion included Captain MD Jega, Lts Zamani Lekwot and Mahmud Sani.  Rehearsals for what was clearly going to be the first joint Army-Navy operation in Nigerian history – at night and at high tide - were carried out at Ikeja Barracks Gymnasium and at Tarkwa Bay Island near Lagos.  Ships which took part in the operation included NNS Nigeria, NNS Ogoja, NNS Kaduna, NNS Sapele, NNS Benin, NNS Bonny, NNS Penelope, NNS Lokoja as well as two merchant ships, namely the Herbert Macaulay and Bode Thomas. A British Officer by the name Commander Roy reportedly assisted in preparations.


NNS Lokoja performed Troop Landings under command of Lt. Commander Hussaini Abdullahi.   Lt. Commander Akin Aduwo commanded NNS Ogoja that gave chase to the NNS Ibadan, which had previously been hijacked to Biafra by Lt. Ebitu Ukiwe.


The original operational concept came from late Lt. Col. Joe Akahan, then Chief of Staff (Army). It aimed to block the entrance to the Port Harcourt channel and seize oil installations in the area.  The plan was changed at the last minute because of bad weather, so troops were disembarked out of schedule.  Nevertheless, it succeeded.


A Biafran counter-attack in December 1967 by the 52 Brigade under Colonel Ogbugo Kalu nearly succeeded in dislodging Federal Troops from Bonny Island.  However, it collapsed due to an alleged personality clash between local commanders.


Nigerian Army historians say the Bonny Landing of  July 1967 was a “masterpiece in the history of warfare in Africa”.  Conceivably, that might explain why it is the only Civil War battle that has been commemorated (so far) by the naming of an important Military Barracks.





As previously noted, those named after individuals include Ribadu Cantonment in Kaduna; Adaka Boro Barracks (Elele, Rivers State); Giwa and Maimalari Barracks (Borno); Fort Nagwamatse (Kontagora, Niger State); Obienu Barracks (Bauchi, Bauchi State); Ejoor Barracks (Effurun/Warri, Delta State); Camp Wu Bassey, Fort IBB (former Fort Obasanjo), Sani Abacha, Yakubu Gowon, Aguiyi-Ironsi and Gado Nasko Barracks (Abuja); etc. 


There are several ways in which to classify these names.  Most are or were soldiers while Ribadu, Boro and Giwa were civilians – although Boro was granted emergency commission and trained as a soldier/officer at Escravos during the civil war.  One in particular - Nagwamatse - was a pre-colonial military figure while all the others are post-colonial figures.  Let us take them one by one (in alphabetical order):




Sani Abacha Barracks is named after the late General Saninegeria Abacha – who needs little introduction to Nigerians as a controversial former ruler.  One of a handful of Nigerians to attain the rank of a Four Star General, he was Nigeria’s Head of State and Commander-in-Chief from November 17, 1993 until June 8, 1998 when he died in inauspicious circumstances in the company of women of easy virtue.  Abacha was a Kanuri from Kano province.  He trained at the Nigerian Military Training College (NMTC), Kaduna, from 1962-63.  Then he proceeded to the Mons Officer Cadet School, Aldershot in the UK in 1963, after which he was commissioned 2/Lt..  He underwent further training at the NMTC, School of Infantry, Warminster, UK, Command and Staff College, Jaji (1976), and Nigerian Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru (1981).  Abacha progressed through every single rank in the Officer Corps and commanded Platoon, Company, Battalion, Brigade, and Division level formations before he became Chief of Army Staff (COAS) in August 1985. He later combined the office of COAS with that of Chief of Defence Staff  (CDS) and then became CDS and Defence Minister.  As Defence Minister on November 17, 1993 he struck against the interim Shonekan government and became Nigeria’s Head of State.


Abacha saw action during the Nigerian Civil War as a junior officer, mainly in the Second Division.  He was not particularly outstanding.  In fact there are unconfirmed reports of at least one wartime clash with the late Major General Yar’Adua over the issue of cowardice at the front.


However, Abacha made his bones as a military politician, seasoned coup plotter, master of intrigue and executor.  As one former colleague said of him, “He may not be militarily bright, but he knows how to remove governments”.   He also gained a peace-time reputation as being totally fearless and utterly dangerous.


He was a ruthless hatchet man in Kaduna during the July 1966 counter-coup; a backbencher as Brigade Commander in Port-Harcourt during the July 1975 coup; an insider and coup announcer in December 1983 as Commander of the 9th Brigade at Ikeja.  He was an enabler and co-announcer as GOC 2nd Division at Ibadan during the Palace coup of August 27, 1985.  Some describe him as the operational “savior” of the Babangida government as Chief of Army and Defence Staff during the abortive “Orkar” coup of April 1990; and a behind the scenes opposer to Chief Moshood Abiola during the June 12 election of 1993.  He manipulated General Babangida to “step aside” during the musical chairs of August 1993 before taking the big prize for himself in November.  In addition to a legacy of human rights abuses he has been alleged to expropriate billions of dollars of defence and other public funds while in office.


As Army and Defence Chief, professional references to him at home and abroad were often derogatory.   Former US Chairman of Joint Chiefs, General Colin Powell once said Abacha’s CIA Bio was one of the worst he had ever read.  Junior commanders in Nigeria sat through his time as their Chief with the oft repeated Hausa comment “Sani ya chi” meaning “Sani has eaten it”, referring to operational funds. 


Nevertheless, General Sani Abacha had some defence diplomatic achievements.  In spite of the relative international isolation of Nigeria as a pariah, his strong leadership was crucial to the restoration of democracy in Sierra Leone, albeit at great human and material cost to Nigeria.


Lastly, General Abacha departed from the policy of informed restraint and recognition of colonial borders with which previous governments had approached border tensions with Cameroun, choosing instead to deploy troops to physically take part of the Bakassi Peninsula and establish a local government there.  When Cameroun dragged Nigeria to the International Court of Justice in 1994 his government agreed to ICJ adjudication, setting the stage for the dilemma Nigeria now finds itself in following the decision of the court to rule against Nigeria.




Aguiyi-Ironsi Barracks was named after late Major-General Johnson Thomas Umunakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi, Nigeria’s first indigenous General Officer Commanding (GOC), Nigerian Army and military Head of State.  He was born at Umuahia in March 1924 to a Sierra Leonean father and Igbo mother, enlisted in the Army as a private and Clerk in the Ordnance Stores in 1942. He was short-service commissioned from the ranks into the Officer Corps in June 1949.  In 1952, after a Board of Inquiry, he was transferred from Ordnance Stores to Infantry where he assumed the rank of Captain in 1953.  Captain Ironsi was promoted acting Major three years before he was due when he served as Equerry to the Queen during her visit to Nigeria in January 1956.  Ironsi reportedly attended the Staff College at Camberly and was later 2ic (rear) at the Enugu based 1QNR during the Cameroon uprising of 1959/60 before assuming command of the 5QNR in Kaduna just before independence as an acting Lt. Col.   As Battalion commander of 5QNR he led Nigeria’s first post-independence battalion deployment abroad to the UN peace-keeping operations in Congo under Brigadier Ward.  The Kivu province and northern Katanga to which the 5QNR (under Ironsi) and 4QNR (under Lt. Col. Rolo Price) were deployed was particular notorious. 


In December 1960, Lt. Col. Ironsi was tasked to rescue an Austrian Ambulance unit, which had been kidnapped.  Three platoons from his battalion achieved this after a three hour gun battle for which Ironsi (along with Major Hilary Njoku and 12 Nigerian soldiers) got the Medal of Gallantry from the Austrian government.  Shortly after this Ironsi had to deal with an invasion of the Kivu province by pro-Lumumba soldiers as well as a skirmish which led to the death of Lt. Ezeugbana.  Tensions also grew between Nigerian and British soldiers in the 5QNR leading to a break down in discipline.  A number of soldiers were court-martialled.   


In May 1961 the 5QNR returned to Nigeria.  2QONR under Lt. Col. A. Ademulegun took its place in Kivu.   Ironsi was posted to London as Military Adviser and his command handed over to British Lt. Col. Morgan.


As a Brigadier (and acting Major General) Ironsi returned to the Congo as the overall UN Force Commander during its last six months of service in 1964.  Just before then he had attended the Imperial Defence College in London. He reverted to the rank of Brigadier and commander of the 2nd Brigade when he returned to Nigeria.


In February 1965, in the setting of the controversy between the NPC and NCNC after the December 1964 general elections, Ironsi was formally promoted to the substantive rank of Major General.  He was recommended by Defence Minister Muhammadu Ribadu to be appointed Nigeria’s first indigenous GOC to replace the departing Major General Welby-Everard, who, it is said, preferred someone else.


On January 15, 1966 there was a bloody mutiny led by predominantly eastern junior and middle ranking officers in the Army.  In the chaos and intrigue that resulted, Major General Ironsi, also an easterner, controversially assumed power as Nigeria’s first Military Head of State.   Following a series of missteps, including prevarication on the sensitive question of courts-martial for the mutineers, he was killed seven months later on July 29 at Ibadan in a bloody northern counter coup.  His violent death and all it was associated with, contributed to the Nigerian Civil War, which began the following year.




Camp Wu Bassey is named after Brigadier Wellington Duke Bassey (rtd), an Efik officer from Cross-River State.  He joined the Army in 1936 and is widely commemorated as Nigeria’s first indigenous officer, short-service commissioned from the ranks in April 1949, two months before Ironsi.  However, in the course of the history of the Nigeria Regiment, West African Frontier Force, Lt. Ugboma was actually commissioned in 1948 – before Bassey.  Ugboma, however, left the military shortly thereafter.  A few other Nigerians were given field commissions during the first and second world wars.


As a Lt. Colonel, Bassey was the first Commander of the Federal Guards Company in September 1962, a rather curious appointment for a Lt. Colonel. 


During the period between 1960 and 1965 Ironsi, Ademulegun, Ogundipe, Maimalari, Adebayo, Kur Mohammed and Shodeinde all superseded him in rank for reasons that are not totally clear.  It is not clear either why he did not get an opportunity to serve in the Congo, a near universal experience for any Nigerian soldier of that era.


As of the time of the January 15, 1966 coup he was commanding the Regimental Depot in Zaria.  After Major General Ironsi came to power, Bassey was appointed “Acting Brigadier” and Brigade Commander of the 1st Brigade in Kaduna to take the place of Brigadier Ademulegun who had been murdered.  However, Bassey was away on “medical leave” during the northern counter-coup of July 1966. 


On page 44 of his book “The Nigerian Revolution and the Biafran War”, former Biafran Army Commander, Major General Alexander Madiebo relates a curious (but unconfirmed) story.  He tells how the 1st Brigade Commander ran out of his office in June 1966 when he heard the sound of a Goods Train off-loading planks at a nearby Train Station in Kaduna.  Allegedly, Brigadier Bassey had, like other officers on his Staff, wrongly interpreted the sounds as gun shots and chose to abscond, saying “they should have told me; they promised to give me sufficient warning.”


He retired from active service just before the civil war began and later emerged as Consul and later Nigerian Ambassador to Fernando Po (Equatorial Guinea).




Adaka Boro Barracks at Eleme is named after Isaac Jasper Adaka Boro, an indigene of Kaiama, Bayelsa State, former student of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and staff of the University of Lagos.   Boro is a mythical figure in the history of the fight for resource control and self-determination of the peoples of Rivers and Bayelsa States, particularly the Ijaws.     In an effort to take his people out of the former Eastern region, he declared a "Peoples Republic of the Niger Delta" in 1965 which led General Ironsi to authorize a counter-insurgency campaign in February 1966.


Boro is said to have exhorted his “Troops” with the following message:


"Today is a great day, not only in your lives, but also in the history of the Niger Delta. Perhaps it will be the greatest day for a very long time. This is not because we are going to bring heaven down, but because we are going to demonstrate to the world what and how we feel about oppression. Before today, we were branded robbers, bandits, terrorists or gangsters but after today, we shall be heroes of our land.


"For this reason, and for the good name of the Ijaws, do not commit atrocities such as rape, looting or robbery. Whatever people say, we must maintain our integrity. Moreover, you know it is against Ijaw tradition to mess about with women during war. You have been purified these many days. Be assured that if you do not get yourselves defiled within the period of battle, you shall return home safe even if we fail".


The men of the ‘Niger Delta Volunteer Force’ reportedly took the following oath:


"I...a Niger Delta citizen from the town herein sworn in at the Revolutionary Camp of the Niger Delta Volunteer Service, as (an officer, warrant officer, non-commissioned or a serviceman) do solemnly declare to uphold the natural rights and integrity of the Niger Delta peoples and fight with my life for the restoration of same. So help me God."



The campaign to crush the insurrection was led by Major John Obienu of the Recce regiment supported by infantry elements of the 1st battalion in Enugu, prominent among whom was then Lt. YY Kure.


Boro was arrested and tried.  Along with Samuel Owonaru, Nottingham Dick and Benneth Mendi, he was convicted for treason and sentenced to death but was released by the subsequent Gowon regime in August 1966. 


When the civil war broke out in July 1967, Boro was at the head of a 1000 man unit of volunteers from Rivers State (nicknamed “Sea School Boys”). They had been hurriedly trained at Escravos as a supporting militia.  He was field commissioned as a Major. He joined the 3rd Marine Commando under Lt. Col. Benjamin Adekunle for the sea borne assault on Bonny.


After the Bonny operation, Boro took part in the Calabar landings. Boro’s 134 Infantry Battalion of the 19th Brigade, using guerrilla like tactics was crucial to the capture of Opobo, Andoni, Obodo, Opolom, Oranga, Buguma and other riverain areas including operations aimed at taking Eket.  After the fall of Eleme, plans were made for the seizure of Okrika.


According to Obasanjo, it was at Okrika that a “fleeing rebel soldier whom he encountered during a private visit” killed Boro.  Men of the 19th Brigade reacted very badly to his death and the Brigade had to be dissolved. 


His people celebrate May 16th as “Boro Day”.



David Ejoor Barracks in Effurun, near Warri is named after Major General David Akpode Ejoor (rtd), former Chief of Staff (Army), first Military Governor of the former Midwestern Region, and Urhobo indigene of the Delta area.  He was born in 1932 at Ovu in present Delta State.  Following secondary education at the Government College Ughelli, he was commissioned in 1956 after cadet training at Teshie in Ghana, Eaton Hall, Chester, and the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst.  He later attended the Staff College at Camberly, UK in 1963.

In the early part of his career, Ejoor was reportedly a dour, reserved and professional officer, uninterested in politics or publicity.  He started off as a junior Signals Officer from 1956-59.  Like many others, he took part in the Cameroon campaign (as a Platoon Commander) as well as UN peace-keeping operations (as a Company Commander).  In 1960, Lieutenant Ejoor had the honor of commanding the Army Guard at the midnight Flag raising ceremony for Nigeria's Independence.

In 1964, Lt. Col. C. Ojukwu allegedly approached Ejoor (along with Lt. Col. Gowon) with the outlines of a possible coup. Both Gowon and Ejoor allegedly rejected this approach.

At the time of the January 15 coup in Lagos, Lt. Col. Ejoor was the outgoing General Staff Officer Grade I "G" Branch (i.e. Director of Army Operations) and incoming 1st Battalion Commander designate.   When the mutiny started he was physically in Lagos.  He was dispatched on Saturday January 15 to Enugu by the GOC, Major General Ironsi to take over substantive command of the 1st Battalion from Major David Ogunewe who had been acting in the absence of Lt. Colonel Adekunle Fajuyi who had already been posted out.  When Ironsi finally took power on January 17th, Ejoor was recalled and appointed the first Military Governor of  the Midwestern region, later called the Midwestern group of provinces, and even later the Midwestern State.

During the July 1966 coup, although not in command of troops, Ejoor is credited with helping with behind the scenes negotiations that led to the emergence of Lt. Col. Y Gowon as Head of State in the difficult situation of non-government and near anarchy after the abduction of General Ironsi.

At the September 1966 Constitutional conference for the political future of the country, the Midwest delegation - under Ejoor - was the only region to support the preservation of a federation with a strong center.

Ejoor was a voice of moderation at the Aburi meeting of military leaders from January 4-5 1967.  He attended the funeral at Umuahia of the late Major General Ironsi.  He subsequently hosted nearly all of the follow-up meetings in Benin of Regional Attorneys-General, Heads of Service and the Supreme Military Council in the months leading to the civil war, repeatedly positioning the Midwest as a neutral arbiter.  He also hosted Lt. Col. Ojukwu in Benin.

On August 9, 1967, however, the neutrality of the Midwest was violated by the Biafran invasion.  After refusing entreaties by the Biafran Commander, Brigadier Banjo, to switch sides and accept a role in the new Nigerian regime Banjo was planning, former Governor Ejoor slipped out of Benin as a bicycle riding fugitive to his mother's home village in the Delta.  He stayed there until assured of the victory of Federal Troops in the counter-offensive to retake the Midwest.

Upon return to Lagos, Colonel Ejoor was viewed with ambivalence and initially given a Staff Desk job in spite of his desire to return to the Midwest as Governor.  In this new role, he was the first Director of Training and Planning at the Supreme Headquarters from 1968-69 and led several wartime Nigerian delegations to foreign countries on Defence Diplomatic missions to lobby for international support.  In January 1969, Brigadier General D. A. Ejoor succeeded Indian Brigadier General M. R. Varma as the first Nigerian Commandant of the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA).  He held the position until January 1971.  

When he returned from the Royal College of Defence Studies in the UK, Major  General Ejoor became Chief of Staff (Army) from 1972 - 1975 at a time the Army was grappling with post-war demobilization and future force structure.  He was retired after the coup that removed General Gowon from office on July 29, 1975. Ejoor was the last officer to hold the title of "Chief of Staff (Army)", because it was changed to Chief of Army Staff (COAS) thereafter.

GIWA BARRACKS IN MAIDUGURI was originally constructed as a Signals Barracks and is said to have been named after the contractor!  No further details are available.  It is not even clear that “Giwa” is the official name of the Barracks but that is what it is called.


YAKUBU GOWON BARRACKS IN ABUJA is named after General Yakubu Gowon (rtd), Nigeria’s wartime leader.  Although an Angas by nationality, he was born in Wusasa, Zaria, in 1934.  His eldest brother died on active service during the Second World War.  Another brother survived the conflict.  After secondary education at Barewa College, he joined the Army. 


In 1954 he attended the Regular Officers Special Training School at Teshie, Ghana, followed by a course at Eton Hall in Chester, UK, followed by formal cadet training at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst (RMAS).  He was a Cadet Sergeant at the RMAS and was commissioned 2/Lt in December 1956.  Interestingly, the passing out parade was inspected by then British Chief of Defence Staff,  Sir Gerald Templer.


Gowon then attended the Young Officers Course at Hythe and the School of Infantry at Warminster before returning to Nigeria in July 1957.  He was initially a platoon commander at the 4QNR, Ibadan before returning to Ghana for training as a Mortar Officer followed by another support weapons course in England.   When he came back to Nigeria in September 1959, he was made the adjutant to the 4QNR.


From January to May 1960, Gowon saw action as a Platoon Commander during the Cameroon counter-insurgency campaign. In November he was deployed for ONUC along with the rest of the 4QNR under Lt. Col. Rolo Price to Manono in Katanga, Congo.  In Congo he was recommended for the Military Cross but did not get it.  Upon his return he was made a Staff Officer at AHQ.  In 1962, as a Captain, he attended the Staff College at Camberley, UK.


In January 1963 he was appointed the Brigade Major at the Nigerian Brigade HQ, Luluaborg, Congo. When he returned he was promoted Lt. Col. and appointed the first Nigerian Adjutant General at the AHQ. In May 1965, he was off again, this time to attend the Joint Services Staff College (JSSC) at Lartimer, UK.  It was upon his return from the JSSC in January 1966 that Gowon was appointed the Commander of the 2nd Battalion at Ikeja Barracks just as the January 15 coup was taking place. 


As incoming Commander of the 2nd Battalion, Gowon, along with some key company commanders like Majors Igboba (from the Midwest) and Anagho (from Cameroons), played a key role in putting down the January 15 mutiny in Lagos.  In fact it was Gowon that rescued Fani Kayode from the Officers’ Mess in Ikoyi and arrested Captain Nwobosi’s group.  All this occurred in spite of an attempt to delay handing over the Ikeja battalion to him by Lt. Col. Hilary Njoku.   Major General Ironsi later appointed Gowon Chief of Staff (Army). 


Historically speaking, in January 1966, Colonel Kur Mohammed moved from his former position as Deputy Commandant at the NMTC/NDA to become the “Chief of Staff (Nigerian Army) designate”. This curious staff appointment – which had the status of a Principal General Staff Officer [PGSO] - was designed to be held by an officer inferior in rank to the GOC, Brigade Commanders, and Chief of Staff, Nigerian Defence Forces. However, Kur Mohammed was killed during the coup before he could take office.


Therefore, Gowon was Nigeria’s first Chief of Staff (Army) in the military era – a weak staff position Ironsi propagated, rather than appoint a substantive ‘GOC, Nigerian Army’ to take his former position.  Instead, Ironsi acquired the title of “Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces” and kept all his privileges as GOC Nigerian Army.  The Chief of Staff (Army) had no direct command authority over the Brigade Commanders – a situation that persisted until after the coup of July 1975 when the title was changed to Chief of Army Staff (COAS) by then Brigadier TY Danjuma.


In the months between January and July 1966, Gowon went around military barracks in the country trying to pacify northern troops hurt by the killings of January.  In July, following the northern counter-rebellion, he became Head of State and C-in-C.


Gowon led Nigeria through the difficult days after the northern counter-rebellion and tried to avoid the civil war, although caught between the emotional polarities of Eastern and Northern Nigeria and perhaps stultified by his own naiveté as a previously apolitical officer.   In May 1967, however, he created 12 States out of Nigeria’s four regions, a strategic masterstroke credited as one of the key reasons Biafra eventually lost the war.  Gowon manipulated schisms between the Igbo and non-Igbo nationalities of the Eastern region and gave ethnic minorities in Nigeria a reconfigured power platform. 


When the war broke out on July 6, 1967, Gowon initially declared “Police Action” and published a code of conduct for Troops.  All of this changed after the Biafran invasion of the Midwest.  At that point, “Total War” was declared and pursued relentlessly until the end of the war in January 1970.  Although reportedly a well meaning C-in-C, his troops, fighter jets and bombers were not always guided by the ‘Code of Conduct’.  Human rights abuses certainly occurred, even as propagandists used Gowon’s first name YAKUBU as an acronym for “You Are Keeping Unity Between Us” and his last name GOWON as an acronym for “Go On With One Nigeria”. 


Nevertheless, in 1970 after accepting the surrender of Biafra, he declared a policy of “No Victor, No Vanquished”, announced amnesty for most and began a program of “Reconciliation, Reconstruction, and Rehabilitation”.  The extent to which these lofty intentions actually matched actions on the ground continue to be controversial but Nigeria gained immense international stature from the way Gowon conducted himself after the Biafran surrender.


As wartime Commander, Gowon oversaw the massive expansion of the Nigerian military and became Nigeria’s first four stars General.  However, he prevaricated on the admittedly sensitive issue of demobilization after the War and gradually lost touch with his own constituency, the military, not to mention a number of diplomatic, political and economic controversies including his decision – in 1974 - to indefinitely postpone promised hand over to civilians in 1976.  On July 29, 1975, nine years after he came to power, he was overthrown while attending a meeting of the OAU in Kampala.


Gowon initially went into exile in the UK, attended Warwick University, and graduated in Political Science.  He was accused of involvement in the abortive Dimka coup of 1976, tried in absentia and dismissed.  He vigorously denied all the charges.  President Shehu Shagari, however, later pardoned him, with full restoration of his four star rank in retirement.




Fort IBB is named after the initials of General “Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida” (rtd), a former Commander of the Armoured Corps and later Nigerian Head of State.  The Fort used to be called Fort Obasanjo (after General Olusegun Obasanjo (rtd) – the officer who accepted the surrender of Biafran forces in the field on January 12, 1970.)  However, General Abacha renamed it after his protégé Babangida when General Obasanjo was arraigned for alleged involvement in the alleged 1995 Gwadabe/Dasuki/Bello-Fadile conspiracy.


General Babangida (rtd) entered the Army on December 10, 1962. When he completed basic officer training at the Indian Military Academy, he began his career in the 1st Recce Squadron Kaduna (1964-66) before his sojourn as an infantry battalion commander and instructor. He was involved (as a Recce Lieutenant) in the Kaduna zone of the northern counter-rebellion of July 1966. He saw action during the civil war.  He was a Troop Commander in the 1 Recce Squadron at Nsukka in support of the 21 Battalion (under Wushishi) in the drive from Nsukka to Opi Junction and later Enugu.  After the fall of Enugu, Babangida was made Commander of the 44 Battalion.   During the advance to Uzuakoli,  he was wounded.  His next assignment was as an Instructor at the Nigerian Defence Academy.   In 1974, upon return from the Armoured Training School in the US, Babangida assumed command of the 4 Recce Regiment in the Lagos/Epe area. As commander of the 4 Recce Regiment in the federal capital area Babangida was instrumental to the success of the July 29, 1975 coup and would have been a key contingency factor in any fighting had Colonel JN Garba of the Guards Brigade refused to cooperate. Babangida's role propelled him to membership of the Supreme Military Council in the post-coup regime.


Babangida became Inspector (and later the 1st Commander) of the Armored Corps – which descended from the old Recce Regiment which had originally been first commanded by Major Hassan Usman Katsina. In fact IBB held the position continuously, even after the advent of civil rule in 1979, interrupted only by courses, until he became Director of Army Staff Duties and Plans (DASDP) at the AHQ in 1981.   As DASDP, Babangida was second only to the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Inua Wushishi at the AHQ. Not surprisingly, Babangida, as DASDP and defacto Deputy Chief of Army Staff, was the critical operational element of the coup against President Shagari in December 1983, securing General Wushishi's arrest (and resignation) and mobilizing armored officers and units in Lagos and Kaduna/Abuja for the coup.


He attended the Command and Staff College, Jaji in 1977, NIPSS in 1979, and the Senior International Defence Management Course at the US Naval Post-Graduate School in 1980.


He became Chief of Army Staff in January 1984 - a position from which he launched to become President, Head of State and C-in-C, following the Palace coup of August 1985.  Between 1985 and 1990, he contained two separate alleged coup conspiracies, allegedly led by Major General Vatsa and Major Akinyemi.  In April 1990, he narrowly survived an attempted coup led by Major Saliba Mukoro, Lt. Col. G Nyiam and Major Gideon Orkar.  These events were often followed by waves of massive executions and arbitrary retirements – which robbed the Officer Corps of some of the best Nigeria has ever produced.   In August 1993, he stepped aside following the political and military turbulence occasioned by the annulment of the June 12 elections.


Although described as “dandy” and “likable” by his admirers, his time as the Head of State and C-in-C was actually associated with the deliberate deconstruction and de-professionalization of the Nigerian military as an institution.  It was during his time that the historic 25-storey Ministry of Defence “Independence” Building got burnt, the C-130 plane (NAF 911) crashed in Lagos with awful consequences, and efforts were made to move the Army HQ to his home town in Minna.   Other than some efforts to rehabilitate Barracks, military professionalism took backstage to his personal survival in office and corruption became a deliberate instrument of Statecraft.  The political environment during the IBB years engendered entrance into the Nigerian Defence Academy of officer recruits with dubious motivations for joining the military.  His era crystallized the existence of client networks within the Army – a development that practically destroyed discipline and regimentation.


On the foreign military front, he inserted Nigeria into the Liberian civil war and engineered efforts – sometimes controversial - to address it through ECOWAS and ECOMOG mechanisms, with mixed results.  What began as an effort to prevent Charles Taylor from taking power from Samuel Doe ended with a legitimization of Taylor as the Liberian President - at great human and material cost to Nigeria.


In 1991, it was also Babangida’s regime that unilaterally ordered the Federal Surveys Department to start printing maps of Nigeria in which the Bakassi peninsula suddenly became “Nigerian”.  The peninsula had hitherto been shown to be in Kamerun/Southern Cameroons/Cameroun in ALL Nigerian and International maps since 1914. 



MAIMALARI BARRACKS IN MAIDUGURI is named after late Brigadier Zachariya Maimalari, Commander of the 2nd Brigade in Lagos who was assassinated in January 1966 by his own Brigade Major, Major Emmanuel Arinze Ifeajuna. 


Along with Umar Lawan, Maimalari, an officer from Borno province, and graduate of Barewa College in Zaria was the first in history of two Nigerian officers to be granted regular commissions in February 1953 after training at the prestigious Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. He and Lawan came from one of the original so called “martial tribes” of Nigeria and source of soldiers and NCOs during the World Wars  (as was the practice under British selective recruitment policies).  Lawan left the service three years later. 


In 1961 Major Maimalari was the first Nigerian officer to attend the Pakistan Staff College where he distinguished himself and is still spoken of to this day.  In 1962 he was promoted Lt. Col. and made the first Nigerian commander of the 2QNR (2NA), based then at Abeokuta.  Like others at that time he served tours of duty during the Cameroon uprising and in Congo.


Maimalari directed “Operation Banker”, the Internal Security operation necessitated by the crisis in the Western House of Assembly.  Indeed Maimalari’s 2QNR (2NA) was in training at a bush camp at Tapa when Chief Awolowo’s alleged planned civilian militia coup of September 22, 1962 was due to begin.  Tipped off by a leak, Chief Awolowo was arrested and elements of the 2QNR rushed back to the Lagos area to take internal security precautions.  Most other Nigerian battalions were in transit to and from the Congo and were not available to support the Balewa government.


In his time, the “no nonsense” and highly professional Maimalari was an almost mythical role model and “crown jewel” for northern officers and NCOs at a time southern officers dominated the Officer Corps.  Along with Brigadiers Ironsi, Ogundipe and Ademulegun, he was a candidate for the position of GOC, Nigerian Army in 1965, but played a key behind-the-scenes role in recommending Ironsi for the position on the basis of seniority.


As the most senior Northern officer in the Nigerian military, Maimalari’s cold blooded murder in January 1966, the failure to announce his death publicly and honor him, and failure to punish those responsible were critical factors in the viciousness of northern subalterns and NCOs during the vengeful northern counter-rebellion of July.


Referring to the January 15, 1966 coup, a former Nigerian Artillery Regimental Commander and later Biafran Army Commander, Lt. Col (later Biafran Major General) Alexander Madiebo, wrote:


“the blood-letting eliminated most of the senior Northern officers and thus created a dangerous vacuum at the top of the Army leadership.  If these senior men had been alive, particularly the astute and highly articulate Maimalari, they would have been able to hold in check some of the wilder excesses of their fellow Northerners.  Perhaps if this had happened, Biafra would not have seceded, the civil war would have been avoided and this book would not have been written.”


(Madiebo: The Nigerian Revolution and the Biafran War. Fourth Dimension Publishers 1980, p 391-92)





Fort Nagwamatse in Kontagora is named after a Fulani Prince from Sokoto called Umaru Nagwamatse, son of Sultan Atiku and the younger brother of Sultan Ahmadu Zaruku.  He was the founder and first Emir of Kontagora.


Very early in his career he became the appointed Village Head of Gwamatse, which lies west of Sokoto.  It is from that role that he got his name - Nagwamatse.  He later became the Garrison Commander of Katuru during the reign of  Sultan Aliyu Babba. Katuru was a crucial fortification in the upper Rima Valley during the wars with Katsina and Gobir.    


At Katuru, Nagwamatse did too well for his own good.  Fearing his rising military profile, his senior brother lobbied for him to be recalled to Sokoto from where he was subsequently deployed to Talata Mafara in Zamfara, as a spy and Fulani Resident.   When, after distinguished service, he was again recalled to Sokoto in 1851, Nagwamatse knew he had no political future at home.  Therefore, he headed south to the Fulani frontier.


Nagwamatse served as a mercenary during the battle of Toto in the Benue Valley, in support of Makama Dogo, then a prominent mercenary in the service of the Emir of Zaria.  He soon left Dogo and went westwards to Nupe.


At Nupe, Nagwamatse acquired former troops of Umar Bahaushe who had been killed attempting an insurrection against the Nupe establishment.  With these soldiers Nagwamatse offered his services to Usuman Zaki and Masaba, in their jihad against the Gwaris.  Zaki was then the Emir of Nupe. 


When Zaki died, however, his successor, Masaba, felt uncomfortable with Nagwamatse.  Therefore he encouraged him to move to uncharted territory north of the River Kurmin Kada. 


Nagwamatse fought many campaigns in the area, eventually subduing a mix of small ethnic groups including large parts of Gwari and Dakkokori.  When his older brother Ahmadu Zaruku, became Sultan in Sokoto, Nagwamatse made peace with him and became the Sarkin Sudan.  He had at last obtained recognition as an independent ruler.   In 1863 he crushed a strong Gwari uprising.


After the pacification of Gwari, Nagwamatse began seeking more territory.  Yauri to the West was embroiled in an internal power struggle.  Nagwamatse took sides with Yakuba dan Gajere against Emir Sulimanu and thus extended his influence over eastern Yauri to the Molendo River, thereby setting up a potential clash with the Emir of Gwandu to whom Sulimanu was a vassal.  Distracted by the Kebbi war and leery of a clash with the brother of the Sultan of Sokoto, the Emir of Gwandu initially ignored him until Sultan Ahmadu Zaruku died in Sokoto.  By this time, however, Nagwamatse was firmly established in his new Emirate and could not be challenged. He used the lull to construct a new capital called Kontagora.  He died in 1876.




Gado Nasko Barracks in Abuja is named after Major-General Muhammadu Gado Nasko (rtd), former Commander of the Army Corps of Artillery (1980-85).  It appears, though, that he was the Minister for the Federal Capital Territory at the time the Barracks was named after him. 


Nasko was born in 1941 in Nasko, Niger State.  After enlistment, he trained at the NMTC from 1962-63 before proceeding to the Mons Officer Cadet School, Aldershot, UK.  He attended the School of Artillery at Larkhill, UK from 1963-64 and the US School of Artillery, Fort Sill, Oklahoma in 1965.  He returned to Larkhill in 1972 for more training and later attended the Command and Staff College, Jaji in 1977 and NIPSS in 1980.


Lt. J Yakubu Pam was the first Nigerian Army Officer to be commissioned into the Corps of Artillery before independence in 1956 (followed soon after by Madiebo). However, Lt. Gado Nasko, along with Major Alexander Madiebo, Captain Abba Kyari, and Lt. Anekwe were the first set of officers at the ‘new’ 1 Field Battery in Kaduna – under Major Madiebo - when Artillery became a full regiment in July 1964.  Pam was then the infantry Battalion Commander of the 3rd Battalion, which was sent to Tanzania.  [When Pam returned from Tanzania he was appointed Adjutant General, the position that he was holding when he was murdered in January 1966]. 1 Field Battery passed under command of Major Abba Kyari when 2 Field Battery was established in Abeokuta in 1965 under Captain Emmanuel Nwobosi, with Madiebo as the first overall Regimental Commander from October 1965 to August 1st, 1966.


Nasko saw action during the Civil War as a Battery Commander. He was Commandant of the School of Artillery in 1969.   He commanded the 2 Artillery Brigade in 1975, was Military Secretary in 1976, and Military Administrator of Sokoto from 1978-79.  He briefly commanded the 1st Divisional Artillery in 1979 before assuming the position of Commander, Corps of Artillery in 1980.  After that he held various Federal Ministerial positions in Trade, Agriculture, Water Resources and Rural development before finally assuming the Federal Capital Territory from 1989-93, a time of rapid development and construction.


According the Army’s official website, before Nasko assumed Command of the Artillery Corps on December 8th, 1980, the following officers had commanded it either as Regimental/Corps Commanders or Inspectors:


1. Maj AA Madiebo (Comd) - 20/10/65 to 04/02/66
2. Lt Col AA Madiebo (Insp) - 05/02/66 to 01/08/66
3. Capt DYBali (Ag Insp) - 10/10/67 to 03/09/68
4. Maj SA Olajide (Ag Insp) - 04/09/68 to 16/09/69
5. Maj ADS Wya (Ag Insp) - 17/09/69 to 30/08/70
6. Lt Col DY Bali (Ag Insp) - 01/09/70 to 09/01/72
7. Lt Col M Isa-Ahmed (Ag Insp) - 10/01/72 to 09 /10/72
8. Col ADS Wya (Ag Insp) - 22/08/73 to 13/02/76
9. Brig DY Bali ( Insp) - 21/02/76 to 03/01/78
10. Brig UA Mohammed (Comd) - 24/07/79 to 26/05/80

It will be noted that Nasko’s immediate predecessor, Brigadier Umaru Mohammed, died on active service in the May 26, 1980 crash of an Air Force F-27 (NAF 904) off Forcados, enroute to Sao Tome and Principe on a National Defence Diplomatic Mission.


Therefore, although he may well be the longest serving Corps Commander of the Artillery Corps to date, the memorialization of a “Gado Nasko” barracks is, considering all the facts and circumstances, to say the least, curious.




When the Federal Defence Council initially disbanded the Artillery Unit in late 1957, a Reconnaissance (Recce) company was created in its place under the command of British Major Robert Scott.  (As a Colonel, Scott later returned to Nigeria during the civil war as the Defence Attache and was the author of the highly critical “Scott Report” of 1969.) The company was active in patrolling the open lands of the North, killing grain-eating Quitia birds, hunting down cattle-killing Lions in the Mambilla plateau, supporting operations during the Cameroon uprising as well as UN peace-keeping operations in the Congo.  It was later expanded to a Recce Squadron, and subsequently, a Regiment.


As noted previously, the first Nigerian Inspector of Recce was Major Hassan Usman Katsina.  However, Obienu Barracks in Bauchi, home of the Army’s Armoured Corps Center and School, is named after the late Major John Obienu, the widely respected Officer Commanding the 2 Recce Squadron, Abeokuta (and 2nd Inspector of the Recce Regiment).  Northern NCOs murdered him at the Officers Mess on the night of July 28, 1966.  His death, along with Lt. Col. Okonweze and Lt. Orok signaled the beginning of the northern counter-rebellion of July 1966.


Obienu, from Oba in Eastern Nigeria, attended Government College, Ughelli in the Midwest.  A highly professional Sandhurst trained officer, he won the prize as the best overall overseas student at Sandhurst. After further training at the Royal Armoured Corps Center at Bovington, he began his career as a Recce Officer.


Major John Obienu replaced Major Christian Anuforo as the Squadron Commander when Anuforo was redeployed from Abeokuta to Army HQ as the Staff Officer representing Recce interests there.  As Commander of the 2 Recce Squadron at Abeokuta, Obienu took part in the internal security operations during the Western region elections in 1965.


During the January 15, 1966 coup, he is alleged by Major Ademoyega in his Book “Why we Struck”, to have been recruited, but backed out of the plot at the end.  He was never detained in connection with the mutiny and one account says he actually helped to crush it once Ironsi began moving. The implication is that he was playing both sides - and one account even suggests he leaked the plot to Major General Aguiyi-Ironsi beforehand.


When Major Hassan Katsina was made the Military Governor of the North in January 1966, Obienu took over as Inspector of Recce.  Another Recce officer who was senior to him in Recce, Christian Anuforo, also Sandhurst trained, had been arrested for his own involvement. 


In February/March 1966 Obienu was sent by Ironsi to Kaiama to crush the Niger Delta insurgency led by Isaac Adaka Boro. 


After his death in July 1966, his wife moved back to Enugu during the subsequent crises and for some time was in the good books of the Ojukwu regime. After the fall of Midwest and subsequent execution of Banjo and others, Mrs. Obienu (like many others, including Mrs. Alale) came under suspicion and fell from favor. All sorts of stories were circulated about her in an attempt to demystify her. She was later arrested and detained at the Aba prison from where she transferred to Umuahia and finally to Achina until the end of the civil war. Fellow prisoners describe her as a "born leader".




Ribadu Cantonment in Kaduna is named after Alhaji Muhammadu Ribadu, the second Vice President of the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) and Nigeria’s first post-independence Defence Minister who died in office on May 1st, 1965 shortly after returning from Hajj. 


A Fulani by nationality, he was born in 1910 at Balala in Adamawa Province, attended Yola Middle School, and later became Chief Accountant of the Yola Native Administration.  Ribadu was only 26 years old when he became the District Head of Balala.  He was sent to Britain to study local government administration and joined politics when he returned, progressing steadily from membership of the Northern House of Assembly in Kaduna in 1946 to that of the Federal House of Representatives in Lagos in 1951.  


Ribadu (along with Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa and Alhaji Aliyu Makaman Bida) was instrumental to the so-called 1951 Bassawa declaration, which codified the NPC as a formal political party.  In 1953 a meeting at Kaduna ratified the Bassawa declaration, followed in 1954 by the election (in Jos) of Ahmadu Bello as President General of the NPC, with Tafawa Balewa and Muhammadu Ribadu as his Deputies. Before taking over the Defence portfolio from Alhaji Tafawa Balewa in September 1960 on the eve of independence, he had held Federal Ministerial positions in Natural resources, Lands, Mines and Power, and Lagos Affairs.


Ribadu (also known as "Power of Powers") was a very influential and highly regarded politician with extensive connections across the political divide.  Some people say that he and Alhaji Shehu Shagari were the ones through whom Sardauna’s messages were relayed to Balewa.  His sudden death in May 1965 is said by some to have seriously undermined the reconciliation of the frayed political relationship between the NPC and the NCNC after the January 1965 crisis.  This reconciliation may have prevented the January 1966 coup. Indeed, active plotting for coup actually began after his death that year.


Ribadu presided over a rapid expansion of the Army and Navy as well as the creation of the Nigerian Air Force. The establishment of the Federal Guards, Defence Industries Corporation, the Nigerian Defence Academy, a second Recce Squadron (located at Abeokuta) and two new Artillery batteries occurred on his watch.   A sixth infantry battalion was also in process of being formed.  He got practically all his budgetary requests through parliament including approval to spend 19.5 million pounds on defence from 1962-66 as compared with 5.5 million pounds during the preceding seven year period. Defence costs as a percentage of Federal recurrent spending from 1958-1966 ranged from 7.7 to 9.9%. Defence costs as a percentage of Federal capital spending during the same period ranged from 1.5 to 12.1%. 


Until he died, Ribadu also oversaw the Nigerianization of the Officer Corps. He negotiated defence-training agreements with Britain, USA, Ethiopia, India, Pakistan, Canada and Australia.  He supervised the use of the Army for peace-keeping in the Congo, internal security duties in the Western region and Tiv land, construction of Bailey Bridges in Lagos during the massive floods of August 1963 and road construction to inaccessible parts of Mambila plateau.  In 1961, Ribadu formally introduced quota system into officer recruitments, responding to legislative pressure to make the Army officer corps reflect the competitive multi-ethnic political geometry of the country. However, actual implementation of this system was impacted by differences in attraction to military careers across the country.


Sources say Ribadu actually wanted a much larger and better-equipped Army.  Pressure at that time to expand the military did not originate from within the military. It came from the political class. Resistance to additional defence spending did not come from the legislature or the public (except for an isolated speech on March 30, 1963 by Mr. Akpan Brown, Action Group member from Uyo). It originated in 1962 and 1964 from other Ministers as well as economists in the Ministry of Finance concerned about failure to meet national economic targets. Ribadu lost the Chairmanship of the Economic Committee of the federal cabinet in 1964, a position he had used skillfully to protect and oversee his defence appropriations.


It was Ribadu that recommended Major-General JTU Aguiyi-Ironsi to become the first GOC of the Nigerian Army in 1965.  To quote Mbadiwe:


“Ribadu had an unshakable belief in the unity of this country…Never before had the cause of Nigerian Unity been so shaken as during that crisis…Tribalism and separatism featured in their worst form…Despite all the rumours, gossips, undercurrents and evil machinations, Ribadu came out in that heat to recommend to the prime minister the appointment of Aguiyi-Ironsi as the Officer Commanding the Nigerian Army…” (HR Deb, May 4, 1965, col. 1923)


It is a measure of his stature that people like K.O. Mbadiwe, Okotie-Eboh and Inua Wada wept openly in the House of Representatives while paying their last respects to him.  Ribadu’s former residence along Ribadu Road, Ikoyi, Lagos was later converted – in August 1966 - into the official residence of various Nigerian Heads of State and was known as State House, Ribadu Road or State House, Dodan Barracks until the seat of government was moved to the new capital at Abuja.







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This page was last updated on 04/08/15.