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History, Independence

countercoup, southern Cameroons, eastern section, prime ministers, ethnic tensions

Nigeria became independent on October 1, 1960. In 1961 the Cameroons trust territories were split in two. The mostly Muslim northern Cameroons voted to become part of the Northern Region of Nigeria, while the southern Cameroons joined the Federal Republic of Cameroon.

Regional and ethnic tensions escalated quickly. The censuses of 1962 and 1963 fueled bitter disputes, as did the trial and imprisonment of leading opposition politicians, whom Prime Minister Balewa accused dubiously of treason. In 1963 an eastern section of the Western Region that was ethnically non-Yoruba was split off into a new region, the Midwestern Region. Matters deteriorated during the violence-marred elections of 1964, from which the NPC emerged victorious. On January 15, 1966, junior army officers revolted and killed Balewa and several other politicians, including the prime ministers of the Northern and Western regions. Major General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi, the commander of the army and an Igbo, emerged as the country’s new leader.

Ironsi immediately suspended the constitution, which did little to ease northern fears of southern domination. In late May Ironsi further angered the north with the announcement that many public services then controlled by the regions would henceforth be controlled by the federal government. On July 29 northern-backed army officers staged a countercoup, assassinating Ironsi and replacing him with Lieutenant Colonel Yakubu Gowon. The coup was followed by the massacre of thousands of Igbo in northern cities. Most of the surviving Igbo sought refuge in their crowded eastern homelands.

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Article key phrases:

countercoup, southern Cameroons, eastern section, prime ministers, ethnic tensions, northern cities, treason, NPC, army officers, refuge, censuses, Igbo, commander, constitution, public services, federal government, announcement, regions, Matters, trial


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