Great BBC report about the end of the Nigerian civil war in 1970. Ukpabi Asika assumed control as administrator of the East Central State at the war’s end. This video analyses the awesome challenges he faced in trying to reconstruct an area destroyed by war, and people impoverished by a food blockade. Instructive that he said that the people he governed were “not expected to behave as defeated people”.
Article by Chinua Achebe in today’s UK Guardian claiming that Nigeria is still haunted by the ghost of the Biafra-Nigeria civil war. Achebe makes a lot of claims, including:
*Nigerian troops and government were fighting a genocidal war against Igbos. He spoke of “the diabolical disregard for human life seen during the war” which was no”due to the northern military elite’s jihadist or genocidal obsession”.
*Yoruba leader Obafemi Awolowo advocated starving the Igbos and economically punishing them as the Yorubas were engaged in rivalry with the Igbos who were their economic competitors.
*The Nigerian government deliberately impoverished Igbos by decimating their bank accounts after the war, and banning the importation of items that were crucial to Igbo commerce.
*Igbo deaths outnumbered Nigerian deaths by 20:1. Igbo casualties were 2 million, while Nigerian casualties were 100,000.
*Igbos have not been reintegrated into Nigeria – contrary to the claims of the Nigerian government.
Is Achebe right? Are his claims misleading, accurate or only telling part of the story?
Excellent video clips of the Nigerian civil war featuring archive footage such as:
*An interview with Belgian mercenary Marc Goosens.
*An interview with Ojukwu.
*Discussion of the weapons disparity between federal troops and Biafran troops.
*An interview with a South African mercenary called Major Williams.
*The end of the war – Ojukwu’s departure, Effiong’s radio broadcast and ceremony at Dodan Barracks to end the war. I thought the sight of Effiong meeting Gowon for the first time in three years and telling Gowon he was “reporting for re-appointment and redeployment” was poignant.
*The end of war broadcast at Dodan Barracks by Gowon, in the presence of Colonel Obasanjo. I notice that Gowon very pointedly refused to call the Biafrans “rebels”, did not use words like “surrender”, and spoke of Biafran “acceptance” of one Nigeria.
Great revealing interview with Ojukwu where he discusses several areas of Nigeria’s history including the January 1966 and July 1966 coups, the Awolowo -v- Akitola conflict, the Yoruba/Igbo “carpet crossing” saga, the political rivalry between Azikiwe, Ahmadu Bello, Balewa, Awolowo, Akintola et al, the 1966 pogroms and the educational disparity between northern and southern Nigeria.
For all you history/Nigerian civil war (Biafra) buffs out there, this paper is one of the most balanced accounts of the war. It was actually written as a research paper by a United States army officer at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College.
Oil, Politics and Violence: “A Breath Taking Narrative….Mr. Siollun’s book must be considered something of a miracle”
Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture (1966-1976) – “A Breath taking Narrative“
After a long hard slog, my book is finally available.
The book can be purchased from:
Oil, Politics and Violence is also available to read in e-book format, and on mobile devices such as iPad, tablets, Android, iPhone and even your internet browser. You can get the e-book from Google Play at:
“What is the book about?” I hear you say. Well, read on….
Review by Anote Ajeluorou – published in the Nigerian Guardian newspaper
Oil, Politics and Violence: Revisiting military adventurism into politics
Monday, 13 September 2010 00:00 By Anote Ajeluorou Art – Arts
MAX Siollun’s new book Oil, Politics and Violence: Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture (1966 – 1976), (Algora Publishing, New York; 2009) is a historical treatise on military adventurism in Nigerian politics as the infant nation took its first tottering steps shortly after independence. That intervention was to last almost forever, and at a staggering cost to the nation and its quest for democracy.
Himself a historian, Siollun takes his readers through a breath-taking narrative of the socio-political setting of 1960 to 1966, when the tables turned. The ouster of politicians who had behaved badly from power led to the enthronement of a military that was not prepared for the enormity and subtlety of political office. What was worse, the coup, which was led by the majors in the army, was perceived to be sectional because of those killed. Then there was a counter-coup that led to retaliatory killings of one section within the army. The Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu’s first coup had failed because of several factors. His was purely an idealistic coup to give the reign of leadership to Obafemi Awolowo, who was imprisoned at the time following the corruption of the Abubakar Balewa-led government. His colleagues in Lagos had failed to execute their own part of the coup as he had done in Kaduna leading to Major-General Johnson Aguyi-Ironsi rallying the army to squash the coup in Lagos.
Aguyi-Ironsi assumes the office of head of state to stem the breakdown of law and order. But a counter-coup stops him dead in his track following some controversial decrees he promulgated, and the sectional slant to the coup. Northern soldiers go on the offensive and target Igbo soldiers. It spirals into the streets and the consequent infamous pogroms of 1966 that led to the civil war. Siollun also looks at the next nine years following the end of the war and how the military badly fared.
In providing the festering climate for the political logjam that led to the fall of the first republic, Siollun writes, “Underestimating the win-at-all-costs mentality of the Nigerian National Alliance (NNA), the UPGA unwisely decided to bycott the elections on the ground that the NNA was planning to rig it… Due to the widespread electoral malpractices, President Azikiwe refused to call Balewa to form a new government following the elections. For several days, Nigeria teetered on the edge of an abyss as the President and the Prime Minister tried to scheme each other out of power”.
Events in the Wild Wild West did not help matters with Awolowo and Ladoke Akintola locked in their own political struggles to warrant the declaration of a state of emergency in the region. And then onto the coup that was to unsettle Nigeria for most of its political life.
“THE DEPTH OF RESEARCH….IS STUNNING”
Siollun’s Oil, Politics and Violence: Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture is a well-researched book on Nigeria’s military experience. The book is unique in many ways. The depth of research into the events, activities, personalities involved in the planning, execution, who did what, how and its implication is stunning. The author meticulously accessed every record that needed to be accessed to bring to the reader a dense meal of military adventurism into the politics of the most populous black nation on earth.
Also, Siollun brings a measure of balance and accuracy that has eluded many a writer on the touchy subject to bear on his writing. A lot has been written on the subject but most of it with a given mindset to colour and taint the facts. Some writers on the subject have often contradicted themselves on points of facts and sequence of events or personalities involved. Siollun brings all these to bear on his writing as he harmonises them to create an authentic recreation of a critical period of Nigerian political history.
In a sense, Oil, Politics and Violence: Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture resituates the horrendous adventurism of the military and places it starkly for what it was: a political aberration that should never have been! The ills the military set out to cure sooner came to haunt them as the military soon compromised itself, and performed a lot badly than those they deposed from power.
One point in favour of Oil, Politics and Violence: Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture is its pace of narrative. Although, it’s a historical account of what most readers already know, yet it turns out a fascinating read on account of its detailed and accurate reconstruction of events. With the planning, shootouts and executions and murders on such a large scale, it tends to read like a thriller of sorts. This indeed is its strength.
Indeed, but for the horrendous killings of real life persons that accompanied the coups, and the tragic loss of lives during the civil war with the distortion of the polity, the coups as detailed by Siollun would whet the palate of lovers of thrillers with the dexterity of narrative he employs. The book is well worth a rereading for its cinematic affect!
Review by Kaye Whiteman
This first review of the book was very kindly written by Kaye Whiteman, whom many of you will recognise as the former Editor of the esteemed magazine ‘West Africa’. He is one of the leading writers on West Africa and has also written for the UK’s Guardian newspaper. This review was published in Business Day magazine.
Unpacking the Past
As we approach the great stock-taking of the fiftieth anniversary of Nigerian independence (which is going to be continuing all year), there is going to be a growing consideration of the history of these past fifty years. This is bound to include a re-examination of the coups and civil war of the 1960s. If this decade brought to a head the post-independence trauma of national identity, as a shakedown of the British-engineered independence settlement, it made a profound mark on subsequent decades.
There are so many aspects of Nigeria’s recent history that cannot be studied without reference to the 1960s – for example, the onset and collapse of the idea of military rule; or the effect on society, economy and political culture of the ‘curse of oil’, a central factor in the war for Nigerian unity. There was the phenomenon of the creation of states, initiated with the first twelve states of May 1967, mainstay of fiscal federalism, and the campaign for local resource control. Behind lay the scourge of corruption, and the electoral fraud whose worst manifestation in the Western Region led to the January 15 coup of 1966.
These thoughts arise from a book titled Oil Politics and Violence: Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture (1966-76) by Max Siollun (published in New York this year by Algora publishing). For those interested in a detailed and objective study of these particularly sensitive moments, I cannot commend this book too highly.
For an old-timer like myself, who was partly around at the time, this book is a revelation. For this is a period which, for understandable reasons, has all too often been buried. After the books written by journalists at the time, and Professor Tamuno’s official history published in the 1980s, it has not been a subject that has been much written about, other than in a series of memoirs, or lately in novels such as Half of a Yellow Sun. This shows that the interest is there in unpacking the hidden legacy.
Siollun’s is not a full history of the crisis and the war, however. He restricts himself very much to the military, and although you cannot escape the politics, his self-imposed framework is sometimes a limitation. July 29 has to be seen in the context of the massacres in the North which lasted from May to October. Again, the important neutrality of Major General Welby-Everard in the 1964 federal elections (who now recalls that there was still a Brit commanding the Nigerian army at that time?) perhaps benefits from being seen in a more fully described political setting.
The author’s military priority does permit him, however, to go into his subject matter with a great depth of detail. He is also able to mobilise a spectacular range of sources, some of which your columnist was not aware of, and would love to have in his own collection of Nigeriana. There are tables of which officer was where and when, and many potted biographies, although only of members of the armed forces. Space does not permit exploring further subjects such as the “classmate syndrome” or the theory that January 15 was an “UPGA coup”, and there are odd little details from exceptional sources, like Welby-Everard’s eulogistic commendation of Brigadier Ogundipe.
In such an amazing mastery of detail, it is not surprising that there are the occasional minor errors – for example he says there was but one Igbo among the civil servants that took part in the July 29-31 negotiations in Ikeja barracks, but from his own list there are three. It may be that those that participated personally in these events will find more to quibble with – just as he already pinpoints some of the controversies that have been raised in the memoirs of the period that have emerged.
There are also mysteries that not surprisingly he is unable to solve, and myths that he cannot penetrate, although I would have liked him to have examined more thoroughly the legend that it was Captain Dickson (who does get a brief reference) who led the Middle Belt rank-and-file objection to Murtala as leader of the coup, and ended up as the self-styled airport commandant, carrying on for months before his final removal. Was it Dickson who indicated that power must go to Gowon, or else…? This is tantalising, because the author does describe the absolutely historic moment when Murtala abandoned his ambitions and suddenly says to Gowon “you are the senior, go ahead”, and is most instructive on the extent of secessionist sentiment among the far-northerners (although the raising of the flag of the north at Ikeja was Biafran myth-making).
Review Two – By Ohsee of Toronto, Canada.
In the West, considerations of truth and objectivity in history are seen in some quarters as marks of a lack of sophistication. In Nigeria, however, they are matters of life and death. People there die as a result of history forgot, of lessons not learned. Many people die.
Such questions loom large in Nigeria’s violent political history of the first two decades after independence. The most problematic have been, what really happened during the first two coups and the resultant civil war? It is here that Nigerians need to know the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, because such reliable knowledge has proved useful in the past. But most Nigerian histories of those turbulent times, are often clouded by the malodorous presence of ethnic chauvinism and hatred of the Other, and the need for self-aggrandizement.
Many readers despaired of ever seeing an unbiased history from Nigerians themselves, and sought such objectivity from outsiders who often had little understanding of the subtleties of the Nigerian political milieu.
Thus Mr. Siollun’s book about the first four coups (1966-1976) must be considered something of a miracle. Unlike prior writers on the topic from that country, the Nigerian-born historian successfully checked at the door the ethnic biases he surely must have, in order to combine the dispassionate objectivity of the outsider with the nuanced knowledge of the insider. The result is a truly insightful book that is highly accessible to the general reader. The book also has enough new information to serve as a starting point for future investigators who wish to tackle some of the issues in greater detail.
Mr Siollun, whose essays about the first two coups are familiar to those who visit Nigerian websites, has tackled the four coups sequentially, and shown how they are related in terms of personnel involved and lessons to be learned. For instance, some of the participants in the second coup—such as Babangida, Abacha, Yaradua, and Buhari—dominated Nigerian coup-making culture for thirty years. Mr. Siollun shows how failing to punish murderous putschists can and did come back to bite coup beneficiaries in the arse, since “unpunished coup plotters will re-offend. The coup plotters behind Nigeria’s military regimes were repeat offenders—often with fatal consequences for themselves. They were men who lived life on the edge, snacked on danger and dined on death. For them, coup plotting was in the blood.”
Mr. Siollun’s summary of the pre-coup political situation is concise and lucid, and looks at the events in new ways. For instance, most people probably do not see the Nzeogwu coup as the second attempt at overthrowing the Balewa government by force. While many followers of Nigerian history may know that Awolowo—leader of the Action Group, one of the opposition parties in the First Republic—was jailed for treason in 1964, few are aware that it was not a trumped up charge, and that three decades later, Action Group General Secretary, S.G. Ikoku, confirmed that there was a genuine AG plot to topple the federal government.
Mr. Siollun is at his strongest where he skillfully cuts away the myths that have grown weed-like around the more controversial of those 1966 events. One of the more pernicious of these is the lie that the January 15 1966 coup was an effort at Igbo domination organized by the Igbos. Mr. Siollun demonstrates that there is a very strong case for seeing January 15 as an UPGA (United Progressive Grand Alliance) coup, or in other words, a second attempt by the South or southern political parties to wrest power from the North. By examining the national character of the Igbos, and the stereotypes that grew around their business activities, he carefully shows us the historical process via which the Igbos became the national scapegoat; we see how one section of the country practiced what he calls “transferred malice,” where the Igbos were singled out for punishment during troubles in which they only played a bit part.
In this absorbing and fascinating work, there is a good deal of new and startling information: who knew that in private moments, the genial Ironsi, the first military ruler, liked to refer jokingly to his fellow Igbos by the pejorative Northern term “Nyamiri?” We learn of the enormous family pressures on Northern officers and men after January 15 demanding vengeance for the Northern officers killed. The blood relationships between Northern People’s Congress (NPC) politicians, and some of the July 1966 plotters are revealed—Inua Wada, defence minister in the Balewa government during the First Republic, was Murtala Muhammed’s cousin, for example. We begin to understand the Machiavellian Ibrahim Babangida—military president from 1985 to 1993—better when we find out his closest friends were among the Dimka coup plotters of Feb 1976, a coup in which those very friends marked him for liquidation. We learn that Gen. Obasanjo wept when the poisonous chalice of leadership would not pass him by. Such brief character and biographical sketches of principal players inject life into the narrative, and make the historical protagonists more than just names on a paper.
The book of course has its flaws, some quite minor and perhaps fixable in later editions. The footnoting seems somewhat haphazard and sparse. To some, this may be considered a benefit, but it could be frustrating to the reader or researcher who wants to learn more by exploring sources. And one of the more vexatious things is that the footnoting, like Carlyle’s History, “is silent where you most wish her to speak.”
More egregious are the omissions and failures to explore some controversial areas. We do not know the extent of Lt. Col Adekunle Fajuyi’s involvement in January 15 even though Mr. Siollun was involved a few years back in a debate about it with someone on the Internet who went by the moniker “Arthur Unegbe”. Perhaps there is nothing to know or find out, but Mr. Siollun’s complete silence—no discussion of rumours, or analysis of possibilities—is troubling. Also surely we could learn from a brief exploration of the contradictions in the public statements of Gowon’s apologists and the actions of the man that suggest some foreknowledge of the July horrors? However, in light of the importance and intelligence of this work, it would be churlish to carp about these matters.
I admit to being skeptical before reading this work, expecting the typical tendentious and ethnically jaundiced approach that colours most Nigerian commentaries on the coups of 1966. What Mr. Siollun has given us rather is a deft, measured, and just examination of those tragic events, all done in very accessible prose. All Nigerians owe him a debt of gratitude. I wish I could find a way to get a copy into the hands of every educated Nigerian.
The book can be purchased from:
Review Three:by Australia’s Former High Commissioner to Nigeria During the 1966-1967 Crisis
This book, by an industrious, questing and objective historian, brings together the most comprehensive and authentic documentation on the Nigerian coup and counter coup of 1966 and the Biafran War that I have ever seen.
The author does not “make a case” for anyone. Rather he sets out the evidence, gives a variety of parties their say and, by and large, then leaves you to make a judgement on the very best evidence available.
I do not think that any of us can responsibly write about the Biafran War and the steps leading up to it unless they have first read and thoroughly digested Max Siollun’s book. I say this against the background that I was Australian High Commissioner in Nigeria at the relevant time and I knew the principal players personally.
In early October 1966, I embarked on a Mission to Enugu to talk to Ojukwu – with General Gowon’s blessing – in an effort to find a negotiated resolution of Nigeria’s deep constitutional, political, racial and tribal problems. Above all, I wanted to avoid the brutal and bloody conflict that, in the event, became known as the Biafran War. In the wake of my meeting with Ojukwu, agreement was reached between Ojukwu and the Federal Nigerian Government at a meeting in Aburi in Ghana in January 1967. However, the agreement fell to pieces shortly afterwards and the first shots in the Biafran War followed within a couple of months or so.
With this background, I can responsibly and, I think, reliably assess the authenticity of what Siollun has to say and recommend his outstanding book to those who want to know, understand and be familiar with Nigerian history of that troubled period.
Review Four: by Iwedi Ojinmah for Nigerian Village Square
Once in while there comes a book that makes us either sit up straight or reflect on our lives… past and present. It is even more appreciated and of importance when such a book is a serious one and about a subject matter, that even 4 decades after it engulfed Nigeria in arguably Africa’s most vicious war pitching suspicious cousin against each other , it is still rife with so much controvesy and emotional debate that one can seriously question if true National reconcilation has not remained deferred.
Max Siollun, has produced such a wonder in Oil Politics and Violence: Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture (1966-1976) Algora Pub Hardcover : $33.95 Softcover $23.95
Right out the gates the English born Nigerian but US based Professor, separates himself from the rest of the pack of historians that have feebly tackled early Nigerian Politics with his pronounced objectivity and absolutely impeccable research. In a detailed chronological sequence of events he locks the door on many a propagated myth and exposes among others how for instance the Igbo’s became political scapegoats not by choice but by default. He also amazingly shows how for the better part of 3 decades it was pretty much “old wine in new bottles” as the same vagabonds in power continued -just like some morbid spoke of a wheel- to keep in place Nigeria’s wobbly and corrupt coup culture.
Each of the 268 pages is saturated with such intricate fact that you often have to pinch yourself back into reality to realize again that all this stuff really did occur, and is not the draft of an up till now unknown Shakespearean tragedy. The man really names names and one has to virtually munch on a mint to supress the subsequent but delicious bite.
Things Fell Apart and Have Never Been the Same Since
However while his book will serve hopefully as salve on the deep festering wound inflicted on Nigeria, it does not address the more dangerous and ever present infection that lingers on still robbing her of her full potential; because it summates just ten years out of almost 45 years. Since there is an undeniable thread linking the past to the present and vice versa ; we salivate at the possibility……NO I take that back …..“ we implore” the absolute need of a part 2 that will continue to explore the murky dysfunctional rot that is Nigerian Politics. The story after 1976 must also be examined with as equal objectivity and openness and till then we will remain hungry at the table like guests denied of a spectacular entrée after being treaded to array of amazing o’dourves….pounding our forks and just like Twist – asking for more.
The book can be purchased from:
I thought this was an interesting note. Nigerian history meets music icon. On November 26 1969, legendary Beatles band member John Lennon returned the presitigious MBE (Member of the British Empire) award that he won to the Queen. He did so in protest at Britain’s involvement in the Nigerian/Biafran war which was then raging in eastern Nigeria.
Lennon also sent a letter accompanying his returned medal which read:
“I am returning this MBE in protest against Britain’s involvement in the Nigeria-Biafra thing, against our support of America in Vietnam, and against Cold Turkey slipping down the charts.”
40 years later the medal that Lennon returned has been found at St James Palace with his rejection letter, and in the original case in which it was given to him….
We’re dying: Ex-Biafran soldiers cry
By PETRUS OBI, Enugu
Monday, May 11, 2009
More Stories on This Section
The Nigerian Civil war may have ended several years ago on ‘no victor’ ‘no vanquished note,’ but the victims of the war, especially the disabled ex- Biafran soldiers who have been ‘abandoned’ at their settlement camp in Oji-River, Enugu State are still feeling the pains of neglect and abandonment by both the federal government and the defunct Biafran Republic.
From the narrow entrance to the dilapidated camp, one could understand what Mr. Joseph Akani, spokesperson for the ex-soldiers meant when he said that “When we were brought here we were told that we would stay here, decay and die.”
The visit of the de-mining team from the Federal Ministry of Defense to the camp recently provided the disabled soldiers an opportunity to speak out; and they seized it indicting both the federal government, the eleven States of the old Eastern Central States.
They also indicted the former Biafran Leader, Chief Odumegwu Emeka Ojukwu of abandoning them claiming that the former commander of the Biafran army had never visited them since they arrived the camp in 1970.
Said he; “Today our sun has risen; for the first time since 1970 when the war ended we are seeing members of the Nigeria Defence in a great number like this. Happily enough you have seen us you have seen where we are quartered; by our right is the leprosy colony, in our front is the Oji River General Hospital ; it mainly treats the leprosy patients.
As you can see, there is no government catering for us; we only live on charity. As you come here today, we and members of our family are rejoicing that at least, they’ll have something to eat. You represent the federal government and we know through you our message will get to the president.
We need to be rehabilitated. If not that we are war victims, being members of the Nigeria family I think we deserve life. Our children deserve to be educated, our wives deserve to be clothed and have something doing, since they are our helpers; our eyes and our legs. We are pleading that you take our message to the federal government; we are begging that they should come and alleviate our sufferings.
“It’s almost 40 years since the war ended and our existence has been is by the mercy of God. Here there is no water, our accommodation; if you enter there you will pity us. I have seen that those who are asked to die don’t die so quick. When we were brought here we were told that we will stay here, decay and die.
Thirty nine years have come and gone but some of us are still alive. When we came here we were 697 today how many are left; less than 100. I am not happy to say that we are leaving because those who are dead, we are not better than them. Many of us died out of frustration; many died out of simply illness that could have been treated; and those of us living today, we are struggling with one illness or the other; there is one of us bedridden, sores here and there; nobody caters for him, except that the almighty God will never abandon his people.
Leader of the federal government team and the director of Administration Commodore Essien Epkiken (rtd) disclosed that they have been sent to go round the eleven states that were involved in the war and to remove unexploded land mines and the ascertain the number of victims.
As a token of goodwill we are here some gifts for you and your families. We are very happy to be here and we have seen you in person and your families and we seriously appreciate what kind of life you have been going through and it is our responsibility to enlighten all the people around us including the federal government of your plight.
He urged the ex-soldiers to assist the team in identifying the areas where mines were laid during the war to make their work easy and to ensure the safety of the people.
Igbo soldiers plotted coup from independence day – Ejoor
From the Nigerian Compass
In a three-part thriller that is sure to send historians about the Nigerian Civil War back to library shelves, the Military Governor of the… defunct Midwest Region, Major General David Akpode Ejoor, says military coups in Nigeria began right from independence in 1960.
In this interview with BIMBO OGUNNAIKE and AZEEZ FOLURUNSHO, he shredded several claims and set-positions about the country’s past and future. Firing from the hips, like a war veteran that he is, and in a no-holds-barred interview, [b]Ejoor maintains that the political and military leaders of Igbo extraction had nursed the ambition of upturning the Nigerian political space because their leading light, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, emerged only as a nominal Governor-General while power resided in another geo-political zone. [/b]The concluding parts of the rare interview will be served you, dear readers, next Saturday and the week after. Excerpts:
You appear to be more of an enigma to Nigerians, most of whom know very little about you despite being an open-book; one about whom so much has been said and written. Who, really, are you, sir?
A woman called Uvwerhero gave birth to me. I was born in 1932. She put me in school and when I finished my school, she sent me to the Government College , Ugheli. When I finished college, I didn´t have money to continue to do the HSC or to enter the university. My school principal gave me a letter to the Comptroller of Customs in Warri. I didn´t know what was in the letter and so when the Comptroller read it, he said your principal said I should give you a job. He asked me: “When are you starting?” I said now. He said: “All right, come tomorrow”. That was how I started work in the Customs.
What year was that?
In 1953. After the first six months, one of my colleagues came from the college to say that they were looking for the people to join the army. I told him that I was already working but he gave me the form. Out of interest, I filled the form and by September 1953, they replied me and said that I should come to Enugu for examination to join the army. I didn´t know that day, I didn´t know Enugu . To tell the Comptroller of Customs that he should excuse me to go to Enugu for exam, I couldn´t do it. I had to resign and go to look for money because at that time any money they gave to me at the end of the month, I gave it to my elder brother to keep for me. I did not keep the money. When I wanted to resign, I didn´t have any money. so, I had to rush to him in school and told him that he should give me money; that I wanted to resign. He said. `you are playing with your certificate.´ He gave me money and I went to the treasury, paid and dropped my letter to the Comptroller of Customs and I didn´t allow him to read it before I left. I just ran away from him because I knew he would not let me go. The following day, I asked my mother to get me some money and three days after, I found my way to Enugu to do the exam there.
How many of you sat for the examination that day?
We were six, but at the end of the day, we were asked to come for an interview in Lagos . I was the only one who passed from Enugu . We did the interview in Lagos and only four of us passed. The four of us were then sent to Ghana to do our initial training at the Regular Officers Training School . After six months, those of us who passed, about four, were selected to go to England to do the Officers Cadet Training. When we got to England , we went to another selection board and it happened that two of us passed — that is I and Victor Banjo, who worked with Ojukwu. So, Banjo and I went to England to do first, the Short Service Commission Course which lasted for six months. At the end of the six months, we were asked to go to Sandhurst for interview. At Sandhurst , we did almost three years course. We were commissioned in 1956 by the Queen, the present Queen, and then we came back to Nigeria . Some of us later went back to England for other military
When you were about joining the army, what was your parents´ attitude?
The immediate brother by my mother was killed by some people in 1951. So, as far as Army was concerned at that time, people would say when you join the Army, you were going to die. So, I couldn´t tell my mother that I wanted to join the army because she would never agree. I did all these, went to Accra for the training and after the training I now told her that I was going to England but it would be training in the army and she couldn´t say no then because I was the only boy left and the other two sisters were the only three left out of seven children which she had before.
Do you share the view that Biafra was a tragic mistake in Nigeria ´s history?
First of all, let me tell you this, when the British were here, we were the last Nigerian officers to be commanded by the British soldiers. (He called for a picture hung on the wall of his sitting room to be brought down to show the first set of Nigerian military officers at that period).The senior person to me in Nigeria was Bassey, the second was Aguiyi Ironsi. The Igbos wanted to rule. Why they wanted to rule was that (Nnamdi) Azikiwe was the then Governor-General and more or less Head of State. The constitution did not give any power to Azikiwe. So, this annoyed the Igbo people and they used to say: “How can we run a constitution in which the Head of State cannot advise the government, the government cannot contact the Head of State for any advice?” So, the answer was well to take over since they were already leading and yet they had no control over the government. That was why the Igbo soldiers decided to organise a coup. But at that time, there were four major leading officers which included me, Yakubu Gowon, Bassey and Ojukwu. Igbo people relied on Ojukwu for the coup and they were able to convince the Yoruba. Ojukwu and Banjo now contacted me and Gowon for a coup. But we refused.
How many of you refused to participate in the planned coup then?
Gowon and I refused and they went on their own. But we then reported to that European officer, General Foster. I and Gowon reported to him that some people were trying to plan a coup. He called all of us — the Nigerian Army officers — and advised us not to organise any military coup. When Ojukwu´s father heard about this, he put a memo into House of Assembly that all Europeans should leave the army. It was that year that all the Europeans in the army were sent back to their country. Then, Ironsi, who was Number Two, took over the command of the army. While he was there, Ojukwu still had the coup plot in his mind. He told Ironsi that he should not allow Ejoor and Gowon to be in Army Headquarters, saying as long they remained in Army headquarters, they would not be able to execute the coup. So, Ironsi sent Gowon on a course in the United Kingdom but he left me alone.[/b] When Igbos were worrying him that Ejoor was still there, he told them that: “This man from that small state, minority state? You can handle him, he cannot do anything. Go away, and leave me.” So, he left me. By December when Gowon came back, it was like a small war in Ironsi´s office. Some army officers told Ironsi that: “We told you to send these two people away, now Gowon has come back. What can we do now? Ironsi was embarrassed and after Gowon came back on the 20th and on the 23rd of that month, Ironsi now sent me away from Army headquarters to Enugu, saying: “He should be hidden there.” I went there and then they tried again but the one they tried was in January 1966 after I had left the Army headquarters. But at that time, they said whatever happened, Ejoor and Gowon must die. They threatened the person who was to organise a coup on behalf of the Igbos in Lagos side.
Who was that person?
Emmanuel Ifeajuna. The one in Kaduna , Nzeogwu. I think you know that one. Ifeajuna was holding a very big post in the Brigade then. He was a Chief of Staff to Maimalari. He sent a message that we had this meeting which would last a week; that I should come to Lagos . He was the one who booked me into Ikoyi Hotel in Room 17 and my number in the army was 17.. It was a lucky number for me. I got to Lagos for the meeting and then the meeting started on Monday. Then on Thursday, I can’t recall what happened in my hotel room. I just complained that I didn’t like the room. They couldn´t change it on Thursday. It was on Friday, the last day of the meeting that I came back to the hotel by 4.30 pm. When I got to the hotel, they had changed my room because they knew that the following day, I would leave. I said all right. Because of the cocktail party which Maimalari organised for us, we could not come back on time. I left the cocktail party at about 11 p.m when
we should have left at 8.00 pm.There was no need for us to come on time. Although he called it a cocktail party, it was like a buffet dinner. So, I ate to my satisfaction and when I got to the hotel, I didn´t go to the dining room to eat again; I just went straight to my bed and slept off. It was at three o’clock that night that the coup plotters came. [b]They killed my colleague, the one commanding the Western Region, and after putting his body in the booth of the car, they rushed to my room, to Room 17, to kill me thinking that I was there. According to their story, they didn´t want me to see them. So, when they kicked the door open, they just sprayed the bed with bullets and then round before they switched on the light. When they switched on the light, nobody was there and they started saying to themselves, “he is gone, he is gone” and I was snoring downstairs. That was how, at least, I can tell that God saved me from the coup.[/b] Now, for Gowon.
Gowon had just come back on the 20th of December and he was posted to take over a battalion in Ikeja. He had not moved to his official house.. He was staying in one of the Officers Mess accommodation. On that night, he did not come back to where he was staying because he went to see his prospective in-law. He did not come back in time, so when the coup plotters went there, they did not see him. They were now saying it is me and Gowon that would counter their coup and on the following day the news was that there was a coup. The following day, I was told that my colleague was killed and I went to his room and all what I saw was just blood. His body was not in the room and so I went to the person who was in charge, Brigadier Pam to come and take the blood sample and check. But when I got to that place, his wife told me that his husband was taken away in the middle of the night around 3.00 a.m. to a rendezvous where he was killed. Then, I rushed to Maimalari’s house who was then our commander where we had the cocktail party. When we got there, his soldiers just told me that Maimalari was killed in Ikoyi, Awolowo Road by the petrol station that night. I now told myself, ‘how can I just rush to Enugu when I have heard this bad news.’ So, I went to Ironsi´s house whether he could tell me anything before I went to Enugu . But when I got there, his soldiers said he left his house at 4..00 o’clock in the morning. What do I do? The head of the army, we could not find him. So, I said to myself, let me go to the Army unit, maybe I would get more information from them. I rushed to Ikeja Battalion and it was there, luckily, I saw his car in a car park. I sent my guard to check his office if there was anybody, and to ask if I should come in. And then I heard them all shouting: “Tell him to come. Tell him to come.” So, I went in. He opened the door for me and when I got in, I saw Ironsi sitting opposite the door pointing a gun at me, saying: ” David, are you with me or against me?” It was a surprise to him because he thought I was dead. So, I shouted back at him that “you are our father. Whatever it is, I am with you. What is it, anyway?” He said: “All right, sit down.” So, I sat down and he told me how the Prime Minister contacted him to say that he was being attacked with Okotie- Eboh and all that. He promised me he was going to get some help, but he couldn´t raise any help and that was why I had to go to the battalion itself, to get some soldiers under his command. He told me that he had to send Gowon out with soldiers to trace the coup plotters. I couldn´t see Gowon at that time. After I had told him the story, then he said he was going to the Police headquarters for a meeting where he was appointed Head of State. I told him I was going to Enugu to join my troops and also to join my wife and children. He just turned round to me and said, “David, I cannot order you to Enugu now.” He did not want me to go to Enugu.
Why did he not want you to go to Enugu ?
Probably, in their plan, I was to have been killed. I was not in their team. He said I should not go to Enugu and he left. I now concluded that Ironsi was part of the coup and that I could no longer rely on him because he was part of the coup plotters. I said to myself that my loyalty is to my country and I would not take any instruction from any officer anymore. I said if I went to Enugu by road, I would not arrive there. So, I went to the airport for an aircraft to take to Enugu . When I got to Enugu , everybody was shaking. The officer, my Second in Command, Major Gabriel Okonweze, told me that he was not expecting me. I asked him why he was not expecting me. He said he was given instruction to take over the command of the battalion, that I was not coming back. I said how did you get this information? Is it by radio, telephone or what? He said no and put his hand in his pocket and brought out a letter saying he should take over the command of the battalion. When I put the letter inside my pocket, he said no, that it was his letter and I said, “but I am still the commander.”
I left the battalion and went to see Dr. Opara, the governor of Eastern Region, came back to the battalion and ordered that all soldiers that were deployed outside the battalion should be brought back to the barrack. I assembled them by 4.00 o’clock and addressed them. My second-in-command was telling me, “don´t tell them that anybody is dead. Don´t tell them anything?” I said I would tell them; these people were taken to unknown destinations, I will not say I saw any dead body, I saw blood. Yes, I cannot say so but if I do not mention it that way, when they get to know, you and I would be the first victim of Hausa soldiers. I told them what I knew and then we ran the battalion with peace. Then on the third day when Ironsi was made the Head of State, he withdrew me from Enugu and called me back to Lagos .
Why do you think he removed you from Enugu ?
He removed me from Enugu because since I was still not dead, he could not trust me in Enugu . When I got to Lagos , he now said that I should be the Governor of the Mid- West.
Did he do that to compensate you?
More or less. But, you know that he had to behave in a way to show that he still liked me. Having removed me from Enugu , he brought me to Benin and that time, most of the officers in the Mid-West were from Anioma area, predominantly Igbo, because as it was, we were nine Lieutenant-Colonels in the Mid-West. I was the only Urhobo and the remaining eight were Anioma. Now that the person they wanted to kill was the governor, how was I to rule that place with satisfaction? I worked with them. I did not know that they were against me. I worked with them in the day time, but in the night, they worked against me. It wasn´t easy. God just preserved me because they did all sorts of things to see whether I could die.
When General Ironsi came on a visit to your region, 24 hours after he left your zone, he was kidnapped by some sections of the army along with the Governor of the Western Region where they were killed.
What was in your mind when you heard the news?
The fact was this. He visited Western Region after leaving my place. The idea was that he did not want my killing to take place while he was there
Your own killing?
Yes. When he got to Ibadan , the counter-coup people, Brigadier Danjuma, waylaid him. It was there they waylaid him and killed him in Ibadan . When he was with Fajuyi, Fajuyi did not want them to take Ironsi away just like that. That was why they killed Fajuyi with Ironsi, not that they had anything against Fajuyi at that time. That was how I escaped death for the second time. As I am talking to you, I have looked at death, where there was nothing I could do, I was just waiting for death to come, for seven times. How many people have gone through that? Looking at death, not that I was told. The other ones that happened when I did not know is different, but the ones I saw, I know.
Are you saying the lack of trust and the in-fighting among the top generals at that time led to Nigeria ´s civil war?
The civil war was straightforward. the Igbo wanted to take over the ruling of Nigeria . When all these cunny-cunny actions that people who were preventing them from organising a coup had not been killed, that is Gowon and I, the only thing left was to have a civil war. That was why there was a civil war and in the civil war, the first place Ojukwu attacked was the Mid-West. Now, I do not know that he was already in league with all the officers from Anioma area. When the Federal Government was suspecting them, most of them ran away to the East and joined Ojukwu in the Biafran army. At that time, Banjo himself, being a friend to Ojukwu because they joined the army the same day and commissioned, was suspected to be organising a coup. Ironsi had sent him, well not to prison but more or less arrested but sent to the East where he was detained in one of the prisons there. But being a friend to Ojukwu, Ojukwu released him and made him the Commander of the Biafran troops. And he was the one who commanded the Biafran soldiers to come and attack Mid- West before moving to Lagos . The Igbo tried to rule Nigeria by force, what they cannot do through the ballot box; they tried it through coup. They tried the coup, it failed and now decided to do a civil war. It was a contract. That is the basic thing.
During this war, you said Ojukwu was coming from the East through your zone to Lagos . What were the things you put in place to checkmate him at that time?
As I told you, I did not know. It was just that morning that I heard firing in the State House where I was told that the Biafran Army was in the Mid- West. I could not believe that Banjo would be the person to kill me because he was the nearest person to me in the army. What happened was that when they got to Ikpoba Hills in Benin , the person that was sent by Ojukwu to kill me was ordered to take me dead or alive to Enugu was different because Banjo did not know about this. When they got to Ikpoba Hill, this officer from the Mid West, from Anioma, told Banjo he should give him time; let him go and find out where I was in Benin and take me to Enugu , dead or alive. The firing started at about 7.00 o’clock. I just managed to get the radio to tell Gowon that I was being attacked by the Biafran army. I took the weapon of the operator and ran down to the gate to join the soldiers who were firing and we started firing together. But after sometime, we ran out of ammunition.
What do we do? I knew that if they came in, they were coming for me to kill me. These soldiers who were defending me, why should I allow them to die? And then if I leave this place they would be killed, including my wife and children. Why should I allow any of these people to be killed? I said they had to kill me first so that other people would survive. I jumped down from where I was and walked towards where they were firing. I thought that that was the end. I didn´t know what was happening and then I found myself in a veranda in one of the houses not far from the State House. I decided to move my leg but I couldn´t move any part of my body. I looked up and I saw somebody holding my leg and my hand. He was kneeling down when I was thinking about other things. I did not know that somebody was holding me. I now asked him who are you? He said he was Chief Asemota. I thanked him and said I had to go now. He sad “no, you can´t go, they are everywhere.” When he got up and started dragging me in, I asked him have you not seen any of the Biafran soldiers here? He answered that they were two in this veranda. It wasn´t long when they left that you came.These are the ones that would have killed you. I said: “My time has come; those who sent me here want me dead. My time has come. Let me go so that you or any of your family members will not die.” He said no. I argued and argued but he did not agree. So, I got up annoyed, to walk out. But before I could get to the door, he ran past me, he locked the door and threw the key out through the window. So, what do I do now? I could not break the door like that. Then I persuaded him that he should go and look for an Urhobo person around the area who could take me away from Benin . I waited for him and he found somebody from Urhobo who said he was coming. In the afternoon, in the night, we did not see him.
So, I said he was not interested. The following morning, around 7.00 o’clock, I heard a woman shouting: “There is war; you are going there if they kill you now, who will bury me?” That was what he was saying in Urhobo. I peeped through the window and I saw the woman running after the son, and returning into the compound I recognized him as one of the people with whom we grew up together.
What is the name of that person, sir?
John Ebuche. So, I opened the door and told him, “look, take your mother home,” and turned. He took his mother home.
That Major General David Akpode Ejoor (rtd) parades an intimidating profile is an understatement. Commissioned in 1953 in the United Kingdom , he is a Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON) and an Officer of the Federal Republic (OFR). Ejoor also holds the prestigious Royal College of Defence Studies (RCDS), UK ; a Pass Staff College (PSC) and a honorary Doctor of Letters (LL. D), of the University of Benin (UNIBEN).
He was a member of the Supreme Military Council from 1966 to 1975, the first Military Governor of Mid-Western State between 1966 and 1967; Chief of Army Staff, from 1972 to 1975, when he retired.
His medals include the Congo , Independence , Republic, Defence Service, General Service and National Service. He is a Grand Commander of the Republic of Togo , and has received the Order of the two Niles-Ist Class Sudan , the Grand Officer O.N. Du Lion Senegal and Kt. Order of the Crown, Belgium . His chieftaincy titles include the Olorogun Oloho of Olomu, Okakuro-Egbe of Agbon, Okakuro of Ovu, Onotuku of Ebor and Orhuerakpo Ru Ughelli.