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.
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.
Today is January 15 2009, the 43rd anniversary of Nigeria’s first military coup on January 15, 1966. To commemorate this anniversary I have reproduced the full text of the famous radio broadcast made by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu announcing the coup in Nigeria’s Northern Region.
Also reproduced at the end of the text is a video chronicling the events leading up to, and after the coup.
Radio broadcast by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu – announcing Nigeria’s first military coup on Radio Nigeria, Kaduna on January 15, 1966.
“In the name of the Supreme Council of the Revolution of the Nigerian Armed Forces, I declare martial law over the Northern Provinces of Nigeria. The Constitution is suspended and the regional government and elected assemblies are hereby dissolved. All political, cultural, tribal and trade union activities, together with all demonstrations and unauthorised gatherings, excluding religious worship, are banned until further notice.
The aim of the Revolutionary Council is to establish a strong united and prosperous nation, free from corruption and internal strife. Our method of achieving this is strictly military but we have no doubt that every Nigerian will give us maximum cooperation by assisting the regime and not disturbing the peace during the slight changes that are taking place. I am to assure all foreigners living and working in this part of Nigeria that their rights will continue to be respected.
All treaty obligations previously entered into with any foreign nation will be respected and we hope that such nations will respect our country’s territorial integrity and will avoid taking sides with enemies of the revolution and enemies of the people. My dear countrymen, you will hear, and probably see a lot being done by certain bodies charged by the Supreme Council with the duties of national integration, supreme justice, general security and property recovery. As an interim measure all permanent secretaries, corporation chairmen and senior heads of departments are allowed to make decisions until the new organs are functioning, so long as such decisions are not contrary to the aims and wishes of the Supreme Council.
No Minister or Parliamentary Secretary possesses administrative or other forms of control over any Ministry, even if they are not considered too dangerous to be arrested. This is not a time for long speech-making and so let me acquaint you with ten proclamations in the Extraordinary Orders of the Day which the Supreme Council has promulgated. These will be modified as the situation improves.
You are hereby warned that looting, arson, homosexuality, rape, embezzlement, bribery or corruption, obstruction of the revolution, sabotage, subversion, false alarms and assistance to foreign invaders, are all offences punishable by death sentence.
Demonstrations and unauthorised assembly, non-cooperation with revolutionary troops are punishable in grave manner up to death.
Refusal or neglect to perform normal duties or any task that may of necessity be ordered by local military commanders in support of the change will be punishable by a sentence imposed by the local military commander.
Spying, harmful or injurious publications, and broadcasts of troop movements or actions, will be punished by any suitable sentence deemed fit by the local military commander.
Shouting of slogans, loitering and rowdy behavior will be rectified by any sentence of incarceration, or any more severe punishment deemed fit by the local military commander.
Doubtful loyalty will be penalised by imprisonment or any more severe sentence.
Illegal possession or carrying of firearms, smuggling or trying to escape with documents, valuables, including money or other assets vital to the running of any establishment will be punished by death sentence.
Wavering or sitting on the fence and failing to declare open loyalty with the revolution will be regarded as an act of hostility punishable by any sentence deemed suitable by the local military commander.
Tearing down an order of the day or proclamation or other authorized notices will be penalised by death.
This is the end of the Extraordinary Order of the Day which you will soon begin to see displayed in public. My dear countrymen, no citizen should have anything to fear, so long as that citizen is law abiding and if that citizen has religiously obeyed the native laws of the country and those set down in every heart and conscience since 1st October, 1960.
Our enemies are the political profiteers, the swindlers, the men in high and low places that seek bribes and demand 10 percent; those that seek to keep the country divided permanently so that they can remain in office as ministers or VIPs at least, the tribalists, the nepotists, those that make the country look big for nothing before international circles, those that have corrupted our society and put the Nigerian political calendar back by their words and deeds.
Like good soldiers we are not promising anything miraculous or spectacular. But what we do promise every law abiding citizen is freedom from fear and all forms of oppression, freedom from general inefficiency and freedom to live and strive in every field of human endeavour, both nationally and internationally. We promise that you will no more be ashamed to say that you are a Nigerian.
I leave you with a message of good wishes and ask for your support at all times, so that our land, watered by the Niger and Benue, between the sandy wastes and gulf of guinea, washed in salt by the mighty Atlantic, shall not detract Nigeria from gaining sway in any great aspect of international endeavour. My dear countrymen, this is the end of this speech. I wish you all good luck and I hope you will cooperate to the fullest in this job which we have set for ourselves of establishing a prosperous nation and achieving solidarity.”
Another nugget from Nigerian history. This is the text of Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu’s famous interview with Dennis Ejindu in May 1967. This interview took place just before the start of the civil war. It is probably the most detailed question and answer session with Major Nzeogwu. Enjoy….
Ejindu: I am glad to meet you, Sir. How would you feel if you knew that you are being regarded as a hero?
Nzeogwu: Very pleased naturally. But the truth is that I am not a hero. If there was any famous Major Nzeogwu, I have never heard of him.
Ejindu: It is rumoured that you have just finished writing a book, what is it like?
Nzeogwu: Good gracious! Ninety-nine per cent of all the stories you hear in this country are false. I have not written any book because there was nothing to write about. You can only write about a finished job. It would have been a useful means of warding off boredom though, but one did not do it for the fear that the authorities might seize the papers. However I had enough time to make detailed notes on what happened, and one might use them if in future there was any need to write something.
Ejindu: Before you went into prison, the cloud was so clear above this country that one could see very far into the future. Now that you are out, what do you see?
Nzeogwu: A job very badly done. If I may borrow your metaphor, the atmosphere is admittedly somewhat cloudy. But I don’t think there will be rain. Indeed if you look steadily up you will find that the sun is not yet set and might still peep through. The trouble is that people generally can’t tell which is a rain cloud and which is not, and as a result they tend to be confused. As you know there is too much bitterness at present in the country, and in the past people had imagined that they could conveniently do without one another. But the bitterness will clear in the end and they will find that they are not as self-reliant as they had thought. And they will long to be together…. The .same applies to the Northerners. It may take ten or fifteen years for them to come together again but there is no doubt, as far as I can see, that they will. You see, in this world of imperfection, it is sometimes very difficult to capture the ideal. But we can, at least start with the second best.
Ejindu: What is the second best?
Nzeogwu: A Confederation.
Ejindu: Before I come back to that, may 1 take you back to January, 1966. What exactly happened at Nassarawa (the premier’s residence at Kaduna) on the night of the 14th?
Nzeogwu: No, no, no; don’t ask me anything about that, I don’t want to remember it.
Ejindu: All right. A lot has been talked and written about the January coup. But how tribalistic was it really in conception and execution?
Nzeogwu: In the North, no. In the South, yes. We were five in number, and initially we knew quite clearly what we wanted to do. We had a short list of people who were either undesirable for the future progress of the country or who by their positions at the time had to be sacrificed for peace and stability. Tribal considerations were completely out of our minds at this stage. But we had a set-back in the execution. Both of us in the North did our best. But the other three who were stationed in the South failed because of incompetence and misguided considerations in the eleventh hour. The most senior among them was in charge of a whole brigade and had all the excuse and opportunity in the world to mobilize his troops anywhere, anyhow and any time. He did it badly. In Lagos, even allowing for one or two genuine mistakes, the job was badly done. The Mid-West was never a big problem. But in the East, our major target, nothing practically was done. He and the others let us down.
Ejindu: You must have anticipated that Gen. Ironsi would let you down in the end. Why did you surrender to him the way you did?
Nzeogwu: I was being sensible. The last thing we desired was unnecessary waste of life. If I had stuck to my guns there would have been a civil war, and as the official head of the Army, he would have split the loyalty of my men. Again, you must remember that the British and other foreigners were standing by to help him. Our purpose was to change our country and make it a place we could be proud to call our home, not to wage war.
Ejindu: It has been said that Gen. Ironsi set out to complete your job for you. Was there anything you did not like in his administration?
Nzeogwu: Yes, everything. First he chose the wrong advisers for the work he halfheartedly set out to do. Most of them were either mediocre or absolutely unintelligent. Secondly, he was tribalistic in the appointment of his governors. Thirdly the Decree 34 was unnecessary, even silly in fact.
Ejindu: But you wanted a unitary government?
Nzeogwu: No. Not a unitary government as such. We wanted to see a strong centre. We wanted to cut the country to small pieces, making the centre inevitably strong. We did not want to toy with power, which was what he did.
Ejindu: Tell me, what do you think of him as a soldier?
Nzeogwu: I am afraid I cannot tell you that. But I will say that as a person he was very well liked and as the Supreme Commander, his orders were promptly carried out.
Ejindu: If he joined the Army as a gunner, he must have progressed as a military strategist?
Nzeogwu: Yes, if he had, he could have done so. But he actually joined the Army as a tally-clerk and was a clerk most of the time.
Ejindu: From the present chaos, what type of Nigeria do you envisage?
Nzeogwu: In the first place, secession will be ill-advised, indeed impossible. Even if the East fights a war of secession and wins, it still cannot secede. Personally, I don’t like secession and if this country disintegrates, I shall pack up my things and go. In the present circumstances, confederation is the best answer as a temporary measure. In time, we shall have complete unity. Give this country a confederation and, believe me, in ten or fifteen years the young men will find it intolerable, and will get together to change it. And it is obvious we shall get a confederation or something near it. Nothing will stop that.
Ejindu: Do you think there will be any war?
Nzeogwu: No. Nobody wants to fight. The East which is best equipped and best prepared for war, does not want to attack anybody. The North cannot fight. And Lagos cannot fight now. If they had attacked the East in August or September, they would have had a walk-over. Today, I think they will be ill-advised to try.
Ejindu: An Englishman said to me the other day that the best thing Ojukwu can do is to take over Lagos. Do you think he can do it even if he wanted to?
Nzeogwu: Yes, I think the East is strong enough to do it if they want to. But it will serve no useful purpose. It can only serve to destroy life and property. You see, the effective power does not lie in Lagos but in Kaduna, and if you remove Gowon somebody else will take his place. If you capture the South against the North, all you can achieve is civil war, disintegration and border clashes.
Ejindu: Finally, let me come to the controversy over your release. Much as it has been a popular action you have been released by the east government against the wish of the federal government. What do you say to that?
Nzeogwu: All I can say is that I am happy and grateful to be out. We feel grateful to the Nsukka students for their persistent demand, and to the boys in the barracks for their pressure on the authorities in the east. And to the Nigerian public in general for their concern over our welfare.
Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu is a man that inspires conflicting emotions in people. To some he is a born leader and hero. To others he is an ambitious man that tried to break up the federation of Nigeria. Where Ojukwu is concerned, no one is a neutral. The conflicting opinions on him are consistent with his inconsistent personality and history. Ojukwu is an educated man that entered a profession that many Nigerians regarded at the time as a profession for the uneducated, a southerner born in the north who fought a three-year-long war against the north, a man who once led an attempt to secede from Nigeria, but later ran for President of Nigeria.
A leader must be judged by what benefits or misfortune he has brought to his people. The question to be asked is: has Ojukwu brought anything positive to the Igbo? His record is grim. The “accomplishments Ojukwu has brought his people are as follows”:
Dragging them into a brutal civil war they had no chance of winning, and which resulted in 1 million of them dying.
Even when it became clear that his people were starving to death in massive numbers, he continued the war which was doomed from the start.
He fled and left his people after the war.
The civil war caused his people to be stereotyped as disloyal and led to an unwritten discrimination against them.
It is remarkable that a man who has brought few tangible benefits to his people is so revered by them. Although Igbo by parentage (his father was the millionaire businessman Sir Louis Odumegwu Ojukwu), Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu was born in Zungeru in the north and attended Nigeria’s most prestigious school Kings College, before later graduating with a degree in History from Lincoln College, Oxford University (where he joined the communist party) in the UK prior to joining the Nigerian army. Ojukwu was the first university graduate to enlist in the Nigerian army. Intellectually, Ojukwu was in a different league to many of his peers. Joining the army in an era of political crises and increasing officer politicization of the army, Ojukwu found his niche. During the 1964 federal election crisis, the President and Prime Minister jockeyed for control and loyalty of the army. In the heat of the crisis some of Ojukwu’s colleagues alleged that he approached them with a plan to overthrow the civilian government and replace it with a military government. The matter was reported to the army’s then commander Major-General Welby-Everard.
If Ojukwu harboured political ambitions, he was given a chance to showcase his political acumen when a group of young army majors overthrew the democratic government in January 1966. Contrary to what has been written in some quarters, Ojukwu refused to cooperate with the majors – including Major Nzeogwu. When Nigeria’s first military government emerged, Ojukwu was appointed the Military Governor of Nigeria’s Eastern Region. His appointment to be the East’s Military Governor was also ironic as he had spent very little of his life in the East. Ojukwu was the most politically active of the four military governors. By mid-1966, the army was imploding and another army coup was staged by northern soldiers during which hundreds of Igbo soldiers (including General Aguiyi-Ironsi) were killed.
A central plank of this coup was the elimination of Ojukwu. The ‘pointman’ who was to execute the coup in the Eastern Region was a young Lieutenant named Shehu Musa Yar’Adua (the older brother of Nigeria’s current president). A middle-ranking, northern officer (Lt-Colonel Yakubu Gowon) was chosen by northern soldiers to replace Aguiyi-Ironsi, despite the objections of Ojukwu who insisted that the most senior officer Brigadier Ogundipe should succeed Aguiyi-Ironsi. In the aftermath of the coup, northern soldiers and civilians carried out gruesome pogroms against the Igbo, and tens of thousands of Igbo were murdered. As decapitated and badly mutilated corpses began arriving back in Ojukwu’s Eastern Region, there was a sense of insecurity and revulsion. Separatist sentiment increased in the Eastern Region and many Igbo and other easterners began to call for the Eastern Region to secede from the Nigerian federation which could no longer guarantee their safety.
Contrary to what is widely believed, Ojukwu was actually a moderating voice in a sea of Igbo hawks who wanted immediate secession. Ojukwu cooperated with Gowon as he (Ojukwu ) was anxious to limit the bloodshed and to protect the lives and property of Igbo still remaining in the north. He also ordered all northerners resident in the east to leave for their own safety, and brokered a ceasefire deal with almost 1000 northern soldiers in Enugu which allowed the northern soldiers to leave unharmed with their weapons. However there were limits to Ojukwu’s cooperation with Gowon, and he was still refusing to recognize Gowon as Nigeria’s Head of State. Ojukwu defiantly continued to address Gowon as the “the Chief of Staff (Army)” (the post which Gowon occupied before the coup that brought him to power).
ABURI – HIS FINEST HOUR
After Nigeria was dragged to the brink of the abyss by two military coups in 1966, and pogroms which followed them, Ojukwu had refused to attend any meetings of the Supreme Military Council and continually repeated his mantra that “I, as the Military Governor of the east cannot meet anywhere in Nigeria where there are northern troops.”
Ojukwu finally agreed to attend an SMC meeting in the neutral territory of Aburi in Ghana in January 1967. It was in the writer’s opinion, Ojukwu ’s finest hour. While the other delegates arrived at Aburi with a simple, but unformulated idea that somehow, Nigeria must stay together, Ojukwu prepared thoroughly and came armed with notes and secretaries. In the words of one writer “Ojukwu was the only participant who knew what he wanted, and he secured the signatures of the SMC to documents which would have had the effect of turning Nigeria into little more than a customs union” (Miners – The Nigerian Army).
Some claimed that Ojukwu took the SMC for a ride by using his superior intelligence to trap the SMC officers into an agreement they did not understand. Ojukwu was engaged in a constitutional debate by himself against five military officers, and two police officers, yet still got his way. He can hardly be faulted for outwitting opponents that outnumbered him by seven to one. Questions might be asked of the other SMC members of greater numerical strength who allowed Ojukwu to extract such substantial concessions from them. The agreement was never implemented as each side accused the other of bad faith. Ojukwu cannot be faulted for the failure to implement the Aburi decisions as it was the federal government that reneged on the agreement.
The federal government attempted to implement the Aburi agreement in diluted form by enacting a modified Constitution (Suspension and Modification) Decree which turned Nigeria into a de facto confederation. Ojukwu declined to accept the initial draft and insisted on a full and complete implementation of the accords reached at Aburi. Nonetheless as the weaker party he could still have showed greater pragmatism to spare further suffering for his people. At this point Ojukwu’s decision making must be questioned. Ojukwu would have saved many lives had he shown a greater degree of flexibility by accepting the Decree as it gave him 90% of what he wanted. In the “winner takes all” mentality that is so symptomatic of Nigerian politics, Ojukwu unrealistically held out for 100% of his demands and in the end, received 0%. His intransigence placed him and his people in a worse position than they started in. Rather than turning Nigeria into a confederation (which is what Decree 8 did), Ojukwu ’s intransigence gave the federal government an opportunity to overrun the Eastern Region, carve the country into several states and concentrate massive powers in the central government. Forty years later many Nigerians now call for the restructuring of Nigeria, and for devolution of power to its regions.
Ojukwu had a golden opportunity to achieve this over 40 years ago but squandered it. Had he shown some patience he may have achieved his objectives – albeit at a later date. The old adage is that “the best comes to those who wait.” Ojukwu could have taken a leaf from the book of another infant country named Israel. For several decades Jews fought to be given their own state in what was then British Mandate Palestine. In 1947, they were granted their state but only on half the land that they wanted. Realizing that it is best to accept what is achievable today, rather than risk holding out for 100% and getting nothing, Israel’s first leader David Ben-Gurion accepted a state but cleverly did not enunciate the borders of this state – this leaving the door open to agitate for more land at a later date. Today the “green line” borders of Israel encompass more land than it originally had at independence.
The Biafra Story
When armed confrontation with the federal government was imminent, Ojukwu knew as a military man that the eastern region had absolutely no chance of victory in a conflict with the federal government. Yet he declared the secession of the eastern region which he governed, in the knowledge that federal troops would invade immediately after the secession. Although Ojukwu doubtless possessed outstanding leadership and motivational skills which he used admirably to pull his people solidly behind the war effort, it is uncertain exactly how he possibly believed that the eastern region (armed only with a few elderly World War 2 era rifles) could succeed against an enemy armed with limitless mortars, machine guns, tanks, armoured personnel carriers, trucks and air force jets. One does not have to be a military strategist to see the folly of this decision.
At the time, there was a widely held belief (propagated by Ojukwu and other Biafran leaders) that defeat for Biafra would be met by mass indiscriminate massacres by the federal government. If Ojukwu believed this, then his escape at the end of the war is deplorable. After over a million Igbo were killed in the senseless war, Ojukwu fled in the last days of the war when his people were at their lowest ebb, despite repeatedly promising throughout the war that he would never leave his people to the mercy of the federal troops. If he believed that all his people would be massacred then his flight to a luxurious exile abroad and refusal to stand side by side with them to finish a war he dragged them into, cannot be applauded. Ojukwu is an iconic leader for his people, but has failed to deliver the aspirations of his people. The question remains – is Ojukwu a hero or a disastrous strategist?