Tag Archives: gowon

Anniversary of Nigeria’s First Military Coup


nzeogwu

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.”

Interview with General Gowon


http://video.google.com/videosearch?q=nigeria+oil&emb=0#q=nigeria%20gowon&emb=0

The Danjuma Interview


There have been a lot of requests for me to post the full text of Lt-General T.Y. Danjuma’s interview with the Nigerian Guardian regarding his role in the July 1966 coup and the arrest/death of the then Head of State Maj-Gen Aguiyi-Ironsi. Here is the interview….

SUNDAY GUARDIAN-17th february,2008

You were quoted as saying that your memoirs would be one grenade of a book, why?

You know; there are so many versions of some the critical events that took place over the years in which I was involved. Some of the versions are sanitized; some of them are slightly inaccurate, which I will endeavour to correct. And in correcting them, there will be a few explosions. You know what a grenade is- it explodes.
Unfortunately, for me, each time I pick up my notes and try to write, I have to relive some of those very tense periods and I am so worked up. So, what I have decided to do is oral history- tell the story to a writer who’ll record, transcribe and so on and the book will bear his name and mine.
Will you, in the book correct, for example, the many stories around the coup in Ibadan in 1966 and your alleged role in the killing of Aguiyi-Ironsi and Adekunle Fajuyi?

The interesting thing about the Ibadan coup where Ironsi was arrested is that the full story is already in print. If you take the book written on me by Lindsay Barrett, the account given there with General ( Yakubu ) Gowon’s biography written by Professor Isawa Eliaugu – if you read that part of the book, the account there of what happened – if you put them together, a lot of the grey areas will be clear.
Well, you still have to clear some speculations here concerning your role. It is said that you broke Ironsi’s famous swagger stick, which was thought to be his magic wand. Did you? Did your people drag Ironsi on the road? Did you take him to Iwo road and shoot him?
No, it is not true. What happened was that after we arrested him, I lost control. Remember that I was a complete stranger. I came from Lagos with Ironsi as a staff in the Army Headquarters attached to him. I stayed in the barracks with the Adjutant ( the Chief of Staff of the Commanding Officer ). I stayed with him in his single officer quarters. And it was there, that at one or two o’clock in the morning – I was in bed – when he came and knocked at my door. He said, “sir, do you know what has happened.” I said, “no”. he said there was some trouble in Abeokuta, who was an Igbo officer holding secret meeting with all the Igbo officers in the officers’ mess and our boys went and shot all of them.

Who are the “our boys?”

Northern soldiers. Remember, Igbos did the killings that took place in January (1966 ).
They killed non-Igbo senior Army officers. Only one Igbo officer the killed but Igbo wiped out almost all the senior non –Igbo officers. We rounded up all the people, who did the killings, because we all help Ironsi to abort the January coup. They were rounded up and put in jail, where they were being paid their full salary.

They had television, they had everything there despite being detained and nobody was talking about court marshalling them. Instead, the newspapers including the Daily Times, in fact Peter Enahoro, who was named Peter Pan; in his Sunday newspaper(wrote a column) to the effect that The boys being detained were national heroes. National heroes because they killed corrupt politicians! He didn’t say anything about Army officers…
they killed corrupt politicians and replaced them with lronsi whom we would call Iron-side Very insulting and in my own opinion, very provocative article! He was saying that those boys should be freed. Tension started building. Riots broke out in the North and it was because of the riots that broke out in the North that Ironsi started going round to talk to traditional rulers and the Army leaders. I was in his convoy.

We got to Ibadan. We had a meeting with traditional rulers and leaders of thought at the end of which everybody was asked to sing the National Anthem. We all sang the National Anthem. In the night, we had dinner and we came back. We dropped him (Ironsi) at Government House, and then went to the barracks to stay with the AdjutantThen, at one o’clock in the night (there was) gbam, gbam, gbam on my door. I said what happened. He (Adjutant) said there was some trouble in Abeokuta. I said what was it? He said the man on duty – duty officer – saw the Commanding Officer holding meetings in the officers’ mess … all the officer that attended that meeting were Igbos. They left out non-Igbo officers. The duty officer called one or two soldiers; they cocked their guns, went there and rounded up every body. They thought it was a joke. One of them had his staff machine gun by his side and he bent down and attempted to pick it up; they opened up on him and shot him down.

They sprayed everybody, killed everybody there and started tele phoning.
They rang Ibadan. It was then that this boy woke me up. This was what happened. The press had been calling for the release of the January coup plotters. Now, our boys had created an excuse for the release. After killing these people, it is a draw – they killed Army officers in Lagos and all overNigeria. Igbos did it. Now,Igbos had been killed in Abeokuta; that’d be the end of it. I said no. I asked the Adjutant, who was in a position to know, if the Supreme Commander – at that time lronsi was known as Supreme Commander – had been told? He said, no; he didn’ think so. I said okay; he
should get me some soldiers. He brought soldiers. I didn’t come to lbadan with combat dress. I had to borrow the combat dress of an officer about my size. It was an American combat dress. This officer had just come back from the US. You know, when you travel with the Head of state you have to dress decently, wear service dress and so on. So, I borrowed fatigue, wore it. In fact, I wore it over my pyjamas and left with the Adjutant. I said, “take me to Government House”. We got there. We asked soldiers who
were on duty to ground arms. They all grounded their arms. I told the Adjutant what to do. Soldiers grounded their arms; we disarmed them and armed the soldiers that we brought.

Meanwhile, the anti-tank gun (lronsi convoy) was there, the commander was there. The commander was from the garrison in Ibadan. We knew him; we told him. He said we should use the gun to blow down the building. I said no,There’s no need; the Head of State was there; we had to arrest him. We were there and waited. Any time anybody came out from the building, we arrested him. They removed their shoes and we asked them to sit down.

Why were you doing this?

We didn’t want any violence. we wanted to arrest him ( Ironsi ) alive and go and lock him up.we wanted to interrogate him, to find out the role he played in the coup ( January 1966 ); his stories didn’t add up about how he escaped from flagstaff House where he was staying at No.1,Glover (Ikoyi), and ended up in Ikeja.How it came about Njoku,who was supposed to have handed over the command of the largest garrison in lagos, which was then the Ikeja Garison, did not handover.Njoku was still in commandand he (Ironsi) went to join him. We were going to interrogate him about all those, or at least, that was what I thought we were
going to do.

So, every I told the soldiers to do or not to do,they obeyed until eventually, first, (Adekunle)Fajuyi (Millitary Governor of Western Region) came out of the building after he Waited… every time they sent somebody out of the building, nobody went back. So, Fajuyi Came down. As he came down the steps, I saluted-him-and said; “sir, you are under arrest; hands up’ He looked at me and called me, “Danjuma?” I said, “Sir, you are under arrest.”
He raised his hands, and came down. He said, “What do you want?” I said,
“we want to arrest you and we want to arrest the Head of State.”

He said,”and you are going out with him?” I said, “yes .. .”
And you were supposed to be on the Supreme Commander’s
entourage?

I was;I was there. I went to Ibadan with him. What do you mean by,”supposed to?”

Because you were now arresting…

Yes, I was arresting. He (Fajuyi) pleaded with me not to go up with armed men;that he was going to go up and call him (Ironsi) provided I guaranteed his safety. I gave him my guarantee: I said, “I guarantee your safety.”
He went there, and didn’t come down. So, I decided to climb up. As I climbed up the steps, armed soldiers followed me. I had a grenade in my hand. I didn’t have any arm. As I came, lronsi was sitted; Fajuyi was by his side.
I said, “Sir, you are under arrest.” And I gave him the order to stand up.
Reluctantly, Ironsi stood up. He used to carry a staff crocodile. He had it in his hand. They both came down. Fajuyi was still asking me about guaranteeing safety. I guaranteed his safety absolutely. So, we came out of the building down toward the car.

One of the soldiers said we shouldn’t allow him to carry his crocodile, that there’s juju. I said no; there’s nothing in it. He said he’d disappear if we allowed him to carry it. He started to stop and I told him to shut up. That was the time I lost control. The soldier batoned me and pushed me aside and took charge. To my greatest surprise, the Adjutant, who was, you know, these were his troops – I was a stranger,
they were obeying me because everything I did they liked; they liked what I was doing, but the moment I told them not to do some thing they didn’t like, they rejected – I expected the Adjutant, who was there, to intervene. He probably incited them. He said,”Yes, the soldier is right. This thing here (Ironsi’s crocodile) is his Zasa; it’s juju that will make him disappear.”
So, they took the thing from him, pushed me aside and bundled him and Fajuyi in a vehicle and drove away. It was six O’clock in the morning.
The front of the Government House was littered with people without shoes; people who had come to get ready to go. They asked every one of them to sit on the floor and they removed their shoes. They all sat, including the then Head of Service (Chief P Odumosu). I came down. They (soldiers) drove away.
There was nobody to tell these people to go; so they all sat there. It was I who said, what’re you people still doing here. Quietly, they realized they were free to go. They (soldiers) had driven away Fajuyi and Ironsi.

What of you?

I had to hitch a ride to go to the barracks. They left; there was no vehicle even for me to leave that place; they Just drove away, taking them away.So, I had to make my way back to the barracks. If you read Gowon’s book, it’s there. They named names , of the people who actually took Ironsi away.

Now, there are a lot of lies. I read some very funny lies told by Ironsi’s ADC whose life I saved. He was an Igbo officer from Abakaliki area, tall, a good-looking chap. After the war he came back, I saw him, we shook hands and I gave him some money.
I read his account. You know we captured a lot of literature in Enugu. The Igbos named his account, including what happened in Ibadan, and what happened in the North – as pogrom. I read all the accounts there. It was there that I saw the evidence given by this man in order to … he must have felt guilty, when his boss was arrested and taken away and he went away and he went home empty-handed, without anything even though he was his ADC and nothing happened to him. He had to tell a lie to justify how he came out with his limbs intact. He gave a long story of how he escaped, what happened and so on.

That man told a lot of the lies that gained currency. Ironsi had two ADCs. One of them was Col. Sani Bello and the other was this man. I prevailed on the soldiers not to do anything to anybody. We arranged even for him to escape, and go away. He went home and started telling lies. He told a lot of lies, which I read in the account he gave in Biafra. We had an inquiry. People came to give account and so on and so forth. Unfortunately, I didn’t keep it, but I remember that the stories that gained currency were from that man.

The Adjutant created the problem?.

He didn’t create the prob1em. The Igbos who killed our senior officers all over the place created the problem; they created the problem. They sowed the wind and reaped the problem; it wasn’t him (the Adjutant). They were reacting;they were avenging what happened in January. The July coup was a revenge coup.

What’s the name of the Adjutant?

Garba Paiko!
Was he a major?
Major! He was a Second Lieutenant.

You were his senior?

Oh yes! But when it comes to coup-making, there’s no rank. Coup is abandwagon of hierarchy. This was his unit. He knew the boys; I didn’t know them. But he knew me.He used me…

You’re lucky they didn’t mistake you for an Igbo.
Oh, easily! I was lighter in complexion than I am no. Many times, they took me for an Igbo.

So, he (Adjutant) didn’t create the problem?

I don’t think you people know what happened. What would you do when you went to bed and woke up and found that all the people from your area in the Army, innocent people were killed in their beds, some of them even with their wives – all done by Igbo officers? We bottled up this for six months from January to July. Then, the opportunity came for revenge.
In the Army, you are taught that when you are fired upon, you take cover and return fire. We didn’t return fire immedi¬ately. We gave Ironsi a chance to deal with the people who killed our seniors. He did not. Then foolish people like (Peter Pan) Enahoro were talking about national heroes ¬that people who did the killings were national heroes.
We couldn’t understand! If politicians were corrupt, why didn’t you confine yourself to killing politicians? If it was necessary that the Army should take over, why was it that this same Army should eliminate the cream of that Army and leave us With absolutely useless people, like Ironsi who was a desk-clerk Head of State? We couldn’t understand it. But we bottled this up till July and when the opportunity came, we decided to revenge. This is what happened…

People blame you for what happened in Ibadan, but as it is, the Adjutant more or less, instigated the soldiers..
Yes, this is what I suspect. My suspicion is borne out by the fact that he did not do what I would do if I were in his position. He (Adjutant) approved of what the boys did.

Another Excellent Series of Biafra Videos – “No Victor No Vanquished”


This is another series of documentaries on Biafra. Produced by Nigeria’s own NTA, these videos feature interviews with the key players such as Gowon, Ojukwu, Babangida, Maj-Gens Mohammed Shuwa, Adeyinka Adebayo, Godwin Abbe, George Innih, and David Ejoor, Brigadiers Samuel Ogbemudia and Mobolaji Johnson, plus civilian participants like Philip Asiodu and Ahmed Joda who were key players in the abortive negotiations prior to the war.

Of great vintage is the footage of the Aburi debate in Ghana in 1967. Amazing footage of Ojukwu chatting with Gowon, Hassan Katsina, Commodore Joseph Wey and other members of the federal delegation to Aburi.

Part 1: http://www.viewnaija.com/video/2191/No-Victor-No-Vanquished–Biafra-War-Pt-1

Part 2:http://www.viewnaija.com/video/2190/No-Victor-No-Vanquished–Biafra-War-Pt-2

Part 3: http://www.viewnaija.com/video/2189/No-Victor-No-Vanquished–Biafra-War-Pt-3

Part 4: http://www.viewnaija.com/video/2259/No-Victor-No-Vanquished–Biafra-War-Pt-4

Part 5: http://www.viewnaija.com/video/2258/No-Victor-No-Vanquished–Biafra-War-Pt-5

Part 6:http://www.viewnaija.com/video/2257/No-Victor-No-Vanquished–Biafra-War-Pt-6

Part 7: http://www.viewnaija.com/video/2256/No-Victor-No-Vanquished–Biafra-War-Pt-7

Part 8: http://www.viewnaija.com/video/2285/No-Victor-No-Vanquished–Biafra-War-Pt-8

Part 9: http://www.viewnaija.com/video/2286/No-Victor-No-Vanquished–Biafra-War-Pt-9

Part 10: http://www.viewnaija.com/video/2287/No-Victor-No-Vanquished–Biafra-War-Pt-10

Part 11: http://www.viewnaija.com/video/2506/No-Victor-No-Vanquished–Biafra-War-Pt-11

Part 12: http://www.viewnaija.com/video/2502/No-Victor-No-Vanquished–Biafra-War-Pt-12

Part 13: http://www.viewnaija.com/video/2501/No-Victor-No-Vanquished–Biafra-War-Pt-13

Part 14:  http://www.viewnaija.com/video/2500/No-Victor-No-Vanquished–Biafra-War-Pt-14

Part 15: http://www.viewnaija.com/video/2499/No-Victor–No-Vanquished–Biafra-War-Pt-15

Part 16: http://www.viewnaija.com/video/2498/No-Victor-No-Vanquished–Biafra-War-Pt-16

Part 17: http://www.viewnaija.com/video/2497/No-Victor-No-Vanquished–Biafra-War-Pt-17

Part 18: http://www.viewnaija.com/video/2496/No-Victor-No-Vanquished–Biafra-War-Pt-18

Video Archives on Nigeria’s Former Leaders


This is a nice selection of videos.  The first is a series of old clips from famous Nigerians, including one of the Sardauna of Sokoto Ahmadu Bello who speaks in an impeccable old school British accent.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8jvmwd5ZRRM&feature=related

These three videos are a run down of Nigeria’s leaders over the years starting from Abubakar Tafawa Balewa through to the current incumbent, President Yar’Adua.  Also click the “Nigeria’s Leaders” and “Nigeria’s Great Speeches” pages on this site if you want to see more regarding these personalities.

Part 1:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ZuxTi344E8

Part 2:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k5q6AHQ3LHg&feature=related

Part 3:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ATgazc7YZDw&feature=related

Ojukwu: Hero or Villain?


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”:

  1. Dragging them into a brutal civil war they had no chance of winning, and which resulted in 1 million of them dying.

  2. 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.

  3. He fled and left his people after the war.

  4. 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?

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