My recent article, the Messages of Ahiara, an incisive piece buttressed with logic and reason, which refuted some popular but erroneous notions of tribalism and secession in Nigeria, drew a lot of hostile responses from some of my readers. They lobbed curses and hauled invectives at me. However, to me, it was all exhilarating. I relish rejoinders to my writings, be them abusive or appreciative.
One of my milder critics accused me of demonstrated dislike for Biafra and its leadership. Yes, I detest the Biafra leadership because, in its recklessness, arrogance and despotism, it brought about the death of hundreds of thousands at the glory of their youth and the starvation to death of more than one million hapless and blameless men, women and children. It dismantled the Igbo power structure, painstakingly put together over decades by the likes of Nnamdi Azikiwe, Louis Odumegwu Ojukwu, and Michael Okpara, and set the Igbo back by at least 100 years. Why would any Igbo not despise a leadership that brought so much, avoidable, suffering, pain and sorrow to the Igbo?
Some of my detractors argued that secession was a necessary response to the mass-murder of the Igbo in northern Nigeria. Undoubtedly, that orchestrated slaughter of the innocent for no offense of theirs but their ethnicity was unconscionable. However, it would be selective amnesia to forget that the July 29th 1966 coup and the attendant anti-Igbo riots in the North did not sprout out of a void. They were in reprisal for an earlier coup in January 1966 in which an Igbo dominated group of army officers murdered the most important Hausa/Fulani political and military leaders (Ahmadu Bello, Tafawa Belewa and Zakari Miamalari) without killing any Igbo leader. And following the coup, the Igbo in the North became too celebrative; dancing and singing to a Rex Lawson song and telling their Hausa neighbors that the bleating of a goat in the song was Ahmadu Bello (the most important Hausa/Fulani leader) howling like a goat as he was being killed by Major Nzeogwu. It was the discriminatory killings and gratuitous mockery of the memory of their most important leader, amongst other reasons, that set the stage for the July 1966 anti-Igbo coup and the attendant anti-Igbo riots.
After the killings in the January and July coups and that unsurpassed butchery of Igbo civilians in northern Nigeria, there was a desperate need for peace in the country. In search of peace, the regional governors, David Ejoor, Usman Katsina, Robert Adebayo and Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, and the Head of State, Yakubu Gowon, met at Aburi in Ghana, where they agreed on and signed the Aburi Accord. The most significant aspect of the accord was constitutional: the reduction of the powers of the federal government by devolution of additional powers to regional governments. Long ago, an Igbo professor of political science at Howard University in Washington, DC told me that Yakubu Gowon implemented the Aburi Accord. To me, his statement was not only unbelievable but sacrilegious. I lost my temper at what I thought was historical revisionism taken to a nauseating extreme. The elderly professor must have understood my problem. I was suffering from a hangover of the Biafran propaganda. I was under the stupefying hold of the lies we were fed in Biafra. For he stated, “don’t worry, with time, in the course of your reading and research, you will find out that Gowon implemented the Aburi Accord”.
Years later, I found out that Gowon implemented the Aburi Accord. In his book, Power Sharing in Nigerian Federation, Chukwuemeka Nwokedi wrote that, “Apart from minor adjustments to the Aburi Accord, in other to still retain the corporate nature of Nigeria”, Gowon implemented the Aburi Accord with Decree 8; “and the regions acquired more powers than they have ever had”. That was months before the continued wrangling between Ojukwu and Gowon led to the creation of states. But did Ojukwu not declare Biafra and we marched out to war on the mantra, “On Aburi We Stand”. According to other writers, the minor adjustments Gowon made to the accord was the cancelation of two articles of the accord, which stated that any region can secede from Nigeria at will, and that the federal government can, on no account, impose a state of emergency on any region. Ojukwu’s advisers urged him to accept Decree 8 because Gowon had “gone more than far enough”. He refused.
The removal of the two articles of the accord did not in any way imperil the lives and property of the Igbo and other peoples of Eastern Region. Ojukwu’s squabbling, against the advice of his advisers, over the two articles was solely motivated by personal ambition. Following Ojukwu’s declaration of Biafra, the war inevitably started. As it raged on, it was obvious that a negotiated settlement to the war would be most advantageous to the Igbo. Ojukwu’s obsession with maintaining himself in power stalled the peace talks that would have extracted for the Igbo a number of concessions from the federal government. Despite the enormous toll of the war, especially, on human lives, he kept protecting his position and power, until it became untenable. And, as Biafra collapsed, he ran away; Biafra surrendered unconditionally.
A litany of the falsehood we were fed in Biafra is beyond the scope of this article. David Klinghoffer was right when he wrote that, “Widespread misinformation poisons a culture”. The enduring grip of these falsehoods on Igbo minds continues to poison both Igbo culture and psyche. They make us paranoid – we feel surrounded by enemies committed to our destruction, and in our suspicion of these “enemies” we see ulterior motives in every act, no matter how well-intended and benign, by other Nigerians. In addition, they make us feel like innocent victims of the evil devices of an alliance of the other Nigerian ethnic groups. And like perennial victims we refuse to take responsibilities for our actions; we find psychological refuge in blaming others, the Yoruba, Hausa/Fulani, etc, for our problems.
Blaming others for your problems is gratifying but destructive; it reinforces the feeling of victimhood. The mindset that sustains a feeling of victimhood is antithetical to victory. Therefore, a victim remains a loser until he changes his mindset. For our own good, the Igbo need to change their attitude towards Nigeria and the other peoples of Nigeria. This demands rising above the misinformation of the Biafran propaganda by embracing some incontrovertible historical facts. This will enable us to realize that our problems stemmed not from the hatred and wicked machination of the Hausa, Yoruba and other ethnic groups of Nigeria, but from repeated political blunders of Igbo leaders, especially, Chukwuemeka Ojukwu.
Otherwise, our political fortune, clout and relevance will continue to decline. It has declined to a point, where a proud and resourceful people that, in their triumphalism, once boasted of dominating not only Nigeria but the whole of Africa now whimper and snivel over trivialities like a disconsolate old widow.
Tochukwu Ezukanma writes from Lagos, Nigeria and can be reached at [email protected].