Tuesday, 21 May 2013
Achebe’s Igbos Before Others Fairy Tales By S. Kadiri
On October 9, 2008, Chinua Achebe delivered a lecture titled, “WHAT NIGERIA MEANS TO ME,” on the occasion of marking The Guardian Silver Jubilee at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Victoria Island Lagos. Referring to July 29, 1966 army putsch in Nigeria, Chinua Achebe said, “Six months later, Northern officers carried out what was perhaps a revenge coup in which they killed officers and men in large number. If it had ended there, the matter might have been seen as a tragic, very sad interlude in nation building, a horrendous tit for tat. But the northerners turned on Igbo civilians living in the North and unleashed waves of brutal massacres... it was estimated that 30, 000 civilians, men, women and children died.” This particular statement incensed Achebe’s fellow Igbo man, Dr. Ozodi Thomas Osuji, whose response appeared in the Nigerian Village Square of 15 October 2008 under the title, “FALSE SENSE OF VICTIMIZATION IN ACHEBE’S WORLDVIEW.”
Dr. Osuji asked, “What did the Igbos expect when they killed the Prime Minister of Nigeria, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the Premier of Northern Nigeria, Ahmadu Bello and the Premier of Western Nigeria, Samuel Akintola and did not kill a single Igbo leader, such as Nnamdi Azikwe (Nwafor Orizu) and Michael Okpara?” May I add here that the following military officers were also killed in the 15th January 1966 coup d’état: Brigadier Zakariya Maimalari (North), Colonel Kuru Mohamed (North), Lt. Colonel Abogo Largema (North), Lt. Colonel James Yakubu Pam (North), Brigadier Samuel Adesujo Ademulegun and his civilian pregnant wife (West), Colonel Robert A. Shodeinde (West) Lt. Colonel Arthur Chinyelu Unegbe (East) and Major Samuel Adegoke (West). With these facts of history, Dr. Osuji averred, “The counter coup was exactly what political realists would have anticipated and, perhaps, prepared for but naive Igbos apparently did not expect those whose leaders they just killed to kill their own leaders!” In Dr. Osuji,s view, “Achebe, apparently, has not learned the lesson that he was supposed to learn from the pogrom. He is still minimizing the action of Nzeogwu and his fellow Igbos. He is still seeing Igbos as victims unto whom supposedly bad Nigerians unleashed evil to. Therein lay Achebe’s problem.” Furthermore in his ‘what Nigeria means to me’ Achebe stated categorically, “I find it difficult to forgive Nigeria and my countrymen and women for the political nonchalance and cruelty that unleashed upon us these terrible events; events that resulted in a 30 months war and at the end of which Biafra was vast smouldering rubble; the cost in human lives was a staggering two million souls making it one of the bloodiest civil wars in human history.” On this passage, Dr. Osuji asserted, “One sees Achebe’s either arrested mental development or refusal to understand history and reality as it is, not as he wants it to be. He does not seem able to understand what happens when folks living in multiethnic polity do not behave realistically and minimize the consequences of their naive actions.” Perhaps the most educative part of Dr. Osuji’s article is the reason he attributed to Achebe’s ethnic chauvinism. And he wrote, “Achebe is a simple story teller not a social scientist, his novels are of secondary school variety and lack what, for lack of a better phrase, can be called philosophical and psychological thinking. Achebe writes for teenagers but not for adults. His reasoning tends not to be analytic; his writing is what one would expect from a secondary school graduate but not from a sophisticated thinker who understands the nature of man and the ways of the world. Achebe tends to appeal to his reader’s emotions and not to their reason.”
I came to think about Dr. Osuji and most especially the last quoted paragraph of his essay on Chinua Achebe four years ago on reading media’s review of Achebe’s *Igbos Before Others Fairy Tales* that he called, ”There was a country-A personal narrative of Biafra.” Here follows media’s excerpts from the book; “Throughout the conflict, the Biafran consistently charged that the Nigerians had a design to exterminate the Igbo people from the face of the earth. This calculation, the Biafrans insisted, was predicated on a holy Jihad proclaimed by mainly Islamic extremists in the Nigerian Army and supported by policies of economic blockade that prevented shipments of humanitarian aid, food and supplies to the needy in Biafra. THE WARTIME CABINET OF General Gowon, the military ruler, it should also be remembered, was full of intellectuals, like Chief Obafemi Awolowo, among others, who came up with a boatload of infamous and regrettable policies. A statement credited to Awolowo and echoed by his cohorts is the most callous and unfortunate: all is fair in war, and starvation is one of the weapons of war. I don’t see why we should feed our enemies fat in order for them to fight harder. It is my impression that Chief Obafemi Awolowo was driven by an overriding ambition of power, for himself in particular and for the advancement of his Yoruba People in general. However, Awolowo saw the dominant Igbos at that time as the obstacle for that goal, and when the opportunity arose – the Nigeria – Biafra war – his ambition drove him to frenzy to go to every length to achieve his dreams. In the Biafran case it meant hatching up a diabolical policy to reduce the number of his enemies significantly through starvation eliminating over two million people mainly members of future generations.” The above quoted part of Achebe’s book accurately justifies Dr. Osuji’s characterisation of Chinua Achebe as a simple story teller whose writings tend to appeal to his reader’s emotions and not their reason. Achebe is treating the history of the civil war in Nigeria as a fictitious tale telling, something like the tortoise and the fox, whereas, the war was not just a history of political and military tacticians but also poor strategists who carelessly perished their future options and manoeuvrability for the sake of short term advantages. Let us rummage in history!
The seed of the Nigerian civil war was actually sown after 1959 December federal election which decided who was to be the Prime Minister of Nigeria for the next four years. The main political parties that contested the election were: Northern People’s Congress (NPC) led by the Premier of the North, Ahmadu Bello; the National Council of Nigerian Citizen (NCNC) led by the Premier of the East, Benjamin Nnamdi Azikwe, who formed alliance with Northern Element Progressive Union (NEPU) led by Aminu Kano; and Action Group (AG) led by the Premier of the West, Jeremiah Obafemi Awolowo, who formed alliance with the United Middle-Belt Congress (UMBC) in the North and Calabar Ogoja State Party led by Joseph Tarka and Wenike Briggs respectively. The NPC which contested only in the North won 134 seats in the Federal Parliament; the NCNC/NEPU won 58 seats in the East, 8 in the North, 23 in the West & Lagos which equalled to 89 total seats in the Federal Parliament; and the AG and its allies won 14 seats in the East, 25 seats in the North, and 34 seats in the West & Lagos which gave 73 total seats in the Federal Parliament out of 312 total seats. Sixteen independent candidates (one in the East, seven in the North and eight in the West & Lagos) also won seats into the Parliament. However, fourteen independent candidates declared for the NPC while the rest two declared for the AG swelling their respective strength in the Parliament to 148 and 75. Since none of the political parties had majority in the Parliament to form a government, a national coalition of all the political parties or a coalition of two political parties was necessary. Relying on the fact that NCNC and AG had a total seat of 164 spread throughout the whole country as against NPC’s 148, Jeremiah Obafemi Awolowo offered to serve under a national government led by Benjamin Nnamdi Azikwe as the Prime Minister. However, on Sunday, 20 December 1959, the leaders of NCNC and NPC signed a coalition agreement to constitute the Federal Government under a Prime Minister named, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa.
The decision of the leaders of the NCNC was informed by the belief that the educational and academic superiority of its members to NPC would put the control of the government in their hands even though the Prime Minister was an NPC. While Awolowo handed over the Premiership of Western Region to Samuel Ladoke Akintola to become leader of opposition in the Federal Parliament, Azikwe handed over the Premiership of Eastern Region to Michael Ihenokura Okpara to become the President of the Senate. When the colonial Governor- General, James Robertson left office in November 1960 Benjamin Nnamdi Azikwe was inaugurated as the Governor – General on the 16th of November 1960 and Nwafor Orizu succeeded him as President of the Senate. It must be stated that NEPU, the political ally of the NCNC in the North was excluded from ministerial or any official appointments in the Federal coalition government. As the colonial officials were leaving Nigeria, the NCNC supplanted them with their own educated elites who stepped in to fill the colonialists jobs, play their roles, inherit their rates of pay and privileges (including housing, children, servant and car allowances), and assume the colonialists attitudes of having divine right to rule and prosper at the expense of the masses in Nigeria. Towards the end of 1961, the deputy leader of AG and Premier of Western Region, Samuel Ladoke Akintola, blamed Awolowo for the exclusion of the people from his region from the share of appointments in the federal civil service and federal government owned corporations because of Awolowo’s refusal to take part in the national coalition government at the centre. Before discussing what that blame led to later let me establish some historical facts about the Federal Coalition Government agreement of December 20, 1959 between the NPC and NCNC. Contrary to the view held by Achebe and his ilk, it is a historical fact that Benjamin Nnamdi Azikwe of the NCNC never regarded Ahmadu Bello and Abubakar Tafawa Balewa as Jihadists when he entered into coalition government agreement in 1959. And if religion was important in the choice of a coalition partner, Benjamin Nnamdi Azikwe ought to have chosen Jeremiah Obafemi Awolowo, a Christian like him, instead of the Muslims, Abubakar Tafawa Nalewa and Ahmadu Bello.
Awolowo declared that taking part in the Federal Government should not be based on personal and tribal interest but on national interest. He emphasised that appointed Ministers, top civil servants and directors of government corporations were to serve the entire nation and not a specific tribe. Awolowo based his refusal to join the Federal Government on the feudalistic and reactionary characters of the NPC leaders. Awolowo stated categorically that if the Action Group Party decided to partake in the Federal Government he would not accept any post including that of the Deputy Prime Minister that he was being offered. On February 2, 1962, the Action Group had a Congress at Jos in the Northern Region. The Congress resolved among other things to replace Ayotunde Rosiji as the Secretary of the AG with Samuel Ikoku, the Action Group Leader of opposition in the Eastern House of Assembly. Furthermore, the party adopted Democratic Socialism as its ideology. As the crisis between Awolowo and Akintola deepened, Awolowo addressed a joint meeting of the Western and Midwestern executive committees on his Deputy’s anti party activities on Saturday, 19 May 1962 and called for a disciplinary action against him. Consequently a resolution demanding the immediate resignation of Akintola as the Premier of the West and Deputy Leader of the Action Group was carried by 81 votes to 29. By Monday, 21st of May 1962, the Governor of Western Region, Adesoji Aderemi, received a petition signed by sixty-five out of one-hundred and seventeen members of the House of Assembly requesting him to remove Akintola from office on the constitutional ground that he no longer commanded the support of a majority of the assemblymen. The Governor agreed with the party to dismiss Akintola from office and Alhaji Dauda Soroye Adegbenro was sworn in as Premier having been chosen as the new parliamentary leader of the party in the West. On Friday, 25th of May 1962, Adegbenro summoned the House of Assembly to a meeting to pass a vote of confidence in his government. Akintola’s supporters led by one Oke violently disrupted the proceedings of the House and the Federal Police tear gassed members out of the chamber. The Premier designate, Alhaji Adegbenro, telephoned the Prime Minister of the Federation, Alhaji Balewa, and asked him to provide police protection within the chamber so that the House could conduct the affairs of the day peacefully but Balewa declined to accede to his request. When the House tried to meet in the evening of the same day, violence broke out in the chamber once more and Balewa ordered the police to clear the chamber and lock it up. On the 28th of May 1962, a joint meeting of the NCNC’s National Executive Committee and Federal Parliamentarians presided over by the Premier of Eastern Region, Michael Ihenokura Okpara, voted to back up the Federal Government to declare a state of Emergency in the West. Then on Tuesday, 29th of May 1962, the Federal Government composed of NPC and NCNC declared a State of Emergency in the Western Region for six months after a motion to that effect was moved in the Federal Parliament by Balewa and carried by 232 votes to 44. The 13 Emergency Powers Act enacted by the Federal Parliament on Western Region were signed into law by the Governor General of the Federation, Benjamin Nnamdi Azikwe. Thereafter, Balewa appointed an Administrator, Moses A Majekodunmi, who was empowered to impose curfew, to censor, search, detain, and restrict people. While Emergency persisted, Awolowo and many of his supporters in the Action Group had been rounded up and charged to court, for treasonable felony. Thus, when the state of emergency was lifted in the West, Awolowo and many of his supporters were remanded in prison custody for treasonable felony trial. On the other hand, Akintola was reinstated as Premier of Western Region on the 1st of January 1963 after forming a new party called United People’s Party (UPP) with the help of deflectors from the Action Group. He then entered into a coalition government with the NCNC which had 35 seats in the House of Assembly. It must be mentioned here that in spite of the demand of minorities in the North, East and West for new regions, it was only in the West that the Federal Coalition Government of NPC and NCNC carved out Midwest Region. In September 1963 Awolowo was sentenced to ten years imprisonment while some of his co-accused received various jail terms. On October 1, 1963, Benjamin Nnamdi Azikwe, former leader of NCNC, was installed as the President of Nigeria after Nigeria had become a Republic.
Reasoning analytically one would discover from the sequence of events narrated above that if Awolowo was driven by overriding ambition of power he would have accepted the offer to serve as Deputy Prime Minister in the Federal Coalition Government led by Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. And if Awolowo had been a hater of Igbo people, he would have seen to it that Ayotunde Rosiji, the Secretary of the Action Group, was succeeded by another Yoruba man instead of an Igbo man, Samuel G Ikoku. If one should apply Achebe’s method of projecting the behaviour of individuals on their tribal origins it would be correct to say that the Igbo people under the leadership of Michael Ihenokura Okpara conspired with the Hausa man, Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, to stage a parliamentary coup in Yoruba land by proclaiming a state of emergency and thereby overthrew the democratically elected government of the Region in order to retard the progress of Yoruba people. Utilizing Achebe’s tribal prejudice one can conclude that because of the hatred the Igbo Governor-General of the Federation, Benjamin Nnamdi Azikwe, had for the Yoruba people he signed the Emergency Acts into law in order to halt and destroy the progress of Yoruba people. Viewing it from religious angle, Balewa and Adegbenro were Muslims as appellation of Alhaji before their first names indicated that both were ex-Mecca visitors. Because of their Muslim affinity one would have expected Balewa to accede to Adegbenro’s request for police presence in the Western House of Assembly so as to enable members pass a vote of confidence in a Premier of their choice. Not only did Balewa dump his Muslim brother but he went further to choose a Christian administrator for the State of Emergency in the West, in the person of Moses A. Majekodunmi.
With Awolowo and many of his supporters in the Action Group incarcerated, the NCNC leadership had hoped that Western Region would be delivered to it politically on a platter of gold. However, in February 1964 the Federal Census Board announced the preliminary statistics for the 1963 census figures of which Northern Region had 29.78 million, Eastern Region 12.39 million, Western Region 10.30 million, Midwest Region 2.51 million and Lagos Capital Territory 0.68 million. Since allocation of seats to the Regions in the Federal Parliament depended on population, it implied that the North would have more seats than the entire South. Understandably, the NCNC controlled governments of the Eastern and Midwestern Regions rejected the figures and expected the NCNC/UPP coalition government in the West to do the same. Contrary to expectations, the government of Western Region did not only accept the census figures but a new party called Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) had simultaneously been formed. The new party (NNDP) under the leadership of Samuel Ladoke Akintola absorbed all members of the UPP and almost the entire members of the NCNC in the Region’s House of Assembly.
While the NCNC was decimated in the West, a serious conflict erupted between it and its Federal Coalition partner, the NPC. The NCNC’s attempt to stop the use of the census figures for the 1964 December Federal election through court action was to no avail. However, Akintola and his NNDP were so unpopular in Western Region where Awolowo had acquired the status of a martyr. Therefore, in their quest to gain acceptance of the people in the Region the NNDP government issued a white paper detailing how tribe, not merit and competence had guided appointments and promotions in the Federal Government dominated by the NCNC since 1960. The NNDP accused the NCNC of practising “Igbocracy” meaning a network which secured for Igbos a disproportionate share of jobs, commercial opportunities, federal scholarships, etc. In spite of that the people of the West treated Akintola and his NNDP as lepers.
Towards the middle of 1964, the Federal Electoral Commission utilised the approximated total census figures of 55.7 million people to allocate the 312 seats in the Federal House of Representatives to the Regions and Federal Capital Territory, Lagos. Hence, the allocations were as follows: North 167 Seats, East 70 Seats, West 57 Seats, Mid-West 14 Seats and Lagos 4 Seats. Preparing for the December 30, 1964 election, the NPC in August 1964 formed alliance with the NNDP, MDF (Mid-West Democratic Front), the Niger Delta Congress of Eastern Nigeria, the Dynamic Party (based in the East) and the Republican Party (also based in the East). The alliance was inaugurated under the name, Nigerian National Alliance (NNA). After the inauguration of NNA, the Prime Minister of the Federation, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, in disregard of the NCNC as a coalition partner since 1960, unilaterally invited two NNDP members of Parliament to join the federal cabinet, four months before the legal life of the government would expire. Surprisingly, the NCNC did not withdraw from the coalition government. Having been displaced and replaced as a coalition partner to the NPC at the centre, the NCNC in preparation for the December 1964 Federal election formed an alliance with the Action Group, NEPU and UMBC under a common name, United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA). Thereby, the stage was set for a battle between the NNA and UPGA at the 1964 federal election.
Campaigns in all the regions were characterised by violence, arbitrary arrests and imprisonment of political opponents by regional governments’ agents and denial of permits to hold public meetings or processions. As the election was fast approaching, UPGA in particular complained about harassment, mass arrest and malicious prosecution of its members most especially in the Northern Region. The violent election campaigns in the country caused the President of the Republic, Benjamin Nnamdi Azikwe to broadcast to the Nation on 10 December 1964, in which he condemned the violation of citizens’ rights as guaranteed by the constitution. Therefore, he counselled politicians, that if they had decided to destroy the national unity, to summon a round-table conference to decide how to share national assets so as to disintegrate in peace and not in pieces. Since the President’s itemisation of what constituted flouting of the constitutional rights of citizens reflected mainly on the Northern Region, understandably, the Premier of Northern Region, Ahmadu Bello replied immediately. He observed that secessionist utterances with regard to the Eastern Region had been made by members of the NCNC and therefore, warned that the Nigerian Constitution did not make provision for secession or disintegration. By 19th of December 1964, when nomination of candidates for the federal election closed NNA had got 66 candidates returned unopposed (all but two in the North) while UPGA had 15. UPGA disputed the large number of unopposed candidates in the North and believing that the President had the constitutional power to postpone the election, the alliance appealed to the President to exercise that power until disputes over the unopposed candidates were resolved. President Azikwe on his part ordered Prime Minister Balewa to postpone the election for six months and suggested that the United Nations be asked to assist in the conduct of new election. Balewa disobeyed the President and ordered that the election should proceed as planned on 30 Dec. 1964. UPGA reacted by announcing the boycott of the election. Consequently, voting was not nation-wide on the 30th of December 1964 as boycotts were total in the East, near total in Lagos, partial in the North (only in Jos and Kano), and the West. Yet the boycotts did not prevent the Federal Electoral Commission from announcing the result of the election which was as follows: NCNC (UPGA) Mid-West, 14 Seats; NNDP (NNA) West, 36 Seats as against 18 Seats for AG/NCNC (UPGA) and in the North, NPC (NNA) won 162 out of 167 total Seats allocated to the Region. UPGA boycott of the election was ineffective since its opponent, NNA, had already won absolute majority with its 198 seats in the Federal Parliament. On January 1, 1965, President Azikwe adjudged the election a farce and therefore refused to exercise his power under the Constitution to ask Balewa to form a new government. Believing in his constitutional title of Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, President Azikwe sought in vain the backing of the armed forces to suspend the government, annul the elections and appoint an interim government to conduct new elections. The armed forces approached the Judiciary for advice on whose order, the Prime Minister or the President, they should act. The Judicial men decided that the armed forces were under the operational order of the Prime Minister who possessed the Executive Power and not under the ceremonial President. Thus, President Azikwe retreated from his stand on the election and on January 4, 1965, two senior members of the Judiciary helped to prepare a face saving compromise whereby the President invited Balewa to form a broad-based national government after elections had taken place in the East and other constituencies in the Federation where elections were boycotted. After elections were held in March 1965, where they were boycotted in December 1964, the NCNC to the consternation of many Nigerians dumped its ally in UPGA to join the federal government controlled by NNA under Balewa.
The Regional Election into Western House of Assembly was scheduled for 11 October 1965 and the NNDP was desperately in need of acceptance by the people of the Region who were totally in support of the Action Group. Therefore NNDP intensified its attack on the NCNC which it accused of having practised “Igbocracy” and demanded proportional redistribution of positions tribally, in the Federal Civil Service and Federal Government owned Corporations. Although some Igbo men were prematurely retired and replaced with Yorubas, the people of the West were adamant in their unflinching support for the AG and its incarcerated leader, Awolowo. When the result of the regional election of 11 October 1965 was falsified in favour of the NNDP, riots and arson broke out throughout Western Region and Lagos in protest against the electoral theft. As the violence intensified unabated, purely amongst Yoruba political opponents in the West, President Azikwe left Nigeria to seek medical treatment abroad and flew later to London for recuperation. The President of the Senate Nwafor Orizu, became the acting President of the Republic. By January 1966, death tolls had risen considerably in the West as a result of protests against the electoral fraud in the West. Since the political situation in the region was more dangerous to human lives and properties than what existed in May 1962 when the Federal Government declared a state of emergency in the West, the general public demanded that the Prime Minister should repeat his action of 29 May 1962. Balewa replied on Thursday, 13 January 1966, that the Federal Government was not going to intervene even when death toll was said to have exceeded a thousand. And on the 15th of January 1966, the pro-Northern Region government’s newspaper, New Nigerian, not knowing what had happened militarily in the night, carried a cynical headline, *ONLY 153 PEOPLE KILLED IN THE WEST.* Then at 14:30:00hrs. Nigerian time on Saturday, 15 January 1966, the Lagos based Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation announced, “In the early hours of this morning, 15 January 1966, a dissident section of the Nigerian Army kidnapped the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance and took them to an unknown destination. The General Officer Commanding the Nigerian Army, Major-General Johnson Thompson Umunnakwe Aguiyi Ironsi, and the vast majority of the army remained completely loyal to the Federal Government and are already taking appropriate measures to bring the situation under control.” When the rest of the Federal Cabinet, later in the evening of 15 January 1966, met Ironsi and the Acting President, Nwafor Orizu, in the presence of British High Commissioner in Nigeria at that time, Francis Cumming-Bruce, the NNA (NPC/NNDP) proposed that the most senior cabinet Minister, Zanar Bukar Dipcharima, in the absence of Minister of Defence, Inuwa Wada, be appointed Prime Minister. The minority UPGA (NCNC) objected to the proposal and the Acting President, Nwafor Orizu, supported their objection. The following day, Ironsi summoned the Ministers and informed them that, after sounding out the feelings of the army he could only be sure of its loyalty if power was handed over to him. This contradicted previous day radio broadcast that Ironsi and the vast majority of the army remained completely loyal to the Federal Government and the cabinet was coaxed into signing an unconstitutional letter of handover to Ironsi.
I have listed earlier the victims of the army putsch of 15 January 1966, except the Federal Minister of Finance, Festus Oktie- Eboh (Mid-West Urhobo), who was alleged to have had shady army shoe transactions in collaboration with the army Quarter Master General, Lt. Colonel Arthur Chiyenlu Unegbe. Let us now look at the perpetrators of the coup d’état. According to one of the military “dissidents” of January 15, 1966, Captain Ben Gbulie, the author of the book, *NIGERIA’S FIVE MAJORS,* the army rebellion was planned by eight Majors, five Captains, four Lieutenants and seven Second Lieutenants. The Majors were: Patrick Chukwuma ‘Kaduna’ Nzeogwu (Igbo), Christian I. Anuforo (Igbo), Emmanuel Ifeajuna (Igbo), Adewole Ademoyega (Yoruba), Humphrey I. Chukwuka (Igbo), Don D. Okafor (Igbo), Timothy Onwuatuegwu (Igbo) and John Obienu (Igbo). The Captains were: Emanuel Nwobosi (Igbo), Ogbo Oji (Igbo), Goddy Ude (Igbo), Ganiyu Adeleke (Yoruba) and Ben Gbulie (Igbo). The Lieutenant’s Surnames were: Ezedigbo (Igbo), Okaka (Igbo), Oyewole (Yoruba) and Oguchi (Igbo). The second Lieutenant’s Surnames were: Igweze (Igbo), Ikejiofor (Igbo), Olafemihan (Yoruba), Azubuogo (Igbo), Nweke (Igbo), Amuchienwa (Igbo) and Wokocha (Igbo). From the foregoing list, the coup planners contained twenty Igbos and four Yorubas. This is not strange since almost seventy per cent of officers in the army were Igbos and the important thing to verify was if the coup was executed justly and in the National interest and not in sectional interest. In order to do that verification, the question one would like Achebe and his ilk to answer is, which political crimes did Ahmadu Bello, Samuel Ladoke Akintola, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, and Festus Oktie-Eboh commit that justified their being killed but Nnamdi Azikwe, Nwafor Orizu, Michael Ihenokura Okpara and Dennis Osadebey did not commit? The last four persons mentioned here had been part and parcel of the Federal Government since 1960 up to the time of coup in 1966. Thus, their exemptions from the guilt of bad governance, especially at the Federal level could have been understood if after the December 30, 1964, election the NCNC Party which they led had gone into opposition instead of joining the national government led by Balewa as Prime Minister. And with the exception of one, why were only high ranking officers from the North and West, which comparatively to the East were so few in the army, killed? Let us now look at who killed who. Starting with the North, Major Nzeogwu forcefully entered the Premier’s lodge and in the process three civilian guards were shot dead before killing Ahmadu Bello himself and wounding one of his wives seriously. Major Onwuatuegwu disarmed the security guards in the house of Brigadier Ademulegun, forced himself into his bed-room where he shot him dead and ripped open the abdomen of his wife with bullet. Thereafter, Major Onwuatuegwu proceeded to the house of Colonel Shodeinde, killing him and wounding his pregnant wife seriously. In Lagos, Major Ifeajuna (Igbo) led a small detachment of soldiers to the house of Prime Minister Balewa (Hausa), overpowered his police guard and kicked his bedroom door open before abducting him. Balewa’s next door neighbour was also visited and abducted by Ifeajuna’s men. Major Okafor (Igbo) led some soldiers to the house of Brigadier Maimalari and after sporadic gunshots they discovered that he was not at home. Unfortunately for Maimalari, he saw and recognised Ifeajuna’s car while walking towards Dodan Barracks and stopped him. Ifeajuna stopped and killed him. Next to that, Ifeajuna went to Ikoyi Hotel and killed Lt. Colonel Largema (Middle-belt Northerner) who was accommodated there on a visit from his station, the 4th Battalion, Ibadan. Next to be killed by Ifeajuna was Lt. Colonel Unegbe (Igbo) at his Apapa residence. On his part Major Anuforo (Igbo) led the troop that killed Colonel Kuru Mohamed (Hausa) while Major Chukwuka (Igbo) killed Lt. Colonel Pam (Middle-belt Northerner) under the supervision of Major Anuforo (Igbo). Later Ifeajuna in his car linked up with Okafor and drove out of Lagos on the Abeokuta road taking the Prime Minister, Balewa, with them. Somewhere along the road, Ifeajuna (Igbo) ordered Balewa (Hausa) out of the car and shot him, dumping his body in a ditch near the road. Major Anuforo’s group drove out of Lagos towards Abeokuta in an army truck with corpses of the officers they had killed. When the corpses were to be offloaded, Anuforo observed Okotie-Eboh still sitting down. Anuforo (Igbo) ordered Okotie-Eboh (Urhobo) down and walked him into the bush where he was shot dead. The artillery commander in the Abeokuta garrison, Captain Emmanuel Nwobosi (Igbo) led his men to Ibadan where the Premier of the West, Akintota (Yoruba), was captured and shot dead. From the foregoing, it is evident that all murdered persons in the coup of January 15, 1966, except one, were non Igbos and the murderers were all Igbos. The rational question to ask and answer is, were the tribal selection of civilians and army officers killed accidental, coincidental or premeditated? This is what Ben Gbulie, one of the coup planners wrote on page 21 of his book, ‘The Five Majors’: “He (Brigadier Ademulegun) was such an accomplished tribalist, he had so reorganized his Brigade Headquarters that nearly all the appointments had gone to his Yoruba brothers. Thus Colonel Sodeinde had become the Brigade Second in Command; Major Sotomi, the Brigade Major; Major Adegoke, the Deputy Assistant Adjutant and Quartermaster-General; Captain Aisida, the Brigade Signals Officer; and some Yoruba man with an unpronounceable name, the Camp Commandant.” Was that why Ademulegun, Sodeinde and Adegoke were killed by Igbo officers? Perhaps that was not the major reason why they were killed since Ben Gbulie revealed in chapter 11, (page 38-39) that a Jihad principally directed against leading UPGA politicians and their Christian followers south of the Benue as well as the Niger River had been planned for 17 January 1966. He wrote that the aims of the Jihad led by Ahmadu Bello were to eliminate all the powerful Southern politicians opposed to the NNA, to enforce the Igbos-must-go hue and cry in the North, to impose Islam on the Christian South and thereby establish Nigeria as theocratic Muslim country. Further on page 40, Captain Gbulie wrote, “The Jihad, many an officer feared, was soon to become a military fact......in the light of the many secret nocturnal meetings held at the residence of Premier of Northern Nigeria, Ahmadu Bello, at which Premier of the Western Region, Samuel Ladoke Akintola, and Brigadiers Samuel Ademulegun and Zakariya Maimalari were present.” Captain Gbulie continued, “Indeed, many officers feared the worst. More so, as the news of the latest postings of some of our top commanders, reached us from Lagos. The GOC, Major-General Aguiyi Ironsi, an Igbo, was to go on indefinite leave at the behest of the Ministry of Defence. Lieutenant-Colonel Hilary Njoku, another Igbo, was to relinquish the command of the 2nd Battalion (based at Ikeja, near Lagos) to Lieutenant – Colonel Yakubu Gowon, a Northerner from Pankshin, and to proceed to Kaduna to take over command of the NMTC (Nigerian Military Training College). It was evident that, by this arrangement, the Southern command of the Nigerian Army was to fall, almost entirely, into the hands of the NPC (Northern People’s Congress) a component in the Nigerian National Alliance [NNA] – what with Brigadier Zak Maimalari, a Northerner, commanding the Lagos-based 2nd Brigade; Lieutenant-Colonel Yakubu Gowon presiding over the said 2nd Battalion at Ikeja; and Lieutenant-Colonel Largema, also a Northerner, commanding the Ibadan-based 4th Battalion. These postings, ....really led many of us to believe that the whole thing was not unconnected with the said plot to launch a Jihad; to plunge the Southern Regions of the country into a painful state of chaos and devastation.” The strange thing here was that Gbulie referred to Ironsi and Njokwu as Igbos but not as Easterners, whereas, Maimalari, Gowon and Largema were referred to as Northerners instead of Hausa, Angas and TIV respectively. It is even unbelievable that Ahmadu Bello would be planning a Muslim Jihad and would then invite Christians like Ademulegun, Akintola, Gowon and Largema to help him execute the Jihad! However, the Jihad thing was a ploy to give the NNA a bad name in order to hang it, even though a main component of UPGA, the NCNC, was also in the Federal cabinet with the NPC and NNDP. Since the coup plotters as indicated above considered the order of Aguiyi Ironsi by the Ministry of Defence to proceed on indefinite leave as an anti Igbo measure it was not likely that the plotters had planned to kill him. But that alone would not explain why non Igbo persons were killed in the January, coup.
Christian Gbulie revealed on page 57 of his book that the coup plotters could not agree within themselves if the coup should be bloody or not. In the following page 58 Captain Gbulie wrote, “More and more reasons were adduced on both sides for and against a bloody coup, some of which were both sound and plausible. Opinions were almost evenly divided. Finally, in order not to waste any more time rationalizing and splitting hairs, the coup plotters decided to let every officer exercise his discretion in handling the matter (whether to kill or not to kill their targeted persons).” As it turned out those who were against a bloody coup were tribal infiltrators and traitors. On page 124-126 of his book Captain Gbulie had this to say on why the coup failed in Lagos, “To begin with, the news had leaked out several days in advance of the military operation. Far too many people in the Lagos units, officers and men alike, had got wind of an imminent coup d’état and were actually peddling this vital intelligence long before the D-day.” He continued, “But by far the thickest wedge cast between the coup executors and success was the ugly element of treachery that manifested itself in the course of the nocturnal operation. To begin with, both Major Don Okafor and Captain Ogbo Oji had taken a stand against any step that might embody the killing of Ironsi.... It was to say the least, too much of a coincidence while the would-be assassins were pointedly making for his (Ironsi’s) residence, hoping to capture him, he (Ironsi) was at the same time heading towards Ikeja to enlist the support of the personal of the said 2nd Battalion... Moreover, it turned out that at that crucial stage of the operation, Major John Obienu had, for some insane reason, turned traitor; and that he was, in fact, a downright insincere coward. His failure to honour his pledge and turn up that night with his armoured cars was the one deciding act that led ultimately to the collapse of the Lagos operation – a calamitous act of sabotage that, by depriving our colleagues of the much-needed fire-power with which to crush Ironsi’s counter-revolution, finally drove a nail into the coffin of our objective.” Starting from Major Don Okafor and Captain Ogbo Oji, they were at the Ikoyi residence of Brigadier Maimalari after midnight of 15 January 1966 where they opened fire with a volley of bullets but they could not get their prime target, Maimalari. Amadu Kurfi, the then Deputy Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Defence, arrived at the residence of Maimalari shortly afterwards and he observed that the gates were locked and there were no military guards or sentries as it used to be. Instead, he noticed what looked like a dead body lying in front of the gate (page 26, The Nigerian General Elections 1959 and 1979 and the aftermath By Amadu Kurfi). The same Major Okafor and Captain Oji who killed one of the guards at the residence of Maimalari and would have killed Maimalari if they had seen him were not prepared to do anything that might embody the killing of Ironsi. Why? Unlike Maimalari who was Hausa, Okafor and Oji were Igbo just like Ironsi and the latter was even a kinsman from Umuahia to Ironsi. As for Major Obienu he was among the officers that attended a cocktail party hosted by Maimalari in honour of his newly-wed wife in the evening of January 14 1966. Obienu did not retire from the party until midnight, even though the coup plotters had assigned him the role to drive armoured vehicles from Abeokuta to Lagos that night to support the coup. Instead he linked up with Ironsi at the 2nd Battalion Ikeja. From the narrations above, it is proved beyond every reasonable doubt that Aguiyi Ironsi had foreknowledge of the coup and he planned to expropriate it after it had succeeded.
As it has been remarked earlier, Major Ifeajuna (Igbo) killed the Prime Minister, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa (Hausa); Major Nzeogwu (igbo) killed the Premier of the North, Ahmadu Bello (Hausa) and Captain Nwobosi (Igbo) killed the Premier of the West, Samuel Ladoke Akintola (Yoruba). But what happened to the Igbo Premier of the East, Michael Ihenukora Okpara and the Igbo Premier of the Mid-west, Denis Osadebey? The coup plotters had no plan to kill Okpara and Osadebey who were equally guilty of the political crimes that led to the riots in the Western Region which the coup planners gave as the main reason behind their action. Captain Gbulie gave reason why there was no plan to kill Okpara and Osadebey on page 136 of his book thus, “... both Major Chude Sokei and Lieutenant Jerome Oguchi of the 1st Infantry Battalion, Enugu, had ranked very high on the list of the strong advocates of a bloodless coup. And these were none other than the two young men upon whose shoulders squarely rested the onerous task of prosecuting the coup in the hill-clad coal city. ... They had indeed been so dogmatic in their stand that they could scarcely hide the fact that they totally abhorred bloodshed – bloodshed in any shape or form.” The feeling among none Igbo Nigerians, about the coup of the Majors was rightly represented by Obasanjo on page 100 of his book on Nzeogwu thus, “All sorts of postulations have been made on the failure of the coup ....but to my mind, the coup was heavily tribally biased in its execution in the South, and that nailed its coffin.”
Having expropriated the result of the coup perpetrated by the Majors, Ironsi, in the middle of February 1966, appointed Francis C. Nwokedi to head one man commission to study and report on the unification of Nigeria’s administrative machinery, public and judicial services. Francis C. Nwokedi had prematurely been retired as permanent secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1965 by Balewa’s regime an action which the NCNC duped as anti-Igbo. Furthermore, Major-General Aguiyi Ironsi appointed Dr.Pius Okigbo as his Economic Adviser and G.C.M. Onyuike as his Attorney General. By March 1966, remarkable changes occurred in the army whereby Igbo officers held ten out of thirteen unit command positions as against five out of twelve before the coup. In a nation-wide broadcast, 31st March 1966, on the annual budget, Ironsi expressed his interpretation of the will of Nigerians thus, “I am convinced that the bulk of our people want a united Nigeria and that they want in future one government and not a multitude of governments.” Then on the 19th of April 1966, there appeared a letter in the New Nigerian newspaper written by former Lagos NBC’s newscaster, Suleman Takuma. The letter titled, “Federation is Good for Nigeria,” partly read, “I feel that our (Northerners) silence is neither born out of fear nor...out of lack of views to present ... it is partly born out of shock.” He listed the causes of that shock as follows, “the seemingly tribally selective killings of the politicians in the January coup and the murder of innocent army officers – again on tribal basis and the failure of the Ironsi government to bring the coup leaders to justice.” And on the proposed unitary government he wrote, “One sad fact which ... some of the military top advisers refused to admit is that a unitary government does not necessarily unite the people of Nigeria.” In May 1966, twelve officers were promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel to fill the gap of those killed in the January 15, 1966 coup. Yet, no official announcement was made about the military officers killed in the January coup not to talk about giving them full military burial. On the political front, Aminu Kano of NEPU and Joseph Tarka of the UMBC made overtures to Ironsi but he disregarded them. Joseph Tarka at his own request had two audiences with Ironsi at which he tried in vain to convince the General to create Middle Belt Region and to release TIV political prisoners incarcerated by the previous regime. General Ironsi appeared to prioritise his unitary government. Thus on Tuesday, 24 May 1966, General Ironsi promulgated decree No 34 in which the country was no longer a Federation but only a Republic of Nigeria and ruled by a National Military Government. The Regions were abolished and replaced with a group of provinces; Federal and Regional civil services were merged together and were to be administered from Lagos; political and tribal organisations were dissolved and political activities were banned for the next two and half years. On May 29, 1966 pogrom directed against Southerners and especially against Igbos broke out in the North. The military Governor of the North, Lt. Colonel Hassan Katsina, appealed for calm in a radio broadcast and thereafter he held an emergency meeting with the Emirs at which he agreed to transmit their grievances to the Supreme Military Council. In early June the Supreme Military Council held a meeting and the public communiqué issued afterwards stated that the constitutional changes announced earlier were temporary and that a permanent constitution would only come into effect after going through the Constitutional Review Study Group, a Constituent Assembly and Referendum. In addition to this a tribunal was set up to examine causes of the riots, to frame a scheme of compensation for the loss and damage to properties and to suggest means of promoting inter-communal harmony. In mid-July Ironsi announced that Military Governors were to rotate every six months from a group of province to the other. Sections of the Nigeria police were also to rotate. Men of the 4th Battalion at Ibadan would change places with the 1st Battalion at Enugu. Prefects from the armed forces were to be responsible for government policy at local level. Thereafter, Ironsi undertook the tour of the nation culminating at Ibadan where he addressed a national meeting of traditional rulers on July 28, 1966 and enjoined them to sing the national anthem with him. He was to return to Lagos the following day but that was not to be as a day light coup on the 29th of July 1966, took his life and that of his host, the Governor of Western Region, Lt. Colonel Adekunle Fajuyi, who refused to forsake his guest. At this stage it is necessary to remind Achebe and his ilk that Awolowo was in jail at Calabar prison when pogrom in the North began on May 29, 1966 and still remained there when the 2nd coup of July 29, 1966, took place. Thus if that pogrom, according to Achebe, amounted to genocide, Awolowo could not have caused it since he was in prison.
In 1966 the Nigerian Army was a ten-thousand man strong. While the Igbos had a large percentage of the officer’s corps, the other ranks - the so called Non Commissioned Officers (NCO) and riflemen consisted of over 80% of Middle-belter. The disproportionate numbers of Middle-belter in the other ranks dated back to 1903 when Lugard recruited them under the leadership of Colonel Morland in the invasion of Sokoto that led to the defeat and killing of Sultan Mohammed Attahiru 1 on March 15, 1903. The majority of Middle-belter in the other ranks of the army was what favoured the then, Lieutenant-Colonel Yakubu Gowon when he shoved aside his seniors (a Brigadier, a Colonel and some Lt. Colonels) to become Head of State on the 1st of August 1966, after the coup of 29 July 1966. Two days after assuming power, Gowon released Awolowo, Anthony Enahoro and other Action Group members jailed for allegedly planning to overthrow by force the federal coalition government of NPC/NCNC. Gowon personally went to the airport to welcome Awolowo, telling him his wealth of experience would be needed. By 19th of August 1966, Gowon granted amnesty to 1,035 TIVs who had been imprisoned for political offences between 1960 and 1964 by the NPC regime in the North. Despite the fact that Gowon ascended to power, molestations and killings of Igbo civilians in the North continued throughout August and September 1966. As a result of continued massacre of Igbos in the North, Gowon went on the air on the 2nd of October 1966, to speak to Northerners, “You all know that since the end of July God in his power has entrusted the responsibility of this great country of ours into the hands of yet another Northerner. I receive complaints daily that up till now Easterners living in the North are being killed and molested, and their property looted. I am very unhappy about this. We should put a stop to this. It appears that it is going beyond reason and is now at a point of recklessness and irresponsibility.” Lt. Colonel Ojukwu who had never recognised Gowon as the new Supreme Commander of the Army and Head of Military Government was not impressed by Gowon’s broadcast. Therefore he ordered all Easterners especially the Igbos to return to their home base in the East. According to West African Magazine (page 1497) of 26 December 1966, the Eastern Nigerian rehabilitation commission estimated at that stage that about 1. 175 million refugees had been received. Thenceforth, there continued a game of hide and seek between Ojukwu and Gowon with the former planning the secession of the Eastern Region from Nigeria. On March 10, 1967, a meeting of Supreme Military Council was called in Benin to approve decree Number 8 in order to implement part of Aburi agreement. Ojukwu refused to attend that meeting, hacking on the failure of the Federal government to honour the August 9, 1966 agreement which ordered the withdrawal of troops to their Regions of origin since Northern troops were still in West and Lagos. Ojukwu rejected Decree no. 8 which made Nigeria a loose Federation with a weak centre.
With the rejection of Decree no. 8, Ojukwu on the 31st of March 1967 issued an edict appropriating all Federal revenues in the East. This was followed in three quick successions by what was termed ‘survival edicts’, which meant taking over Federal Corporations, railways, rolling stock, schools and courts in the East. The Federal government responded by imposing strict control on foreign exchange transactions and terminating all Nigeria Airways flights to Eastern Region. While the altercations between Ojukwu and Gowon persisted, what was termed ‘Western Leaders of Thought’ meeting was held at Ibadan on May 1, 1967. At that meeting Awolowo declared, “If the Eastern Region is allowed, by acts of omission, or commission, to secede from or opt out of Nigeria.....then the Federation should be considered to be at an end, and the Western Region....should also opt out of it.” This statement has been interpreted by Achebe and his ethnic jingoists as Awolowo promising Ojukwu that the West would secede if the East seceded. Awolowo’s statement was actually directed to the Federal Military government and its head implying that if the East was not allowed to secede the West too would remain in the Federation. On the 7th of May 1967, Awolowo led a four-man delegation to Enugu to appeal to Ojukwu not to cut off the head as a solution to migraine but Ojukwu who mistook the sneaking of a lion for cowardice snubbed Awolowo and called his delegate an ill-conceived child. By May 25, 1967, Northern troops had been withdrawn from Western Region.
On May 26, 1967, Ojukwu summoned what was called Eastern Consultative Assembly in Enugu and asserted that the East was fully prepared to defend itself. He declared, “There is no power in this country or in Black Africa to subdue us by force.” Thereafter he gave the Assembly three alternatives from which to choose one. They were (i) accepting the term of the North and Gowon and thereby submit to domination by the North, or (ii) continuing the present stalemate and drift, or (iii) ensuring the survival of our people by asserting our autonomy. The so called ‘Eastern Consultative Assembly’, on the 27th of May 1967, unanimously passed a resolution mandating Ojukwu to declare Eastern Region a Sovereign Republic of Biafra as soon as it was practicable. The same day Gowon assumed full dictatorial powers, declared a state of emergency, abrogated Decree no. 8 and carved the country into twelve new states as follows: North-Western, North-Central, North-Eastern, Kano, Kwara, Benue-Plateau (all in the former Northern Region), Western State (former Western Region), Lagos State, Mid-Western State, Rivers, South-Eastern and East-Central (the last three States from the former Eastern Region). Then on the 30th of May 1967, Ojukwu declared the former Eastern Nigeria as Republic of Biafra. The Federal government regarded Ojukwu’s declaration of Republic of Biafra as a rebellion that should be crushed and therefore set up a naval blockade of the East. Meanwhile, the minorities from Ogoja, Calabar, Port Harcourt and Rivers began to show up in Lagos to join the Federal Army. Exhibiting a very great wisdom, Gowon invited Awolowo on 3rd June 1967 to become Vice Chairman of the Federal Executive Council and Commissioner for Finance. Beside Awolowo, Gowon saw to it that each of the twelve states had a civilian representative in the Federal Executive Council which among others featured Anthony Enahoro, Okoi Arikpo, Joseph Tarka and Aminu Kano. On the 6th of July 1967, the Federal government initiated what was called a police action to arrest Ojukwu and shooting broke out along the border between the North and the East. The police action was later changed to full scale war by the Federal government when the Biafran army invaded Mid-West on August 9, 1967.
War as everyone knows is not humane, it is brutal. War cannot create life, it can only take life. However, when Gowon was forced to declare war on the secessionist in the Eastern part of the country, he issued a Code of Conduct to the armed forces in which he reminded them, “You are not fighting a war against a foreign enemy. Nor are you fighting a religious war. You are only subduing the rebellion of Lieutenant- Colonel Odumegwu Ojukwu and his clique.” The Code of Conduct contained also detailed instructions about how civilians, prisoners of war, foreigners and mercenaries were to be treated. And the Code of Conduct ended, “You must remember that some of the soldiers Lieutenant-Colonel Ojukwu has now forced to oppose you were once your old comrades-in-arms and would like to remain so. You must therefore treat them with respect and dignity except anyone who is hostile to you. Good luck.” Ojukwu, on his part, was in no doubt that a proclamation of secession from Nigeria by him amounted to a declaration of war, therefore, he went on to assure his so called Eastern Consultative Assembly at Enugu on the 26th of May 1967 that the East was fully prepared to defend itself and that no power in Nigeria or in Black Africa could subdue the East by force. The civil war, which officially ended on the 12th of January 1970 with the surrender of Philip Effiong to whom Ojukwu had handed over power before deserting his troupes has recently become a subject of impression for Chinua Achebe. Achebe’s impression made him to associate Jack Yakubu Gowon and Jeremiah Obafemi Awolowo with Islamic Jihadists who had a design to exterminate the Igbo people from the face of the earth. In pursuance of the plan to exterminate the Igbo people, Achebe maintained that Gowon’s federal military government imposed economic blockade that prevented what he termed ‘shipments of humanitarian aid, food and supplies to the needy in Biafra’. Both Awolowo and Gowon, and in fact two-third of the federal cabinet, were Christians and in the case of Gowon it is on record that he married his Igbo wife (Victoria) from Asaba in the middle of the civil war. Therefore, the attempt to link Awolowo and Gowon to Islamic Jihadist in the prosecution of the civil war that ended forty-two years ago is totally unintelligent. In contrast to Biafra, Nigeria as a signatory to the Geneva Conventions was bound to follow the Conventions’ rules pertaining to relief supplies to civilians in a beleaguered territory. Chinua Achebe could not have been ignorant of the fact that Nigeria in compliance with the Geneva Conventions actually offered to create a land corridor between Nigeria and the Biafran enclave to transport relief supplies to civilians in Biafra under the supervision of International Red Cross Committee and World Council of Churches. Biafra (Ojukwu) rejected this offer on the grounds that food supplies through Nigeria could be poisoned and transport passage through Nigeria was an infringement on Biafra’s sovereignty. Ojukwu dictated that food and relief supplies were unacceptable to Biafra unless they came from sources and through channels that had no connection with the federal government. It is remarkable that at the time Ojukwu arrogantly rejected the offer of land corridor for transportation of relief supplies to civilians in his Biafra, Nigeria had already captured the whole of the then South-East State with its capital in Calabar and Rivers State with its capital in Port Harcourt. The capital of East Central State, Enugu, (the seat of the Government of Biafra itself) was captured in October 1967 forcing Ojukwu to relocate his rebellion’s headquarter to Umuahia. Obviously Ojukwu’s Biafra or East Central State could not have suffered any sea blockade as claimed by Achebe since it was landlocked by Rivers State and South-East State which had been liberated by the federal forces earlier in the war.
In his book on the Spanish Civil War, *Homage to Catalonia,* George Orwell remarked, “One of the most horrible features of war is that all the war propaganda, all the screaming lies and hatred comes invariably from people who are not fighting (p 67).” Achebe was never a fighter in the Civil War but a propagandist, and forty-two years after the war has ended he is still embroiled in the propaganda of designs by certain Nigerians to exterminate or commit genocide against the Igbo people. Yet, when the rebel soldier himself, Lieutenant-Colonel Odumegwu Ojukwu, addressed the Biafran Consultative Assembly in September 1968 on the hypothetical extermination of the Igbo people, he said, ”Our real victory lies in our ability to prevent the extermination of our (Igbo) people by a heartless enemy. In so far as these aims (to prevent the extermination of Igbo people) are concerned, we have not failed (see Biafra: Ojukwu’s Selected Speeches; Volume 1, p. 353).” In this piece, Ojukwu did not consider him-self heartless, rather he saw himself as a compassionate leader who had successfully repelled the extermination forces against his Igbo people. In the same volume of Ojukwu’s selected speeches page 357, he told the Consultative Assembly in September 1968, “Those governments motivated by humanitarian considerations have a responsibility now to ensure that Biafrans are enabled to defend themselves by providing them (the Biafrans) the wherewithal so to do.” From the foregoing, it is evident that Ojukwu wanted weapons as humanitarian gifts from foreign governments and not food. And if Biafrans were dying of starvation it was the responsibility of the government of Biafra whose primary objective of seceding from Nigeria was to provide security of life and property for the Igbo people, to provide food for her citizens and failure to fulfil their primary objective should lead to immediate capitulation and surrender. Instead of seeing it that way, Achebe harped on the statement of Awolowo, “I don’t see why we should feed our enemies fat in order for them to fight harder,” as if he (Achebe) has ever heard or read of any history of warfare where a belligerent send food to the beleaguered soldiers. Achebe knows quite well that the enemies referred to were Biafra’s soldiers and not the whole Igbo people. Achebe continued his swipe on Awolowo, “Awolowo was driven by an overriding ambition of power, for him-self in particular and for the advancement of his Yoruba people in general. However, Awolowo saw the dominant Igbos at the time as the obstacle for that goal...” Awolowo did not seek to rule Nigeria just for his own sake or for the sake of Yoruba people alone. In June 1960, when Awolowo was leader of opposition in the Federal Parliament, he published his autobiography, *AWO* which he dedicated to A NEW AND FREE NIGERIA WHERE INDIVIDUAL FREEDOM AND A MORE ABUNDANT LIFE ARE GUARANTEED TO ALL HER CITIZENS. He was not wishing him-self or his Yoruba people alone freedom and more abundant life but all Nigerians. Then on page 172 he quoted from Nnamdi Azikwe’s Presidential address to the Ibo State Assembly held at Aba on Saturday, June 25, 1949, and republished in the West African Pilot of July 8, 1949: ...It would appear that the God of Africa has specially created the Ibo nation to lead the children of Africa from the bondage of the ages... The martial prowess of the Ibo nation at all stages of human history has enabled them not only to conquer others but also to adapt themselves to the role of preserver.. . In the same vain Awolowo drew attention to another Ibo leader and a member of the Nigerian Legislative Council who declared in 1948 that the domination of Nigeria by the Ibos is a question of time. Reacting to this, Awolowo wrote in his autobiography, “A situation in which one ethnic group would dominate the others does not accord with my conception of a united and happy Nigeria. I am implacably opposed to dictatorship as well as the doctrine of Herrenvolk (Master-race) whether it was Hitler’s or Dr Azikwe’s.” Contrary to Awolowo who believed in the equality of all the ethnic groups in Nigeria, Achebe believes in the superiority of his own tribe over all other tribes in Nigeria. Consequently, Achebe proudly and arrogantly chose Awolowo as the enemy of Igbo domination over all other tribes in Nigeria. Even if Awolowo did not like dominators, should that be a crime? Which mankind loves to be inferior and dominated? Achebe has never provided any concrete evidence that Igbo people, at any time of Nigeria’s history, has been dominant and one finds it very difficult to understand why he has chosen to attribute this negative character to the entire Igbo people. It may be that there is some truth in what Dr Thomas Ozodi Osuji (him-self Igbo) postulated in www.nigerianvillagesquare.com of 15 October 2008 thus, “Generally, they (Igbos) assume that they are superior to other Nigerians. They look down on other Nigerians, insulting them, right and left.” He continued, “It is delusion disorder (a partial psychosis) for any human being or group of human beings to see themselves as better than others (as superior to others). All human beings are the same and equal; to look down on another human being is a sign of insanity. Insanity is inability to deal with reality as it is but to insist that it accommodates ones wishes. In this case Igbos wish that they were superior to other Nigerians; they are not but they behave as if they are hence are deluded (are partially psychotic; full psychosis requires the presence of delusion and hallucination).” Achebe’s inability to accept reality, according to the Geneva Conventions, that a belligerent in a civil war has the right to inspect and monitor transportation of relief supplies to civilians in a beleaguered territory has made him to insist that Awolowo should be held responsible for starvation in Biafra even though it was Ojukwu who had rejected the application of Geneva Conventions. By September 1968 any rational military man would have seen the hopelessness of continued military resistance by the Biafra’s forces as they have been pushed and confined to a very small enclave. Instead of capitulating and surrendering, Ojukwu despatched on the 7th of September 1968, Nnamdi Azikwe, Michael Okpara, Kenneth Dike, Francis Nwokedi, C. C. Mojekwu and others to Paris to solicit for increased French military and financial assistance to Biafra. The French decided to keep the level of support to the same level and the Biafran delegates decided with a dissenter that time had come to make peace with Nigeria. Thus the delegates forwarded a telegram to Ojukwu that due to the limitations of French assistance and unsafe military situation and the appalling suffering of the Biafran civil population a new peace initiative was imperative. Ojukwu fired back and ordered the delegates to return home forthwith. He stated that Biafra’s sovereignty was not negotiable under any circumstances. It was at that stage that Azikwe abandoned Biafra and exiled self in London. The war could have ended in 1968, but some people saw political advantage in prolonging the war. Hence for fifteen months thenceforth the federal forces were made to turn blind eyes to the illegal night flights of arms into Biafra through the Uli Ihiala air strip which was within the federal forces shelling range. It was the same Uli Ihiala air strip that Ojukwu used when he fled Biafra on Saturday 10 January 1970. For the sake of Achebe and his ilk it is noteworthy that Nigeria was highly commended for her unique and civilising contribution to the history of warfare when she voluntarily invited International Observer Team drawn from Britain, Canada, Poland, Sweden, and OAU so as to inspect the behaviour of the Federal troops at the war fronts and to investigate the Biafran charge of genocide. The International Observer Team was in Nigeria for sixteen months and wrote volumes of reports that totally exonerated Nigeria from any war crime including genocide. Achebe has ascribed to him-self the right to estimate (or is it just an impression?) that over two million people died of starvation in Biafra but before that figure can be accepted as being correct he should furnish the world with the estimated population of Biafra before and after the war. Already in the autumn of 1968 Awolowo had frowned on the fact that foods sent to Biafra to feed civilians were being hijacked by Biafran soldiers. Almost a year later, Africa Correspondent of Los Angeles Times, Stanley Meisler , corroborated Awolowo’s statement in Africa Report, November 1969 thus, “More significant and depressing cruelty and meanness have come to Biafran Society. Soldiers sometime evict refugees from camps and seize whatever food has been planted there, or they beat up relief-agency drivers and commandeer their trucks to transport arms. Army deserters use their weapons to waylay relief trucks and steal food.” What do you say to that Achebe?
Awolowo has been vilified by Achebe and his ilk for giving only £20 to Biafrans irrespective of what individual Biafran claimed to have lodged in the bank before the war. Achebe, as a head of external broadcasting service in the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation in Lagos before he fled to the East during July 1966 coup, was on super scale salary. Based on that fact Nigerians will like to know if he had any saving in the bank at the time he fled Eastward; How much money did he have in his bank account and what happened to the money? Without waiting for Achebe to answer the questions I venture to assert that those who fled to the East in 1966 and had money in the bank withdrew them in cash and travelled with them to the East as money was the easiest of all physical properties they could travel with. And even if one assumes that those who fled eastward left their savings and deposits behind un-withdrawn, the simplest thing for claimants to do after the war was to present their bank account books or last statements of account from the banks to reclaim their savings or deposits. Legally that should be private affairs between the banks and their customers with which Awolowo as the Minister of Finance had nothing to do. Before Awolowo died, he explained that it was a committee set up by him that recommended a social welfare package of £20 to everyone from the war affected area that desired it since Biafra’s currency was not legal. Thus, the £20 was not a payment in lieu of what individual Igbo had in the bank before the war but a survival gift to those who requested for it. It might interest Achebe and his ilk to know that when Awolowo was Minister of Finance a Nigerian Pound (£) exchanged at one British Guinea (21Shillings or £1. 1Shilling) while a Nigerian Pound exchanged at one US dollar eighty-two cents ($1.82). £20 was a big money then!!
Another excerpt from Achebe’s book states, “The original ideal of one Nigeria was pressed by the leaders and intellectuals from the Eastern Region. With all their shortcomings, they had this idea to build the country as one. The first to object were Northerners led by the Sardauna, who were followed closely by the Awolowo clique that had created the Action Group.” Historically, while it is a fact that Awolowo founded EGBE OMO ODUDUWA (A Society of the Descendants of ODUDUWA) in London in 1945, the Ibo state Union under the Chairmanship of one Mr. Chuba Ikpeazu had existed in London since 1943. When Egbe Omo Oduduwa was formally launched in Lagos in 1948 by Adeyemo Alakija, Akinola Maja, Kofo Abayomi, Bode Thomas, H O Davies, Akanni Doherty etc, Awlowo was not there and the Ibo state Union in Nigeria had been in existence for over two years. Awolowo only helped later to inaugurate a branch of Egbe Omo Oduduwa in Ibadan. It was not until May 1948 that Jamiyyar Mutanen Arewa (Northern People’s Congress) was founded in Zaria by Dr R A B Dikko. In fact the Northern People’s Congress was a regional organisation that embraced all the tribes in the North while Ibo State Union and Egbe Omo Odudua excluded all minority tribes in their region from membership. While one could be a member of Egbe Omo Oduduwa and join any political Party in the country, all members of the Ibo state Union were affiliated to the NCNC. For instance H O Davies was one of the founders of Egbe Omo Oduduwa and he belonged to the NCNC party until he died. It is indisputable that the first tribal interest organisation in Nigeria was Ibo State Union and others just copied them. How then can one reconcile the idea of building Nigeria as one country through Ibo state Union of which Nnamdi Azikwe was its President since 1949 upwards? Rummaging through Nigeria Year Book, 1956, published in Lagos when Nigeria was still a colony, it was stated that Egbe Omo Oduduwa remained just a reply to the Ibo State Union; in other words, as an assembly which catered for the social and cultural progress of the Yorubas. On the Action Group the Year book stated, “Today the Action Group is as important as any other political party in the country; it is certainly better organised than the rest. The Action Group believes in a socialist commonwealth but also in the solidarity of the parts and the unity of all.” In Achebe’s lecture at The Guardian Silver Jubilee on October 9, 2008, in Lagos Dr. Osuji was irritated over the claim of Achebe that Igbos, more than other Nigerians, worked for Nigeria’s independence. And Dr. Osuji remarked, “That claim is arrant nonsense. Nigeria’s independence struggle, as it was, began with the 1920s Lagos crowd, with such non-Igbo folk as Herbert Macaulay, H. O Davies etc. It is part of Igbo misguided arrogance for them to always see themselves as working more than other persons for common good. If truth be said, we all know that Igbos have many character flaws, including selfishness. Igbos are generally unprincipled and opportunistic and work for their individual self interests not social interests.” Much as one would strongly object to Dr Osuji’s sweeping generalisation of painting negative characters on Igbos it is worthwhile to know that, in the history of warfare, General Chukwu Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu was the first commander in chief in the world that ever deserted his soldiers in an ongoing war to seek asylum abroad. After over ten years in exile, Ojukwu returned to Nigeria in early 1982 having been pardoned by the *Jihadist,* President Alhaji Shewu Shagari, of the NPN led government. While wounded, maimed and crippled Biafra’s war veterans roam about in Igbo towns and cities to beg for alms in order to live, Ojukwu negotiated and got his monthly pension as a retired Lieutenant- Colonel (the rank he held in the Nigeria Army before secession) from the Federal Government until his death! Ojukwu was never a revolutionary but a petty bourgeois and a reactionary. If Achebe’s tribal belief and expression is applied to the historical events narrated above, it will be correct to say that the Igbo leaders in the NCNC, Benjamin Nnamdi Azikwe and Michael Ihenokura Okpara hated Yoruba people and their leader Jeremiah Obafemi Awolowo who also happened to be the leader of Action Group Party that controlled the government of Western Region in 1962. The hatred of the Igbo leaders, Azikwe and Okpara, for the Yoruba people caused them to conspire with the Jihadists, Ahmadu Bello and Abubakar Tafawa Balewa of the NPC to declare a state of emergency in the Western Region and thereby overthrew the government of the Action Group elected by the Yoruba People. The purpose of Azikwe and Okpara in overthrowing the elected government of Yoruba land was to pave way for their own Igbo people to dominate the Yoruba people. The thirteen Emergency Acts signed into law by the Igbo Governor General Azikwe made it possible to restrict and put under house arrest members of the Action Group and its leader Awolowo from 29 May 1962. Awolowo was restricted and put under house arrest at an Island called Leki until November 2, 1962 when he and some members of his Party were charged to court for planning to overthrow the federal coalition government of Igbo (NCNC) and Hausa (NPC). Awolowo was remanded in prison until he was convicted in September 1963 to ten years imprisonment. Soon after Awolowo had been convicted the leader of Hausa’s NPC, Ahmadu Bello, and the leader of Igbo’s NCNC, Michael Ihenokura Okpara, began to quarrel among them-selves over who should dominate Yoruba land and its people. Yoruba people demonstrated violently against their subjugation and demanded the release of the Action Group leader and his comrades from prison. Protests persisted until 15th January 1966 when some Army Majors struck against the civilian government. The Army Major’s coup was hijacked by Igbo infiltrators who betrayed not only the coup planners to would be Igbo victims but failed to execute their own part of the coup against fellow Igbo. Consequently, all the people killed in the first coup both civilians and military officers, except one, were non Igbo Nigerians. Had the Igbo Acting President Nwafor Orizu, Igbo Premiers of the East and Midwest, Okpara and Osadebey, been killed just as the coup executors did to the Hausa Prime Minister of the Federation, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Hausa Premier of North, Ahmadu Bello and the Premier of the West, Samuel Ladoke Akintola, the coup would have been seen by Nigerians in general as having been carried out in the national interest. There was no valid reason either why all the military officers killed in the coup, except one, were people of Northern and Western Regions only. According to Captain Gbulie (see page 66, Nigeria’s Five Majors) Captain Goddy Ude was issued with a .38-calibre pistol and ample live ammunition by the plotters in Kaduna on Thursday, 13 January 1966 and sent him by road to the 5th Battalion in Kano where Lt. Colonel Ojukwu was the Commanding Officer. The idea was not to kill Ojukwu but to thwart any attempt to subvert the coup by the 5th Battalion, but Captain Goddy Ude played game with Ojukwu. However, the Igbo man that hijacked the coup of the Five Majors, Major-General Johnson Thompson Umunnakwe Aguiyi Ironsi appointed an Igbo man Pius Okigbo as his economic adviser, another Igbo man G Onyuike became the Attorney General and Francis Nwokedi an Igbo man was appointed a one-man commission of enquiry on the establishment of an administrative machinery for Nigeria and the unification of the five public services (four regions and the federal) and judicial services in Nigeria. At the same time Igbo traders in the North made postcards out two different cartoons that were published in the West African Pilot newspaper owned by Nnamdi Azikwe. One had the picture of Ahmadu Bello lying with the face up and a cock, the party symbol of NCNC, standing on his chest crowing. The other postcard featured Ahmadu Bello, Balewa and Akintola knocking at the gate of heaven and an Angel coming out saying, this is heaven no rigging. These cards were being sold by Igbo traders throughout Northern Nigeria and they helped a lot to create the impression that the coup was an Igbo takeover of Nigeria. Moreover, while General Ironsi refused to release political prisoners, especially Awolowo, he promulgated the unification decree no. 34 amalgamating the federal and regional civil services on the 24th of May 1966 and riot broke out in the North on the 29th of May 1966 in protest against the decree. Two months later a coup d’état by Northern soldiers in the army occurred and many Igbo army officers including Ironsi were killed. On August 2, 1966 and after three years, nine months and one day in Prison in which the coalition government of Igbo NCNC and Hausa NPC had put him, Awolowo was released by the Middle-belt born new military Head of State Lieutenant –Colonel Yakubu Gowon.
Achebe’s personal impression about the Nigerian civil war is an unnecessary distraction from the main problem confronting Nigeria today. With the geographical area of nine-hundred and twenty-three thousand, seven-hundred and seventy-three square kilometres, Nigeria will conveniently contain Belgium, France, Netherlands, Italy, Luxemburg, Liechtenstein and Malta altogether and still have three-thousand four-hundred and twenty-four square kilometres extra space of land left. In contrast with many countries of Europe, Nigeria is endowed with abundant rain forest, Savannah grassland, fertile soil for agriculture all the year round, verse mineral resources (liquid & solid) and a climate devoid of major natural disasters such as earthquakes, typhoons or cyclones. Educationally, there is no academic degree in this world, real or honorary, that one would not find at least five Nigerians possessing it. That is why Nigeria’s index of manpower is the highest in the world and which explains why there are more PHDs and professors in the government of Nigeria than anywhere else around the world. By nature Nigeria is a readymade paradise on earth but hitherto her rulers have succeeded in transforming the Nigerian state into carrion and turning one of the richest diverse geographies in the world into most embarrassing atrophy.
Whenever Nigerian rulers collude to loot the national treasury and take care of one another at the expense of the masses, they always use ethnic and religious smokescreens to blindfold and deceive ordinary Nigerians to accept and support their loots. When it comes to money, religion and tribe are just weapons with which the rulers fight amongst themselves so as to decide who gets the largest share of the loot. Thus, their political quarrel is always about whom among them should hold the spade to share, within themselves, the cake that none of them but nature has baked for Nigeria. The rulers of Nigeria are neither benevolent to the citizens nor feel responsible for their welfare. In 1966 when Achebe was head of external broadcasting service, Nigeria had a government run by Local Purchase Order, which produced goods and services even though at ten per cent inflated price. Since 1985 and hitherto, Nigeria has had governments by consultancy, producing only heavy economic jargons and beautiful acronyms. The consultants are the rulers of Nigeria and the civil servants who have become millionaires and billionaires in terms of dollar and pound sterling as they steal public funds appropriated for industrial and infrastructural developments of Nigeria. Thus the typical ethnic chauvinism with which Achebe was acquainted in the ‘60s has been replaced with Federal Character in stealing, robbery and theft of national patrimony by people from all tribes in Nigeria. Although all federal characterised thieves retain stolen funds only for themselves, they fraudulently turn around to say that the positions they hold in government are on behalf of their specific tribe. The federal characterised thieves in Nigeria wrongly classify their acts of appropriating public funds to themselves as corruption instead of stealing therefore we find thieves talking about fighting corruption. Why is it that ordinary Nigerians who can barbeque his/her fellow Nigerian for stealing one Naira look with indifference when public servants and rulers steal trillions of Naira budgeted for infrastructures, Schools, Health care deliveries, electricity, water and oil refineries? The reason is that Nigeria is being governed in English Language which ninety-eight per cent of Nigerians cannot read, write or understand properly. Yet, Awolowo warned in his book, Path to Nigerian Freedom, published in 1947 that, “The existence of a microscopic literary class would lead to exploitation of the great majority of illiterates by the intelligentsia.” That was why Awolowo invested so much on free primary education in the Western Region but his enemies who thought that education should be exclusive right of privileged few destroyed it. Therefore the literary class at federal, state and local government level in Nigeria has now become millionaires not because they are industrious and hard working but because of their connections with oil money through the so called revenue allocations, oil block gifts and fuel subsidy’s rackets. No Nigerian language has a word for million, billion or trillion. Hence, there is no equivalent monetary quantity calculated in millions, billions or trillions in any of Nigeria’s ethnic languages. Since millions, billions and trillions are beyond the arithmetical imagination of most Nigerians who are illiterates, it means that absolute majority of Nigerians do not have financial understanding of what constitutes a million-, a billion- and a trillion Naira whenever the rulers of Nigeria are exposed of stealing such huge amounts from the public. That is the main reason why majority of Nigerians are passive onlookers to the robberies perpetrated by their rulers.
After the civil war in which the slogan from the Federal side was one Nigeria, one people, the question of who governs Nigeria should not be based on regional, religious and ethnic belongings. Yet, the rulers of Nigeria inserted into the constitution what was called ‘Federal Character’ in appointments to public service. Through ‘Federal Character’ individual Nigerians have been able to masque their self interest as tribal, religious or regional interest. Whereas, competence should be the deciding factor while choosing a Presidential Candidate, it is predetermined in Nigeria that the President and his deputy should come not only from specific areas of the country but that any of the candidates should either be a Euro-Christian or Arab-Islamic God’s worshiper. In spite of the fact that the next Presidential election will be in year 2015 intensive campaigns have already begun about whether the current President should contest for second term or not. Since the defining issue about a President in Nigeria is not if he has ruled justly and efficiently to the benefit of the populace but which tribe or part of the country he comes from, some are demanding that a Northerner should take over as President in 2015. Some Northerners joined in to say that since all previously elected Presidents of Nigeria were Muslims they demand that the next President should be a Northern Christian. On his part, the former Governor of Abia State (1999 – 2007) declared that the civil war would not be regarded as having ended unless Good-luck Jonathan is succeeded by an Igbo man as a President (see www. Vanguardngr.com/2012/10/2015-igbo-presidency-will-finally-end-the-civil-war-kalu/). Actually the masses of Nigeria do not care if their President has his face carved up with tribal marks horizontally and vertically or if he speaks Ijaw, Urhobo, Ibibio, Hausa, Igbo or Yoruba or if he is a Christian or a Muslim. They rather care for the President who will give them a fair share of amenities and who is not possessed by the primitive passion of greedy acquisition of Nigeria’s patrimony for himself, his family and his cronies.