1st March, 2012
It was wrong and belated for anybody to conclude that the late Ikemba Nnewi, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu caused the secession war in 1967. Let us tell Yakubu Gowon that it was the senseless way the political crisis of that era was handled by his northern oligarchy that caused the civil war. But the major contributory factor was the utter denial of the truth of the Aburi agreement, leading to the denial of justice, fair-play, and lack of moral rectitude, exhibited by the same set of feudal rulers from 29 July, 1966 upwards.
It was not a matter of joke when Dim Ojukwu declared that “on Aburi we stand”. This was a peace agreement brokered by the two sides at Aburi, Ghana, through the effort of the then Ghana president, Roy Ankrah, who helped to broker the accord, in order to bring peace and harmony to the people of Nigeria.
However, when Gowon returned to Nigeria, he was forced to reverse the peace accord, which the northern hegemony described as a sell-out to Ojukwu, even though they knew full well that the Igbo, as a race, suffered most, under the army interregnum, leading to a well-planned consistent pogrom and systematic extermination of the people of Igbo tribe in the north. Gowon government became more harsh on Ojukwu and his people. Nevertheless, what measure of condolence would you express to a man whose mother was eaten up by hyena? That was the awkward position, the man Ojukwu was, when he was forced to declare secession in 1967.
Unfortunately, Ojukwu was not fully on ground militarily when he declared Biafran Republic, and that was why he lost the struggle. As a student of history (of which he was), he would have studied how America fought and won independence from British rule, and also about the 7 day war between the Israeli and Arab nations. In three months, he would have ordered for military training of Igbo youths while many others would have been sent abroad for training in tactical and strategic guerilla warfare. Also other Igbo boys would have been sent overseas to train as pilot specialists in reconnaissance flights. With adequate military equipment, and human and other resources, Ojukwu would have been on ground to confront the military might of the then military government successfully. Ojukwu would have adopted the tactical strategy of the Israeli army during the 7-day war with Arab nations in 1967. Israel had very small number of army, compared with the number of the desert rats of the Arab countries involved in the struggle. 30 minutes to the commencement of the hostilities by the Arab armies, Israeli air force bombarded the air military formations throughout the Arab countries involved in the idea of elimination of the Jewish nation from the Middle East. The air incendiary attacks were made consistent to be carried out at 30 minutes intervals. In a short period of time, all the Arab military and commercial planes were virtually destroyed. And within 7 days of hostilities, Arab countries, led by Egypt, were forced to ask for a ceasefire.
Nevertheless, Dim Emeka Ojukwu was a fine and disciplined soldier who tried to see that sanity was maintained in the military hierarchy when the retaliatory counter-coup of Gowon boys took place. He advised that Brigadier Ogundipe be allowed to take over the mantle of leadership as was done after the first coup when he made sure that General Aguiyi Ironsi took over the government. This was rejected by the northern junta because Gowon and his boys had their own plan to make sure that the north ruled Nigeria for a long time, under one form of coups, and counter-coups.
The counter-coup of July 29, 1966, was a retaliatory coup which led to the ethnic cleansing of the Igbo race. Virtually all Nigerians of Ibo extraction were decimated in the north. The blood-letting was extended to Lagos where many Igbo military officers were fished out and slaughtered after the coup. Even the civilian Ibo were not left out of the macabre dance of death. This inhumanity to man of the northern soldiers, forced the majority of Igbos to flee to Lagos after selling their buildings and other properties at give-away prices. Some cursed the day they were born as Igbo. Others died of fear and shock, to tell you that Nigeria was at war against herself. Some even quoted the scripture “that all days are evil because they are controlled by satan, and that the evil sides of the evil days are now the portion of the Igbo”. Therefore the remnants of the northern holocaust of the coup and counter-coup had no alternative but to run back to their ancestral region.
Ojukwu then faced a pathetic and grave situation. Apart from God, the Igbo looked up to him as their avatar to deliver them from the deadly clutches of the northern oligarchy. At that juncture, he was forced to declare secession from inhuman set of people who didn’t value human lives. In order to find an amicable settlement to the political crisis, the then Ghana president hosted the two warring groups. At the end of the meeting, a peaceful accord was reached. When they got to Nigeria, Gowon reneged on the Aburi declaration.
However, declaration of secession did not mean declaration of war. There was still room for negotiation which was not explored, because the Gowon military government was bent on teaching the Igbo a bitter lesion. It was the Gowon junta that made the first move on mere declaration of intention by starting the civil war on May 27, 1967. There was still room to resolve the contending issues by the federal military government which failed to toe the path of rectitude instead of ordering the police to capture Ojukwu, the military governor of the then Eastern Region.
I was a pupil teacher at Taku Baptist primary school Oyo, in August 1968 when Ojukwu was reviewing the war situation in a rhetoric version around 4pm. He praised the Biafran soldiers for their gallantry, and great commitment to the war effort, and fighting the northern vandals with self-determination to drive them away from Biafran soil. At a stage, Ojukwu affirmed that he did not cause the war which Gowon used to murder the Igbo in cold blood. “And I wept” at that statement. In his final reminiscence on the Biafra struggle. I concluded that the battle had been lost. That the civil war lasted till 30th January, 1970, was a surprise to me.
By the end of the struggle to emancipate the Biafrans, more than two and halve million Nigerians of Igbo extraction were annihilated by Gowon’s soldiers. May their souls rest in peace as a supreme sacrifice to build a better Nigeria.
Please note that during the period of struggle to free the Igbo from total destruction, many notable Igbo politicians, regarded as nation builders ran away for safety, and left Ojukwu, a few respectable ones, and the masses to continue the military campaign until the Efik-born general, Philip Effiong, surrendered, on behalf of Ojukwu on January 30, 1970 to end the Gowon holocaust. Now, the man died, and the only way to commiserate with Nigeria by Yakubu Gowon, was to accuse the dead for causing the secession war. Gowon should be told that:
1. He caused the civil war which led to the death of more than 2 ½ million Igbo;
2. Gowon, Danjuma, Murtala Muhammed, and other northern soldiers of note, made sure that the sane advice of Ojukwu to see that seniority was allowed to prevail when choosing their leaders was discarded to clear the way for northern soldiers to rule Nigeria at any point in time;
3. No wonder, the June 12, 1993 election, which was adjudged the freest and fairest election was annulled by IB Babangida, simply because the winner, Abiola, was not a northerner, therefore he could not be allowed to be the president of Nigeria;
4. The 2011 presidential election did not go down well with northern political leaders and they out-rightly declared that the north should be allowed to produce the president because it was their turn, regardless of the decades they held on to power in the country without meaningful achievements,
5. Also to note that the formation of Nigerian Al-Qaeda Boko Haram, is not for fun; that the north would make Nigeria ungovernable for Goodluck was not an empty threat by the Northern elders. Recently a northern senator was discovered to be one of the sponsors of Boko Haram, the religious/political weapon of destruction; and as long as they are not allowed to govern the country, they don’t mind if the country disintegrates by using Boko Haram to intensify their horrendous activities.
In the final analysis, even in death, Ojukwu looms larger than Gowon who is alive. His praying crusade which he spreads all over the country, has fail to save his Plateau State from intermittent tribal killings which started some years ago. Gowon should intensify his praying prowess. Who knows whether the bloody treatment meted out to the Igbo race 45 years ago is now taking its toll on his people in Plateau State, and some other states in Northern Nigeria. Their fathers ate sour fruits and the mouths of their children have become sour.
And for the great soldier, and leader of men, Ojukwu, if the so-called notable Igbo men had joined you in the struggle, like the German soldiers used to do, instead of scampering for their personal safety, perhaps, the unnecessary war would have been nipped in the bud. Nevertheless, Nigerian nation has learnt a lot from your purposeful leadership. The fact that you were determined to lead your people to the promised land was a success in itself. Giving you state burial is belated, but praise your creator that you are in the heart of all Igbo people and the good people of Nigeria, that is the ultimate recognition by mankind, and forever shall it be.
•Lajunwon wrote from Lagos.