By T. Uzodima Nwala
Before I thank the organisers of this Conference and pay my tribute to the Memory of my friend, late Major-General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, in whose Foundation Center this historic event is being organised, let me quickly dismiss certain lingering pernicious fallacies that have dominated all discussion about the coup of January 15, 1966 and the Biafra War.
First, the Chairman of the occasion, Alhaji Ahmed Joda, has alluded to the January 15, 1966 coup as an Igbo coup that, according to him, was replied by a Northern coup of July 29, 1966.
Let it be said loud and clear that that coup, namely January 15, 1966 coup, was not an Igbo coup. It was a coup led by certain Igbo and Yoruba Officers, involving the active participation of soldiers from the North. The aim, as has been stated again and again, by the leaders of the coup was to release Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who was in detention at the time and install him the Prime Minister of Nigeria.
That coup was foiled by Igbo military officers. Igbo political leaders and activists knew nothing about the coup.
Again, the incursion into the Mid-West by the Biafran troops was not a quest for territorial grabbing by the Igbos. Ojukwu sent troops under the Command of Col, Banjo in response to Chief Awolowo’s request for troops to help liberate Yoruba land from the occupation of soldiers from the North. By the time Col Banjo got to Ore, the British had gotten Gowon to offer Chief Awolowo Vice Chairmanship of the Nigerian Government. Awolowo, therefore, asked Banjo not to proceed on his mission.
General Yakubu Gowon knows the truth of all these things. And that is why the Alaigbo Development Foundation (ADF) had written him and asked him to tell Nigerians and the whole world the truth about the January 15, 1966 coup and the Biafra incursion into the Mid-West.to stop all the lies against Ndigbo, which have been the basis of the burden they carry as a nation within the Nigerian Federation.
Secondly, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, the former Head of State and a front-line commander on the Federal side during the war, said that they (the Federal military leaders) conducted the war without any hate or vengeance because it was a quarrel between brothers.
To this one is constrained to ask a few pertinent questions:
- How did the world come to describe the conduct of the war as POGROM?
- What about the policy that hunger was a legitimate weapon of war and so was justified in its application against the Biafrans?
- What about bombing of refugee camps, market places, churches, etc?
Again, when Chief Obasanjo said that they, the victorious side, have been more magnanimous than the victors in the American civil war, where, according to him, those who lost the war never had a chance to be President of America until several decades if not a century later, I would ask him WHAT ABOUT SOUTH AFRICA? WHAT ABOUT NELSON MANDELLA?
Such assertions rather than heal the wounds of the war, keep the wounds aglow, rather than reconcile pour raw pepper of unjustified arrogance on the wounded hearts of the Biafrans. How can you genuinely talk about reconciliation with that kind of mind-set? The truth is that for General Obasanjo, the Biafrans are defeated people. Period!
Indeed, before we can talk about reconciliation, we must accept that grave wrongs were done to the Biafrans, before, during and since the end of the war.
- Tribute to General Yar’Adua.
Now, Mr Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, let me go on to thank the organisers of this Conference – the Yar’Adua Foundation and the six Nigerian Universities partnering with the Foundation; the Ford Foundation and the Open Society Initiative for West Africa who have provided support for this Conference – Biafra: 50 Years After.
What is more, I would like to pay tribute to the memory of my late friend, General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua. I met him for the first time during the 1994-5 National Constitutional Conference. There we struck a friendship that would have born great fruits but for his untimely death. I personally escaped being arrested with him.
General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, became a great democrat after the war despite his aristocratic background. He genuinely believed that this wobbly Federation could be given a dependable foundation. Consequently, he set out to recruit gifted compatriots to work with him for that purpose. What a great hunter of talent Shehu was!
I remember two memorable moments in our interaction. One afternoon, after lunch in his house, we sat down on the sofa. I asked him
“General why is it that when you are not smoking cigar (cigarette), you are chewing kola nut?
He answered me. I will not tell you his answer today. Wait for my memoire that should be ready by my next birthday.
At another moment, also after lunch with him and late Prof. Aborisade, we sat down on the sofa. Shehu said to me “Dr Nwala, let me show you why we Northerners are reluctant to relinquish political power”.
He brought out two volumes of strategic studies which he had commissioned some intellectuals to produce in preparation for the Constitutional Conference of 1994-5. I glanced through volume 1 which deals with the indices of power in Nigeria. I read the discussion, looked at the statistics and the graph, and shook my head, and said to myself this guy is a great political actor. I also reserve the details of what I read in that volume as well as our discussion for the sake of my forthcoming memoire.
I saw those two volumes of strategic studies at the library of the Yar’Adua Centre when I visited there about two week ago.
What is important in this narrative is that General Yar’Adua was a very sincere leader. He always spoke to me and to anyone in his political company from the bottom of his heart. He was sincerely in search of a genuine way forward. He was a man who knew that all is not well with the Nigerian Federation and genuinely sough the correct path to its healing!
The point of the story is to reveal a bit of the life of this great political strategist, who if he had lived after that Conference, he and the powerful circle of comrades he had built at the Conference would have helped to see to a more liberal accommodating political order in Nigeria. Shehu was the darling of a liberal democratic movement that was emerging in Nigeria before he died.
He was equally hated by what many of us call the hegemonist who have consistently aborted every opportunity to create a democratic political culture. It is the latter who have consistently made it difficult to achieve a genuine reconciliation in Nigeria. It is these forces that have insisted on a Federation founded on the peace of the grave yard.
Yes, General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua along with the compatriots he had worked to put together would have constituted an authentic force for reconciliation and national integration. He was a victim of the forces of hegemony.
- Post –Biafra Reconciliation – What Lessons?
During the trial of Adolf Hitler after Germany and her allies lost the war to the Allied Forces, the following exchange took place between Hitler and his interlocutor:
Interlocutor to Hitler: You were responsible for the Second World War?
Hitler: No! The Versailles Treaties was.
I believe this Conference has been provoked by the renewed agitation for Biafra. In that case, a similar question can be posed to the Biafra Self-determination Agitators in Nigeria today as to whether they are responsible for the renewed Agitation for Biafra.
I imagine that the Biafra Freedom Agitators, just like Adolf Hitler, would emphatically respond NO! They would rather blame the present upsurge for Self-determination and Biafra and all its fallouts on all those leaders on the victorious side who, rather than pursuing the path of genuine Reconciliation, pursued the path of punitive retributions against those who lost the war.
Unfortunately, as it was in the case of the defeated Germany that was neither pacified nor conciliated, nor was it permanently weakened, so do we find in the case of Biafra, that despite all the retributive measures against her people, Biafra and the Biafrans, have neither been pacified, nor conciliated, nor have they been permanently weakened.
Unlike the Treaty of Versailles that exerted bloody pound of flesh on the side that lost the First World War, the victorious side in the Second World War padded their retributive actions with the Marshall Plan. And thus, unlike the intended Carthaginian peace of the Versailles Treaty of 28 June, 1919, the Marshall Plan brought a relatively permanent peace to Europe that withstood the shock waves of the cold war including the Cuban Missile crises.
In pursuing the lessons of the retributive post-war treatment of the Biafrans, I would ask the leaders on the victorious side:
When you took all their financial deposits in the banks and paid them only £20 (twenty pounds), what did you expect the result to be – pacification, conciliation or to have them permanently weakened?
When you allowed massacre of unarmed soldiers and leaders even when they had declared their return to Nigeria, what did you expect? I mean when you murdered Prof. Kalu Ezera or when you killed unarmed Col Onwuatuegwu in cold blood, what did you expect?
When you killed and also buried alive thousands of innocent civilians in Asaba, was that a circus show?
I escaped being killed at the end of the war through the mysterious intervention of my college mate, Mr Nwogugbe from Asa in Abia State who was a member of the Nigerian battalion that overran my area on that fateful day of January 8, 1970.
The solders had sent for me and when I arrived at Nkwo Mbaise their base, Nwoguegbe instantly recognised me and shouted Nkume! I responded Nwoguegbe! Despite being introduced to his commander, Captain Jibowu, the later took him to one corner, asking to be convinced why I should not be treated in accordance with the official instructions, namely to waste any such able-bodied young-man who may have been an actual or potential Biafra soldier.
I was lucky. Nwoguegbe saved me, but several of my mates from my community were not. Cornellius Oguikpe, Michael Osuagwu, Efriam Chukwunoyerem, Echewodo Onwunali, all were murdered at the end of the war by the Nigerian soldiers.
Yes, post-Biafra was not attended by any genuine efforts to seek reconciliation nor even to find out what led to the war. Rather, what we have witnessed is decades of vengeance, arrogance and conspiracy against Alaigbo and Ndigbo.
Yes, these are on record:
- Immediate post-war punitive massacre,
- Dismissal of some officers on the losing side, reduction in rank of others
- Dismissal of civil servants.
- Secret execution of some officers (Col. Onwuatuegwu, Prof, Kalu Ezera)
- Abandoned property seizure of Igbo property.
- Punitive boundary adjustment.
- Closure of the Eastern Sea Port and Railway lines.
- Deliberate policy of encirclement of Alaigbo, inciting Igbo outside Igbo heartland to reject their Igbo identity.
- Deliberate policy of exclusion from the governance and power equation in Nigeria.
- Deliberate policy of destroying Igbo businesses.
- Continued massacre, lynching of Igbos in many places in the North
- Insensitivity to the plight of the IDPs of Igbo extraction who were initially the major targets of Boko Harm bombings and killings.
- No serious effort at post-war reconstruction and reconciliation
I strongly recommend to all those who care to understand how the Igbos view their predicament in the Federation to read the Petition of Ohanaeze Ndigbo to the Human Rights Violations Investigating Committee of 1999. It is captioned The Violations of the Human and Civil Rights of Ndigbo in the Federation of Nigeria (1966-1999).
President Obasanjo should speak to the nation now about why and how that initiative of his was aborted. A Truth and Reconciliation was a great idea, but just like all National Conference decisions meant to deal with the resolution of the injustices of the system. It was arrogantly dismissed and nothing happened.
- Biafra: A Collective Guilt
Have we forgotten that Biafra was a collective guilt and that those who created the Nigerian Federation did so to satisfy their own agenda. They designed a local a local agenda for the same purpose?
- Have we forgotten the cause of Biafra and the war? Have we ever come together to examine why Biafra?
- Obasanjo’s Truth Commission and the Justice Oputa Commission were arrogantly dismissed and nothing happened.
- Who was the aggressor in that war?
- Aborted Efforts to Solve the Nigerian Problem
What about several efforts to sit down and dispassionately examine the fate of the Federation and how to heal the wounds of the past.
Several aborted historical opportunities for peace and stability, or a genuine democratic system include:
- Ibadan Conference of Sept/Oct,1966
- Aburi Accord.
- Abiola’s election that would have set a precedent.
- 1994-5 Constitutional Conference and the 1995 Draft Constitution, the best Constitutional Draft in the history of Nigeria.
- Conferences organised by Obasanjo’s regime.
- President Jonathan’s 2014 Conference.
- Current ferocious opposition to restructuring.
- Laying the Foundations for Genuine Reconciliation – The Biafra Initiative
The Birth of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) – A child of the post-war East Central State Youth Volunteer Services Corps (ECSYVSC) whose memo to General Gowon led to the establishment of the NYSC by the Federal Government.
I led the delegation, as Chairman of the ECSYVSC, that delivered the Memorandum to the Federal Government on the eve of the first post-war independence anniversary, precisely on September 30, 1970.
In response, General Gowon had given Dr Ukpabi Asika’s government £75,000 (Seventy-five thousand pounds) in appreciation of that historical initiative of the youth of Alaigbo.
The great objective of that historical initiative as conceived by us, the youth of Alaigbo, was to forge a genuine instrument of national reconciliation and national integration.
What has happened to the NYSC? Any credit to the initiators? Several attempts have been made by the chaps in the NYSC Foundation in Abuja to interview me in order to draw inspiration from the original mind that conceived the NYSC; each time they were discouraged from a follow-up.
It was the same way that a former Governor had advised the Federal Government to create an institution to house the Biafra scientist. The answer was no! because doing so would give credit to the Biafrans.
- The Road to Reconciliation.
Not Restructuring but Renegotiation of the basis of the Nigerian Federation.
Nigeria is a multi-national Federation. The task is to agree on the terms for a form of political union among these nations and mini-nations.
Unless this is done, there would never be any stable Federation uniting all these peoples who are culturally, religiously and philosophically separate nations and mini-nations.
Prof. Uzodinma Nwala is President, Alaigbo Development Foundation (ADF). He presented this paper at the Biafra @50 event organised by Yar’Adua Foundation, Ford foundation and the Open Society Initiative, West Africa, on Thursday, May 25, 2017, at Yar’Adua Centre, Abuja, Nigeria.
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