“…rebel leaders had made it clear that this is a fight to the finish and that no concession will ever satisfy them.”- General Yakubu Gowon
by Chief Ajiroba Yemi Kotun,
Did you know that there were those who accused Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu (1933-2011) and other Biafran leaders (continued from Bubbles Burst of 28/03/16 by this writer) of using starvation as a deliberate tactic during the civil war to win international sympathy? By Ojukwu’s own admission, his soldiers were not suited for a “guerrilla fight”, and that his Igbo people actually preferred to die from starvation rather than reach agreement with the Federal Government of General Yakubu Gowon; well, to possibly facilitate their exposure to a further slaughter. What began as a sympathy winning strategy of the Biafran warlord nippily turned to a political millstone around his neck. Brigadier-General Godwin Alabi-Isama reports in his 671-page book, The Tragedy of Victory: On-the-Spot Account of the Nigeria-Biafra War in the Atlantic Theatre (Spectrum Books, 2013):
“The very effective Biafran propaganda soon turned against them when the people heard slogans but nothing to back it up. For instance, there was the boasting by Ojukwu that all the Ibos should return to the East during the unrest in the North in 1966/1967 and that no power in black Africa would be able to defeat them. It was only a speech and nothing to back it up. There was no weapon to fight with and no food for the stomach. When a determined soldier starts to cry, it is all over for morale.”
Even France, which realized early that it could not sustain a Biafran guerrilla resistance and as such took out its stocks of French-supplied arms and shared same among French bases at Douala, Cameroon and Abidjan, Ivory Coast, solely “supported Biafra in efforts to have access to the region’s oil” according to a freshly-released war-time memos gathered by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), “a civilian foreign intelligence service of the United States federal government, tasked with gathering, processing, and analyzing national security information from around the world”, established on September 18, 1947. The agency report further corroborates the starvation-for-sympathy blame:
“The Biafran leaders have successfully – if cynically – exploited the issue of starvation to win political sympathy abroad. They believe time is on their side and that either (a) the FMG coalition will collapse or (b) outside sympathy for their plight will bring about a solution favorable to them.”
TIME magazine also reports explicitly:
“During a full year of civil war in Nigeria, the secessionist state of Biafra has banked more on winning the world’s sympathy than a military victory. Last week the Biafrans had an undeniable claim to attention-and to pity. Malnutrition was killing off more Biafrans than the Federal troops who occupy most of their land. The chief Killer was the protein-deficiency disease called kwashiorkor, which turns the hair to reddish gold and cruelly swells both limbs and stomachs. Workers of international relief agencies reported that as many as 3,000 Biafrans a day were dying and that total deaths might reach 2,000,000 by the end of August.”
Probably overstressed figures, but what was certain was that help sure didn’t get to a huge number of blameless civilians due to the war’s mutual acrimony, stringency and misgiving. The publication further recalls a statement by the Chief Justice of Biafra and Ambassador Plenipotentiary, Sir Louis Nwachukwu Mbanefo (1911-1977), that the Biafrans were expected to reject the idea of Gowon’s men managing the food shipments from donor-countries for apprehension that they would have been poisoned by them:
“But Gowon insists on federal handling of any such shipments, and the Biafrans fear that his men would poison the food: they cite instances of beer laced with cyanide and powdered milk infected with bacteria found in Biafra. “Even if Gowon allows the shipment”, says Chief Justice Louis Mbanefo, “we would not touch it.” As a result, about the only food that reaches the Biafrans is flown to the Spanish island of Fernando Po or the Portuguese island of Sao Tome and then, under cover of night, airlifted into the bush. The planes, which are used on other nights to fly in arms and ammunition, land on a lantern-lit stretch of highway somewhere between Owerri and Port Harcourt, frequently under fire from federal ack-ack guns.”
Alabi-Isama, whose aforesaid book (portrayed in many circles as a loaded guide, in fact a storehouse of important information and a text that unreservedly provides an accurate and authentic first-person recounting of the atrocious Civil War (1967-1970), as well as one discovered to be predominantly valuable by many Nigerians and the world at large in re-enacting the happenings of that war), similarly indicts, ibid:
“Through this process, the Biafran leadership turned most of their people into refugees. They had little or no food, water or conveniences. Offers by Gowon to allow food in by land were turned down by Ojukwu because that option would deny covert shipment of weapons. The burden of this level of suffering by especially the disabled, elderly women and children was unbearable for most.”
The American diplomatic dispatches of Monday, August 12 1968, which the PM News published on Monday, October 15 2012, also confirm the above and adduce the reason why the relief flights were bunged up by the Gowon regime:
“[Relief] flights have now been stopped…because Biafran arms planes have taken advantage of the reduced flak Gowon puts up against mercy flights…”
More baffling, Lieutenant-Colonel Ojukwu also rejected relief funds from the British based on very flimsy and ludicrous excuse whilst candidly his new and fragile country desperately needed international aid to assist its sick and starved populace. The bemused donor countries watched in disbelief when the Biafran leader later turned around to scream starvation. The crabby, tetchy Ojukwu more or less failed to understand that this regrettable and ill-timed decision to deviously decline the relief funds and food supplies from donor countries and international organizations was a concomitant of a famished Biafra. The magazine relates additionally:
“Ojukwu has also said no to a British offer of $600,000 in relief funds. His reason: Britain sells arms to Gowon. Therefore, says Ojukwu, to give food at the same time would only “fatten the Biafrans for slaughter with British-made weapons.” Meanwhile his countrymen need an estimated 200 tons of protein food a day to survive, and are getting only about 40.”
The defunct Morning Post edition of Saturday, August 17 1968 also put out the damning resignation letter written to Ojukwu by the American, Robert S. Goldstein, Biafra’s Public Relations Representative inside America, whom he accused of “using starving hordes as hostages to negotiate a victory in the war”. The said letter resurfaced in the come around of Achebe’s pejorative blame of Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s role during the civil war, mainly as it related to the blockade of food to the secessionist state of Biafra. After all the fighting and killing, Goldstein was dazed to find Biafra, and not the Federal Government, abandon the Peace talks at Kampala. Major Abubakar Atofarati, a former student at the US Marine Command & Staff College (Academic Year 1991/92), is in accord with Goldstein on this. He says in his The Nigerian Civil War, Causes, Strategies, And Lesson Learnt:
“In order to show that she was prepared for a peaceful solution to the conflict, Nigeria continued to participate in peace talks organized by the international community.”
In his book, Why We Struck, Colonel Adewale Ademoyega (1933-2007), who believes that both Gowon’s “ambivalence” and Ojukwu’s “intransigence” should forever be condemned, also reports:
“Moreover, Gowon had showed himself rather conciliatory while Ojukwu had proved intransigent. It seemed too easy for an outside observer to see that Ojukwu was simply spoiling his own case.”
For that raison d’être and kindred grounds, Goldstein not only quit his job as Ojukwu’s PR Representative in the United States afterwards, but also gave his boss the full length of his tongue on such a politically sensitive issue, writing:
“Food, medicine and milk were sent to the available ports open for immediate shipment to ‘Biafra’ via land routes through Federal and Biafran territory, under the auspices of world organizations such as the International Red Cross among others.
“Then came the incredible answer from ‘Biafra’ that land corridors could not be acceptable until there was a complete ceasefire, and that an airlift was the only solution to feed the starving.
“You [Ojukwu] then appeared before the various Heads of State and representatives of the OAU at Niamey in Niger. I fully expected you to at least accept the world help that was offered your starving throngs. However, you delayed, hoping to use these unfortunates with world sympathy on their side as a tool to further your ambition to achieve war concessions at the upcoming peace talks in Addis Ababa. Thus, innocent victims continue to perish needlessly of starvation, the most agonizing death that can befall any living creature.
“I cannot, in all conscience, serve you any longer. Nor can I be a party to suppressing the fact that your starving thousands have the food, medicine and milk available to them…it can and is ready to be delivered through international organizations to you. Only your constant refusal has stopped its delivery.”
According to the New York Times of Monday, July 7 1969, the British government threatened consequently that it would hold Ojukwu accountable for any failure or breakdown in the landing of relief materials to Biafra due to his favouring night-time delivery of supplies instead of daylight hours. Alabi-Isama delivers, ibid, pg 474:
“With this, many European countries began to think they were reinforcing failure and withdrew their support for Biafra tactically and started to support Nigeria to end the war quickly and reduce suffering of the civilian population.”
The following month, Associated Press reports in its issue of Thursday, August 28 1969 that the first President of Nigeria and future Owelle of Onitsha, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe (1904-1996), also an Igbo and the composer of Biafra’s National Anthem, who apparently had had enough of Ojukwu’s lies, did not only withdraw his support for the embattled Biafran President, whom some say he confidentially called “a lying little twit”, but also said it was vital that the world did not swallow the genocide charge of Biafran leaders, who he referred to as “their puny selves”. He calls:
“…Biafra charges that Nigeria sought to exterminate the Ibos, a cock and
bull fairy tale; and advised Biafran rulers to forget what he termed, “Their
Puny selves”. Dr Azikiwe then attributed starvation in Biafra to faulty
planning by Ojukwu and his staff.”
Despite the fine oration of Jonathan Kozol, an American writer, educator, and activist, unsurpassed for his books on public education, that “The fact that a crime might have been committed with impunity in the past may make it seem more familiar and less gruesome, but surely does not give it any greater legitimacy”, yet, some commentators continue to argue (though without necessarily supporting or overlooking the associated tragedy of an economic blockade) that ample evidence abound that Nigeria’s blockade of Biafra was nothing new in history. They cite the blockade carried out by Admiral of the Fleet Edward Hawke (1705-1781) during the first worldwide war battled in Europe, India, America, and at sea, known as the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763) which the British used to impose an unyielding economic blockade on the French coast thus starving French ports of commerce and dwindling France’s economy in the process. The blockade also disallowed backups and underpinnings from getting to the French army in Canada thus ending French tactics to overrun Great Britain, which consequently laid the bicultural foundations of modern Canada, as the first victorious shots at instituting a chock-a-block naval blockade. They allude to other instances such as: the British fleets’ blockade of the French Port of Toulon between 1810 and 1814, and part of the airlift of supplies which broke the Soviet Union’s 1948 land blockade of West Berlin. Yet again, they assert that during World War II, Germany U-boats attempted to stop ships carrying food supplies and war materials from reaching the United Kingdom, and particularly mention British admiral Horatio Nelson, 1st Duke of Bronte, KBE (1758-1805), who once applied a loose blockade at Cadiz in 1805, as well as the Franco-Spanish fleet under French admiral Pierre Charles Jean Baptise Silvestre de Villeneuve (1763-1806), which then emerged, ensuing in the Battle of Trafalgar on October 21 1805. Even closer home, they cite the British government of Harold Wilson (1916-1995) which dispatched British warships to blockade the port of Beira towards inducing economic collapse in Rhodesia [now Zimbabwe] to reprimand the 8th Prime Minister of Rhodesia, Ian Smith (1919-2007), who refused to rescind his Unilateral Declaration of Independence in 1965. All these blockades recorded varying degrees of casualties. Just like Okechukwu Ikejiani testifies, “There’s no country that went to war that didn’t suffer, not one.” Until 1827, blockades were continually a part of a war and the Nigerian incident, they insist, cannot be excused. However, this changed when Greek rebels were aided against Turkey by the trio of France, Russia and Britain which had blockaded the Turkish-occupied coast, leading to part of the Greek War of Independence – the Battle of Navarino in 1827 etc. Public commentator and analyst, John Ogunrinola, puts it succinctly:
“Starvation has always been the strongest weapon of war as witnessed in all known wars fought. 430,000 German soldiers died of starvation in Russian hinterland within six months in 1940…”
Meanwhile, Colonel Adewale Ademoyega asserts (ibid) Igbo superiority in the top echelon of the Nigerian Army despite the staggering casualties that the Eastern Region suffered during the payback coup of Friday, July 29 1966:
“Despite the fact that about fifty Ibo officers were killed during the counter-coup, the Region was still superior to the remainder of Nigeria all put together, in terms of senior and seasoned officers – a very invaluable foundation for the building of an unbeatable army of “liberation”. In facts and figures, Biafra had eighteen senior officers of the ranks of Major and above all of whom had been commissioned before Independence. In contrast, the Federal side had only seven because about ten others were kept neutral in the Mid-West. On the other hand, Biafra had fewer young officers, Captains and below, numbering less than seventy compared with two hundred and twenty on the Federal side.”
Conversely, this lamentable state of affairs lasted until General Gowon felt morally compelled to send a goodwill mission to London to counteract effective Biafran propaganda in which Nigeria was portrayed as a country bent on committing genocide in a small Biafran nation, whose only offence was seeking to be free. Revered septuagenarian statesman, economist, and the Uzoma Onyia of Asaba, Chief Philip Asiodu, who became a permanent secretary at the age of thirty-one, informs:
“…About four or five of us were made to be in a council with General Gowon planning to make sure that we succeeded in the Civil War…We took it upon ourselves, we were everywhere abroad helping our diplomacies in explaining the war end of the Federal Government and our plans after the war. We took it upon ourselves, George, Ayida, myself and so on, to visit the warfront because many terrible things were happening…”
Chief Asiodu, a former Minister of Petroleum, who was widely criticized by his own Igbo people for casting his lot with Nigeria instead of Biafra during the civil war, insists that he identifies with Ndigbo in their plight of trying to pull off the tag of marginalization and, like Professor Osuji, urges a change in his people’s political tactics for accelerated success:
“They [Igbo] must learn to apply more diplomacy in their approach to politics.”
The Biafran propaganda machine became so formidable that pictures of starving women and children had sent many people, foreign nationals, scurrying to donate money. The Biafran leader continued to stir anyone who cared to listen with tales of the mass murder of the Igbo by Northerners and persists in describing federal half-truths as a devise to pull the wool over the eyes of the watching world concerning his own objective to guard the lives of Easterners against a savage North. Ojukwu nitpicks:
“They have sought, in various ways, to dismiss our struggle as a tribal conflict. They have attributed it to the mad adventurism of a fictitious power-seeking clique anxious to carve out an empire to rule, dominate and exploit.”
In his bid to sustain the momentum, Ojukwu brooked no moderation and refused to learn to bite his lip. In several of his speeches, he continued to blame Gowon and the Nigerian Army for the atrocities, and seemed convinced that the Easterners were facing a predetermined war of destruction and genocide in the hands of the Nigerians. But this claim fell flat given that while the war lasted, the Igbo in their thousands still resided in Lagos, and nearly half a million of them still lived in the Mid-Western Region of Nigeria unmolested. This also deflated the claim that the Federal troops had clear intent to eliminate Igbo people. Ademoyega provides, ibid, that with two of its military governors opting for peaceful settlement, Nigeria appeared the side that was less eager for war:
“If there was a side less committed to war, it was Nigeria where formerly two of the remaining three loyal military governors were opposed to the use of force.”
Were Ojukwu’s genocide charge to be true, Nigeria, through the General Officer Commanding 1 Division of the Nigerian Army (1969-1973) and later Federal Commissioner of Defense (1975-1976), Colonel Iliya D. Bisalla (executed by firing squad on Thursday, March 11 1976 for his role in Dimka’s failed coup attempt of Friday, February 13 1976), would not have rejected the supposedly potentially bloody Operation Pincer 1, preferred by Obasanjo, who, as civilian president (1999-2007), would condone the employment of such cruel and unruly force during the invasion of Odi, Bayelsa State, on Saturday, November 20 1999, as well as Zaki-Biam, Benue State, where military juggernauts advanced to let loose systemic terror on a defenseless and vulnerable people on Monday, 22nd October 2001 as revenge for the killing of 19 soldiers allegedly by militia of the Tiv ethnic group. Alabi-Isama updates in his huge book:
“However, when Bisalla returned to base in Enugu and looked at the bloody implication of Operation Pincer 1, he rejected the plan. That was how God saved Nigeria and Biafra from what would have been a senseless massacre that would have forever blighted the conduct of the civil war, and the image of Nigeria. To give the enormity of the possible consequences of Operation Pincer 1, you just have to think of a people trapped and surrounded by 1 and 2 Divisions of the Nigerian army, and 3MCDO, all of them advancing simultaneously with tank, artillery and air support bombardment. Could Nigeria have been able to justify the aftermath? But that was Obasanjo’s preference, which practically everybody in the command structure of the entire Nigerian army rejected.”
Yet, Ojukwu will not be deterred. Biafran envoys continue to surface in several capitals around the world, eager to promote culpability and outrage against Nigeria, as well as lobby for more money and curry favour for Biafra from their host nations. Sir Louis Mbanefo, the Chief Justice of Biafra and Ambassador Plenipotentiary, out of frustration and anger, delivers a strong rebuke to the United States for persisting with its policy of neutrality since Thursday, July 13 1967, precisely a week after the Nigerian Civil War started:
“We are, especially, resentful of the ambivalent pretences the United States makes that is trying to help us…if we are condemned to die, all right, we will die. But at least let the world, and the United States, be honest about it.”
This, perhaps, forced the hand of the American Secretary of State from 1961 to 1969, David Dean Rusk (1909-1994), to confirm or validate the neutral status of the United States when he declares manifestly:
“America is not in a position to take action as Nigeria is an area under British influence.”
While keenly watching events as they unfold, it was very clear that American policy makers had since outsourced the policy of the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson often referred to as LBJ (1908-1973) on the Nigeria-Biafra War to its closest ally, Britain, (which was more than a mere enthusiastic supporter of the Federal Military Government of Nigeria) as exemplified in a summary of notes from a meeting its National Security Council held on Thursday, July 13 1967:
“In the Nigerian civil war, we are remaining neutral,…Given our other commitments, we have no other practical course than continue to assert that among foreign governments the UK has primary responsibility, in view of its large stake and traditional ties with Nigeria.”
Almost two weeks before, anti-Igbo riots had rocked Lagos as panic gripped everyone over the Yaba Police headquarters explosions of Sunday, July 2 1967, killing all occupants in a nearby house and wounding eleven people and several officers at the station. The incident clearly put the safety of the Igbo in Lagos at risk as Northern soldiers from the 2nd Battalion Barracks in Ikeja made to re-enact the May 1966 killing of the Igbo in the North. In a radio broadcast to Lagosians on Friday, July 7, Military Governor of Lagos State (1967-1975), then Lieutenant-Colonel Mobolaji Johnson condemns the bombing and pleads for the Igbo, urging the soldiers to remain calm:
“A good number of Igbos in Lagos is innocent and loyal to the federal government. It is only fair that they be allowed to go about their business unmolested so long as they abide by the law and are not agents and evildoers.”
The then British Labor Prime Minister (1964-1970), Harold Wilson (1916-1995), a vital actor in Nigeria’s crack at routing Biafra, who shortly after the Nigerian Civil War was bedeviled by an assortment of conspiracy suppositions scoping from his being a former agent of the then Soviet Union, to being the butt of counter-espionage schemes by civil servants, had to advise Nigeria to finish the war quickly if the danger of foreign intervention in support of Biafra was to be avoided. Gabon, Ivory Coast, Haiti, Tanzania, and Zambia had already recognized Biafra. Crucially though, this failed to spur most African states into collective action – militarily, politically and economically – the moment Portugal, South Africa, and Southern Rhodesia jumped in on it.
The Baron Wilson of Rievaulx genuinely believed that the Biafran secession, if allowed, would create regional instability. He also was not unaware of the lopsided nature of military installations in Nigeria. As things stood then, he knew that the Federal troops should as a result be able to outflank, outman and outgun the small and ill-equipped Eastern Nigerian army and wondered why the war had dragged on for far too long. Designedly, perhaps, the British had, before their departure, seen to it that Nigeria’s major military installations (all fourteen) were located in Northern Nigeria. These were: One in Kano:- Fifth Battalion; two in Zaria:- Recruit Training Depot and Nigerian Military School, and eleven in Kaduna :-Third Battalion, Field Battery (Arty), Field Squadron (Engrs), Transport Regt, Nigerian Defence Academy, Ordinance Depot, Military Hospital, Nigeria Military Training College, Recon Squadron and Regt, Nigerian Air Force, and Ammunition Factory. Three military installations were located in Western Nigeria viz: Fourth Battalion Ibadan, 2 Field Battery (Arty) Abeokuta, and 2 Recon Squadron also in Abeokuta. Only one, First Battalion Enugu, was located in Eastern Nigeria. None whatsoever in Mid-Western Nigeria and the ones in the Lagos Colony remained, at best, administrative or ceremonial.
However, as the Civil War noose became increasingly tightened around Biafra, resulting in the starvation and death of millions of people owing to scarcity of food and medical supplies, Ojukwu dropped a strong hint that he may have bitten off more than he can chew; his wide-eyed virtuousness had since changed his once choosy-fussy-hard to please posturing to one prepared to accept any assistance. While the starvation bite harder around him, Ojukwu, who “made Nzeogwu’s coup fail in the North”, knew there will be more political difficulties ahead. So, as a last-ditch attempt to prevent his defeat which hovered before his eyes like the mirage of an oasis, the Biafran President slowly appealed for help from the United Nations (UN) to mediate a ceasefire in October 1969 as an introduction to peace negotiations. This time he was truly portentous and somber, the glee with which he had earlier bubbled fastidiously and condescendingly had vanished into thin air. Ademoyega, who discovers that to be told “to manage” in Biafra means “to go without food”, captures the starvation of the period and the relief that accompanied the sudden end of the civil war:
“The starvation in Achina seemed likely to carry everybody away when suddenly we heard that the war had come to an end.”
But, with victory in sight for the Federal troops, the Federal Military Government rejected Ojukwu’s initiative and, in blunt terms, told the Burmese UN Secretary-General, U Thant (1909-1974), who was widely credited for his role in defusing the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962 and for ending the Congolese Civil War (1960-1966), that such ceasefire was totally unacceptable. Although a firm opponent of apartheid in South Africa, who oversaw the entry into the UN of dozens of new Asian and African states during his term in office, Thant had been preoccupied with the Six Day War between Arab countries and Israel, the Prague Spring Prague and subsequent Soviet invasion of former Czechoslovakia, the agreement to pull UN troops out of the Sinai in 1967 in response to a request from President Nasser of Egypt and later the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 which led to the birth of Bangladesh, all these crises greatly tasked the UN Secretary-General, Thant.
In the meantime, Gowon strutted around confidently, insisting on complete and total surrender of Biafra. This could be understood when placed side by side Ojukwu’s initial boast that his conventional weapons were by far superior and that no army in black Africa can subdue his soldiers. Lieutenant-Colonel Ademoyega, a Yoruba, who also fought on the side of Biafra, but whom Ojukwu made to rot in detention till the end of the war, reveals Ojukwu’s realization that it would be suicidal to continue to resist in the face of overwhelming federal military superiority, ibid:
“In Biafra…Their Governor, now Head of State, had always assured them that they would “fight to the last man,” – which in some quarters was interpreted to mean that even in the face of defeat, Biafrans would rather die than surrender. Before the outbreak of the war, the meaning of his expression was hidden from their eyes, I myself, hugging to my radio in my small detention room in Warri prison [a Nigerian prison], always wondered why Ojukwu was sure that he would be finished, especially adding that when his men were finished, the grass would fight. Later on, after I had been released to join in the struggle [Secession], I realized that Ojukwu knew what he was talking about. He knew that he was ill-prepared for the fight and that if it came, he had nothing to send against the enemy except the bodies of his own citizens – no guns, no armor, no planes, no ships – only flesh and flesh and flesh – what a suicide plot, or was it a reverse pogrom?”
The Nigerian Head of State, General Gowon, also comments, reminding everyone that:
“…rebel leaders had made it clear that this is a fight to the finish and that no concession will ever satisfy them.”
In his last book, Professor Achebe merely refrains from slamming Ojukwu under whom he worked in the breakaway republic, but taunts tongue in cheek, at the UN for failing to get Nigeria to agree to a ceasefire:
“This was a calculated strategy from the Nigerians, who now had the international cloak of the United Nations to commit a series of human rights violations. Failing to end the protracted Biafran guerrilla offensive, the Nigerian army openly attacked civilians in an ill-advised, cruel, and desperate attempt to incite internal opposition to the war and build momentum toward a quick surrender.”
In what had been termed the clash of personalities between Gowon and Ojukwu, the former seemed to have been smarter or better-groomed than the latter. Gowon, a remarkably adroit and listening young soldier, who was no doubt receptive to war strategies, ideas and suggestions from his military and civilian advisers, conceivably more than Ojukwu, had forced the Biafrans to suffer huge humanitarian penalty by getting the secessionists to yield a substantial terrain to his Federal Troops, thereby disconnecting Biafra from the sea, and depriving them of seaports to take delivery of military and charitable provisions. While Yakubu Gowon was also generally very conscious about understanding that other Nigerians had a say, and a role to play in the scheme of things, and accordingly warmed up to them, Nigeria and Nigerians didn’t seem to have mattered very much to Emeka Ojukwu, who was eager to cut self and people away from both. Ademoyega adjoins, ibid:
“On the whole it was Ojukwu who was tightening himself up and barricading himself in order to be alone; while Gowon, who started by hiding himself in the Ikeja barracks and by moving around disguised in hospital ambulances, began to feel freer, more relaxed and less alone.”
Certainly, with increased British support, and surely at the behest of Prime Minister Harold Wilson, who backed the recognized latest governments in previous protectorates and declined to put up with seceding groups in whatever shape or figure, Nigeria began its final military onslaught against Biafra. The British PM, who had constantly intended on leaving his job when he turned 60, fully aware of his physical and mental exhaustion, was to shock the British nation on Tuesday, March 16 1976, when he announced his planned resignation as Prime Minister, effective twenty days later (on Monday, April 5 1976). Having taken to drinking brandy to ease some stress-related problems later diagnosed as colon cancer, Wilson would by 1976 become aware of the early stages of premature Alzheimer’s disease, which later impaired his previously brilliant memory and outstanding focus ability visibly. To mark his resignation, Queen Elizabeth II ate dinner with him at 10 Downing Street. The “British Bulldog”, Senior Statesman and the most powerful wartime prime minister in British history, Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965), the “noticeably worried and anxious” lion who roared when the British Empire needed him most (he led Britain as PM until victory over Nazi Germany had been won on May 7 1945), was the first to be so honored by Her Majesty in April 1955. Emma Soames, Churchill’s granddaughter, lately echoes the association between her family and the British Crown in the Telegraph of Friday, June 1 2012:
“My family’s path has crossed with that of the Royal family many times since then, but at no time before or since has that relationship been so significant.”
Meanwhile, Wilson continued to back the Federal Government of General Gowon during the war after his so-called peace negotiation meeting in Nigeria failed to even get off due to the absence of the Biafrans. Nigeria’s “final offensive,” as touted by Gowon, was then desperately launched by the Federal troops against the Biafrans on Monday, December 22 1969. A major thrust came from the 3rd Marine Commando Division which was led by the then 32-year old Colonel Olusegun Obasanjo, who later became Nigeria’s president twice: (1976-1979 and 1999-2007). Alabi-Isama states, ibid:
“Since all the units were already in position and battle ready, the final battle started. As early as 6 a.m. on December 22, 1969, 17 Brigade under Major S5. Tomoye fired the first shot. He advanced to the right flank in order to be able to link up with 1 Division troops who had been at Umuahia since April 1969. This was what was expected of 13 Brigade, but he did not move because he was not part of the line straightening operation. And since Akinrinade had decided to advance without 13 Brigade, he did not bother.”
By the end of the year, the launch had already succeeded in splitting the Biafran closed society into two. By Sunday, January 5 1969, 14 Brigade had reached Amaraka, with 12 Brigade holing up at Umuna, while Umuzoma and Urualla were begging to be taken by Tomoye’s 17 Brigade. Having come into Imo River and billed to arrive Uli by dusk, Nigeria’s ‘Dream Team’, according to Alabi-Isama, exploited the right flank to pressurize Orlu from two sides. “Operation Tail-Wind”, was launched on Wednesday, January 7 1970 with the Third Marine Commando Division attacking. They were supported by the First Infantry division to the North and the Second Infantry division to the South. By Thursday, January 8, the Biafrans had begun to drop their firearms, simply turning on their heels and running away, while the refuges were merely kicking their heels:
“They told all those that raised their hands up in surrender to just go home. They did not capture any POW. Casualties were light on both sides.”
The Biafran town of Owerri, however, fell on Friday, January 9 and Uli followed on Sunday, January 11. By then, no one needed a soothsayer to fully grasp that Emeka Ojukwu’s young country, Biafra, was already in danger of falling apart at the seams. The market was going to be over very soon.
Only a day earlier – Sunday, January 11, Lieutenant-Colonel Ojukwu, along with members of his immediate family, fled “in search of peace” into exile by plane to the Republic of Ivory Coast. That country’s first President, Felix Houphouet-Boigny (1905-1993) a.k.a Papa Houphouet or Le Vieux (the Old One) who ruled it for more than three decades from 1960 until his death in1993, and had endorsed the new Biafran state since Tuesday, May 14 1968, a year after it was proclaimed, promptly granted the fleeing warlord political asylum. Ojukwu left behind his deputy, Lieutenant-Colonel Philip Effiong (1925-2003) to take charge. A day later (precisely Monday, January 12 1970), the future Ikemba Nnewi would claim, as he addresses a world press conference, that the decision to leave Biafra was in the interest of his people’s survival:
“I gathered together at Owerri during the night of January 8, 1970, those members of my Cabinet who could be contacted to review the situation. At that meeting, I presented in firm and clear terms the grim hopelessness of continued formal military resistance. I informed the cabinet that my primary duty in the circumstances was to seek the protection of our exhausted people and to save the leadership of our heroic republic. I, therefore, offered to go out of Biafra myself in search of peace. I decided personally to lead any delegation in order to give it maximum effect and to speed up matters in order to save the lives of our people and preserve the concept of Biafra. I did this knowing that whilst I live Biafra lives. If I am no more it would be only a matter of time for the noble concept to be swept into oblivion. I chose for the delegation the following persons: Dr. M.I. Okpara, my political adviser; N.U. Akpan, my chief secretary; Major-General Madiebo, the commander of my army.”
But as Ojukwu fled, he was himself so infatuated in the public eye that it was the roughly general observation that his political life was finally defunct and ruined with the civil war. He would never again be entrusted with public office, ever. Several years after the war, Ojukwu appeared to have grown up. In reacting to the question whether with the benefit of hindsight and given his age then, he would have gone to war, the late Biafran warlord’s intelligent rejoinder is clearly contrite, unmistakably penitent:
“I tried and I believe I tried to avoid war, right to the last minute. I have been trying to get analysts to understand that whatever knowledge I had, I developed in trying to halt the catastrophe that I saw looming. I tried to stop the war. The only thing I would never contemplate was slavery for Ndigbo. Ndigbo? No! As far as I was concerned… remember, before the war, I had helicopters. I had transport planes, and I had the capacity to convert them into fighters. But the aim was never to subdue Nigeria. The aim was to defend our people. That’s all. But the way you put your question…hindsight… I would as I’m talking to you, that, perhaps, if I had been more mature, I would have probably done better to do good to Nigeria by helping Nigeria. Because earlier on, there were many things I could have done and that could mean fighting Nigeria, and I refused. But today I say, Emeka, the world is not as you thought. That is part of growing up.”
Upon his consultation with the Biafra Strategic Committee, Lieutenant-Colonel Philips, whose last request to Ojukwu was to help him take out his own family as well and to maintain them under his (Ojukwu’s) protection, decided that the situation was indeed hopeless and that prolonging the conflict would have meant further destruction and starvation of the people of Biafra, and that the only honorable thing to do was to surrender. Ademoyega notes down:
“It was Major General P. Effiong, the Chief of Staff of the Biafran Army, who took over the reins of the Government of Biafra from General Ojukwu when the latter was fleeing from the country, in the early hours of January 11, 1970. He broadcast the total and unconditional surrender of the Biafran Armed Forces to Nigeria at 1600 hours on January 12, 1970.”
In part, Lieutenant Colonel Effiong, in his surrender announcement to the people of Biafra on Radio Biafra, gave a strong hint that Ojukwu and his ilk, referred to as “those elements of the old regime”, who had now “voluntarily removed themselves from our midst”, had obstructed their admitting defeat sooner. Below is his full speech:
As you know I was asked to be the officer administering the government of this republic on the 10th of January, 1970. Since then I knew some of you have been waiting to hear a statement from me. Throughout history, injured people have had to result to arms in their self defense where peaceful negotiations have failed. We are no exception. We took up arms because of the sense of insecurity generated in our people by the events of 1966. We have fought in defense of that cause. I am now convinced that a stop must be put to the bloodshed which is going on as a result of the war. I am also convinced that the suffering of our people must be brought to an end. Our people are now disillusioned and those elements of the old regime who have made negotiations and reconciliation impossible have voluntarily removed themselves from our midst. I have, therefore, instructed an orderly disengagement of troops…
I urge on General Gowon, in the name of humanity, to order his troops to pause while an armistice is negotiated in order to avoid the mass suffering caused by the movement of population. We have always believed that our differences with Nigeria should be settled by peaceful negotiation. A delegation of our people is therefore ready to meet representatives of the Nigerian Government anywhere to negotiate a peace settlement on the basis of OAU resolution.”
With a promise of “No victor, no vanquished,” General Yakubu Gowon, in part accepted formally, the declared surrender to mark the end of the Civil War eight hours later, saying:
“Citizens of Nigeria,
It is with a heart full of gratitude to God that I announce to you that today marks the formal end of the Civil War. This afternoon at the Dodan Barracks, Lt. Col. Phillip Effiong, Lt. Col. David Ogunewe, Lt. Col. Patrick Anwunah, Lt. Col. Patrick Amadi and Commissioner of Police, Chief Patrick Okeke formally proclaimed the end of the attempt at secession and accepted the authority of the Federal Military Government of Nigeria. They also formally accepted the present political and administrative structure of the country. This ends thirty months of a grim struggle, thirty months of sacrifice and national agony.
The world knows how hard we strove to avoid the Civil War. Our objectives in fighting the war to crush Ojukwu’s rebellion were always clear. We desired to preserve the territorial integrity and unity of Nigeria for, as one country, we would be able to maintain lasting peace amongst our various communities; achieve rapid economic development to improve the lot of our people; guarantee a dignified future and respect in the world for our posterity and contribute to African unity and modernization. On the other hand, the small successor states in a disintegrated Nigeria would be victims of perpetual war and misery and neo – colonialism. Our duty was clear, and we are today, vindicated.
The so-called “Rising Sun of Biafra” is set forever. It will be a great disservice for anyone to continue to use the word “Biafra” to refer to any part of the East Central State of Nigeria. The tragic chapter of violence is just ended. We are at the dawn of national reconciliation. Once again we have the opportunity to build a new nation. On our side, we fought the war with great caution, not in anger or hatred, but always in the hope that common sense would prevail. Many times we sought a negotiated settlement, not out of weakness, but in order to minimize the problems of reintegration, reconciliation and reconstruction. We know that however the war ended, in the battlefield or in the conference room, our brothers fighting under other colors must rejoin us and that we must together rebuild the nation anew. All Nigerians share the victory today; the victory for national unity, victory for hopes of Africans and black people everywhere. We mourn the dead heroes. We thank God for sparing us to see this glorious dawn of national reconciliation. We must seek His guidance to do our duty to contribute our quota to the building of a great nation, founded on the concerted efforts of all its people and on justice and equality. A nation never to return to the fractious, sterile and selfish debates that led to the tragic conflict just ending.
The Federal Government has mounted a massive relief operation to alleviate the suffering of the people in the newly liberated areas. We are mobilizing adequate resources to provide food, shelter, and medicines for the affected population. My government has directed that former civil servants and public corporation officials should be promptly reinstated as they come out of hiding. Details of this exercise have been published. Plans for the rehabilitation of self-employed people will also be announced promptly. We have overcome a lot over the past four years. I have, therefore, every confidence that ours will become a great nation.”
Effiong handed the details of the surrender to General Yakubu Gowon of the federal army on Tuesday, January 13 1970, having negotiated the peace terms at Amichi earlier with Colonel Obasanjo, who commanded the Third Marine Commando, which finally crumbled the forces of secession a few days later. The Nigerian forces promptly advanced into the remaining Biafran held territories with little opposition after nearly three years of bitter fratricidal conflict. Moreover, there can be little doubt that success in war becomes guaranteed when two of the most important factors, “moral and discipline”, are in abundance. Obasanjo clarifies his observation:
“I observed amongst Nigerian troops during the war different aspects of human behavior under the stress and strains of battle, and interaction between ordinary Nigerians, war or no war. What I found amazing was the length to which soldiers would go when morale and discipline broke down, in order to avoid going to battle or, so to speak, facing death. In effect, while running away from death they inflicted death on themselves as some of them died from their self-inflicted injuries. But towards the end of the war when everything was going right – the rebels were on the run, advance was fast and coordinated, moral was high – even our own wounded soldiers did not want to be evacuated to the rear for treatment and medical attention. Several times I heard such wounded soldiers saying to me, “Oga, na you and me go end this war and capture Ojukwu.”
*Lagos crowd jubilant over Biafran surrender on Monday, January 12 1970 (courtesy http://www.philip-effiong.com/Biafra2.html)
The Nigeria/Biafra Civil War, which began on Sunday, July 2 1967, effectively ended with the renunciation of secession when the surrender paper was signed on Wednesday, January14 1970 in Lagos. In his 207-page biography, Olusegun Obasanjo: In the Eyes of Time (Africana Legacy Pr Inc. 1997), Dr. Onukaba Adinoyi Ojo (1960-2017), a first rate reporter formerly with The Guardian newspaper and later Senior Special Assistant to erstwhile Vice President Atiku Abubakar who died on his way home from Abeokuta, Ogun State, where he had graced the inaugural ceremony of the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library and had scurried into an armed robbery action, informs that Colonel Murtala Mohammed (1938-1976), who led a gang of malcontents, mainly northern army firebrands during the civil war, later declares on a whim:
“We told you [Obasanjo] not to end the war the way you did so as to sort things out, you went gad dam gad dam and finished it. Now you have a lion in your hands, a lion that does not roar, bite or claw, absolutely inefficient and ineffective”.
Nonetheless, in furtherance of its “no victor, no vanquished” proclamation, the Gowon regime went about implementing its 3Rs policy of Reintegration, Reconciliation and Reconstruction, meant to reintegrate all the Igbo and non-Igbo despite their role in the war. But Gowon’s reluctance to deliver fully on this proclamation seemed typical of him and his advisers:
“Estimates in the former Eastern Region of the number of the dead from hostilities, disease, and starvation during the thirty-month civil war are estimated at between 1 million and 3 million. The end of the fighting found more than 3 million Igbo refugees crowded into a 2,500-square-kilometer enclave. Prospects for the survival of many of them and for the future of the region were dim. There were severe shortages of food, medicine, clothing, and housing. The economy of the region was shattered. Cities were in ruins; schools, hospitals, utilities, and transportation facilities were destroyed or inoperative. Overseas groups instituted a major relief effort, but the FMG insisted on directing all assistance and recovery operations and barred some agencies that had supplied aid to Biafra.”
Here is General Gowon’s:
“When, during the war you hear that your people are suffering in some area, because of lack of food, you hear of kwashiorkor and the like, and you hear some of the exaggerated news from abroad, yes, you are bound to feel concerned!
And that was why one was prepared to open a corridor where aid and assistance for food could go into the East in order to save, especially the little children that bore no responsibility, at all, for the war. I can say that I was able to bear it, because I tried to ensure that everything was done with a human face and feeling for the suffering of those on the other side. Those on the other side, I claimed as mine. That is why I could not feasibly allow them to suffer.”
On change of currency, Chief Awolowo, who, in 1971, resigned his Vice-Chairmanship of the Executive Council of the Federation for the simple reason (according to him) that it was out of place for him to continue to serve Gowon’s unelected government since the Civil War had effectively ended, making General Gowon to be the first to describe the then 62 year old so-called “Ikenne mafia” as a ‘sage’ while accepting Awo’s resignation, speaks:
“And it is on record that Ojukwu admitted that two things defeated him in this war, that’s as at the day he left Biafra. He said one, the change of currency, he said that was the first thing that defeated him, and we did that to prevent Ojukwu taking the money which his soldiers have stolen from our Central bank for sale abroad to buy arms. We discovered he looted our Central bank in Benin, he looted the one in Port Harcourt, looted the one in Calabar and he was taking the currency notes abroad to sell to earn foreign exchange to buy arms.
“So I decided to change the currency, and for your benefit, it can now be told the whole world, only Gowon knew the day before, the day before the change took place. I decided, only three of us knew before then- Isong now governor of Cross River [1979-1983], Attah and myself. It was a closely guarded secret, if any commissioner at the time says that he knew about it, he’s only boosting his own ego. Because once you tell someone, he’ll tell another person. So we refused to tell them and we changed the currency notes. So Ojukwu said the change in currency defeated him, and starvation of his soldiers also defeated him.
“These were the two things that defeated Ojukwu. And, he reminds me, when you saw Ojukwu’s picture after the war, did he look like someone who’s not well fed? But he has been taking the food which we sent to civilians, and so we stopped the food.”
On abandoned property, Dr Nwankwo Tony Nwaezigwe, a Senior Research Fellow and Lecturer at the Institute of African Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, submits in his write up, In defense of Awolowo, of Wednesday, 24th October 2012:
“The 1966 pogroms against the Igbo were Hausa-Fulani schemes and not those of the Yoruba. Many Igbo lived unmolested in Yorubaland throughout the war. The coup d’état that toppled General Aguiyi-Ironsi was a Northern act and not a single Yoruba soldier was involved. The abandoned property saga did not take place in Yorubaland.
“Above all, although there could exist a situation of mutual rivalries between the Igbo and Yoruba, such competitions never for once degenerated into a state of anti-Igbo riots, with countless loss of lives and property. The Igbo thus know who their friends are, and they know that the Yoruba are not their foe.”
Chief Awolowo also vividly recalls, ibid:
“And then finally, I saw to it that the houses owned by the Ibos in Lagos and on this side, were kept for them. I had an estate agent friend who told me that one of them collected half a million pounds rent which has been kept for him. All his rent were collected, but since we didn’t seize their houses, he came back and collected half a million pounds.
So that is the position. I’m a friend of the Ibos and the mass of the Ibos are my friends, but there are certain elements who want to continue to deceive the Ibos by telling lies against me, and one day, they’ll discover and then that day will be terrible for those who have been telling the lies.”
As well, Gowon went back on his magnanimous promise of “general amnesty” broadcast eight hours after accepting the Biafran surrender that – “We reiterate our promise of a general amnesty for all those misled into the futile attempt to disintegrate the country.” This, of course, anticlimaxed the spirit of rejoicing that marked the end of the war. It totally negated Gowon’s “unqualified amnesty” to all the officers who sided with Biafra, cum the spirit of unity and reconciliation promised Nigerians by Gowon on Thursday, January 15, 1970. Ademoyega promptly dismisses:
“But then, Gowon’s rule had all along been characterised by half- truths, misleading statements and unhonored agreements.”
Effiong and some senior officers who fought on Biafra’s side were cleanly dismissed. Ademoyega is rather less than generous towards the former head of state on this:
“However, future events proved that as usual, Gowon’s words merely sounded sweet. They were never truly fulfilled. Perhaps, as usual, his political masters made him sidetrack his words as regards the general amnesty.”
General Gowon, however, defends the seeming inconsistence in government policy concerning the irony that accompanied the treatment meted out to Lieutenant-Colonel Effiong, a man who entirely brought his initiative to bear in ending the war by way of surrender and who was dismissed from the Nigerian Army as well as lost out in the pardon granted until he breathed his last. Whereas Ojukwu, the man who waged the war and, even as he fled the country, with no contribution whatsoever to the surrender process, was not only pardoned but he also received a hero’s welcome on his return. Gowon responds (See his reported interview with Pini Jason):
“What you should remember about the time — and, at least, give us some credit for it — is that we did not take what would be considered normal action under such circumstances. In such an instance, all the senior officials involved — politicians as well as in the military — would have been strung up for their part in the war. This is what happened at the end of the Second World War in Germany; it happened in Japan at the end of the campaign in that part of the world. This is the civilized world’s way of doing things. But we did not do even that. We did set up committees to look into cases such as where rebel officers had been members of the Nigerian Armed Forces, and their loyalty was supposed to be to the Federal Government. When the war ended, we reabsorbed practically everyone who was in the Army. But there were officers at a certain senior level that we insisted had to accept responsibility for their role in the secession. It was the only thing to do. Probably I could have given pardon; however, I was not the one who gave pardon to Ojukwu.” [President Shehu Shagari did in May 1982]…
“…But in the case of Ojukwu, he had committed treason against the country! No matter how you see it, as far as the Nigerian context was concerned, he was the guilty party. In other areas, he would have been eliminated, and I thank God that He never put him in my hands. Otherwise I would have found it very difficult to save his life, even though I would try my best to save his life, because he was an old colleague, an old friend. But the public pressure would have made it impossible. So that was what happened in the case of people like Effiong. A few of the senior ones that were directly involved, we felt they should go. I think Effiong was dismissed. All that happened to the others was that they lost the few years of seniority gained during the period of the civil war.”
Twenty-one years after the civil war, following thorough negotiations reached from several meetings in Abidjan, the Ivorian capital, between Odumegwu Ojukwu; a Special Adviser to then President Shehu Shagari and a future Senate President (1999-2000) popularly called Oyi of Oyi in understandable reference to his local government, Dr. Chuba Wilberforce Okadigbo (1941-2003); and a former Director General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs and Nigeria’s Ambassador to the United States (2004-2008), Dr. George Obiozor, the Federal Government of Nigeria agreed to Ojukwu’s return by December 1981. President Houphouet-Boigny then called a meeting which had Alhaji Ali Baba, then Nigeria’s Minister of Internal Affairs, in attendance, to finally deliberate on the issue of Ojukwu’s ‘pardon’. It was at this meeting that Alhaji Baba enquired from Ojukwu if he had anything against the plan of the Shehu Shagari Government to have both himself and Gowon return to Nigeria together, and Ojukwu replied he did not. The military coup in Ghana on Thursday, December 31 1981, however, forced the Nigerian government to reconsider for security reasons. (See pp. 76-78, Because I am Involved):
“At this point, I was actually asked whether or not I had any objections. How could I raise objections? Gowon and I were not twins, in fact not in deed. An eventual return home was infinitely better than no return at all. I, of course, answered that I had no objections. All indications had then shifted to an end of 1981 for me. New Year came and went in Nigeria and the expected announcement did not take place. So I waited. Finally, in May 1982, it happened. It was announced that I was free to return home.”
Ojukwu, described what he saw “when the plane from Lagos landed” in Abidjan, as symbolizing a new Nigeria which he “silently vowed to serve”, when he “met a most impressive delegation from home – from the east, west, north and south of Nigeria.” He provides a justification for his unconditional pardon:
“The real reason for my ‘pardon’, as I see it, was not so much partisan and not so much a party affair. It was Shagari’s wish to be remembered as an active participant in the national reconciliation process. He wanted to go down in history as the President who closed the chapter on a painful national episode.”
But precisely on Nigeria’s 14th Independence Day anniversary – Tuesday, October 1 1974, Nigerians were rudely shocked when General Gowon postponed his planned 1976 handover date to a democratically elected government and declared that the nation was ill-prepared for civilian rule, and that no responsible government would “leave the nation in the lurch by a precipitate withdrawal,” an argument that many Nigerians widely believed Gowon used as a rhetorical device to perpetuate himself in office. Like politicians, the army general, had learned to dress up his hard-nosed tenacity of office as a pursuit of the public good.
Necessarily, the statement took the shine off the Third National Development Plan launched in the same broadcast and sparked off widespread discontent among Nigerians as it also provoked violent reaction within the army. Gowon insists he had acted out of responsibility, not opportunism:
“But to be honest, I meant what I said with all sense of responsibility. I said that, because I could see exactly that things were beginning to repeat themselves as in the period prior to the crisis we had in Nigeria. And I felt that this was the sort of thing that makes it appear as though the politicians have not learned the lessons. Yes, we were trying to give them opportunity. Yes, I did say we were to return the country to civilian rule by 1976. But it got to the stage where, because we allowed freedom of expression, and political groups wanted to come into it straight away, virtually doing exactly what brought the trouble in the first place, I said, this is not what I was expecting. I said we will provide the opportunity for return, if only people would be patient and not go about making statements that could exacerbate feelings, and once again, create another crisis situation as was done at the beginning of 1965/66.
“And I said that we could not leave the nation in a lurch. I said it would be wrong; it would be irresponsible to do so! Therefore what I wanted to do was to hold back political activities and concentrate on economic development so that we could arrive at the desired goal. Once you were able to get the economy going, when the politicians returned, they would be thinking more along the lines of ensuring that the economy was going well. The economy would have had its momentum. The people would have told the politicians to stop talking rubbish; to talk, instead, of improving the economy, rather than becoming involved in tribal and all manner of questionable politics. Then we would be thinking in terms of politics that could improve the nation.
“But the momentum itself could not be stopped by any incoming government of any particular party or military group, because the momentum had already gathered sufficient force, and like a rolling stone, would be gathering more and more moss as it went, and would have become thrice as big as it was. And so when people think of becoming involved in politics, it would not be the politics of poverty, but the politics of the well being of people, because that is what politics is all about.”
Meanwhile, growth and development of Nigeria, under Gowon, had been seriously disadvantaged by ineptitude, misuse and sleaze. During the Yom Kippur War, otherwise known as Ramadan War, October War or better still 1973 Arab-Israeli War, fought by the coalition of Arab States led by Egypt and Syria against Israel from Saturday, October 6 to Thursday, October 25 1973, the Arab nations boycotted oil supplies to the West, which subsequently led to increased earnings in oil revenue around the world, and “influenced Nigeria to open her borders to indiscriminate imports.” The retired General reminds everyone, ibid:
“…Well, to be very honest with you, the war you mentioned, yes, increased oil prices from US$2.50 to $5.00, $8.00 and then to $10.00, $15.00 and so on. But that was in October 1973, and you, yourself, know that even if there is a price hike, the benefits are not immediate. This is realized six months later, at the very earliest. This means that we did not realize the benefit until, say, January 1974. And remember, the price advantage hardly went beyond $25.00; unlike today’s price that is well above the $60.00 mark. So bear that in mind.
“But it was with that money that we were able to carry out the amount of development we planned for and accomplished. And do not forget that I only had the benefit of that increase in revenue from January 1974 to July 1975; roughly 18 months. So please — when there is talk of the oil boom that we had, do remember that it was for 18 months! Yet we were able to achieve a great deal, and invest much in agriculture and other industries so as to develop the entire country. Look at the road network that we built, the seaports and the airports; education, too, and so on. Just think back to what was going on at the time.”
However, many analysts are of the opinion that Gowon’s regime literally lit the country’s economic candle at both ends as it embarked on big spending but did little strategic planning. The administration, rather than rightly stimulate the country’s economy by diversifying and encouraging production, turned a labyrinth through which the extra earnings were shared and looted via the “Adebo Award” of lawyer and civil servant, Simeon Adebo (1913-1994), who rose to be Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Finance (1955-1957), Head of the Western Nigeria Civil Service (1957-1962) and Nigeria’s Ambassador and Representative to the United Nations (1962-1967). He later became the first African to be appointed Executive Director, United Nations Institute for Training and Research (1968-1972). The other one through the “Udoji Award” of Igwe Ozuluoha I of Igboland, government official and business administrator, Chief Jerome Udoji (1912-2010). Professor Ojetunji Aboyade (1931-1994), a respected economist and author of the Second National Development Plan (1970-1974), a document that gained wide regard as Nigeria’s best plan ever due to its statistical details and the realism of its projections, hauls up:
“Development in the wake of high revenue earnings of the oil boom era came to be identified with consumption rather than production. Government became an apparatus for distributing surplus instead of stimulating production.”
Lending his voice, Ikemba Ojukwu agrees with Aboyade and attaches that Nigeria squandered her chance to succeed:
“Although economic malaise is a worldwide phenomenon, with the initial advantage we had in the early seventies, we should have minimized the present crunch. This, however, is not the case, because of the squander mania of the seventies. The oil revenue of that period was an unanticipated bonanza. But rather than use it for a more effective and meaningful economic planning and development, we went on a shopping spree…the most important genesis of our problem was the thoughtless waste of a huge reserve we could have put to greater use.”
Once, on a visit to Trinidad and Tobago, at a time that country’s railway workers were out on strike over unpaid wages, General Yakubu Gowon promised that Nigeria will foot the bill, as a face-saver for his host, Sir Ellis Clarke (1917-2010), the second and last Governor General of Trinidad and Tobago (1972-1976) as well as the country’s first president (1976-1987). After pleading with the government not to sack any of the striking workers, the Nigerian Head of State then paused to arrogantly deliver the coup de grace:
“Making money isn’t Nigeria’s problem, but managing to spend it.”
Chinua Achebe captures it thus in his last book (pg. 243) while reappraising Nigeria’s painful transitions:
“The post Nigeria-Biafra civil war era saw a “unified” Nigeria saddled with a greater and more insidious reality. We were plagued by a home-grown enemy: the political ineptitude, mediocrity, indiscipline, ethnic bigotry, and corruption of the ruling class. Compounding the situation was the fact that Nigeria was now awash in oil boom petrodollars, and to make matters even worse, the country’s young, affable, military head of state, General Yakubu Gowon, ever so cocksure following his victory, proclaimed to the entire planet that Nigeria had more than it knew what to do with. A new era of great decadence and decline was born. It continues to this day.”
General Gowon, however, blames the press for distorting some of the facts. He admits, though, to have actually made the statement, and explains the historical context in which he had spoken:
“All right, I said so. But come along; it was merely in a manner of speaking! People had been saying to me that there was all this money, and therefore the government should spend it. And I will tell you who said so — the Governor of the Central Bank [Dr. Clement Nyong Isong (1920-2000), who served as CBN governor from 1967 to 1975]. He rang me one day on the hot line to say that he wanted to see me. I cancelled all engagements thinking something serious had happened. That was my fear. I was worried about paying salaries, paying off our debt, and still being able to embark on the plans we had earmarked. If there was a problem with our finances, there was a big problem. However, the governor of the Central Bank only came to tell me that he had so much money he did not know what to do with it!
“I became very angry with him! What do you mean — you have so much money, and you do not know what to do with it, I said to him. Is that all that you came to tell me? For God’s sake, I thought you would have told me that since we have all this money, there are some excellent ideas on how we can invest it. And I asked him — who told you that one can have so much money he does not know what to do with it? I suggested that, in lieu of any good ideas, he should go pave the streets of Lagos with the money, then! What we should be talking about, I told him, is not that we have so much money; rather, it is what to do with the money! And that was the context in which I made that statement!
“The important thing was not to fritter away the money. I said to the Central Bank Governor: look – the government has pledged to improve small scale industries as well as the agricultural sector and the educational system; we can go ahead and invest in all of these, or defer our plans for a short period and find something else that would provide us with even more funds. As a matter of information – Nigeria had even lent to the World Bank or was it the IMF, at the time — with the proviso that when the country’s economic programme took off, and we needed to pay off some of our commitments, the money would be released to us! At no time, did we borrow or incur unnecessary debt. All the country’s debts were institutionalized and paid off by the due date! My Finance Commissioners and Economic Advisers were truly very upright. It was never a question of having money, not knowing what to do with it, therefore, steal it! At least, no one can say that my government was involved in any cases of embezzlement or that we siphoned away money for personal use!”
For a regime which had gradually been growing weaker and unpopular, the Nigerian Army found Gowon’s statement (the historical context not withstanding) to be totally unacceptable and it responded typically. On Tuesday, 29th July, 1975, Colonel Joseph Nanven Garba (1943-2002) led a group of coup plotters to announce the overthrow of the Gowon regime. Gowon was then attending the 12th Summit of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in far away Kampala, Uganda.
As a matter of fact, despite lacking “the independence of action which wealth would have given him” as did “some of his contemporaries like Azikiwe and Awolowo” given their stupendous “earthly possessions,” Sir Kashim Ibrahim (1910-1990), a former Governor of Northern Nigeria whom General Yakubu Gowon consulted constantly, had in a private chat with the Head of State two days before he left for the said Kampala OAU conference, advised him to change his Governors, citing appalling incompetence and brazen corruption on the part of many of them (See Power Broker). Ibrahim understood that (true to military tradition) the victors will normally be treating themselves to the spoils of war, but sought to know why General Gowon appointed junior army officers as Governors at the expense of their seniors who actually prosecuted the Civil War, and who were already becoming restive and restless as a result. One commentary observes fittingly:
“However, with the declining popularity of the Gowon government, which had been characterized by excesses and corruption, some Army officers, acting in what they claimed to be patriotic interests, approached Brigadier Muhammed [Murtala Mohammed] and two other wartime colleagues. It has been speculated that the real reason for the coup was the frustration on the part of wartime commanders, who felt that despite their efforts to win Nigeria the war, their army colleagues who had remained at Army HQ, away from the frontlines, were reaping the benefits amidst an atmosphere of corruption. The coupists identified with the now popular Muhammed as the one who would lead after deposing the Gowon government.”
The good-natured Yakubu Gowon politely agreed to change the Governors and promised that the change would take place after the scheduled visit of Queen Elizabeth II of England to Nigeria, as well as after the closing of the World Black Arts Festival (FESTAC 77) in 1977. Obviously, the youthful Gowon had underestimated the intense, agitated and frequent threats facing his regime as a result of his Governors’ activities. He, therefore, missed the opportunity to bring about the necessary change, crucial to the survival of his regime.
After the overthrow, the General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the Nigerian Army’s 2nd Division during the Nigerian Civil War, Brigadier Murtala Ramat Muhammed (1938-1976), with his trademark beaming, cherubic face, was appointed as Yakubu Gowon’s successor. The federal Minister for Works and Housing (1974-1975), Brigadier Olusegun Obasanjo (later Lieutenant-General), who had commanded the 3rd Marine Commando Division which provided a major thrust in the final offensive launched by the Nigerian Federal troops against Biafran forces on Tuesday, December 23 1969, emerged the Chief of Staff, Supreme HQs (1975-1976) and Brigadier Theophilus Danjuma, who led the revenge seeking counter-coupists of Friday, July 29 1966, became Chief of Army Staff (1975-1979). It will be recalled that Muhammed’s 2nd Division did not only account for the Biafran Army’s forced and famous retreat from the Mid-Western Region during the Civil War, it also became renowned for passing over the River Niger (against clear orders from his superiors to await the bridge’s reconstruction which Biafran forces had blown up in desperation as they retreated) to join the 1st Division, which had recently departed Nsukka and Enugu:
“It is noted in some quarters especially, in Asaba Delta State, that Gen. Murtala Muhammed supervised the cold blooded killings of innocent civilians when his men entered the town during the Biafran War.
Muhammed’s encounter with disaster during the war happened shortly after, as he attempted to cross the River Niger to Biafra. Despite the recommendation of his superiors at Army Headquarters in Lagos that he wait for the bridge, which had been blown up by retreating Biafran forces, to be rebuilt, he insisted on a riverine crossing. Twice he was beaten back, but he steadfastly kept resolve and finally made it through on his third attempt. Shortly after this, Muhammed, fed up with reprimands from Army HQ, decided to quit his command and left for an extended holiday in the United Kingdom, but not before threatening to resign his commission. His historic military feats during the war won him National acclaim and respect even from his adversaries.”
The relationship between Nigerian politicians (particularly Northerners) and General Murtala Muhammed, who enriched the national lexicon with his introduction of such phrases as “Fellow Nigerians” and “with immediate effect,” was not very warm to say the least. As elder statesmen with considerable achievements to their credit and a sense of self-importance, these politicians were particularly unhappy about General Muhammed’s cavalier attitude towards them. The young General was the complete opposite of his predecessors; as he repeatedly refused to assist them with transport whenever they came visiting or sought their advice on national issues, as would Ironsi and Gowon before him, a sign that the practice of historical friendship with “All Governments In Power (AGIP)” by some professional politicians would be so much deadwood during his own tenure. These politicians did not feel like they could cope with such a change that aimed to consign their “old-fashioned ideas” to the dustbin as superannuated. But being such staunch Nigerian patriots, as they claimed, it was hard for them to abandon one of their own tasked with leading the nation. Osuntokun provides, ibid:
“General Muhammed’s temperament was quite different from that of both his predecessors, Generals Ironsi and Gowon. Ironsi was emotional, sentimental and treated everybody, particularly the Northern elite, with respect. Gowon was a gentleman and was correct in his social interactions. Whenever Sir Kashim [former Governor of Northern Nigeria] visited Lagos during their time, he was appropriately lodged in the State House on the Marina, a rambling building fit enough for even a visiting monarch or a head of state.”
General Muhammed’s abrasive manner, no doubt, won him an unenviable notoriety among the political class. In Power Broker, Sir Kashim hastens to lambast the head of state for his childlike and forceful ways:
“We didn’t talk much, all we talked about was about the involvement of the chancellors in the affairs of the universities…I went to Ibadan for a convocation and from there I went to see him [General Muhammed]. I didn’t like his ways at all. I found him to be very childish and rough…Anyway, he didn’t impress me at all…When I went to General Gowon, he saw me to my car, when I went to General Muhammed, he took leave of me just at the gate…”
The said visit took place on Wednesday, 11th February, 1976 and two days afterwards (Friday, 13th February), General Muhammed, a Muslim, was killed by the assassins’ bullets in a retaliatory coup d’état by Plateau officers (mostly Christians) in the army who perceived him as grabbing the office occupied by one of their own, General Gowon, also a Christian, who up to his removal had spent almost nine years as Head of State. These officers were led by Lieutenant-Colonel Bukar Suka Dimka (1942-1976). However, some Northern leaders, like Kashim Ibrahim, had correctly been anxious and apprehensive that Gowon’s overthrow by Muhammed might lead to disunity in the North, and a collapse of military discipline given the high proportion of the Northern minorities in the combating ranks of the Nigerian Army. Therefore, the exertions by General Muhammed’s regime to underplay the reality of the situation only appeared equivalent to sweltering the blustery weather, not ending it. Perceptibly also, the explosive nature of the perennially delicate politics of Nigeria, which these politicians felt “had to be taken into account in running the affairs of the country” at all times but which the then young generation of military adventurists in power were hastily discarding, had come to leave a subterranean inkling on many of them. In August 2016 while playing host to the cast and crew of the then yet to be released film, “1976”, at his Presidential Library in Abeokuta, Ogun State, Retired General Obasanjo, who was generally whispered to be “persuaded” to assume the reins of power following Muhammed’s death, explains the anxiety and apprehension of the time thus:
“The killing of Muslim on a Friday by a gang thought to be Christians, particularly, when we remembered the first coup, which upturned the political situation, gave a bad signal. Where will it amount to; where will it lead us to and where will it lead us out? These were what Nigerians had in mind.”
Bent on effecting a change in the style of governance from day one, as did the Duke of Orleans, Louis Philippe (1773-1850), who succeeded to the French throne following the revolution of July 1830 in Paris which forced the abdication of King Charles X (1757-1836), General Murtala Muhammed had put no one in doubt that he was going to be an unusual head of state; one that was not given to ceremony and the grandeur or trappings of office. The very fast pace which he deliberately set for himself on assumption of office on Tuesday, 29th July, 1975, obviously, did not allow him to waste time with much social niceties. His dynamic zeal was obviously to compact and compress into a few months what took his predecessors years to accomplish. Not a few Nigerians were amazed by the top speed with which he scrapped the disputed 1973 census and reverted to the more amenable 1963 count, created 19 states, appointed Governors, then sacked two within a month, imposed the FG’s control in areas hitherto reserved for the states, placed federal control on state-run universities, monopolized broadcasting, assumed control over the country’s two largest newspapers, set up a Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC), accepted Justice Akinola Aguda panel’s recommendation that Nigeria’s capital be moved to Abuja, a more central spot and announced a transition programme which will return the country to civil rule on Saturday, October 1, 1979 among others. Certainly, his performance within his short stint in office exceeded all expectations. Abduljalal Danbaba bears out in his Remembering Our ‘Folk Hero’ – Daily Trust of Saturday, February 16 2013:
“The magnanimity and passion with which some of his vital decisions and actions were executed clearly demonstrated the political will and perpendicular integrity of his leadership qualities to the extent that both the participants in government and the citizens knew that a serious government was in place at that time.”
Longing to come to justice with supposedly clean hands, General Murtala Muhammed promptly divested himself of nearly everything he had owned, and by his own admission, corruptly. Although hardly ever a talkative or an eminently listenable guy, his disposition to issues and men veered more towards a military angle; and unlike General Gowon, the rapidity with which his temperament can change usually left a lot to be desired. Osuntokun states, ibid:
“General Mohammed belonged to a new generation of Northerners. Even though he was originally a Northern chauvinist, when he found himself as a head of state, he quickly became a Nigerian nationalist. He was not a saint, but he was prepared to live down his past and leave his foot prints on the sands of time. He wanted to be seen as a true nationalist and a true Nigerian.”
Nigeria’s domestic and foreign policies received a major boost during the short reign of General Muhammed as he tirelessly worked to alter the direction of both. The new strongman promoted a “Nigeria first” orientation, and made the country “neutral” rather than “nonaligned” in international affairs. Writes Femi Fani-Kayode, a former Minister of Tourism and Culture and later Aviation, in his Forty Years On of Saturday, February 13 2016:
“Our domestic policy under his watch brought positive and monumental changes to the fortunes of our country and the character of our people. Our foreign policy, under him, throughout his six months that he was head of state, was a sight to be seen.”
However, the orientation summersault was noticeable in the case of Angola over which Nigeria had bent over backwards in her effort to produce a negotiated reconciliation of the warring factions: the American-backed rival National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) of Jonas Savimbi (1934-2002) and the Soviet-sponsored Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) of Antonio Agostinho Neto (1922-1979). But when South Africa sided with UNITA, Murtala Muhammad wasted no time to announce Nigeria’s support, in late 1975, for the MPLA. The former minister further taunts, ibid:
“Without General Murtala Mohammed, the eventual liberation of Angola, Zimbabwe and South Africa would not have been achieved when it was. Though he did not live to see it, he set the ball rolling and he threw down the gauntlet to the Western powers and all those that supported racial tyranny and apartheid in the nation of southern Africa.”
The MPLA fought against the Portuguese army in the Angolan War of Independence (1961-1974), and defeated UNITA and the FNLA in the decolonization conflict (1974-1975) and the Angolan Civil War (1975-2002), a prominent Cold War proxy war, whereby UNITA got military aid from America and South Africa and the MPLA was catered for by the Soviet Union and its allies. This, of course, injured Nigeria’s relations with the U.S., which argued for the pulling out of Cuban troops and Soviet advisers from Angola.
Unfortunately, General Muhammed’s major problems stemmed from his domestic policies which was characterised by widespread purges (without benefits) in the nation’s civil service. More than 10,000 public officials and employees were affected on a variety of reasons ranging from age and health, to incompetence and corruption. Chief Asiodu, who was prematurely and roguishly relieved of his position as Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Petroleum and Energy by the rampaging General Murtala Mohammed, along with nearly 10,000 other civil servants, thunders bitterly:
“There is no explanation for a military coup which thrives on discipline to do what they did; removing hundreds of civil servants who only lawfully carried out instructions from permanent secretaries, their deputies and so on… No! By doing that, 10,000 people were relieved of their positions within a period of two months without due process, without query and answer and later on, when Pedro Martins Commission of Enquiry looked into it, they found that more than ninety-nine percent of civil servants were gone….”
Moreover at the time, General Muhammed, who opposed the regime of Major-General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi (1924-1966) which seized power after a coup d’état on Saturday, January 15 1966, was highly disdainful of the traditional movers and shakers in Nigeria and failed to develop a friendship with them. Under Muhammed’s watch, the elitism was blatant, the bureaucracy never felt so disgraced, the Northern aristocracy was sidelined, the judiciary was put at arm’s length, and the minorities, which had enjoyed ascendancy under General Gowon, were curtailed. He would pay dearly for this though, as only the press, which had begun to accept the asinine castle in the air that the country had out of the blue matured more alike, described him as “dynamic”. Equally, university teachers, artists and other intellectuals seemed to have been impressed and expected his low profile style of leadership to comprise a marked impact on the future of the country. For them, he became a rallying point, but not for long. Clifford Ndujihe, Vanguard’s Deputy Political Editor, tenders in Murtala Muhammed’s 198 Days of Action dated Friday, February 12 2016:
“The 198 days he spent in office were eventful and loaded with activities that strategically shaped and are still shaping the affairs of the nation 40 years after. His low profile and flamboyance-shunning approach to governance; zero tolerance for graft, ineptitude and laxity; and resolution of issues with dispatch, which has come to be known as ‘military alacrity,’ endeared him to most Nigerians but also won for him, strident critics and enemies, who opposed his style. Murtala Mohammed mounted the saddle of leadership on July 30, 1975 but was killed less than seven months later in an abortive coup of February 13, 1976. But before his assassination, Murtala Mohammed had left his footprints on the sands of time.”
Matter-of-factly, the General’s popularity resided more in the South than in the North probably because Southerners have a special liking for radical changes and alternative methods, and were more likely to overlook, if not admire, his characteristic impetuosity, nonchalance and aggression. Vis-a-vis Northerners, who, in spite of the commoners’ constant yawning for change, find their leadership to be usually very cautious, accepting change only out of necessity. It, therefore, did not surprise many when the Northern elite found General Muhammed to be an insufferable bore, and his style, insufferably hostile. Although they withheld their misgivings to themselves, they, all the same, maintained that they had an unshakable premonition that something unpleasant was brewing.
On the other hand, it must be conceded to these powerful men that they blinked in surprise at General Muhammed’s quickness and decisiveness, and considered his ability to take decisions, for good or for ill, as the hallmark of his greatness. They found this most noticeable in the way and manner he created nineteen states soon after assuming office. They were late, though, in realizing the necessity of state creation in Nigeria in general and the North in particular which they had consistently opposed because they equated the exercise with political fragmentation and an attempt by the Action Group and Chief Awolowo to divide the North and scramble for its minorities in order to pave the way for his own political ascendancy. The same reason could be adduced for their opposition of the Kanuri politician and first Northern People’s Congress General Secretary, Ibrahim Imam (1916-1980), and his Bornu Youth Movement’s advocacy for a North Eastern State in the 1950s. Also, much of the opposition faced by the hard-working J.S Tarka (1932-1980), in pressing for a Middle Belt State, was for a similar reason.
In February 1976, Gowon was implicated in the abortive coup d’état led by Lieutenant-Colonel Dimka, which resulted in the death of General Murtala Muhammed, along with his aide-de-camp, Lieutenant Akintunde Akinsehinwa (1944-1976) and the Kwara State Military Governor, Colonel Ibrahim Taiwo (d. 1976). On the way to his office at Dodan Barracks, Lagos, without “sirens”, “escorts” – “accompanying out-riders”, “road-closed signs and all that”, coupists waylaid the Head of State’s car and opened fire. Wikipedia provides:
“On Friday 13 February 1976, Muhammed set off for work along his usual route on George Street. Shortly after 8 a.m. his Mercedes Benz car traveled slowly in the traffic near the Federal Secretariat at Ikoyi in Lagos and a group of soldiers (members of an abortive coup led by Dimka) emerged from an adjacent petrol station, ambushed the vehicle and assassinated Muhammed.”
The only survivor of the coup was Staff Sergeant Michael Otuwu, Muhammed’s Orderly, who later reveals how Akinsehinwa’s effort to save the late Head of State led to his death:
“I was his Orderly throughout to his last day during the Dimka coup. I was inside the car with him when he was killed.
“On the morning of that February 13, we were going to the office. Sergeant Adamu Michika was the driver; Sergeant Akintunde Akinsehinwa, his ADC, sat behind the driver. As an Orderly I was in front with the driver, while the Head of State sat behind me…There were about four or five vehicles in front of us. You know at that junction there was traffic.
“So when we got to the Alagbon junction, the traffic warden stopped the vehicle and we were in the queue. We were the fifth or sixth vehicle behind the forward vehicles that were stopped. That Secretariat was under construction.
“They put zincs around the compound behind that secretariat. Then some soldiers came in Agbada carrying AK-47 rifles. They wore uniforms but covered them with Agbada. They had their Kalashnikovs with Agbada cover-up in camouflage. We never knew they were even waiting for us. Then one soldier from Golf Road shot and got our driver, Sergeant Michika. Our motor was neutralized…
“Then some other soldiers converged on us. I can’t recall their number. They began to spray us from the back. All of us took cover. I fell on top of the driver; the blood of the driver covered my head. They thought the bullet got my head…and without return of fire they must have assumed that we were all dead…the ADC, who was still alive, thinking they were gone, opened the door of the Benz.
“In the first spraying of the car, except the driver who was killed, the three of us were injured but not dead. On observing the car door opening, one of the attackers, still within range, a Major, called to the others: “he never die, he never die.” He was calling his group to return. This time around when they came back, they finished the entire magazines…”
Dimka’s “confession” stated that he met with Gowon in London, and that the ex-Head of State pledged his support for the coup. At the execution ground, Dimka also declared that their action was aimed at re-installing Gowon as Head of State. Consequently, Gowon was stripped of his rank in absentia and his pension cut off. He was also declared wanted by the Nigerian government based on the findings of the tribunal which tried the coup plotters. He would be pardoned seven years later, as aforementioned, along with the ex-Biafran warlord, Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, by President Shagari. Gowon, however, dismisses such talk, ibid:
“…Remember that because of what subsequently happened, I was accused of something, became a wanted man, and then they tried to give me pardon. But I refused. I said I was not going to accept any pardon, because it meant I was guilty and needed to be forgiven. And I refused to accept that. I had nothing to do with what they accused me of! I was a very busy student at this point. I had no time, and it was a good thing that I was not sitting idle to even begin thinking of such a stupid thing.”
The same Dimka, commissioned as a 2nd-Lieutenant from the Australian Army Officer Cadet School, Port sea, into the Nigerian Army on December 13 1963, was reported to have pursued his Brigade Major, Samuel Ogbemudia (1932-2017), with likely aim to kill him during the Payback Coup of July 29 1966 because he detained him for failing to comply with an order which outlawed the criminal movement of troops. Luckily, Ogbemudia was said to have been tipped off by Major Abba Kyari and Colonel Hassan Katsina (1933-1995)
The slain Head of State, whose picture decorates Nigeria’s Twenty Naira note, was succeeded by his Chief of Staff, Supreme HQ, Brigadier Olusegun Obasanjo, who stuck to Murtala Muhammed’s transition programme like cobbler’s wax. But, who indeed was the Second-in-Command to General Obasanjo as Head of State from 1976-1979 as all and sundry had been made to think it was the former Transport Minister in General Murtala Muhammed’s regime, Major General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua (1943-1997), the 4th Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters? The rejoinder of a former Industries Minister, Lieutenant-General Alani Akinrinade, whose victory at Bonny and his role in foiling Dimka’s coup helped to make his rise to the top rapid, was indeed an eye-opener, to say the least. The Yakoyo, Ile-Ife-born soldier reveals to May Ellen Ezekiel (1957-1996), Newswatch’s Contributing Editor in the late 80s and later editor of Quality magazine and publisher of Classique magazine:
“The truth of the matter is that at the time, we were having Obasanjo, a Christian southerner, very senior. The post of the chief of staff, unlike the interpretation given by the media, is not the number two position. It does not mean number two man to the commander-in-chief. Appointing General Yar’Adua as chief of staff did not mean he was next to Obasanjo in hierarchy, but he was his chief of staff. So, he was (usually) the first man to be called anytime Obasanjo wanted something done, or if there was a problem. All the other people, who were senior to him, like the chief of army staff, chief of air staff; they all had statutory responsibility to command forces. You cannot again saddle them with political responsibility, at least not on a day-to-day basis.”
The rest, as they say, is history…and as an English proverb goes, “Happy is the country which has a history.”