Awolowo and the forgotten documents of the civil war, by Odia Ofeimun (2)

on   /   in Awo vs Achebe, News 7:16 pm   /   Comments

In this second part, you would observe views that are manifestly contradictory and would leave you with the conclusion that they can be described as products of biased minds or the display of crass ignorance – the former should suffice.  The posers raised last week regarding the following are dealt with:  Which book did Achebe write which captured all but a coup, of all that was happening wrongly in the country during the First Republic?  Was Nnamdi Azikiwe sounded out by Igbo officers on the possibility of carrying out a coup in 1964, two years before the January 1966 coup?  What was the plan of the coup makers of 1966 for Awolowo? Was Awolowo privy to what the eventual coup makers planned to do with him?  What was so important about the Emmanuel Ifeajuna manuscript that Olusegun Obasanjo wanted to get to read it?

Yet, there are still many more posers that Ofeimun would rather Nigerians avert their minds to.
The multi-national, doing good business in Nigeria, did not want to antagonize a military dictatorship that had just come to power. The UK office therefore sent the manuscript to the Nigerian High commission office in London to find out if the manuscript would pass something of a civility test. The new High Commissioner to Britain happened to be Brigadier Ogundipe who had only just survived the counter coup of July 29, 1966 and had escaped to London. He was easily the most senior officer in the Nigerian Army and should rightly have become Head of State if it depended on seniority. Having just avoided untoward consequences for being so prominent, was he in a position to accede to the request? Brigadier Ogundipe simply caused the manuscript to be sent home to the authorities in Lagos.

Zealously, the authorities marched on the Longman office in Ikeja and arrested the executives who had sent the manuscripts to the UK for publication. JP Clark, who brought the manuscript, could not be reached. Or so the Longman executives reported. But the military authorities knew what to do. As JP Clark would have it in his lecture: “An interesting development from my visit to the then Special Branch of the Nigeria Police Force at Force Headquarters was that my late friend, Aminu Abdulahi, fresh from assignments in London and Nairobi, moved in from his cousin, M.D. Yusufu, to live with me for a year and keep an eye on me. I have never discussed the matter with our inimitable master spy-catcher of those days. Some years later, he gave me the good advice that the state does not mind what a writer scribbles about it as long as he does not go on to put his words into action.

As for the manuscript: “I have often wondered over the years what became of this manuscript that I kept at one time in a baby’s cot. When the publisher Longman chickened out of the project, I handed it over to a brother-in-law of  Ifeajuna’s to take home to his wife, Rose. I found portions of it later reproduced in General Olusegun Obasanjo’s biography of Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu”

JP rounds out his narrative thus: “My purpose of letting you into all this is to help fill in a few details left out in the history of military intervention in Nigeria. Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna is made the villain, while Major Chukuma Nzeogwu  is the hero. The portraits are not that black and white and far apart. They both killed their superior officers and a number of key political leaders in the country in a common cause. So where lies the difference? Where the distinction? I have always found it difficult to understand why one is made out a villain and the other a hero”.

“After the events of the momentous day broke upon us all, and Major Ifeajuna was reported to have fled to Ghana, Major General Aguiyi Ironsi wanted to have him back as he had Major Kaduna Nzeogwu, Chris Okigbo was given the letter to take to President Kwame Nkrumah. But he needed company, someone who shared influential literary friends with him in Accra, but more importantly, someone who could add his voice to persuade Ifeajuna to come home and assume responsibility for his action. We knew the dangers of our assignment. ‘JP, I cant bear a pin prick’, Chris had laughed. Yet, when war came, he was  to take up arms and die for a new cause. Chris had in fact driven Emman, disguised as a girl, from Ibadan to the then Dahomey border, after he found his way back from Enugu a defeated man”.

JP Clark does not say that he was in that party but readers of Soyinka’s  memoirs YOU MUST SET FORTH AT DAWN,  would find on page 286-287 of the Nigerian edition, the following: “JP, I always suspected, did have a first-hand knowledge, albeit vague, of the very first coup de’tat of 1966. With Christopher Okigbo, he had accompanied one of the principals  Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna  across the border, the latter in female disguise. JP turned back at the border while Christopher  crossed over to the Republic of Benin (then Dahomey) taking charge of Ifeajuna who was by then virtually an emotional wreck, haunted  Christopher related  by images of bloodstreams cascading from his dying victims, his superior officers, none of whom was a stranger to him”. Soyinka adds: “JP brought back with him the manuscript of Ifeajuna’s account of the coup, hurriedly put together during this period of hiding by that young major and former athlete  he was one of the four who set a joint 6’6 record in high jump at the Commonwealth Games in Vancouver, 1956.

Knowledge of the existence of the manuscript set off a wild hunt by Gowon’s Military Intelligence, desperate for an authentic, first-hand account of those who had plotted the ’66 coup, who had done the killings, what civilians, especially politicians, had prior knowledge or had collaborated in the putsch. For a while JP Clark was deemed a security risk. So were his publishers, Longmans, whose editors at one time or the other held the explosive manuscript in their possession, debating the wisdom of releasing its contents into the market”.

*Gowon and Ojukwu

JP’s account in his National Merit Award lecture unpacks the mystery further. He writes: “We took two trips to Accra by air, the first was a full meeting with Ifeajuna, the second to give his host government time to arrange for evacuation, while he wrote up the defence he would have given at his court-martial in Lagos. We just made it back before Ghana, too, fell to the military. I still wonder what effect the example of Nigeria had upon them. Nkrumah for all his revolutionary fervour , did not know what to do with Major Ifeajuna. He, therefore sent him to his army for debriefing, and they advised the president against giving him the airplane he asked for to return to Lagos to finish his operation.

JP continues: “The man could not understand what had happened in Nigeria, Ifeajuna, told us. So he packed off his unexpected guest to Winneba to be with his compatriots, SG. Ikoku and Dr. Bankole Akpata. With both these ideologues, our stay with Ifeajuna became one running seminar. What became clear was that it was not the Nigerian Army that seized power on January 15, 1966. It was a faction of it, racing against another to secure power for the political alliance of their choice. This group was for UPGA. It beat the other one to the gun, the faction in full support of the governing NNA alliance. That Ifeajuna said, explained the pattern of targets and killings”.

JP Clark said he had asked Ifeajuna at Accra: “Did the General know about your plan?”
“Well, not really, I was just a Brigade Major, and you don’t always get that close to a General. But I remember on some of those briefings on the situation in the West , when I said it couldn’t go on forever like that, he growled that we junior officers should not go and start anything foolish”.

“And the President away on his Caribbean cruise”

“But you know the politicians were all wooing the army” he said, “Our plan was to bring Chief Awolowo out of jail in Calabar to head our government and break up the country into more states to make for a true federation”.

I have taken the pains to be over-generous with these quotes because they provide an interesting preface to Chinua Achebe’s take on it.  As narrated by Ezenwa Ohaeto, Achebe’s biographer, the Ifeajuna manuscript was one of those which came to Citadel Press, the wartime outfit that Christopher Okigbo suggested that they set up. Achebe had said: “…well, you set it up, you know about it, and I’ll join. He said, You’ll be chairman and I’ll be Managing Director, so the Citadel Press was formed. The name came from the idea of the fortress you flee from a foreign land, in danger, and return home to your citadel”.

Christopher Okigbo avidly solicited manuscripts for the publishing house. As Ohaeto writes: “Okigbo also brought another manuscript to Citadel Press which was from Emmanuel Ifeajuna, one of the plotters of the 15 January 1966 coup. The manuscript was Ifeajuna’s story of the coup and he gave it to Okigbo who enthusiastically passed it on to Achebe after reading it. It was a work that Achebe considered important so he also read it immediately. But he discovered that there were flaws in the story. He criticized it for two reasons: It seemed to me to be self-serving. Emmanuel was attempting a story in which he was a centre and everybody else was marginal. So  he was the star of the thing. I did not know what they did or did not but reading his account in the manuscript, I thought that the author was painting himself as a hero”.

“The other reason was quite serious, as Achebe explains: ‘…. within the story itself there were contradictions’. Achebe told Okigbo that it was not a reliable and honest account of what happened. As an example, he cited Ifeajuna’s description of the coup plotters at their first meeting in a man’s chalet in a catering guest house.

The plotters are coming into the chalet late in the night and Ifeajuna describes the room as being in darkness since they are keen not to arouse suspicion. They all assemble and Ifeajuna claims that he stood up and addressed them while watching their faces and noting their reactions. Since it is supposed to be dark, Achebe regarded that description as dubious. Okigbo laughed and remarked that Ifeajuna was probably being lyrical. Some days after that conversation, Okigbo came to Achebe and told him that Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu had asked him: ‘I hear you and Achebe are going to publish Emma’s lies?’. That comment by Nzeogwu, a principal actor in the January coup, confirmed that the manuscript was unreliable.’

Times were to turn disastrous for many of those actors before the end of 1967. In later years, Achebe reflected that he might have made a different decision if he had known what lay ahead for Ifeajuna, Okigbo and Nzeogwu. He added, however, that even if the manuscript had been accepted by Citadel Press, it would not have been published, because the publishing house was destroyed at the same time as these three men when the war moved closer”.

There are reasons to believe that the Citadel encounter was not the first in which Chinua Achebe was rejecting the document. The relationship between Christopher Okigbo and Chinua Achebe was at all times during this period so close that it is not conceivable that Okigbo could have failed to brief him about the dynamite that JP brought from Ifeajuna. Besides, as Editorial Adviser to Heinemann, Achebe was sufficiently close to the publishing mill and the burgeoning literati not to have heard about the manuscript. Arguably, it is unlikely that Chinua Achebe was seeing the manuscript for the first time in Biafra. He was too much in the same circles with Okigbo in his many schemes and with JP Clark at the University of Lagos, not to  have been aware of the document that Okigbo and JP Clark brought with Ifeajuna from Accra. However, whenever it was that Chinua Achebe saw the manuscript, the issue is whether his editorial judgment had anything to do with the document not seeing the light of day.

What is known of it from his biographer’s narration does not make Achebe culpable. Achebe’s position on the manuscript could still be faulted  however on the grounds that even an unreliable story told by a major actor in an event of such earth-shaking proportions in the history of a young nation-state, deserved to be known. How many stories of the civil war today are without the self-serving disposition of their narrators? Talking about unreliability, Chinua Achebe may have been reading the manuscript from what he knew of Ifeajuna’s famed capacity for not standing, in his college days, by what he had done, as even JP, his finest defender has narrated.

Or, perhaps, there were things those great writers did not tell themselves even in their closeness. For instance JP Clark is reported by Ohaeto to have exclaimed after reading the advance copy of Achebe’s A man of the people : ‘Chinua, I know you are a prophet. Everything in this book has happened except a military coup’.  There is no way of knowing, until their memoirs, whether either of them was aware of the rumour, soon  entrenched by later events, that  Nnamdi Azikiwe had been sounded out by Igbo officers, Ojukwu specifically, on carrying out a coup during the 1964 election crisis.   Azikiwe  had refused. That rumour is in the same class as the other one: that, tipped off by Ifeajuna before the January 15, 1966 coup, Zik went on a health cruise in the Carribbean under the auspices of Haiti’s Papa Doc, an old schoolmate. All the same, if Chinua Achebe did not know about the rumour, he certainly was well placed enough to have known that Nnamdi Azikiwe had refused to call on Balewa to form a Government in 1964 because the election was rigged. Azikiwe had written a long speech, published in an early edition of his newspaper, the West African Pilot, explaining why he would not call on the Prime Minister, Tafawa Balewa, to form a government. And then another emergency edition was published later in the day in which he wrote another speech calling on the Prime Minister to form a government. The Great Zik had virtually been put under house arrest by the British Commander of the Nigerian Army, Welby Everard. Discovering that the army would not obey their commander in chief, Zik capitulated. His capitulation was facilitated by the whispering campaign that it was only two medical opinions that were  required to prove him unfit to take a decision. As Dudley footnoted in his Introduction to Nigerian Politics, “The President gave way when he realized there was a move to declare him medically incapable of continuing in office”. (p.312)As I have argued in newspaper articles, this was the very first coup in Nigeria’s post-independence history. It was the Rubicon crossed after which every Nigerian political party had to build and flex a military muzzle in anticipation of a long expected blow up.

This is the point in the narrative where questions are usually raised about the Awolowo factor: whether he was privy to what the coup makers planned to do with him. Easily dismissed but not scorched is that the soldiers had good reasons for wanting Awolowo above all other living politicians in the country at that time. There was a FREE AWO movement into which even political opponents had plugged for relevance. Since Awolowo began to suffer the series of house arrests and detentions, before the eventual jail term was confirmed by the Supreme Court,  his voice, which consistently defended the poor and the underprivileged had been missing in national affairs. Younger radicals remembered Awolowo’s opposition to the Anglo-Nigerian Defence Pact, his consistent defence of the rule of law, his unflagging pursuit of social welfare policies against the economics of waste which characterized the capitalist road that Nigeria was taking, and the general slowness in responding to the struggle in the rest of Africa to eliminate colonialism and set Africa free. The Hansards of the Federal House of representatives in Lagos reveal the valiant efforts that Awolowo had made to change the street-beggar economy that Nigeria ran, his opposition to undiluted private enterprise, and his general resistance to the various attempts, to sell a newspaper gag law, a preventive detention act, and the general de-federalization of the country. Anyone knowing these would not be surprised that the younger radicals in the country were on Awolowo’s side.

Chinua Achebe, author of , ‘ There Was A Country’

Awolowo himself had brought in many young radical elements like SG Ikoku, Bola Ige, Samuel Aluko, Oluwasanmi, Bankole Akpata and others to his side who were generally viewed as socialists involved in creating a better future for the country.  This is what Ojukwu means when he says that Awolowo was a hero. The circle of young radicals were enthused by the presence of Segun Awolowo, just returned from law studies in Britain, who was fresh air in the circles in which Awolowo was seen as a brand to be emulated. Segun’s death in a motor accident during his trials won his father the sympathy of this younger generation.  The most well known poets in Nigeria, Wole Soyinka, Christopher Okigbo and JP Clark wrote poems at that time that have served as witnesses to travails of the man and his times. The poets belonged to  a small circle of radical intellectuals in the country who knew one another in the University College Ibadan (UCI) and shared a common, energized, notion of a country that would move the world. In spite of the ethnic fractionalization that was a permanent feature of life in Nigeria’s public space, the young Turks of the period were parleying across occupational and ethnic lines. It is not clear how much they shared in a political sense. The question may be asked: how many of them were notionally privy to the idea of a coup – the one supposedly being planned by Awolowo or, later, the one that was supposed to be in the offing after Ojukwu sounded out Nnamdi Azikiwe about one during the election crisis in 1964?

What may be argued with some certainty is that many of them could see that there was a plot to expose and destroy the Action Group, the ruling party in the Western Region. The plot had begun with the declaration of a state of emergency in the Region, the setting up of the Coker Commision of Enquiry to prove corruption in the management of AG’s company, the NIPC, so that the Federal government could seize the assets of the company; and then the institution of a treasonable felony trial to settle the question of the party’s survival once and for all. Later, the plot covered the establishment of the Banjo Commission to prove the failure of free education, Awolowo’s most sensational contribution to development in the country and the star performance that made his party so impregnable in the West. In spite of, or because of, the underhand methods that were being used to drown out Awolowo, anyone who cared to look could tell that he was more sinned against than sinning.

In  particular, regarding the 1962 treasonable felony trial, involving him and 27 others, any objective observer could have seen that what Awolowo had done apart from organizing a political party was being a thorn in the flesh of the independence government. In the face of the evident plans to destroy his party so that the coalition partners could chop up its remains, he had vowed that he and his party would make the West ungovernable rather than let the region be taken outside the electoral process. His party began to train people to make sure that no undemocratic victories would befall the region. The party sent apparatchiks  to Ghana to train.

So the accusation during the treasonable felony trial, that they were sending guerillas for training in Ghana was correct in so far as it was not stretched to imply that it was pursuant to carrying out a coup against the government of the Federation. What is generally ignored by the narrators of this segment of Nigeria’s story, in spite of the admission of its truth by critical participants, is that every Nigerian political party at that time was training toughs for armed struggle. It may be a secret to those who never bothered to look at what was happening outside the newspapers.

This is backhandedly confirmed by Tanko Yakasai in his recent autobiography where he details an added dimension that  NEPU pro-insurgents were in league with a Camerounian political party in sending activists for training in Eastern Europe. This should of course be understood against the background of the struggle in the North between NPC’s thugs –  ‘Jam’iyyar Mahaukata’, ‘Sons of madmen’-  who wore wooden or ‘akushi’ hats, described in Allan Feinstein’s African Revolutionary as having “semi-official sanction to fight against southern dominance”.

They “subsequently extended their terrorism to a group of NEPU adherents’ so that ‘NEPU retaliated with a “Positive Action Wing” (PAW) who wore ‘calabash helmets’ and were determined to resist the NPC’s routine assaults that saw candidates of the opposition jailed or killed, their houses and farms destroyed and, in the case of opposition parties from the south, whole city wide or region-wide riots organized to distance them from power. NEPU went beyond a PAW response to the Mahaukata. The party, as Tanko Yankasai authoritatively reveals, already had experience in the training of guerillas for the Camerounian Sawaba Party(p.209).

In relation to the South, the NPC idea was actually quite fundamentalist because it was primed by the conception of a National Army as a catchment of thugs for realizing partisan ends. The truth of this can now be checked against the testimonies of  several NPC stalwarts. They had sent several of their young men into the Nigerian Army to prepare for the day when the military would be needed to settle political scores. Evidently, the parties in coalition at the Federal level were neither true to one another nor to themselves. They saw the destruction  of the Action Group differently.

They who were busy organizing insurgents against other parties and using even the state apparatus to realize partisan goals needed to hide their activities by accusing the opposition of treason. According to Dudley, the NCNC wished that the Action Group be destroyed so that they, the only member of the coalition that had a foothold in the West, would inherit the West and then confront the North with a Southern solidarity. After Awolowo was jailed in 1962, NCNC strategists actually tried to swallow up the West by forming a coalition with the Akintola faction of the AG which had become the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP).

They did not reckon with the ingenuity of that doughty fighter, the Are Ona Kankanfo himself. He saw the score quickly. He preferred an alliance with the senior partner in the coalition, the NPC. It was only after failing with the NNDP that the NCNC came back to the AG, this time, in search of a foothold rather than a routing. The Action Group leader, in prison, advised his followers to coast along until it became obvious that the NCNC was more interested in power at the centre and would not like to lose the perks from the coalition in the Federal House. By the time the Western Regional election of 1965 was rigged, the Action Group had formalized an organizational prong that enabled the members, at large, to fulfill the old promise by their leader: rather than for the West to be taken over by undemocratic means, the region would be made ungovernable. This was proficiently achieved with the Wetie riots – dousing opponents with petrol to aid match flare – that gave the sobriquet of the WildWild West to the region.

Of course, at the point of the region-wide riots, it was clear that the two coalition partners, working together for  the  destruction of the AG would have to re-strategize. Although sharing power at the Federal level, they nevertheless worked against each other everywhere else. The NPC had planned to use its men in the national army  for a coup that would clear the nation of the insurgents in the West and in the Middle Belt, especially in Tivland, where there was an active guerilla war against the government. Meanwhile, by 1964, the UMBC had  joined with NEPU to carry out a Northern liberation of sorts before facing the Federal behemoth. They all however joined the United Progressive Grand Alliance, UPGA, whose game, with the NCNC as  the core-party, was to go for broke. There seemed to be a consensus across the country, and in every political party, that the crisis could only be resolved through violence. All the political parties were primed for it.

In  a country, so wired for armed struggle, there was bound to be very little room for the truth to have dominion. What had to be done through the law courts, as the Action Group would discover, was  very much a charade. Awolowo was convicted on the ground that he was so over-weaningly ambitious that although he was not specifically found guilty, his fingerprints could be read on all the events that were to culminate in a coup. The judges, to prove the vaulting nature of the ambitions, took judicial notice of the dreams that Awolowo had recorded in a notebook which he called Flashes of Inspiration. It must be one of the unique court cases in history in which a man was jailed for what he said he saw in a dream rather than what he actually did. Nigeria had simply become a country seeded by and overcome by paranoia, an atmosphere of psychological block, making it difficult to look at opponents with any objectivity. The tendency was to accept every charge as true, the more heinous the better, if directed at someone about whom something good is not supposed to be said. So the charge of treasonable felony was swallowed hook and line without the minimum application of gumption. As it turned out, and as Obasanjo has told the story, Chukwuma Nzeogwu was the intelligence officer who was attached to the efforts to unravel the veracity of the charges in the Coker Commission and Treasonable Felony trial.

He was obviously privy to the discovery made by the Coker Commission that Awolowo kept a good account: that he had more money before he became a Premier of western Region than he had in his account after eight years of living in his own house, not in the state house, and spending his own money on entertainment. Even when Kwame Nkrumah visited Nigeria on a state visit,  the Ghanaian President stayed in Awolowo’s house at Oke Ado in Ibadan. Not in any state house. Thus, there is every reason to assume that Nzeogwu had enough information about the man’s distance from the common run of politicians in the country for Awolowo to be raised above the slough of general discussions and brickbats. What cannot be established is whether the coup makers ever made an attempt to contact Awolowo in jail.  From Ifeajuna’s account, the coup makers were quite dubious about Awolowo’s support. They had therefore decided that if they released him and he failed to be their leader, they would lock him up in the state house and issue decrees in his name. Quite glaring in the so-called master plan is that the coup makers were horridly naïve and permutative. So much so that about the senior officers Ifeajuna writes: “some of our senior officers who were likely to fight on the side of the regime were to be arrested while action took place. We also had to watch the concentration of senior officials . Only those who resisted arrest or fired at troops were to be fired at. When action was completed and a new regime was set up, they were to be released and given appointments, but not necessarily related to what posts they held before the event. We were to present our General with a ‘fait accompli’.

We were to apologize to him for our actions and request him to join us and take over the plans. If he was not prepared to join us, we would request that he should leave us alone to complete it. And in that case we were to appeal to the officer next in line to come to our help”(70). This sounds like the view of an officer and gentleman who expected the behaviour of others to be determined by his view of human nature rather than by the exigencies on the ground. Ifeajuna as much as lends credence to the charge that Nnamdi Azikiwe was  tipped off  to go on a health cruise so that he would not be around during the action. He writes: “We were to  act before the ex-President returned from his trip to Europe and his carousing cruise to the Caribbean. This,  for two reasons. Firstly, we were certain that he would put up a fight against us. Not that this mattered: but as the head of state he could easily call in foreign troops. In his absence only the Prime Minister could do so. And so the number of persons to invite foreign troops was reduced from two to one. Second reason was that , if he returned, we had to deal with him. But the task of clearing his residence at the state house would require more troops than we could conveniently muster.”

So did he nudge the President to exit while they plotted?  He wrote:
“We considered that two VIPs would be of importance to us in controlling the nation. If our General agreed to come with us, then he could rest in charge of the army or he could be head of state. He was acceptable to most officers and men. We would have to appeal to him. We knew that without him it would be difficult to hold the country.

“We also believed that Chief Obafemi Awolowo had become recognized as the rallying point of our nation. If we attempted any set-up without him, we could quite easily end up opposed by the relatively progressive political parties. For him therefore we had the post of executive president or Prime Minister depending on the reaction of our General. But we were also afraid that he could refuse to accept power handed over to him by us. There was the possibility of this highly principled man refusing to come out of jail to assume the highest post in the land. I took care of this. We were to go to him and explain the facts and appeal to him. We planned to bring him into Lagos by air before noon on 15 January. If he refused to leave jail, he was to be ordered to do so. As a prisoner he had no choice. We were to transfer him to the State House and if he still refused, we were to hold him here and inform him that this was his new gaol house! Meanwhile we planned to get the elders of the state to help us get him to agree. If in the end he refused, he was to be held and decrees were to be issued in his name”.

Surely, part of the naivity of the coup makers, or the mis-interpretation of their wishes by their failed coup-leader,  is that they hoped to set up a cabinet of civil servants and abolish the Federal system of government. “We had made a selection of fifteen civil servants from all over the country, all of them available on call in the federal civil service. We planned to abolish the federal system of government and get back to the military system. The country was to be broken up into fifteen provinces. In each province there was to be a military governor and a head of administatration. The regions were to start winding up themselves by handing over at once minor functions to the new provinces. On the other hand, major functions of the regions were at once to be taken over by the government in Lagos”. That is, in effect, they would get out of prison a man who went to jail for seeking to entrench Federalism and ask him to run a military system, more or less a unitary system. Although the immediate creation of provinces would have mollified Awolowo and many of those who later joined in the revenge coup, there was evident naivety, if not suicidal predisposition in coup makers’  waffling on the question of Federalism or unitarism.

At any rate, according to information vouchsafed after the coup,  they had to act to upstage the plans of the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) which was to have sent soldiers to the Western Region on January 17, 1966 to deal with the insurgents in the Western Region. When Western Premier Akintola left the NPC leader, Sir Ahmadu Bello on the 14th of January and jetted homewards to Ibadan, he was certain that the deal was fool-proof  until the Five Majors of January 15, 1966 struck. Lets grant the benefit of the doubt: that Awolowo would have been released immediately on January 15, 1966 but for those who hijacked the coup from the five majors. Or was it simply taken over from, or handed over by, the five majors?   As the narrative goes, the officer detailed to fly Awolowo to Lagos from Calabar already had his brief. But it never happened. Ojukwu, in effective control of Kano had already scuttled any plan that could take off from what could have become a Kano front. After he was made military Governor of the East, he had urgent matters to attend to which could not have put Awolowo on the agenda. So there is no point disputing his claim that be signed a warrant for the release of the prisoner. It was clearly not agreed that the warrant should be executed.  Imaginably, a government that moved quickly to enact a Unitary Decree could not have been in a hurry to release a sworn Federalist from jail.

Next week: Getting a bit more complicated in terms, there is a riddle to be solved: “Whatever is the case, it was the release that enabled Awolowo to participate in the discussions to resolve the crisis through sundry Leaders of Thought Meetings up till Awolowo’s peace-hunt to Enugu before the first shot in the Civil war was fired”.  What was to be the significance of this meeting and the records thereform, for the 1979 general election?

Read the the first part of this article entitled: Awolowo and the forgotten documents of the civil war, by Odia Ofeimun (1)

    Print       Email