Chief Obafemi Awolowo during the Biafra-Nigeria war orchestrated an old maxim-All Is Fair In War And Love - adding the hardy Awolowo blend – Starvation is a legitimate weapon of warfare! What Chief Awolowo meant was that in war, no weapon is considered dangerous. The title of this article and what follows immediately have been chosen to put the whirling controversy in proper perspective and advert the minds of Dr. (Mrs.) Tokunbo Awolowo-Dosunmu, Femi Fani Kayode, Ebenezer Babatope, the renegade/inconsistent Awoist, Dr. Fasheun and other Awolowo apologists, to the background of the reference Prof. Chinua Achebe made to Chief Awolowo in his new book: There was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra which they found ‘disappointing, nonsensical, a twist of facts and a murder of history’. From what she said, it is likely that Dr. Mrs. Awolowo-Dosunmu has read Achebe’s book, while Babatope was belching fire out of manifest ignorance since he said, “Nigerians should expect detailed, honest, factual and objective replies to the Achebe nonsense after we have copies of the book in our hands.” I, also, have not read Achebe’s new book. I will, therefore, base my contribution on what the Sun and Vanguard newspapers published.
The Sun of Thursday, October11, 2012 reported “. . . Achebe in the new book There Was a Country, simply wrote thus: ‘It is my impression that Awolowo was driven by an overriding ambition for power, for himself and for his Yoruba people. There is, on the surface at least, nothing wrong with those aspirations. However, Awolowo saw the dominant Igbos at the time as the obstacles to those goals, and when the opportunity arose with the Nigeria-Biafra war, his ambition drove him into a frenzy to go to every length to achieve his dreams. In the Biafran case it meant hatching up a diabolical policy to reduce the numbers of his enemies significantly through starvation – eliminating over two million people, mainly members of future generations.’”
What Achebe did was to state the factual and incontrovertible result and effect of Awolowo’s war policy on Biafra. Achebe is known for, as late Prof. Obiechina would say – not being apologetic for speaking the truth. Femi Fani-Kayode confirmed the correctness of Achebe’s statement. His anger is that Achebe should have reserved his statement because a revered Yoruba idol was involved. Though as an undergraduate at Ibadan University during the Action Group/Akintola crisis, I supported Awolowo, Dauda Adegbenro and the Action Group against Akintola, I will not heap blame at the doorstep of Akintola for what he did not do. I say this because it seems that if Achebe had indicted another or lesser Yoruba figure for the same offence, hell’s fury might not have been let loose. Daily Vanguard reported Babatope again “…. this is not the first time that Achebe will publish scathing attacks on Papa Awo. He did it in his book written about 30 years ago titled ‘The Trouble with Nigeria’”. It may not suit Babatope’s story if he admitted that he knew that in the said book, Achebe paralleled Zik and Awolowo with Awolowo coming out in flying colours; so what is the basis of Babatope’s anger?
Below are some snippets of what Achebe said in that book:
“The task before the up-and-coming Yoruba politicians was by far easier than what their Igbo counterparts had to accomplish. Awolowo had been a steadfast Yoruba nationalist from the 1940s to date. He had no record of betrayal, double-talk or even indecision in the pursuit of his goals. But above all he had in recent years as the leading civilian member of the Gowon administration presided over a monumental transfer and consolidation of economic, bureaucratic and professional power to his home base.
“This singular achievement secured for Awolowo for the first time in his political career something approaching 100 per cent support among the Yoruba … The Civil War gave Nigeria a perfect and legitimate excuse to cast the Igbo in the role of treasonable felon, a wrecker of the nation. But thanks to Gowon’s moderating influence overt vengeance was not visited on them when their Secessionist State of Biafra was defeated in January 1970. But there were hard-liners in Gowon’s cabinet who wanted their pound of flesh, the most powerful amongst them being Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Federal Commissioner for Finance. Under his guidance, a banking policy was evolved which nullified any bank account, which had been operated during the Civil War. This had the immediate result of pauperizing the Igbo middle class and earning a profit of £4 million for the Federal Government Treasury. The Indigenization Decree which followed soon afterwards completed the routing of the Igbo from the commanding heights of the Nigerian economy, to everyone’s apparent satisfaction.”
Of Zik, Achebe said,
“The NPP politicians had a different kind of problem because of Azikiwe’s consistent ambivalence to his ethnic homeland. The eager young politician who needed desperately to latch on to Azikiwe’s huge but heavily tarnished prestige had first to rewrite large chunks of recent Nigerian history (and in fact is doing it still) to explain away Azikiwe’s abandonment of Igbo people in their darkest hour … But the problem with Azikiwe’s political career in Nigeria or even his relationship with the Igbo has never been how to explain away one momentary lapse in an otherwise steady record of standing fast but rather how to account for a pretty consistent history of abandonments.
“Here was an eloquent revolutionary who inspired a whole generation of young idealistic activists in the Zikist Movement to the high pitch of positive action against colonial rule and then quite unaccountably, abandoned them at the prison gate.
“Here was a true nationalist who championed the noble cause of ‘One Nigeria’ to the extent that he contested and won the first general election to the Western House of Assembly. But when Chief Awolowo ‘stole’ the Government from him in broad daylight he abandoned his principle, which dictated that he should stay in the Western House as Leader of Opposition and give battle to Awolowo. Instead he conceded victory to reactionary ethnic politics, fled to the East where he compounded his betrayal of principle by precipitating a major crisis which was unnecessary, selfish and severely damaging in its consequences.
“Professor Eyo Ita an urbane detribalized humanist politician who had just assumed office as Leader of Government Business in Enugu saw no reason to vacate his post for the fugitive from Ibadan. Neither did most of his cabinet which in sheer brilliance surpassed by far anything Enugu has seen or is likely to see in a long time.
“Using his privately-owned newspapers and political muscle, Azikiwe maligned and forced Eyo Ita and his team out of office and proceeded to pack his own cabinet with primary school teachers, ex-police corporals, sanitary inspectors and similar highly motivated disciples who were unlikely to dispute anything he said. So the rule of mediocrity from which we suffer today received an early imprimatur in Eastern Nigeria of all places!
“And that was not all, Professor Eyo Ita was an Efik, and the brutally unfair treatment offered him in Enugu did not go unremarked in Calabar. It contributed in no small measure to the suspicion of the majority Igbo by their minority neighbors in Eastern Nigeria, a suspicion which far less attractive politicians than Eyo Ita fanned to red-hot virulence, and from which the Igbo have continued to reap enmity to this day.”
Let me quickly state that I do not agree with Achebe that Chief Awolowo ‘stole’ the government from Azikiwe. Awolowo simply applied the practice of carpet-crossing which was and is still valid and legal in every parliamentary democracy.
It was one of Azikiwe’s faults not to accept advice that did not support his stand. He refused to bend so that he would not break. He had been earlier advised to allow Chief Adegoke Adelabu – the Iron Man of Ibadan, the thorn in the flesh of the enemy, to be the leader of the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroons (NCNC) in Western Nigeria which would have prevented Awolowo from using ethnic persuasion to oust him. After the NCNC had been declared winner of that election, Awolowo summoned the Yoruba Obas and the cream of Yoruba nation to a meeting where he told them that he was not worried that Action Group (AG) lost the election. What worried him was that future Yoruba generations would condemn theirs for allowing an Igboman who did not see the white man before them nor received western education and civilization before them to rule the Yorubas in Yorubaland! As soon as he said this, the Yoruba Obas ordered the NCNC Yoruba parliamentarians to give to the AG, the required number of seats through carpet-crossing that would enable the AG to form the government. This was what happened in Western Nigeria pure and simple. If Zik had followed Chairman Mao’s and Sardauna’s example, Awolowo could not have succeeded. Chairman Mao Tse Tung remained Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party while he allowed Cho en Lai to be the Prime Minister. Nearer home, Sardauna similarly allowed Abubakar Tafawa Balewa to be the Prime Minister in Lagos while he stayed in Kaduna as Premier of Northern Nigeria and leader of the Northern Peoples Congress. So Zik knowingly and deliberately played into the hands of Awolowo.
To the best of my knowledge, Awolowo did not steal any political good from anybody.
Achebe said again, “In a solemn vow made by Azikiwe in 1937, he pledged, “that henceforth I shall utilize my earned income to secure my enjoyment of a high standard of living and also give a helping hand to the needy.
“Chief Obafemi Awolowo was more forthright about his ambitions: ‘I was going to make myself formidable intellectually, morally invulnerable, to make all the money that is possible for a man of my brains and brawn to make in Nigeria.’” And
“Chief Obafemi Awolowo does have a reputation for seeking out and using talent, albeit, to serve a narrow purpose … ‘The case of Azikiwe’s men will be somewhat different because he has never shown an excessive desire to surround himself with talent.’”
In view of (a) to (c), Achebe is clearly not an Awolowo hater. He is only an uncompromising apostle of truth. He did not even try to shield or give Zik, a fellow Igboman, a soft landing. He stated the facts as he saw them. With respect to what Achebe said about Awolowo and Zik, how can one justify Femi Fani Kayode when he said “The truth is that Professor Chinua Achebe owes the Awolowo family and the Yoruba people a big apology for his tale of pure fantasy”. This type of obvious, incorrect, extravagant and exaggerated characterization, which is really a failed attempt to calumnise Achebe, propels me to visit Femi Fani Kayode’s antecedents. He is the son of RFK – Remi Fani Kayode, who was formerly known in Nigerian politics as FANI POWER when he was in the Nigerian patriotic team, but became FANI POWDER when he jumped ship and joined revisionist Akintola which explains the negative and lack-luster inclination of his son, Femi Fani Kayode.
Happily, the stand of the above Awolowo apologists cannot be said to represent the view of the Yoruba nation on this issue, thanks to people like Duro Onabule. He said in the Daily Sun of Friday, October 12, 2012, “… Whatever the bad feelings of his critics, Achebe’s reputation, unlike his contemporaries, is that of a straightforward man. He has never been known to be cowardly, neither does he cringe before nor collaborate with local or international establishment. Achebe’s character is definite as he does not charade in the day only to be settled at night … Even if Awolowo was not in the position to effect his belief in starvation as a weapon of war, the fact remains that he (Awolowo) publicly took that position and was widely reported in the media in Nigeria and abroad … Is Chinua Achebe fair to Awolowo in his criticisms? The appropriate preceding question is: was Awolowo fair to himself … when he publicly upheld starvation as a legitimate weapon in war, more so during a civil war in which the outside world was disgusted with television visuals of thousands of starving and malnourished innocent children? … Achebe’s critics on his latest book, especially Yoruba, should objectively read “AWO”, Obafemi Awolowo’s autobiography, in which throughout, there is not a single sentence complimentary to Nnamdi Azikiwe, portrayed as an ethnic jingoist … Yet, Awolowo’s criticisms of Azikiwe were never mischievously interpreted as hatred for Igbos. Nobody of Achebe’s status and with terrible experiences of the Civil War could be expected to write his recollections without justifiable criticism of starvation as a weapon throughout the war. His critics just have to be realistic rather than being emotional.”
Furthermore, these Awolowo tom-boys said that Emeka Ojukwu was an Awolowo hater. At Awolowo’s death, Ojukwu paid him this outstanding tribute: AWOLOWO WAS THE BEST LEADER NIGERIA NEVER HAD. These Awolowo boys are the people who have ‘murdered and twisted history’ not Chinua Achebe. When a meeting of southern politicians was held at Hotel Presidential, Enugu, during Obasanjo’s civilian tenure, all those that have been paying lip service to the ONE NIGERIA project, urinated in their trousers! It is unfortunate that this meeting ended with the first outing while the various umbrellas of Northern establishment have continued to meet with the unwavering regularity of the periodicity of simple harmonic motion. The solution to Nigeria’s many problems is SOUTHERN SOLIDARITY with the Igbos and Yorubas at the vanguard. Igbo-Yoruba harmony is an unavoidable desideratum! This stand will not hurt the Hausa/Fulani known as the REAL NORTHERNERS. Rather it will enable them stand on their feet and look fairly and squarely at their peculiar problems. Designating them as educationally disadvantaged is a misnomer because that condition has been the calculated choice of their rulers – unrepentant agents of unprogressive feudalism and Islamism. For example, Prof Iya Abubakar made a first class in mathematics at Ibadan University. I am not aware that his record has been equaled or broken. Also, Senator Jubril Aminu is the first medical student at Ibadan University to make distinction in Biochemistry, Anatomy and Physiology in the second MB examination. The term ‘real northerner’ was coined by an Hausa/Fulani red-blooded undergraduate of Mass Communications at the University of Nigeria Nsukka immediately after the war during a discussion of Gowon’s statement that God has placed power in the hands of another northerner. The Mass Communications student pointed out that there are REAL NORTHERNERS and other northerners. As a proof of this theory, Gowon was shoved out of power when the lie test was applied because he is an OTHER NORTHERNER. A REAL NORTHERNER in the person of General Murtala Mohammed took over power SO, SOUL BROTHER, THE OTHER NORTHERNER BEWARE!
Many Nigerians particularly Igbos may feel offended when I proceed to refer to the Achilles heels of some titans which have continued to hurt the Igbos to no end; but I am spurred on by the fact that history does not regard any person or event as sacrosanct or untouchable. In the spirit of Achebe’s reference to Awolowo, I hereby spotlight the excruciating cross imposed on Igbos by ZIK, IRONSI AND OJUKWU. May be, by so doing, it will be brought home to the raging and rampaging Awoists, that public discuss on issues of national interest has no limit and is no respecter of persons.
i) Zik, by steadfastly refusing to ally with Awolowo, since the carpet-crossing of 1951 in the Western House of Assembly at Ibadan, to establish a real federal government, that would have brought progress and prosperity to Nigeria, conveniently overlooked the political adage – THERE IS NO PERMANENT ENEMY IN POLITICS, ONLY PERMANENT INTEREST. If he had done so, the Igbos will not be permanently condemned to the receiving end in Nigerian politics. For example, every zone has not less than six states except the SOUTH EAST.
ii) If Ironsi had embraced the views expressed by Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu, he should have teamed up with THE GLORIOUS JANUARY BOYS, in the words of Comrade Prof. Ikenna Nzimiro, to implement the important aspects of Nzeogwu’s broadcast which would have produced the desired ONE NIGERIA. Nzeogwu said in parts, “My dear countrymen, no citizen should have anything to fear, so long as that citizen is law-abiding and if that citizen has religiously obeyed the native laws of the country and those set down in every heart and conscience since October 1, 1960. Our enemies are the political profiteers, the swindlers, the men in high and low places that seek bribe and demand ten per cent; those that seek to keep the country divided permanently so that they can remain in office as ministers or VIPs at least, the tribalists, the nepotists, those that make the country look big for nothing before international circles; those that have corrupted our society and put the Nigerian political calendar back by their words and deeds. Like good soldiers we are not promising anything miraculous or spectacular. But what we do promise every law-abiding citizen is freedom from fear and all forms of oppression, freedom from general inefficiency and freedom to live and strive in every field of human endeavour, both nationally and internationally. WE PROMISE THAT YOU WILL NO MORE BE ASHAMED TO SAY THAT YOU ARE NIGERIANS”.
To be continued.
MAZI CHIKE CHIDOLUE , was former Officer, 12 Commando Brigade Biafra Army.