By Clifford Ndujihe
FORMER Aviation Minister and historian, Mr. Femi Fani-Kayode, has asked literary giant, Prof. Chinua Achebe to apologise to late Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s family and the Yoruba race over comments that Awolowo, alongside General Yakubu Gowon, implemented genocidal policies that killed millions of Igbo during the Civil War.
In an article entitled Obafemi Awolowo and Chinua Achebe’s Tale of Fantasy, Fani-Kayode said neither Awolowo nor Gowon could be blamed for the suffering of Biafrans, especially children and women.
He said the defunct Biafran leader, Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, should bear the blames for refusing the Nigerian Government’s offer of a road corridor to ferry food to the easterners.
Admitting that all parties, including Awolowo, Gowon and Ojukwu, made mistakes during the war, he said Achebe presented half truths and indulged in ethnic chauvinism against Awolowo and the Yoruba race in the book entitled There Was a Country.
Fani-Kayode said: “I am a historian and I have always believed that if we want to talk history we must be dispassionate, objective and factual. We must take the emotion out of it and we must always tell the truth.
“The worst thing that anyone can do is to try to re-write history and indulge in historical revisionism. This is especially so when the person is a revered figure and a literary icon.
“Sadly, it is in the light of such historical revisionism that I view Professor Chinua Achebe’s assertion (which is reflected in his latest and highly celebrated book entitled ‘There Was A Country) that Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the late and much-loved leader of the Yoruba, was responsible for the genocide that the Igbo suffered during the Civil War.
“This claim is not only false but it is also, frankly speaking, utterly absurd. Not only is Professor Achebe indulging in perfidy, not only is he being utterly dishonest and disingenuous, but he is also turning history upside down and indulging in what I would describe as ethnic chauvinism.
“I am one of those that has always had tremendous sympathy for the Igbo cause during the Civil War. I am also an admirer of Colonel Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, who stood up for his people when it mattered the most and when they were being slaughtered by rampaging mobs in the northern part of our country.
“At least 100,000 Igbo were killed in those northern pogroms, which took place before the Civil War and which indeed led directly to it. This was not only an outrage but it was also a tragedy of monumental proportions.
“Yet we must not allow our emotion or our sympathy for the suffering of the Igbo at the hands of northern mobs before the war started to becloud our sense of reasoning as regards what actually happened during the prosecution of the war itself.
“It is important to set the record straight and not to be selective in our application and recollection of the facts when considering what actually led to the starvation of hundreds of thousands of Igbo women, children and civilians during that war. “And, unlike others, I do not deny the fact that hundreds of thousands were starved to death.
“Again I do not deny the fact that Awolowo publicly defended the blockade and indeed told the world that it was perfectly legitimate for any government to impose such a blockade on the territory of their enemies in times of war.
“Awolowo said it, this is a matter of historical record and he was quoted in a number of British newspapers as having said so at the time. Yet he spoke nothing but the truth. And whether anyone likes to hear it or not, he was absolutely right in what he said.
“Let me give you an example. During the Second World War a blockade was imposed on Germany, Japan and Italy by the Allied Forces and this was very effective. It weakened the Axis powers considerably and this was one of the reasons why the war ended at the time that it did.
“If there had been no blockade, the Second World War would have gone on for considerably longer. In the case of the Nigerian Civil War though, the story did not stop at the fact that a blockade was imposed by the Federal Government, which led to the suffering, starvation, pain, death and hardship of the civilian Igbo population or that Awolowo defended it. That is only half the story.
“There was a lot more to it and the fact that Achebe and most of our Igbo brothers and sisters always conveniently forget to mention the other half of the story is something that causes some of us from outside Igboland considerable concern and never ceases to amaze us.
“The bitter truth is that if anyone is to be blamed for the hundreds of thousands of Igbos that died from starvation during the Civil War, it was not Chief Awolowo or even General Yakubu Gowon, but rather it was Colonel Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu himself.
“I say this because it is a matter of public record and a historical fact that the Federal Government of Nigeria made a very generous offer to Ojukwu and the Biafrans to open a road corridor for food to be ferried to the Igbo and to lessen the suffering of their civilian population.
“This was as a consequence of a deal that was brokered by the international community, who were concerned about the suffering of the Igbo civilian population and the death and hardship that the blockade was causing to them.
“Unfortunately Ojukwu turned this down flatly and instead insisted that the food should be flown into Biafra by air in the dead of the night. This was unacceptable to the Federal Government because it meant that the Biafrans could, and indeed would, have used such night flights to smuggle badly needed arms and ammunition into their country for usage by their soldiers.
“That was where the problem came from and that was the issue. Quite apart from that, Ojukwu found it expedient and convenient to allow his people to starve to death and to broadcast it on television screens all over the world in order to attract sympathy for the Igbo cause and for propaganda purposes. And this worked beautifully for him.”