By Mazi Chike Chidolue
After reading: “All Is Fair in War And Love”
iii) If Ojukwu had not continued to hound Major Nzeogwu and his men where Ironsi stopped, because both of them were jealous of the towering popularity of Nzeogwu and his men, Ojukwu should have given Nzeogwu a fighting unit to command in the Civil War. A pamphlet ‘The Revolution: Heroes of Change The Life and Times of Major Kaduna Nzeogwu & Who Killed Him’ by Prof. Tom Forsyth, published by Ivory Tower Publishers, Atlanta Georgia USA, said “Another strange rumour about Nzeogwu’s death, has it that although he died in the battle field, the bullet that killed him wasn’t from the enemies, but from own soldiers who were detailed to kill him … “OJUKWU’S REACTION TO COMPLICITY IN NZEOGWU’S DEATH … ‘When I was announced as Governor of Eastern Region, I started working secretly to get all the detainees transferred to the East. The officers in Lagos were dead-scared of the release of the detainees. Nzeogwu was certainly popular when he came to the East … I have heard it alleged that I was jealous of him. I was already Governor at the time, my position wasn’t threatened. I couldn’t have been jealous of him. The reason why he wasn’t incorporated into the Biafran Army was this: The senior officers were afraid of him, especially those under whose area of command he would have operated. There was actually a senior officer who handed me his letter of resignation because of his fear of operating in the same area as Nzeogwu. It is convenient now for some people to start telling less than the truth about what actually happened. The fatal patrol that Nzeogwu mounted when he died, he did in the company of my junior brother, Tom Bigger. They both died in the same action side. In that death, part of me died also. If Ojukwu has been correctly reported, his statement about military postings of soldiers is not correct. During postings of soldiers to units, no soldier, officer or other rank has the right to choose which soldier he would like to operate with and which he would not because, military postings are military orders which can only be varied by a superior officer! As the Commander-in-Chief in Biafra, nobody could vary or openly complain about his orders. Suppose he was magnanimous enough to entertain such complaints, the critical question would have been: who was more valuable to Biafra, Nzeogwu or the phantom senior officer? The answer is obviously Major Nzeogwu. Biafra lost the unmatchable services of Nzeogwu because of Ojukwu’s intrigues, indiscretion or poor judgment.
Again, Ojukwu should have given the command of the Mid-West Expedition to Colonel Tim Onwuatuegwu rather than Colonel Banjo who had nothing to recommend him for that position except that he was Ojukwu’s playmate. Of Onwuatuegwu, Major Adewale Ademoyega, one of the five majors that planned the January revolution in his book, Why We Struck, the most authentic account of that glorious event said, “Another shining light in the Nigerian Army was Captain Timothy Onwuatuegwu. He was the adjutant of the 5th Battalion when I joined that unit in December 1963. Onwuatuegwu was a brilliant cadet at Sandhurst and the first Nigerian to be made a junior under-officer in that world famous institution. He was unmarried when we first met and we shared the Mess life together. A Roman Catholic, he was active and could hardly be faulted in military duties. Because he was humble, senior officers found him useful, loyal and dependable; at the same time, junior officers found it easy to work with him; he made himself like one of them … He had an untiring endurance!”
Colonel Onwuatuegwu would not have halted at Ore as Colonel Banjo did. He would have continued to Ibadan where it was said, Yoruba zealots led by Wole Soyinka were waiting to accompany the brave Biafran troops to Lagos. If this had happened, Gowon would have had no other option than to flee to Kaduna; the Yorubas would have been freed from the military anvil of the Hausa-Fulani, the civil war would have ended with much less casualties and destruction and the history of Nigeria changed for the better!
I hold Chief Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu singularly and personally responsible for the collapse of Biafra, the murder of Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu and Colonel Tim Onwuatuegwu, the deaths of many Biafran freedom fighters such as Dr. Imegwu, Chris Okigbo, Imperial Major Willy Archibong, Col. Chude Sokei and others, and the unmitigated suffering that has been the special lot of the Igbos ever since; above all, Ojukwu sent the Biafran dream to an untimely grave. The dream that, as he said in the Principles of the Biafran Revolution, encapsulated as THE AHIARA DECLARATION ‘is the culmination of the confrontation between Negro nationalism and white imperialism … a resistance to the Arab-Muslim expansionism which has menaced and ravaged the African continent for twelve centuries and which is the most deadly threat to modern civilization as we know it today. A deadly threat that is the latest recrudescence in our time of the age-old struggle of the black man for his full stature as a man … This is why we in Biafra are convinced that the Negro can never come to his own until he is able to build modern states (whether national or multi-national) based on a compelling African ideology, enjoying real rather than sham independence, able to give scope to the full development of the human spirit in the arts and sciences, able to engage in dialogue with the white states. No matter the odds, we will fight with all our might until black men everywhere can, with pride, point to this Republic, standing dignified and defiant, as an example of African nationalism triumphant over its many age-old enemies.”
Ojukwu knew that while preparing for victory in any war, one should also prepare for defeat, because either of them is possible. Ojukwu should have arranged for all the surviving members of Nzeogwu’s men to be within earshot during the last days of the war so that he would seek safety in flight with them or have them shot by own troops which would be a less painful death instead of their being captured by the enemy, just as the Nazis did not allow Hitler to be captured by the Allied Powers. Only the disciples of the killers of Ironsi know what horrible and indescribable fate befell Onwuatuegwu! Because Ojukwu abandoned Colonel Tim Onwuatuegwu to an unknown fate, unsung and unmourned, I will therefore pay to Onwuatuegwu the tribute that was paid to Field Marshal Rommel by Field Marshal Sir, Claude J. E. Auchinleck, British Army Commander-in-Chief in the Middle East, because it belongs as much to him as to Rommel. ONWUATUEGWU, NOW THAT YOU ARE GONE, I SALUTE YOU AS A SOLDIER AND A MAN FOR YOUR AMAZING SUCCESSES AS A LEADER OF MEN IN BATTLE. Like Rommel, who was the youngest Field Marshal in the German Army during the Second World War, Onwuatuegwu should have been made a Field Marshal in the Biafran Army. Ojukwu could not recognize the need to reward outstandingly brave patriotic service. During the recapture of Owerri, Onwuatuegwu leading the Biafran ‘S’ Division cleared over 95% of Owerri. As soon as he accomplished this, Ojukwu relieved him of command of ‘S’ Division, posted him to the School of Infantry as the Commandant and made Colonel Ogbugo Kalu Commander of ‘S’ Division. With the momentum already set in motion by Onwuatuegwu, Kalu cleared the remaining less than 5% of Owerri and was promoted a Brigadier-General! Ojukwu might not have known that Onwuatuegwu converted the training officers and men of the School of Infantry into a fighting force which he used to slow down Obasanjo’s Third Marine Commandos advance to Uli and therefore enabled Ojukwu to escape. It was this patriotic temporary hold-up by Onwuatuegwu that Obasanjo referred to as an ambush to kill him. Though I do not commend Ojukwu’s conduct of the war, I relish the military and national burial given to him, solely because that burial inflicted incalculable anguish on the likes of Obasanjo and Danjuma.
The analysis of the services or disservices rather, of Zik, Ironsi and Ojukwu to the Igbos is a minus with respect to the pre/post war condition of the Igbos. The herculean burden imposed on the Igbos by the unpatriotic conduct of these men has compelled me to embark on a literary work with title, Zik-Ironsi-Ojukwu: Wreckers of Igbo Nation.
In spite of what many know as the intention of the Five Majors who plotted and executed the January revolution, it is still called an Igbo coup! Odia Ofeimun debunks this falsehood. He wrote in his Forgotten Documents of the War, “Therefore, let me make a clean breast of it: my one great rationale for wanting to see the documents ‘outed’ is to help shore up nation-sense among Nigerians by rupturing the culture of falsehoods and silences that have exercised undue hegemony over the issues. I take it as part of a necessary revolt against all the shenanigans of national coyness and the culture of unspoken taboos that have beclouded and ruined national discourse. What primes this revolt is, first and foremost, the thought of what could have happened if the forgotten documents had seen the light of day at the right time. How easy, for instance, would it have been to stamp the January 15,1966 Coup as being merely an Igbo Coup if it was known that the original five majors who planned and executed it were minded to release Awolowo from Calabar Prison and to make him their leader …”
Concluding his write-up, Odia Ofeimun tried to make Awolowo a champion of the One Nigeria Project. But we know that Awolowo had stood out for long as a true and pure agent of Yoruba interests, a stand that hurts nobody as others could canvass for their own ethnic empire. Achebe is therefore correct in advancing the charge that Awolowo’s new interest in the One Nigeria Project was because of the opportunity to deal a death blow on Igbos who, among other ‘sins’ bridged the developmental/economic/
Another instance of Awolowo’s steadfastness as a Yoruba patriot is to be found at the appointment of the first Nigerian Principal of the University College, Ibadan. When the tenure of the last British incumbent of that office, Dr. Parry, was about to expire, Dr. Akanu Ibiam, then Chairman of the University College Council went to London to confer with Sir Charles Morris, Chairman of the Inter-University College Council, on the appointment of a successor to Dr. Parry. During their discussion, Sir Morris said ‘Why do you come to us? You have your man there (Prof. Kenneth Dike). You are lucky to have a ready-made man on the spot’ (courtesy of Life & Thoughts of Professor Kenneth Onwuka Dike by Emeritus Professor Alex. O. E. Animalu). On Dr. Ibiam’s return from London, a meeting of the Ibadan University College Council was convened. According to the chronicler of Dike’s biography, “When I (Dike) went that morning to the meeting of Council … the first item was the appointment of Principal. To my surprise, the Chairman asked me to leave the room. I left the room and went home … I told my wife they would spend a whole day on this, because knowing our people, everybody was going to put up his own candidate. This was the first time a black man was going to be appointed in Black Africa to head a new University. But fifteen minutes later, the Registrar came to tell me that I was required back in the Council Chambers … When I got back to the room, everybody clapped. I was told that I have been unanimously elected the Principal. ‘As the appointment was flashed in the 1 pm news by Radio Nigeria … Mrs. Ona Dike (wife of Kenneth Dike) recalled,’ “The Chiefs who were sitting in the Western House came in groups to congratulate him and know him. As Ken has mentioned, he received a congratulatory message from Chief Obafemi Awolowo but he did not mince words in telling him that his position should have been given to the oldest Nigerian professor (Prof. Onabamiro) in the University.” As if Awolowo didn’t know that apart from scholarship, which Dike and Onabamiro have in common, leadership position demands other competences, which Dike displayed abundantly as Vice Principal of the University College. If Awolowo were in Ibiam’s shoes, he would not have bothered to consult London. He would have gone ahead to get Prof. Onabamiro installed as Principal at all costs! In contrast, Dr. Akanu Ibiam followed due process, which in Nigeria today, receives only lip service from those in authority.
Dele Sobowale had from the beginning of this simulated crisis, announced his neutrality. While the Awoists were hitting Prof. Achebe below the belt, Sobowale delivered the ‘unkindest cut’ by wishing Achebe dead! He said in the Sunday Vanguard of October 21, 2012, ‘Here are “the brightest and the best” from both ethnic groups parading prejudice and fanning the embers of latent mutual hatred – all in defense of two individuals; one dead, the other at death’s door’. How did Sobowale know that Chinua Achebe is at death’s door? The Igbos have a saying which approximately translates as follows: ‘the tree that is expected to fall, did not; but that which is healthy fell instead’. So, Sobowale is the most deadly Yoruba enemy of Achebe. I wish Sobowale a sufficiently long life to witness Achebe hit his ninetieth and possibly hundredth birthday.
Because Ofeimun did not see the war at close quarters he is entitled to ask ‘So what was Biafra’s handle on the basis on which the world was told that no power in black Africa could subdue her?’ Obasanjo, who took part in the war as a combatant, said in his book My Command “The rebels then resisted vigorously with foreign materials and mercenary support. The Federal side, which was thinking of celebrating victory in 1968, got bogged down and mauled. The ‘Biafran’ resistance, born out of fear of extermination, grew to outmatch the Federal offensive action. Owerri, a major ‘Biafran’ town which was captured by Federal troops, was re-taken by rebel soldiers with heavy casualties on both sides.
“By the end of April 1969, after almost two years of bloody and destructive war, the envisioned quick victory had eluded the Federal side. The rebel enclave had been drastically reduced in size, but the ‘Biafrans’ were still holding their own and had achieved a stalemate. They were in the process of turning the stalemate into reverses for the Federal side … The recapture of Owerri by the rebels was quickly followed by a southward thrust to Port Harcourt. The Federal toehold on Aba was slipping. The morale of Federal soldiers was at its lowest ebb. The despondency and general lack of will to fight was glaringly manifest in the large number of cases of self-inflicted wounds among Federal soldiers. Officers were apathetic, if not downright disloyal. Distrust and absolute lack of confidence plagued the ranks of the officer corps. They openly rejoiced in the misfortunes of one another.
“With restrictions imposed by the Federal Military Government on many items of imported goods, and the country in the grip of high inflation, the civil population had started to show signs of disgust with the war, which appeared to them unending, and with the Government’s handling of it. Some highly placed Nigerians had started to suggest that the Federal Government should sue for peace at all costs to prevent the calamity and disaster that would befall the Federal side in a possible rebel victory.”
That was one of the war situations which Obasanjo, a fighting soldier, saw which Ofeimun, a civilian did not see! But for Ojukwu’s mismanagement of Biafran war effort, Biafra would have survived on her own steam. If Ojukwu had utilized the incredible and invaluable potential of Nzeogwu and his men instead of hounding them, if he had appointed Onwuatuegwu to command the Mid-West Expedition, if he had not been so colonially mentally dominated that he did not see the need to seek help from the USSR as Col. Nasser did during the Suez Canal crisis of 1956, if he had not allowed his ego to blind him in critical decision making, and so many other ifs, Biafra would have survived.
In 1956, Nasser demanded from France and Britain that part of the toll collected from Suez Canal from international shipping should be given to Egypt on whose land the canal was built. When the demand was rejected, Nasser blockaded the canal and France and Britain declared war on Egypt. Nasser prudently cried for help to Khrushchev who contacted the American President asking him to tell France and Britain that they must leave the Suez Canal within seventy-two hours. They complied promptly. As soon as they left, Nasser mounted Cairo Radio and said, ‘GONE ARE THE DAYS WHEN THE BRITISH LIONS ROARED AND EVERYBODY TREMBLED, NOW THEY CAN TERRIFY NOBODY’. The USSR ambassador visited Enugu while the crisis was building up to inspect the sites of the Teaching and Specialist Hospitals that Dr. M. I. Okpara had convinced the USSR to set up in Eastern Nigeria. On that visit, a journalist told the ambassador that there was no need for the inspection of the sites as war was threatening. The ambassador calmly retorted ‘If we are building hospitals here, there will be no war.’ With Nikita Khrushchev as the President of USSR, that could not be an idle statement. But Ojukwu, “in his wisdom” thought that communist support was a dangerously malignant virus which would kill the soul and body of Biafra faster than the alliance of western imperialism, muslim Arabism and Nigeria. This was the first case in world history where communism and capitalism colluded to suffocate a people struggling for survival. All these happened because of the bad, poisoned and uncritical education Ojukwu received at the feet of capitalism and imperialism!
Ofeimun’s recital of all the ‘goodness’ visited on the Igbos by Nigeria at the end of the war, were clearly and absolutely vitiated by the Abandoned Property Policy, the reduction of every bank account operated in Biafra during the war to twenty pounds, the Indigenization decree, at a time the Igbos could hardly feed themselves and many other instances of woes.
Major Hassan Katsina’s declaration of a six day police action to bring Biafra back to the Nigerian fold was due to that officer’s very poor appreciation of the implications of war. When Ofeimun said “Not to forget the egregious observance of eight-hour war-day on the Federal side and the deliberate slowing down of Federal aggression which, sometimes humanitarian but based on scheming for power in Lagos, lengthened the period of warfare and may unwittingly have been responsible for the many civilian deaths through hunger.”, he needs to be informed that we did not notice any of these in Biafra. The weapons of war, ‘holy and unholy’, Nigeria did not use during that war were those she did not have. The scene of the destruction of Murtala’s division at Abagana sector by gallant Biafran forces, confirmed the above statement. At Abagana, horsetail whips laced with razor blades to be used on Biafran males were seen! Biafran senior army officers similarly inflicted inhuman treatment on fellow Biafran soldiers and civilians due to the very poor understanding, planning and execution of the war and utter lack of ideological clarity by Biafran military high command. Ojukwu did not know that a war of survival is a revolutionary war in which the relationship between the soldier and the people is like that between fish and water. A glance at The Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War by Dr. Ernesto Che Guevara the greatest guerrilla that ever lived confirms my statement. My personal experience also confirms it. The day I reported for training at the School of Infantry in Biafra, a friend who had just passed out advised me not to let it be known that I am a university graduate if I wished to come out alive from that school. On another occasion, while I was supervising the movement of some troops of our Strike Force to the Tactical Headquarters on the orders of Captain Felix Ogbuagu, our commander, Brigadier Amadi suddenly surfaced. I promptly came to attention and saluted him. He left some minutes later only to come back in less than thirty minutes interval. Jumping down from his Jeep, he took a horsetail whip from his boys and flogged me to his satisfaction while I was surrounded by his goons of body guards with their rifles on the ready. He said that he did not want to meet an officer twice at the same spot within thirty minutes. If there was no war and with my B.Sc. Hons degree in Physics, there would have been no stage where I would have met Brig. Amadi as an inferior especially as I had no plans of joining the army. In Biafra, we got tired of telling this set of soldiers that we were no career officers, that we were only freedom fighters who will leave the army for them at the end of the war.
With all that we now know about the January 1966 revolution, many Nigerians persist in calling it an Igbo coup because of what Chinua Achebe identified as The Igbo Problem in his booklet The Trouble With Nigeria. He said “Nigerians of all other ethnic groups will probably achieve consensus on no other matter than their common resentment of the Igbos … The origin of the national resentment of the Igbo is as old as Nigeria and quite as complicated. But it can be summarized thus: The Igbo culture being receptive to change, individualistic and highly competitive, gave the Igbo man an unquestioned advantage over his compatriots in securing credentials for advancement in Nigerian colonial society. Unlike the Hausa/Fulani he was unhindered by a wary religion and unlike the Yoruba unhampered by traditional hierarchies. This kind of creature, fearing no God or man, was custom-made to grasp the opportunities; such as they were, of the white man’s dispensation. And the Igbo did so with both hands. Although the Yoruba had a huge historical and geographical head-start, the Igbo wiped out their handicap in one fantastic burst of energy in the twenty years between 1930 and 1950 …
“The rise of the Igbo in Nigerian affairs was due to the self-confidence engendered by their open society and their belief that one man is as good as another, that no condition is permanent. It was not due, as non-Igbo observers imagined, to tribal mutual aid societies. The “Town Union” phenomenon, which has often been written about, was in reality an extension of the Igbo individualistic ethic. The Igbo towns competed among themselves for certain kinds of social achievement, like building of schools, churches, markets, post offices, pipe-borne water projects, roads, etc. They did not concern themselves with pan-Igbo unity nor were they geared to securing an advantage over non-Igbo Nigerians. Beyond town or village the Igbo has no compelling traditional loyalty.
“The Igbo State Union was a paper tiger whose bogey value may have been exploited by a handful of self-appointed leaders in such places as Lagos and Port Harcourt; but among the Igbo elite, it was largely a joke and to the Igbo masses, it was quite unknown,
“The real problem with the Igbo since independence is precisely the absence of the kind of central leadership which their competitors presume for them. This lack has left them open to self-seeking, opportunistic leaders who offered them no help at all in coping with a new Nigeria in which individual progress would no longer depend on the rules set by a fairly impartial colonial umpire.”
I say again, the January 1966 revolution was not an Igbo coup since the leaders of that movement intended to free Awolowo from prison and hand over the Federal Government to him.
All those including Gowon who say that the Biafra-Nigeria War was caused by the secession of the East and the declaration of Biafra, are suffering from convenient amnesia or Katabasis. The war started smoldering right before May 1966 when the Hausa/Fulani hegemonic jihadists who were destabilized by the glorious January revolution launched their campaign of pogrom and genocide against Easterners in general and Igbos in particular and given government sanction when Gowon said that the basis for unity did not exist, which pushed them into widespread ethnic cleansing! From the time Gowon became nationally visible as head of state till now, he has not shown any serious-mindedness or intellectual depth. He has remained Jack the Jolly Boy which explains but does not justify the following:
He repudiated the ABURI ACCORD and allowed his ‘super permanent secretaries’ to interpret that document which was written in very simple English language! If Gowon had co-operated to implement the Aburi Accord as signed in Ghana, on January 5, 1967, there would have been no war;
He said that the Aburi Meeting was only an opportunity for members of the Supreme Military Council to meet again in full strength and exchange pleasantries. Ojukwu countered by saying that he went to Aburi to work and that he did work;
After they killed Ironsi, Gowon took the title of Supreme Commander until Ojukwu asked him ‘can you really supremely command? (Which made him step down to the title of Commander-in-Chief);
He said at another time that the killing of Igbos had got to an unacceptable level, prompting Ojukwu to ask him if there was a level within which the killing of Igbos was justified.
Gowon also said that God in His infinite mercy had put the government of this country in the hands of another northerner, which was a hollow and shallow conception of national affairs.
When Gowon said that he was ready to face trial at the International Court of Justice he seemed to have forgotten the several apologies he had tendered to the Igbos. At the Oputa Panel he said “It came to me as a shock when I came to know about the unfortunate happenings that happened to sons and daughters of Asaba domain. I felt very touched and honestly referred to (the killings) and ask for forgiveness being the one who was in charge. Certainly, it is not something that I would have approved of … I was made ignorant of it, I think until it appeared in the papers.”
In conclusion, those Nigerians like Odia Ofeimun who argue “As I see it, a distracted individualism which some people preferred to describe as republicanism, is priced above a genuine sitting down to plan with and for the people. What it calls for, instead of inventing enemies and see competition in zero-sum terms, is a mobilization of effect and resources to rise above the disabilities that we share as Nigerians. We do need to bring the Civil War to a proper end by looking into the past without flinching and wresting ourselves from the goblins of pernicious fictions.” must reconcile themselves with the fact that you cannot make omelet without breaking eggs. The Igbos have been the greatest protagonists of the “One Nigeria Project”. The people that have debauched and sabotaged the Project are precisely those who contributed little or nothing but have benefited most from the Project and others who are paid to execute it. Ofeimun, please speak to this people and not to the injured and long-suffering Igbos. It is true and significant that the war has not been brought to a proper end, as you rightly pointed out; the onus of bringing the war to a proper end rests on you victorious Nigerians, not on vanquished Igbos. Even though the Igbos lost their war of survival, there is no need to add insult to injury unless you belong to the Obasanjo group, which insists that the Igbos as a defeated people should not raise their heads for another two hundred years. Chinua Achebe, without mincing words correctly reported Awolowo’s war dictum and its effects. It should be clear to this specie of Awoists that they cannot mount a successful rearguard action on this issue. Awolowo’s place in Nigerian history is very secured and quite sublime. For me, among Azikiwe, Awolowo and Ahmadu Bello, I would have chosen Awolowo as the best of the troika to lead Nigeria.
MAZI CHIKE CHIDOLUE , was former Officer, 12 Commando Brigade Biafra Army.