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Generals of the unjust war (2)

By Ochereome Nnanna
BEFORE I proceed, let me recap the essentials of the first part of this essay. I described the Nigerian civil war as an “unjust war”.

It follows that the ex-military officers who gathered last week in Lagos to launch General Godwin Isama-Alabi’s book, including their comrades living or dead, were soldiers of this injustice.


I noted that the immediate causes of the civil war were the “Igbo coup” of January 15, 1965 and Col. Ojukwu’s declaration of secession.

I also mentioned that the remote causes included the rapid emergence of the Igbo people to, in 30 years of exposure to Western education and civilisation, become a dominant force both in their native Eastern Region and the nation at large.

Their inability to manage their new-found success, coupled with the impatience of their idealistic young military officers over the corrupt, inefficient and clannish ways of the ruling establishment spearheaded by the North, led to actions that prematurely terminated their manifest destiny.

The rest of the country, with the support of some world powers, came together to push the Igbo people off the political centre stage.

The perceived hatred of the Igbo was not the only factor that led to the grand gang-up. In truth, no major ethnic or regional group was beloved by their neighbours within and outside their regions in the jostling for power and the upper hand when the colonialists left.

The Minorities of the former Western Region also detested the Yorubas, whom they accused of excluding them from the spoils of power in Ibadan. Majority of them continued to vote for the National Council of Nigerian Citizens, NCNC, throughout the First Republic.

They had their own Mid West Region created out of the old Western Region in 1963. In gratitude they voted for the NCNC, which produced the first Premier, Chief Dennis Osadebay.

And in the North, the Middle Belt Christian Minorities actually took up armed struggle in the Tiv and Plateau areas against Hausa-Fulani domination and allied with the Southern political parties, such as NCNC and the Action Group led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo.

There was hatred galore. Regional Minorities hated their domineering Majority and allied with Majorities from other regions to sabotage them, while each regional Majority hated its rivals while sitting heavily on their regional Minorities.

A bigger, more lucrative incentive was responsible for the successful multinational gang-up that led to the defeat of the Igbo: the oil wealth of the Eastern Region. Long before independence, the East was the poorest region, while the West was the richest due to their cocoa wealth.

The North was also quite wealthy because of their many agricultural products such as groundnuts, cotton and livestock. But the discovery of oil in commercial quantities in Oloibiri and other parts of the Eastern Region was set to change the fortunes of the region.

As at 1966 when the first coup took place, the 1963 Republican Constitution, which vested resource control in the various regions, was in effect.

Had the “Igbo coup” not taken place, Eastern Region would have, by 1975, had enough resources to build a society comparable to today’s Gulf economic miracles, such as Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha and others. The oil boom was about to explode.

Nobody saw it coming, except the British ex-colonial masters. When they saw it they prevailed on Gowon to stand and fight to keep Nigeria one and be in control of the oil resources coming the way of Nigeria. Gowon started dissuading the North from their call to secede from Nigeria.

The North, which was shouting “Araba! Araba!! (secession) only in March 1967 started chorusing that Nigeria was “an indivisible and indissoluble one nation under God” in September the same year.

Once the war ended, the resources of the country were centralised. By 1979 when we were ushering in a civilian government, the presidential system of government was adopted, whereby the centralised economy and politics of the North-controlled military were enshrined into a constitution that was virtually rendered impossible to amend. With the Igbos pushed out, the land of the Eastern Minorities from where the oil was exploited became war booty.

The first attempt by the Minorities to protest the situation ended in the summary trial and hanging of Ken Saro-Wiwa and his fellow Ogoni activists by the General Sani Abacha regime on November 10, 1994. It took an armed struggle by Ijaw militants between 1998 and 2009 for the Minorities to win the derivation concessions as well as the right to produce the incumbent president of Nigeria.

Since the war ended, the oil wealth of the former Eastern Region has fed, not only the nation but also kept the top generals of the North and West and their civilian partners and aristocrats in great opulence.

They are the major owners of the oil wells, oil services and both legal and illegal oil bunkering outfits, often using local and international small fries as fronts.

The old North and West have benefitted from the oil wealth of the old East far more than the East itself. It was used to develop Lagos and environs as the former capital of Nigeria.

It is also being used to develop Abuja and environs as the capital of Nigeria, which some Northerners are now claiming as part of their region. In terms of federal presence, there is very little in Port Harcourt to show it is an oil city.

All manners of tricks were devised to make sure that the North, which led the civil war, got the lion’s share in every aspect of national cake sharing (including seven states in the North West) while the South East, the war’s loser got the least (five states).

But when it comes to qualifications to benefit from the federation, the North always gets the smallest cut-off points while the East is saddled with the highest.

From the look of things, this could become a permanent feature of Nigerian affairs. It does not seem as though anyone is prepared to put an end to it.



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