By CLIFFORD NDUJIHE & IKENNA ASOMBA
ELDER STATESMAN and stalwart of the pan-Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, has urged the Igbo and Yoruba ethnic nationalities to join forces and develop the country, arguing that recurring mistrust between them has stunted Nigeria’s socio-economic development.
According to the octogenarian, if the late Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe and Chief Obafemi Awolowo had closed ranks, collaborated and ruled Nigeria, the country would have been an oasis of development.
He spoke yesterday in Lagos at the presentation of a 771-page book: “The Untold Story of the Nigeria-Biafra War,” written by Dr Luke Nnaemeka Aneke.
Adebanjo picked holes in age-long comments blaming Igbos for the 30-month civil war that claimed about three million lives, saying “When we chronicle the diary of what led to the Nigeria-Biafra war, a lot of people felt the Igbos must be blamed. There is no doubt that mistakes were made but the principle on which war was fought was on the ground of a person who does not want to be cheated.”
The major mistake
Said Adebanjo, who is in full support of ongoing efforts to hold a national conference: “The major blunder the Igbos and the Yorubas made was that they misinterpreted friendship. I, Azikiwe and Awolowo had come together, will we be where we are today? So, that was the major mistake that we made. If Azikiwe was Prime Minister of Nigeria then and Awolowo was Minister of Finance, where do you think Nigeria will be today? All the wonders of what happened in the West would have been replicated in the entire country, with such collaboration. But, it was never so.”
He continued: “The history of the war has to be told very honestly. There has been a lot of prejudices here and there. And a lot of friends have been made enemies all because of book presentations. The meticulous way, intelligent manner and chronological order that the author put the book is commendable. The author has been able to move from the trend whereby previous authors make unnecessary comments in their books at a time we ought to ensure that Nigeria is united and the various ethnic nationalities live in oneness. This is not a time when we should be emphasizing what separates us.
At this point, I want to direct your attention to what is captured in the book, how long the Yorubas and the Igbos have been coming together to ensure the unity and progress of Nigeria. When we discuss this, we have to talk about the crisis of 1963. When the crisis came, the President at that time, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe waded in to ensure there was peace in the West.
“I must also mention that we must not allow minor things to separate us because we committed a lot to keep this nation one, especially the Igbos and the Yoruba. Therefore, the Igbos and the Yorubas have no cause to quarrel. We have our differences, so, I’m also not oblivious of the fact that the tongue and the mouth at times do quarrel. In those days, in spite of the fact that Zik was a non-Yoruba, he was very popular in the West.
You hear Zik this, Zik that. In fact, when the Football Club of Azikiwe is going to play in Apapa, we all thronged to that place to watch the team play. But, we must remember where we are coming from and go back to the old times. In view of what is happening in the country today, let us learn our lessons.
“It was surprising to some people when President Jonathan recently sued for a national conference because of his earlier arguments that there was no need for it. According Chief Obafemi Awolowo, only an unreasonable man will see a superior argument and not change his mind. In case many of you don’t know, Azikiwe during his time sued for one Nigeria based on Unitary government, The likes of Awolowo preached Federalism, which Azikiwe later got convinced and in 1956 said that federalism was imperative.
“Federalism gives room for each region to develop at their own pace. After the 1956 conference, it was then Azikiwe and others were convinced that Federalism was imperative for there to be a healthy competitiveness among the regions. The West established its own university; the East did the same and likewise the North.
National conference is imperative
On ongoing debates trailing national conference moves, he said: “Our unity in this country should be that of unity of purpose. We should not allow minor things to disunite us. That’s why I’m grateful to the author in the way he has presented the book. It will make the young ones see the war from an unbiased perspective. Our unity should not be like that of a horse and its rider.
That’s why this national conference is imperative at this moment. And one thing previous governments had used to confuse Nigerians is that a national conference will disintegrate Nigeria and bring the sovereignty of the constitution to question. But come to think of it, is this present constitution ours? Even when Obasanjo was been sworn-in in 1999, he swore to uphold the tenets of the constitution.
Which constitution, is it the constitution, which he doesn’t know anything about the content? Even Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar himself said before the swearing-in that he doesn’t know the content of the constitution. So, why do you want to tie us down with a constitution that you don’t know the content? In fact let me say that the constitution that we had at independence was a better one because it preached that each region must be allowed to grow at their own pace. That was why the West had free education, the East had free education. Let us go back to that constitution. The sovereignty we all sue for should be that of the people.”
Jointly organised by Ndigbo Lagos, Aka-Ikenga and Lower Niger Congress, notable persons at the event included Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim (who was represented by his special adviser, Dr. Ferdinand Agu), Rear Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu (rtd), Chief Raymond Obieri, Professor Laz Ekwueme, Chief Fred Agbeyegbe, Igwe NP Iloeze, Engr Mike Uzoigwe, Mrs Nkechi, Chief Martins Agbaso, Professor Joe Ezeigbo and Kalu Onuma.
Although, the event was meant to be a book launch, it became an avenue to rally the South and the Middle-Belt for President Goodluck Jonathan’s proposed national conference, for which a presidential advisory committee has been set up to tinker out modalities on how to proceed.
For instance, the Ijaw delegation was led by Chief TK Ogoriba, the Itsekiri delegation was anchored by Chief Fred Agbeyegbe and the Middle-Belt Forum was led by Abuga Onalo and the ceremony was chaired by Chief Ayo Adebanjo, who is from the South-West.
Speaking at the event, Dr Agu said Nigerians must do the needful to ensure that the country does not experience another civil war.
“Lamenting the massive destruction wrought on the polity by the war, he said:”It is our duty as a generation to ensure that, that history does not repeat itself… We need dialogue. Let’s prepare our minds for national conversation. Let’s hear one another out. We have many things to talk about. Without dialogue we are preparing for confrontation. We have a nation to build for ourselves and future generation.”
The Igbos have no problem with Yoruba — Anya
In a welcome speech, the President General of Ndigbo Lagos, Professor Anya O Anya, said The book is a must read, as we are all aware that we have a young generation who don’t know the history of this nation. Therefore, it’s important that we make them conscious of history has been. We the old ones must remind the younger ones that the rules have changed, through a book like this. Before the war, the Igbos had no problems with the North or the West. But the Igbos were only standing up against the injustice meted against them. But the fact remains that we wouldn’t have gone to the war.
The major problems we have encountered in this time past, is that Nigeria has been in disrepair in the midst of plenty and governance don’t face the welfare of the common people. It’s unfortunate that Nigeria has the highest level of poverty and youth unemployment in the world. It’s also sympathetic that I have never seen a nation like Nigeria where the people are dismissive and negative about their country.
“Our politics is so bad that most politicians are never concerned about building the nation but what they can take out of the nation, even if they can take it from the pockets of others. Imagine, the North that has been at the helms of affairs in this country for over 40 years is engulfed in poverty and insecurity even till date. Their contradictions caused it. We might as well say that it serves them right,but should we allow them to continue this way? The answer is no, because should this continue, it will soon engulf the entire nation. From now on, the Igbos and other Nigerians should come together to build a greater and indivisible Nigeria.
“Today, Jonathan out of pressure has bowed to National conference. Ironically, the earlier agitators for this conference are the ones saying no to it. This is why I say that our politics in this nation must change. It must no longer be the politics of nay saying.
Reviewing the book, Dr Douglas Anaele passionately recounted the genesis of the war, pogrom against Biafran children, sacrifices made by white nuns and others during the war, how the war could have been averted and the role of Chief Obafemi Awolowo and General Yakubu Gowon and described the book as a ‘window into the untold story of the Nigeria-Biafra war.”
He said if Awolowo had fulfilled his promise of having West Nigeria leave if East seceded, not joined Gowon to fight Biafra and used starvation as a weapon, the destruction would have been minimised.
He also wondered why Nigeria did not reap from the technological know-how of Biafran scientists after the war if the Nigerian government did not hate the Igbos.
Reacting to Anele’s review, Adebanjo, and Awoist said: “There has been a lot of misinterpretation on the part played by Awolowo before the war. Let’s not forget that during the war, Chief Awolowo went to see Ojukwu in Enugu, one of the things that is not on record is in fact, he went against the advice of Gowon and others. It was even said that he went to conspire with Ojukwu.
Those who have confidential access to the report at that time will see what was written about Chief Awolowo, when he came back from the East. What happened then was he went to convince Ojukwu not to go to war. Let us stay here and settle these things amicably. Ojukwu assured Awolowo that he was not going to go to war, but two weeks later Ojukwu insisted that there must be war.
That is the truth. Ladies and gentlemen, whether we like it or not, we are bound to live together, but I want you to imagine that until the starvation came, the war was on. Following the chronology of this book, Awolowo who was in Gowon’s cabinet, who never wanted the war said, the best way to end this fratricidal war is to stop the food allocation going to the Biafra region, because he said that anything that must allow the war end must be done.”