WHEN on March 15 last year, the Secretary of the Benin traditional council, Mr. Frank Irabor announced that “the leopard is ill in the Savannah bush”, we knew exactly what has happened to the OmoN’oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo Erediauwa (CFR), the 38th Oba of Benin, who was born on June 22, 1923 and ascended the throne on March 23, 1979. Well to an average Benin man or woman, such an announcement is well understood.
The Benin people value tradition and culture. And they are proud of it. I am from Ufosu in Idanre local government of Ondo state that shares border with Edo state, so I should know.
The Oba of Benin is the traditional ruler of the Edo people and head of the historic Eweka dynasty of the Benin Empire. The services of Oba Erediuwa are well valued and will not be forgotten. Before becoming an Oba, as Prince Samuel Aiseokhuoba Igbinoghodua Akenzua, he was an outstanding civil servant.He in fact rose to become the Federal Permanent Secretary Ministry of Health before he retired in 1973. Along with others, he attended the Aburi meeting held at the Peduase lodge where the conflict of Nigeria was discussed between January 4th and January 5th 1967. Aburi is a town in Ghana. It is a 45 minutes drive from Accra, the capital of Ghana.
Those in attendance at the meeting were Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon, Colonel Robert Adebayo,Lt-Col. Odumegwu Ojukwu, Lt-Col David Ejoor,Lt-Col David Hassan Katsina, Commodore J.E.A. Wey, Major Mobolaji Johnson, Alhaji KamSelem and Mr. J. Omo-Bare. Others are Prince S.I.A. Akenzua (Permanent Under-Secretary, Federal Cabinet Office.),Mr. P.T. Odumosu (Secretary to the Military Government, West.),Mr. N.U. Akpan (Secretary to the Military Government,East.), Mr. D.P. Lawani (Under-Secretary, Military Governor’s Office, Mid-West) and Alhaji Ali Akilu (Secretary to the Military Government, North.) The Chairman of the Ghana National Liberation Council, Lt-General J.A.Ankrah, declared the meeting open in his capacity as then head of state of Ghana. The following was agreed upon—that Army to be governed by the Supreme Military Council under a Chairman to be known as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and Head of the Federal Military Government, Establishment of a Military Headquarters comprising equal representation from the Regions and headed by a Chief of Staff, Creation of Area commands corresponding to existing Regions and under the charge of Area commanders, matters of policy, including appointments and promotion to top executive posts in the Armed Forces and the Police to be dealt with by the Supreme Military Council. During the period of the Military Government, Military Governors will have control over Area Commands for internal security,Creation of a Lagos Garrison including Ikeja Barracks. In connection with the re-organisation of the Army, the council discussed the distribution of Military personnel with particular reference to the present recruitment drive. The view was held that general recruitment throughout the country in the present situation would cause great imbalance in the distribution of soldiers. After a lengthy discussion of the subjects, the council agreed to set up a Military committee on which each Region will be represented, to prepare statistics which will show: Present strength of Nigeria Army;Deficiency in each sector of each unit; the size appropriate for the country and each Area command; Additional requirement for the country and each Area command.
The Committee is to meet and report to council within two weeks from the date of receipt of instructions. The Council agreed that pending completion of the exercise in connection with re-organisation of the army, further recruitment of soldiers should cease. The implementation of the agreement reached on 9 August 1966, it was agreed, after a lengthy discussion, that it was necessary for the agreement reached on 9 August by the delegates of the Regional Governments to be fully implemented. In particular, it was accepted in principle that army personnel of Northern origin should return to the North from the West. It was therefore felt that a crash programme of recruitment and training, the details of which would be further examined after the committee to look into the strength and distribution of army personnel had reported, would be necessary to constitute indigenous army personnel in the West to a majority there quickly.
As far as the Regions were concerned, it was decided that all the powers vested by the Nigerian Constitution in the Regions and which they exercised prior to 15 January 1966, should be restored to the Regions. To this end, the Supreme Military Council decided that all decrees passed since the Military take-over, and which tended to detract from the previous powers of the Regions, should be repealed by 21 January, after the Law Officers should have met on 14 January to list out all such decrees. The decisions at Aburi amounted to, in terms of political and military control of the country was that the country, should be governed as a Confederation.
Suffice it to say that the vocal military officers like Lt-Colonel Murtala Muhammed, Major Martin Adamu and Major Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma did not attend the Aburi meeting. Prince Akenzua along with top permanent secretaries including Alhaji Yusuf Gobir, Phillip Asiodu, Ime Ebong, B.N. Okagbue and Allison Ayida deconstructed in Lagos, all that was agreed in Aburi. On arrival in Lagos,Prince Akenzua discussed with General Yakubu Gowon and raised objections to what was agreed in Aburi, Gowon asked him to raise a memo which he did. I am sure a copy of the memo is with General Gowon today while a copy is in the archives in the PRESIDENCY. Civil servants are to be seen and not heard and that is why Prince Akenzua never released a copy of the memo to the world. The memo dated January 8, 1967 began with “Your Excellency, in view of my discussion with you last night, I am raising this memo in the interest our fatherland-Nigeria”. Prince Akenzua traced the long hard road that Nigeria has travelled and stressed on the need to keep a United Nigeria.
In his view, he said in the memo that Gowon has given too much away in Aburi and that it will lead to the destruction of the country. He further added that Gowon has “legalised” total regionalism which “will make the centre very weak.” Prince Akenzua alluded in his memo that a weak centre will lead to confederation and total disintegration of the country. It was the memo that prompted Gowon to summon a meeting of the Secretaries to the military governments and other officials which was held in Benin City between February 16 and 18, 1967. If you look at the minutes of the Benin meeting presided over by Mr. H. A. Ejueyitchie, Secretary to the Federal Military Government, you will discover that it was a total rejection of what was agreed upon in Aburi. The Benin meeting interpreted in its own way the agreement reached in Aburi. After the Benin meeting, Lt-Col. Ojukwu started the “on Aburi I stand” slogan. Thereafter the Federal Government promulgated Decree No. 8 of 1967 which gave total powers to the centre. It has been so since.We shall continue to argue and debate the full implications of decree 8 which was promulgated on March 10, 1967. The ghost of that decree still haunts us today.
On February 16, 1967, Colonel Ojukwu wrote a letter to Gowon. In the letter he said: “At Aburi, certain decisions were taken by the Supreme Military Council – the highest authority of the land under that Regime. For my part, I became dedicated to those decisions, only to discover soon that you and your Civil Service advisers, along with selfish and disgruntled politicians in Lagos, and perhaps elsewhere as well, did not feel the same. As a result you have seen to it that the decision taken at Aburi are systematically vitiated or stalled.”
In his own broadcast, the then military Governor of western region, Colonel Robert Adeyinka Adebayo on May 3, 1967 said: “we tried at Aburi to find the basis for a solution but there was not enough confidence to build upon that basis. As a result, follow up action was slow and argument developed which further impaired confidence. When at last decree No. 8 was passed by the Supreme Military Council, we could not carry the Eastern Region with us.”
In his broadcast to the joint meeting of the advisory committee of the Chiefs and Elders and the Consultative assembly of Eastern Nigeria on May 27, 1967, Colonel Ojukwu said “In Lagos, the Permanent Secretaries there studied the recommendations and, to their credit, brought out clearly and unmistakenly their meanings and implications. Having seen these, however, they unfortunately went beyond their rights and duty as civil servants to advise against the implementation of the Aburi agreements. From there our difficulties started and have taken us to our present stalemate.”
Till today both sides (Gowon and Ojukwu till he died) interpreted what was agreed upon in Aburi in their own way. One of the problems at Aburi was that a portion of the meeting was not recorded. The military excused the civilians at a certain stage during the meeting and it was alleged that during this informal chat that Gowon made certain commitments to Lt. Col. Ojukwu especially on full regionalism. Even till today judging by the decisions reached at the last National Conference, we are still arguing on confederation or federalism. As long as Nigeria remains one under federalism, the memo of Prince Akenzua which was a wakeup call on General Gowon and his efforts later will continue to be appreciated in no small measure. The nation remembers and the nation appreciates.
Mr. Eric Teniola, a former director at the presidency, wrote from Lagos.