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Inheritors of the Niger Area

By Owei Lakemfa

THE elites who took over from the British colonialists behaved quite badly; within five years, parts of the country including the Middle Belt  and the West were on the boil. Despite the Federal Constitution in place, the centre intervened in the West leading to bloodbath. Given these,  manifest mismanagement and evident incompetence,  the populace reacted quite positively to the coup of January 15, 1966 but it suffered two tragedies. First, the attempt failed, and opportunist officers rather than restore the elected government, imposed  military rule. Secondly, the attempted coup was so badly executed that it could not shake off the tag of  being a sectional one.

The July 29, 1967 counter coup was primarily to secede and establish  a new Northern  Republic. Midstream, the objectives changed and the coup leader, then Lieutenant Colonel  Yakubu Gowon was to become the chief campaigner of: “To keep Nigeria one, is a task that must be done”. He even reveled in the propaganda that his surname is an acronym: “Go On With One Nigeria”.

The counter coup led to so much bloodshed and instability, that the following month, an Ad Hoc Constitutional Conference was convened  and the then four regions were asked to consult their constituents and submit comprehensive memoranda on the future of the country.

The Eastern Region which was worse hit in the counter coup,  rejected  state creation, demanded an Association of the Regions (Confederacy) and the right of each Region to secede.  The Northern Region demanded  the right of all groups to self-determination and  each Region’s   “ right to secede completely and unilateral ly ”.

The Western Region proposed two alternatives. Either the  immediate creation of states to found a federation,  or the formation  of  a commonwealth with each Region or State having the right to unilaterally secede from the country at any time of its own choice.

Only the smallest and youngest Region, the Mid-West, rejected the breakup of the country.  It advocated a federation with minorities having the  right to self-determination,  and the majority, the right whether to associate with a particular minority or not. With the Mid-West being unable to hold back the large Regions, Gowon on November 30, 1966 adjourned the Constitutional Conference sine die.

With that, the country drifted, with each Region bidding its time and consolidating.  The East  and the North prepared for war while the West tilted  towards secession. Its anger was partly, the execution of its Military Governor, Lieutenant  Colonel Francis Adekunle Fajuyi and then Head of State, General Johnson Thomas Umunnakwe Aguyi-Ironsi right in Ibadan, the capital of the region. One worry of the West was the presence of soldiers of Northern origin in Lagos. Western elites reasoned that it would be difficult to secede with these soldiers  in Lagos, so, led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo, they demanded stridently that all military personnel from outside the  West should leave.

With the ruling Supreme Military Council unable to meet as members would not go to the East, and Lieutenant Colonel Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu , the Military Governor of the Eastern Region would not go to the other regions, or even meet on a suggested British ship, the only way a meeting could hold, was outside the country. The opportunity for this was provided by the  military regime in Ghana led by Lieutenant General Joseph Arthur  Ankrah. They would have been comfortable with him because they were familiar; Ironsi, Fajuyi, Gowon and Ojukwu had served alongside  Ankrah in the Congo Mission.  As it appeared that the Nigerian leaders would not even agree on a chairman for their  meeting, Ankrah who provided the meeting venue in Aburi on the outskirts of Accra,  chaired the meeting.

Present were Lieutenant Colonels  Yakubu Gowon, Odumegwu  Ojukwu, Hassan Katsina, Governor, Northern Region,  David Ejoor, Governor Mid-Western Region, Major Mobolaji Johnson, Governor Lagos State, Colonel Robert Adeyinka Adebayo,  Governor Western Region  and  Commodore Joseph Edet Akinwale Wey , Deputy Head of State. The Police were represented by Alhaji Kam Salem and Mr. Timothy Omo-Bare.

Also attending were Secretaries of the Governors;   N.U.  Akpan, East, Alhaji Ali Akilu, North, D. Lawani, Mid-West and P. Odumosu, West. Also present was Prince Solomon Akenzua (later, Oba of Benin, Erediauwa I) Permanent Under-Secretary, Federal Cabinet Office.

The elite soldiers blamed the civilian politicians for the crisis in the country and adopted Ojukwu’s motion that all renounce the use of force in settling the crises. They then  reached what became known as The Aburi Accord. Under this Agreement, they agreed  the Army  had become a problem, as   a solution, it  was to be organised under  Area Commands corresponding to existing Regions with the  Military Governors  having  control over  them  for internal security.

Also, a military headquarters  comprising equal representation from the regions  was to  be established alongside a  Lagos Garrison. Additionally, soldiers of Northern  origin are to  return to the North from the West while the latter would carry out a  crash programme to recruit fresh soldiers from the Region. It was also agreed that Ojukwu’s order  that non-Easterners should leave the Eastern Region should subsist but kept in view with the objective of lifting it as soon as is practicable.

The Accord also provided for the vesting of  legislative and executive authority in the Federal Military Government  provided  that, where a meeting was not possible, such a matter must be referred to the Military Governors for their comments and concurrence.  It was also agreed that all decrees that derogate from  regional autonomy,  be abrogated,  displaced public  servants should be paid their full salaries until March 31, 1967 and property of the displaced should be protected.

The Accord also ordered that the Ad Hoc Constitutional Conference suspended by Gowon should resume sitting,   while for  at least the next six months, there should be a purely  Military Government having nothing to do with politicians. This was in line with the false claim that politicians were responsible for the problems the country was witnessing. After the Aburi Accord was signed, the military leaders toasted themselves to choice wine congratulating themselves for being so brilliant.

The reality was that the military officers who met in Aburi had become the real politicians replacing their civilian counterparts. They could easily have saved the country uncertainty and horrors  by reverting   to civil rule. This would have saved the country the tussle over  who will head government, and the military, the politics of Gowon becoming  the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces when he had  ten military  officers   who were his senior.  This was to define the military until 1999 when it finally disengaged from governance. Tragically, the officers  wanted to retain power,  so they  led the country into an horrendous civil war  and to the situation  today where  all parts of the country are disillusioned.





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