Only surviving Igbo zikist opens up on:
•Ojukwu’s blunders that caused the civil war
•What he did to Zik, M. I. Okpra, K. O. Mbadiwe, Akanu Ibiam, other Igbo leaders
•How Eastern Govt helped Awolowo while in Calabar prison
•Speaks on Nigeria’s constitution, Gowon, Buhari and why Britain dislikes Igbos
Asks ‘how can Nigeria develop when state lawmakers are puppets of governors, national legislators do the bidding of the President and many public treasury looters find their ways into govt?
BY CHIMOBI NWAIWU
First Republic Minister of Aviation Chief Mbazulike Amechi, the only surviving member of the Zikist movement spoke with Chimaobi Nwaiwu, in his Ukpor, Nnewi South Council of Anambra State home, on the events of July 29, 1966, issues that led to it and events after.
How he narrowly escaped death in Lagos
What actually was the event of July 29, 1966 and what led to those events in Nigeria?
The event of July 29, 1966 was the issue of the counter coup where Northern military officers staged a counter coup and in the process killed Aguiyi Ironsi who was then the Military Head of State and they proceeded to kill Igbo soldiers in the North and in the West, mainly Abeokuta and Ibadan. They also killed some civilians. Personally, I narrowly escaped the killing because the thing caught me up in Lagos.
Let me talk about myself first. I went to Lagos, because after the military coup in January, I came back home to do my business here. But I later went back to Lagos in the course of my personal business and stayed at the Federal Palace Hotel. One morning, Mr. Albert Osakwe who was then the Nigeria Ambassador to the Congo now the Democratic Republic of Congo, rushed back to the hotel and said that he was nearly killed on the road; that soldiers blocked everywhere and that they were killing anybody who was identified to be an Igbo; that the whole Ikorodu road was full of cars they were stopping and searching, and any car bearing Eastern Region number and the owners or the drivers and people inside were identified as Igbos were killed.
So they wanted to kill him but when they asked him who he was and he told them that he was Albert Osakwe, and one soldier said I do not like that name, it is an Igbo name kill him. So he shouted to them I am Nigerian Ambassador to Congo. So the Captain there said, Ambassador you must go back from where you are coming from; but where are you even going to in the first place, and he responded that he was going to the airport to take a flight to his base in Congo. The Captain said no, go back there is no road, the airport is closed no plane is flying. So he came back and narrated the incident.
That was how we knew that there was a counter coup, and I tried to get away from Lagos to go home. I sent somebody to survey the situation and he came back to tell me that Ikorodu road was blocked against the Igbos. I tried to go by sea but there was no way, so that night I decided not to sleep in Federal Palace Hotel. I told the receptionist in the hotel that if anybody came to look for me that he should tell them that I had checked out, so I went out and found a place to sleep outside the hotel, but my box was in the hotel.
When I came back the following morning in the hotel, the boys at the reception told me Oga they came for you last night by 2am; I said I suspected that they would come for me. I asked them what happen and they said we told them that you had checked out but they insisted on checking your room, so we took them to your room and they opened it and searched and confirmed that there was nobody in the room so they left, they were about six soldiers. I decided that I should leave that hotel, that I must leave Lagos that day. I went to take a cover the second night at Surelere, then the third day I decided that I must go home.
I got one of my drivers who was a Yoruba man, he was driving my company car in Lagos; the company was Niger Pop Products Company Limited, we were processing meat, it was a meat industry. So in our branch in Lagos, we had an Israeli woman as our Manager in Lagos because we were contractors to so many airlines and other companies, supplying them processed meat, sausages and drinks. I got the boy and he got some of our boys, I told them to drive ahead of me, ten miles you come back and tell me the position and situation on the road. We were doing that and one Douglas Ngwube, a journalist and Francis Ngwube took me in his car, it was an open roof sports car so we came to Ikorodu road, at a check point and they stopped us, one of the soldiers there pointed a gun at him and asked him who are you. He told them I am Dele Martins, I work in the Federal Ministry of Information, but his name was really Francis Ngwube, but he really worked in the Ministry of Information. Then they pointed a gun at me and said, and you, who are you, and I said am the New Editor of Accra Evening News; I now started asking them why are you people pointing a gun at me, is that the way you people behave in this country, this is madness, I am going to report you to my High Commissioner, how can you point a gun at me, and a Captain nearby heard when I raised my voice and came to ask me what is it sir. I told him that your boy pointed gun at me, he asked me who I am and I told him. He asked me again who are you and I said I told you that I am the News Editor of Accra Evening News and I am going to report you to my High Commissioner, he started apologizing, saying am very sorry sir, you can go ahead, that was how I passed that place.
So my people would drive ten miles ahead and ensure the road was clear, they came back to report. We left Lagos at 10am and got to Benin at 10pm; we went to a relation of mine, Agbasi who was a Chief Superintendent of Police at Benin. I asked him to find a way to get my car which is at Lagos Airport. So I phoned Ibekwe, a Commissioner of Police at Benin, and he sent some policemen who came and collected the car key and went to the Lagos airport and brought my car that night and we continued our journey to Onitsha and eventually got Onitsha at 2.am and the boys from Lagos said they were going back to Lagos. I refused, I felt it was late but they insisted on going back and they did and I drove home and that was how I escaped being killed in Lagos.
But then they killed Aguiyi Ironsi at Ibadan, and many Igbo soldiers all over Nigeria. A particular friend of mine from my town, Captain Maduabum, a military friend of his in the Officers Mess where they drank, told him, Maduabum I have instruction to kill you this night as a matter fact at mid night, and he told him if they had given you instruction to kill me is right and they continued drinking in the officer Mess, so at 12 midnight a pick up drove in and they came, picked him and went and shot him truly; that was how they killed him and so many soldiers of Igbo extraction.
At Abeokuta, one Igbo officer from Imo State said I am a soldier only one bullet, I will go; and they said okay we are not going to give you one bullet, they directed people to dig a grave and they dug a grave and buried him alive; you said it is one bullet and we are not going to give you one bullet, we are going to bury you alive and they did. These were some of the things that happened to our people.
In Kano, in Kaduna, they brought all the Igbos in the army and killed them and they moved over to the civilians and started killing them, they went to an Igbo Union Collage at Kano and brought all the girls and marshalled the girls to the leprosy camp, forced the girls to sleep with the men there and any girl that resisted was killed. Some girls said they would rather die than be touched by the lepers and they shot them and killed them.
So it was so brutal, it was so devilish, it was so inhuman but that was what happened. Thereafter, the Igbos, those that were able to escape started coming back home and at Benue, Makurdi, soldiers stopped the train carrying them and brought them out and threw them into the Benue River. They brought them out one after the other, shot them and threw them into River Benue, young children were thrown a live into the river; all these happened, these were the things that partly precipitated the war
Then Ojukwu was the Governor of East Central States, but I say it and believe it to be truth, Ojukwu made a political mistake. It was actually a correct military affair but he made a political mistake.
“In the West, the political leaders were under consultation, in the North, the political leaders were involved in the government of Kastina, the then military governor of the Northern region, he involved the Northern politicians including Ali Mungono and Ibrahim
Kassim; he involved the political leaders of the North, they were meeting, but in the East here, the political leaders like Dr. K.O. Mbadiwe, Ambassador Mbanugo who was Chairman of the Eastern Working Committee; Ojukwu put him in detention at Uyo; Dr Michael Okpara who was the Premier of the Eastern Region Ojukwu kept him in detention at Warri, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the leader of NCNC and President of Nigeria, Ojukwu
restricted his movement by serving him a restriction notice within seven miles radius of his house at Nsukka; myself, Mbazulike Amaechi, Ojukwu served me a restriction notice, restricting me within ten miles radius of my house in Ukpor; Dr Akanu Ibiam, he restricted him within seven to ten miles of his house at Afikpo, and he was ruling alone with Mojekwu. Mojekwu was always beside him and the only politician in his government.
Mojekwu is from where.
“Mojekwu is from Umudim in Nnewi, and that was because they were relations. That was the political mistake Ojukwu made; side-lining us and threatening us with restriction notices was the greatest political mistake he made with Mojekwu by his side.
Why did he do that? Was he trying to obey the military authorities above him or he just did not want you people around his government?
“He did that before they started their quarrels, after killing Aguiyi Ironsi. Immediately after the coup he was appointed the military governor. He did this but in the other parts of the country, their military governors were consulting their politicians and so forth, so if we had
not been restricted or imprisoned as politicians , we could have gotten in touch with our counterparts in the North. It wouldn’t have mattered how bitter the position or quarrel was, the civil war could have been avoided.
“But he told the people that he had the weapons to reduce Lagos to sea level. That was his exact word; we thought he had what he claimed not knowing there were no weapons. It was ordinary boast, it was diplomacy he used, some propaganda, but the politicking did not work and the war broke out.
“It was when the war broke out that he released all of us and by then, Gowon had released Obafemi Awolowo from Calabar prison and posted him to Lagos and made him the Vice Chairman of the Federal Executive Council and the Commissioner for Finance and Economic Matters but our politicians here were rubbished by Ojukwu’s action.
Awolowo’s appointment was to get the support of the Yorubas. Although it was okay for him and his Yoruba people, the action of Awolowo did not help Ndigbo and could read as ingratitude although he had no option because it was a military government.
“During his imprisonment at Uyo, the Eastern Region hired a house and urged the Igbo owner of a House near the prison to vacate from the house for Awolowo to live in that house. The man vacated and Awolowo lived in that house. So, every night he would sleep in that house but at day break he would go to the prison and stay and all the cooks and
stewards he had were paid from Enugu by the Eastern Government. His wife was placed on a ministerial salary from Enugu and all allowances that accrued to ministers in those days were paid to her.
“Probably he had no choice, because it was Gowon that released him from prison; it was Gowon that sent an aircraft to pick him from the airport to Lagos. So to me he had no choice than to go along with them, but if our man, Ojukwu had played his part well there would have been a way M.I Okpara would have gotten in touch with Awolowo, there would have been a way a person like me would have gotten in touch with Aminu Kano and others to soften things, because there was a link of that ideological and fraternal meet among all of us that went all round. So the war could have been avoided.
“But however, so many people were killed in the pogrom. But the question was that the leaders who would have changed things like Saduana of Sokoto was killed; Abubakar Tafawa Belewa was killed, Mai Malari, the highest Northern Military man was killed, so if you were the Northerners, won’t you react? We could have stopped the war through diplomacy and politics, but we were not involved.
Was Gowon seeing himself as a core Northerner who must protect their interest or was he just acting as the Head of State who must first ensure the unity of the country?
“At that time Gowon was a Lieutenant Colonel and he was the highest ranking officer in the army from the North. So when they called him to come and be the Head of State he could not say no, so he had no choice and nobody should blame him for any action he took because at that time he had no choice; it was the British Intelligence Service and the British Government who wanted to destroy and solve the Igbo question because they never liked Igbos. Until today Britain hates Igbos; British Government is always anti Igbo in Nigeria.
Why do you say that sir, do you have some reasons to back up that claim?
“Yes, this is because the Igbos played great roles in nationalism that led to the agitations and politics that drove them away from Nigeria. It was Igbos that led the political agitations that saw them out of Nigeria, drove away British government from Nigeria.
How did the events of July 29 1966 change Nigeria?
“Yes, it changed Nigeria because since after the civil war, the military continued to rule Nigeria and they continued for 38 years and 38 years of military rule, apart from the two years of Obasanjo, was 36 years of Military rule by Northern Nigeria military men. So for them they now think that it is their perpetual right to continue to rule Nigeria, and they are ready to resist anybody who wants to take it away from them. So they disorganized the country in such a way the constitution of the country is no longer the people’s constitution.
“I have always said it, but the bad people do not want to listen to me, that Nigeria is being run as an illegality; it is being run without a people’s constitution. The 1979 constitution was not a people’s constitution. Rotomi Williams Committee or Constituent Assembly wrote a draft constitution and forwarded it to the military, the military edited it, removed the things they wanted removed and inserted what they wanted. So it was not a constitution of the people of Nigeria.
In 1999, Constituent Panel or Committee was held again and the military sat over it and edited, removed what they did not like and put what they wanted and continued to rule for a period of 38 years, they were in government and they were not doing what they were trained to do; they were doing what the military knows best, which is to fight, to destroy, to loot, to steal, to damage, to conquer, and to overrun, that is what the military particularly in Nigeria was trained to do and that is what they did in Nigeria.
“They introduced corruption, and what took 38 years to implant in a people cannot be removed in a twinkle of an eye. They introduced corruption and corruption is getting deeper in Nigeria now.
“The constitution gave governors absolute power to run the state like a sole administrator; they steal the people’s money and after stealing the money they find their way into the senate, very soon the senate will be made up of former Governors alone because all the corrupt former governors find their ways into the senate and once they are in the senate everybody keeps quiet. Even those EFCC had already started probing and in the process of prosecution, once they declar for APC and win election to the senate, they are protected; those that failed are appointed ministers and are protected, they are saints now,
so the military had introduced that level of corruption that is so deep and so entrenched that it can hardly be corrected; it will be very difficult to be corrected. It is so deep in us now.
“It has continued to be entrenched and now in Nigeria only the rich and super wealthy can win elections now in Nigeria, and when they win elections, they remain in power. Legislators in the state have no powers because they are puppets of the Governor. So how can you ever stop corruption in Nigeria?
“At the Senate they start doing the biddings of the President because the President can also treat the Senators like the way Governors treat the state legislators; So all they care about is their pocket, the money that comes to them and not the people they claim to have gone to represent. So how can you ever stop corruption and stealing in Nigeria; it is impossible, is not easy, it is getting stronger and deeper every day, into the system.
Does the violence we face in many areas today in Nigeria have anything to do with the long military stay in power?
“Of course, wait a minute, who is ruling Nigeria now; an elected civilian president; good who is he, is he not a soldier, is he not the man who overthrew the democratically elected government of Shehu Shagari in 1983. So the difference is only that in 1983, he wore khaki uniform, in 2019 he is wearing agbada but it is the same person in the true sense of it. So what changes are you expecting?
“So, can’t you see what is happening, the herdsmen killings? Did Nigeria start today? These herdsmen killing people, mounting vigilante services in the states of the federation, did it ever happen in Nigeria before especially in this magnitude? Or were Nigerians not eating cow meat before now? The agenda is clear but some people who should talk and condemn what is happening now are busy making money from the government and telling
you that this is the best government in Nigeria, and I pause to ask, how many deaths have been recorded under this regime because of the activities of the herdsmen?
“Has it ever happened before in this country; did it happen under Obasanjo, did it happen under Yar’Adua or Jonathan the way it is happening now? Why is it happening now? Some people will go to a community, kill them and take responsibility and yet none, not even single one would be arrested and prosecuted and they are progressing to installing
vigilantes in the states that are thousands of miles away from their ethnic group; to do what and yet people appointed and elected in the same government are proud to say they are representing their people in the same government that pretends nothing is happening, that communities are not sacked; that they are not seeing herdsmen that openly carry AK47 to rear cows. It is a pity for this country and some people should bury their faces in shame. This is not the country we fought for and defended against the colonial masters.
“It is just like Boko Haram, how do you think Boko Haram will be stopped; who will stop that, who are behind Boko Haram?
However subjecting this country to this kind of system now will not work. Nigeria today is not Nigeria of yesterday.
“So, the civil wr could have been avoided. What were then the effects of the pogrom and the civil war that followed?
Division, hatred, suspicion and corruption, and these are what are holding Nigeria backward today. How can evil be helpful in a country, more so when such evils are being perpetrated everywhere, in North west, north east, the west , middle belt, the east etc?
“Look at Yoruba land now, it is being overrun by herdsmen, they kill women and men as they like, they kidnap as they like. Banditry in some places, kidnapping in some places. Insurgency in some places etc. We need peace and government should ensure we have peace.
How do you react to Ohaneze, Afanifere, Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF and the Middle Belt groups boycotting the meeting called by former Head of State Abdulsalami Abubakar because the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, MACBAN, was also invited?
“Of course that was a proper thing to do. Boycotting that meeting was one of the best things they have recently done for their people. Why should they hold meeting with a terrorist organization ?
On Igbo Presidency in 2023, what do you think?
“Before Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe breathed his last, he spoke to me, and handed to me a six inch long golden key, and told me something. That is why I say I have a key to Igbo presidency in 2023. Igbo presidency of either APC or PDP, if they will humble themselves enough, they should come to me and believe that I have the solution to that problem, nothing is impossible before God and with proper organization and strategy, it is possible.
“Nobody will leave presidency for you, you must win it, nobody will give it to you, nobody will dash it to you; so if the Igbos are waiting for it to be given to them, it is not possible. I
have heard about all the people said to be angling for the seat of the president of Nigeria, including Tinunbu and others. Tinubu may have all the money, his money will have effect within a certain circle but with proper organization and strategy, somebody else can take it. The people of this country have suffered and they want a change. Igbo Presidency is possible in PDP and APC, not in a small organization like one man organization you have in Awka.
You have always said that you support one indivisible Nigeria although you do not like how Igbos are being treated in the country. But IPOB are agitating for sovereign state of Biafra, what is your position on this?
“ I have always said it that IPOB is a nationalist radical organization that is fighting against the injustices that have been meted on Ndigbo over so many decades and still going on; they have a right to say what they are saying, and the government of Nigeria has a duty and obligation to listen to them. When a people say they want independent state of their own, the only alternative the government has is to give them a plebiscite, let the people vote and if the people want to stay aside, they stay aside.
“In Britain, Scotland demanded independence from Great Britain, the British government ordered a plebiscite in Scotland about three or four years ago and the majority of the people said no, the matter was closed.
“My sincere advice to Ndigbo is that God has kept me for a purpose and the political actors in Igbo land can hear. God has kept me for a purpose; at 90 years I am fairly physically alright; I am still fairly mentally balanced, my sight is good, my hearing is good my mental balance is good, my memory is good, I have all it takes. God has a purpose for keeping me, and if they will care let them come to me, APC or PDP, let them come to me; the Igbo people in those parties let them come to me I will tell them what to do and how we can get Igbo presidency.