The first Republic Aviation Minister, Mbazulike Amaechi, has revealed the political mistake that former eastern region military governor, Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, made in the wake of the 1966 coup that eventually led to the infamous civil war.
In an exhaustive interview with Vanguard, Amaechi explained that while the military governors in the north were consulting with grassroots politicians, Ojukwu “sidelined and threatened us with restriction notices,” and that was the greatest political mistake he made.
When asked if he thought Ojuwku was only obeying the military authorities or he just did not want people around his government, Amaechi said: “…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 an 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, Yakubu 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,” Amaechi said.
The former Minister enthused that 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.
“…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 Michael 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 were 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.