By Douglas Anele
Even our revered erudite Emeritus Professor Chinua Achebe failed to appreciate the bold divide between Awolowo’s, call it local patriotism if you like, and Zik’s manifest egomania and selfishness. Because of the Igbos’ blind, crass and uncritical evaluation of our Igbo leaders, I am writing a book with title, ZIK IRONSI OJUKWU – WRECKERS AND GRAVE DIGGERS OF IGBO NATION DEMYSTIFIED. At 79 years plus, I hope I will complete writing the book before I pass on.
Achebe said in his booklet, The Trouble with Nigeria, “As a student in Ibadan I was an eye witness to that momentous occasion when Chief Obafemi Awolowo “stole” the leadership of Western Nigeria from Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe in broad daylight on the floor of the Western House of Assembly and sent the great Zik scampering back to the “Niger” whence he came.”
In that same book, Achebe correctly and rightly stated as follows, “Here was a true nationalist (Zik) who championed the noble cause of “one Nigeria” to the extent that he contested and won the first general election to the Western House of Assembly. But when Chief Awolowo “stole” the government from him in broad daylight he abandoned his principle which dictated that he should stay in the Western House as Leader of the Opposition and give battle to Awolowo.
Instead he conceded victory to reactionary ethnic politics, fled to the East where he compounded his betrayal of principle by precipitating a major crisis which was unnecessary, selfish and severely damaging in its consequences.
“Professor Eyo Ita, an urbane and detribalized humanist politician who had just assumed office as Leader of Government Business in Enugu saw no reason to vacate his post for the fugitive from Ibadan. Neither did most of his cabinet which in sheer brilliance surpassed by far anything Enugu has seen or is likely to see again in a long time.
Using his privately owned newspapers and political muscle, Azikiwe maligned and forced Eyo Ita and his team out of office and proceeded to pack his own cabinet with primary school teachers, ex-police corporals, sanitary inspectors and similar highly motivated disciples who were unlikely to dispute anything he said. So the rule of mediocrity from which we suffer today received an early imprimatur in Eastern Nigeria of all places!
And that was not all. Professor Eyo Ita was an Efik, and the brutally unfair treatment offered him in Enugu did not go unremarked in Calabar. It contributed in no small measure to the suspicion of the majority Igbo by their minority neighbours in Eastern Nigeria – a suspicion which less attractive politicians than Eyo Ita fanned to red-hot virulence, and from which the Igbo have continued to reap enmity to this day.”
Zik probably thought that everybody was on mental holiday when he wrote in his autobiography- MY ODYSSEY on page 305 as follows-”Before the end of 1952 a crisis loomed in the ranks of the NCNC as a result of the unwillingness of certain NCNC-appointed Federal and Regional Ministers to toe the party line.(This is a long story which I hope to expand in a later volume.)
Consequently, I was drafted to contest an election into the Eastern House of Assembly and regularize this irregularity.” According to Dr. Okechukwu Ikejiani, in his autobiography, Zik did not write the later volume and I am aware that there was no crisis in the ranks of the NCNC anywhere at that time, except that introduced by Zik when he fled Ibadan, stormed Enugu and sacked Professor Eyo Ita, and his brilliant team even though Professor Eyo Ita was his party man and fellow easterner!
Zik deliberately and knowingly caused his party the NCNC to lose the government of Western Nigeria to Awolowo’s Action Group, created the eternal minority problem for the Igbos in Eastern Nigeria and above all, handed the fruit of independence struggle to feudalists who contributed nothing to the struggle, save delays and obstructions.
Some Nigerians, mostly Igbos contend that Awolowo’s action which was legal and constitutional was unfair and below the belt, even though he fought for the Yoruba nation and Westerners. Accepting this proposition as correct for the sake of argument as the professors say, for whom was Zik fighting when he drove away Eyo Ita, his party man and fellow easterner out of office?
I entered Ibadan University in 1964 with my advanced level papers in Physics and Mathematics to study Physics. During my second year in 1966, Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu and his men struck. After the long vacation of 1966, I packed my things from Ibadan and sought safety in flight at the Physics Department of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where I graduated with a B.Sc. hons. degree, in Physics, University of Biafra 1967 because Biafra had been declared while we were doing our degree examinations and everything Nigeria in former Eastern Nigeria changed to Biafra.
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While we were doing our degree examinations, Oil Companies and others interviewed us for possible employment on graduation only to be confronted by a war of survival which was imposed on Biafra by Nigeria, therefore dashing our hopes of a greater tomorrow. I am proud to say that I served as an officer in 12 COMMANDO BRIGADE, BIAFRA ARMY during the war. Though Biafra did not survive, Biafrans to the discomfiture and against the expectations of the Nigerian establishment survived in large numbers.
This made the Nigerian government to device new methods of giving the final solution to the Igbo problem by repressing, suppressing and oppressing us. For example, of the six geopolitical zones in the country, only the South East Zone where the Igbos are located has five states. The other zones have six states with one northern zone having seven states!
The alternating of the presidential seat between the north and south has been holding. For the 2023 elections when the presidential slot will go to the south, Ahmed Bola Tinubu from the South-West zone is warming up to take the slot even though the South West and South-South have had their turns. Bola Tinubu is planning to do to the Igbos exactly what Awolowo prevented Zik from doing to the Yorubas in the Western House of Assembly in 1951.
Perhaps it is convenient for Tinubu to forget that many Igbos such as Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe, Rear Admiral Ndubisi Kanu, late Mokwugo Okoye, Echukwu myself and many others were his compatriots in the NATIONAL DEMOCRATIC COALITION, NADECO, under the bold and brave leadership of Chief Anthony Enahoro which valiantly resisted the autocratic maximum leader, General Sani Abacha.
Anyway, to me, without restructuring the Nigerian polity, the presidency is not a worthwhile occupation for any patriotic southerner save the shameless lackeys of the northern feudal establishment. I do not agree with those who ask God to bless Nigeria without their leaders working hard to attract God’s blessing; for the ancient Romans said, “laborare est orare” which is, to work is to pray.
Since the end of the civil war, Igbos have not been accepted as partners and equal citizens in the Nigerian Project. What MASSOB and IPOB are saying is, since you don’t accept us, PLEASE LET US GO IN PEACE. In the concluding part of his broadcast to the nation during THE GLORIOUS JANUARY REVOLUTION as Comrade Ikenna Nzimiro, Emeritus Professor of Sociology , termed it, Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu said, “….WE PROMISE THAT YOU WILL NO MORE BE ASHAMED TO SAY THAT YOU ARE NIGERIANS. Since October 1960 till now, excepting the brief excruciatingly herculean but exciting time we spent in Biafra, I have always felt ashamed to say that I am a Nigerian.”
Mazi Chike Chidolue’s indictment of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe is quite interesting. But I will not engage in detailed critique of his main arguments now. Obviously, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe’s obsession with One Nigeria compelled him to take decisions that eventually proved extremely radioactive to southern Nigeria, on the one hand, and quite congenial to the stifling northernisation of the country, on the other.
Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who had been excoriated for introducing ethnic politics in Nigeria, seemed to have understood better than Dr. Azikiwe that forging a stable, harmonious, and egalitarian democratic country with the Fulani-dominated Muslim north is a mission impossible and wisely advocated a highly decentralised system of regional government. But no matter his justification for joining Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon to destroy the eastern region, that singular decision entails that Chief Awolowo cannot be genuinely regarded as a committed democrat and humanitarian.
In all this, the extremely nauseating duplicitous role of British officials in handing over political power to Alhaji Tafawa Balewa who lacked the philosophical sagacity to govern has remained an albatross in Nigeria’s chequered history. One thing is clear though: great political leaders make great mistakes. Of course, Dr. Azikiwe was a great political leader and he made great mistakes. But to claim that “he is the trouble with Nigeria” is an unwarranted exaggeration.