SECRETS OF THE NIGERIA CIVIL WAR, BY MBAZULIKE AMAECHI
Shorn of the failings of old age, Chief Mbazulike Amaechi still evinces the knacks of his fiery days in the radical Zikist movement that wrestled the colonialists, the embers of the nationalistic days as Minister of Aviation in the first republic, and the fervour of combative politics from the sidelines in the succeeding years.
Now, the only surviving Minister of that era from Southern Nigeria, the grand old patriot reminisces on the dreams of the nation's founding fathers, romantices the present, and the hereafter, in a blunt, but convivial keepsake interview with Daily Sun in his country home, Ukpor, Anambra State.
You were a nationalist in the pre-independence and post colonial period. With the benefit of hindsight, what do you see now?
As you said, I took part in the struggle for the independence of Nigeria. I belonged to the political party called NCNC, and also the radical wing of that political party known as the Zikist movement. The Zikist movement was the youth organisation that introduced radicalism and some elements of revolution into the struggle for independence. At independence, I was elected a member of the House of Representatives and appointed first of all a parliamentary secretary, and later a minister. I won a second term in 1964 and was re-appointed, a minister.
I remained a minister until the military coup of 1966. As it is now, I am the only minister of first republic in the whole southern Nigeria that is still alive. All others have gone. With the death of Majekodunmi in the West and the earlier death of T.O.S Benson, the whole West is gone. The East had only M.T. Mbu and myself remaining, with the death of M.T Mbu now, I am the only link between the old and the new. In the North, they are a little luckier, because there are about four of us still surviving in the North. That is Shehu Shagari, Inua Wada, Maitama Sule and Shettima Ali Monguno. Only myself is remaining now as a link in this part of the country.
Now coming to your question, as somebody who saw it all, before it started and independence, into the military era, and the present dispensation, I won't tell you that I am happy at all. What we are seeing now is not by any wild imagination, what we anticipated. When we were fighting for the freedom of the country that will be respected worldwide, we were fighting to create a rich country that is endowed by nature in natural resources and human resources. We were looking to a peaceful country. Hence we had in our National anthem that we were looking forward to a country where brotherhood prevailed. We were hoping to hand over to our successors a country without stain and blood.
At what point do you think the country derailed?
The derailment occurred with the military coup of 1966. There was absolutely no cause for that. It was a most unpatriotic treason that was committed in 1966. There was a country only 6 years old, and when we came in, our greatest problem was manpower to run the country, and that was why the priority was given to the founding of universities. Zik founded the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Obafemi Awolowo founded the University of Ife, and Ahmadu Bello founded Ahmadu Bello University.
The minister of education Dr. Jaja Wachukwu was instructed to concentrate on awarding massive scholarships to Nigerian students to study anywhere in the world. The few industries we set up from the proceeds then, palm produce from the East, cocoa from the West, groundnuts from the North, were being managed until the unpatriotic military took over in 1966.
But some people credit the military of holding Nigeria together in unity. Is that not patriotic enough and a good achievement?
Wait a minute. Was there a division? Was there a threat to the unity of Nigeria, when the military took over? It was the military that sought to divide Nigeria. It was when the military took over that the struggle between Ojukwu and Gowon as to who was senior when Ironsi had been killed that led to the civil war. And the civil war was fought for three years. It was just about a struggle between two lieutenant colonels in the army, Ojukwu was a Lt Col, and Gowon was a Lt Col. But Ojukwu was senior to Gowon.
Then after the second coup that killed Ironsi, Gowon was installed as the head of state and Ojukwu said no, this man is not my senior according to army hierarchy. I should be there. That is really the secret story of the whole rubbish. Yes there were political thuggeries in one or two places in the west between Akintola's faction and Awolowo faction of the action group. But that is to be seen in every political party. Workers were paid, pensioners were paid, and everything was going on smoothly.
Children who graduated were given employment. So, there was peace in the country until the military came in and then wanted to divide the country and then led the country through three years senseless, stupid civil war. And then, after the end of the civil war, there was this oil explosion, the explosion of oil wealth. So much money came into the country. You will recall that in 1970 or 1971, Gowon made a statement that the problem of Nigeria was no longer money but what to do with money. So the military started with minor training. They were doing what they were trained to do. They were trained to fight, to destroy and to loot. That's what the military is trained to do.
Fight the enemy, overrun him, conquer him, loot his properties and take control of his place. That is what the military is trained to do. They are never trained to rule or to administer. Now the military led the country for 38 years. So at the time they were handing over in 1979, there were a few remnants of the original nationalists that fought for independence. But by the time they came back again in 1983 and stayed on till 1999, there were no longer politicians who were active in the struggle for independence.
Some of them had grown old, some had died, so the only people that took over in 1999 were the surrogate of the military, the collaborators of the military. People who joined the military in looting and stealing, these were the people who were rich enough to win elections to control the senate and the national assembly, and to form the government in 1999. If there had been tutelage, if the nationalists had been in power and their successors were coming up, there would have been tutelage and handing over.
They would have learnt the history of the country. But because of 38 years gap created by the military, there was no handing over. So, the people who are in government now are the people who were either not yet born or were too young when these things started. So they don't know the history of the struggle. And they don't want to know the history of the struggle. And they don't want to know because the people who helped them to come to power are people who believed in money. That is why there is so much corruption in the country, so much rottenness in the country that is why it will be too difficult to clean up the stable.
But do you not believe the present crop of politicians can do it
Through re-organization of course, it won't stay like this all the time. But I can not imagine the rotten politicians now being able to correct themselves. Because, they see the essence of political service as an opportunity for taking part in the massive looting that is taking place in the country now. They don't see it as an opportunity to serve. Look at the National Assembly for example; they have nationalized looting and stealing in the country by giving themselves allowances and all sorts of prerequisites that amounts to millions for each in a month.
It is stealing legalized. So I don't expect these people to correct themselves. They cannot correct themselves. But the correction is bound to come one way or the other. It may be revolutionary. If it is revolutionary, it will be painful. If it is by evolution, it will take a longer time, in which case our educational system has to start a review. Our religious organizations (Christianity, Islam, Traditional organizations) will have to play a very prominent role in modelling the thinking of the people in public service. It will take a longer time, but that is a peaceful way of doing it.
The other method is if there will be a revolution where the product of that revolution will be sincere beliefs in serving the country. Nigeria has so much for everybody's needs and the so much is not enough for people's greed. 52years after independence Nigeria cannot manufacture the spoke of a bicycle. India has manufactured railway wagons, railway engines. India has produced ships, aeroplane and their own atomic energy. Nigeria has not produced anything. Look at Ajaokuta steel. Without iron and steel, we cannot do anything. The industries we set up ourselves were killed by the military.
I was a Minister of Aviation. By the time I became Minister, Nigeria Airways, which was a separation from West Africa Airways Corporation after Ghana became independent, inherited only 3 aircrafts. And all of them were piston engine aircrafts that took 3 hours to fly from Lagos to Enugu. When I took over, I was able to raise the fleet to 18 aircrafts, wide bodied jets, intercontinental and short range jets. Then what happened, when we left, the military sold out the whole aircrafts. The military closed up Nigeria Airways.
In other words, you're blaming the military for the woes of Nigeria completely?
Of course, every evil that came to this country was brought by the military. If the military had not intervened or interfered in the government of the country, there would have been a smooth tutelage from the Nationalist to their successors. And the successors will learn from the retiring Nationalists the whole history of the struggle. Ask any Minister or Senator about the history of the struggle, they don't care to know. They don't even teach history in our schools again.
But some people blame these woes on ethnicity; that Nigeria was lopsided in conception, the North for the North, the West for the West, and the East for the East?
That is not correct, it is true that the NPC had a policy that the North is for the North only. They were not interested in any other part of the country. The Action Group of Awolowo had a policy; East for Easterners, North for Northerners, and West for Westerners and Nigeria for all. The NCNC had the policy of one Nigeria, One Nation, and One Nigeria. NCNC, demonstrated leadership by example when we elected, Malam Umaru Athne, a Northerner as the first Mayor of Enugu. He was my colleague in the Zikist Movement.
Both of us served imprisonment at the same time. He was a Nationalist. John Umoru was elected a member of the Eastern House of Assembly. He was from Etsako in the Midwest. Zik appointed him parliamentary secretary. Alhaji Umaru Y'shau, Eze Hausa of Onitsha, the Seriki Hausa of Onitsha was elected a member of the eastern House of Chiefs.
When we gave these examples, the Sardauna who at first, preached North for Northerners alone responded by appointing Felix Okonkwo of Kano, popularly known as Okonkwo Kano, by appointing him a special member of the Northerner House of Assembly. So, gradually we were coming to terms. There were ideological differences but everybody, every leadership, every party believed in one Nigeria. So inspite of ideological and ethnic differences, everything that concerned Nigeria, we would come together and tackle it.
If the Military had not intervened, the Western crisis which was the only place where there was crises would have been resolved. In every situation where there are different human beings there must be disagreement.
Do you think the elders are not doing enough to solve this intractable unity Problem?
Where are the elders? Are the elders given any chance? Are the elders involved? Do the actors believe in the elders? For example, look at me here I led the campaign for the installation of the president. I mobilized the five Igbo states at Enugu in August 2010. When we held the first Igbo summit and decided that the Northern region of old had ruled the region for 38 years, the Eastern region had only ruled for 6 month by Ironsi and 2 months by Jonathan. So it must come to the Eastern region whether it was south-south or south-east, just let it come to our place. And that was our struggle. We led that struggle. Since the end of that struggle it has not been possible for me to have audience with the president.
Who is stopping you?
Well, when I ask, and they don't ask me to come, will I gatecrash into the place? I know, that at least I had requested to see the president on national issues on two or three occasions or more. I was not allowed.
Would you say then he is not a listening president?
I wouldn't say that, because I can't say whether my request got to him or not. I wouldn't know. There are terrible people surrounding him. You write letters they don't get to him. You call them on telephone; they don't pick up the calls. Even members of the House of Representatives, and Senators. You call them on phone, they don't pick my calls; unless you send short message service (SMS) that I'm calling you, and then they will pick. They say, they don't answer calls of people they don't know.
What kind of country is this? What kind of Public servant are they? And yet they claim they are serving the public. So in a situation like this there are still old links among the North, East, and the West, where we gave them the benefit of our sojourn in power and how we solved problems in our time. It is the same human beings all along. So the problems we see now are the same problems we had already seen before. But they know everything.
This poor attitude. Where do you think it will lead the Nation?
It has led us to Boko Haram; kleptocracy that we are practicing now. Yes. I am not a thief, but each time I pass here, something misses and I am not a thief?
The Northern Elders Forum, (NEF), sometime in 2010 warned Jonathan not to attempt to contest for the presidency because it would bring unpleasant consequences. Does that not sound ominous, given the present crises of violence?
If you had the little pamphlet I wrote, I drew attention to what you are saying. I said, (he reads) 'There is a group of extremely conservative elite in the North, Who believe like Ahmadu Bello that Nigeria can only continue as one country if the North rules it forever.
And they must have 50% of all benefits with no regard for equality and balance. When President Goodluck Jonathan in September 2010 declared his intention to seek the mandate of his party, PDP to contest the presidential election, a group that called itself Northern Elders forum (NEF) took full page advertorials in some national Newspapers and warned him that his contesting and winning would 'undermine the peace and tranquillity of Nigeria.' They described his intention to contest the election as ill conceived, ill advised and definitely divisive.
They warned that his candidature and possible election would 'open old wounds of primitive politics where ethnic, sectional, religions and other primordial undesirable sentiments will assume centre stage, with attendant unpleasant consequences. 'Then I say, are we honestly and sincerely sure that what is happening now has no link or origin or connection with the ominous threat of the elders forum.
Now that Jonathan has won, and has been in office for one-year, if the bombings and killings, going on now are linked to the threats of the ultra conservative hawks of the North, they should be made to know that they are really the threat to peace and tranquillity in Nigeria. Does anybody need to be told that if anything happens to Goodluck Jonathan today while in office in Nigeria, the inferno that will follow will defy all descriptions and this wobbly union will become a matter of hi story. And I still hold that view.
But Are you satisfied with the handling of the Crises?
How can I be satisfied? Are they handling it? If they are handling it how are they handling it? The things are escalating everyday. Yesterday, Thisday, The Sun and other media houses were bombed in Abuja and Kaduna. Yesterday, the Senator, the only person who has been accused so far, Ndume, was charged to court and the Judge adjourned the case till June 16.
What kind of country is this? It is like what they are doing with corruption. We hear that this governor, this legislator, this Permanent Secretary, this big man is arrested and charged to court by the EFCC or ICPC and that is the end of the case. You don't hear anything about it again. In Nigeria, we put accolades on the neck of Ibori, only for Britain to send him to prison, send his wife to prison, and send his girl friend to prison, for one transaction only which involves several billions. But Nigeria said he was clean. The attorney General of Nigeria sent a letter to Britain to discharge him.
In the absence of any concerted effort on the part of Nigeria to ameliorate the situation, do you encourage, any private initiative to save Nigeria from Itself?
That is why I proposed that government should arrange a National Conference. Let people come and discuss; all shades of opinions - the tribes, the states, the organized labour, Women, Youth, everybody. The politicians, let everybody come and express their minds, grievances. I am not talking about the sovereign National Conference SNC. No. Let the president create a platform where people will come and exchange views. Maybe when we come there old links and connections can be explored and we will start building bridges of peace and understanding. People with anger will be satisfied that they have been given the opportunity to air their views.
They will hear from the other side and try to reach a compromise. That was how we did it in our own time- dialogue, discussions, compromises, concessions, give me, I give you, and the country will move on. But as long the present government remains stubborn; and there will be no opportunity for people to come and talk, leaving it only to themselves, their circle and their party men and legislators No way.
The legislators who you know will never be objective, because if there is any change, it will affect their fat earnings. So, they will never want a change of the status quo. But the people want a change, the system now is not working, if it is working there will be peace. How much will it cost the government to organize a conference? It will be less than what they steal in a week. Even if there will be break-up like Zik said, let it be in a peaceful way. So that people will still be good neighbours. But I don't think we will reach that stage.
Do you believe peace can be achieved in your lifetime? The title of your autobiography is 'Simply the good'' what is 'simply the good' and will it ever be realized?
First of all, I am not travelling away very soon. I am right here with you. All those who plan evil against me or those who plot to do away with me, I will attend their funerals. So I am not in a hurry to go any where. So, what I am sure is that it will either be in my time or it will be to your tents oh Israel, in my time. Whatever will be the end result, I will see it. I dey kampe. I'm not going anywhere.
Who actually are the forgotten heroes of independence?
Ah? I will give you the book to read. The forgotten heroes are the people who fought for the independence of this country. History doesn't remember those that are gone. Those of them that are living, history doesn't remember of. They don't know that we exist. But we sacrificed our lives. For the independence of this country I sacrificed a university opportunity in my youth. My first imprisonment was at the age of 21 as a Zikist in 1950. My second imprisonment was at Enugu in 1953.
Enahoro, at the time, he was 25, had gone to prison 3 times. These are the forgotten heroes. We have some living in the East now. Only Bob Ogbuagu Onyeso Nwachukwu, and myself are the remaining Zikists. Nobody remembers us.
My governor does not ever know that I exist. The president of the country does not know that I exist. How is the old man doing? What is happening to him? They don't care. Look at the road to my place. The governor had the impudence to say that he will not do this road because it passes through my house.
Anambra State governor.
You stepped on his toes?
I don't know. What happened was that he was fighting over Ngige. Ngige was the governor then. Obasanjo allowed Chris Ubah to attempt to Kidnap Ngige. I came out on the side of Ngige. So he now saw me as being against him because I was on the side of Ngige. I saw it as unjust for somebody who is a governor to be treated the way he was treated. Not necessarily because it was Ngige, I was fighting a battle of principle because Obasanjo, asked me to go and reconcile the matter between Ngige and Chris.
And the day I was to hold the meeting here in my house with the two, that was the day Chris Uba procured one Ige, the policeman at zone9 Umuahia to come and arrest Ngige. So I came out to fight against what Obasanjo closed his eyes to. Obasanjo should have done something, but he did not do anything. Uba created the impression that Obasanjo sanctioned his action, and that brought a strain in my personal relationship with Obasanjo. Even though, I respected him very much. Obasanjo was good to me.
Alright, when eventually the appeal court gave judgement in favour of Peter Obi, he assumed office as governor. I gave you examples. I set up Anambra State elders Forum where we solved the problems of the government like when Mbadinuju was governor, workers were on strike for 3 months, teachers were on strike for 8months, schools closed for 8months. So I set up this organization and we intervened and brought the teachers back to school. We didn't want the children to lose one whole academic year. Immediately Peter Obi became governor he dissolved the Elders Council, because I chaired it, and set up his own self appointed council. You don't appoint elders, because you don't create them.
The only benefit I had from Ngige was when he asked me to nominate two people who will be security attachees to me and government will be paying them. So I nominated two people and government was paying them. Immediately Peter Obi was sworn in, he stopped their salaries which was very mean. But then I do not mind. Then the House of Assembly by the unanimous votes of 30 members of the House nominated me for ordinary national honours and he said he was not going to endorse it.
The council of the state university at Uli had nominated me for an honorary doctorate degree. They contacted me, and requested for my curriculum vitae (CV). I gave them, but when the thing got to the knowledge of the governor, he told them he was not going to allow it, otherwise he will dissolve the governing council. That shows the kind of people we have in government.
You mentioned Obasanjo; there is a school of thought that sees him as the catalyst of the crises today in Nigeria. He is accused of willingly picking a sick and dying man to succeed him to pave the way for Jonathan.
I don't discuss individuals, unless they are public officers and their public functions. Obasanjo may have propped up Yar Adua, but there is a political party. The party is above all individual members. In our own time, Dr Azikiwe, with all his popularity, with all the chain of newspapers he had, he was the leader of the party, but when the party took a position he was bound to accept it. The fault is with the PDP. The PDP is an amorphous conglomeration of strange political bed fellows put together for the purpose of looting.
I know you re not in a hurry to go, but you must say a memorable thing about Nigeria, our country, when you're not there again.
5hours before Dr Nnamdi Azikwe gave up the ghost. 5hours.He handed over to me a one foot long key, and told me what to tell Nigerians, what to advise Nigerians, what to do, to save this country and to continue the struggle with the nationalism that he started, that he brought into the entire struggle for independence of the country, which he invested all he had in the struggle. And if Nigeria does not want me to give them the benefit of that Zik's exultation, Zik's instruction to me, and I go, it will be the death of Mbazulike and Nigeria.
As the only link between the old and the new, it will be like burning the American congress library. If Mbazulike dies today, it will be tantamount to burning the biggest library you can imagine for this country.
You're not revealing it yet?
Why should I reveal it to people who are not prepared to listen? Why will I release it to people who will not understand it? Why would I release it to people who do not need it? Why would I release it to people who are so adamant in their set target? The set target is to loot and steal. They are not interested in the welfare and goodness of tomorrow. When they are ready for it, let them come for it. I won't let it out so cheaply. It is not by accident that God has spared me. Of all the ministers of the first republic in the southern Nigeria I am the only one remaining. Of all the national officers at the NCNC, starting from Azikiwe to Okpara. To Fadahunsi, to Aminu Kano, to kola Balogun, to T.O.S Benson, to Osadebe, to Okotie Eboh and so on.
I am the only one remaining of all the standard bearers that the Eastern region sent to Nigeria at independence. The other10 have gone the way of all flesh. I am the only one remaining. It is not by accident. God has his purpose and if the country wants to take advantages of that, if the country wants that to be useful to them, let the country come to me. I am not going to them.
What condition will they meet before you give it out?
Simple. We want to talk with you. How do you help us here. I don't want their money.
You mean the people in government?
Yes. I mean the people in government. They are the ones who are controlling the country