Bubbles Burst

“But all bubbles have a way of bursting in the end.” – Barry Gibb

Did you know that like the dawn’s loud chorus that seem to presage a bright hot summer’s day (continued from The Payback-Coup of 01/02/16 by this writer), Lieutenant-Colonel Yakubu Gowon (b. 1934) warned that he would deal sternly with the Military Governor of the Eastern Region, Lieutenant-Colonel Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu (1933-2011), who was at the time bullying Nigeria with secession and had allegedly stepped up his rebel forces’ military provocations on the guiltless rural communities of the Benue/Plateau State as well as the bombing of unarmed civilians in different parts of the country? Gowon later threatens a forceful liberation of the Eastern minorities in his 1st October 1967 broadcast to the nation, thinking it was what the police could handle:

“In the circumstances, I had no choice but to order police action to arrest the situation and to preserve the territorial integrity of Nigeria as well as prevent Nigeria as well as prevent Ojukwu from subjugating and destroying the five million non-Ibos in the former Easter Region of Nigeria, who had all along made clear their desire to remain Nigerians.”

On this, at least, Colonel Adeyinka Adebayo (b. 1928), the Military Governor of Western Region and his Mid-Western counterpart, Lieutenant-Colonel David Ejoor (b. 1932), were known to have fulminated Yakubu Gowon against the use of force, arguing that the one caveat in the Aburi agreement was that force would not be used to settle the Nigerian crisis. Adebayo is on record to have invoked the Cassandra metaphor (as explained earlier in The Payback-Coup) when he gently admonished on behalf of the Yoruba, whose spearheaded role for a peaceful resolution of the political crisis, had started to cause some ripples. Adebayo, who completely prefers unity to the use of force, cautions:

“I need not tell you what horror, what devastation and what extreme human suffering will attend the use of force. When it is over and the smoke and dust have lifted and the dead are buried, we shall find as other people have found that it has all been futile, in solving the problems we set out to solve.”

Even Chief Obafemi Awolowo (1909-1987), who was touted as the would-be focal beneficiary of the alleged “Igbo coup” of 15th January, 1966, had on 16th August, 1966 told the Yoruba Leaders of Thought at Ibadan, in his first address to the public after his release from Calabar Prisons, that the Commander of Biafra’s National Liberation Army (NLA), Lieutenant-Colonel Victor Adebukunola Banjo (1930-1967), whose pricey, disobedient discontinuation at Ore overturned the rapid offensive of the Biafran expeditionary force, should strike off the Western Region from the secessionists’ expansionary shopping list. In the Sunday Sun of 30th April 2005, Ojukwu argues that Banjo betrayed him when he went back on his orders to liberate the West:

“Of course, I was betrayed by Banjo. I spent days writing out the project that will take him to Lagos, specifically mapping out where he could go. I was betrayed by his decision to take over Benin. No! He was to circumscribe Benin. That cost us a lot of men, days, weeks.

“I felt betrayed of course, when he thought the only way out of the difficulty he had put us into, was to make a coup in Biafra. It was a betrayal that cost them their lives. It’s unfortunate.”

Banjo, who was later executed in Biafra after a second military judge found him guilty of coup charges, was to be appointed “Military Governor of Western Nigeria” if Biafran troops had arrived and liberated Lagos, as planned and stated in Ojukwu’s letter to him dated 22nd August 1967. Banjo later accused Chief Awolowo of siding with the Northerners, wondering what was in it for him without first divulging the Eastern governor’s promised backhander to appoint him (to take over Adebayo’s position) as Military Governor of the West if he succeeded in his difficult, expeditionary task. Ojukwu’s letter to Banjo promises:

“On the liberation of Yorubaland, you will be appointed as the Military Governor of that territory.”

This, perhaps, fired Banjo’s greed for personal power at first and hastened his acceptance to lead Ojukwu’s Biafran Army largely to free his Yoruba tribesmen as well as other peoples from the South before he came to his senses, after the federal troops had fought off his NLA in that battle which the Yoruba still refer to as “O le ku, ija Ore” (Ore battle, very tough indeed). Or, perhaps, Banjo ultimately spied out Ojukwu’s dodgy design to turn Yorubaland into another battleground in the guise of liberating it, and simply refused to be used by him to repeat the “Afonja” murky yarn in support of the Hausa-Fulani jihad against the old Oyo Empire in the early 19th century which defeated parts of Yorubaland. On Thursday, 17th November 2011, the poser, What made a Lt. Col. Victor Banjo Stop at Ore?, was hit upon on blog of Nigerian Village Square by this writer. From the word go, the following questions crop up for answers:

“Did Yoruba leaders caution him [Banjo] about bringing foreign (non-Yoruba troops) into the Midwest? Did he have his own agenda? Did he or any of his officers leak information? Why did he return to Biafra instead of staying in the South West amongst his kinsmen and other Nigerians and even sue his stalling the NLA advance to the capital? Why did Awolowo tell Ojukwu he needed two weeks’ notice before secession?”

Chief Awolowo’s exact words at the Ibadan meeting lend credence to Ojukwu’s likely fiendish plot:

“Since the recent coup in the Mid-West, a massive propaganda offensive has been mounted by Enugu and directed against the sons and daughters of Oduduwa. We have been asked among other things to shake off the shackles of Hausa/Fulani oppression. Enugu and recently Benin have promised us full military support for this end.

“It is not denied that five years ago, some Yoruba leaders allowed themselves to be used as pawns on the chessboard of two crafty players, each of who erroneously believed it was its destiny to dominate the Nigerian peoples. For the best part of those five years, the Yoruba people knew neither peace nor contentment. Since January 1966, however, the crisis which was imposed on the Yoruba people of Nigeria has spread with increasing venom to other parts of the federation.

“What the rebels in the Eastern and Midwestern States are now asking us to do, is to allow waves of holocaust with which the areas temporarily under their control are afflicted, to be reflected back to Yorubaland. We will do nothing of the sort. On the contrary, the urgent task to which we shall now bend all our physical, mental and spiritual energies is to make it impossible for a single rebel troop to set foot on an inch of Yoruba soil.”

Nine months later, Chief Awolowo, a man of icy nerve and iron will, whom Lieutenant-Colonel Yakubu Gowon would later appoint Federal Commissioner of Finance and Vice-Chairman (1967-1971) of the Federal Executive Council along with other prominent civilians to ministerial positions in order to broaden his political support, led a delegation on behalf of the Federal Government of Nigeria which included Chief Samuel Jereton Mariere (1907-1971), first Governor of Mid-Western Region (1964-1966) and first Chancellor of University of Lagos; Chief Obi J.I.G. Onyia (b. 1896), the former Minister of the Navy; and Dr. Samuel Adepoju Aluko (1929-2012), foremost economist and later Economic Adviser to late Head of State, General Sani Abacha (1943-1998), to the East on 6th May, 1967 to negotiate with Lieutenant-Colonel Ojukwu who at once kicked against the inclusion of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (1958-1972), Sir Adetokunbo Ademola (1906-1993), in the National Conciliation Committee (NCC). The Eastern Governor would just not trust Ademola in spite of all his la-di-da manners. Ojukwu, who was well-liked for his background as well as for having studied wholly in England and for his oratorical cleverness and proficiency, roars before Awolowo and his group on the occasion:

“The point that led me to asking who conveyed the meeting was, Sir, anything that has Sir Ademola’s name in it, the East is out.”

The portentous and uncompromising Ojukwu made it abundantly clear to Awolowo that there was nothing to negotiate outside the Aburi resolutions anymore: “On Aburi We Stand”, which portrayed him as undeniably not cut out to be a leader yet. Because Awolowo seriously abhorred violence and was deeply committed to reconciliation, he persuaded and cajoled Ojukwu severally on the occasion after he [Ojukwu] accused the feudal emirs of carrying on like the colonialist Sir Arthur Richards (1885-1978) with their insistence that Northern troops would continue to occupy the West until they were satisfied that the Region could look after its own. Awolowo states with intent:

“I have clear ideas of my own on how this crisis can be settled. I cannot be dissuaded or taken for a ride by anyone. But I think the East should relent a little bit and see what can be achieved with determination and the co-operation of men of goodwill in the country.”

Aluko, who afterwards attained a reputation in the public area for his critical standpoint on the policies of several Nigerian governments, would later paraphrase Chief Awolowo’s frank and blunt encounter with Ojukwu in an interview titled What Ojukwu Told Me Before, During and After the War – Sam Aluko, (a most intimate account of Ojukwu’s thoughts and actions while the Nigerian civil war lasted) treated by the NVS of Saturday, 3rd December 2011:

“Look, governor, you cannot secede. You cannot go alone. Just as you fear the North, the West also fears the North. The soldiers in the North are occupying the West. So, we have the same common interest. But don’t let us secede. Let us do whatever we can do together to unite and confront the North so that we can have a settlement on how we want to run this country.”

But Ojukwu, who had since 27th August, 1966, said among other things in a broadcast he made in Enugu following the spate of killings in the North that “One thing has come out very clearly from this, the preceding and subsequent events, that there is in fact no genuine basis for true unity in the country…..”, and had independently announced 29th August as a day of mourning for Easterners, rebuffs Awo’s view outright, and starts to brag about being battle-ready; something his critics describe as “Sheer emotional grandstanding”. Ojukwu announces immodestly:

“I started this struggle in July (1967) with only 120 rifles to defend the entire territory of the Eastern Region…I am proud, and my officers are proud, that here in the East we possess the biggest army in Black Africa. I am no longer speaking as an underdog; I am speaking from a position of power.”

Soon after this, Ojukwu deftly turned a Southern solidarity canvasser, pressing strongly for a meeting of the leaders in the South, which Awolowo quickly cautioned against, pointing out that he felt “a little bit disturbed” by Ojukwu’s stand that the East will distance itself from the North, and quit the union, henceforth. Awolowo was thinking he could square the circle by making the two stroppy, loud-mouthed Regions come to regard one another and work together with the rest of the country yawning for unity. But, Ojukwu, a “spoiled rich kid”, a notion which attracted global censure and hampered his casting “as a sympathetic figure in the Western media” (Achebe’s own observation) at the opening of the war, rather presumes superciliously, without mincing words:

“On the specific question of whether there is a possibility of contact with the North, the answer is at the battlefields. At the present stage of this crisis, the ideal thing is for the Southern people to meet on any platform and take the bull by the horns. If this cannot be achieved, the only alternative is for the East to decide its own fate and move out of the Federation.”

Indeed, maturity and emotional sophistication or complexity cannot be faked. Chief Awolowo, nevertheless, persists in articulating his committee’s alternative points of view, extreme from Ojukwu’s clamour for secession, but steady and regular with the peace huntsman’s famous and illustrious stand on Federalism:

“What we want in Nigeria is a house to be built which will be big enough to accommodate all of us, without friction, without trouble. Let us have a plan made, let us get an expert contractor to build the house. When the house is completed to our satisfaction, let them call it what name they like, what is important is that the house should be big enough to accommodate all of us comfortably, without friction and without trouble. I think we should forget about federation or confederation. Let us see what the contents are going to be. Once the contents are stated then we will allow political scientists to give it a name they like. The name does not matter to us so long we are satisfied that this is the sort of thing we need to make us live together as Nigerians.”

But, Ojukwu remained unmoved by the sage’s pontificate. Just as the talks were getting wedged solid with near-steady immovable gridlock, it must have dawned on Chief Awolowo that convincing Lieutenant-Colonel Odumegwu-Ojukwu to thread the path of peace would be as difficult as trying to make an empty sack stand upright; more so that the Eastern leader continues to boast, vaingloriously, to the delegation that:

“The crisis, as far as Eastern Region is concerned, is me. I am the crisis and the crisis is me…”

Agreeing with an earlier evaluation of Ojukwu by General Olusegun Obasanjo, Colonel Ademoyega notes down in his appraisal of the subject, in Why We Struck, pg. 177:

“Ojukwu…pretended to be a soldier-statesman. He arrogated all power, will, decision and direction to himself. If Nigeria could not be united in the way he wanted, it should break up; he (Ojukwu) would have it no other way. Other Nigerians meant little or nothing to him- he could do without them- as soon as he got all he wanted from them.”

Meanwhile, before travelling to the East on Saturday 6th May 1967, Chief Awolowo, who was anxious to show his revulsion to the looming civil war, had again met with the Yoruba Leaders of Thought, at the Western Hall, Agodi, Ibadan, a second time on Monday 1st May, 1967, to pass a resolution that abjures military action:

“1. The West stands for a peaceful solution to the crisis and ‘will not be party to any attempt to impose a military solution or the use of force’

2. The East should be kept within the Federation ‘on a basis which recognizes the mutual interests of all the Regions, even if it means a constitutional arrangement that is looser than hitherto.’

3. If any Region secedes, ‘the Federation as we know it shall cease to exist and Western Region shall, automatically become independent and sovereign.’

4. Western Nigeria and Lagos should take part in the Ad Hoc Committee (or whatever name it is called) as an equal member with the other Regions.”

In an attempt to rationalize the above, Prof. Aluko, author of How Many Nigerians? An Analysis of Nigeria’s Census Problems, 1901-1963 and Population Growth and the Level of Income: A Survey among others, explains:

“Awolowo said, if the East left the federation, the Yoruba would have to leave the federation. That’s what some misconstrued to say that Awolowo assured Ojukwu that if he seceded, the Yoruba would join. What he meant was that the thing that makes Igbo leave the federation would also make the Yoruba leave the federation, but that he didn’t want to leave the federation. According to Awolowo, we want to enjoy and rule this federation because nobody has the monopoly to rule this federation; so, let us be in constant touch; let us unite and don’t do anything rash...”

Poet, journalist and essayist, Odia Ofeimun (b. 1950), Awo’s former Secretary, posits luminously in his drawn out article The Forgotten Documents of the Nigerian Civil War of Sunday, 21st October 2012, that:

“It would require a major somersault in logic to make this look like a vote for the secession of any part of Nigeria...To contort such a speech in favour of secession belongs to a vaulting refusal to see no reason that is not pro-secession. To insist, however, that Awolowo encouraged the Igbo to secede actually insults the intelligence of the average Igbo. The implication is that after the pogrom of 1966, it required an Obafemi Awolowo, whether as a goad or quarry, to hearten the attempt at secession. It is close to saying that they thought of an alternative that was different but had to bow to Awolowo’s, an old enemy’s, prodding. This may be the picture that many Biafrans liked to have of themselves. Those who think the Igbos deserve a better picture of themselves may be called names. But it does not change the score.”

Chief Awolowo, whom Ojukwu, Ifeajuna, Gbulie and the rest had come to regard as a “hero” having become acknowledged as the Nigeria’s “rallying point” for surrounding himself with countless youthful radical activists like “S.G. Ikoku, Bola Ige, Samuel Aluko, Oluwasanmi [Hezekiah Oluwasanmi], Bankole Akpata and others”. (perceived socialists of the period whom Nigerians assumed meant well for the country), himself, informs Ojukwu in Enugu that:

“If there were no Northern troops stationed in the West, our position would have been different.”

When Ojukwu rejected Awolowo’s solution to the crisis, which certainly found no favour with secession, the Asiwaju of Yoruba land (1966-1987) was right to counsel caution about military occupation of his Region, when he says:

”We did summon up courage in telling Gowon to remove his occupation force. But we have to move cautiously because courage does not lie in someone lying on the road and having traffic run over him.”

After the discussions prove disastrous despite valiant efforts by the NCC, at the closing hours of darkness subsequent to the final summit, Chief Awolowo resolutely declined Lieutenant-Colonel Odumegwu-Ojukwu’s request for a ‘one-on-one’ with him in the guest house, insisting there must be witnesses, to which Ojukwu agreed good graciously. In his 528-page authoritative autobiography, You Must Set Forth At Dawn, pp. 131&132 (Random House, 2006), Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka (b. 1934), a political activist of phenomenal get-up-and-go, makes the following public:

“Late that same night, however, Awolowo was disturbed by a knock on the door. It was the Eastern leader, Ojukwu himself. He admitted that he had waited till late into the night so as to be able to speak to Awolowo in strictest privacy. Sure, said Awolowo, but he also insisted that, at least, one or two persons join him...

“Odumegwu-Ojukwu’s mission was unambiguous, Awolowo said to me. “The young man had come to inform me that the East had decided on secession, and that there was no going back. All that was left was the announcement of a date. He said, “Sir, I have not come to argue, but to inform you it has been decided”.

“It was clear that any discussion was futile”, Awolowo continued, “After all, we had done nothing but talk all day. Ojukwu confessed that he had agreed to meet the delegation at all only out of respect for my person”.

“I was not surprised”, the Chief admitted. “I did one thing though; I made one request of him. In fact, I insisted on it. I said to Ojukwu, at least, let us in the West – I, specifically – have a minimum of two weeks’ notice before you announce the decision. And he promised. Yes, he promised me that much.”

Awolowo departed Enugu thinking the Eastern menace, had at least, been put in abeyance. Ofeimun could not, but add, ibid:

“Soyinka’s narration does not include the parting shot that Ojukwu gave the next morning as he followed Awolowo to the tarmac to say goodbye. Shaking the Chief with both hands, Ojukwu said in Yoruba “Baba, a ti lo” ‘Old one, we’ve gone’ (as Awolowo reported it to his followers). As he took off from Enugu Airport with his fellow peace hunters, Awolowo knew that Biafra was on the cards. He did not expect Ojukwu to make an immediate announcement as he did. But it should not have been any surprise. A prospective war leader who reveals a decision of such strategic significance to a prime decision-maker of an enemy side should not be expected to wait a moment longer than necessary to pre-empt a counterforce.”

Afterwards, Ojukwu reneged on the deal with Awo and proceeded to proclaim “an independent State of Biafra” on 30th May, 1967, which, evidently, incensed Chief Awolowo, and in defiance of Ojukwu’s underhand actions, Awo later accepted his appointment as Lieutenant-Colonel Yakubu Gowon’s Federal Commissioner for Finance and Vice-Chairman of the Federal Executive Council (1967-1971) during the troubled state of affairs directly prior to the Nigeria-Biafra War (1967-1970). Only naïve idealists expected Chief Awolowo to have shored up an alliance of a breakaway plot guided by the Igbo alone with no input on the scheme from the West’s civilian and military cream of the crop whatsoever. Ofeimun stretches it further:

“Were there to be a handshake across the Niger, it would have had to depend not on any one-sided plans but a community of grievances shared…Even if he was the most feckless leader in the world, and Awolowo was not known to embark on a project he had not given much thought to, there was hardly a chance that he would agree to go into war on Ojukwu’s side on the basis of a two week mobilization of his people.”

The poet further butts in validly that the two men had not reached agreement on the matter, and that it would require a politically green Ikemba to consider the issue sealed given the then military occupation of the West:

“As such, there is nothing in the forgotten documents to suggest that Ojukwu and Awolowo had reached any decisions about what to do if Ojukwu had waited. What Awolowo could have done can be left to the imagination. Only a very naive Ojukwu could have accepted an agreement made with Awolowo as viable in the circumstances of the Western Region at the time.”

Upon realising that the game plan of his Igbo blamers and accusers, who remain sullenly convinced that his assumed loathing of the Igbo had buoyed him up to cleverly posture as a conciliator before Ojukwu and execute the previous hostilities “to win, by other means, the battles he had always pursued in Nigerian politics”, which could be likened to the Yoruba proverb: ‘A sensible person does not opt for a swim only to turn around and complain of a cold’ (A kii be sodo tan, ki a ma wa kigbe otutu), Chief Awolowo, who continued to plead for the encouragement of the Eastern Region’s continued stay within the Nigerian union until the eve of the Civil War, claims he neither egged on the East to secede by his utterances nor helped Nigeria to hatch up “a diabolical policy” to bring Biafra to its knees. He scolds his Biafran hecklers for having thought of him like that:

“It insults the intelligence of the Igbos as a group to imply that they were heartened to opt for secession on the basis of my speech.”

As readers of Ojukwu And The Ethnic Nationalities Movement of Nigeria posted on Sahara Reporters issue of Monday, 28th November, 2011 by Solomon Asemota (S.A.N), ENMN’s Convener and National Co-ordinator, who has worked tirelessly to unite politicians of Southern extraction, must have learned, late Afenifere chieftain, Chief Abraham Adesanya (1922-2008), who led other core Awoists like Sir Olaniiwun Ajayi, Ayo Adebanjo (b. 1929), Ganiu Dawodu (1935-2006), and two others, to a meeting “planned to get Nd’igbo and the Yoruba to meet so that” they “can have Southern solidarity”, fired the first salvo by asking Ojukwu:

“...why he came alone when it was agreed that each leader would come with five others? Ojukwu replied that as an Igbo man, the leader first tests the waters – cross the river before calling on others to follow him. Pa Adesanya then asked Ojukwu to confirm what was discussed in this “one on one” meeting with Chief Awolowo in Enugu before the declaration of Biafra and in particular to ascertain whether Awolowo assured or agreed that the West would secede with the East.”

Ojukwu, whom the then Assistant Superintendent of Police, Asemota, “had known in the Congo in 1963, when he was a Major in the Nigeria Army,” replies sincerely:

“Did you hear me comment when such nonsense was being peddled?”

Asemota concludes that they had no choice but to accept Ojukwu’s words as the truth:

“We all understood him that no such assurance was given. It was General Gowon who said that Awolowo told him that if he allowed Ndigbo to secede, the Yoruba would follow. This shows, in my view, that Awolowo had faith in the union called Nigeria. These facts have been twisted to bring disaffection between the Yoruba and Ndigbo. The oligarchy’s agents among Ndigbo and Yoruba were handsomely rewarded to peddle falsehood, Ojukwu later told me.”

Similarly, Dr Nwankwo Tony Nwaezigwe, a Senior Research Fellow and Lecturer at the Institute of African Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, explains in his write up, In defence of Awolowo, posted on Wednesday, 24th October 2012, that Yoruba possible secession was obscured because Western Nigeria at the time got so bogged down by military occupation of northern troops:

“There was no doubt that the Yoruba under the leadership of Chief Awolowo were ready to secede along with the Igbo, had circumstances on ground not prevented the scheme. Fundamental in that circumstance was the presence of the Northern troops in Ibadan, Abeokuta and Lagos. Since the Yoruba at that time lacked the needed military presence in the army to confront the occupying forces, there was little they could have done. The Yoruba leaders had actually demanded for the withdrawal of the Federal troops from their territory to enable them carry out their scheme of secession. It was actually on account of that demand that the Federal authorities announced on Thursday, May 25, 1967 that the Northern troops would be withdrawn from the Western Region.”

Chief Awolowo, whose portrait today adorns Nigeria’s One Hundred Naira note, and whose “anti-Igbo roles during the civil war”, were believed to be “highly over-bloated with irreconcilable body of evidence”, truly belonged to the people he professed to lead. At his death on Saturday, 9th May 1987, he enjoyed the singular honour of being acclaimed “the best President that Nigeria never had” due to his innate presidential qualities. Nearly two decades after the Civil War and two years after releasing the above quote, Ikemba Odumegwu-Ojukwu decides to broaden this, his, eulogy of the late sage, a bit further:

“He perceived his job as leading his people and God bless his soul. He did a lot for them. Whenever he saw an opportunity for his people, he went for it. He had a dream for the Yorubas and was steadfast in the pursuit of that dream. He knew where he was going and he took his people with him without deceit. That is why he will remain immortal in the area of his influence.”

Likewise, businessman and lawyer, Chief Christian C. Onoh, popularly known as C.C. Onoh (1927-2009), a former Governor of old Anambra State (October 1983-December 1983), who defeated the incumbent Governor (1979-1983), Chief Jim Ifeanyichukwu Nwobodo (b. 1940) and later became Emeka Ojukwu’s unenthusiastic in-law, confesses in Ikenne, Ogun State, when he engraves the following words on the condolence register opened in memory of Chief Awolowo in May 1987:

“...many of us opposed him in politics and made lots of unfavourable comments against him merely to win elections.”

Having already accused the North of increasingly harrying the country with its military upper hand, Chief Awolowo asked the Head of State to withdraw Northern troops stationed in Lagos and the Western Region (which had in the mid-fifties also threatened to secede due to the non-inclusion of Lagos in the West in the 1954 constitution). Nwaezigwe, founder of the Igbo People’s Congress in 1998, who constantly reiterates, like Asemota, the need to forge better relationship between the Igbo and Yoruba, further provides, ibid:

“However, that withdrawal eventually meant the withdrawal of troops at Ibadan and Abeokuta for the reinforcement of the Lagos garrison as well as for the strategic cities of Jebba and Ilorin. Even the acting Military Governor of the Western Region at that time, Col. Adebayo, in his subtle protest on May 26, described the presence of Northern troops at Ikeja as “this outstanding problem,” and pleaded with his people to exercise patience since he was discussing the matter with General Gowon.”

But, Lieutenant-Colonel Gowon, whose absorption knack was already serving him well as he moved up quickly in the Nigerian army, resolved that he would not accept responsibility for the result of withdrawing Northern troops from Lagos and the West, which led some Army officers from Lagos to surreptitiously approach him to complain that Chief Awolowo, whose role during the crisis was clearly borne by “courage and firmness of will”, was in no position to act as a spokesman for Lagos. Osuntokun let slip, ibid:

“No sooner had Gowon said he should not be held responsible for the consequences of removing Northern troops from Lagos and the West, with an implied threat, than some officers in particular from Lagos went to Gowon clandestinely to say that Awolowo could not speak for Lagos...Just coming out of prison and thrust into the cauldron of intense struggle for the nation’s survival, he [Awolowo] succeeded in spite of all the odds, especially the absence of Yoruba rank and file in the army, to chart an independent course for the West during the crisis.”

In fact, many are of the opinion that it was Chief Awolowo’s principled stand that restrained some Northern hawks in the army such as Ojukwu’s former student at the Regular Officers Special Training School in Teshie, Ghana, General Officer Commanding 2nd Division, Ibadan (1967-1968) and later Nigeria’s Head of State (1975-1976), General [then Colonel] Murtala Ramat Mohammed (1938-1976), who according to Major-General [then Lieutenant] Isola Williams, allegedly commanded the summary execution of Biafran prisoners of war. In their study titled The History and Legacy of the Asaba, Nigeria, Massacres, Professor Elizabeth Bird (Anthropology) and Professor. Fraser Ottanelli (History) detail the slaying of over 700 Igbo civilians on 7th October 1967 (otherwise known as the Asaba Massacre) by Colonel M.R. Mohammed’s 2nd Division troops while crossing the River Niger into the Biafran city of Onitsha, which stretches out unswervingly across from Asaba during the civil war. Major Ibrahim Taiwo, later Governor of Kwara State (1975-1976), who gave the order to open fire, was later killed along with Murtala Mohammed in the failed coup of Friday, 13th February, 1976 led by Lieutenant-Colonel Bukar Suka Dimka (1943-1976), head of the Nigerian Army Physical Training Corps.

Also, Major-General [then Colonel] Mohammed Shuwa (1933-2012), then of the First Area Command, who was shot dead on Friday, 2nd November, 2012 by unknown gunmen at his home in the restive north-eastern city of Maiduguri, Bornu State. By May 2012, Shuwa had told AFP in an interview at his home that he could be a potential target of the dreaded Boko Haram Islamists, who had carried out scores of attacks in the city that was considered their home base. During the Civil War, Colonel Shuwa stirred his command headquarters southwards and situated it at Makurdi. The 2nd Battalion was before now headquartered in Adikpo, while Major Sule Apollo and his 4th Battalion in Oturkpo, confiscated schools and private homes for their use. These officers, among others, were eager to end the crisis, once and for all, if only they were allowed to strike the fatal blow on the Eastern Region when the iron was hot, which perhaps may have made military but not political sense. At the same time, the minds of Biafrans continued to boggle at the painful repercussions that could be in store for them:

“They [Army officers] were itching for action. Members of the Supreme Military Council, who had been meeting twice daily, were waiting for his [Gowon’s] word. The whole nation was waiting. Biafra, which was on high alert, was also waiting.”

As a matter of fact, other high ranking officers from the North close to the Head of State including Major B.M. Usman, who had attributed Gowon’s slow response against the secession to the fact that his girlfriend, Edith Ike, whose life had been allegedly threatened twice in Lagos since her return from the North in March, was Igbo and that he was waiting to have her and her parents resettled in the East, complains to the American defense attaché:

“I do not know what in hell he [Gowon] is waiting for; the boys are all ready to go. They are only waiting on his word.”

Olufemi Ogunsanwo, too, submits in his 246-page book, Awo: Unfinished Greatness, The Life and Times of Chief Obafemi Awolowo [Pace Books and Periodicals, 2009]:

“Gowon’s government had a number of war hawks in-house who were itching for a show-down and roaring for military ‘action’ to crush the rebellion being hatched in Enugu. Major Murtala Muhammed, the hot head, wanted to march on Enugu right away to thrash Ojukwu and call off his bluff, but Gowon restrained him.”

All the same, the Northern Leaders of Thought, rather than intercede, also encouraged Gowon in their own resolution, which equally listed their support for state creation as well as a re-establishment of civilian rule in the country by 1969, to be decisive in dealing with Ojukwu’s obdurate secession bid. But on his part, Awolowo had since the 1st May, 1967 in Ibadan called for restraint and warned the warmongers even before he visited Ojukwu in Enugu that he should give peace a chance, saying:

“Those who advocate the use of force for the settlement of our present problems should stop and reflect. I can see no vital and abiding principle involved in any war between the North and the East.”

Like Colonel Adebayo’s earlier alarm and caution to those spoiling for a fight, Chief Awolowo’s warning also went unheeded. In fact, as at 3rd March, 1967, Col. Odumegwu-Ojukwu, as Military Governor of Eastern Region, had affirmed the evident incapacitation of the West due to its occupation by Northern troops. He had claimed that but, for the presence of Northern troops in their territories, he already enjoyed the “full support” of Adeyinka and Ejoor, both Military Governors of two Southern Regions of West and Midwest respectively. Dr. Nwaezigwe concurs and exonerates Awolowo with additional explanation, ibid:

“Chief Awolowo’s inability to carry out his threat of secession if the East seceded could not therefore be interpreted as an act of betrayal. Beyond the matter of sentiments, objective judgment agrees that there can never be secession without a back-up military force. Comparatively, the Yoruba had thrown a much stronger loyal support to the leadership of Nnamdi Azikiwe than the Igbo ever exhibited toward Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Thus in speaking of Awolowo’s roles in the civil war, objectivity demands that reference be made also of such Yoruba-born pro-Igbo partisans of the war, like Professor Wole Soyinka and those who chose to fight and die for Biafra like Colonels Banjo and Ademoyega.”

Certainly, from the above, it is wrong to continue to maintain that it was Chief Awolowo who encouraged the Igbo to secede. In actual fact, the crisis had been strained beyond breaking point that if not only for a demonstration of their “sense of injured feeling and collective manhood”, the Easterners needed to secede for their “physical and psychological survival and mental sanity.” Ademoyega rationalizes that the situation reached boiling point when the northerners pulled off the September-October pogrom against the Igbo:

“…it was that September-October pogrom, staged throughout the Northern Region and directed in the main against the Ibos that made the civil war inevitable. If anything, it made housing, hospital, economic and resettlements problems absolutely intractable in the Eastern Region. Also, it completely put a seal on the grim determination of Ojukwu to pull Easterners out of the Nigerian fold.”

Gowon later explains that the Igbo secession, in all respects, was the forerunner of the Nigeria-Biafra War in the face of Ojukwu’s alleged “personal ambition.” (See his reported interview with Pini Jason):

“No! It was the action of the leaders! When it got to the stage whereby the leaders would not agree then a decision had to be taken. There would not have been a civil war had there not been secession! If there was no decision to break away from the country, certainly there wouldn’t have been any reason to start fighting. The civil war was as a result of the East and the leadership of Ojukwu deciding to break away. Now, I had a duty and responsibility. I swore allegiance to Nigeria, and Nigeria is composed of all the various parts. And the East was part of Nigeria. But the Ojukwu leadership, because of whatever reasons it had, and, of course, I know there were very strong reasons why he made certain decisions; but I know it was personal ambition more than anything else. Yes, unfortunate events had occurred, and I can assure you, if anyone had any sleepless night, it is because of the sort of thing that happened in Nigeria from 1966 up to that time.”

So, beyond a few random facts here and there, but faintly dissimilar to accusations of inordinate ambition, and what not, on his part in all the confusion, Ojukwu himself, according to some analysts, risked being killed if he had failed to secede when he did, as events seemed to have placed an ineffable force on the Eastern Region which inexorably pushed it into the warm embrace of secession. Prof. Aluko provides an enthralling narrative:

“On the night before he was to declare secession, Adebayo called me that despite the assurances by Ojukwu, he learnt that he was going to declare secession tomorrow. I said I spoke to him last night and he did not tell me that he was going to declare secession. So, I called him and said: “Emeka, I have just learned from the Head of State that you want to declare secession tomorrow.” He said, yes, that the people met and said if he wanted to continue to be military governor, he should either declare secession or quit. He said that to quit meant death. I said, “But you are a leader and a leader is not supposed to follow? People are supposed to follow the leader. Try and dissuade them from declaration. Let us see if we can do a number of things.”

Prof. Achebe also clarifies in There Was A Country (pp. 124 & 125) that the ethnic cleansing in the North, which targeted the Igbo mainly, made the civil war an inevitable consequence by forcing the hands of Ojukwu in his capacity as the then governor of the Eastern Region:

“There are some scholars who believe that the Igbo turned to Emeka Ojukwu by virtue of the fact that he was the governor of the Eastern Region of Nigeria at the time of the crisis – the “man in power” theory. Others have gone as far as to suggest that the war would have been prevented if there was a leader other than Ojukwu. The first statement will be debated for generations. As for the second, I believe that following the pogroms, or rather, the ethnic cleansing in the North that occurred over the four months starting in May 1966, which was compounded by the involvement, even connivance, of the federal government in those evil and dastardly acts, secession from Nigeria and the war that followed became an inevitability.”

It is needless to add that the situation had by then degenerated to such a dangerous threshold in the annals of the political and military history of the Eastern Region that there were no earthly gods who could intercede with the Creator to quit sounding the death knell for Easterners. In equal manner, there was no Easterner who could utterly oppose the strong wind of secession blowing across the Region at the time. Dr. Nwaezigwe maintains that by creating Lagos State among the twelve states and appointing Awolowo as his Vice Chairman, General Gowon effectively erased the thought or feeling that the West also wanted to secede:

“It was under this charged political atmosphere that Gowon announced the following day, May 27, the creation of the 12-State structure. That action eventually led to the fission of Yoruba minds towards secession, particularly since the indigenes of the new Lagos State saw their new status as a freedom from the domineering image of Chief Awolowo. The subsequent elevation of Chief Obafemi Awolowo to number-two position was to erase the idea of Yoruba secession.”

Despite that the Oxford-trained Eastern Governor appeared to look down continually on his northern arch-rival and break away hunt saboteur, “Jack the Boy Scout” implacably showed that he was able to outmanoeuvre his Igbo nemesis, Ojukwu with his balkanization of the country into twelve states. Major Abubakar A. Atofarati, as a student at the US Marine Command & Staff College (Academic Year 1991/92), reports in his The Nigerian Civil War, Causes, Strategies, And Lesson Learnt, that:

“Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon, the Head of Federal Government, imposed a total blockage of the East. It was realized that more stringent action had to be taken to weaken support for Ojukwu and to forestall his secession bid. Short of military action at this time, creation of states by decree was the only weapon ready to hand. The initial plan was to create states in the Eastern Region only. Such action was considered impolitic and fraught with danger. Eventually, 12 States were created throughout the country on 27 May 1967.”

And so, as they say, all bubbles must burst in due course. The current situation was already very frustrating for Lieutenant-Colonel Odumegwu-Ojukwu, and he appeared not capable of stomaching the aggravation. With very little choice left to him, the future Ikemba became gravely set out to square his secessionist dream with reality. He, consequently, rebelled against Nigeria by proclaiming the sovereign Republic of Biafra on 30th May, 1967 to counter Yakubu Gowon’s state creation announcement of 27th May 1967. Doubtless, the winding up of the first part of Achebe’s book matches the solemnity of the occasion (pg. 92):

“By taking this action, Ojukwu had committed us to full-blown war. Nigeria would never be the same again.”

Beyond doubt also, and as stoutly canvassed by the federal authorities via the aforementioned state creation broadcast, which officially aimed to give hope and freedom to the country’s minority ethnic peoples who were then having a rough deal in the hands of the so-called three majority groups of Hausa-Fulani, Igbo and Yoruba, Gowon unexpectedly ripped up whatever secessionist outlook hitherto adopted by the non-Igbo folks of the old East. As long as these minorities were happy to have their own states, Ojukwu’s secessionist ambition was an arrogant fantasy. Ademoyega reasons in his book, ibid (pg. 190):

“There was no doubt that by this single act Gowon had pressed the button that united the country behind him. By declaring a state of emergency in Nigeria, especially while Nigeria yet remained one, he had forestalled the anticipated secession of the East – thus rendering such an act, if undertaken, both illegal and rebellious. He had made politics illegal, thus silencing those who would rather that force was not used, especially the West.”

As it is often said, there is a reason for every important thing that happens. Not a few, therefore, maintain that the biggest reason behind the problem of instability which militated against Nigeria’s evolution as a nation, from the 1950s well into the 1960s, was as a result of the failure of the Willink commission set up in 1958 under British Conservative politician and academic administrator, Sir Henry Willink (1894-1973), which recommended the establishment of an Edo Council – the forerunner of the former “Fourth Region” that later became known as Midwestern State of Nigeria, which was put in place to tackle the problem of “minorities,” but did not recommend the creation of more states suitable to Nigeria’s Federalism. Ogunsanwo expatiates further, ibid (pp. 54 & 55):

“Awolowo and his friends in the minority areas were the only ones calling for the creation of more states before independence…Ahmadu Bello’s memorandum to Sir Willink’s Commission vehemently opposed the idea of creating any new states in the north and stressed that the idea was “implanted in them by skilled and crafty agitation inspired solely by parties whose main interest lies outside this region.” In the final report, the Commission did not recommend anything tangible as the northern leaders opposed any such move and the British government was openly pro-North.”

Ojukwu also disagreed with Gowon, and later with Awolowo, on the matter of state creation, insisting that such a decision ought not to be made without the general concurrence of all the regions. Ofeimun surveys, ibid:

“His [Awolowo’s] solution, which obviously did not go down well with Ojukwu was for Ojukwu to come to a national conference and to support the creation of states as a basis for a Federal System free of hegemony that the North had over the rest of the country; and all the regions in the country had over the minorities. If Ojukwu agreed, he [Awolowo] believed, he had enough influence with the minorities of the Middle Belt and in the South to urge a shared positioning with the East and the West for a common stand in opposition to hegemonists in the North who would want states created. It turned out that Ojukwu did not want states to be created. That was the sticking point.”

Rightly or wrongly, Lieutenant-Colonel Ojukwu had his hunches about him to have construed the state creation proposal of the time as more of a clever political gambit favourable to the calculations of Chief Awolowo and the Federal authorities than a serious attempt at reinforcing Federalism. Achebe rightly inputs, ibid, that:

“The official position from the federal government was that the creation of new states was an important move to foster unity and stability in Nigeria. Many suspect a more Machiavellian scheme at work here. Gowon, understanding inter-ethnic rivalry, suspected that dividing the East into four states, land locking the Igbos into the East Central State and isolating the oil-producing areas of Nigeria outside Igbo land, would weaken secessionist sentiments in the region and empower minority groups that lived in oil-producing regions to stand up to what they had already dreaded for years - the prospects of Igbo domination.”

Little wonder the state creation ploy, having instantly won over the Eastern minorities, was also strategic for another more fundamental reason, by virtue of the fact that it directly eroded the authority of the breakaway Igbo heartland not only to make all the important decisions concerning the oil fields but also denied it access to the sea in the area. Alhaji Dikko explains, ibid:

“The design was that if Nigeria was allowed to break up, Ojukwu would have full control of the oil region and later turn back to deal with the North by subjugating us. So we decided that states must be created in the East, North and other parts of the country to weaken the power of Ojukwu and strengthen federalism.”

But, for the fact that Nigeria was already doomed and gloomed, uncountable efforts made to reborn her and begin afresh from October 1966 up till 5 am of 6th July, 1967 when Gowon declared war on the Republic of Biafra, failed. Tom Cooper, whose unveiling novel, The Marauders, earns him “high praise from high places”, tells us in his Civil War in Nigeria (Biafra), 1967-1970:

“The federal army started mobilizing only on 6 July, initiating the war several days later by securing Ogoja, Nsukka, and the oil terminal at Bonny. But, already on 10 July the Biafra Air Force (BiAF) hit back, sending its aircraft to bomb the airfield at Makurdi, where several civilian DC -3s – used for transport of federal troops – were damaged. In the following days, the sole B-26R was used to strike Lagos and Kano, both of which caused only slight damage: due to the NAF still being inoperative, there was also hardly anything to hit on either place. On 26 July, the B-26 and the hijacked DC-3 were used to attack the destroyer Nigeria, which was blockading Port Harcourt. As soon as the second B-26 arrived in Biafra on 12 August 1967, both invaders were used to attack and sink a ferry across the Niger.

“With the Biafrans being completely uncontested in the air, the federal forces became desperate to obtain combat aircraft, and after negotiations with the Soviets and Great Britain, from 13 August the USSR started delivering first MiG-17s from Egypt to Kano IAP, simultaneously sending a large shipment aboard a polish merchant. Sudan also lent two jet Provosts, but these were soon inoperative. The BiAF reacted with a series of strikes against Kano, on 19 and 20 August, destroying several MiGs on the ground. Lacking conventional bombs, the Biafrans improvised. Nevertheless, the MiGs became inoperative and flew their first combat sorties on 30 of the same mount, attacking the Onitsha airfields. The NAF achieved its first success on 10 September when the MiGs destroyed one of the B-26s on the ground of Enugu.”

As masters of improvisation, necessity, the mother of invention, propelled some Biafran scientists, engineers and technicians in the Biafran RAP (Research and Production) unit, such as Professor Gordian Obuneme Ezekwe (1929-1997), Professor Benjamin Chukwuka Nwosu (1930-2000), and the less branded Artificer, Willy Achukwe, formerly a fireworks maker, amongst others, to produce the villainous Ogbunigwe (mass killer) bomb which became a very vital locally assembled war device in the hands of the Biafrans, and caused Gowon’s soldiers to advance at a snail's pace in fear of murderous assault. What Gowon had at first taken to mean the usual rebellion which normal police action could fix within days, the Ogbunigwe missiles turned into a full-blown 30-month conflict. Ex-WAEC Registrar and Igbo-author of the 256-page paperback, Sunset at Dawn: A Novel of the Biafran War (University Press, Nigeria, 1993), Professor Vincent Chukwuemeka Ike (b. 1931), smugly recaps the Ogbunigwe induced panic and horror among Nigerian soldiers whose progressing regiment was, as a result, forced constantly to be heralded by a drove of farm animals:

“When the history of this war comes to be written, the Ogbunigwe and the shore batteries will receive special mention as Biafra’s greatest saviours. We’ve been able to wipe out more Nigerians with those devices than with any imported weapons...

“You must have heard that the Nigerians are now so mortally afraid of Ogbunigwe that each advancing battalion is now preceded by a herd of cattle.”

Much earlier on, Gowon, “a charismatic, eloquent, personable soldier who utilized a number of skills to impress the rich and powerful” (Achebe’s estimation), had hinted his colleagues at the Supreme Military Council (SMC) meeting of 3rd July 1967, of his authorization of “Operation Unicord”, the long awaited military campaign against the breakaway Biafra,” saying:

“Gentlemen, we are going to crush the rebellion, but note that we are going after the rebels, not the Ibos.”

Immediately, General Gowon’s choice of words “crush the rebellion,” drew condemnation from some “progressive Yoruba intellectuals,” who feared, at the time, that the Conservative North wished to use the conflict to subdue the economically and educationally more advanced South, by first, going after the East, and then the West, supplementary to its political ascendancy in the country. They, therefore, directed their indignation mainly at the Gowon regime. Such men as the distinguished Professor of Agricultural Economics at the University of Ibadan and second Vice Chancellor of University of Ife (1966-1975), Hezekiah Adedunmola Oluwasanmi (1919-1983), after whom the Hezekiah Oluwasanmi Library at Great Ife was named on Friday, 12th December, 1980, for his enduring attention in the growth of the library as a hub of knowledge and research, as well as his private, official and ethical support for the library. Oluwasanmi deplores the phrase as:

“…unfortunate and unbecoming.”
Kayode Eso (1925-2012), an intellectual of rare breed, then of the Western Court of Appeal, who later retired as a Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, reproaches at the time:

“Crushing the East is not the way to make Nigeria one.”

Also, eminent historian, former Secretary to the Western Regional government, and second Vice-Chancellor of University of Lagos, (1965-1972), Professor Saburi Biobaku (1918-2001), who also registers his feeling, saying:

“I’m sorry, I feel uncomfortable. This is uncalled for.”

But Gowon’s so-called objective plan to crush the Biafran rebellion and not the Igbo was soon betrayed by the Regional Editor of the Morning Post newspaper, Mallam Kagu Damboa, who chooses to express the dangerous mindset of the Northern elite to the American consul in Kaduna. He boasts that, within six weeks, Nigeria will be flushed with the success of the venture, and additionally swanks:

“No one should kid himself that this is a fight between the East and the rest of Nigeria. It is a fight between the North and the Ibos.”

Ojukwu’s response to Damboa on Radio Biafra was swift. The Zungeru-born Igbo soldier charges repulsively:

“Each Biafran soldier should bring back ten or twenty Hausa heads.”

The intervention role played by eminent Nigerians and friends of Nigeria, home and abroad, such as former Nigerian President, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe (1904-1996), then Chief Justice of Nigeria, Sir Adetokunbo Ademola (1906-1993), then Ghanaian military leader, Lieutenant-General Joseph Arthur Ankrah (1915-1992), then Ethiopian Head of State and a defining figure in both Ethiopian and African history, Emperor Haile Selassie I (1892-1975) and African-American civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968), to steer the belligerents, Yakubu “Jack” Dan-Yumma Gowon and Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, towards embracing peace came to naught. Osuntokun writes with profound resignation, his rhetoric sounding like the death rattle of a disappearing realm:

“The fate of the country was sealed. Things fell apart...the country was already doomed.”

And so, it happened that, from 6th July 1967, Nigeria opposed Ojukwu’s proclamation of secession by declaring war on Biafra and deploying its Naval war ships as well as its Air Force planes (as mentioned earlier) in strategic positions in order to secure all sea routes into the Biafran enclave and control the entire Nigerian air space effectively.“ The war was painted as an adventure by an individual.” The short of it is that the Nigerian Civil War, Africa’s post-independence first major civil war, which the Federal Government of Nigeria portrayed as the inordinate ambition of one man (“The crisis, as far as Eastern Region is concerned, is me. I am the crisis and the crisis is me…”- Ojukwu), was bitterly fought on the battlefields with Nigerian soldiers armed to the teeth and motivated by rapid promotion and increased salary throughout the thirty months, and off the warfront with popular slogans and battle cries, aimed at gaining the support and cooperation of the people and preventing the country’s disintegration. Such slogans and battle cries like: "To keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done" and "Go On With One Nigeria (GOWON)," were freely used by the FG in a desperate attempt to propagandize, reassure and encourage its own citizenry to support the war campaign. Atofarati verifies this, ibid:

“Realizing the importance of the support of the civil populace, Nigeria embarked on an elaborate psychological warfare. ‘To keep Nigeria one is task that must be done’ became a very popular slogan.”

On a regular basis, the Gowon government also dropped in the East unsolicited mails and fliers that sought to persuade the centrifugal forces of Biafra to ditch Ojukwu and rejoin Nigeria without fear of prosecution:

“Leaflets discrediting the Biafran Head of State, encouraging the Biafrans to lay down their arms with a promise of non-persecution, were regularly dropped in the East.”

The Head of State, who had already put in place committees which will “examine the various problems of economic and social reconstruction in the post-war period” as early as 1st October 1967, also appeals to the misinformed and hoodwinked common people of Biafra to dump Ojukwu’s secessionist resistance so as to quickly end the meaningless battle and reduce its accompanying misery:

“It is, therefore, foolhardy for the ordinary Ibos to continue this hopeless and suicidal struggle. Now is the time for all those people whom Ojukwu has misled to abandon him and his collaborators, as it is utterly senseless to prolong the fighting and unnecessary suffering.”

Going through the 185-page book, Moral Anguish: Richard Nixon and the Challenge of Biafra [Kindle Edition, 2011], and written by Josh Arinze, a “self-described "recovering journalist”, who was born in Northern Nigeria to South-Eastern parents, and who spent part of his boyhood years in refugee camps inside blockaded Biafra during the Civil War, the reader gives a dramatic shudder of repulsion:

“While the war lasted, a lot of Americans came to feel frustrated by the seemingly intractability of a starvation problem that swung back and forth between improvement and deterioration from month to month. Many found this roller-coaster emotionally exhausting; at one point, the editor of Life magazine told his staff that if there was one thing the American people no longer wanted to read about or look at, it was starving Biafran babies.”

In a May 1968 article published in London, English Novelist and occasional political commentator, Frederick Forsyth (b. 1938), best known for thrillers like “The Day of the Jackal, The Dogs of War and The Devil’s Alternative” among others, provides:

”At the start, on my first visit to Biafra, I believed it had the most dangerous potential but that Biafran claims that they faced genocide were wildly exaggerated. Ten months later I am convinced that the very thing they claimed at that time has indeed become a reality.”

The same Forsyth, by evoking Biafra: Fighting a War without Guns, an exceptional BBC film report, where two Biafran soldiers apiece were seen, striding across battlefields together for lack of enough revolver, and hoping that if one soldier was fell in action, the other fought on with the only firearm available, captures how the Biafrans were utterly out-rifled in contrast to the Nigerians. The situation was so bad that by September 1968, screen writer, journalist and author of The Brothers’ War: Biafra and Nigeria, John de St. Jorre (b. 1936), who, among other similar experiences, covered the 1973 Arab-Israeli conflict and the 1979 Iranian Revolution, was quoting a desperate Biafran official who confesses to him, rather cruelly, in Aba, even as Biafra remained “besieged, bludgeoned, staving”, that:

“If you gave us the choice of 1,000 rifles or milk for 50,000 starving children, we’d take the guns.”

It was truly that bad. This was followed by the issuance of a memorandum titled “The Tragedy of Biafra” on 15th December, 1968 by the American Jewish Congress. Phil Baum (1920-2014), the Commission’s director on International Affairs, draws world attention to the humanitarian tragedy that existed in Biafra, stating:

“For more than a year, a little noticed but nonetheless savage and tragic war has been going on between the Federal Government of Nigeria and the former Eastern Region of that country which, in May 1967, proclaimed its independence as the Republic of Biafra.”

According to Professor Chima J. Korieh in his 370–page hardcover, The Nigeria-Biafra War: Genocide and the Politics of Memory (Cambria Press, 2012):

“Up till then, the war drew little public attention despite the fact that it was…already responsible for more deaths than have occurred in Vietnam and is now causing the death of thousands of people each day through starvation.”

Korieh affords additionally, ibid:
“By this time the brutal war between federal Nigeria and secessionist Republic of Biafra had lasted for nearly one year. The thirty-month-long war led to the death of over one million ethnic Igbos and other Easterners. Described as the first black-on-black genocide in postcolonial Africa, the war had a terrible impact on the Igbo people with its massive civilian death toll. “

At the end of April 1969, having raged on for nearly two years, the Civil War, a paradigm of the destructive side of human nature, became a source of embarrassment for the Federal side which had anticipated to prosecute it with great speed and reap a quick victory. Lieutenant-Colonel Hassan Katsina (1933-1995) is known to have expressed unviable, out-of-reach optimism about winning the war, even before hostilities began. Katsina, a former Governor of Northern Nigeria (1966-1967) and Chief of Army Staff (1968-1971), predicts impracticably:

“Judging by the level of enthusiasm among the soldiers, it would be a matter of only hours before Ojukwu and his men are rounded up.”

The Federal attacks on key towns collapsed while Biafran forces exhibited stubborn resistance which led to a stalemate. Despite their being ill-armed and ill-trained, they nonetheless enjoyed the upper hand under heavy artillery. France provided unofficial information and advice, using her former West African colonies, to continue to channel Biafra’s vast bulk of military supplies bought from the international arms market. Five jet trainers, modified for combat in successful strikes against Nigerian military installations, were, in one of the most dramatic episodes of the Nigerian Civil War, flown by a Swedish pioneer aviator, humanitarian, and mercenary pilot, Count Carl Gustav von Rosen (1909-1977), who flew relief missions in a number of conflicts as well as combat missions for Finland and Biafran rebels. Wikipedia remarks:

“His flights for the Biafran rebels were notable for using the small Malmo MFI-9 in a ground attack role.”

The more Ojukwu nagged him, the more stubborn Gowon, who was favored by Henry Luce (1898-1967), a well-heeled American magazine magnate, and preferred by Queen Elizabeth II (b. 1926) as well as prized by the 6th Soviet leader (1965-1977), Nikolai Podgorny (1903-1983), became. Actually, by his continued counter-propaganda claim that the war was being fought to re-unite Nigeria, Gowon was able to discredit Biafra’s secession bid and (at the instance of Awolowo who, in diplomatic circles, was then referred to as “the Prime Minister of Nigeria”), solicit the much needed international support which afforded him to import more weapons and military equipment from the Soviet Union. Britain’s bargaining position with Nigeria had been weakened by their foot-dragging and the Soviet Union, in a meeting in Moscow, June 1967, between Soviet Ambassador to Nigeria, Alexandr Romanov and veteran journalist and politician Melie Chikelu Kafundu Ajuluchukwu, better known as M.C.K. Ajuluchukwu (1921-2003), representing Biafran interests, had agreed “to recognize Biafra and supply it arms” subject to a condition of nationalization of the oil industry by Biafra, which Ojukwu rejected. Moscow would, within a month, yield to supplying Nigeria 15 MiGs when Nigeria’s Information and Labour minister, Chief Anthony Enahoro (1923-2010), signed a cultural agreement with the USSR, promising nationalization of the oil industry”, but which never happened. Although the United States Government (USG) of President Richard Nixon (1913-1994) remained consistent and vehement in its prohibition of the sale of military goods to either Nigeria or Biafra in furtherance of its non-involvement policy, its relations with the Federal Military Government (FMG) of Colonel Yakubu Gowon, however, went on as before. Telegram 5133 from the U.S. Department of State to the Embassy in Nigeria, on 11th January, 1969, reads:

“Policy of USG with respect to Nigerian crisis has not changed. USG continues greatly to value and wishes to maintain unimpaired its close and mutually beneficial relations with FMG. USG will continue as in to consult with FMG on difficult problems of relief and is prepared to cooperate fully with FMG in practicable arrangements to bring relief to civilian victims of civil war wherever located.”

All the same, heavy casualties were daily recorded during raids on Biafran cities when modern Soviet-built warplanes, flown by British and Egyptian pilots, attacked Biafran supply aircraft, or dropped bombs over the Biafran enclave in a ceaseless struggle from noon to night. Ademoyega reveals, ibid (pp.248 & 249):

“Now, talking about raids,…the Federal troops performed horror. Those raids, even as perceived from behind bars, were indiscriminate in their choice of victims: detention camps, refugee camps, prisons, hospitals, markets, schools, private and public homes, churches and every conceivable target – even trees and grasses. Those raids were of severe intensity and extent and were ceaseless, producing a most horrifying and most disgusting spectacle that could be perpetrated in any community of human beings.”

But, if the pilots executed their task indiscriminately and mercilessly, the soldiers, who captured the Mid-West and Biafran cities, were accused of behaving with more bestiality and dreadfulness. They were alleged to have descended on the people with diverse acts of mayhem and anarchy, instead of bringing in the “messages of relief, reunion, rehabilitation and resettlement”. And as Ojukwu’s pressure was relentless, Gowon’s government soon found itself in a straitjacket due to the genocide charge which was winning international support for Biafra and it had to yield to opening its gates to a team of international experts billed to examine the fact and fetch evidence. Although they found nothing, considerable evidence of famine and death was established. Brigadier-General Godwin Alabi-Isama reports in his capacious 671-page volume, The Tragedy of Victory: On-the-Spot Account of the Nigeria-Biafra Civil War in the Atlantic Theatre (Spectrum Books Limited, 2013), pg. 147:

“Food and movements were difficult for people, especially the aged and disabled males, females and children. Life was difficult for all. There were no hospitals for the civilian population. All the same, the war raged on with Ojukwu boasting on the radio day and night of having thrown the federal troops into the sea.

“...Indeed, Biafra had a very formidable propaganda machine. For Biafrans, it gave hope (albeit a false one) to their people. But for our people at home, fears and tension.”

The report of a Nigerian Commission that included British doctors from Liverpool University School of Tropical Medicine, which visited Biafra after the war, debunked some of the evidence of deliberate starvation and genocide produced by the Biafran Government against Nigeria as overplayed and concocted since some of them actually came from other concentration camps outside Nigeria. The starvation policy of the Federal Military Government which was deplored as having decimated the Igbo was devised, according to Chief Awolowo, as a legitimate means to cut off food supplies, war materials and communications from Biafra by force, both in part and totally, to win Nigeria’s Civil War as the country could not be expected to feed her “enemies” in times of war. On the other hand, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (1917-2007), an American historian, social critic, and a Pulitzer Prize winner, whose work explored the American liberalism of political leaders such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945), John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917-1963), and Robert Francis Kennedy (1925-1968), reveals his comprehension of the starvation policy, having warned that further delay in making food available could indeed translate to death of the Igbo in huge proportions:

“The terrible tragedy of the people of Biafra has now assumed catastrophic dimensions. Starvation is daily claiming the lives of an estimated 6,000 Igbo tribesmen, most of them children. If adequate food is not delivered to the people in the immediate future, hundreds of thousands of human beings will die of hunger.”

Also, Josh Arinze provides a quote from a New York Times report, of then Director of the British charity Oxford Committee for Famine Relief (which later became Oxfam), Sir Howard Leslie Kirkley (1911-1989), a man of utter practicality and characteristic bluntness of language, who came on an inspection visit to Biafra as a relief worker during the Nigerian Civil War. Best known by his initials ‘HLK,’ you were sure to “find him smoking a pipe and wearing a cardigan” when you got to meet him. HLK, one man who erected a gigantic international organization, whose view, on aid and development, was doted on as well as requested by high government officials, served on countless committees and took home a CBE and afterward a knighthood. Arinze quotes HLK as saying that:

”Unless we pull out all the stops in Britain and other countries, we will have a terrifying disaster in Biafra before the end of August, by then two million may have died.”

Obinna Akukwe, an Igbo, writes with a hint of sarcasm in Obafemi Awolowo: Hero of Yoruba, killer of Biafra, Betrayed By The North, posted in Nigeria News of Thursday, 7th March, 2013, and later updated in The Nigerian Voice of Tuesday, 13th August, 2013,:

”Chief Awolowo was the sage whose idea ended the Nigerian civil war. He advised the Gowon Cabinet to block all food supply to Biafra so as to end the war quickly and, according to him, "Starvation is a legitimate instrument of war." This led to the starvation of over one million Biafran children. Thus, Awolowo's advice and actions led to the quick end to the Biafran dream.

“Therefore it is right to say that what the entire armed forces of Nigeria could not do, the wisdom of Awolowo did. Chief Awolowo also ensured that every adult Biafran who managed to survive the starvation was given #20 pounds to start life afresh irrespective of economic status before the war, an action perceived as intended to further reduce the ability of Igbos to recover economically.”

Truly, many non-Igbo were in tandem with Akukwe’s view that the blockade, however unpopular, hastened the determination of the war. However, Chief Awolowo, as a result of the blockade and other measures he and others helped to midwife, had been cast as a betrayer and sole enemy of the Igbo people, many of whom continued to identify him as the one who stabbed them in the back. Almost in like manner as DolchstoBlengende (The-stab-in-the-back myth), the notion that was widely believed in right-wing circles in Germany after 1918, that the German army did not lose First World War (1914-1918), “but was instead betrayed by the civilians on the home front, especially the republicans who overthrew the monarchy.” Although German scholars roundly reject the notion, pointing out that the German army had already lost steam and had been completely overwhelmed, advocates denounce the German government leaders such as German Social Democratic politician, Philipp Scheidemann (1865-1939), who proclaimed the Weimar Republic, becoming its second chancellor, and Matthias Erzberger (1875-1921), a Centre Party anti-war politician, who signed the Armistice with the allies on 11th November, 1918, as the “November Criminals” (Novemberverbrecher)” – those who stabbed the German army in the back.

One of such Igbo was the renowned Nigerian literary icon, a man globally recognized as one of the world’s most outstanding novelists and intellectuals and, who, before his death topped the list of 40 Most Powerful Celebrities in Africa, Professor Chinua Achebe (1930-2013). The legendary author of Things Fall Apart (a book which the late Femi Robinson wanted banned for its dangerous propaganda in promoting the murderous character, “Okonkwo, as a role model to Nigerians.”) was equally known to have taken every opportunity to slam the late sage, and as usual, had no kind words for him in his long-awaited 352-page biography and memoir, There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra (Penguin Books, 2012). Achebe alleges unequivocally:

“It is my impression that Chief Obafemi Awolowo was driven by an overriding ambition for power, for himself in particular and for the advancement of his Yoruba people in general. And let it be said that there is, on the surface, at least, nothing wrong with those aspirations. However, Awolowo saw the dominant Igbos at the time as the obstacles to that goal, and when the opportunity arose – the Nigeria-Biafra War – his ambition drove him into a frenzy to go to every length to achieve his dreams. In the Biafran case it meant hatching up a diabolical policy to reduce the numbers of his enemies significantly through starvation – eliminating over two million people, mainly members of future generations.”

Akukwe agrees with Achebe entirely that Awolowo was personally “driven by an overriding ambition for power,” and that his resignation from the Gowon government was borne out of the realization that he had been taken for a ride:

“The British establishment, sensing the dangers of Awolowo declaring Oduduwa Republic in the West, convinced Gowon and the north to checkmate Awolowo’s secessionist agenda by appointing him the Vice Chairman of Federal Executive Council. This strategy worked effectively and Awolowo was deceived that after Gowon’s tenure he would be given the opportunity of ruling Nigeria. Awolowo thus had to checkmate the Biafran dream to clear any obstacle to his ruling Nigeria while the north was looking for the right opportunity to throw him into the dustbin, in frustration, Awo resigned from Gowon’s cabinet when he realized he has been politically duped.”

In Premium Times, Ini Ekott posits in Igbo, Yoruba at war over Chinua Achebe’s criticism of Awolowo in new book, published on Monday, 8th October 2012, that Achebe’s condemnation of Awolowo, “the rallying point for the Yoruba,” who charted their political direction and implemented “policies that made his people the most educated group in Nigeria,” instantly erupted “a massive row” between the Yoruba and Igbo ethnic groups, which had always viewed one another with suspicion. Achebe’s statement, no doubt, inflamed this dichotomy beyond expectation, with “each side teaming with their kinsman.” Notable Yoruba leaders and activists did not delay to pour vituperations on the “Man of The People.” Dr. Tokunbo Awolowo-Dosunmu, Chief Awolowo’s youngest daughter, registers her disappointment with Professor Achebe in the Vanguard newspaper like this:

“One is still trying to come to terms with the sense of disappointment about the person who wrote what is now a brewing controversy in the country…

“While a formal statement responding to the offensive comments of the writer is being prepared by the family all I can say for now is that I feel so disappointed.”

The promised “formal statement” never materialized. In his own reaction, Seinde Arogbofa, Secretary-General of Afenifere, the pan-Yoruba socio-political group, says:

“He [referring to Achebe] has the right to live anywhere he likes but to start denigrating one of Nigeria’s founders and builders like the Late Chief Obafemi Awolowo is not only unfortunate but a great abomination especially when he knows that the man is dead and cannot defend himself.”

Chief Ebenezer Babatope, aka Ebino Topsy (b. 1943), Awolowo’s UPN Director of Organization and Abacha’s former Minister of Transport and Aviation, vents his feelings in a statement:

“While Achebe is free to write on any topic that suits his fancy, he has no right whatsoever to irresponsibly murder history by his recklessly attacking a great leader like Papa Awolowo.”

Also reacting, former Minister of Culture and Tourism (June 2006- November 2006) and later Minister of Aviation (November 2006- May 2007) under President Obasanjo, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode (b. 1960), whose late father, Fani-Power (1921-1995), was the Honorable Minister of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs and Deputy Premier of the Western Region (1963-1966) as well as the successful motion-mover for Nigeria’s independence in 1958 in the Federal Parliament, ticks off Achebe thus:

“...making some of these baseless and nonsensical assertions, Achebe was simply indulging in the greatest mendacity of Nigerian modern history and his crude distortion of the facts has no basis in reality or rationality…

“This subtle attempt to denigrate the Yoruba and their past leaders, to place a question mark on their noble and selfless role in the war and to belittle their efforts and sacrifice to keep Nigeria together as one, will always be vigorously resisted by those of us that have the good fortune of still being alive and who are aware of the facts.”

Author of the highly scathing 262-page paperback, Watch The Watcher: A Book of Remembrance of the Obasanjo Years published in 2014, and National Publicity Secretary of the apex Yoruba socio-politico group Afenifere, Yinka Odumakin, a political activist, journalist, media consultant and former spokesman of General Muhammadu Buhari during the 2011 presidential election, who, in a story: ACN governors are corrupt- Buhari, posted in Nigerian Pilot of Wednesday, 17th July 2013, condemned then Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) governors and National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, for being corrupt, but whom then CPC quickly disowned in a statement signed by the party’s National Publicity Secretary, Engineer Rotimi Fashakin, as acting on his own and not Buhari’s, also comments:

“It is unfortunate that a great man of letters of Achebe’s status has descended to the arena of Biafran propagandists who are always ready to sacrifice the truth to achieve emotional blackmail.

“He has betrayed his intellectual calling by joining in the circulation of low quality rumors against Awo. I had looked forward to read the book, but now I doubt if I would pick up a copy even if dropped at my gate.”

Achebe’s Igbo kinsmen did not let the matter lie low either, but remained united in justifying the writer’s claims. Notable among them was the Ikenga Nnewi, Dr. Dozie Ikedife, a former President of Ohaneze Ndigbo, who validates the claim, saying:

“The facts are naked but only that truth is bitter. Igbos would not start another war but for Nigeria to move forward, she must acknowledge injustice done to Ndigbo during the war.”

The eldest surviving son of the late Eze Edward Okorie Emerih (d. 1978), the Igboji of Alayi clan in Bende Local Government Area of Abia State who reigned from 1960 to 1978, and Lolo Ezinne Regina Ugonma Okorie (1932-2016), Chief Chekwas Okorie (b. 1953), who served as National Chairman of All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) from 2002 to 2012 (the first Igbo man to become founder and national chairman of a registered political party in Nigeria) and presidential candidate of the United Progressive Party (UPP) during the 2015 general election, also speaks in support of the writer:

“It is general knowledge that the civil war has only ended in the battlefield but it has not in reality. Go to the South East and you will pity the Igbo. All the roads are impassable and there is no federal presence. The policies of federal character and educational disadvantage are created to deter the progress of the Igbo people.”

Governor Jim Nwobodo’s Personal Assistant (1979-1980) and President Shehu Shagari’s Personal Assistant (1980-1983), Dr. Chinwoke Mbadinuju (b. 1945), who later served as Governor of Anambra state (1999-2003) but became embroiled in court cases after leaving office over alleged involvement in a political murder, expresses “absolute confidence” in Achebe and pleads for understanding:

“I have not read the book. I don’t want to speculate. During the civil war, I was studying in the United States of America. However, I have absolute confidence in Prof. Chinua Achebe. He is an acclaimed international scholar and figure; whatever he says about the civil war should be taken seriously.”

Victor Nwoko, in Achebe: Between Awolowo and Gowon posted Friday, 12th October, 2012 on Sahara Reporters, identifies the honest effort to search out the truth to refute or affirm Achebe’s impression as what was lacking. He, therefore, avoids the so-called “shallow mental acuity” of Achebe’s critics and sympathizers, by choosing “to reach back into documented history” so as to be able “to affirm or dismiss” the writer’s observation:

“Achebe’s statement on Awolowo will not diminish his achievements in life. It does not add to his failures, although it does call attention to his motives and vision as a Nigerian statesman. Achebe’s motive was not to diminish Awo, but to call attention to the mortal enemy Nigeria is facing- ethnic bigotry from all sides. Where best should we start to heal and confront this enemy if not from the ashes of Biafra?”

Nwoko had earlier quoted Chief Awolowo’s 28th July, 1969 statement concerning his stand on starvation to further buttress his verdict of guilty as charged on the late finance minister that the Nigerian government, of which he was second-in-command and the brain behind its policies, pursued a policy of starvation against Biafra, ibid:

“All is fair in war, and starvation is one of the weapons of war. I don’t see why we should feed our enemies fat in order for them to fight harder. ”

The Chief, who chose to stand by the above statement rather than indulge in political ablutions for electoral gains, was to demand:

“Where was it ever recorded that armies fed their attackers in the course of a war? Even Bernard Shaw’s chocolate soldier could not have done that.”

Conversely, veteran journalist and Jagunmolu of Egbaland, Chief Duro Onabule (b. 1939), a Yoruba, who is inclined to carp at Chief Awolowo appropriately and correctly whenever the opportunity presents itself, defends Achebe doughtily and counters the Ikenne-born astute strategist and his sympathizers harshly, saying:

“Whatever the bad feelings of his critics, Achebe’s reputation, unlike his contemporaries, is that of a straightforward man. He has never been known to be cowardly, neither does he cringe before nor collaborate with local or international establishment. Achebe’s character is defined as he does not charade in the day only to be settled at night...

“Even if Awolowo was not in the position to effect his belief in starvation as a weapon of war, the fact remains that he (Awolowo) publicly took that position and was widely reported in the media in Nigeria and abroad...Is Chinua Achebe fair to Awolowo in his criticisms? The appropriate preceding question is: was Awolowo fair to himself when he publicly upheld starvation as a legitimate weapon of war, more so during a civil war in which the outside world was disgusted with television visuals of thousands of starving malnourished innocent children? Achebe’s critics on his latest book, especially Yoruba, should objectively read “AWO”, Obafemi Awolowo’s biography, in which throughout, there is not a single sentence complimentary to Nnamdi Azikiwe, portrayed as an ethnic jingoist...Yet; Awolowo’s criticisms of Azikiwe were never mischievously interpreted as hatred for Igbos. Nobody of Achebe’s status and terrible experiences of the civil war could be expected to write his recollections without justifiable criticism of starvation as a weapon throughout the war. His critics just have to be realistic rather than being emotional.

It got more interesting when Nigeria’s former Minister of Petroleum and Energy (1984-1985), Professor Tamunoemi Sokari David-West (b. 1936), popularly called Prof. Tam David-West, decided to throw his academic hat in the ring in defence of Awolowo. In a telephone chat with a correspondent of The Nation newspaper published on Saturday, 13th October, 2012, the Buguma-Kalabari-born former consultant virologist and senior lecturer at the University of Ibadan (1969) and Minister of Mines, Power, and Steel (1986) bawls outspokenly:

“Awolowo never promoted genocide because he wanted to become president. The entire Gowon administration promoted genocide. That does not mean that any player in the government did that for personal ambition. Starvation was a weapon to fight the war then.”

As he refrains from criticizing Achebe for his presentation, but interpretation, David-West, one of only two ministers [the other being Dr. Rilwanu Lukman (1938-2014), that the Babangida Government (1985-1993) retained from the cabinet of the Buhari/Idiagbon Junta (1983-1985), …both men [David-West and Lukman] were born on 26th August, also IBB’s destined stepping-aside date in 1993], observes:

“There is no need to crucify Achebe for chronicling his own experience. It is even painful that the criticism is becoming ethnic now.”

Yes now, didn’t Russian writer, Count Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), say “History would be an excellent thing if only it were true”? In Achebe’s Book is “Fictitious, Full of Lies”, taken by Nairaland Forum of 10th November 2012, Professor Achebe received an unusual knock from his fellow Igbo man, Professor Ozodi Thomas Osuji, author of Igbos Lying And Its Negative Consequences For Them. In this review, Osuji describes Achebe’s perspective on the civil war, as presented in the book, as “strictly personal and not objective.” He criticizes the author for forgetting that he was writing about Africa with “written records”, which meant that there was “ample documentation of what transpired in Nigeria between 1966 and 1970,” and that whatever “he said could be fact checked, verified or found as not based on facts”. Osuji disapproves Achebe’s professed impression further:

“Apparently, Achebe was not interested in facts. What Achebe did was provide his opinions on events that took place during the period in question without bothering to give the reader the opinions of those who disagree with him, the opinions of those on the other side to the civil war.

For some reasons, he assumed that his reader would be so simplistic as to accept his opinion as facts and leave it at that. Apparently, he has such grandiose opinion of his expertise and authority that he assumed that folks would accept something just because he said so.”

Osuji likens Chinua Achebe [as Biafra’s Minister of Communication] to “German politician and Reich Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany” (1933-1945), Joseph Goebbels (1897-1945), “a mesmerizing orator” and “master of mass psychology” with “an endless supply of ideas”, who “lacked charisma and was much disliked because of his malice and ill will”, but all the same became indispensable to Adolf Hitler (1889-1945). His deep and virulent anti-Semitism [prejudice, hatred of, or discrimination against Jews based on their Jewish heritage] led him to support the extermination of the Jews. According to the professor of psychology, from Umuoghiagu (near Owerri) in Imo State, Nigeria:

“Achebe and his propaganda ministry must have done an excellent job for they, in fact, managed to get ill equipped Biafran soldiers to go to the war front, each soldier with as little as ten bullets. That is correct; barely armed Biafran soldiers confronted heavily armed Nigerian soldiers; Nigerian soldiers with tons of bullets to spray at the Biafrans and kill as many of them as was possible!

“Igbos were so convinced that their course was right that they were essentially sacrificed by Ojukwu and his propagandists at the battle front. The mostly teenage soldiers faced Nigerian soldiers rather bravely. Alas, you do not use primitive rifles to fight soldiers armed with AK47s.

“Could someone be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court for forcing unarmed kids to face heavily armed soldiers who then unnecessarily massacred them? Could Chinua Achebe be tried for such a crime? Why did he and his maximum leader, Ojukwu, entice boys as young as fourteen years old into his Biafran army when International Law clearly specifies that one must be eighteen before one joins the army. It is time we started punishing Africans who refuse to take care of their children but readily use them as boy soldiers to fight their silly ego wars.”

Osuji, who tries to preach more diplomacy and tactfulness, suspects that the respected author, “for some reasons” had “it in store for Yorubas” and Chief Awolowo in particular, warning that such “deep hatred for Yorubas may elicit reciprocal hatred for Igbos in Yorubas.” He intones, ibid:

“Many Igbos live in Yorubaland. Only a handful of Yorubas live in Alaigbo. If Yorubas decide to do to Igbo what Hausas do to them they could harass them and chase them out of Yoruba land. Igbos would return to their Igbo land and perhaps finally stop running to other people’s lands and stay on their lands and develop them.

“Achebe’s enormous hatred and undisguised anger at Yorubas does not augur well for Igbos. If I were him, I would be more diplomatic and tactful and hide my hatred.”

On his own part, Dr. Nwankwo Tony Nwaezigwe wishes that for Achebe, who he claims “never suffered the gruesome experiences of hunger, diseases and homelessness during the war”, to inform people objectively about the events of the civil war, he needed to first look inward for the woes of Biafra and be even-handed in apportioning blame among his kinsmen:

“There was no doubt that Professor Chinua Achebe, from the accounts of his civil war experiences was a privileged Biafran citizen who only watched but never suffered the gruesome experiences of hunger, diseases and homelessness during the war. If the father of African literature actually wants to be objective concerning the conduct of the civil war, then he should first focus his literary search-light at the internal mechanisms of the conduct of the war on the side of Biafra.

“In other words, if any blame were to be apportioned for the defeat of Biafra and the suffering of the Igbo masses, it cannot be targeted at external forces such as Awolowo, but at the internal elite who masterminded the failed civil war policies of the leader, like Achebe himself. One would want Professor Achebe to explain to Nigerians in general and the Igbo in particular, what happened to the millions in foreign currency raised abroad in support of Biafra but which never got to the shores of Biafra? How much of such money were actually raised and who were those Igbo leaders of Biafra entrusted with the duty of bringing the fund to Biafra?

“What also happened to the millions given to such people as Dr. K.O. Mbadiwe and Mojekwu, a relative of Odumegwu-Ojukwu for the purpose of purchasing arms and ammunition to prosecute the war? Did they not cart away with the money and never returned to Biafra until after the defeat? Where again could one place those who sold relief materials meant for the poor and suffering citizens of Biafra, when it was meant to be distributed free? Were all these atrocities against the Igbo equally masterminded by Chief Obafemi Awolowo?”

Ofeimun also fumes that those who precipitated the civil war on the country ought to have their day in court, at this instant:

“All the leaders who took the decision that led to the Civil War should now be tried properly. Because the rest of us were angry, we allowed them to mislead us. It is wrong for people to use the falsehood of propaganda during a civil war…

“Ojukwu committed genocide against his people and he should not have been allowed to simply walk away. Nzeogwu was the leader of the Biafran army; he told them, we don’t have the guns, we can’t win this war.”

The Iruekpen-Ekpoma-born author of several volumes of poetry books of political essays plus cultural politics, as well as editor of two significant anthologies of Nigerian poetry, Ofeimun slams that the civil war account:

“…will now have to be told properly because Achebe has literarily taken the genie out of the bottle. We need somebody to begin to tell us why we were not ready for a war and they went ahead and committed genocide against their people.”

In opposition, advertising guru, Charles Monwuba of Ad Value, also an Igbo, provides in his own comment to Achebe on Awolowo: Below the Belt, [written by this writer and published on Wednesday, 10th October, 2012, on his old Facebook timeline]:

”Chinua Achebe just reopened old wounds but his charge is legitimate. Awo and the Yoruba should have been neutral if you all know the genesis of the war. To propound starvation as a weapon of war or propose the policy of a maximum payment of 20 Pounds to Igbos irrespective of how much they owned in the banks before the war, Ndi Igbo will take generations to forgive all. Awo’s policies during or after the war were decidedly anti Igbo. How about the Indigenization Policy? ”

Fair enough, on the 20-Pound charge, Remi Oyeyemi, a journalist, poet, writer, public analyst and social commentator, perhaps, offers the unmatched defence ever, when counters Akukwe, Monwuba and their ilk by arguing in his article Biafrans And The 20-Pound Blackmail posted by Nigerian Village Square of Wednesday, 19th December, 2012, that the Igbo couldn’t have been “generous and kind enough” as to have headed for Biafra leaving “their monies in Nigerian banks to do business.” Insisting this did not align with reason, Oyeyemi explains:

“For those who were too young to remember, the Civil War did not start in a sudden manner. There were days, weeks and months leading to the civil war when people from different regions were packing and moving to their homelands. At such time of uncertainty, no one could predict what was going to happen and common sense would dictate that each and everyone would be in control of his or her resources to be able to survive when the war broke out. This would mean that before an Igbo man would leave Kaduna, Lagos or Ibadan, he would have withdrawn all his money before crossing into Biafra. This would not just be dictated by common sense, survival instinct would have also required and demanded it too.”

In his apologia regarding the twenty pounds policy, Chief Awolowo affirms in a 1983 town hall meeting interview in Abeokuta, Ogun State, which his supporters believe could pass for a defence:

“That’s what I did, and the case of the money they said was not given back to them, you know during the war all the pounds were looted, they printed Biafran currency notes, which they circulated, at the close of the war some people wanted their Biafran notes to be exchanged for them. Of course I couldn’t do that, if I did that the whole country would be bankrupt. We didn’t know about Biafran notes and we didn’t know on what basis they have printed them, so we refused the Biafran note, but I laid down the principle that all those who had savings in the banks on the eve of the declaration of the Biafran war or Biafra, will get their money back if they could satisfy us that they had the savings there, or the money there. Unfortunately, all the banks’ boditoks had been burnt, and many of the people who had savings there didn’t have their saving books or their last statement of account, so a panel had to be set up.

I didn’t take part in setting up the panel, it was done by the Central bank and the pertinent officials of the ministry of finance, to look into the matter, and they went carefully into the matter, they took some months to do so, and then make some recommendation which I approved. Go to the archives, all I did was approved, I didn’t write anything more than that, I don’t even remember the name of any of them who took part. So I did everything in this world to assist our Ibo brothers and sisters during and after the war.

And anyone who goes back to look at my broadcast in August 1967, which dealt with post-war reconstruction, would see what I said there.”

Addressing “the policy of a maximum payment of 20 Pounds to Igbos”, Dr. Nwaezeigwe concurs entirely with the late Minister of Finance and says Achebe would have done same if the roles were overturned, ibid:

“Viewed critically, even the literary icon himself [Achebe], acting on the capacity of Biafra’s Minister of Communication, could not have supported any policy that would have given the Federal Government undue advantage over Biafra. Even the Federal Government’s policy of an all-round twenty pounds exchange cannot be faulted by any economic theory given the undetermined value of the Biafran currency. It is important for Professor Achebe to know that the Igbo of today fully understand who their actual friends and foes are in the present Federation.”

But, that was just one side of the coin at play. On the starvation charge, the other side argues that the abstemious Chief Awolowo did not “propound starvation as a weapon of war”, but only devised a blockade as a means of stopping Biafran soldiers from ambushing and feeding fat on food intended for the civilians in Biafra. Also, they maintain that the Yoruba could not have been neutral, as Monwuba is suggesting, because it was General Gowon who rallied the Yoruba behind him when he released Chief Awolowo, a demi-god of sort in Yorubaland. They demand to know what manner of advice the Igbo gave General Ironsi when he was in the saddle as head of state and conclude that Ironsi looked the other way, choosing to waste the same opportunity which Gowon ceased. In the Guardian on Sunday of 15th June, 1997, Daily Times’ former features editor, Victor Oshisada, fittingly observes:

“In 1966, when Major General J.T.U. Aguiyi Ironsi came to power by default, he refused to release Chief Awolowo from Calabar prison. He said there were no political prisoners in the country. Yet everybody knew Awolowo and his colleagues were jailed to silence them. If the Igbos had prevailed on Ironsi to do the right thing, perhaps the civil war might never have happened. Our political history might have been different if the Igbos had co-operated.”

Dr. Nwaezeigwe genuinely believes that the Igbo would be “saved the pains of recurrent political idiocy” if their leaders have “one-quarter of Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s vision for the Yoruba.” He appends, ibid:

“In the first instance, the Igbo first lost the golden opportunity to have Chief Awolowo fully on their side when, neither General Ironsi nor Col. Ojukwu failed to see the wisdom in releasing the former from prison custody in Calabar. Chief Obafemi Awolowo had to wait for the six or seven months before he could be released and granted amnesty by General Yakubu Gowon, who subsequently elevated him.”

Not a few analysts wonder why Achebe and his cohorts did not blame Ojukwu for rushing into a war he knew he had no means to win (as Nzeogwu and Ofeimun rightly point out), even against wise counsel from Chief Awolowo (who was convinced at the time that Ojukwu was not ready for the war) to him to delay for at least two weeks. Ofeimun readily censures the ‘manipulative’ Biafran maximum for being fêted by Biafrans, instead of rocked with a robust supply of jabs correctively:

“As for the People’s General in Biafra, he was carried shoulder high on a wave that he could have resisted and steered in a different direction but preferred to manipulate.”

Others were of the opinion that Ojukwu should have evaluated starvation before rushing into the war as did the Austrian-born German politician, and leader of the Nazi Party, Adolf Hitler (1889-1945), whose rise led to World War II and the deaths of over six million Jews. On Thursday 15th August, 2013, Segun Melchizedek Edward II, a Facebook user, posts the following on his timeline:

“Before you start a war, always count the cost. If you couldn’t, you just might be walking into a very deep grave you had misunderstood to mean victory…there are people who would never start a war but they fear not to take on an enemy and they have a mastery of the art of war without even lifting a finger and won’t stop until not one drop of blood is left in your veins.”

Analysts also advise that the Igbo should accept the Civil War as their destiny, a manifest design of providence, and quit blaming Awolowo and the Yoruba for their predicament. At the time, Chief Fani-Kayode, whose critics such as Dr. Femi Aribisala, fellowship co-coordinator of Healing wings, a Pentecostal church and writer of Femi Fani-Kayode: A Bigoted, Anti-Igbo Tribalist and Emeka Aniagolu, a Professor of African and African-American history and politics and author of From Rant To Reason: Correcting Femi Fani-Kayode’s Falsehoods, had dubbed an Igbo hater, demands for an apology. FFK asserts confidently:

“We must not mistake fiction and storytelling for historical fact. The two are completely different. The truth is that Professor Chinua Achebe owes the Awolowo family and the Yoruba people a big apology for his tale of pure fantasy.”

It was severally argued that hitherto the blockade, the so-called food supplies never really got to the intended civilian population in Eastern Nigeria because of their interception by Biafran soldiers, thereby keeping the soldiers strong enough to continue to resist Nigeria and as such prolonged the war. In that same 1983 town hall interview in Abeokuta, Ogun State, Chief Awolowo reacts thus to the starvation policy accusation:

“Then, but above all, the ending of the war itself that I’m accused of, accused of starving the Ibos, I did nothing of the sort. You know, shortly after the liberation of these places, Calabar, Enugu and Port Harcourt, I decided to pay a visit…When I went what did I see? I saw the kwashiorkor victims. If you see a kwashiorkor victim you’ll never like war to be waged. Terrible sight, in Enugu, in Port Harcourt, not many in Calabar, but mainly in Enugu and Port Harcourt. Then I enquired what happened to the food we are sending to the civilians. We were sending food through the Red Cross, and CARITAS to them, but what happen was the vehicles carrying the food were always ambushed by the soldiers. That’s what I discovered, and the food would then be taken to the soldiers to feed them, and so they were able to continue to fight. And I said that was a very dangerous policy, we didn’t intend the food for soldiers. But who will go behind the line to stop the soldiers from ambushing the vehicles that were carrying the food? And as long as soldiers were fed, the war will continue, and who’ll continue to suffer? And those who didn’t go to the place to see things as I did, you remember that all the big guns, all the soldiers in the Biafran army looked all well fed after the war, its only the mass of the people that suffered kwashiorkor…You won’t hear of a single lawyer, a single doctor, a single architect, who suffered from kwashiorkor? None of their children either, so they waylaid the foods, they ambushed the vehicles and took the foods to their friends and to their collaborators and to their children and the masses were suffering. So I decided to stop sending the food there. In the process the civilians would suffer, but the soldiers will suffer most…

“When you saw Ojukwu’s picture after the war, did he look like someone who’s not well fed? But he was taking the food which we sent to civilians, and so we stopped the food.”

Columnist Sam Omatseye, of The Nation newspaper, backs up Awo’s claim that the starvation charge was nothing more than half truths since only the lower class comprised the unfortunate bunch or assortment of starvation sufferers. He queries the comfortable, well off everyday life of some Biafran big guns who must plainly be shutting their eyes to the colossal hunger that surrounded them at the time:

“…the writer [Achebe] does not show he and his family crave for food. He actually has two cars while ordinary Biafrans survive on desperate vegetables and lizards. ”

General Gowon, whose mind genuinely boggled at the willful grace with which the common Biafrans faced the privations, also denies the starvation charge strappingly, and holds Biafran leaders liable, ibid:

“But certainly; starvation was never, never, at any time, the policy during the war! If anything at all, I can assure you that during the war, when contacts were made with friends of ours in the East, a lot of assistance was sent to them through some of my relations. My younger brother, Isaiah, did quite a lot of that, at the time. And I will say with all sense of responsibility and sincerity, that no; I can never wish to see anyone starve, especially children. What have they done to cause such suffering on them? But the actions of their leaders caused some of this hardship to befall them.”

Also, author of The Charity of Nations: Humanitarian Action in a Calculating World (with Larry Minear, 2005), and Blood on the Stone: Greed, Corruption and War in the Global Diamond Trade (2010), Ian Smillie, a Canadian development consultant, co-founder of the Canadian NGO Inter Pares (1975) and Executive Director of CUSO (1979-1983), fingers Biafran leaders for prolonging the war. Smillie, a long-time foreign aid watcher and critic, who has lived and worked in Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Bangladesh, characterizes:

“It is an act of unfortunate and profound folly on their part.”

Similarly, as a reality check for what obtained in Biafra then, Chief Raph Uwechue (1935-2014), Nigeria’s first diplomatic envoy to France (1966), UNESCO’s consultant on “general History of Africa” project (1967-1970) and an ex-Oha-n-eze Ndigbo leader, expounds on Ojukwu’s self-first error in his 206-page “most unimpassioned” account titled Reflections on the Nigerian Civil War (Africana Pub. Corp., 1969):

“In Biafra two wars were fought simultaneously. The first was for the survival of the Ibos as a race. The second was for the survival of Ojukwu’s leadership. Ojukwu’s error, which proved fatal for millions of Ibos, was that he put the latter first.”

Decades later, following the recent accusation by a former Governor of Lagos State (1967-1975), Brigadier-General Mobolaji Johnson (b. 1936), that Lt. Col. Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu caused the Nigeria-Biafra Civil War, Uwechue, the late Ogwuluzame of Ogwashu-Uku Kingdom and Ochudo of Asaba, also faults the late Ikemba, whom he claims “lacked tact, never took advice, suffered what could pass for inferiority complex and was power drunk” for losing the same war, maintaining that his “ego and quest for absolute control” spelt doom for the Biafran project. He teases additionally:

“It is a sad but instructive irony that Lt. Col. Odumegwu Ojukwu, one of Africa’s one-time most brilliant political promises, was the man that led his own people with such a lack of ingenuity into what was clearly a foreseeable disaster.”

Likewise, the Eze Nwadei of Ogbaland in Rivers State, Senator Francis J. Ellah (1928-2008), an unrepentant Igbo traditionalist and Achebe’s bosom pal who assisted with the opening of the Biafran mission in the United Kingdom during the Civil War and later served Biafra in other capacities, equally indicts the Biafran leadership:

“I think that around March 1968, when we were in a position to achieve a confederation, we should have accepted the chance or opportunity. When we were insisting that Biafran sovereignty was not negotiable, as the government thought at the time, we ought to have considered the tragedy of the situation…”

Even Nigeria’s Third Governor-General (1960-1963) and First President (1963-1966), The Right Honorable Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, the “great Zik of Africa” (1904-1996), had, only after six months of putting forward suggestions (that were later cast off as “unworkable” by both the United Nations and the Gowon Government) in a speech he delivered at Oxford University, London, on 16th February, 1969, renounced Ojukwu’s secession and his own emissary ship of Biafra, after what Azikiwe’s cohorts pinned on Ojukwu’s rejection of numerous “peaceful strategies” meant to bring the conflict to a quick close, so as to reduce the anguish of his people. To Ojukwu, the “betrayal” of Azikiwe, an “old man” he “respected” for being his “father’s friend” and who was “far ahead, he towered…a giant”, was a mistake:

“Even during the war, people were coming to me, asking me why don’t I ask him to do this, why don’t you ask him to do this or do that. I can’t send him on errands. But I think what you should really educate people on my relationship with Zik was that when he even betrayed, I did not call it a betrayal. As far as I am concerned, it was just a generation thing. He didn’t understand the way my generation saw things, that’s all…To me the old man made a mistake, that’s all.”

But an accomplished scientist, nationalist and a First Republic politician, Dr Okechukwu Ikejiani (1917-2007), who served as President of the Nigerian Medical Association (1962-1966), and Biafra’s Director of Laboratory Services and Ambassador Plenipotentiary (1967-1970), spots Ojukwu’s own mistake, disclosing that the Biafran President deliberately refused to consult Azikiwe and Michael Okpara (1920-1984) for fear that both former Premiers of Eastern Nigeria would compromise. In a Sunday, 6th March, 2005 interview with the Chinua Achebe Foundation, Ikejiani identifies Ojukwu’s vacuity in this area as a major handicap:

“I told Ojukwu [to] invite these people [and inform them]. He told me they would compromise. That’s what he said. He didn’t invite them, never asked them questions. That‘s not how to lead. That’s what led us into trouble. There are many areas we would have compromised. Ojukwu did not compromise. That’s one of the mistakes he made in the war…It wasn’t that Zik opposed the war. Anybody with an intellect, with a sense would consider carefully the implications of a war. War is destructive. There’s no country that went to war that didn’t suffer, not one. When we went to war, we destroyed everything we had.”

That Nigeria’s blockade of Biafra yielded humanitarian disaster in the manner of widespread hunger and starvation of civilians as rightly attested to by Achebe, even if he consciously fails to acknowledge the agony and torture suffered by the Eastern minorities, cannot be overemphasized, when he bears out that:

“By the beginning of the dry season of 1968, Biafran civilians and soldiers alike were starving. Bodies lay rotting under the hot sun by the roadside, and the flapping wings of scavengers could be seen circling, waiting, watching patiently nearby. Some estimates are that over a thousand Biafrans a day were perishing by this time, and at the height of Gowon’s economic blockade and “starve them into submission” policy, upward of fifty thousand Biafran civilians, most of them babies, children, and women, were dying every single month.”

In his own review of Achebe’s There Was A Country, which he straight off describes as both “controversial” and “contentious” Charles Alfred, a PhD student at the Department of Political Science (Peace and Conflict Studies), Babcock University, Ogun State, ascertains among others independent corroboration of his account of the suffering of the Eastern minorities and places the liability for the anguish on the shoulders of the belligerent sides:

“The minorities were victims. Both gladiators slaughtered them and also used them as cannon fodders and guinea pigs.”

But, some political analysts lament this development as certainly indefensible, unjustifiable and unforgivable, and equally point out that the suffering was brought upon the Biafran people and ethnic minorities by their own so-called leaders and soldiers. That, as a substantiation of the confounding vagaries of Ojukwu’s politics, Gowon was shocked to find the Biafran President opt “out of land routes in favor of increased airlifts of food from Sao Tome by the international agencies.” Ojukwu had dangerously latched onto his own propaganda that the food supplies would be poisoned by the Nigerians. Even Achebe couldn’t but tip out the particularly devastating rhetoric of the Canadian government on the matter, ibid:

“Neutral countries like Canada, hitherto officially silent, more or less, while engaged in spirited humanitarian support of the suffering, openly criticized the Ojukwu administration as one “that was more interested in getting arms than food or medical supplies and had made up reasons for rejecting {humanitarian aid}.”

…Concluded in Fight To The Finish

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Articles by Ajiroba Yemi Kotun