If the rank and file of the Igbos knew back then what they are going hear now, their perception and verdict on Awo and the Yorubas would have been different.
am sticking out my neck in this part 2 to dispute the conclusions drawn by my literary hero and a former Associate Professor of English at the State University of Connecticut where I did most of my postgraduate work. I am doing so to put the records straight as a historian and as a Nigerian who is uniquely blessed to have graduated roughly a year before the Biafran war broke out. I am even more blessed to be doing this in America where I have the time and the exposure to research materials to maintain a balance view of the issues at stake in this exercise.
When I joined the Federal Public Service on January 3rd 1968 as a Foreign Affairs officer, my greatest ambition at that point in my life was to travel the same route that one of my brothers-in-law, Ambassador Victor Adegoroye of Akure had traveled. Every time the Ambassador visited Akure, I heard many of his friends addressing him as “Your Excellency” just as many people used to address our last colonial Governor, Sir John Rankin and the first indigenous Governor of the old Western Region, Kabiyesi Atobatele Oba Adesoji Aderemi, the great Ooni of Ife.
For some strange reason, I took some fancy to that appellation as a young man. I recall asking the Ambassador during my rookie year at the University of Ife what course of study I needed to pursue to join the Foreign Service after my graduation. The great diplomat suggested International Relations. My major was History up to that point, but I immediately went for a combined Honors degree in History and International Relations instead because I wanted to go into the Foreign Service if possible with some help from my In-law. Since my mother was not going to let me join the Military as her only child as I explained in my part one, I thought going to the Foreign Service was even better.
I had my interview at the then Federal Public Service Commission headed at the time by two distinguished Nigerians namely Alhaji Sule Katagun as Chairman and Dr. Manuwa as Deputy Chairman. I got my letter asking me to report for work at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the top 10 floors of the Republic Building along Marina, Lagos while the Ministry of Defense occupy the lower floors. But before I reported for duty on January 3rd, 1968, straight from my job as a teacher at Igbobi College, Lagos, something happened that made me hate the name Obafemi Awolowo like poison because somehow the information had leaked out to me that Awolowo as Federal Commissioner for Finance had asked the Public Service Commission to freeze their latest appointments to the Foreign Service because Awo had made a strong case for Nigeria to suspend the opening of additional missions and the closing up of redundant ones abroad. The development had meant that the last batch of us earmarked for posting to those missions would now have to be deployed to the home service.
I put the whole blame on Awo for decimating my ambition and I hated the man just like Chinua Achebe and Igbos who think like him are now making the case that Awolowo and the Yorubas were the brains behind the failure of Biafra to successfully break away from Nigeria following the Biafra War.
That was how I ended up being posted to the Ministry of Defense in the same Republic Building as Assistant Secretary (Army) while two of my other colleagues at the time one Isaac Ayewah and Paul Ayewoh were posted to Education and Communication Ministries as I recall. The two gentlemen had cause to seek transfer back to Foreign Affairs after the war and they both became ambassadors at one point in their career but I wasn’t that lucky. I got forgotten in the Home Service but I made the best of it getting very good postings that made me at one point the Secretary to the National Council on Education under Alhaji Ahmed Joda as Permanent Secretary. I became the Secretary to Staff Development succeeding a gentleman named Asielue in the Federal Ministry of Establishments under Francesca Yetunde Emanuel as our first lady Permanent Secretary in the Federal. Under Ogbuefi Gilbert Chikelu and Alhaji Abubakar Alhaji “Tripple A” as Permanent Secretary, I was made Secretary to the Joint Economic Commissions of Nigeria with the rest of the world in the Ministry of Planning and Economic Reconstruction.
Under Chief Oluyemi Falae as Director of Central Planning, I was made the Secretary to the Special Task Force on the Re-Appraisal of the Public Service set up by General Obasanjo as Head of State. Under Abdul Azeez Attah as my Permanent Secretary I was made the Secretary to the Special Task Force on Student Financing in Nigeria set up by General Yakubu Gowon. It was in that capacity that I first got very close to Obafemi Awolowo as Chairman of the Task Force. I blamed Awolowo for stopping me from realizing my ambition to one day be appointed as a career Ambassador. I had so many axes to grind with Obafemi Awolowo as I got closer and closer to him as Secretary to the Task Force. If I never had that chance I would have gone to my grave believing that Awolowo did what he did to stop me. Looking back in time, I now know I was wrong. The man was doing his job. Chinua Achebe may well have found himself in the same position as I found myself.
Things are not always the way they seem or appear. That is why I totally agree with Socrates that what a man is seeing or saying is more often than not a factor of what information that man has and where the man is sitting or standing at any given point.
If Professor Chinua Achebe and all his fellow Igbos have not already blocked out their ears to the truth and what really happened, they would be less fixated on blaming Awolowo and the Yorubas for the Biafran tragedy as stated in his new book. Like I said in my part one to this article I repeat that there are plenty of blames to go around for the Biafran tragedy, if you knew what I knew.
What I have done in my part one is just to present a broad outline. Now I am going into the specifics of what really happened as an eye witness who had access to classified materials on the War in my capacity as Assistant Secretary (Army) during the war. I had a very inquisitive mind as a top civil servant in my years in the Federal Public Service. Many of my colleagues used to think of me as a womanizer and I confess to being one in my prime. I have good eyes for fine girls and women and I still do even in my twilight years. I cannot now remember how many Igbo beautiful ladies I have dated in my Civil Service days and how many responsible Igbo career civil servants and intellectuals I have met along the way. The Igbos are good people. You cannot help but like their guts. My private physician, Dr. Obiora Anyaoku of Long Island to mention one, is decidedly one of the greatest human beings I have ever met. I love and value him like a family member.
I grew up in Akure, my home town. Akure people love non-natives in our town as much as we love our own people. Highly educated and handsome Ogbuefi Nnamdi Azikiwe has never lost an election in Akure metropolis and we all still think highly of Zik even in death till tomorrow. Our people actually went on our knees begging our Igbo brothers and sisters from leaving Akure when Ojukwu gave an order for all Igbos to return home to Biafra. The few of them that remained were protected, and the properties of those who left were preserved for them. The economy of our towns depended on them at the time and we all knew it. Who said the Yorubas hate the Igbos? The stereotype is totally misleading. I love the Igbos till tomorrow and so are my children and my family. There might be a few rotten eggs among them but you find the same rotten eggs among the Yorubas or the Hausas or the Fulanis, the Ebiras or the Kalabaris or the Urhobos, the Edos and the Ijaws and the Egberis.
Where I come from the Igbos are well loved and respected. If you don’t believe me ask Mr. Kenneth “Olawale” Opadike, ta one-time Speaker of the Ondo State House of Assembly under late Gov. Adebayo Adefarati. Kenneth came from my constituency in Igbatoro/ Kajola in Akure North Local Government. He won election on the platform of the old AD in Akure even though his parents were of Igbo extraction but the young man was born and raised in our Akure and he went to school in Akure and he spoke Akure dialect with the eloquence of Pa Fabuda of blessed memory. He and his family still live in Akure till tomorrow and they know no other place to call their home. I can name for you so many other Igbo citizens resident in Akure who have made it big in Akure, have intermarried and some of their children could one day be a candidate for the Deji of Akure throne as I predicted in my “Lion King and the Cubs”
Otun Maiyegun of Ibadan, Gov. Orji Uzor Kalu could one day vie for the Olubadan stool in Ibadan if he lives long enough under the promotional system of picking traditional rulers at Ibadan. Who said the Yorubas hate the Igbos. It was all nonsense and a figment of the imagination of those who are saying so. Awolowo harbored no animosity against the Igbos in Nigeria. It is true he nursed the ambition to want to rule Nigeria as President. What is wrong with that in a democratic country. If he was competent enough as stated by Harold Wilson to be Prime Minister of Great Britain, why not the leader of his own country?
The Yorubas are by far the most accommodating and the most detribalized of the three major tribes in Nigeria. Awolowo for all you know and the Yorubas did not hate the Igbos as speculated by Chinua Achebe. One of my Igbo friends Alex Omeke or Engineer Aguinobi who lives in Detroit would tell you that, So will my friend Architect-turned syndicated Nigeriaworld columnist, Alfred Obiora Uzokwe of Harrisburg, PA or another friend of mine, the great Rudolph Okonkwo of Sahara TV who actually graduated from the Federal University of Technology (FUTA), Akure. Rudolf knows and appreciates Akure as much as I do. Among some of my closest friends in New York today are Winnie Obi, Christiana Chineme, Elias Ibe to mention a few. My first son, Naval Officer Fola Akintide is proudly and happily married to a dazzling beauty from Umuagwu in Orlu Division of Imo and they have both given me 3 adorable grandchildren. Who says Yorubas hate Igbos? I could count two or three Igbo ladies I could easily have married in my days as a bachelor. Eberechukwu Omoyeni Bright was one of them, Phillomina Okonofua Akosa from Ifite Oraifie is another. I still nurse the hope of marrying one of theseIgbo beauties in my old age because I am a strong believer in Brad Praisely’s definition of old age in one of his greatest country music albums. Mr. Paisley says you are old only when your wife tells you, “Honey, Let’s rush upstairs and make love, and your answer to the question is I cannot do both”. My simple answer to that question will be a resounding yes. I therefore do not consider myself as old at all if you go by that definition. I can tell you I am still available and a trial will “conceive” you.
You want to know what exactly happened to make Chinua Achebe conclude in his new book that Obafemi Awolowo and the Yorubas are to blame for the defeat of Biafra. I am now going to go into that in some detail. The first disappointment the Igbos had was based on a total miscalculation that if the Igbos challenged and confronted the Hausa/Fulani in 1967, the Yoruba would automatically join the fray. The Igbos have figured it out and they were correct that there was no way in the world the Hausa/Fulani would have been able to defeat Biafra had the Yorubas done what they were supposed to do. What they did not factor into their equation is that the Yorubas were as educated if not more so than the Igbos, all things considered. How could they expect the Yorubas to do something as foolish as that if they truly understand the Yorubas?
The Igbos had a golden opportunity to team up with the Yorubas in 1959 as I pointed out in my part one, but they chose to go with the North. The Yorubas are never as monolithic as the Igbos in their resolution to do anything. That is just who we are by temperament, inclination and by instinct. Wherever 5 or more Yorubas are gathered, they have no less than 8 or 9 opinions on the table. The Yorubas could never have gotten themselves to rally round Ojukwu like the Igbos almost unanimously did when the war first started. The Yorubas don’t sleep with their heads turned in the same direction like our elders say. Chinua Achebe has totally misread the Yorubas. That is point number one.
If you don’t believe me ask Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu and Chief Bisi Akande whose ACN currently controls much of the Southwest politically but are still facing a lot of problem, resentment and polarization from the relics of the weakened Afenifere group in the Southwest who are now backing Governor Mimiko and his Labor Party in Ondo State not so much because they love Mimiko, but because they see Mimiko as a counter force to Tinubu and the ACN. Even Awolowo the victorious leader of the Yorubas and late Hubert Ogunde would tell you that. Awo had the most difficult challenge to his leadership first from late Adegoke Adelabu and the Mobolaje Grand Alliance and later on from Samuel Ladoke Akintola as you all can recall. The Yorubas don’t shoot first before they aim. Chinua Achebe did not understand the Yorubas at all and it clearly shows from his analysis in that book. That a few Igbo leaders have come out in support of Achebe does not change my opinion on that.
Awolowo, the Lion of Ikenne did the right thing by telling Ojukwu that the West was not mentally ready for war at that point in time and therefore would not join Ojukwu. The same Awolowo also told Yakubu Gowon the West would go its separate way if by any error of omission or commission the East is able to break away. The Biafrans definitely made some mistakes Professor Achebe has just brushed aside. The Biafran troops completely sent the wrong message to Awolowo and the Yorubas when they tried to overrun the Midwest and when had their eyes set on capturing Ore in Ondo State on their way to Ijebu Ode and Lagos in that order. It would have been a different story if Ojukwu had not attempted to capture or threaten the Midwest and any part of the West. The moment the Yorubas heard that the Biafran troops were in Ore, forget it all bets were off. The knew right there and then that Biafra was seeking regional domination over the old West including the Midwest which used to be part of the Western Region before the NCNC and the NPC coalition Government forcibly created the Midwest further downsizing the Yoruba enclave.
The expansion of the war to the Midwest and Ore gave the wrong impression to Awolowo and the Yorubas that if the Igbos defeated the Hausa/Fulani their next target would be the Yoruba territory. Which Yoruba leader would ever tolerate that? I cannot think of one. Awolowo and the Yorubas were not prepared to end the domination by the Hausa/Fulani only to then have to confront the domination by the Igbos at a time the Yoruba had very few Yorubas in the other ranks and the officer rank of the Nigerian Military. It was the correct position to take and the Igbos were wrong to want to condemn the Yorubas for loving themselves more than they love the Igbos. It was a most unrealistic and naive expectation for the Igbos to think like that at the time and even now, I might add.
That was Awolowo’s position and he took pains to explain that to me very clearly because I confided in him I planned writing a book and for some reason Awolowo saw in me some of the attributes or strength I myself did not believe I had at the time. He told me one time after he got to know I was the first son of Chief Gbangba of Akure that he started believing in my potential because he knew my father and he knew “a lion cannot beget a sheep”. I am using his exact words and I am not making it up. Awolowo personally confessed to me that he nicknamed my father “a hero” following my father’s accident at an Action Group Rally in 1955 in front of the Deji’s Palace in Akure. The appellation stuck to my father till his death in 1998 as many who know my father like Chief Reuben Fashoranti, the current leader of the Afenifere group in Nigeria would confirm. I am bold to make this point because Chief Fashoranti is still alive and could issue a rebuttal if he thinks I am lying.
The decision by Awo to advise Yakubu Gowon to stop the supply of food to rebel forces not civilians is being completely taken out of context by Chinua Achebe. Awolowo did not give that advice to Yakubu Gowon just to starve the civilian population of Biafra as wrongly implied by Chinua Achebe. Awolowo told me he gave the advice because he discovered that all the food meant for starving civilians in Biafra were being ambushed and hijacked by Biafran troops along the way from Enugu Airport and from Uli Ihiala improvised airport and sent to the fighting troops and not to the Biafran children and babies who were suffering and dying in their thousands from “Kwashiorkor”. To prove his point he specifically told me and I confirmed that to be the truth that Biafran war commanders like Achuzia and other Biafran commanders and officers looked very well fed during the war and they did not look like they were being starved at all.
Awolowo calculated that if the food had continued to go to the fighting troops, the war would have gone on forever and he did not want that to happen because the economy of the country could not sustain such an open-ended war. He therefore had a responsibility as Federal Commissioner for Finance to do something about it and he did. But Chinua Achebe gave a completely different picture in his book suggesting that Awolowo had starved the millions of civilians in Biafra just to punish the Igbos for not going into a coalition Government with Awolowo’s Action Group in 1959. It was a total misrepresentation of what really happened. Those of us who were privy to what actually happened have a sacred obligation to tell the truth especially now that Awolowo is no longer around to defend himself and the Yorubas.
Awo explained to me in great length how and why he also saw the need to change the Nigerian currency half way thru the duration of the war, and why he refused to let Biafrans exchange their Biafran currency with the new Nigerian currency on the presumption that the Biafran currency is a legal tender. If he as Federal Commissioner had granted that concession, the economy of Nigeria would have been totally ruined. The war the Biafra had lost on the battle field would easily have been won by them on the economic front. Awolowo was not going to allow that to happen and that was one of the reasons individuals like Chinua Achebe wanted to put all the blame for the failure of Biafra on Awolowo.
Awolowo did what he had to do and he had a compelling reason to do what he did. You could say that Awolowo won the war for the Federal side with his brain power as an economist and with the stroke of his pen, but he did so for the right reasons unless you are as biased as Chinua Achebe and all who think like him.
Ghana under Kwameh Nkrumah beat Nigeria to second place in 1957, 3 years before Nigeria’s independence because the North said it was not ready. Left to Azikiwe and Awolowo, Nigeria should have gotten her independence from Britain in 1956 a year before Ghana. The NCNC led by Zik was ready and so was the Action Group led by Awo. The tragedy of Nigeria is the rationalization or calculation by the Igbos that they would be better of teaming up with the North to drive the West or Obafemi Awolowo into the opposition and powerlessness at the center.
The Igbos did it in 1959 as I pointed out in my part one. The UPGA tried it again but once again the Igbos turned down Awo and the Yorubas at the last minute. It was the same calculation that led Ojukwu upon his return from exile to go team up again with the NPN of all parties! His natural party should have been the NPP led by a fellow Igbo man, Nnamdi Azikiwe. Rather than do that, Ojukwu went with the NPN because Shehu Shagari reportedly offered him the clemency on the presumption that Ojukwu would return home to join the NPN the same cabal of leaders that butchered the Igbos way back in 1967.
It was the same cabal of leaders that had refused to keep what they had promised Ojukwu at Aburi at the Peace Summit brokered by late General Ankrah of Ghana. “On Aburi we stand” became one of the clarion calls for war by Ojukwu who understandably got offended that Yakubu Gowon had totally retreated from all the positions he had earlier on agreed to in Aburi. That retreat by Gowon became one of the remote causes of the Biafran War
I repeat that there is plenty of blame to go around. The Igbos were accusing the Yorubas for refusing to be led by the nose by the Igbos. The Igbos are simply naïve to think they can intimidate the Yorubas like they did to the Hausa/Fulani oligarchy who were using their so-called numerical strength in populations as a weapon to forever dominate Nigeria. The North does not have the educational power or leverage to push the East or the West around but they trusted the Igbos more than the Yorubas because they knew Awolowo as leader of the Yorubas could not be easily bought with money in the same way they could easily buy over Nnamdi Azikiwe, if the price was right.
Say what you like about Awolowo, one fact you cannot deny is that Awolowo is a man of his word. He did not believe in cheap compromise like Nnamdi Azikiwe. Not every Igbo man shares the attribute of Azikiwe as a dye-in-the-wool compromiser per excellence. Ojukwu as the Igbo leader was a man closer to Obafemi Awolowo as a strong leader who has great convictions and would stand by them come rain or shine. The Biafran war would never have seen the light of day if Azikiwe was the one negotiating the conditionalities with the Federal side. The Ikemba was a man of timber with an iron spine. That was why he showed in many instances before his death how much he respected Obafemi Awolowo as the strong leader of his people even though the two of them did not agree or see eye to eye on every issue on Nigeria but Ojukwu knew that if Awolowo said yes to anything, he truly meant what he said and he said what he meant. He could not say the same thing of Nnamdi Azikiwe. That was the major difference between Awolowo and Azikiwe.
Ojukwu was a lot more careful than Chinua Achebe to put all the blame on Obafemi Awolowo and the Yorubas because he was a far stronger leader than Chinua Achebe and his entire life had demonstrated that. The Ikemba is more honored in death today by friends and foes alike as can be seen during his final burial. The man had called “Obafemi Awolowo the greatest President Nigeria never had” If he truly shared the sentiments expressed by Chinua Achebe he had sufficient control of the English Language as the greatest communicator to simply say that.
I continue to say that Chinua Achebe has done more harm than good by trying to knock the heads of the Igbos and the Yorubas one more time too many as the two most powerful tribes in the South get ready to join hands with the South/South minorities in Nigeria to go into a Summit designed to restructure Nigeria in the best interest of peace, unity and even development. Achebe is without any question a literary giant but a political dwarf who will be better served to stay out of political grand standing at this critical juncture in the history of Nigeria.
I rest my case.