Of all the headlines competing for space and attention on the popular Vanguard online edition of June 12, 2013, the above caption attributed to Professor Francis Oluyemi Fagbohun, literally jumped at me. Really, it did! It had to, considering that Nigeria remains a place where truth is a scarce commodity, even among the intellectual class.
At the second edition of the National Public Discourse organised by CMC Connect in association with O’Ken ventures held at Muson Centre, Lagos, Professor Fagbohun who chaired the event was reported by Vanguard to have courageously said that “Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu was right when he called and fought for confederacy in 1966 but people misunderstood him and branded him a rebel.” That’s forthrightness at its best!
Also, Professor Fagbohun unmistakably noted that the way things are going in the country presently shows that “we are returning to confederation” as he, along with other attendees dissected the theme of the discourse, “Local Government Authority: How Autonomous?”
The Vanguard headline in question took my mind back to the banner of Daily Times of Saturday, January 7, 1967, which loudly proclaimed that, THE BEST THING FOR NIGERIA IS A CONFIDERATION – says Ojukwu at a press conference; this was a banner that captured the kernel of the Aburi Accord.
It is a fact of Nigeria’s chequered history that 46 years ago, between 4th and 5th January, 1967, a very important meeting was held at Aburi, Ghana. It is a fact of history that the meeting, which held under the auspices of the then Ghanaian Head State Lt. Gen. Joseph Arthur Ankrah, had in attendance delegates representing all regions of a country already awash with the blood of Easterners, especially the Igbo, and needing urgent and decisive steps to avert a descent into war and a predictable genocide. It is a fact of history that after two days of talks on various issues, which began with the adoption of a resolution denouncing the use of force in settling the crisis as suggested by the Military Governor of Eastern Nigeria Lt. Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, who represented Eastern Nigeria at the conference. On the Nigerian side were Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon, titular Head of State, Col. Robert Adeyinka Adebayo, Military Governor of Western Nigeria, Lt. Col. David Akpode Ejoor, Military Governor of Mid-west Region, Lt. Col. Hassan Usman Katsina, Military Governor Northern Nigeria, Maj. Mobolagi Johnson, Military Administrator of Lagos State, Commodore Joseph Akinwale Wey, Commander of Nigerian Navy, Alhaji Kam Salem, Inspector General of Police, and Timothy Omo-Bare, Deputy Inspector General of Police. The military governors attended with their top aides.
Even though the Eastern Nigeria was under-represented, all the attendees signed the Accord. It is a fact of history that Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon, after signing the document, changed his mind afterwards and repudiated an Accord, seen by many keen watchers of the Nigerian situation at the time as the last opportunity to peacefully restore normalcy in the country. And, it is a fact of history that Gowon’s repudiation of the Accord and his unilateral creation of states, etc., led to the declaration of Biafra and the Nigeria-Biafra War, a genocidal war that cost more than 3.1 million Igbo lives.
Understandably, the Oxford-trained late Biafran leader Dim Ojukwu before the Aburi meeting, being at the receiving end, considering the atrocities committed the previous year against his people across Nigeria, especially in Northern Nigeria, must have spent a lot time reflecting deeply on the way out of the Nigerian crisis. The Eastern Nigeria government under Ojukwu’s leadership knew that it was only confederacy that would give them the leverage they needed to secure their people and embark on rapid developmental projects so as to absorb millions of Easterners who had been displaced from other parts of Nigeria. Although Ojukwu’s military colleagues wholeheartedly accepted the Aburi Accord as a panacea for arresting the prevailing situation, Gowon as stated earlier, on returning from Aburi, repudiated the Accord and resorted to the use of force. And he was supposed to be an officer and a gentleman.
Today, Nigeria is still paying a high cost in loss of human lives, which unfortunately, include a preponderance of Igbo lives, for that foreign-guided decision of Yakubu Gowon’s. Nigeria is still paying a high cost in the form of underdevelopment that condemns Nigerians to bathing with the spittle of poverty even when their land is surrounded by an ocean of resources. Any wonder then fair-minded intellectuals like Professor Fagbohun would look back and bluntly utter those words that are definitely not good music to certain ears?
If truth be told, societies progress when among competing ideas, they choose the most progressive of the lot. This is even more so when such societies have the benefit of hindsight. If there is one individual whose ideas would have saved Nigeria from the cycles of bloodbath, that individual remains the late Biafran leader Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu. Those who went about or still go about with the impression that what happened in those bloody days was a duel “between one ambitious man and the rest of the country” or a duel “between one charismatic, visionary individual and a most uninspiring, short-sighted character” should take a critical look at Nigeria today and reflect on what has been Nigeria’s journey since the Aburi Accord was signed and repudiated. If such people are truthful, then, they will come to the same conclusion reached by Professor Fagbohun.
Sure, Ojukwu was a charismatic and visionary leader and all these found expression in the leadership he provided for the young republic, Biafra, delivered into war; yet, under him, that republic achieved technological breakthroughs that a clay-footed giant, Nigeria, is unable to equal with enormous resources and in peace time.
Presently, hardly a week passes without one hearing calls for “True Federalism” or “Sovereign National Conference”. The calls for “True Federalism” are even quite unrealistic in a country where twelve states have already adopted state religion, Sharia, which denies non adherents of that religion certain freedoms guaranteed by the military-baked Nigerian Constitution. Come to think of it, was it not a federal arrangement Nigeria had at independence that could not survive more than five years?
As it stands today, and as forthrightly asserted by Professor Fogbohun, Ojukwu was right on confederacy in 1967. Forty six years ago, one man, Ojukwu, together with his people, saw a future for Nigeria. But a combination of Gowon’s short-sightedness and the selfish economic interests of Britain stifled the future. That future is still available for Nigeria. All that is needed is a gathering of Nigerian nationalities and the revisiting of the Aburi Accord. There is not much work required to be done on the document other than updating it by explicitly including a secession clause, the right of every confederating part to withdraw from the confederation when it feels that its interests can no longer be served by her remaining in the union.
Truly, Nigeria’s unity, if the divisive statements being made by various political interest groups in the country are anything to go by, remains “a British intention” as pointed out by the Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. The earlier Nigerians stopped deceiving themselves, the better for every nationality in this British contraption.