There seems to be an unending saga to the brick bats of accusations of treachery leveled against the Yoruba by the Ibo. The arrow head of this attack and accusation was Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the leader of Action Group, the dominant Yoruba political party in the 1960’s. I first heard of this accusation making the rounds in my undergraduate years. There is no doubt in my mind that the Ibo folks have done a good job of feeding their offspring with this atrocious lie about events leading to the unfortunate civil war, and event during and after the sad saga of our national history. I have many available books written by various authors about these events; and could not rationalize how the Ibo nation with all its intelligentsia, could come to such conclusion of Yoruba treachery against their self determination quest to carve a nation for themselves.
My Ibo brothers and sisters have predicated their angst against chief Awolowo and the Yoruba people based on the pronouncements of Awolowo concerning two issues germane to the Ibo. Firstly, the now infamous words uttered by Awolowo at the heat of secession by the Ibo when he said: “If by acts of omission or commission the East is allowed to secede from Nigeria, the west shall follow”. Secondly, was the issue of food blockade to the east during the war. While the Ibo has continuously attacked the Yoruba for their loss based on these two statements, available evidence abound in the public arena that proves this inaccurate. It seems our Ibo brethren are being mendacious in this instance. However, let’s look at their grievances from this perspective by throwing some facts, thoughts and deductive ability to arrive at the truth on this matter.
On the latter, there abounds documentary evidence to show that contrary was the case. It was discovered that the food ration being sent to the east was continually hijacked by the Biafran authority to feed the soldiers. A decision was taken to remedy this anomaly. However, the federal government in concert with the international community came up with a proposal to feed the citizens of Biafra, most especially the children and women. A land route was proposed to have these supplies delivered but the Biafran authority opposed it with unreasonable counter proposal. For instance, the authority rather continues the propaganda against the federal government instead of taking concrete effort to stop the death of millions due to lack of food and other diseases that was ravaging the population.
The Biafran authority rejected the proposal of day time supplies of foods and other essentials as suggested by the federal government and international community; instead they wanted the planes to do the supplies at the dead of night. The federal government, knowing the intent of the Biafran authority countered that night deliveries were avenues of weapons smuggling into the territory. On this development, the pertinent question is to investigate what informed the decision of the Biafran authority to play hard balls while it was crystal clear that these supplies were needed to keep the civilians alive. It does not require a rocket scientist to conclude that, the accusation of genocide being bandied about by the Ibo could be rightly placed to its leaders that value propaganda than the lives of its citizens. It was a failure of leadership within the republic, and the absence of robust opposition to the leadership that caused this genocide. Should we set up a truth commission one day on this issue, the entire leadership of Biafra authority at that time needs to stand trial. Those that are dead will be post humously indicted and find guilty if evidence to be adduced find them culpable of any offence as charged. Same should apply to the federal government participants as well.
Professor Achebe succinctly put in his recent book, “There was a country “reached a conclusion brought about by his jaundiced views and hatred of Awolowo and his Yoruba tribe. He, professor Achebe was part of the Biafran experience and up to an extent played some significant roles in that project. He could not in all honesty tell us now that he was not privy to what actually transpired during, and up to the time the decision to sacrifice the lives of innocent Ibo citizens for the purposes of international attention to its cause, curried favors; and marshaled international condemnation of the federal government of Nigeria as the aggressor determined to snuff out lives out of Innocent Biafran.
The fact remained that, the Biafran authority had the opportunity of saving the lives of its citizens, but chose to propagate the “pity me syndrome” while innocent lives continued to be perished due to hunger and preventable diseases. It seems our honorable professor is still in the propaganda mode after four decades of hostility cessation. While the Ibo have all the rights in this free world to be annoyed about their experiences during the civil war, it is also instructive of them to objectively look at the causatives of the war and how the principal actors from their side managed the issues of that time. There is no doubt in my mind, that the pogrom of the Ibo and other southern nationalities in the north was horrendous, in humane and above all; an attempt at ethnic cleansing. The question then arises as to what the Ibo would have expected the federal authority to do at that time. Would they have preferred the federal government to continue to feed the Biafran army so that they can have the energy to fight the federal troops? It would have been foolhardy for the government to do this in the guise of protecting the civilians when all intelligence pointed to the contrary. It is also instructive to know that what the Ibos were asking the federal government to do is not practicable anywhere in the world in the midst of arm-conflict.
In war, you use all means necessary to subdue your opponent. It is on record that this policy helped speed up the prosecution of the war, and probably saved many lives that would have been lost had this policy not implemented. Why then did the Ibo singled out Chief Obafemi Awolowo as the villain in this instance. At least, he served his country on his own volition just as others did. He was there to represent himself and all he stood for. He did not serve on the instance of Yoruba request because the regime was a military junta and illegitimate. The reason or reasons why Chief Awolowo and his Yoruba tribe became the target of Ibo onslaught is not farfetched. It is pure and simple, politics and personal animosity some highly placed Biafran officials had against him, and the fear of Yoruba domination prior to, and after the war ended. All these are unjustified fear because none of it ever happened. The Yoruba people are as marginalized and maligned as ever before.
The more perplexing of this bogus accusation bothered on the one the Ibo seems more vociferous on. This has to do with the utterance of Awolowo concerning the warning or advise he gave to the federal authority on the basis of indivisibility of Nigeria as a country. He warned or advises the government about any action that allowed the aspiration of the Ibo to prevail will results in the West taken the same action of self determination. Ojukwu while alive has never corroborated the fallacy of untoward agreement claimed by the propagandists to have been strucked by some faceless Ndigbo and Yoruba people about joining forces to secede from the federation. It is on record that, Awolowo made spirited efforts to persuade Ojukwu and the Biafran authority on the futility of the action it was about to take. It was also on record that Ojukwu called on Awolowo at night for a tete-a tete meeting during the Enugu Conference of may 1967; but the sage acceded to meet him in presence of some members of the delegation. It was at that night meeting that Ojukwu confided to Chief Awolowo that he only came as a mark of respect he had for him that informed the decision for this hush-hush meeting to inform him of the decision to secede had already been taken. If there was any agreement of collaboration to secede was in effect, such meeting would not have occurred. Secondly, the famous tarmac conversation in which Ojukwu told Awolowo this in Yoruba: “Baba Atilo” meaning (the elder one, we are gone already)
There are also no any evidential documents to succinctly prove the Yoruba reneged on any promise made with Ibo people during this period. If the Ibo wanted to capitalize on the Awolowo words as they have done for over four decades, what does that say of them and their claim to superior intellectualism? Does it mean there were no body amongst Ibo then that was adept enough in the English language and logic to translate literally and use deductive methodology to unlock the logic of the statement? My take is that our brothers and sisters from the east axis of River Niger are only looking for scape goat and the Yoruba seem to be the appropriate one to blame all the calamities of their self determination quest on. If there were secret accord as being claimed, was the accord stipulated a trigger for the east to attack the west? Or the advancement into the west territory was just an adventurous ploy to capture and dominate the west. You do not do that to an ally if in fact we were ally on this expedition. To be candid, I do not know what the Ibos want from us.
The Yoruba people have bent over backward to being our neighbors and brother’s keepers. We protected the Ibo investments in the West and Lagos, we welcome them back; and we have continued to be integrated through inter-marriages. We have given them great latitude to be economically successful in our enclave despite the fact that they have not accorded us the same courtesy. We have openly extended our hands of political cooperation only to be snubbed and go with the people that slaughtered them in thousands, and still continue to slaughter them at any instant of slight provocations or without. I think it is time for us to lay the cards on the table so that we all know where we stand with one another. Enough of this hide and seek game. How can you consider us a serpent but you derive your lively hood and things that define your existence within our domain.
If the current generations of Ibo youth are aggrieved about what became of their fathers during the era in question, they should begin to ask their elders pertinent questions about the depth of deliberations before they took a suicide decision while it was abundantly clear they were not ready to for such a gargantuan leap of faith. They need to ask questions about the rationale that informed the decision to reject the safe route as suggested by international community as a route to get much needed foods and other supplies to the hungry and sick Biafran civilians. More importantly was pertinent questions on performance of due diligence before they decided to commit collective suicide through declaration of Republic of Biafra that led to the civil war.
Moreover, the fact of the matter is that the integration has gone so far between us that should Nigeria disintegrate , many of Yoruba and Ibo extractions would have a dual nationality. We need to deemphasize from what we detest from each other, while relying on those strengths we can harness for our country’s development. Posterity will not forgive these generations of Nigerians if we continue to fluff the opportunity of working together to make our nation great. As Awolowo said that he would not like to need a passport before going to Onitsha, I share that sentiment as well. I will not like a passport to visit Enugu or Port Harcourt as well.
Adewale Dosunmu, FLMI