Why should Gen. Gowon and his officers that were concerned in the wanton killings not be sent to the International Court of Justice at the Hague for trial over what happened on infringement of human rights and reckless murder?
Boniface Egboka
In the Guardian of August 22, 2016, Chris Nze penned an “Open letter to General Yakubu Gowon”. That letter which is well-written and respectfully-presented made an informative and interesting reading. Nze’s letter attracted immediate and educative pro- and con- responses from the public. Also some time ago in the Sun newspaper, the well-known Alaigbo Development Foundation (ADF) posed similar questions to General Gowon to provide some answers to similar queries that had been posed to him earlier to enable young Nigerians and researchers to learn more and know the truth of events that happened before, during and after the Nigerian-Biafra war. As a former Head of State during the contentious period he must know quite a lot.

A cursory intellectual travel through the multitudinous Nigeria-Biafra war literature would provide complex and conflicting stories of events that occurred during that unfortunate period of existence. People like my humble self who were youths those years in secondary schools or elsewhere were saddened victims of the vicious and ambitious immature leaders of those years who swallowed bones without chewing. Many of the youths were lucky not to have died or be maimed and were just saved from death by God Almighty. Some of the most unfortunate ones in then Biafra and also in Nigeria lost their lives where they were fatally-wounded or became crippled from devastating injuries.

Such multifaceted wounds or injuries resulted in the sordid existence of amputees of hands or legs or both, blind people, deaf and dumb, mentally-deranged youths and the aged, psychosis, kwashiokpr-ridden children and pregnant women etc. Poverty, refugees and homelessness were rampant and were also obvious outcomes. The socioeconomy of the entire country was traumatized and in a mess. There was no love lost between the different nationalities that constituted Nigeria then despite the no victor no vanquished policy and the programmes of reconciliation, rehabilitation and reconstruction of Gen. Gowon’s government-directives after the war.

So many complex and sordid as well as destructive events happened throughout the period such that opinions are highly-divided on what really occurred. Some mischievous writers have the temerity to put down some falsehoods that can be misleading to the young or unwary minds. Some elderly people who were present when the various events took place prefer to keep the silence of the graveyard instead of coming out to say or write the truth to the news-hungry world. As a result, there is crass ignorance or misunderstanding of what really happened such that events of today seem to be repeating the History of what happened that resulted in the highly-undesirable Nigeria-Biafra war that ravaged the lands of Nigeria and Biafra for three years.

This may be why God is keeping General Gowon alive today as well as keeping him comparatively healthy and strong with alert of mind and consciousness. That may be why God has made him more religious and an active born-again Christian by enabling him to be organizing the “Nigeria Prays” group which performs around the country from time to time. Gen. Gowon who was then a Lt. Col. was one of the remaining northern senior army officers who survived the January 1966 coup. He was also Chief of Staff to the then Head of State, Gen. Aguiyi Ironsi; and later became the Head of State after the revenge coup of July 1966 that was organized by northern army officers. He must be privy to most of the events that had happened and as a devout Christian as well as notable nationalist, he should able to tell us the truth of events that happened in Nigeria over those years of yore and the locust.

Gen. Odumegwu Ojukwu is unfortunately dead and gone but he said a lot to clarify events during his lifetime. His contributions in the Aburi Accord, the Biafra’s Ahiara Declaration and his consequent comments later when the Accord Agreements were aborted are clear testimonies over his stand over the Nigeria-Biafra war as well as the subsequent and consequent events or happenstances. Gen. Gowon owes the youths, men and women of this country the sacred duty to tell us what really happened and answer the relevant questions on events that occurred that are forerunners to matters that are happening today in the country; he ought to clear some cobwebs of wrong ideas prevailing. Let him obey the mandate of the gods to come out and tell us what occurred and provide clear ideas over the information that abound in the Nigeria-Biafra literature some of which are wrong and misleading.

Was the January 1966 army uprising an “Igbo coup” as wrongly being peddled about today or did the Igbo army officers play into the hands of the Yoruba army officers whose people had political grudges or scores to settle? In fact was the 1966 military uprising a national one that involved a cross-section of Nigerian army personnel instead of being labelled as a tribal action of the Igbo or Yoruba coup? There was relative peace after the so-called independence for Nigeria was secured in 1960. The nationalities of the different parts of the country were at peace until certain complex deformities set in.

Then began the Tiv riots in the middle belt area where lives were lost. Again, there arose a pernicious local quarrel between two Yoruba leaders and their respective followers of Chief Awolowo, the leader of the Action Group and Chief Akintola, the Premier of Western Nigeria. The problem snowballed into escalation and fatalities across the whole western region. The Federal government declared a State of Emergency in Western Nigeria. Their radio station was seized by a Professor where he broadcasted his opposition against the actions of the Federal authorities; and the destructive “operation wetie” was in full swing all over the west. Did this make the Yoruba army officers decide to plan a coup to make one of their dissenting leaders the Prime Minister? It is reported that Major Nzeogwu’s mother is a Tiv and was he unhappy with the treatment being meted out to his mother’s kinsmen?

It is also known that he lived most of his life in the Hausa-Fulani lands of the north hence the name “Kaduna” as a part of his names. Why was the Igbo officers accused of carrying out an Igbo coup when it is alleged that the coupists were to install a Yoruba leader to replace Alhaji Tafawa Balewa? If it was so, why did Gen. Ironsi organize his soldiers to destabilize and kill the coup? And why did the then Battalion Commander, Lt. Col. Odumegwu Ojukwu arrest and detain the Colonel emissary sent to him at Kano by Major Nzeogwu when he had successfully overrun the northern region? What role did Gen. Gowon play in the revenge coup in July 1966? What has he to say on the massive killings of Igbo army officers and fellow Christians at Lagos and Abeokuta garrisons/cantonments and beyond? Did the army officers have to butcher Gen. Ironsi and Lt. Col. Fajuyi in the way and manner they did? Gen. Danjuma can help Gen. Gowon, both northern Christians, to explain this unsoldierly-manner of killing a comrade-in-arms. Why did they have to murder Lt. Col. Fajuyi? Is it because he loyally-shepherded his Commander-in-Chief or possibly because he was believed to be a party to the alleged-planned Yoruba coup?

What was wrong with the unitary system of governance as introduced then by Gen. Ironsi regime when compared to the present system of government in Nigeria? The revenge coupists of July 1966 opposed the unitary system of governance in preference to earlier regional governance but later went ahead in obvious contradiction to create States and make the central government strong and overbearing. Today, some of these then Nigerian leaders have refused that the country should be restructured to her former regional levels of governance as wanted by the majority of the Nigerians. Gen, Gowon, Gen. Murtala Mohamed, Gen. Babangida and Gen. Abacha who opposed Gen. Ironsi’s unitary government turned around to support and create States and enforced a strong centre at Lagos and, later, at Abuja.

The greatest damage that was done to the development and growth of Nigeria was the abrogation of the famous Aburi Accord by Gen. Gowon on his return from Accra to Lagos. The Nigerian team led by Gen. Gowon and the Biafran team led by Gen. Ojukwu under the Chairmanship of Gen. Ankrah, the Ghanaian Head of State, stayed for days at Aburi, Ghana and negotiated for peace and progress for Nigeria and reached watertight agreements. Eyeball to eyeball, Gen. Gowon and Gen. Ojukwu starred at each other and came to far-reaching agreements on the basis of which Nigeria would have made progress and skipped the Nigeria-Biafra war and the loss of lives and destruction of property in Biafra.

Gen. Gowon should tell us who mis-advised him to abandon the Accord? What nebulous roles did the Super Permanent Secretaries and the British play in the whole exercise so that the different nationalities could not be allowed to solve their internal problems? The police action against Biafra by the Nigerian government that would have lasted for one month ended up lasting into a full-scale Nigeria-Biafra war for three years! Who gave such an ill-fated advice that eventually-caused loss of over two million lives of people and wanton destructions of property? Why did Gen. Gowon accept the advice and allowed it to be executed, the issuing out of only twenty pounds to whoever surrendered his or her money from Biafra to Nigeria and paid the money into a Nigerian account, no matter what amount of money the person must have paid, be it one million, more or less?

Why did Gen. Gowon encourage the abandoned property imbroglio in Rivers State that resulted in the loss of landed and housing property in Rivers State and beyond such that many Igbo men and women who could not recover their property suffered depression, succumbed and died even when the war had already ended? When the Biafrans were pushed out of the Midwest, a mammoth crowd of people gathered in a field at Asaba to welcome the victorious Nigerian soldiers and their officers but grim evil befell on them.

The soldiers without any provocation, shot and massacred them mercilessly.
Why should Gen. Gowon and his officers that were concerned in the wanton killings not be sent to the International Court of Justice at the Hague for trial over what happened on infringement of human rights and reckless murder? Professor Wole Soyinka was trying to mediate for peace between Nigeria and Biafra in order that the war was stopped; he was arrested and detained for years by the Nigerian officials. Today in Nigeria our leaders are repeating similar negative events of History that tend to draw us back into similar matters that occurred in our recent past. Some of the key players of those sordid events of yesteryears are still around, watching and saying nothing. When the worse comes to become the worst, they will shamelessly shout that History repeats itself. Meanwhile, Gen Gowon can help the nation by clearing the air on some of these events that happened under his watch in the past.

*Prof Egboka PhD, UNIZIK, Awka, Anambra State; E-mail: [email protected]

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  1. It's always been about Biafraland crude oil and gas. Not about the people.