By Lekan Wasiudeen First Day Session.
Time: 5.15pm His Excellency: This a very important day and I would like to be a little bit formal. I think the first thing is to congratulate you, sir, for your good health. Since your release we have not really had the opportunity to meet although I have been looking forward to it for a long time. I would also like to thank Chief Mariere and Chief Onyia for this trip. And, of course, I will not forget to thank my old friend, Professor Sam Aluko. It is a pleasure to have you all with us today.
Having said that, I would like to introduce the people who are with me here (And he intorduced Lt. Col. Imo, Lt. Col. Effiong, Lt. Col Kurubo, Mr. C.O Majekwu, Mr. N.U Akpan, Professor Eni Njoku, Dr. Nwakanma Okoro, Dr. P.N.C Okigbo, Mr. C.A Onyegbale, and Mr. Ndem).
When I heard you were coming on this delegation, as usual, I halted everything and then started to think. I thought of it the whole of yesterday up to this morning trying to see really how to conduct this discussion. You all realise the difficulty in which we are placed in the East. We have been virtually isolated since July so that we do not know what is happening very much on the other side. Indeed every day makes us more isolated. So, we do not really understand the platform and the reason for this type of Committee. I, therefore, finally decided that the answer would be to leave you, sirs, the visitors, to let me know perhaps in more detail the reasons or the points which you want us to discuss. It is only after that, that perhaps we would be in a position to really join in the discussions.
At this stage, I would like to welcome you once again. We are very happy indeed to have you with us. Chief Awolowo: We thank you very much indeed for the cordial way in which you have received us. Four of us here were invited to a meeting of what was later described as the National conciliation Committee and before we went to the meeting we were made clearly to understand that the purpose was to try and find ways and means of bringing an end to the present impasse in the country. At the meeting we tried to get the purpose properly defined but we did not go very far even with that because the East was not represented or may I qualify that a little bit, because there were two natives of the Eastern Region at that meeting, but we felt they could not properly represent the East because they have not been here for quite a long time... I had a number of matters in my mind in addition to what the converner had stated but we felt that if we proceeded with the points raised at the meeting we might fail because we were not properly represented. We felt that the East must be present and so we decided not to proceed further with the meeting until we have succeeded in getting the Eastern Region representatives at the meeting.
The purpose of this visit, therefore, is not to go onto another detail as to what your grievances are because these are political issues and the solution must be political. Of course, I agree with my friend Chief Mariere, that there are also human problems and there must be human approach to them. Instead of going into the grievances we felt it would be easier to have a list of what each Region would like to see done in order to resolve the friction and fears of the past and then work together in some form of harmony. Our main concern is to ensure that Nigeria does not disintegrate, and at this stage I have to project my own person further, and I did say that I would like to see Nigeria bound together by any bond because it is better than breaking the whole place up because I think each unit will be the loser for it. The economy of the country is so integrated that I think it is too late in the day to try and sever them without risking the death of one or both of them.. So, we have come, therefore, to appeal to you to let Eastern representatives attend the meeting of the committee. You are in no way committed and, if my word is worth anything at all, I would like to assure you that you are in no way committed to any particular course of action. Whoever represents the Easter Region will let us know on what terms Eastern Region would like to participate in future Nigeria. Of course, each Region would have to state its own terms and then it would be the duty of the Committee to know that these are the lines we propose to pursue and to assemble those lines and then move from Region to Region.... If we consider any of these terms to be excessive the we shall come here to see if we can reduce it to a minimum and try to see how to reconcile all the demands, and in the end it is our wish that it should be possible for the Military Leaders to meet here in Nigeria and say,; this is that, I can understand your feelings in the matter. I do not know what reasons you have to insist that Heads of African States should be present at the future meeting of the Military Governors, but when our Military Governor of the West visited you at Onitsha and told me what transpired between you, I told him that if I were you I would hesitate to meet with the Military Council without making sure of a guarantee of my safety, but to invite African Heads of State is entirely a different matter. I think that now that we have started this, and with your co-operation in the early stage, I feel that the Supreme Military Council can meet in Nigeria without the presence of any African Head of State. At the moment, what we have come for is to appeal to you to attend the next meeting of the National Reconciliation Committee and to assure you that if anything is done at the Committee which tends to compromise your stand or commit your people of this Region, there are some of us who will have the courage to get out of the Committee before it is too late. So, these are there reasons for our visit. ........................
His Excellency: It does appear to me that there are two main issues in this matter. The first one is the matter of our Eastern representatives going to the Reconciliation Committee; then, of course the main thing is the problem of Nigeria. If I may, I would like to deal first with the question of our representatives going to this meeting. This point really, by virtue of the term, does not arise because they are not representing us. They cannot in any way be our representatives, and one starts wondering how the names were arrived at. I say this knowing full well that this Nigerian problem started ever since we conceived Independence and was only held up in the past year, and certainly have been boiling since July till now. I find it difficult to consider any Nigerian not involved. Certainly I feel every Easterner is involved. I feel too that for any objective consideration to be given to this, one really needs completely new areas because, as you said, the Eastern stand is well known and the Western stand have been made quite clear, indeed, in a very classic manner. The Mid-West stand, I am not quite sure of since the latest developments. The Northern stand has been made crystal clear. Now, in this situation as I was saying, there is nobody that is a Nigerian who can say he can be dispassionate. And, therefore, to discuss the future of Nigeria, it would appear to me that those who should discuss must have the mandate of the people. The second point arises from your introduction of the membership of the committee; the way and manner the people were elected, and who they were show that again there was a design to make it impossible for Easterner to attend. A point which we feel very strongly about here is the East is the point about the judiciary. Here we feel really that the judiciary is sacrosanct. We have made a point about this and we do not feel the Chief Justice of the East (indeed he finds it difficult) should go into this thing. As the Justice he just does not play, and I think you are aware too that the difficulties Nigeria is suffering now come through two justices getting involved in politics and trying to solve the Nigeria problem. They have tried twice and failed. I think the other invitee to the Committee was Sir Francis, my Adviser. Now, I am the Military Governor.
As you see, I am a young man and Sir Francis is my Adviser. I do what he advices me. If I steal, you can be sure that he advised me to steal, so I don't see how he can fit into this' circumstances make it impossible for him to be associated with this...... Sentiments do run high. The point that led me to asking who convened the meeting was, Sir, anything that has Sir Ademola's name in it, the East is out. Now coming to the wider question of the East attending, if it is a Reconciliation Committee then it must be reconciling warring parties. A Reconciliation Committee cannot have the parties within; somehow, it does not work, unless, of course, they have already agreed on the major issues, because reconciliation is to stay in the middle of the warring parties. And one thing is so clear in the Nigerian situation; certainly the North and East are warring. For any Reconciliation Committee to do any justice to the East if should not have Easterners and Northerners in it. That is one point. I find it very difficult to accept that it could even have Mid-Westerners. How does the Reconciliation Committee expect us to go to Lagos? Can you, Sir, imagine Sir Kashim Ibrahim coming to the East to meet and discuss? So, in fact we will have a separate Committee that will go to the East, a separate Committee goes to the North. To me, feudalists being what they are, there is bound to be a lot of misunderstanding arising from that division. Apart from that, the critical point of the Eastern stand is the East cannot go to any place where there are Northern troops. That tells its own story. Furthermore, with all due respects, it would appear that the Reconciliation Committee already has taken sides. The reason why I said this is quite clear – the Reconciliation Committee nominated members from everywhere, indeed over my head for the East, that held its first meeting in Lagos under Gowon's protection which implies that this reconciliation committee has indeed sought Gowon's permission; if he is not the prime initiator, certainly he was aware of it, and he gave it his blessing. In the circumstances which we find the East, any Committee under the patronage of Gowon cannot work. Reconciliation Committee, Easterners being allowed to go, how do they go; certainly we cannot fly. It might even be dangerous to drive, and our men have not got the energy to walk..... Now I come to the Nigerian problem.
Forgive me, Sir, if I get passionate over this; I have lived with it day and night since July till today. I started thinking about it one morning at breakfast and continued right through after work and did not finish till 4.am. Then I lay down and thought about it for two hours before I got up. The crisis as far as Eastern Region is concerned is me. I am the crisis and the crisis is me. You will agree that certainly we of the East have been aggrieved; I will not go into the details. I have discussed this matter with Chief Mariere on several occasions, indeed on night we discussed it at the Niger Bridge. The East feels rightly that we have been kicked out of the North. We have been subjected to a whole lot of brutalities and we have counted the lost and noted its enormity, and have decided that perhaps the answer is to forget the loss and turn our back on it, roll our sleeves, buckle down and work to build a new. The problems of the East are problems not really imaginable outside the East. A lot of people outside will not understand two million people coming back. My analogy is pulling down Lagos and Ibadan and rebuilding them just to house the refugees alone. These are problems and then of course, if housing means that, how do we maintain orphans? How do we get these refugees back into the stream of our economic and social life? All these you will agree, Sir, are not matters for compensation; they are not matters of relief. As I said in establishing the Rehabilitation Commission, it is pure rehabilitation, getting them back into the stream of our economy. If we counted cost I am afraid 100,000,000 pounds will not be enough. So the people of the East today feel that there are two factors, in the crises. Factor one is North versus East which the good Lord has solved for us, it does not exist anymore. Then the question of the South. This is particularly why I am so happy this afternoon because once I have shown you the burial ground and the memorial for the dead having offered your condolences, then there is room for us to discuss together as we have done in the past... The question which seems to bother us is the question of Nigeria unity. Can there be unity in Nigeria? Has there ever been unity in Nigeria? To those two questions my answer is, "NO". Throughout there has been association not unity, I will not go into the history because, after all, you are probably better equipped than I am because you lived through it and you saw it and resolved against it. You fought them to a stand-still as an individual.
Like you were, Sir (Awolowo), some years back to the North, so it is my privilege and honour to be the same North today. I don't mind, I feel that what I am fighting for is the only way in which our people can live and have recall freedom. The North has made it abundantly clear that no association in which they are not controlling the central machinery is acceptable to them. Even in the face of the resolutions of the South, the Emirs, feudalist Emirs, had the audacity to dictate to the South, first, that they will not allow the Northern troops to leave the West until they are satisfied that the West has got sufficient troops....The North in the fade of the South says threat the only form of government suitable for this country is Federal government with a strong centre. A line has been drawn very firmly and clearly. The only thing for us to do now is to rally round and see what steps to take against the North. I think I have said enough on even this second point to give clear indications of the way our minds are working over here and I think perhaps not to monopolise the discussion, I will stop at this junction. Chief Awolowo: First of all, I have to thank you very much for your frankness. I will take your points in the order in which you raised them, So I start with Sir Ademola, the Federal Chief Justice. I am sure that you will be wondering yourself why I should sit at the same meeting with him. As a matter of fact, that is the talk of the Western Region now. But this problem has to be solved and my attitude, quite frankly, is that it does not matter who convened the meeting. If the purpose is to bring an end to this stalemate I will attend, knowing full well that I have clear ideas as to the way I think the thing should be settled. Not that I am rigid in my ideas, but I cannot be dissuaded or take for a ride by anyone. But I must say in this connection that I was myself surprised at the presence of Sir Adetokunbo Ademola at the meeting. I have never been at a meeting in which he took part and I was quite impressed by the sincerity and the honesty with which he spoke at the meeting. I have never paid him such a tribute before. I am not flattering you, I think that because of your resolved attitude there has been a rethinking all over the place. The other member was Mr. G.B.A Coker, he was sitting on y right and Professor Aluko on my left. Mr. Coker was invited to the meeting but he originally declined but when Professor Aluko wrote him a letter and reminded him of the Coker Commission of inquiry, he agreed to attend and did in fact attend.....I was surprised that these people, after doing what they did, could come quite in the open and speak so freely in the meeting. I am seeing that there is a handwork of God in this matter, and if that is so, we want the need for such a meeting to continue. I know the feelings of the Eastern Region in this connection, but I think in this particular instance I would not like you and your people to be put in the wrong at this stage. Somehow, the people of Western Nigeria and the Lagos, and Mid-West look upon this Committee to work some sort of miracle if it is given a chance, and the only person who can give that Committee a chance is yourself. I would therefore, appeal to you to overlook the fact that Ademola is a member. This is not to minimise what you have said which, of course, will be relayed back to the Committee. If the Committee thinks it is necessary, some modifications can be made in its composition.
Now I take another point which you made- the point that people who attend such a meeting must have the mandate of the people. I do not know exactly what you mean bye the "mandate of the people". If you mean by that, sponsorship of the Military Governor of a particular Region well, I would say that that is what we have in mind. But if you are thinking of some other means of giving mandate to delegates, please let us know what views you have in mind. In case you want to know how some of us attended the meetings, I was approached personally, Sam Aluko was also approached personally....I think what the conveners had in mind was to invite people to the meeting on personal reasons. I do not want to say what some of us did behind the scene before the meeting took place. I approached one or two persons myself and I did not hesitate pointing out that Messrs. Okoi Arikpo and Godfrey Amachree could not be representing the people of the East....We should not deceive ourselves in saying we are trying to reconcile because those people do not represent anybody in the East... With regard to the involvement of all the members of the Committee, you have rightly said that every Nigerian is involved in this crisis. And If a settlement is to be brought about, then we might as well recognise that we are all involved in a little bit, otherwise we have to invite outsiders. In this connection, I must congratulate you for the part you played during the meeting of the Supreme Military Council at Aburi, Ghana, in January. I told the Supreme Commander after you returned that although the Military Leaders have gone to Ghana to resolve your differences, I thought that on no account should we ask outsiders to come and intervene in our domestic dispute. I think we can resolve this problem ourselves. And I think in the case of Eastern Region you have already built a goodwill for yourselves. At this time of last year, certainly, Eastern Region was not enjoying the amount of goodwill it is now enjoying, even five months ago. Most people had no opportunity of coming to Easter Region to see things for themselves, but as time went on the story spread and people now the amount of los you have suffered in lives, property and goodwill all over the place. But I think the East should relent a little and see what it can do with the co-operation of other men of goodwill and determination in the country. When I was a small boy I used to wrestle a lot and we had a rule that if you can knock a person down three times you are the winner. In those days, as soon as you knock somebody down, you stand up and let him get up for another fight. If you knock somebody down and sit on him then you will not have the chance of another fight. I feel that if we are satisfied in the justness of our cause, I think we should be prepared, to participate in any meeting which is convened for the purpose of resolving the differences.... You have talked about Easterners and Northerners trying to go to the same meeting and bring reconciliation because they are the two warring parties. I do not think the fight is between the East and the North alone. It affects all other parts of the country save that there is no quarrel between the East and the West and between the East and the Mid-West. The fight involves all of us. The West at this moment has its own complaints against the North..... That leads me to the resolution passed by the Northern Leaders of though. I can say this for certain, that I think, first of all, that the newspaper report about the Northern Leaders of Thought having decided that Northern troops should not be withdrawn from Western Nigeria is a mere speculation....I spoke with Gowon himself yesterday and he assured me that he had been misquoted and that the truth was going to be made known. In this connection, I want to assure you that we have taken an irrevocable stand; we have taken a decision not to participate in any further discussion about the constitutional future of the country. It may be something you think incompatible with my attendance at this Reconciliation Committee particularly after my withdrawal from the Ad Hoc Constitutional Committee. The Ad Hoc Committee had no terms of reference. The terms of reference were withdrawn by the Supreme Military Council on Thursday preceding the week that we were to go to Benin. This Peace Committee has definite terms of reference- to find ways and means of bringing an end to the present impasse. Those ways and means are definite. A number of demands have been made and we are to look into them and see which one would be best for future Nigeria. So, I would not like you to take too seriously the resolutions said to have been passed by the Northern Leaders of Thought. I was a little bit disturbed by the point you made before. I hope you have not taken a final decision on it, that is, that the East will not associate with the North in future. Easterners have fought more than any other group in this country over the years to make Nigeria what it is, or what it was before the crises began. I think it will be a pity if they just forget something for which they have laboured for years. Many of the Easterners who fought for "One Nigeria" are no longer with us. It will not be a good tribute to their memory by destroying that "One Niger". Certainly, it is not going to be the same as it used to be.... Today, the question is whether Easterners can go back to the North, and you must not forget that the North has its own strains and stresses, that if things are done the way they want it that justice will be done, which will, as a result, make it free for Easterners to live anywhere in the federation. It will take three or four years before the wounds are healed and before Easterners can go to the North but we want to make it possible.... Then you said something about our meeting being under the protection of Gowon. We were not. There was no Police protection at all. There were one or two Police men here and there but they were not detailed to protect us. As far as I know, there is no doubt that Gowon knows about what is going on because he is nearer to Lagos than you are and I think also that he likes the move that is now being made and he gives it his blessing. But the point which I want to emphasize in this connection is that no trap is being set for anyone at all and no attempt is being made to get the East to abandon any legitimate points or terms that you may have. As a matter of fact, the four of us who came here have been chosen because of our well known attitude to the Eastern cause. I can assure you that we certainly will not be party to any attempt to compromise your stand or to make the Easterners or other people of Nigeria tend to do things that will renew the old friction and causes of tension. Our duty is to recognise all those things that brought about the crisis which has lasted so long. Having recognised them, it is our duty to use them to our body politic and do something that will make it possible for us to live harmoniously together, and then as time goes on, to keep closer together until we reach a state where the United States of Nigeria will be as strong as the United States of America; it may be in twenty years or thirty years’ time. You are more likely to see that than myself but I pray that it may be in life time. What I want to see in my life time is that Nigeria remains together. I hope you will do your very best to see that this remains. That bond can only be made to remain if your representatives come to that meeting. Four of us want to assure you that you lose nothing by it; as a matter of fact, you gain a lot in prestige and status. You have spoken about the means of transport to the place.......they can only come by land. If you say that the meeting can be held somewhere else other than Lagos, that can be arranged and we will go back and say, "very well, our friends in the East are attending provided the meeting will be held at Benin, Ibadan, Akure or Ifo and their safety is guaranteed. Nobody can tell when life will be lost but I think, speaking the minds of the entire people of Western Nigeria and Mid-Western Nigeria, that if anybody can at this stage take the life of an Ibo man or an Easterner, or if any outstanding Easterner loses his life by the act of someone else, the whole of the Western Region and the Mid-Western Region will take it as the end of Nigeria. I can give that assurance on behalf of Western Nigeria and Lagos. So, they can come and we will sit down together. Chief Mariere:...We did say that our role is to try to see whether we can live together and retain the name Nigeria and we found ourselves using the words loose federation,...We used it before When your Excellency was kind enough to grant us an audience and have repeated it a few day ago when the meeting of the Consultative Committee of the Mid-West had discussions on it. It may be difficult for us to define what is loose and what is tight, but what we meant was that we wanted a Nigeria where one group will not dominate the other where even if we have a centre it will be on equal representation; where certain powers will be transferred from the centre to the Regions so as not to make the centre too strong.
We do not quarrel with whatever name it is called.... Having told the world that we will not allow our area to be used as a battle ground, that explains that we are not really pitching our tent with any group particularly except the group that says, " Let us have Nigeria, but take this out or that, so that we can freely move to all the area in the country and still retain the Image of Nigeria" His Excellency: I thank you very much. As I said, what I intend is in fact to hold a brief discussion with you in order to give clear indications of the whole spectrum of the discussion we shall go into tomorrow. But before we finish I feel that for this meeting to yield fruit we really must understand that we cannot really take postures or talk in elliptical terms, that we must get down to the crux of the matter. I do not believe anything can be achieved when you go into a dirty room, lifting the carpet and sweeping the dirt under it. For this reason, I would like to make certain points partly by way of clarification, and partly to complete the picture. The first thing that occurred to me through this afternoon is, with all due respects, that we are getting ourselves again involved in platitudes. Men of goodwill, forgive and forget, those sort of terms do not mean anything in this crisis..... You talk about free movement, children moving from one place to other. I am told that Nigerians move in and out of Western Germany without visas, so that, really, that is not the point at issue. There are arrangements in which you can still move from one place to another without a visa. After my deadline of 31st of March, came April; I took certain actions. The American Ambassador and the British High Commissioner Cabled back (one good thing about the East is that we have ears) for further instruction from their home Governments. Britain thought that the solution to the problem lay in immediate parity between the North and the East. The U.S.A cabled back that the solution would lie, in order to protect their investments, in checks and balances so as to continue the exploitation of our oil. After this, the British High Commissioner and the Ambassador met and they kept together for a period of some four hours after which the American Ambassador started taking the initiative. What they decided was that the country was on the point of disintegration and that the only way to deal with this thing is to delay so much as possible the East from any further action that might completely disintegrate Nigeria. It was as result of that and the posture of Britain that it was decided that the initiative must be taken by Messrs Omo-Bare, Fabunmi and Yesufu who started meeting some individuals and tried getting some individuals to meet together, having cleared that with Gowon. So that when we discuss the Conciliation Committee, the child of that conspiracy, you must realise that our interests are not really being considered; the interests being considered are America and British interests. I started off this struggle in July with 120 rifles to defend the entirety of the East. I took my stand knowing full well that by doing so, whilst carving my name in history, I was signing also my death warrant. But I took it because I believed that this stand was vital to the survival of the South. I appealed for settlement quietly because I understood that his was a naked struggle for power and that the only time we can sit down and decide the future of Nigeria on basis of equality will always be equality of arms. Quietly I build up. If you do not know it, 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. We have really gone to find a solution to our problem. It is not my intention to unleash the destruction which my army can unleash.
It is not my intention to fight unless I am attacked. If I am attacked I will take good care of the aggressor.
That is why I really believe that our future must be for the people of the South to halt a while and think, so that whilst we are catching up something which is already written to the core, that is association with the North, we do not lose more of the things that keep us in the South together.... I went to Aburi as a Nigerian (I am glad that there is complete record of our meeting). I did not ask for compensation; I asked for a solution to the Nigerian problem. What I asked for in Aburi was share of power in Nigeria. It is significant that you said that five months ago we started getting popularity May I add to that, that what is happening today in this country is precisely five months late... I noticed today that the main difficulties precluding the participation of the East have not been touched. I said that we were being strangulated; anybody would then expect that the first thing to do is to take hands of this people's throat before anything else. Chief Awolowo; you are speaking figuratively. His Excellency: Do I have to enumerate all the things, the economic strangulations and all that is being imposed on us by Gowon. Chief Awolowo we cannot go there and be the advocates of the East I was selected to represent the West, and therefore, it will not be right for me to go there and advocate for the East. I refused to be on this delegation because I was accused of speaking to you on telephone every day.
Gowon himself told me that I visited the East several times and on one occasion you threw a cocktail party in my honour. I do not want to put myself in a position where I will be treated as an advocate of the Eastern cause. Let the Eastern delegates go there, make their case and then as a member of the Committee I will get up and say I support this entirely. But for me to go there and say that this is the grievance of the East is wrong. I enumerated to you what I have in mind. I have a lot of things in mind. May I make a correction here, please? I do not indulge in platitudes. I am sure that when it comes to demonstrating our sincerity we shall certainly not fail.
This is different from what happened last year when your delegates came to Lagos; this time we are faced as it were, with reality and we have to face them or be swallowed up and time is running against us because you said you were being strangulated and I know what you mean. If we get back to that meeting and your people are represented, I know what ought to be done immediately to ease the situation on all sides and I have made my views known about certain Regions of the Country. Many years before this crisis started in 1962, if only some of my contemporaries had united with me in attitude, I suppose all this would never have happened; but we are making history and we can count ourselves as lucky for having the opportunity of making history. Since we are meeting tomorrow I think it is good to sleep over this. You have spoken of some irrevocable stands that you have taken. Has the East taken an irrevocable stand not to have anything at all to do with the North? Is this stand of the East (because it will be good for us to know the stand of the East), not to have anything to do with the North revocable or not? Can we have circumstances or conditions under which the East can deal with the North? I believe if you still want an association among all the units of Nigeria, that will satisfy the yearnings of the South including the East. I would like to know whether it is your view that the East will secede from the rest of Nigeria. I would like to know if these so that we will be in a position to make constructive contributions. His Excellency: On the specific question of whether there is a possibility of contract with the North, the answer is at the battle field. On the question of secession, it will never come from me that we wish to secede from the rest of the country, that is, I am really thinking of the South. I believe very strongly that there is a great deal we can do together and believe me, Sirs, if we have to opt out then it will be because we cannot get together in the South, that is, opting out of the remaining of the South.