NIGERIA’S POST-CIVIL WAR RECONCILIATION

Imagine if the Israeli Prime Minister hired a former PLO fighter as his personal pilot.  Or if the president of the United States allowed a Russian to be his personal chauffeur at the height of the Cold War.  Sounds surreal?  Yet that is precisely what happened in Nigeria several decades ago when then head of state General Gowon hired an Igbo air force officer who formerly fought for Biafra as one of his presidential pilots.



Gowon - the General
My Role in Nigeria-Biafra
War —Gowon

Aburi Accord caused civil war Gowon

 

Nigerians are an opinionated and self-critical bunch.  Dinner and beer parlour conversations among Nigerians almost inevitably turn to the country’s underwhelming accomplishments and disastrous mismanagement.  Self-flagellation is a national obsession.  Despite our penchant for voicing our opinion when it comes to national failures, we suddenly become reticent when it comes to recognizing our national accomplishments.  This is puzzling as one of our most impressive accomplishments is a reconciliation that is unprecedented in modern history.

THE BROTHERS’ WAR
Thursday January 15, 2009 marked the 39th anniversary of the end of the Nigerian civil war.  *On that day in Dodan Barracks, a brutal 920-day civil war ended as former colleagues and combatants who had engaged each other in bitter warfare for over two and a half years embraced each other with unprecedented speech and warmth.  They ended a war wracked by famine, starving children, one million corpses, and violence and suffering of such an intensely grotesque magnitude that the words "pogrom" and "Kwashiorkor" were introduced into the standard Nigerian vocabulary.

NO NUREMBERG TRIALS, NO MEDALS
When the war ended, the Igbos grimly expected that their defeat would be followed by their

Biafra Leader 2

wholesale massacre.  However the leader of the victorious army refused to proclaim victory, declared a general amnesty for all those who fought against him, invited members of the defeated side to join his administration, refused to conduct trials of, or execute the defeated, and refused to award medals to his own soldiers who had fought the war for years.  He even allowed some members of the enemy’s army to join his own army.  For their part, Igbos quietly accepted their new fate in a united Nigeria, went back to their farms and businesses, and rebuilt their destroyed homes without any thoughts of sabotage or guerilla warfare.  All this happened without a United Nations resolution or peacekeeping force, international peace plans and conferences, or the protracted years long negotiations that it normally takes to resolve modern conflicts.  Nigerians decided for themselves that they had seen enough bloodshed and that they wanted a war free future for their children.

The war also ironically dissolved some of the negative stereotypes the combatants held about each other, and enhanced their mutual respect for each other.  Igbos won admiration from the federal side for the tenacity, iron will, and incredible improvisation with which they fought the war.  The federal side won the Igbos’ respect for their magnanimity in victory.  Although pockets of bitterness remain (particularly over the emotional issue of properties abandoned by Igbos who fled for their safety, but which were illegally appropriated by other communities), it is undoubted that Nigeria’s remarkable reconciliation is rivaled in the modern era only by black South Africans’ forgiveness of their former oppressors.

AN ACHIEVEMENT MATCHED BY FEW OTHERS
42 years after United Nations resolutions called for them to cease hostilities, the Israelis and Arabs are still at each other’s throats.  14 years after the Rwandan civil war, the government is still carrying out war crimes trials.  However, a remarkably sober pragmatism rose from the blood, fire and ashes of the Nigerian civil war.  It taught the combatants an unforgettable lesson in the evils of ethnic rivalry.  The bitter memory of the war means that Nigeria stumbles through and survives the sorts of crises that cause war and disintegration in other countries, such as June 12, Sharia, military coups, ethnic violence, and resource control. 

When an election was annulled in Algeria in 1991, it plunged Algeria into a decade long civil war in which up to 200,000 people died and terrorism linked to the event was exported to France.  When an election was annulled in Nigeria two years later, the winner of the election said he abhorred violence and urged the public to protest peacefully.  The former combatants now live, work, and intermarry with each other as if the war never happened.  Yet the civil war literature rarely discusses this most remarkable and impressive aspect of the war: the humanity with which Nigerians and Biafrans forgave each other, laid down their arms and got on with their lives.  Why was this remarkable reconciliation possible?

GENERAL GOWON: THE HEALER OF NIGERIAN WOUNDS
This reconciliation was possible due largely to one pivotal figure: the then Nigerian head of state Yakubu "Jack" Gowon.  It was he who insisted that Igbos should be treated as prodigal sons, rather than

Gowon - the General

defeated foes.  He did so against the urgings of his own colleagues who wanted brutal punishment to be meted out to Igbos.  Even as the war raged, Gowon repeatedly declared that “We do not take the Igbos as our enemies; they are our brothers.”

When he became head of state after the two bloody military coups of 1966, he initially seemed totally unsuitable for the job of ruling one of the most unruly populations on Earth.  He did not have the oratorical gifts of Ojukwu, the erudition of Awolowo, the stature of the Sardauna, or the imposing physicality of Aguiyi-Ironsi.  Yet he remained the only officer acceptable to the majority of the population and army. Why?

“JACK THE BOY SCOUT”
Gowon was a humble, soft-spoken infantry soldier who trained at the world's most elite military academy, yet had an oxymoronic distaste for unnecessary bloodshed.  It was as if his background and origin were deliberately woven from Nigeria's intricate ethnic matrix to ensure balance between the north and south.  Gowon was that rarest of Nigerians: acceptable to the north and south.  Gowon was from the north, yet practised the religion of the south.  He was a Nigerian PR man’s dream.  His surname was even used as an acronym calling for Nigerian unity: “Go On With One Nigeria”.  The bachelor son of a Methodist minister, he did not drink, smoke or curse.  He seemed so impossibly innocent and naïve that some foreign correspondents nicknamed him "Jack the Boy Scout".  The name was not fanciful. On one occasion he apologised to reporters for using the word "hell".

Former Biafran officer Ben Gbulie admitted that Gowon’s forgiveness would probably not have been reciprocated had Biafra won the war.  Gbulie said “Probably if we had won the war, we would have shot him.”  Scant attention has been paid to why Gowon chose this remarkable path of reconciliation. Many factors were at play. As a minister's son, he was a genuine Christian, and his humane approach to Igbos may also have been borne of the fact that at the time the crisis erupted, Gowon had an Igbo girlfriend named Edith Ike, whom he expected to marry (he eventually married a nurse named Victoria Zakari).  Gowon’s mistake was that at the war’s end, he did not realise that his job was done.  Had he stepped down at the end of the war, he would have maintained his prestige as Nigeria’s Lincoln.

Commenting on Nigeria’s reconciliation, a European observed that:

“when history takes a longer view of Nigeria’s war it will be shown that while the black man has little to teach us about making war he has a real contribution to offer in making peace.” (St Jorre – The Brothers’ War)

*The official members of the Biafran and federal delegations who attended the formal war ending ceremony at Dodan Barracks on January 15, 1970 were:

Biafran Delegation:–

  • Major-General Phillip Effiong – Officer Administering the Republic of Biafra
  • Sir Louis Mbafeno – Chief Justice of Biafra
  • Matthew Mbu – Biafran Foreign Minister
  • Brigadier Patrick Amadi – Biafran Army
  • Colonel Patrick Anwunah – Chief of Logistics and Principal Staff Officer to Ojukwu
  • Colonel David Ogunewe – Military Adviser to Ojukwu
  • Patrick Okeke – Inspector-General of Biafran Police

Federal Military Government Delegation:-

  • Major-General Yakubu Gowon – Nigerian Head of State
  • Obafemi Awolowo – Deputy Chairman, Supreme Military Council
  • Brigadier Emmanuel Ekpo – Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters
  • Brigadier Hassan Katsina – Chief of Staff, Nigerian Army
  • Brigadier Emmanuel Ikwue – Chief of Air Staff
  • Rear-Admiral Joseph Wey – Chief of Naval Staff
  • Dr Taslim Elias – Attorney-General
  • H.E.A. Ejueyitchie – Secretary to the Federal Military Government
  • Anthony Enahoro – Commissioner for Information
  • The Military Governors of the 12 states: , Ukpabi Asika, Audu Bako, David Bamigboye, Alfred Diete-Spiff, Jacob Esuene, Usman Faruk, Joseph Gomwalk, Mobolaji Johnson, Abba Kyari, Samuel Ogbemudia, Oluwole Rotimi, Musa Usman.

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41 Years Enough to Heal Wounds of Civil War- Gowon

*Northern leaders ‘ve to check their youths

By Bashir Adefaka

General Yakubu Dan-Yumma Gowon (Jack), GCFR, Nigeria’s former Military Head of State (1966 – 1975) is seldom available. Not in the sense of foreign trips; he is enmeshed in innumerable engagements in the good interest of the nation. At 76, the former ruler is often oblivious of the natural call for the required rest an ageing septuagenarian of his stature should have.

Not a strong fighter for One Nigeria like Jack Gowon would leave fire on the roof-top and then go to bed. He believes that, as a father-figure of Nigeria, it would be too irresponsible to do so. The main reason, at 76, he never leaves any stone unturned in trying to help engender peace situation in the country. The mantle fell on what a commentator described as “his slim shoulders” at the age of 32 (in 1966) to lead Nigeria after the second coup and during his regime,  the monumental structures on which successive governments have struggled to build upon were laid.

Born October19, 1934 in Lur, Plateau State, General Gowon had his first education at St. Bartholomew’s School, Wasasa, Zaria between 1939 and 1949. He moved from there to the Government College, Zaria where he obtained his school certificate in 1953. As Head of State he had to grapple with Civil War considered by the Supreme Military Authority under him as capable of threatening the continuous togetherness of the entity called Nigeria.

*Northern leaders ‘ve to check their youths

By Bashir Adefaka

General Yakubu Dan-Yumma Gowon (Jack), GCFR, Nigeria’s former Military Head of State (1966 – 1975) is seldom available. Not in the sense of foreign trips; he is enmeshed in innumerable engagements in the good interest of the nation. At 76, the former ruler is often oblivious of the natural call for the required rest an ageing septuagenarian of his stature should have.

Not a strong fighter for One Nigeria like Jack Gowon would leave fire on the roof-top and then go to bed. He believes that, as a father-figure of Nigeria, it would be too irresponsible to do so. The main reason, at 76, he never leaves any stone unturned in trying to help engender peace situation in the country. The mantle fell on what a commentator described as “his slim shoulders” at the age of 32 (in 1966) to lead Nigeria after the second coup and during his regime,  the monumental structures on which successive governments have struggled to build upon were laid.

Born October19, 1934 in Lur, Plateau State, General Gowon had his first education at St. Bartholomew’s School, Wasasa, Zaria between 1939 and 1949. He moved from there to the Government College, Zaria where he obtained his school certificate in 1953. As Head of State he had to grapple with Civil War considered by the Supreme Military Authority under him as capable of threatening the continuous togetherness of the entity called Nigeria.
Source: Daily Champion, 16th May 2011.

 

 

 

Civil war not against Ndigbo — Gowon

BY ATIM IKPEME

FORTY years after the Nigerian Civil War former Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, has said the war was not  against  Ndigbo but against those that wanted to destroy the country.

Gowon made the claim on Tuesday at the special presentation of the TV series entitled,  “Nigeria: The Series” held at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos.

He said, since the series is about telling the Nigerian story as it should be told it was pertinent to clear the air concerning the Nigerian civil war.

Gowon said the  war was not to fight Ndigbo but to find a better way to settle the rift in the country then.

“Nigeria as a country would have been a failure if the Igbo race had been allowed to leave the country Nigeria because they have contributed immensely to the growth and development of this country,” he said.

Gowon said it was high time Nigerians believed in their country and supported its project.    

Also speaking at the event, former Vice-President, Alex Ekwueme described “Nigeria: The Series as an attempt by the producers to look at Nigeria from inside out.

He urged all to support and sponsor the project as it was telling the Nigerian story by Nigerians and with Nigerians in full participation.

Obi Asika, CEO Storm 360, executive producers of the series, said it would be tracking the development of Nigeria from 1860-1960, a time in the life of this country that many do not know about.

The series, when on air, will be run on the local television stations, international stations in America, Europe and Africa as the Nigerian story is a global one that connects a lot of people, places and continent.

Lloyd Weaver,  TV series producer from Serengeti Network said that, the series is essentially the victorious struggle for independence and how Nigerians found a singular unity of purpose to be where we are today as a country.”

The 13-episode series will take viewers on a journey through the lives, events, stories ad controversies that shaped the birth of Nigeria and enlighten, inform, uplift and entertain Nigerians both at home and in diaspora.

Representing the Minister of Information and Communication, Prof Dora Akunyili, CEO Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON), Alhaji Garba Bello said the project was timely especially as the ministry is leading the rebrand Nigeria project.

She said for too long Nigerians have left others to tell our stories and that it is time to tell our story ourselves while commending Storm 360 and Serengeti Network for taking the lead in that area.
Source: Daily Champion, 12th Feb 2010.

 

 

 

 

 


Aburi Accord caused civil war —Gowon

Yakubu Gowon (2)

By Tunde Abatan and Ngozi Nwozor, NewAge, 27th April 2004

Nigeria’s former military Head of State, who prosecuted the Federal Government’s war to stop seccession by the former Biafra Republic, General Yakubu Gowon has said that insistence by the Biafran leader Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu on the Aburi Accord caused the war.

Speaking on a Radio Nigeria Network programme, Eagle Square, Gowon said his emergence as military head of state following the July 29, 1966 counter coup was not something he planned or expected, stressing that “circumstances led to it”.

He explained that when the coup took place on July 29, 1966, “it was a question of who is to take over”.

On why the three year civil war could not be averted, Gowon who later ruled for about nine years said they tried to hold a conference of leaders in order to avert the then looming war.

He added that the crisis that broke out in October and November 1966 disrupted the conference. As a result of the crisis, he stated that Ojukwu was very bitter.

The former leader, however denied that the civil war could not be avoided because he allegedly reneged on the Aburi Accord. Rather he said that claim was not correct. He argued that he thought the problem was in the interpretation of the Aburi Accord.

He added that when a follow-up meeting was called, Odumegwu Ojukwu, then a Colonel who became the Biafran leader refused to attend. He said if other meetings had been held “there would have been no need for secession.

However, Gowon defended the way the Federal military government prosecuted the war, saying that they had code of conduct, during the hostilities which conformed to the provisions of the Geneva convention.

He said as the head of the state, the Minister of Defence and Commander in Chief of the armed forces, we fought the war as “a family affair”.