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I am the Final Biafran Truth - Ojukwu

Ikemba Ojukwu

By Paul Odili of Vanguard

Chief Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu clocked 70 years recently and Vanguard visited him to congratulate and share with him his happiness on his special day. But Ojukwu is no ordinary Nigerian: He has in nearly 40 years remained an issue in Nigeria’s political debate. As he himself once noted, sometimes statements were prefixed with "Ojukwu has said...." So, Vanguard decided to nudge him to say more that might provoke another round of discussion, and perhaps provide further enlightenment, particularly his role in the civil war. He was forthcoming in some aspects, but refused to answer some others because this reporter is not going to write his memoirs, implying he would prefer to say more in his book. This interview went back in time - his upbringing, education, military training and finally his political struggles.

In all, it was vintage Ojukwu- smooth, persuasive, enthralling, caustic and, if you permit, arrogant. Well, he could be excused; at least most of what he talked about then, have since come (and are still coming) to pass.

On the whole, perhaps, the most significant thing from this exchange is that Ojukwu was able to open fresh vistas in the struggles of the past that shaped Nigeria and one of its most controversial leaders. Furthermore, it would allow the reader some insight into his disagreement with President Obasanjo, a relationship that appears to have deteriorated. Can it ever be repaired? It remains uncertain but Ojukwu’s mood suggests his deep frustration. His comment on the President says more. Excerpts:

What does being 70 years mean to you?
It means that I have reached the age of 70; there is nothing else to it. There was a time that I never thought that I would reach it, it seems so far away. Now that I have reached 70, I hope that time would sort of relent in its speed. In the past three days the inevitability of 70 has struck me; looking back, I found that I could enjoy life more after the age of 70. It has to because it gives me great freedom. Already I find that I can say what I like, and it would be considered in good fate. Already I find I can persuade people more, because respect means that they would listen more intently. At 70, I find that despite myself, my focus is for the future generation; it would be lunacy if I would be thinking of my generation at 70. So what I am saying is that 70 for me means total liberation from myself. The only part of Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, valid for now is what is left for the future. Because, what else is left? Wealth- if at the this stage I had never seen it, I should admit it. Fáme, the same thing, what is in it? If I say I had not seen it I might as well give up. Another ÷ay of looking at it is that at 70 I am not in competition with anybody. I am totally what I am.

You were born at Zungeru, can you recall what your earliest childhood experience was like?
I found that clichéé very amusing because nobody ever recalls what life was like at that very early days. You start building consciousness at the age of five, around seven you continue building up your memory. But certainly I was born in Zungeru, because that was what my mother said to me, and it was confirmed by my father. Do I remember anything about Zungeru? Nothing. I gained consciousness living in Lagos, in Oko-awo. During those days, I remember vividly that on Christmas day my father had this knack of doing things very late particularly iæ it requires spending money, some people would say that is typical Nnewi, which every way it is my father would never get us kited up until the final two days before Christmas. So the last two days before Christmas the tailor would be in one corner, the shoe seller would be in the other corner trying to get us kited up. And my father’s favourite tailor in those days was a Yoruba man, who no matter how many we were would produce whatever my father wanted within 24 hours. And being a good tradesman he was always jovial and would say things to get his money. So as soon as he came into the house my father would look at him, and say " okotata oputata", which means, if you plant today it would grow today. He, of course, being a Yoruba man not knowing what all that means would say Baba-o!. So the little parade on Christmas day to the church ,I looked forward to. And I knew very early in my childhood that people pointed at me, as being one of the well-turned out children. That, of course, I supposed would be my first notion of affluence. I remember also my father’s car, it is one car with a booth that opened in the opposite way, and you can sit in that part of the car; well the idea that your father had a car was another sign of affluence. But my father always maintained a tinge of Nnewi, he brought out his car only on specific days, even though the car was available he still had his bicycle with which he did his normal business movement. Another sign of affluence was that we were living in a house nothing special, but all appurtenances of good living were visible. We actually had a grammy phone, his masters voice, and once you wind it and it starts blaring the whole street would gather and start peering through our window. I was a bit foolish, I remember that we would go to school and my father would never allow himself to pay our schools fees in advance, he waited until we were sent home to get our school fees. To me that was odd; on the way from school all the members of the family would flatter me " Nwannaya", which is the favoured one, and they would say "he would never do anything to you, you should be the one to go and ask him". I would go to the house full of pride that the favoured one has come. My father of course would be sitting at his desk with a huge frown spread all over his face. He would demand, " what is it?" And I would make my demand, and he would turn round, pull down the bottom draw, where he had his cain and proceeded to give me the best caining that he could muster, between six and eight strokes. And having done that the others of course would keep their distance, and he would order that we should be given the money, and we would turn and go back to school. And each time it would be the same thing. I know you are going to ask why did he do that? I will tell you. At least, that one I asked him. By then I had been to England and I came back on holidays and asked him, he bursted out laughing and said, " so you remembered". I said yes, he was most unfair; he sent me to school, I did not particularly want to go and he knew I had to pay the school fees, it was regular, why did he then had to cain me? And when he cained, he did not go ahead to cain the others, only me. He said precisely that is why. I still persisted and he then told me that one of his pre-occupations had always been how could he teach this son of his that money is difficult to get. And that this was a wonderful opportunity because I would come striding precisely because I realised that I was his son. I would eventually get the money, but I would remember the pain. I said that was mostly illogical. He said " yes, but you remember it."

You went to King's college?
From St Patrick’s, then to CMS Grammar School. In those days, I think it was my set that was the first that did not do CMS grammar school before going to King’s College. I spent two years at CMS grammar school and then, to Kings College. And at King’s College after two years, I left and moved to England.

At King’s college you left with the reputation of a radical, was that where your attitude developed of (interrupts) ...?
I know the incident you are referring to. Before me King’s College had its reputation as the number one government school in Nigeria; CMS Grammar School had its pretensions. And it was quite interesting. Take CMS grammar school, it started with one phrase Africa will surely rise, for that time it was quite significant. So, it started enthroning a belief in the rise of Africa, as the most valued virtue for somebody just growing up. When I went to King’s college, we had a school song that ‘‘without God, all is vain, and it was essential for us to pull each one with the rest, playing and striving each to do his best, that shall be our watch word.’’ Again it was the preoccupation of King’s College to create leaders, and I think they succeeded to a large extent. When I was there, I was in the boarding school, and when I came I must have been the rare one, because I arrived king’s college a boarder under the age of 10. In those days it was a phenomenon, I was the youngest in the school, it had its advantages and it had its disadvantages. I came in 1944, and actually that was when the boarders’’ strike took place. We refused to go to school and all that, we were quite excited. I still get the feeling of the morning, the boarding house was full of activity as we prepared ourselves. We had chosen our captain of the gate, Ovie Whiskey, the very same Ovie Whiskey, and he was hefty as a student. And there was Ovie red eyed, with his shorts and he had his wrapper that he tied around his waist, with a piece of wood stuck into it as a weapon. And so, very early in the morning around 6.30am, we were all in position. Being the youngest, I would have the job of servicing the guards at the gate with water from time to time, everybody trying to be tough. You can then imagine it was not too long after we started, we saw striding down around 9.30am the boarding school Mr Sleigh , our nature study master, an Englishman. He used to be the toughest of them, and quite a lot of juniors dreaded him anyway. With him coming to investigate that meant the end of the strike, because nobody had thought about what to do and how to handle this one. And the way he was striding down, gave the impression the whole thing was over. At that time I was outside giving water to the guards, I just did not know what took hold of me because nobody gave an order, nobody suggested anything, I just saw this man and I thought I had to do something, I left my bucket of water I ran very fast towards Mr Sleigh, he too saw me and did not know what to expect, but there was no time to discuss anything and as I got close to him I leapt up in the air and gave him a slap across the face. The man was shocked and then I turned back and ran back to school. Some of the boys clapped I was a hero; he did not forget me because no matter what punishment that was given, he made sure I received mine portion of the punishment. It was at his insistence that I was taken together with the rest of the boarders to the cell; he was there supervising and I remember when I came out and some people said I should be left out because I was too young, he refused that I should not be left out. I went into the cell, unusual, but by the then the whole of Lagos knew what I had done. And there was this funny thing too, I do not know what you remember, but in those days the easiest way to political fame is to beat up a European. So I had been counted as one who slapped a white man. We went to the court, a senior member of the bar JSC Taylor, defended us. But for you to know really how small I was, I was chosen to be also like an exhibit in court. Because when I stood up my head hardly appeared on top of the witness box. And so I was kept inside the box, and the time went by, each time I felt a bit more comfortable and found a bit more comfort in there, waiting for the appropriate time and having been briefed that I would stand up and people would see that I was too small to be in there. So at the appropriate time the famous shout from Taylor came. He said, " Look, look at him" he pointed towards the witness box, but there was no Emeka. Again, " look," he said, and everybody wondered what was happening, and finally he moved himself to the witness box, and found me fast asleep. It helped, because he then lifted me up on his shoulders, he said, "look at him" and I was on his shoulders clearly wiping my eyes having only been woken up from sleep. And so again, I became a celebrity in the Nigerian newspapers. I found a lot of pride that when the true story of Nigerian history is written, the King’s College strike, the King’s College case, the conscription of King’s College boys altogether marked the beginning of the struggle. That makes me always say that at the beginning I was there too.

Did your parents make you do domestic work?
I carried water mainly because I had to do my share. In Lagos, you do not go looking for fire wood it was bought. There was a wife of father who insisted I should go and sell for her the native fan, but I remember that I caused quite a bit of laughter when at the crucial time when I had to sell this item; because I had seen people shouting and selling their wares, but I had, as it turned out, forgotten the Yoruba word for fan which in Igbo is Akupe, so I shouted 'come and buy Ifera-Akupe'. Of course, people wanted to know what it was all about. There was not that much of a domestic chore that I did much, I was well looked -after. I was very much favoured, I was the only one chosen to sleep under my father’s bed at night, and I felt really princely for such a privilege. My father was very keen on my education, all the time in Nigeria I cannot remember when I was not going to school and attending lessons. Funnily enough, you probably knew that when I was going to school it was Jerry Enyeaazu, who was my tutor and when I got into King’s college, he continued to be my tutor and I owe him a lot educationally. Certainly the foundation was laid by him, he became very famous in the East here as director of sports.

At Epson, you had a reputation for your extra-curricular activities which some say was on the wild side?
It was not, not because I was good internally. When I entered King’s college I was ten, what do you do when you are that age. I left for England two years later. At Epson everyone knew me because I was black standing out like a sore thumb, and I played a lot of sports. In fact, the only problem I had at Epson was that I played rugby, for mine school for four years. Naturally, I felt with the other people coming through the ranks gave me the right to be the captain of the team. I got my colours before anyone in my final year; in athletics I have been in the first team for four years, and I became the captain of the team. But in rugby I was denied the captaincy of the team, and I protested. In those days I was still considered their best player, and the head master had called to explain to me that it was nothing to do with Epson, but other schools since as I knew Epson had to play in some competitions and they might not feel so good. I protested, and that is why if you went to Epson gymnasium today, I had this rare picture, because when I refused to play rugby, the school decided to take away my athletics captaincy, so you now have a picture of me sitting in the centre of the athletics team holding something, but whatever it is has been wiped out. So I was holding it but nothing in it, because they wish to remove it as a punishment. But if that is wild I do not think so really. Remember, also that when I came back to Nigeria I was 21, and that was when people started being wild. So if I had any wild living that would have been as a young administrative officer. I had no cares, no worries. Now, if you think I was going to tell you what I did specifically then you had come to the wrong person. You can go and ask those who knew me they would tell you. But I know that I enjoyed my life, that I enjoyed my friendships. And I did very well what most young men did.

At Oxford, what was it like?
What I had was an opportunity to live an affluent life. As a black student I had a car of my own, first it was an MG, the next year I had a Jaguar, I used to carry around my tutor who loved cars and never thought he would ever own such a car and I carried him once a week provided he did the teaching inside the car. We did all that, I certainly within Oxford went out at night and scaled the walls of the college. In Oxford, I was a member of the Bath club, that is any student who had distinguish himself by taking his bath in the hall of the opposite sex, you know that sort of thing. I took a bath in the girls’’ hostel, and all that. And the great thing about it was that after it you wore a tie, a dark blue tie with little pink bathtubs decorating it. And anybody who saw you wearing the Oxford bathtub tie knew you were somebody. We would go to Cambridge and tell them how decadent they were, and we would come back from Cambridge being chased by police, we did all that. If you mean whether I had girl friends, yes I had at home and I had overseas. But there was nothing wild, if I knew what I know now then it might have been worse.

You opted out of your father's companies and took up the job of an ADO?
When I came back from England, my father met me at the airport and took me to his office, which was close to Zik’s press. When we entered his office, he said before I settle down that we should go round and see army. And they all laughed quietly at their ability to get me stymied, particularly my own favourite governor, Sir Clem in the East, who told my father not to worry that I could not take it. Because of this therefore, I could not be taken for cadet training, I joined as a recruit. By the time my father knew, my hair had been shaved, I had joined the Nigerian army, I was in a uniform, and I was in a depot in Zaria. People shortly knew who I was and they treated me like an eccentric, with a benign amusement. Another funny one, I escaped all that, and again I say there was a divine intervention; because I was in this class for a weapon training , and there was this sergeant -major, who puts ‘s’’ in every word he uses. So on this particular day, he came and said, " Good morning, gentlemans. My lessons today is the teachings for the soldiers, it is the assemblies of the rifles. But before I start my lessons this mornings, I want to make revisions. "Gentlemans," he pointed at some thing, "what is this,Yes?" Somebody answered,"butt" . "Good, good," he responded. What is this, he pointed at another thing. "Barrel. Good, good," he said. He went on and on, until he came to this little button under the catch, and this one the difficult one, I put my hand and he said " you, yes Bature ". I said safety catch, he said "damn fool you sabi nothing". I said wait, he went on " Damn fool, you sabi nothing". I kept quiet and listened. We went on, another two people; then one said, 'na sapler ka.' He said: "good. Everybody, na sapler ka". Which could have been alright if I had kept my mouth shut, but I put up my hand and he said, " what do you want?" I said there is no such word in the English dictionary, no such word as ‘sapler ka’’. He said very angrily, "damn fool me, you teach am English?’’ He ordered immediately that I should be taken to the guard’s room, I was matched like that across the parade ground. I was then pushed into the cell and locked up. The problem was that he had to file a charge, he thought about what to write and decided to put there- ‘‘no sabi English’’. Which saved me, because the adjutant an Englishman saw it and found it odd, then decided that there must be something going on. So he tried to get me to find out what was going on, I told him what happened, he started laughing. He could not take it alone, so he called his second in command, and they found the whole thing ridiculous. They knew I was an Oxford graduate, they knew that I spoke English language better than they did. So they decided that the only way to get the sergeant major off my back was to push the case beyond them and place it before the commanding officer, and it would be the adjutant alone who would take me to him, that was how I escaped. The sergeant major was very happy that he won , but the commanding officer did not even have to listen he knew what had happened. But when we discussed, he said, "I do not see what you are doing here, but you know best, but I can tell you one way that you can be useful to me." He said to me: "I have a wife, stupid fella. I have a daughter, that is all she could produce, I want you to take them wherever they want to go. I do not want them within my sight." I said ,yes sir. In the morning they would go shopping, they would go horse riding, the man just wanted to spend his life not even in the office mess, but at the European club in town. And that was actually the sum total of my recruit (experience), and naturally when the time came he put my name forward for office training.

On the whole, you spent 10 years with the Nigerian army. What was it like and how did you end up in Kano?
The Nigerian army, I say this not to denigrate anyone, is the remnant of a force that had grown steadily from the West African Frontier Force, until it became, with independence, the Nigerian army. When I was there, it was a force with five battalions, and we were sort of inching our way to the sixth battalion. And every officer knew brother officers; because of my peculiar type of education when I came into the army after my training I was selected to be either an instructor, or a staff officer. But my calling was for infantry; and if you remember a lot of British officers had a tried approach and really I was looked upon as that officer that you could leave with minimal supervision. In fact, at one stage my annual report had these words that I was one officer ‘‘who never served under anybody but we all served under him.’’ Naturally, I was a senior officer my number was 29, and I moved up every year since my commission, and I had created quite a bit of jealous enmity by my rapid promotion, and that sort of alienated me from my military colleagues. And if one was not within range, I was a friend. The army for effectiveness was very good ceremonially, we were also good for internal security actions, but I would not vouch for its war efficiency, which you found during the war, that the army proved itself. It was the biggest and most effective defoliant agent, they would shoot through any amount of leaves, and miss out the enemy. And for propaganda sake people were given so much reputation, reputation for what? And they go about prancing about: 'we did this, we did that,' no. We have this latent problem, because we have been given this bullshit about their efficiency, they began to believe it. When I say this, I am also recognising the limitation of my own training as an officer. By Nigerian standards I was some good, but I cannot go into modern war with other people, better trained. I was alright as an infantry officer, I was alright as a small formation officer. But I do not think that internationally at the power points that I would go beyond the command of a brigade. That is me, so when you see pipsqueaks prancing around as divisional commander, core commanders, I just laugh.

The army today is blamed for the instability in the political system. When, in your opinion, do you think the army began to eye a role in the political system?
The army lost discipline with the appointment of Yakubu Gowon. It was Gowon that rooted indiscipline into the Nigerian army. This is the basis of my disagreement with the Nigerian army officers’’ corp, nothing more than that. In a way, it is the politicisation of the officer corp; I have always been committed to the professional army. We argued the appointment of Ironsi as the major-general, who would take over from Maj-General Wilbe Everad, the last British commanding officer, I maintained the position that for the army to remain we have to follow the natural chain of command of the hierarchy. Despite the disruptions of the Ifeajuna coup, we still held together as an army. Later it became a question of how to handle the disruption of the demise of Ironsi. If you remember, I had been posted to Enugu, so I was not in Lagos to argue this. But I kept on the telephone arguing the point, that Ogundipe should take over; no problem then because there was a chance of resolving the issues. Nigeria was let down by Ogundipe, because his action tended to give more strength to people who believe that anybody could be the head, at any time; I say no to that kind of thinking. Those who designed the military structure knew what they where doing; when I finally learnt that Ogundipe had fled, I did not stop. I then proposed Adebayo, he should take over by seniority. Then, of course, Gowon proclaimed himself commander over and above so many senior officers. It is true that people acquiesced but that was when discipline broke down. So I was not in Lagos, but I did what I could, but Gowon became head of the army. The danger was that some of those who acquiesced did not have the guts to move across to Gowon, they remained under command, here in the East. That confused the whole thing, but basically that was what the whole war was about. The question is :Do we have an army or don’’t we? Some people chose to have an army of war lords, anywhere you are, if you look outside the window and you command more rifles you become the boss. No, you should have a superior loyalty; loyalty to the institution, not so much to the men. If I had been in Lagos we might have saved the situation; but I had won two arguments the one that made Ironsi the general and the one that made him Supreme commander. I gave him the direction the army should go, but because I was in Enugu I was not as effective to prevent the aberration of Gowon being placed at the head of the army, at the time he did.

At the time of the coup against Ironsi it was obvious that Ogundipe did not enjoy the support of the officers and men and had to go?
When you use the word obvious, you tempt into the obvious question? How do you know, give me proof? How did it become obvious if it had not been fed into you. I was in the army I did not see anything obvious, so tell me how?

Nigerians are not interested in my thoughts it is you they want to hear?

No the point is that a lot of these things you people take and digest, and once you are confronted with the true situation you are so reluctant to shift, why? When Ironsi became head was there a military council vote? He was appointed, he took over and you saw the result. Ogundipe should have taken over, why did he not. Or that he ran away, who threatened him? And they threatened him he ran away from being in command, but ran into the arms of Nigeria and became an ambassador. I am glad we are talking about this, because this is part of the half -baked beliefs of many Nigerians, and it is significant they accept these things on matters they are not experts in. That the NCO’s were not taking orders from Ogundipe, who are these Non-commissioned officers. ? What rank? I am being deliberately mischievous to make a point. Forgive me, why should you know! It is my profession and I wish that you would be a little hesitant with these statements that come from Nigeria propaganda to legitimatise Gowon. It is just like the propaganda that says you have to be very careful in the North, the North does not like Ojukwu, and you journalists you continue saying it, when in fact even the northerners in ANPP, and quite a number in PDP, say if Ojukwu stood for election side by side with Buhari we do not know who would win. Because we are very popular with the North of today, but the eastern journalist of today say, no, no the North will not do this, or do that. And it becomes the truth of our misguided era. No, the only way we would have known what the reaction would have been was for Ogundipe to take up his position, and then we would know. Even today, wherever I go to talk, even at the war college they recognise the commanding presence of their superior officer, and that is it.

One of the reasons adduced by observers for the July coup , is that it was a revenge coup since the January 15 attempt was inspired by mostly Igbo officers (interrupts)

And Ogundipe was Igbo?

That is not the point...
That is the main point. That it was an Igbo coup did not make it a Yoruba coup.

Between January 15 and July 29, do you think that Ironsi had taken steps to put back some discipline in the army, as a way of correcting the breakdown of order the January coup caused?
I would be very honest with you, and I would ignore certain Nigerian propaganda. You see we were brought up as one Nigerian army, when the British were pulling out they left one commanding officer, we found ourselves being pulled by ethno-centric forces, we found ourselves being pulled apart. The idea that Ironsi after serving the world as Major-general, force commander in the Congo, should come back to Nigeria and be relieved of his rank sharpened the ethnic divide of the army. Even when I moved and argued that the important issue was the chain of command and the military hierarchy, the institution we inherited we should keep it inviolate. It was easy for many people to say, you Ojukwu, would say that after all, you are an Igbo man. The mere fact that when he took over, the Nigerian army remained and he went round and spoke to so many people, it is possible he could have done more. But I do not think that he saw the danger, so he dealt with it at the level he understood it. Ironsi, a good soldier perhaps. I never saw him in war, but I saw in the Congo, and the way he was appreciated showed he had very good military instincts. I think he did enough to reassure everybody ,the brotherhood of the officer corp. Enough? I saw him doing it when he went round. But my own personal feeling was that he did one of the things I blame Igbo leaders, because they always think the answer is to cry mea culpa, mea culpa. You can do it without accepting guilt, but he lent over backwards accepting guilt. For example, the appointments he made were in accordance with our own rules, he believed in Nigeria. Even before his death, I told him that I did not like the congregation of northern officers in Benin, he said no, no ; "they are my boys". I said yes, but it would be better because of what has been going on that he should try and mix them up even those around him, but he did not. It was the same thing, when I said there is danger these meetings being held in Nasarawa, Kano, our good friend JS Tarka gave me a tape to listen to, and I gave it to him to listen and he listened and he was quite upset. He called Kam Salem, he gave him the recorder and the tapes "to go and listen to what your brothers are planning for me." To reassure me of his solidarity with the North, right there he dialed to speak with Sultan Abubakar, and he spoke to him in fluent Hausa, and all that was to convince me that Tarka was wrong and that he was on very close personal contact with the Sultan, what could be better. So he did what he could within his understanding of the best he could.

Those who planned the coup against Ironsi, said their grouse was decree 34 that created the unitary system and the second was that Ironsi was reluctant to punish the January coup plotters?
What was said that those who plotted the coup would be investigated, I was there at the Supreme military council(SMC). General Ironsi said that those who were involved would be investigated and would, if found guilty, be charged accordingly. But who was in charge of investigating this matter, it was Gowon. That he did not do it was wrong, that they then took action after how many months, four or five months is odd. Blaming Ironsi for a promise unfulfilled after four months only; you know that all of these are mere rationalisations for their actions that they had taken. It was because of what happened on January 15th 1966, that we started having difficulties, and Ironsi decided to go round. If you notice, in his moving round it was so anti-east that Enugu was not even on the list for Ironsi to visit, which was wrong. The decree 34 that you talked about, what actually is in that decree? The point is that I was in the SMC, and I do not think that there was any decree that Ironsi issued , which we in the SMC did not sit round and we all discussed. I know that there was a move for the creation of a unitary government at the SMC, but it had not being written, at all. Nigeria was not unified that was why I remained military governor in the east; if it had been I would not have remained governor in the east. The other person they hated was FC Nwokedi; but if you remember what the SMC told Nwokedi and the nation was that he should go round and discuss, and come back and report; but the rationalisation you find is that he had gone and reported and it was clear a decree was going to be promulgated, not that it had actually been promulgated. Ironsi did not do anything to the contrary, the government was not unified, rather it was the civil service. How does one command areas that he actually had no jurisdiction over? And if they say that is the reason for killing Ironsi, and killing Nigeria, why is that since they have taken over they still retained the system of appointing governors. What the decree did was to unify the civil service under a military system.

At the time you were in touch with Ogundipe, you knew Ironsi had died?
No, not officially. I had the rumour that he had been assassinated, so I began making contacts because I wanted to force them out in the open so that we could start dealing with the real situation.

It was said that you told him that if he makes radio announcement that you would follow from the East giving your support, was that what you said?
It is a long time now, but I can tell you that to establish Ironsi, was a question of something like please, do not keep the nation waiting. Whatever it is, now that the rump of Tafawa Balewa government had vested authority, you speak to the nation and get to work. That if that happens, I would from the north lend some support, and the various commanding officers would also show support. We managed it and stabilised the situation. But this second one, I told him I did not like the crowd around him in Benin, the officers were from a particular grouping; it is possible because of the seniority he did not identify the tendencies. I was a Lieutenant colonel, so I was closer and I knew their tendencies . When the upheaval then took place, I began first to talk to Murtala Mohammed, who was in Ikeja, we understood each other, and what he said to me was very straight forward and simple: " I do not want to stay with Nigeria. I just want us to separate the north from Nigeria, which would mean that we would move the northerners of a certain standing to the north". I said to him, if that is the case okay, go ahead with it. But as I later on understood some western diplomats, the British- Americans and some permanent secretaries told them not to break up Nigeria. I learnt they told them everything they wanted they now have so why leave the country. But I said no, if we have to do it togther we must return to the chain of command, the hierarchy of the military. Then I started to get in touch with Ogundipe, it was difficult at that time, but with my own Yoruba connections, I found him.

Apart from Ogundipe, Adebayo, who else might it have fallen upon to lead the army?
Ogundipe was then a full colonel. After him, it would have fallen probably to Bassey, who was senior to all of us, the only person he was junior to was probably Ironsi.

When Gowon made his national broadcast, you followed up with your own broadcast. Was that when you made up your mind to secede?
I told you early that the whole question was that we return to hierarchy as we had it in the army. Gowon was in Lagos and he took over, he spoke to me and I told him no, that he can’’t take over. I made it clear that it was not his right.

By accepting to negotiate with him at Aburi, was that not a recognition of a fait accompli?
I do not know what you call a fait accompli. When you suddenly caught a robber that invaded your house and carried your belongings, what do you do? You start talking with him, is that a fait accompli? If it were a fait accompli there would have been nothing to discuss. This thing got accomplished at the end of the war.

There is been the suggestion of the rivalry between you and Gowon being a factor(interrupts)?
I will not let you finish, because you are feeding ideas into my mind. Please if you have to use a little courtesy, to respect me ,and let me know what you are talking about.

You were administratively senior to Gowon, even though he joined the army two years before you did, and it is suggested that provoked some rivalry having him assume command?
It did not, you are the one reading that into it. Where did you find that, there are many people who were in the army long before me, that I was ahead of eventually. Do you honestly think having been to University and gotten two degrees that would not even have given me an advantage? It did. There were many people who joined the army before Gowon, it did not provoke rivalry. What I am opposed to is to encapsulate a national tragedy and reduce it to a mundane level. For instance, Col Hilary Njoku might even argue that he was senior to me, and I might disagree, but technically he would be right because even though I became a lieutenant colonel before him, by virtue of his military seniority, he was senior to me and once he became a lieutenant colonel, he assumed seniority. But Gowon’s case was a little bit different. Like you said he joined the army two years before me, but at my commission I had caught up with him anyway; because I got the advantage due to my university training. So that he was in the army two years before me by this time did not come into thought. I hope I have explained myself well.

It was suggested that Decree 8 suspending the constitution and putting into effect some of the understanding that was reached at Aburi was promulgated but you did not accept it, do you still remember some of the aspects that offended you?
If you put the decree on the table I will look at it and tell you. As I said to you, I did not agree with the actions taken, we quarreled and eventually we went to war. There must be so many things that we could not agree on.

But it is said that some senior officers of the army thought you should accept this decree, even EU Apkan ,the then Secretary of Eastern Region?
I would like to see their affirmation that they asked me to accept Decree 8 and I refused, certainly EU Apkan can not say that I worked very closely with him through out. I do not know the other senior officers, I would be very keen to know; if they told you anything I would like to know so that I can know what answer to give. We went to Aburi , the whole of the East, more especially the army in the East were hopeful on the agreement. But we did find a reneging of the agreement, and you want us to find accommodation not in line with the agreement signed.

The National reconciliation committee led by Awo was constituted, but you rejected it why?
We did not accept it because the East was not consulted. We were a federation, that we had a dispute did not confer the right on anyone to act arbitrarily. They cannot just promulgate that, or this without the East. Remember at that time it was the North, East, West and the Mid-west, so do I allow the East to be sealed up before acting, or do I say if you go and do this you are wrong? Do I say let's go back to Aburi, let's do this or that because it is the right of the people we are trampling on? And whilst we are on this, because I believe journalists have done a terrible service to Nigeria, forgive me, but the problem is your backed legalisms. During that period, I was legitimate having been duly appointed, by a duly appointed head of state to look after the East. The quarrel to a large extent was that nobody of any legitimacy appointed Gowon. So Gowon should be arguing and explaining, what you are asking me to explain; there was nothing illegitimate about my appointment even Gowon knows because Ironsi appointed me.

You met Awo on May 4th 1967, and as part of your conversation he asked you about your attitude of southeast leaders to question of the North, it was said that you responded that: " on the specific question of whether there is a possibility of contact with the North, the answer is at the battle field"?
This is what I have been arguing all morning, I mean this is another Nigerian propaganda, that is okay. This quotation is all wrong, I do not even speak that way. If I am going to waste my time the least that you can do is to play me the tape. If people are putting out their own account, I will write my own. But if you, on my 70th birthday are going to ask me questions, first you are not going to be given my memoirs. Secondly, you are not going to have the extracts of the book; I am going to do what I agreed to do with you which is to talk to you generally. If you then come with matters that I consider false, then before I start I would demand for the authenticity of the claims you are making because I am very much aware of the burden of history. I am the final Biafran truth, and that is why I would not be irresponsibly dragged into areas to justify Nigerian propaganda. Do you also know that I released Chief Awolowo from prison? Do you also know that I also maintained contact with Awo that when I had problem with Nigeria that he came to see me in exile? Do you know that there is nowhere in the written annals of Nigerian history where you would see a harsh word from me against Chief Awolowo. If you take all these into consideration you would find why some of your questions are provocative. And incidentally at the time you were talking, who was Chief Awolowo? On the Nigerian side, who has just been released from prison, that Gowon sent on a mission. He did not come to impose the federal might, otherwise he would not have crossed the Niger bridge.

Before the war broke out, Gowon talked about creating the COR state ( Cross Rivers, Ogoja and Rivers state), as a way of reducing your area of influence. But did you anticipate that if you went ahead that you would still have the support of the people of those areas?
That is a good question, but in any case as the head of state of Biafra, what you expect me to do is to sit beside the radio to listen to what Gowon had to say. No. We were running a republic of our own. On the creation of states he had no powers over us; remember that technically at that time Gowon was a rebel.

In your book ‘‘ Because I am involved’’ you said of Gowon, " An aspect of him which I found often disconcerting, was his ability, when pushed to the wall in any discussion, to close off his mind, to close his door, as it were, to all logic." At Aburi did you push him to the wall?
Aburi presented immense opportunity to present our case before the international community , I went there as a leader of eastern regional faction, and it was not a question of pushing him to the wall. Should I tell you what I did? You judge from what you heard... Aburi, you have the complete transcription of what happened. You have the record of all the discussions, you can read with objectivity. And you sit here after many years and ask whether I pushed him to wall; you want to reduce everything to personal dispute, I resent that, I must tell you.

You and Zik never agreed?
Me and Zik never agreed? How can? Who am I, no. He carried me on his laps when he came back from America and visited my father. All my life I referred to him as Pa, my mate was his son Chukwuma. We were not contemporaries, he might have disagreed with my father if ever; but remember at the Foster Sutton, it was my father that bailed him out. So at least he and my father were quite close, if you feel that you are not getting all the facts no problem, but that is the fact. I found him amiable, and in Biafra I gave him maximum protection, and he even led some delegations abroad; when he found the rings around the enclave had become tighter he took a step when I sent on a delegation he decided to flee to Nigeria, so where did you get this information about my not agreeing with him?

You removed him as Vice-chancellor of University of Nigeria?
I removed him as Vice-chancellor for certain reasons, but the bigger reason was that it was the only place available to me in an emergency; I brought in Ado Bayero as the chancellor, it was in the midst of the crisis and I decided that the Emir should come here to show the positive attitude of our people.

What particular reason do you have for removing him?
Has he got glue to his buttocks, he had done a good job up to that point , but the issue as I pointed out earlier is that it became very necessary to relieve him of that position.

Given the way the war ended would you have fought it differently?
Well, as I look back, I would say yes. I would have for those battles I lost; but for the ones I won, I would not change anything. One of the things that I would like to do since I came back from exile is that I would like to hold a plebiscite, not that it would have changed much, but that it would have shown it was the wish of the entire people of the southeast.

When you went into exile there are those who thought that you would have organised resistence to save Biafra(interrupts)
Even today there are those in Nigeria who still think that I am organising some resistence.

But you did not do that why?
Because I did not think that it was necessary. My dear young man, when you fight a war you do what you must do to define your war aims very clearly, and that is what you fight for. Well, some times, having achieved it, you might be tempted to raise it further, but in this case my war aim was to ensure the survival of the Biafran people from the former threat of genocide. In the end, many pronouncements have shown that we succeeded.

At the beginning of hostilities, you had said that no power in black Africa could stop Biafra, did you really mean it?
I am terrible sorry I will not reduce myself to that level of discussion: ‘‘ No power in black Africa did you really mean it?’’ There are ways of talking; at that time with the temper of the moment, that was it. And in any case I proved it, not borrowed power from Europe, I am talking about power from Black Africa. That I had a battalion of weapons? Everybody knew what I had , I said even the grass would fight. Did I mean that every blade grass would put on a uniform and start fighting?

When you came back people expected you to play the oracle, but you said you would not; the present crisis of leadership in Igbo land has been traced to that fact, do you agree?
There is no doubt that some people want me to play the oracle, but I do not look like an oracle. I remember telling the people that I am not a politician, but it is there well-being in the North, West and elsewhere that forces me into their defense, but if they want me to stop they should withdraw and come to the East; and not every time you would shout and complain that you’’ve been massacred, that their shops have been destroyed and looted you look for me. So, for as long as they are out there they need protection from here, that was what I said. And then finally, I enjoy talking to you, I really do; but I wish that you did a lot more reading. But tell me actually, what leader in history had gone into exile, and returned with certain youthfulness and then became an oracle? When you say something you should be able to say like x, or z, tell me?

Do you realise that whenever you try to take certain stage in Igbo politics you evoke passion not only amongst other Nigerians, but even within Igboland?
So I should commit suicide, give me a suggestion. God created me that way or what do I do, cut off my tongue? Go to a cosmetic surgeon to change my face; that is a question you should pose to the almighty God, and ask him why he created me. But clearly I intend to use every ounce of energy to nudge Nigeria into the right way.

When APGA was being formed your were not central to it, at what point did you then develop interest?
As an idea, I found it very fascinating; I would normally take interest in any existing party. But in this case, I took passionate interest watching, and evaluating APGA until after it received INEC certification; but don’’t forget I was the person Ohanaeze entrusted with the task of ensuring a closer interaction between it and the party, so I got the opportunity, and later I found it was the right way.

Why then was it difficult for Ohanaeze to adopt APGA?
They must have their reason, and I felt personally insulted that Ohanaeze should even consider some else too. I know what effort I have made to protect their interest and integrity; now for Ohanaeze to even look in the direction of a man who had the chance of fighting alongside Ndigbo, but decided to fight along side the North during that war was too much. I said, no. I can take most things but not that one. So these are the problems with Ohanaeze, they are not clear where they are going, and I am the one that said Ohanaeze is dead. Maybe now, they are trying to find life, I wish them luck.

You were reported to have proscribed Ohanaeze, a statement many have wondered what gave you the right to say so?
It is a God given right, and I would say what I think it is appropriate in a democracy. And we are talking about a political situation, and we are facing an election, and I say that Ohanaeze is dead and you say who gave me the right? It is a God given right, that is my opinion. So because it is an umbrella organisation, there are certain things you are not allowed to say, come off it. It is my right and your job is to prove me wrong, and not to say that it is not right.

Your forming Igbo National Assembly (INA) is seen by many people as not helping in forging a common front lacking in Igbo land, what do you say?
Ohanaeze is an organisation born out of strife, I can understand the reason why they decided to be socio-cultural organisation. With that, we were able to function under a military government. But as we evolve such there are greater freedoms, we have reached a stage where I think that Ndigbo needs a political organisation. We have a party which is national, it needs INA charged with the mobilisation of Ndigbo. Nobody quarrels with Ohanaeze, if they continue with being socio-cultural, no problem. If I am invited to an mmanwu festival, I will be there. But remember that Ohanaeze and its leaders over the years have been a group pregnant with politics, but very cowardly they could not express it, actually they are jealous of political initiatives. I cannot dismiss the organisation totally, even despite the question of conflict, but the problem with Ndigbo today is particularly political. Nobody under the pay of the state or federal government should be an executive of Ohanaeze, this is simple and requires nothing more than commonsense. Nobody aspiring for federal appointment should be in position in Ohanaeze. In INA, I hope we would be able to do what Nigeria needs Ndigbo to do constructively, which is critical opposition.

Are you aware Ohanaeze is being restructured?
Yes I am aware, we are watching them, but I am not satisfied because I do not think they have got to the bottom of their problem. They first thing they have to do is to separate the politics from the socio-cultural, and there are so many things to be done. The other is organisational, I do not think they can command a lot of fellowship amongst Ndigbo. One of the reasons is that the leadership does not inspire the confidence of Ndigbo, there are so many factors that at my age and position it would be almost irresponsible of me to go into details.

There is the observation that you do not get along with many Igbo leaders?
Since the end of the civil war, you would find people from the North, from the army barracks and everywhere tell you these are the leaders of Ndigbo, and people go trudging after them, they are our leaders. Emeka Offor is your leader and they go after him, he is our leader. They are told Chris Uba is your leader, they go after him ,he is our leader. Come of it; soon or later we should be able to say no. These people are not our leaders, and that is what a political organisation should be able to do. Now they have ended up telling us somebody who was on the Nigerian side during the civil war is our leader and they say yes sir, he is our leader. That cannot go on.

Can you confirm that you said in Owerri that you handed over the baton of leadership of Ndigbo to Chekwas Okorie?
Wishful thinking, I did not say that. I said I would hand over to the likes of Chekwas Okorie. And the other thing I want you to know is that I have no intention of dying yet.

In your book, you said that Nigeria is crippled by four fears: fear of change, fear of truth, fear of unity and fear of man. Have you discovered more fears?
The worst fear is actually the fear of unity, at every step. As I reflect about Nigeria, I find that one thing we all agree on is the fear of unity. That is why I said that the beginning of wisdom of Nigeria must be a national conference, let us come together around the table. Let no subject be made a taboo, and design a Nigeria that can accommodate all of us. Nigeria should be restructured. You see, when I say a national conference I never like going into details, because I would prefer everything to be discussed. And for everybody to understand me, I would say if the people of this area want a Biafra, why not? And if some other people want an Oduduwa republic, why should it not be discussed; to try then to spoon feed a constitution to the Nigerian people is wrong. And the people who want this are the military, who are the least qualified of the lot to do so. And whilst we are on it, do not tell me that every time we are changing the document the point is that the constituion is made for the people, not the people for the constitution. If we have to change the constitution every year, why not? Provided we are easing the situation for our people, there is nothing wrong with that.

From your book, you said about the surrender of Biafra: " when the news of the capitulation of Biafran forces under Effiong reached me, first it was anger: anger that perhaps I had been tricked into going out on a fruitless and futile mission." Did you mean to stay back?
My intention was to stay back, but whether I would have stayed is another thing. We like to beat our chest and be the great baboon, pillars of courage; but I do not know what I would have done. The intention was to stay.

You described Obasanjo in our book this way: ‘‘Here was a man who without being a great statesman in his time grew to become the greatest elder statesman of his time, what is your view of this statement now?’’
I repudiate it. I think I do so unabashedly, because in my latest statement I said Obasanjo is a fraud, and I think that captures him better than anything else I have said. He is not that which he presents himself to be. He is not a civilian; he is not a democrat; he is not a Nigerian. He is not a Yoruba as such.

You wrote in your book, that: ‘‘ we treat electoral opponents as malicious enemies instead of as persons with opposing view points.’’ Do you today feel vindicated?
Yes, I do feel vindicated. Election opponents in Enugu here are being hunted by assassins. In Anambra, it is not much better. In Abia, it is not better.

Do you think that the civilians have re-imposed order over the army?
Not so long ago, when I said to you that Obasanjo is a fraud, I indicated that he says he is a civilian, but he is not. When you say whether the civilians have control over the army, I say to you that it has not been tested. The Obasanjo regime, in my view, is not totally civilian. All his massacres are military, he clearly gave orders to some people and they carried them out. So it is difficult for me to say right now that they are under civilian control. But once we get to the constitutional conference, procedure would be established for better control of the armed forces.

Do you have some ideas that you may like to share with us?
In the constitutional conference, it would be a passionate interest of mine to serve in the group that would try to cage that beast called the army. You see the army came out of the barracks in 1966, it would be duty of all patriotic Nigerians to see that the army is caged back to their barracks again. They have to be made professional again, what you have today are an officer corps of land lords. No efficient army can run with land lords in command, and at the end of each month they had to go back to the town to collect their rents. The army in Nigeria is a heavy burden to the national economy, and this is so because of black mail. I have argued for years that the army can be made productive, but people do not believe me, they prefer we continue the colonial all-consuming army. And this does not fit well into the economy of a third world country. They should be divested of their obvious intimidatory role. For instance, a soldier can only be in uniform whenever he is on duty, and if he is moving from barracks to duty other arrangements could be made. But one thing I will not support is an army in uniform on the roads, and on foot carrying weapons it is intimidating, and when they are hungry, to extort, and when they feel randy, to rape. I am saying this not as an accusation, because whatever I say about the army affects me. But I am saying this to point these loopholes out to the new commanders of today. A lot of privileges you can grant the army, you do so because you look at them not as super humans. The Nigerian army has to be drastically restructured. When we were being trained, we were told that as soon as you have taken part in a coup, the entire force is disbanded, and then you build a new army whether it is a battalion, a brigade. What has happened is that in Nigeria they have tried to cover up treason. What right has Theophilus Danjuma, to butcher his general officer commanding in Ibadan, what right? What right has Gowon to benefit from such a crime, what right? The things they did led us to a grotesque situation where for six months Nigeria was being ruled from a grave. Murtala Mohammed was effective dead and buried in the grave, while an inscription was in every wall as part of Murtala- Obasanjo regime; Obasanjo did not have the courage to repudiate it, it was grotesque, but we had it.

On this Danjuma’s role there is the view that says killing Ironsi was not part of the plot, but at Ibadan the NCOs pushed him aside and then took Ironsi and killed him?
My answer is that you are either a commander or your are not. And I loathe this situation where those who committed crime remain faceless. Is there any book where you have been told which NCOs pushed (him) aside, and he went on to benefit from that act. And would you tell me which NCO reinstated him?

What message do you have for Nigerians at your 70th birthday?
I want to thank every Nigerian for one thing or the other, contributing to making my day a success. The situation in Nigeria is very bad, but I want to assure them that it is not a situation that is irreparable, it can be repaired. It requires wisdom and wit. Whereas some people say we are one nation, I want to tell my country men and women that we are not. We are an agglomeration of people seeking to become one nation, the search for one nation has become very valid. We have not arrived there and the only way we can get there is through a sovereign national conference. We need and should design and re-design a polity that accommodates not one group but everybody. My fellow country men and women, I have a strong belief that we can make it. What has transpired in the past is an aberration; the concept that, might is right, is an aberration. It is only through a national conference that we can create a Nigerian of ourselves, instead of patching it up . My beloved people I believe that together we can make it.

When is Ikemba going to retire?
I will retire a few months after my death.
 

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Part Two

 

I'm the Final Biafran Truth, Ojukwu

Ikemb Ojukwu

By Paul Odili of Vanguard

Your desire to end your father's interference led you to join the army?
How could he, he did everything possible to stop me from going into the army. He tried everything, went to the Governor-General, James Robertson to prevent my joining the army. And they all laughed quietly at their ability to get me stymied, particularly my own favourite governor, Sir Clem in the East, who told my father not to worry that I could not take it. Because I could not be taken for cadet training, I joined as a recruit. By the time my father knew it, my hair had been shaved, I had joined the Nigerian army, I was in a uniform, and I was in a depot in Zaria. People shortly knew who I was and they treated me like an eccentric, with a benign amusement.There was another funny episode; but I escaped all that, and again I say there was a divine intervention; because I was in this class for a weapon training, and there was this sergeant major, who put ‘‘s’’ in every word he uses, so on this particular day, he came and said "good morning gentlemans. My lessons today is the teachings for the soldiers, it is the assemblies of the rifles. But before I start my lessons this mornings, I want to make revisions. "Gentlemans," he pointed at some thing, "what is this"?, yes, somebody answered butt, "good, good" he responded. What is this? he pointed at another thing, "barrel, good, good" he said. He went on and on, until he came to this little button under the catch, and this one was the difficult one, I put up my hand and he said " you, yes Bature ". I said 'safety catch', he said "damn fool, you sabi nothing". I said wait, he went on "Damn fool, you sabi nothing". I kept quiet and listened, we went on, another two people, then one said 'na sapler ka', he said: "good, everybody na sapler ka". Which could have been all right if I had kept my mouth shut, but I put up my hand and he said " what do you want" ? I said there is no such word in the English dictionary, no such word as ‘‘sapler ka’’. He was very angry "damn fool, me you teach am English?" He ordered immediately that I should be taken to the guard’’s room. I was marched like that across the parade ground. I was then pushed into the cell and locked up. The problem was that he had to file a charge. He thought about what to write and decided to put there: ‘‘no sabi English’’ which saved me because the adjutant, an Englishman, saw it and found it odd, then decided that there must be something going on. So he tried to get to me to find out what was going on, I told him what happened, he started laughing, he could not take it alone so he called his second in command, and they found the whole thing ridiculous. They knew I was an Oxford graduate, they knew that I spoke the English language better than they did. So they decided that the only way to get the sergeant major off my back was to push the case beyond them and place it before the commanding officer, and it would be the adjutant alone who would take me to him and that was how I escaped. The sergeant major was very happy that he won but the commanding officer did not even have to listen, he knew what had happened. But when we discussed, he said "I do not see what you are doing here, but you know best, but I can tell you one way that you can be useful to me." He said to me: "I have a wife, stupid fella; I have a daughter, that is all she could produce. I want you to take them wherever they want to go. I do not want them within my sight." I said yes sir. In the morning, they would go shopping, they would go horse riding, the man just wanted to spend his life not even in the officers mess, but at the European club in town. And that was actually the sum total of my recruit, and naturally, when the time came, he put my name forward for office training.

On the whole, you spent 10 years with the Nigerian Army, what was it like and how did you end up in Kano?
The Nigerian Army, I say this not to denigrate anyone, is the remnant of a force that had grown steadily from the West African Frontier Force, until it became at independence, the Nigerian Army. When I was there, it was a force with five battalions, and we were sort of inching our way to the six battalions. And every officer knew brother officers; because of my peculiar type of education, when I came into the army after my training, I was selected to be either an instructor, or a staff officer. But my calling was for infantry; and if you remember, a lot of British officers had a tired approach and really I was looked upon as that officer that you could leave with minimal supervision. In fact, at one stage, my annual report had these words that I was one officer ‘‘who never served under anybody but we all served under him.’’ Naturally, I was a senior officer, my number was 29, and I moved up every year since my commission, and I had created quite a bit of jealous, enmity by my rapid promotion, and that sort of alienated me from my military colleagues. And if one was not within range, I was a friend. The army, for effectiveness, was very good ceremonially, we were also good for internal security actions, but I would not vouch for its war efficiency, which you found during the war, that the army proved itself. It was the biggest and most effective defoliating agent, they would shoot through any amount of leaves and miss out the enemy. And for propaganda sake, people were given so much reputation, reputation for what? And they go about prancing about; 'we did this, we did that,' no. We have this latent problem, because we have been given this bullshit about their efficiency, they began to believe it. When I say this, I am also recognising the limitation of my own training as an officer. By Nigerian standards, I was good, but I cannot go into modern war with other people who are better trained. I was all right as an infantry officer, I was all right as a small formation officer. But I do not think that internationally, at the power points that I would go beyond the command of a brigade. That is me, so when you see pipsqueaks prancing around as divisional commanders, core commanders, I just laugh.

The army today is blamed for the instability in the political system, when in your opinion do you think the army began to eye a role in the political system?
The army lost discipline with the appointment of Yakubu Gowon. It was Gowon that rooted indiscipline into the Nigerian Army. This is the basis of my disagreement with the Nigerian Army Officers Corp, nothing more than that. In a way, it is the politicisation of the officers corp; I have always been committed to the professional army. We argued the appointment of Ironsi as the major-general, who would take over from Maj-General Wilbe Everad, the last British commanding officer. I maintained the position that for the army to remain, we have to follow the natural chain of command of the hierarchy. Despite the disruptions of the Ifeajuna coup, we still held together as an army. Later, it became a question of how to handle the disruption of the demise of Ironsi. If you remember, I had been posted to Enugu, so I was not in Lagos to argue this. But I kept on the telephone arguing the point, that Ogundipe should take over; no problem then, because there was a chance of resolving the issues. Nigeria was let down by Ogundipe, because his action tended to give more strength to people who believe that anybody could be the head at any time; I say no to that kind of thinking. Those who designed the military structure knew what they were doing. When I finally learnt that Ogundipe had fled, I did not stop. I then proposed Adebayo, he should take over by seniority, then of course, Gowon proclaimed himself commander over and above so many senior officers. It is true that people acquiesced but that was when discipline broke down. So I was not in Lagos, but I did what I could, but Gowon became head of the army. The danger was that some of those who acquiesced did not have the guts to move across to Gowon, they remained under command, here in the East. That confused the whole thing, but basically, that was what the whole war was about. The question is: 'do we have an army or don’’t we?' Some people chose to have an army of war lords, anywhere you are, if you look outside the window and you command more rifles, you become the boss. No, you should have a superior loyalty; loyalty to the institution not so much to the men. If I had been in Lagos, we might have saved the situation; but I had won two arguments: the one that made Ironsi the general and the one that made him supreme commander. I gave him the direction the army should go, but because I was in Enugu, I was not as effective to prevent the aberration of Gowon being placed at the head of the army, at the time he did.

At the time of the coup against Ironsi, it was obvious that Ogundipe did not enjoy the support of the officers and men and had to go?
When you use the word obvious, you tempt into the obvious question. How do you know, give me proof? How did it become obvious if it had not been fed into you? I was in the army, I did not see anything obvious, so tell me how?

Nigerians are not interested in my thoughts, it is you they want to hear...
No, the point is that a lot of these things you people take and digest, and once you are confronted with the true situation, you are so reluctant to shift, why? When Ironsi became head, was there a military council vote? He was appointed, he took over and you saw the result. Ogundipe should have taken over, why did he not? Or that he ran away, who threatened him? And they threatened him, he ran away from being in command, but ran into the arms of Nigeria and became an ambassador. I am glad we are talking about this because this is part of the half-baked beliefs of many Nigerians, and it is significant they accept these things on matters they are not experts in. That the NCOs were not taking orders from Ogundipe, who are these Non-Commissioned Officers? What rank? I am being deliberately mischievous to make a point, forgive me. Why should you know. It is my profession and I wish that you would be a little hesitant with these statements that come from Nigerian propaganda to legitimise Gowon. It is just like the propaganda that says you have to be very careful in the North, the North does not like Ojukwu, and you journalists, you continue saying it, when in fact even the Northerners in ANPP, and quite a number in PDP, say if Ojukwu stood for election side by side with Buhari, we do not know who would win. Because we are very popular with the North of today, but the Eastern journalist of today say, no, no, the North will not do this, or do that. And it becomes the truth of our misguided era. No, the only way we would have known what the reaction would have been was for Ogundipe to take up his position, and then we would know. Even today, wherever I go to talk, even at the war college, they recognise the commanding presence of their superior officer, and that is it.

One of the reasons adduced by observers for the July coup , is that it was a revenge coup since the January 15 attempt was inspired by mostly Igbo officers(interrupts)
And Ogundipe was Igbo?

That is not the point(interrupts)
That is the main point. That it was an Igbo coup did not make it a Yoruba coup.

Between January 15 and July 29, do you think that Ironsi had taken steps to put back some discipline in the army, as a way of correcting the breakdown of order the January coup caused?
I would be very honest with you, and I would ignore certain Nigerian propaganda. You see, we were brought up as one Nigerian Army, when the British were pulling out, they left one commanding officer, we found ourselves being pulled by ethno-centric forces, we found ourselves being pulled apart. The idea that Ironsi, after serving the world as Major-General, Force Commander in the Congo, should come back to Nigeria and be relieved of his rank, sharpened the ethnic divide of the army. Even when I moved and argued that the important issue was the chain of command and the military hierarchy, that the institution we inherited, we should keep inviolate. It was easy for many people to say you, Ojukwu would say that, after all you are an Igbo man. The mere fact that he took over the Nigerian Army remained, and he went round and spoke to so many people, it is possible he could have done more. But I do not think that he saw the danger, so he dealt with it at the level he understood it. Ironsi, a good soldier perhaps, I never saw him in war, but I saw him in the Congo, and the way he was appreciated showed he had very good military instincts. I think he did enough to reassure everybody of the brotherhood of the officer corp. Enough! I saw him doing it when he went round. But my own personal feeling was that he did one of the things I blame Igbo leaders for, because they always think the answer is to cry mea culpa, mea culpa. You can do it without accepting guilt, but he leant over backwards accepting guilt. For example, the appointments he made were in accordance with our own rules, he believed in Nigeria. Even before his death, I told him that I did not like the congregation of Northern officers in Benin, he said no, no "they are my boys". I said yes, but it would be better because of what has been going on, that he should try and mix them up even those around him, but he did not. It was the same thing when I said there is danger in these meetings being held in Nasarawa and Kano. Our good friend, JS Tarka, gave me a tape to listen to, and I gave it to him to listen to and he listened and he was quite upset. He called Kam Salem, he gave him the recorder and the tapes "to go and listen to what your brothers are planning for me." To reassure me of his solidarity with the North right there, he dialled to speak with Sultan Abubakar, and he spoke to him in fluent Hausa, and all that was to convince me that Tarka was wrong and that he was on very close personal contact with the Sultan, what could be better! So he did what he could within his understanding of the best he could.

Those who planned the coup against Ironsi said their grouse was Decree 34 which created the unitary system and the second was that Ironsi was reluctant to punish the January coup plotters?
What was said was that those who plotted the coup would be investigated, I was there at the Supreme Military Council (SMC). General Ironsi said that those who were involved would be investigated and would, if found guilty, be charged accordingly. But who was in charge of investigating this matter? It was Gowon. That he did not do it was wrong, that they then took action after how many months, four or five months, is odd. Blaming Ironsi for a promise unfulfilled after four months only; you know that all of these are mere rationalisations for the actions that they had taken. It was because of what happened on January 15, 1966, that we started having difficulties, and Ironsi decided to go round. If you notice in his moving round, it was so anti-East that Enugu was not even on the list for Ironsi to visit, which was wrong. The Decree 34 that you talked about, what actually was in that decree? The point is that I was in the SMC, and I do not think that there was any decree that Ironsi issued which we in the SMC did not sit round and we all discussed. I know that there was a move for the creation of a unitary government at the SMC, but it had not been written at all. Nigeria was not unified, that was why I remained military governor in the East; if it had been, I would not have remained governor in the East. The other person they hated was F.C Nwokedi; but if you remember, what the SMC told Nwokedi and the nation, was that he should go round and discuss, and come back and report; but the rationalisation you find is that he had gone and reported and it was clear a decree was going to be promulgated, not that it had actually been promulgated. Ironsi did not do anything to the contrary, the government was not unified, rather, it was the civil service. How does one command areas that he actually had no jurisdiction over? And if they say that is the reason for killing Ironsi, and killing Nigeria, why is that since they have taken over, they still retained the system of appointing governors? What the decree did was to unify the civil service under a military system.

At the time you were in touch with Ogundipe, you knew Ironsi had died?
No, not officially. I had the rumour that he had been assassinated, so I began making contacts because I wanted to force them out in the open so that we could start dealing with the real situation.

It was said that you told him that if he makes radio announcement that you would follow from the East, giving your support, was that what you said?
It is a long time now, but I can tell you that to establish Ironsi was a question of something like 'please do not keep the nation waiting, whatever it is, now that the rump of Tafawa Balewa government had vested authority, you speak to the nation and get to work.' That if that happens, I would from the North lend some support, and the various commanding officers would also show support. We manage it and stabilise the situation, but this second one, I told him I did not like the crowd around him in Benin, the officers were from a particular grouping; it is possible that because of the seniority, he did not identify the tendencies, I was a lieutenant colonel, so I was closer and I knew their tendencies . When the upheaval then took place, I began first to talk to Murtala Mohammed, who was in Ikeja, we understood each other, and what he said to me was very straight forward and simple: " I do not want to stay with Nigeria. I just want us to separate the North from Nigeria, which would mean that we would move the Northerners of a certain standing to the North". I said to him: 'if that is the case, okay, go ahead with it.' But as I later on understood, some western diplomats, the British, and Americans and some permanent secretaries, told them not to break up Nigeria. I learnt they told them everything they wanted, they now have, so why leave the country? But I said no, if we have to do it together, we must return to the chain of command, the hierarchy of the military. Then I started to get in touch with Ogundipe, it was difficult at that time, but with my own Yoruba connections, I found him.

Apart from Ogundipe and Adebayo, who else might it have fallen upon to lead the Army?
Ogundipe was then a full colonel, after him it would have fallen probably to Bassey, who was senior to all of us, the only person he was junior to was probably Ironsi.

When Gowon made his national broadcast, you followed up with your own broadcast, was that when you made up your mind to secede?
I told you earlier that the whole question was that we return to hierarchy as we had it in the Army. Gowon was in Lagos and he took over, he spoke to me and I told him no, that he can’’t take over. I made it clear that it was not his right.

By accepting to negotiate with him at Aburi, was that not a recognition of a fait accomopli?
I do not know what you call a fait accompli. When you suddenly caught a robber that invaded your house and carried your belongings, what do you do? You start talking with him, is that a fait accompli? If it were a fait accompli, there would have been nothing to discuss. This thing got accomplished at the end of the war.

There is the suggestion of the rivalry between you and Gowon being a factor... (interrupts)
I will not let you finish, because you are feeding ideas into my mind. Please, if you have to use a little courtesy to respect me and let me know what you are talking about.

Your were administratively senior to Gowon, even though he joined the army two years before you did, and it is suggested that it provoked some rivalry having him assume command...
It did not, you are the one reading that into it. Where did you find that? There are many people who were in the army long before me that I was ahead of eventually. Do you honestly think having been to the university and gotten two degrees would not even give me an advantage? It did! There were many people who joined the army before Gowon, it did not provoke rivalry. What I am opposed to is to encapsulate a national tragedy and reduce it to a mundane level. For instance, Col. Hilary Njoku might even argue that he was senior to me, and I might disagree, but technically, he would be right because even though I became a lieutenant colonel before him, by virtue of military seniority, he was senior to me and once he became a lieutenant colonel, he assumed seniority. But Gowon’’s case was a little bit different. Like you said, he joined the army two years before me, but at my commission, I had caught up with him anyway; because I got the advantage due to my university training. So that he was in the army two years before me by this time did not come into thought, I hope I have explained myself well.

It was suggested that Decree 8 suspending the constitution and putting into effect some of the understanding that was reached at Aburi, was promulgated but you did not accept it, do you still remember some of the aspects that offended you?
If you put the decree on the table I will look at it and tell you. As I said to you, I did not agree with the actions taken, we quarrelled and eventually, we went to war. There must be so many things that we could not agree on because it is the right of the people we are trampling on. And whilst we are on this because I believe journalists have done a terrible service to Nigeria, forgive me, but the problem is your baked legalisms. During that period I was legitimate having been duly appointed, by a duly appointed head of state to look after the east. The quarrel to a large extent was that nobody of any legitimacy appointed Gowon. So Gowon should be arguing and explaining, what you are asking me to explain; there was nothing illegitimate about my appointment even Gowon knows because Ironsi appointed me.

You met Awo on May 4th 1967, and as part of your conversation he asked you about your attitude of southeast leaders to question of the north, it was said that you responded that: " on the specific question of whether there is a possibility of contact with the north, the answer is at the battle field"?
This is what I have been arguing all morning, I mean this is another Nigerian propaganda, that is okay. This quotation is all wrong, I do not even speak that way; if I am going to waste my time the least that you can do is to play me the tape. If people are putting out their own account, I will write my own. But if you on my 70th birthday are going to ask me questions, first you are not going to be given my memoirs, secondly, you are not going to have the extracts of the book; I am going to do what I agreed to do with you which is to talk to you generally. If you then come with matters that I consider false, then before I start I would demand for the authenticity of the claims you are making because I am very much aware of the burden of history. I am the final Biafran truth, and that is why I would not be irresponsibly dragged into areas to justify Nigerian propaganda. Do you also know that I released Chief Awolowo from prison? Do you also know that I also maintained contact with Awo that when I had problem with Nigeria that he came to see in exile. Do you know that there is nowhere in the written annals of Nigerian history where you would see a harsh word from me against Chief Awolowo. If you take all these into consideration you would find why some of your questions are provocative. And incidentally at the time you were talking who was Chief Awolowo? On the Nigerian side, who has just been released from prison, that Gowon sent on a mission. He did not come to impose the federal might otherwise he would not have crossed the Niger bridge.

Before the war broke Gowon talked about creating the COR states ( Cross Rivers, Ogoja and Rivers state), as a way of reducing your area of influence. But did you anticipate that if you went ahead that you would still have the support of the people of those areas?
That is a good question, but in any case as the head of state of Biafra, what you expect me to do is to sit beside the radio to listen to what Gowon had to say. No. We were running a republic of our own. Ont the creation of states he had no powers over us; remember that technically at that time Gowon was a rebel.

In your book ‘‘ Because I am involved’’ you said of Gowon, " An aspect of him which I found often disconcerting, was his ability, when pushed to the wall in any discussion, to close off his mind, to close his door, as it were, to all logic", at Aburi did you push to him to the wall?

Aburi presented immense opportunity to present our case before the international community , I went there as a leader of eastern regional faction, and it was not a question of pushing him to the wall. Should I tell you what I did? You judge from what you heard’’ Aburi you have the complete transcription of what happened. You have the record of all the discussions, you can read with objectivity. And you sit here after many years and ask whether I pushed him to wall; you want to reduce everything to personal dispute, I resent that I must tell you.

You and Zik never agreed?
Me and Zik never agreed?, how can who am I, no. He carried me on his laps when he came back from America and visited my father. All my life I referred to him as pa, my mate was his son Chuma. We were not contemporaries, he might have disagreed with my father if ever; but remember at the Foster Sutton, it was my father that bailed him out. So at least he and my father were quite close, if you feel that you are not getting all the facts no problem, but that is the fact. I found him amiable, and in Biafra I gave him maximum protection, and he even led some of delegations abroad; when he found the rings around the enclave had become tighter he took a step when I sent on a delegation he decided to flee to Nigeria, so where did you get this information about my not agreeing with him?

You removed him as Vice-chancellor of University of Nigeria?
I removed him as Vice-chancellor for certain reasons, but the bigger reason was that it was the only place available to me in an emergency; I brought in Ado Bayero as the chancellor it was in the midst of the crisis and I decided that the Emir should come here to show the positive attitude of our people.

What particular reason do you have for removing him?
Has he got glue to his buttocks, he had done a good job up to that point , but the issue as I pointed out earlier is that it became very necessary to relieve him of that position.

Given the way the war ended would you have fought it differently?
Well as I look back I would say yes I would have for those battles I lost, but for the ones I won I would not change anything. One of the things that I would like to do since I came back from exile is that I would like to hold a plebiscite, not that it would have changed much, but that it would have shown it was the wish of the entire people of the southeast.

When you went into exile there are those who thought that you would have organised resistence to save Biafra(interrupts)
Even today there are those in Nigeria who still think that I am organising some resistence.

But you did not do that why?
Because I did not think that it was necessary. My dear young man when you fight a war you do what you must do to define your war aims very clearly, and that is what you fight for. Well some times having achieved it you might be tempted to raise it further, but in this case my war aim was to ensure the survival of the Biafran people from the former threat of genocide. In the end many pronouncements have shown that we succeeded.

At the beginning of hostilities, you had said that no power in black Africa could stop Biafra, did you really mean it?
I am terrible sorry I will not reduce myself to that level of discussion. ‘‘ No power in black Africa did you really mean it’’, there are ways of talking; at that time with the temper of the moment, that was it. And in any case I proved it, not borrowed power from Europe I am talking about power from black Africa. That I had a battalion of weapons?, everybody knew what I had , I said even the grass would fight. Did I mean that even blade grass would put on a uniform and start fighting.

When you came back people expected you to play the oracle, but you said you would not; the present crisis of leadership in Igbo land has been traced to that fact, do you agree?
There is no doubt that some people want me to play the oracle, but I do not look like an oracle. I remember telling the people that I am not a politician, but it is there being in the north, west and elsewhere that forces me into their defense, but if they want me to stop they should withdraw and come to the east; and not every time you would shout and complain that you’’ve been massacred, that their shops have been destroyed and looted you look for me. So for as long as they are out there they need protection from here, that was what I said. And then finally, I enjoy talking to you, I really do; but I wish that you did a lot more reading. But tell me actually, what leader in history had gone into exile, and returned with certain youthfulness and then became an oracle? When you say something you should be able to say like x, or z, tell me.?

Do you realise that whenever you try to take certain stage in Igbo politics you evoke passion not only amongst other Nigerians, but even within Igboland?
So I should commit suicide, give me a suggestion. God created me that way or what do I do, cut off my tongue? Go to a cosmetic surgeon to change my face; that is a question you should pose to the almighty God, and ask him why he created me. But clearly I intend to use every ounce of energy to nudge Nigeria into the right way.

When APGA was been formed your were not central to it, at what point did you then develop interest?
As an idea I found it very fascinating; I would normally take interest in any existing party. But in this case I took passionate interest watching, and evaluating APGA until after it received INEC certification; but don’’t forget I was the person Ohanaeze entrusted with the task of ensuring a closer interaction between it and the party, so I got the opportunity, and later I found it was the right way.

Why then was it difficult for Ohanaeze to adopt APGA?
They must have their reason, and I felt personally insulted that Ohanaeze should even consider some else too. I know what effort I have made to protect their interest and integrity; now for Ohanaeze to even look in the direction of a man who had the chance of fighting alongside Ndigbo, but decided to fight along side the north during that war was too much. I said no. I can take most things but not that one. So these are the problems with Ohanaeze, they are not clear where they are going, and I am the one that said Ohanaeze is dead. Maybe now they are trying to find life, I wish them luck.

You were reported to have proscribed Ohanaeze, a statement many have wondered what gave you the right to say so?
It is a God given right, and I would say what I think is appropriate in a democracy. And we are talking about a political situation, and we are facing an election, and I say that Ohanaeze is dead and you say who gave me the right? It is a God given right, that is my opinion. So because it is an umbrella organisation, there are certain things you are not allowed to say, come off it. It is my right and you job is to prove me wrong, and not to say that it is not right.

Your forming Igbo National Assembly (INA) is seen by many people as not helping in forging a common front lacking in Igbo land, what do you say?
Ohanaeze is an organisation born out of strife, I can understand the reason why they decided to be socio-cultural organisation, with that we were able to function under a military government. But as we evolve such there are greater freedoms, we have reached a stage where I think that Ndigbo needs a political organisation. We have a party which is national, it needs INA charged with mobilisation of Ndigbo. Nobody quarrels with Ohanaeze, if they continue with being socio-cultural, no problem. If I am invited to an mmanwu festival, I will be there. But remember that Ohanaeze and its leaders over the years have been a group pregnant with politics, but very cowardly they could not express it, actually they are jealous of political initiatives. I cannot dismiss the organisation totally, even despite the question of conflict, but the problem with Ndigbo today is particularly political. Nobody under the pay of the state or federal government should be an executive of Ohanaeze, this is simple and requires nothing more than commonsense. Nobody aspiring for federal appointment should be in position in Ohanaeze. In INA I hope we would be able to do what Nigeria needs Ndigbo to do constructively, which is critical opposition.

Are you aware Ohanaeze is being restructured?
Yes I am aware, we are watching them, but I am not satisfied because I do not think they have got to the bottom of their problem. They first thing they have to do is to separate the politics from the socio-cultural, and there are so many things to be done. The other is that organisational I do not think they can command a lot of fellowship amongst Ndigbo. One of the reasons is that the leadership does not inspire the confidence of Ndigbo, there are so many factors that at my age and position it would be almost irresponsible of me to go into details.

There is the observation that you do not get along with many Igbo leaders?
Since the end of the civil war, you would find people from the north, from the army barracks and everywhere tell you these are the leaders of Ndigbo, and people go trudging after them, they are our leaders. Emeka Offor is your leader and they go after him he is our leader. They are told Chris Uba is your leader, they go after him he is our leader, come of it; soon or later we should be able to say no. These people are not our leaders, and that is what a political organisation should be able to do. Now they have ended up telling us somebody who was on the Nigerian side during the civil war is our leader and they say yes sir, he is our leader. That cannot go on.

Can you confirm that you said in Owerri that you handed over the baton of leadership of Ndigbo to Chekwas Okorie?
Wishful thinking, I did not say that. I said I would hand over to the likes of Chekwas Okorie, and the other thing I want you to know is that I have no intention of dying yet.

In your book, you said that Nigeria is crippled by four fears: fear of change, fear of truth, fear of unity and fear of man. Have you discovered more fears?
The worst fear is actually the fear of unity, at every step as I reflect about Nigeria I find that one thing we all agree on is the fear of unity. That is why I said that the beginning of wisdom of Nigeria must be a national conference, let us come together around the table. Let no subject be made a taboo, and design a Nigeria that can accommodate all of us. Nigeria should be restructured. You see when I say a national conference I never like going into details, because I would prefer everything to be discussed. And for everybody to understand me I would say if the people of this area want a Biafra, why not? And if some other people want an Oduduwa republic, why should it not be discussed; to try then to spoon feed a constitution to the Nigerian people is wrong. And the people who want to this are the military, who are the least qualified of the lot to do so. And whilst we are on it, do not tell me that every time we are changing the document the point is that the constituion is made for the people, not the people for the constitution. If we have to change the constitution every year, why not?, provided we are easing the situation for our people, there is nothing wrong with that.

From your book, you said about the surrender of Biafra: " when the news of the capitulation of Biafran forces under Effiong reached me, first it was anger: anger that perhaps I had been tricked into going out on a fruitless and futile mission." Did you mean to stay back?
My intention was to stay back, but whether I would have stayed is another thing. We like to beat our chest and be the great baboon, pillars of courage; but I do not know what I would have done. The intention was to stay.

You described Obasanjo in our book this way: ‘‘Here was a man who without being a great statesman in his time grew to become the greatest elder statesman of his time, what is your view of this statement now?’’
I repudiate it. I think I do so unabashedly, because my in latest statement I said Obasanjo is a fraud, and I think that captures him better than anything else I have said. He is not that which he presents himself to be. He is not a civilian; he is not a democrat; he is not a Nigerian. He is not a Yoruba as such.

You wrote in your book, that: ‘‘ we treat electoral opponents as malicious enemies instead of as persons with opposing view points.’’ Do you today feel vindicated?
Yes I do feel vindicated. Election opponents in Enugu here are being hunted by assassins, in Anambra it is not much better, in Abia it is not better.

Do you think that the civilians have re-imposed order over the army?
Not so long ago when I said to you that Obasanjo is a fraud, I indicated that he says he is a civilian, but he is not. When you say whether the civilians have control over the army, I say to you that it has not been tested. The Obasanjo regime in my view is not totally civilian. All his massacres are military, he clearly gave orders to some people and they carried them out. So it is difficult for me to say right now that they are under civilian control. But once we get to the constitutional conference, procedure would be established for better control of the armed forces.

Do you have some ideas that you may like to share with us?
In the constitutional conference it would be a passionate interest of mine to serve in the group that would try to cage that beast called the army. You see the army came out of the barracks in 1966, it would be duty of all patriotic Nigerians to see that the army is caged back to their barracks again. They have to be made professional again, what you have today are an officer corps of land lords. No efficient army can run with land lords in command, and at the end of each month they had to go back to the town to collect their rents. The army in Nigeria is a heavy burden to the national economy, and this is so because of black mail. I have argued for years that the army can be made productive, but people do not believe me they prefer we continue the colonial all-consuming army. And this does not fit well into the economy of a third world country. They should be divested of their obvious intimidatory role. For instance, a soldier can only be in uniform whenever he is on duty, and if he is moving from barracks to duty other arrangements could be made. But one thing I will not support is an army in uniform on the roads, and on foot carrying weapons it is intimidating, and when they are hungry to extort, and when they feel randy to rape. I am saying this not as an accusation, because whatever I say about the army affects me. But I am saying this to point these loopholes out to the new commanders of today. A lot of privileges you can grant the army, you do so because you look at them not as super humans. The Nigerian army has to be drastically restructured. When we were being trained, we were told that as soon as you have taken part in a coup, the entire force is disbanded, and then you build a new army whether it is a battalion, a brigade. What has happened is that in Nigeria they have tried to cover up treason. What right has Theophilus Danjuma, to butcher his general officer commanding in Ibadan, what right? What right has Gowon to benefit from such a crime, what right? The things they did led us to a grotesque situation where for six months Nigeria was being ruled from a grave. Murtala Mohammed was effective dead and buried in the grave while an inscription was in every wall as part of Murtala- Obasanjo regime; Obasanjo did not have the courage to repudiate it, it was grotesque, but we had it.

On this Danjuma’s role there is the view that says killing Ironsi was not part of the plot, but at Ibadan the NCO’s pushed him aside and then took Ironsi and killed him?
My answer is that you are either a commander or your are not. And I loathe this situation where those who committed crime remain faceless. Is there any book where you have been told which NCO’’s pushed aside, and he went on to benefit from that act. And would you tell me which NCO reinstated him.

What message do you have for Nigerians at your 70th birthday?
I want to thank every Nigerian for one thing or the other contributing to making my day a success. The situation in Nigeria is very bad, but I want to assure them that it is not a situation that is irreparable, it can be repaired. It requires wisdom and wit. Whereas some people say we are one nation, I want to tell my country men and women that we are not. We are an agglomeration of people seeking to become one nation, the search for one nation has become very valid. We have not arrived there and the only way we can get there is through a sovereign national conference. We need and should design and re-design a polity that accommodates not one group but everybody. My fellow country men and women, I have a strong belief that we can make it. What has transpired in the past is an aberration; the concept that might is right is an aberration. It is only through a national conference that we can create a Nigerian of ourselves, instead of patching it up . My beloved people I believe that together we can make it.

When is Ikemba going to retire?
I will retire a few months after my death.


 © Vanguard 2003.
 

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