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No Victor, No Vanquished: Healing the Nigerian Nation

Being the text of the convocation lecture delivered by Gen. Gowon at the Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University, Uli, Anambra State.

 

 

1. I was pleasantly surprised when I received the invitation from the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Fidelis Uzochukwu Okafor, to be here today to deliver the first Convocation Lecture of this institution after its name change from Anambra State University to Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, Uli, Igbariam Campus. My first reaction, as a trained officer and a General in the Armed Forces of the federal Republic of Nigeria, was to suspect a booby trap, especially against the backdrop of what a host of individuals would consider as my ‘special’ (some might even erroneously say, ‘fractious’) relationship, first, with the Eastern Region/South East Nigeria but, more importantly, with the Late Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, Eze Ndi Igbo Gburu Gburu (Leader of Igbo everywhere), an officer and gentleman in whose honour this institution has been renamed. I would like to state categorically from the onset, it was never out of hatred for the Igbos (Ndigbos) or animosity against my old Comrade and colleague; Emeka, but on principle of commitment to ONE NIGERIA.

2. When I speak of a ‘booby trap’, I refer to the possibility that some brilliant Professors in the Convocation Planning Committee may have deemed this a good time and platform to get me make an early ‘public presentation’ of my memoirs by other means. I reckoned that the organisers may easily have been persuaded to believe that it would be near-impossible for me to do justice to the subject-No Victor, No Vanquished: Healing the Nigerian Nation-without sharing critical insights into my story vis-à-vis the history of Nigeria, especially in respect of my role in the 30-month Civil War that gave rise to the first part of the topic of this lecture.

3. In this regard, let me begin by quickly dousing speculations that my late brother and friend, the Ikemba of Nnewi and I probably continued our ‘fight’ until his death in the UK on November 26, 2011. We achieved reconciliation several decades, about four decades ago when we had our four (4) decades ago when we had our first post-civil war physical meeting in the late 1970’s in his room at the Mont Calm Hotel, Marble Arch in London. Before then, he had reached out to me through his friend, Fredrick Forsythe who rang the house and spoke to my wife, for him. He then, spoke to her and later informed me at Warwick University where I was pursuing my graduate/ postgraduate degree programme at the time. When, I was back home at the weekend, I called him and arranged to meet.
We eventually met at the Month Calm Hotel, Mrable Arch, London. I recall that our first meeting. Our meeting was a spontaneous first name call by both of us-Emeka! Jack! Nice meeting you again. We shook hands and embraced each other warmly and engaged in heart to heart discussion, reminiscing on the past and expressing hope that we could soon returns and join forces with our compatriots back home to build a better Nigeria. He soon did, joining the political foray and I followed later after completing my studies. Many waters have passed under the bridge thereafter, some of which I may have reason to recall in the course of this lecture.

4. I readily accepted the invitation to be here for a number of reasons. First, because it presents a good opportunity for me to personally thank the government and people of Anambra State as well as the Governing Council, Senate, Staff and students of the former Anambra State University for the posthumous honour that was bestowed on my late comrade in arms with the name change. I wholeheartedly endorse this gesture, especially in light of the uproar that a similar exercise on behalf of another notable Nigerian generated in one of the nation’s tertiary institutions a few years back.
In addition, I see the raison d’être for this lecture as being in tandem with my worldview on the need for consistent reinforcement of knowledge to stem the spread of ignorance and deliberate mis-education of our bright young men and women. I also accepted the invitation because of my abiding faith in the present and the future of our great nation, Nigeria. Yet on a personal note, it is not difficult to admit that an invitation to once more visit Uli was hard to decline. One needed to again step foot on the town that symbolized the inventiveness of our brothers and sisters, the Igbo people, from the East. Uli was the hub of aviation activities activities in war time Eastern Nigeria and one could only wonder what the horizon would have been had successive governments after my regime followed our blueprint for the development of Nigeria, as encapsulated in the abandoned Third National Development Plan, 1975-1980.

5. Looking back, it is not difficult to see that we spent a significant part of the nation’s past to chart a course to greatness. We spent another chunk of our history building and defending a united nation. The rest of the time we have spent moving from one political or economic crisis and experiment at nationhood to another. To democracy and safeguarding the future of Nigeria and her nationals. We need all hands on deck to make this experiment work for the greater good of our nation and for the sake of Nigerians yet unborn.

6. Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I have had to do this detailed preamble to demonstrate that I consider it an honour to be here with you today. I also warmly and sincerely welcome you all to this Convocation lecture, which is a tradition forum for the cross fertilization of ideas in the academia worldwide. At the risk of preaching to the converted, let me restate that convocations are important for the simple reason that the ceremony celebrates an end as well as a beginning. An ‘end’ because it signifies the formal cessation of classroom teachings for fresh graduates and a ‘beginning’ because it opens a completely new vista for them. I am confident that the Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University has made a success of expanding the worldview of its young graduates as well as suitable equipping them to face the challenge of living in a tough world that never fails to punish laziness or reward hard or smart work. Anything to the contrary will defeat the purpose of our celebrating academic excellence.

7. The topic of today’s lecture caused me to quickly reflect on what I said late last year at a gathering similar to this. Permit me to quote from my address at the occasion:
“The management of education in Nigeria today requires all citizens to contribute their quota so that we can have minds that are not only literate but could more maturely grasp the issues that define contemporary reality.
One of such realities concerns democracy.
One fact that many people may not immediately grasp is that without democracy, economic development can hardly be achieved because a host of the needed support structures, such as education, would be hinged on very weak foundation. If democracy must work, our people must be more than willing to explore possibilities beyond their immediate environment because peace, trust and unity can only exist where people are receptive to new ideas regardless of the political, religious or economic creed of the sponsors of such ideas”.

8. I have recalled this because of its relevance to today’s discourse. Let’s not forget that I have started out speaking about the ‘redemption of ignorance’ and probably mis-education of our youth. I say this because we cannot meaningfully discuss the concept of ‘No Victor, No Vanquished’ and its import for healing our nation without being properly and historically guided to understand where we are coming from and where we are headed.
For this reason, I have elected to structure this short lecture into four easy-to-follow parts, namely:
a. Nigeria before the Civil War
b. Nigeria during the Civil War
c. Nigeria immediately after the Civil War, and
d. Nigeria in a democratic dispensation

 

NIGERIA BEFORE THE CIVIL WAR:

9. Our various publications and history books are replete with explanations and clarifications of the way we were before the amalgamation of Nigeria in 1914. Evidence abound of the milestones attained and the shards of broken dreams that littered the road that we travelled to achieve independence in 1960.
If we diligently search the several pages of our history between October 1, 1960 and July 6, 1967, when the Civil War broke out, we will find enough lessons on what we did right or did wrong and adapt these for current and future use to avoid failing into the errors of the past. In all this, a number of issues stare us in the face.
First, is the fact that as a people, we have abiding faith in God and ourselves and, to that extent, are always willing to be our brothers keepers regardless of religious, political, economic, social and cultural differences. Secondly, as we advanced fear crept in surreptitiously and before we knew what was happening, we had become suspicious of another so much so that shouts of ethnic domination became the whip with which the leadership of the political class kept compatriots in different regions of the country in line. All manner of evil was perpetrated in the name of advancing narrow regional interests. Corruption, nepotism, treachery and threats or accusations treason became rife.
The cord that hitherto bound us snapped and as far as any discerning person could see, it was only a matter of time before the ship of the Nigerian State grounded.

10. In all of this time, the military was the bulwark for the protection of democracy and freshly won independence. In no time, however, even the Military became politicized and polarized.
Espirit de corps withered in the face of transient power. Yet some of us held firmly to the tradition of the military to continue to support civil authority, until some of our younger officers not could control themselves and launched the first of a series of military incursions or interventions into political Nigeria with the first of d’état on 15 January 1966. The nation never recovered from the onslaught and the recriminations that set in thereafter and only subsided with the re-enthronement of democracy in the Fourth Republic on May 29, 1999. The wounds, however, are yet to fully heal.

 

NIGERIA DURING THE CIVIL WAR:

11. The history of Nigeria’s Civil War is fairly familiar to everyone. But several grey areas still exist regarding the cause and course of the war. I have read several accounts of the War with some degree of amusement but often times with critical concern.
The more I read of these stories, the more I am convinced that the writing of our history must never be left in the hands of revisionists, especially of the foreign type, most of whom do not understand our narrative; do not understand our pain and, therefore, cannot truly be expected to be bothered with why Nigeria needs to continue to stand strong as one undivided nation.

12. One of the critically misunderstood and misjudged part of our story as a nation pertains to the place of the Aburi Accord and its failure to stop the Civil War. For the avoidance of doubt, the Aburi Accord was meant to enable the principal parties break the ice and to get back together as officers and gentlemen, discuss and solve our problems in our homeland, at home, in our land.
The spirit of ‘The True Aburi Accord’ was ultimately encapsulated in Decree No. 8 of 1967. The only addition outside the spirit of the Accord was my insistence that a clause barring any part of Nigeria from seceding. This perhaps was what made Ojukwu to reject the Decree. Otherwise what we agreed to in Aburi was enshrined in that Dcree and we were to implement them to the letter, having given Ojukwu almost all that he wanted. We did that in order to achieve peace and return normalcy to Nigeria. Unfortunately, Ojukwu was the one to renege on our agreement. Infact, he did not attend our meeting at NIFOR in Benin City.

13 Before we left Ghana, we had our agreement that on return to Nigeria, I, as Nigeria’s Head of State should make the first broadcast after which the other Reional Governors would make theirs. Unfortunately, I was down with serious malaria that I could not make my broadcast but Ojukwu went on air as soon as he got back and claimed that we agreed to a Confederation to which I had always strongly objected. That and other actions taken by him and his government made us to carefully review the Aburi Agreement.
I got the Secretary to the government and some Nigerian Senior Civil Servants to review it. They did and pointed out some serious ramifications of it. Those points were carefully considered and taken into account in drafting the Decree No 8 mentioned earlier. Whoever said that the Aburi Accord failed as a result of pressure mounted on the Federal side (i.e. me and the Federal Government team) to repudiate it was absolutely mistaken.

 

… To be continued

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