By Festus Adedayo
When you listen to Nigeria’s Senate President, Ahmed Lawan’s skewed submission on southern governors’ meeting in Asaba, Delta state last week, you will realise that people in high places too are not immune from marketplace waffles. Miniature logic can proceed from the minds of huge, prarchute-like babanriga wearers after all. More importantly, from the tragic Lawan ill-logics, the much-talked-about January 1967 Aburi Accord will present to you as the quintessential Julius Caesar’s ghost promising to meet its nemesis at Philippi. Finally, you will find out that Nigeria is trapped inside this pit being because it lacks critically thinking leaders.
After the assassination of Caesar, Shakespeare depicts him appearing like an apparition to his friend, Brutus and telling him “thou shall see me at Philippi.” Literati say, killed before the maturation of his dreams, Caesar’s ghost was predicting further evils. Buffeted on all fronts by a Federal Government that has become pallbearer of her citizens and a Nigeria under Buhari that has transmuted into a funeral parlour, the fifteen Nigerian governors had gathered to halt the Nigerian burial party. For two days – January 4 – 5, 1967 – fifteen high-ranking Nigerians had similarly gathered in Aburi to deliberate on a Nigeria that was about to kiss the canvass. Why they chose this town in the Akuapim South Municipal District of the Eastern Region, South of Ghana that was famous for its Botanical Gardens and the Idwira Festival is yet unknown.
The 15 Aburi conferees were: Chairman of the Ghana National Liberation Council, Lt.-General Joseph Arthur Ankrah, who was the then Chairman of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and chairman of the occasion; Lt. Colonel Gowon; Ojukwu himself; Major Mobolaji Johnson; Lt.-Col. Hassan Katsina; Lt.-Col. David Ejoor; Commodore Joseph Edet Akinwale Wey; Colonel Robert Adebayo; Alhaji Kam Salem and Mr. T. Omo-Bare. They were supported by bureaucrats like N. Akpan, Secretary to the Military Governor of the Eastern Region; Alhaji Ali Akilu, Secretary to the Northern Military Governor; D. Lawani, Under Secretary, Military Governor’s Office, Mid-West; P. Odumosu, Secretary to the Western Military Governor and S. Akenzua, Permanent Under-Secretary, who later became the Oba of Benin.
By then, it had become obvious that the legs of the dead body the British haphazardly buried in a 1914 makeshift grave had begun to jut out embarrassingly. The Hausa-Fulani oligarchy had come full throttle in its arrogant belief that Nigeria was its to subjugate. Its military wing, which rode on the crest of a July 1966 revenge coup, was effectively coordinating this conquest mindset with clinical precision. Before then, Northern Premier, Ahmadu Bello, concluding that progenies of Uthman Dan Fodio could not effectively compete with the south in western education-propelled leadership, had arrived at the need to strengthen Northern hold on the military. Secession from Nigeria in July 1966 through Operation Araba then became the immediate response of the north.
Togo had given Murtala Muhammed, Theophilus Danjuma, and the putschists of July, 1966 the blueprint and the path to tread. This it did with its first coup d’etat in any French and British African colony since the wave of independence hit Africa in the 1950s and 1960s. Thus came the killing and ouster of Sylvanus Olympio as a model fitting for example. Aguiyi-Ironsi, beneficiary of an earlier revolutionary coup of January 15, 1966 led by Kaduna Nzeogwu, had bungled the opportunity to strengthen Nigeria on the path of her diversity and plurality. He sunk Nigeria further into an amorphous unitary rule. Olympio, Prime Minister of this tiny French neighbor of Nigeria’s, had shortly after midnight on January 13, 1963, been woken from sleep by soldiers who broke into his presidential home. By dawn, Olympio’s gruesomely mutilated body was discovered by Leon Poullada, America’s U.S. Ambassador, who saw it lying about three doors from the embassy building.
By June 1966, Ojukwu and the East had confirmed the hostile and imbalanced administration of Nigeria under scions of the oligarchy in khaki. He saw how Eastern Nigerian resources constituted a huge chunk of the federal purse and its skewed deployment to the North. Igbo living in the North were subjected to a vile massacre typical of the bloodletting by 16th century Ethiopian Zimba cannibals. Joa dos Santos, a Portuguese priest living in Southeast Africa, had told the horrific story of how a warlike Zambesi tribe he called the Muzimba kaffirs, “had not only (eaten) the men they kill in war but sell the surplus in the market.”
The massacre of Igbo, labelled the 1966 anti-Igbo pogrom, was in that Muzimba kaffirs mould. It was a series of butchering committed against Ndigbo living in Northern Nigeria from May of that year which got to its peak on September 29. A total of between 8,000 and 30,000 people of Igbo descent were estimated to have been butchered like Sallah rams. This prompted about a million of their kindred fleeing back to the east. It was apparently a reprisal against the killing of Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa and Northern Premier, Ahmadu Bello a few months before. Pictures of the remains of Bello suddenly sprung up on the streets of the North, with Nzeogwu heaving his military jackboots on his head. This was after Bello’s flight to the bosom of his harem, a move that couldn’t rescue him from the bullets of a man who went by the Kaduna middle name.
With Ojukwu sharpening the machete of war in a bid to fight to redeem his people from the hands of the feudal North, the July, 1967 Aburi meeting was thus the last opportunity to reverse the slide into war. As has been written copiously by scholars, the Aburi Accord was a template for national redemption which, if faithfully implemented, would have saved Nigeria in 1967 and probably avoid the calamity of today. Since the governance structure was skewed in favour of the north, the agreements reached were basically to return Nigeria to true federalism, with devolution of powers being its overarching motive.
Among others, the Accord agreed that the army be reorganised to restore discipline and confidence in the military and that military governors should have power over military formations in their regions. Also, commissioners of police were to be responsible for maintenance of peace in their domains and area commands under area commanders corresponding to existing regions should be created. After Gowon had agreed to all these in Ghana, it was reported that Akenzua had gone back to tell him that the Accord meant confederation and by implementing it, Jack was on the verge of signing off Nigeria. Scholars have also said that Akenzua was just a puppet and the real forces pulling his strings were from the UK High Commission and other western powers who stood to lose their patrimony were Nigeria to break up.
All those however became history with Nigeria plunging into a fratricidal 30-month war estimated to have cost three million people. The obstinate failure of Gowon to implement the agreement is held to be one of the major reasons why Nigeria has known no peace thereafter and why, 54 years after, the system could throw up a Buhari as president, a man whose obstinacy and arrogance of power is decidedly worse than Yakubu Gowon’s.
Asaba, it will appear, is a miniature Aburi aimed at preventing Nigeria from going into war. Virtually all actors in the macabre drama called Nigeria are today agreed that vultures and hyenas of war are howling, thirsty for blood and cadavers of the living. Even the Buhari beatification choral group has come to accept that Nigeria is at the precipice. We may not agree on the way forward but that Nigeria is about to go the way of falsely-soldered-together strange bedfellows, is not in doubt.
Swap the dates from July 1967 to May 2021 and you will see that the firmament retains the same red colour. Calls for secession are ten a dime on Nigerian streets. The Nigerian army has been so thoroughly emasculated that a ragtag insurgent army is killing its troops like chickens. In the first quarter of 2021, 400 people were reported to have been killed by Boko Haram. Ask parents of abducted Greenfield University, Kaduna whose wards kidnappers are asking for multiple of millions of naira whether Nigeria is at war or in peacetime. Your guess would be as good as mine. Erstwhile peace of eastern Nigeria has been violently busted by “Unknown Gunmen” who are stronger than an effeminate Nigerian state in the hands of Buhari. The cheapest commodities in Nigeria today appear to be death and blood. Hunger is wracking the bellies of the people so rudely as the economy groans in throes. Everywhere you go, it is weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth.
The Asaba conferees, like those gathered in Aburi, could see further descent into bloodshed. They asked for restructuring, tenets of which look like the Aburi demands. Cynics knew however that with a government of the deaf that administers Nigeria now, the Asaba conference will never produce any meaningful fruits. Never however could the governors have expected Lawan to so narrowly view the horror that is today’s Nigeria. While fielding questions from State House correspondents last Thursday, like Gowon who put on the lens of myopia and thus saw the only secession in the Aburi Accord, for Lawan too, restructuring approximated a dismemberment of Nigeria.
“I believe that as leaders, those of us who were elected must not be at the forefront of calling for this kind of thing because even if you are a governor, you are supposed to be working hard in your state to ensure that this restructuring you are calling for at the federal level you have done it in your state as well,” he waffled.
Since taking over power in the revenge coup of 1966, the North has so cleverly tampered with the structure of Nigeria, through demographics and allied institutional manoeuvring, so badly that no other region can take any consequential decision about restructuring Nigeria, except with its imprimatur. This was apparently what emboldened the Fulani, serially fingered in the dastardly murders across the country, to audaciously talk down on the rest of Nigeria. On Friday last week, the murderously militant wing of the Fulani, Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, through its National Secretary, Alhassan Saleh, threatened that Fulani would be the first to leave Nigeria while insulting the rest of us. And nothing will happen, because Buhari, his fellow Fulani, is in power.
“Herders are insignificant when it comes to the problem of this country, are they the ones looting the treasury? What damages (sic) are they causing to this country? Compare to the criminal activities of ‘Yahoo’ boys, kidnappers, political looters, bandits in power, vagabonds in power like Governor (Samuel) Ortom, do you think if there is no oil money, all these things will be happening? Today we are ready, let them divide the country; let them not wait till tomorrow. We are better prepared than any ethnic nationality. So we are ready, let them divide the country, let us die, we that don’t have the oil,” he had thundered.
Lawan’s waffle was to be followed by similarly colourless doggerel, this time from the jokester in Lugard House, Lokoja, Yahaya Bello. Speaking last week on a Channels Television’s Programme, Politics Today, Bello said that by seeking a restructuring of Nigeria to douse the tension in the land and calling on Buhari to address the people, his governor counterparts from the south were heating the polity. Ostensibly, by asking Buhari to at least come out to address Nigerians by himself and not via proxy, the governors reasoned that he would be assured all that he could still speak coherently, the widespread belief of his cognitive hamstring notwithstanding.
“When we are talking of security, unity and national cohesion of Nigeria, as leaders and politicians, we should be careful about the words we use…When it is titled or when it appears as if you are fighting President Muhammadu Buhari, our father and our President, we are all getting it wrong because we got to where we are today as a result of maladministration of successive administrations,” the groveller-for-presidential-office governor said. This is a Bello under whom Kogi is a replica of Haiti’s Papa, Baby Doc tyrannical enclave and where the bridge that collapsed in his state recently euphemistically symptoms governance that had fallen.
They said a people is deserving of its rulers. How did we deserve the trio of Buhari, Lawan and Bello, acting in cahoots with many other short-sighted rulers, whose reasoning is diametrically different from the rest of Nigerians’? Does Nigeria deserve frozen reasoning, like ones glazed in Antarctica, which oozes out of her leaders? Why is it that the rest of Nigeria sees ominous signs of collapse, a Nigeria twirling on the precipice, while what the leaders see is north, Federal Hausa-Fulani Government, positions at the top and how they can rule till the morning of Armageddon?