Though at the end of the Nigeria-Biafra war, the Federal Government of Nigeria declared that there was No Victor and No Vanquished, Chief (Colonel) Joseph Achuzia was imprisoned for seven years after the war. During the Nigerian civil war, he was commonly known as Air Raid among Biafran soldiers. An engineer and former Secretary General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief (Colonel) Joseph Achuzia spoke with South East Bureau Chief, TONY ITA ETIM on demise of the Commander-In-Chief of the Biafran Armed Forces, General Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, who was two years his senior at Kings College, Lagos. Excerpts:
Can you tell us about the man, Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu?
Dim Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu has always been known to me right from my secondary school days, when we were in Kings College together. Then later, we met in Britain. And by the time Nigeria became independent in the sixties, he and I came home, we met again. By then, he had already become entrenched within his position in the Nigerian Army. We did not have to interact before the first coup took place; and immediately after the coup, I left back to Britain. And I was following events because he was a key player within the scenario that was unfolding. Then the next landmark in my relationship with him took place when he was appointed the governor and Ejoor (General David Ejoor, retired) was also appointed a governor. Ejoor was sent to Enugu and Ojukwu protested, which made Aguiyi-Ironsi change the postings and sent him to Enugu and Ejoor to Benin. When we got to Enugu, the situation was such that a townsman of mine was also the Secretary to the Eastern Region Government in the person of C. C. Mordi from Asaba. A lot of things were going on: the killings in the North, pogrom; so many Igbos from the North were rushing down home; and what was taking place made me have a closer look into the sort of programme the then governor of Eastern Region, in the person of Odumegwu Ojukwu had for the Igbo people because the trauma being created by the extensive killing was such that it required somebody with a proper insight into dealing with human tragedy, the only person that can handle such situation because both soldiers, civilians, civil servants were affected.
In fact, what took place affected the core inner group that held Igbo citizenship together, something that made the Igbo Union, which one regarded as all supreme in everything, of which Ohanaeze today, the Igbozuruome of today, were modelled in somewhere Igbo Union was. Igbo Union had two retreats back to the East. In doing so, every Igbo person, male, female, child everything was heading eastward. It seemed that Ojukwu foresaw tomorrow, what would happen in the future. That was the reason he protested towards Ejoor being sent to Enugu because I'm quite certain, in my mind now, not on hindsight but from what I saw around that time that the posting wasn't correct and that Ojukwu was right to protest. From then on, my interest became more firm and solid, in terms of support, which I made up my mind to give to him. He came to Enugu, we met and discussed briefly, then I left back to Britain. It was while I was back in Britain that during One O'clock news, in the afternoon, in London, it was announced that, Chief Obafemi Awolowo said that if the East went, the West would go. So I realised that the whole of this thing was heading towards a shouting match; and I felt that with the loss of so many experienced, trained officers from the East that they would need every hand, available, on deck. That made me to board a plane coming back to Nigeria then to meet another coup, the July coup, which brought Gowon on board. I spent two days at Airport Hotel in Ikeja. When Murtala was a Major, I knew him. George Miller, a friend of mine married to a German that I was going to stay in his house knew him (Murtala) but the instruction at the airport when we came out of the plane was that nobody goes out anywhere, so we were taken to the Airport Hotel. George Miller, being friendly with Murtala, brought him and we met, we discussed and he assured that I should wait for a day or so and there would be flight to go to Benin. He kept to his words. Two days, later the route to Benin was opened again; and myself, my wife and child were taken to the plane. We boarded to Benin and from there headed to the East. By this time, the situation was getting critical That second coup that we met was so devastating that it wasn't only the army that everybody of Igbo origin or that comes from the Eastern Region, including those Igbos from the Midwest became involved in the selective killings that were taking place. And the vision which Ojukwu saw, when he protested now crystallized itself because the Mid Western Igbos, who were returning from the North and from the West, heading home, on reaching Benin, were not welcome. Reliefs that were being distributed were not being given them. Placements in the departments where they were working, to enable them obtain salary or whatever would be given for succour, they were told go and meet their people in Enugu. So, they all trooped out and headed for Enugu. We were also around to assist in receiving them. In fact, that was when Ika Igbo Association was formed, just as today you are hearing Anioma, Anioma; Anioma wasn't in our lexicon then, what we had was Ika Igbo. And our interaction with Ojukwu and his government was concretised at that time. From then, even though the army in the Midwestern Command, the high echelon, was more of Midwestern Igbos but the civil service cadre, that should have lent weight to them and support were no more available, most of them had headed across the Niger. And it must also be borne in mind that the Nigerian boundaries vis-a-viz East and West weren't as they are today. Where you have as Ogbaru and those places used to be Midwestern Region. The Niger wasn't a natural boundary, it was the effect of the war that brought about the Niger at the end of the war being regarded as a natural boundary and the configuration that took place since then still makes it difficult for Igbos to settle down properly.
As I was saying earlier, we are talking about Ojukwu. Here is a man because of his vision, somehow prepared by God or providence, whatever it is, prepared him and placed him at this point in time in history at a place where he was to act as Moses for his people. This was a reason all his pronouncements have always been that efforts must be made to make sure that Igbos still remain recognised within the set up and arrangement called Nigeria. He made a lot of pronouncements and also, at the same time made a lot of requests from the Igbo people. I remember that there was a meeting he called of leaders of thought. During that meeting, he said what we are asking for is not separation but what we are entitled to by being partners in the arrangement called Nigeria. He said we were being pushed with intention of pushing us out of Nigeria and this we will resist. For the first time, he was the one who clarified what we meant in my mind and conditioned my attitude during the period of warfare, in the battle field. He said they push us, we will take our stand in our own soil with our back against the wall but we will not give up what we have already created in Nigeria. He said in terms of civilised norms implanted into Nigeria, it is the Igboman alone that feels he must build a decent house not only to accommodate his family but to accommodate those in whose land, in whose territory he acquired wealth and built these things. He said the Igbo man by education, self help, both within the commercial business group and within the civil service, the entrepreneurs are the Igbos, that we can't abandon these things but we must resist the push.
Having heard all these, one wonders why, what do we do to redress the uncalled for ferocious attack and traumatisation by the pogrom. Everybody encouraged him to go to Aburi. He went. What he came back with emboldened us to mobilise our people to wait for the onslaught of Police action when the army was unleashed on the Eastern Region as if on intruders. We tried to resist hoping that it would be just something that, well in a month or two, Nigeria would get tired; we will get back to the roundtable to discuss issues. But what we were getting back from senior civil servants that were out and envoys that we had outside telling us that this attack unleashed on us wouldn't last long, that if they pushed any further, that there were countries within the civilised community, who will then come to our aid. So, everybody girded their loins ready to continue resisting to be pushed out so as to give time and chance for help to come. That help never came. The help that came from a few African countries and the half-hearted help from the French side seemed to be the only help that we could expect. In the meantime, through his propaganda machinery and the way he interacted with the grassroots of our people, everybody was ready to lay down their lives to defend the cause he believed in, which he made us believe in. This was the reason young students, graduates from Nsukka University, everybody was clamouring for Ojukwu, saying "Ojukwu give us guns, we will defend ourselves". The guns were not there, those that were there were not sufficient to even equip the army, never mind giving young graduates, who didn't know how to handle gun.
Why and how did Ojukwu declare the State of Biafra.
Ojukwu tried to avoid people thinking or saying that he masterminded pulling out of Nigeria, when after the Aburi talks and the issue to some extent was reaching us that the central government led by Gowon was making arrangement to divide Eastern Region into states. First, we didn't understand but after looking through lawyers and people who could interpret the constitution and so on; it became clear that by virtue of the fact that there were or had always been agitation by a few minorities asking for them to be carved out as a state and so on, especially when Isaac Boro was already detained for clamouring for a statehood for his tribe. All of a sudden, we were given a date that on such and such a day, the Federal Government was going to carve up Eastern Region. Ojukwu than called a Consultative Assembly of the people, among whom were the Ika Igbos, also given a pride of place as part of the Igbo nation. Our traditional rulers from the Midwest, the Igbo speaking area attended that conference. I was privy. I was there. And around 1pm, a news flash came, what we were hearing as rumour became a reality: Eastern Region was carved out. They carved out Rivers State and South East State. So we went into the afternoon recess and by the time we came out of recess and went into afternoon session, a decision was quickly reached that we couldn't sit back and see ourselves divided. So, we decidede that the best thing to do was that we must ask Ojukwu to declare the State of Biafra. Before that, there had been a lot of argument, here and there, over the issue of what name do we go by. So many different names and configurations were bandied about but finally we asked the group of lawyers assembled to prepare a communiqué declaring the state of Biafra. Even that meeting, Ojukwu wasn't there, he was still in Government House. This meeting was being held within Hotel Presidential. So by the time the decision was reached, this was carried to him, we were surprised that he said No and that he would not do it. That he would not declare the state of Biafra. We thought either they didn't teach them militarily what is meant when somebody is trying to cut you to bits. If he didn't understand, we did. So message was sent back to him and an ultimatum was given him that if by eight O'clock that night he didn't declare the state of Biafra, not only will we remove him, we will declare and decide who led us. Later that evening, he finally announced the state of Biafra. So, we all rejoiced that now, at least, if Nigeria continued attacking us, we now know how we are going to fight. The Eastern Region we believed was one whole entity notwithstanding the earlier announcement by Federal Government creating three states out of Eastern Region.
So this is the man Ojukwu, whom everybody is calling a secessionist. Under these circumstances, is he a secessionist? Well, I have read books on reluctant heroes. In his case, he is a reluctant seccessionist but that notwithstanding immediately after that, within the army, the Eastern Command was made up of only a few handful of officers that survived the pogrom and a few other ranks. So, the question was how do we prepare for a war we saw coming. The only thing was to ask the Eastern Command of the Nigerian Army that we have to start mobilising. And the act of mobilising brought about what the Eastern Region of Biafra used to defend themselves against the onslaught of the Nigerian Army with the sophisticated weapons they used against a purely unequipped remnants of Eastern Command of the Nigerian Army. Looking back also I ask myself and I still ask reason for the Police Action, who was the Police Action targeted upon? Was it the unarmed civilians? Or against the remnants of the Eastern Command army? Then it showed the perfidy of a government determined to carry out pogrom. Otherwise, they shouldn't have, when a people you were chasing ran away from the field of activities to their home for safety, you still pursued them with tanks. Later day events we were hearing that we lost a place called Bakassi because to prevent us from continuing running. They made a deal with a country bordering us behind to make sure we had no way to run to, that meant that the exercise was meant for total extermination but thank God it didn't happen. And we survived it. A lot of things went through and took place during the war. First to keep the morale of the people going, Ojukwu performed like a magician. People say, ah Okokon Ndem, Uche Chukwumerije, so many of them within the propaganda machinery; it was somebody that gave them the inspiration. Without Ojukwu they wouldn't have risen to the occasion. The army quickly changed by creating a situation where civilians were quickly mobilised into what you called Civil Defence. It is this Civil Defenders that became the backbone of the Biafran Army and one would not forget that the Biafran Army was the Nigerian Eastern Command. Whoever was recruited there belonged to Nigeria and was part and parcel of the Nigerian Army. The strength infused in them by Ojukwu made for the staunch, gallant defence of that realm by that army. When there were shortage of arms and equipment, Ojukwu called on the Biafran educated engineers and they met and he said go and find an answer. Supposing we don't get arms from anywhere or no money to buy since that Nigeria is changing the currency, find an answer to these equipment. We quickly formed the Research and Production (RAP). The story of what RAP I will tell at a future date, not now. BOB was created, the story of who and who happened, I will tell at a later date because I was at the helm of all these groupings, to give direction and show them what to do.
Were you in the Nigerian Army before the war?
Are you saying that Ojukwu was not interested in the Eastern Region seceding from Nigeria because many are of the opinion that his stubbornness and personality led to the war?
No! Like I said, we followed his actions from the first coup. If it wasn't for Ojukwu and the role he played, the North would have been the battle ground because Nzeogwu was holding the North and the army firmly in his hands; and the North could have been the battle ground. But that aspect of Ojukwu's action which favoured the people who are now saying that he caused the war, if he didn't take the steps he did, the story would have been different. The people who should be criticising Ojukwu are the Igbos because every Igboman, including the Northerners, were happy with the situation when the first coup took place. And the role Ojukwu played, like I stated by saying that he objected to his posting as governor, that he would rather be posted to Enugu, to the East and let Ejoor go to the Midwest. Had Ojukwu not been posted there, the story of Nigeria today would have been different, we wouldn't have a new Nigeria. And I don't believe that any Igboman, no matter how small would agree to be part of Nigeria as a slave within the soil where he was born.
Can you suggest how Ojukwu should be immortalized?
I'm not used to issue of this nature, immortalization of people. To me, I see like Murtala Mohammed Airport in Lagos, I would have asked what did he do to have the airport named after him? Or the currency notes, with different pictures, different people, what exactly did these people do, what signpost do they have to show for in this conglomerate called Nigeria? Or the avenues and highways that in some states, about six states, you find the name of one person, a high street named after the person, go to another street another high street. If we continue that way, where do we go from here? So I cannot say exactly how Ojukwu should be immortalised. Nigeria knows how they immortalize their people. I will leave that to those whose job it is to do so.
How should Ojukwu be buried; as an officer of the Nigerian Army, as a General of the Biafran Army or Eze Gburugburu of Ndigbo?
Any of the caps fits him. I repeat, any of the caps fit him. But if you ask me, in everything there are always stakeholders, notwithstanding the relations which under our tradition are the first port of call for burial. By his position, he is now a public figure belonging to the Igbo race, belonging to Nigerian army, while at the same time belonging to the Nigerian civil populace. Everyone of these arms gained by the experience of coming in contact with Ojukwu. So, the burial should be such that all stakeholders should feel a sense of belonging within the process of his final interment.
Does the demise of Ojukwu signify the end of the Biafran dream?
No! Ojukwu only paved the way for the Biafran dream. The Biafran dream is the Igboman's quest for a place in the greater Nigeria. Today, everybody is saying we want a new constitution, that we want the regions as they used to be. States are now clamouring to replace the regions or maybe zonal arrangement be like the regions but they don't want to be in a straight jacket, where it seems as if the country is under military rule. So what one is really asking for in Biafran dream is that the Igboman will be part of Nigeria but will have equal say with every other component part. People who have tried to give a dog a bad name failed woefully. Ojukwu since he came back from exile had been consistent in the promotion of a pride of place for the Igboman, within the context of one Nigeria, that those who were still steeped in the act of the Igbos must go, just as what we clamoured about 'Ghana must go.' Ghana went, where is Ghana today? Ahead of Nigeria! There are people still in Nigeria who are still clamouring that the Igbos must go. These are the people that continued calling Ojukwu a secessionist, saying that Ojukwu levied a war against Nigeria instead of the other way round that Nigeria levied a war against a component part of Nigeria.
There is a fresh clamour for new states for South East zone. Should Anioma be joined with the South East to make a state or a separate state should be created for Anioma?
If you notice, part of the effort to make the Igboman a second class citizen is within a plot used in the creation of states. In the creation of states, in terms of population in Nigeria, demographically, the Igbos are more in number than any other ethnic group in this country. I am happy that these states are 36 states. Go to any of these states, outside the indigenes, the next high population there are Igbos. So you don't need an expert demographer to be able assess the situation and know that in population, Igbos are more in number than any other ethnic group in Nigeria, that is one. Then two, when states were being created, Cross River didn't have a population to be a state: the old Igbo territory starts from Obudu-Ogoja all the way Bansara and all those places. Then all the way to Obubra down are all Igbos of Bantu stock. They have a particular facial configuration. Then you get to Rivers State, two third of Rivers State are Igbos and Igboland. But so as to reduce the Igbos in population, deprive them of their original lands, these were carved out and given states. To the Igboman, it makes no difference because, l look at Opobo, King Jaja, he was an Igboman. All these things we know. Midwest was created through the efforts of the Igbos and Zik and the others. After the West walked out on Zik after the elections and many of the Yorubas decamped, so they decided to fight to create the Midwest region. In other words, the Midwest region was meant to be another Igbo region, that is why Osadebe became the Premier of that region. Now the war finally shot up the groupings within the basket known as Mdiwest Region. Ejoor became the Governor of the region. During the period of Aburi, one expected Ejoor and Zik to work hand -in-hand because during the progrom, in the North, they didn't care whether you were Urhoboman, Ishekiriman, Ijawman, so long as you were from the Midwest, you are an Igboman that needed to be killed. This was the situation. But when they were going to Aburi, we the Igbos had confidence that Ejoor would be part and parcel of the programme but when the interpretation started coming, we realised that Ojukwu was standing alone and when we made a request for assistance from the Midwestern Command, the governor there did not respond. The preponderance of civil officers in the Midwest High Command were more than in any other command in Nigeria. We appealed to them and the war was moving steadily to Auchi, heading for Benin. It was obvious that none of the Igbo officers would remain alive if that machinery of war met them there. The rest you had to exercise your imagination, even though at the end of the war, Nigeria accused those officers of treachery.
That notwithstanding, you asked should there be more states, state to Anioma and state to the East. My answer is No! You see, the people that created the states always have an ace under their sleeves. They created six six states, the one that could have balanced these six states they gave one extra to a zone in the North making it seven states, only one zone with seven states while disenfranchising the Igbos by removing them from six states to five states. The only thing that can be done is take Anioma and give to the South East making them six states. And for equalisation, if need be, to avoid that one state skewed the table of states in each zone, give one one more states to the six zones that didn't have so that each has seven seven states. Anioma is an Igbo state.
Source Credit: http://www.champion.com.ng/displaycontent.asp?pid=14917