Chief Awolowo's Speech


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Chief Awolowo's Speech to Western leaders of thought

IN IBADAN , MAY 1 1967

The aim of a leader should be the welfare of the people whom he leads. I
have used 'welfare' to denote the physical, mental and spiritual
well-being of the people. With this aim fixed unflinchingly and
unchangeably before my eyes I consider it my duty to Yoruba people in
particular and to Nigerians in general, to place four imperatives before
you this morning. Two of them are categorical and two are conditional.
Only a peaceful solution must be found to arrest the present worsening
stalemate and restore normalcy. The Eastern Region must be encouraged to
remain part of the Federation. If the Eastern Region is allowed by acts
of omission or commission to secede from or opt out of Nigeria, then the
Western Region and Lagos must also stay out of the Federation. The people
of Western Nigeria and Lagos should participate in the ad hoc committee or
any similar body only on the basis of absolute equality with the other
regions of the Federation.

I would like to comment briefly on these four imperatives. There
has, of late, been a good deal of sabre rattling in some parts of the
country. Those who advocate the use force for the settlement of our
present problems should stop a little and reflect. I can see no vital and
abiding principle involved in any war between the North and the East. If
the East attacked the North, it would be for purpose of revenge pure and
simple. Any claim to the contrary would be untenable. If it is claimed
that such a war is being waged for the purpose of recovering the real and
personal properties left behind in the North by Easterners two insuperable
points are obvious. Firstly, the personal effects left behind by
Easterners have been wholly looted or destroyed, and can no longer be
physically recovered. Secondly, since the real properties are immovable in
case of recovery of them can only be by means of forcible military
occupation of those parts of the North in which these properties are
situated. On the other hand, if the North attacked the East, it could only
be for the purpose of further strengthening and entrenching its position
of dominance in the country.

If it is claimed that an attack on the East is going to be
launched by the Federal Government and not by the North as such and that
it is designed to ensure the unity and integrity of the Federation, two
other insuperable points also become obvious. First, if a war against the
East becomes a necessity it must be agreed to unanimously by the remaining
units of the Federation. In this connection, the West, Mid- West and Lagos
have declared their implacable opposition to the use of force in solving
the present problem. In the face of such declarations by three out of
remaining four territories of Nigeria, a war against the East could only
be a war favoured by the North alone. Second, if the true purpose of such
a war is to preserve the unity and integrity of the Federation, then these
ends can be achieved by the very simple devices of implementing the
recommendation of the committee which met on August 9 1966, as reaffirmed
by a decision of the military leaders at Aburi on January 5 1967 as well
as by accepting such of the demands of the East, West, Mid-West and Lagos
as are manifestly reasonable, and essential for assuring harmonious
relationships and peaceful co-existence between them and their brothers
and sisters in the North.

Some knowledgeable persons have likened an attack on the East to
Lincoln's war against the southern states in America. Two vital factors
distinguish Lincoln's campaign from the one now being contemplated in
Nigeria. The first is that the American civil war was aimed at the
abolition of slavery - that is the liberation of millions of Negroes who
were then still being used as chattels and worse than domestic animals.
The second factor is that Lincoln and others in the northern states were
English-speaking people waging a war of good conscience and humanity
against their fellow nationals who were also English speaking. A war
against the East in which Northern soldiers are predominant, will only
unite the Easterners or the Ibos against their attackers, strengthen them
in their belief that they are not wanted by the majority of their
fellow-Nigerians, and finally push them out of the Federation.

We have been told that an act of secession on the part of the East
would be a signal, in the first instance, for the creation of the COR
state by decree, which would be backed, if need be, by the use of force.
With great respect, I have some dissenting observations to make on this
declaration. There are 11 national or linguistic groups in the COR areas
with a total population of 5.3 millions. These national groups are as
distinct from one another as the Ibos are distinct from them or from the
Yorubas or Hausas. Of the 11, the Efik/Ibibio/Annang national group are
3.2 million strong as against the Ijaws who are only about 700,000 strong.
Ostensibly, the remaining nine national group number 1.4 millions. But
when you have subtracted the Ibo inhabitants from among them, what is left
ranges from the Ngennis who number only 8,000 to the Ogonis who are
220,000 strong. A decree creating a COR state without a plebiscite to
ascertain the wishes of the peoples in the area, would only amount to
subordinating the minority national groups in the state to the dominance
of the Efik/Ibibio/Annang national group. It would be perfectly in order
to create a Calabar state or a Rivers state by decree, and without a
plebiscite. Each is a homogeneous national unit. But before you lump
distinct and diverse national units together in one state, the consent of
each of them is indispensable. Otherwise, the seed of social disquilibrium
in the new state would have been sown.

On the other hand, if the COR State is created by decree after the
Eastern Region shall have made its severance from Nigeria effective, we
should then be waging an unjust war against a foreign state. It would be
an unjust war, because the purpose of it would be to remove 10 minorities
in the East from the dominance of the Ibos only to subordinate them to the
dominance of the Efik/Ibibio/Annang national group. I think I have said
enough to demonstrate that any war against the East, or vice versa, on any
count whatsoever, would be an unholy crusade, for which it would be most
unjustifiable to shed a drop of Nigerian blood. Therefore, only a peaceful
solution must be found, and quickly too to arrest the present rapidly
deteriorating stalemate and restore normalcy.

With regard to the second categorical imperative, it is my
considered view that whilst some of the demands of the East are excessive
within the context of a Nigerian union, most of such demands are not only
wellfounded, but are designed for smooth and steady association amongst
the various national units of Nigeria.

The dependence of the Federal Government on financial
contributions from the regions? These and other such like demands I do not
support. Demands such as these, if accepted, will lead surely to the
complete disintegration of the Federation which is not in the interest of
our people. But I wholeheartedly support the following demands among
others, which we consider reasonable and most of which are already
embodied in our memoranda to the Ad Hoc Committee....

That revenue should be allocated strictly on the basis of
derivation; that is to say after the Federal Government has deducted its
own share for its own services the rest should be allocated to the regions
to which they are attributable.

That the existing public debt of the Federation should become the
responsibility of the regions on the basis of the location of the projects
in respect of each debt whether internal or external.

That each region should have and control its own
militia and police force.

That, with immediate effect, all military personnel should be
posted to their regions of origin....

If we are to live in harmony one with another as Nigerians it is
imperative that these demands and others which are not related, should be
met without further delay by those who have hitherto resisted them. To
those who may argue that the acceptance of these demands will amount to
transforming Nigeria into a federation with a weak central government, my
comment is that any link however tenuous, which keeps the East in the
Nigerian union, is better in my view than no link at all.

Before the Western delegates went to Lagos to attend the meetings
of the ad hoc committee, they were given a clear mandate that if any
region should opt out of the Federation of Nigeria, then the Federation
should be considered to be at an end, and that the Western Region and
Lagos should also opt out of it. It would then be up to Western Nigeria
and Lagos as an independent sovereign state to enter into association with
any of the Nigerian units of its own choosing, and on terms mutually
acceptable to them. I see no reason for departing from this mandate. If
any region in Nigeria considers itself strong enough to compel us to enter
into association with it on its own terms, I would only wish such a region
luck. But such luck, I must warn, will, in the long run be no better than
that which has attended the doings of all colonial powers down the ages.
This much I must say in addition, on this point. We have neither military
might nor the overwhelming advantage of numbers here in Western Nigeria
and Lagos. But we have justice of a noble and imperishable cause on our
side, namely: the right of a people to unfettered self-determination. If
this is so, then God is on our side, and if God is with us then we have
nothing whatsoever in this world to fear.

The fourth imperative, and the second conditional one has been
fully dealt with in my recent letter to the Military Governor of Western
Nigeria, Col. Robert Adebayo, and in the representation which your
deputation made last year to the head of the Federal Military Government,
Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon. As a matter of fact, as far back as November last
year a smaller meeting of leaders of thought in this Region decided that
unless certain things were done, we would no longer participate in the
meeting of the ad hoc committee. But since then, not even one of our
legitimate requests has been granted. I will, therefore, take no more of
your time in making further comments on a point with which you are well
familiar. As soon as our humble and earnest requests are met, I shall be
ready to take my place on the ad hoc committee. But certainly, not before.

In closing, I have this piece of advice to give. In order to resolve
amiably and in the best interests of all Nigerians certain attributes are
required on the part of Nigerian leaders, military as well as non-military
leaders alike, namely: vision, realism and unselfishness. But above all ,
what will keep Nigerian leaders in the North and East unwaveringly in the
path of wisdom, realism and moderation is courage and steadfastness on the
part of Yoruba people in the course of what they sincerely believe to be
right, equitable and just. In the past five years we in the West and Lagos
have shown that we possess these qualities in a large measure. If we
demonstrate them again as we did in the past, calmly and heroically, we
will save Nigeria from further bloodshed and imminent wreck and, at the
same time, preserve our freedom and self-respect into the bargain.

May God rule and guide our deliberations here, and endow all the
Nigerian leaders with the vision, realism, and unselfishness as well as
courage and steadfastness in the course of truth, which the present
circumstances demand. "

(Culled from Daily Times, 2 May 1967) and quoted in "Crisis and Conflict in Nigeria (Volume 1), January 1966-July 1971" by A.H. M. Kirk-Greene)


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