Obasanjo, Ndigbo and History


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Obasanjo, Ndigbo and History



Chimaraoke Nnamani
Governor of Enugu State



October 8, 2004

With this benefit of five and half years of democratic practice, as both a leading player in my State and front row observer/participant at what obtains at the more global nation State, I will hardly escape giving my own version of contemporary description of statesmanship, that is attendant to relations with various sections of the Nigerian Federation.

Indeed, most Nigerian leaders, past and present, have had to contend with their individual abilities or chances to fit into roles perceived for them by the more vocal and articulate elements of their immediate environments or localities. They have as well faced the pressure of what the others outside their ethnic origin perceived of them, especially as they ascended higher positions of national responsibility.

Invariably, there is always this compelling situation of craved attention as emanating from every segment of the nation such that persons who assume very high national offices have questions to answer how they, as individuals, perceive and treat each section of the country; how they are individually perceived and seen to be deploying national resources, as in allocation of offices, to persons of the varying sections of the country.

In other words, such political ascendance makes no pretensions about conferring the status of the conscience of the nation to those individuals. So, whether they take it or not, those who have had the exceptional privileges and blessings of God to assume high offices are conferred with such values reminiscent of the influence of the super dein even as they are still mortal.

Largely, these had come of the history of the nation State of which the root of governance has always had serious legitimacy question. Legitimacy, in this sense, rides the extent and functionality of the credibility or trust conferred on the individual government (and key functionaries). Legitimacy arguably derived from people's perception, and readiness to relate with the authorities, especially in its current status of authorities in deployment of national resources.

But even as legitimacy appeared yet unresolved in our previous administrative episodes, the fact of sectional acceptance or acquiescence, form the springboard on which further legitimacy is conferred to successive enterprises of each administration.

Of course, we cannot remove the fact of suspicion arising from this doubt over the thrust of leadership persons and indeed the direction of the government. In fact, the strength of such suspicion or our inherent readiness to doubt the sincerity of intentions, lead us to regard actions with understandable apprehension and sometimes disdain. Really, the strength of such suspicion and apprehension lead to varied suppositions and further dread of being left out of the national resources at the whims and caprices of the leader in question.

This has been the basis of the view that allocation of state resources could be doctored and had followed the individual attitude of the head of each administration, who is believed to be responding in turn, to the immediate attitude of sections, especially in conferring or professing legitimacy for his government.

Elsewhere, such matters as the usually alleged skewed distribution of the national resources or allocation of high State offices, are resolved by such compelling objective instruments or institutions as the Constitution, broad based precedents, formulas, principles and practice of fair sharing, based on equity. In such societies where matters of distributing national resources were no longer issues subject to individual fancy, the question would not be whether the president accepted to follow the rules but whether he would deliberately fall into obvious pitfalls such that will seal his political career.

In our specific experiences in these five and half years, the tendency for Third World democracies to face the challenges as may be presented from the foregoing tended to have its manifestation in the resolutions of the Federal Executive Council, Committee and plenary resolutions of the National Assembly, tradeoffs in the inner chambers of the presidential (kitchen) cabinet and of course, the more notable utterances of Mr. President himself.

But if there appears any definite track on which Mr. President appears permanently assailed, even as the truth is to the contrary, it is his perceived attitude to Ndigbo. Initially, I had wondered why he had to be tackled with such persistent questioning of his individual attitude to a whole Igbo race, a vital section of Nigeria and one historical strand of Nigeria's political tripod.

Of course, bereft of proper understanding of Nigeria, viz ignorance about the workings of government, it is disturbing that having played on the scene of Nigeria as Mr. President has done; I mean hanging on with such recurrent relevance and eventual impact at the very final deciding stages of national life, since May 9, 1969, we should have duly appreciated the person, the power wielder, the factors propelling him - but not in the least leaving out his fact-based attitude to individual ethnic groups.

With little or no manifest experience on how this Nation is run - that is in failing to make the right efforts at ascertaining the laid down rules for allocation of national resources (revenue sharing) - many a commentator had carried on as if Nigeria had operated basically on the shiftless stead on which the President of the Federation was unchallengeable and could set out to rein in on a particular section of the country.

But let us even pretend that a President can do that and over the years, Olusegun Obasanjo had had the privilege of being in charge - this time both generally in Nigeria and specifically in the Igbo areas - in their times of need. Reaching back to my personal experience in this five and half years, I find it hard to make out the basis of such claim that Obasanjo hates the Igbo, that is even as I am aware that it is more vehemently promoted by those of us who have had the best opportunities of our better culture, political exposure and state privileges.

As a governor of one of the Igbo States, I have yet to ascertain or be made to the claim of whole hatred and intent at extermination. Enugu State has never had to go begging for its allocation at any time in these years. Enugu State has not had to be humiliated, as such is not part of the constitutional provision, to get its dues in the national coffers.

Right in time, Mr. President directed the building of an ultramodern International Trade Fair Complex, whose completion has virtually arrived 70 per cent in construction work done so far. He has also awarded the extension of the runway of the Enugu Airport (now renamed Akan Ibiam) Airport, Enugu, to facilitate its international status. Although our government in Enugu built the Augustine Nnamani (Agbani) Campus of the Nigeria Law School, Mr. President accepted the project as the school and indeed adopted the financial cost on behalf of the Federal Government, such that we are almost decided on what refunds are due to Enugu State now. We have as well had reasons to embark on re-construction, rehabilitation and re-channeling of Federal roads and waterways for which we have gotten refunds and commendations. We are still strongly indebted to Mr. President for the vast water project for greater Enugu of which the completion will put behind us the failure of past administrations to follow up on the trends of water development started in the First Republic.

But while I apply the attitude of Mr. President to Enugu in determining what I can boldly admit as his very warm and friendly disposition to Ndigbo, I can say that I have, as well, had the benefit of such well developed accounts of the Nigeria - Biafra War of which the then Colonel Obasanjo exhibited a flair for reconciliation and harmonization which no other person has yet revealed. This was a time it could be said that if he was hateful of Ndigbo, at all, he actually had their soft underbelly when his advancing Third Marine Division defeated the Biafra army.

In that period, we had a situation where the deans of the Biafra regime, ...especially those who had made mediations and reconciliation impossible, as the late General Philip Effiong broadcast to the Biafra nation, had voluntarily removed themselves from our midst... (see Reluctant Rebel; Fola Oyewole, p. 182 Now, you can try to picture the situation of Biafrans at the horrendous end of war days completely left at the mercy of the conquering forces, headed by a presumed dyed-in-the-wool Igbo hater and tormentor, himself.

Let's not mince words, Colonel Olusegun Obasanjo was that leading conqueror and right before him was the Igbo underbelly at Amichi where he found the abandoned remnants of Igbo/Biafra leadership debating their surrender speech (see Gbulie, Ben, The Fall of Biafra, pp. 250 - 161; Oyewole; Reluctant Rebel, pp 192 - 194; Achuzia, JOG; Requiem Biafra, pp 337 - 340; Odogwu, Bernard, No Place to Hide (Crises and conflicts inside Biafra), pp 177 - 181). It is still difficult to understand why many of those actors are either too discrete to step forward and restate the facts of the scenario fairly as well as they have been represented in well publicized accounts. May be, they have been too stunned by the duplicity of such more prominent Biafra leaders who have gotten more of government patronage and recognition, since the war.

Otherwise, it remains a wonder that the ready response of Obasanjo as in assisting to structure the surrender speech so as to avoid such emotional words and obvious pitfalls that could endanger the masses on both sides, and the subsequent ways he handled the entire end of war could not earn him a place in the inner recesses of Igbo leadership mind. Mark my word, Igbo leadership mind, because the hapless downtrodden did grasp their precarious and perilous state in which their soon exiled leadership left them.

Of course, wars are terrible but as has been proven in recent times, not even the vast technology that can bring about quick victory can make end of wars less messy. End of any war can be very messy. The enemy may be overjoyed and get into a firing frenzy. The enemy who has had to endure the trauma of the war days may want to avenge the privations right at the point of obtaining victory. The ordinary folk among the vanquished who had been barraged by the propaganda of possible extinction can turn suicidal in defense to the last man and such will only result in human carnage, the like of which would not have been witnessed in Africa.

There was also the peculiar case of the makers of the January '66 coup who faced possible re-arrest and instant execution in the hands of highly aggrieved former colleagues who had sworn to avenge their actions. One, the active ex- Sand Hurst officer, Colonel Tim Onwuatuegwu, had to die in the same circumstances others had dreaded, (see Gbulie; The Fall of Biafra, pp. 162 -263). Certainly not so for the officers who fell into the hands of Colonel Obasanjo at Amichi and elsewhere in the then crumbling Biafra.

This then Colonel Olusegun Obasanjo had crisscrossed Igboland, disarming troops, re-instructing his charged and belligerent officers and men, distributing relief to ensure a stemming of the hunger plague that was employed to wage the war and in fact helping communities to assemble leadership to respond effectively to the East Central State government in Enugu. In these cases, and in such specific interactions with identifiable Igbo families, Obasanjo was never accused of, let alone be provably ascribed with, sadism, which was one common development among conquering soldiers. Indeed, Obasanjo was to personally punish by execution at Umuchima, in Orlu area, a Nigerian soldier, who was apprehended and paraded before him for attempting to rape a female refugee, (see Effiong, Philip; Re-integration: True or False, pp 28 - 30). At Awomama, in the same area, he had to order the execution of another soldier who killed an unarmed Biafran soldier who had long abandoned the struggle and had moved in the crowd of refuges.

Of course, Obasanjo could not have been the most popular officer in the gathering of the same Igbo military brass who were defeated by his army yet, one thing they have never tried to impress in this free world was any form of sadism or deliberate blunder in his handling of the surrender. Without belittling the efforts of such other Nigerian Officers who played decent roles in that tempting stage and acted as civilized men, Obasanjo's record of the last days of the war has yet to be equaled by any such enterprise in modern Africa. Indeed, as Onukaba Adinoyi Ojo summed it up in his book, Olusegun Obasanjo...in the eyes of time...Obasanjo handled his relationship with the Biafran leadership and indeed the entire Biafran people after the surrender with a lot of panache and humanism (p. 151).

Obasanjo has followed this disposition with a very great attachment and eventual adoption of the mother of his friend, late Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, who lived for several decades thereafter under his cozy son-ship and just passed on, in Okpanam. In and out of military or government, Obasanjo pursued for this blessed woman such essentials of life that she had to live a 103 years, 37 of which were after the death of her beloved son, Chukwuma, in 1967. I personally had the privilege of visiting this blessed woman, in company of her other adopted son, Barrister J.S.P.C Nwokolo, and in that course had the benefit of hearing her rich testimonies, the a feel of her world of contentment and love as a woman living in the glory of two illustrious sons - Obasanjo and Nwokolo.

It is even a wonder to me that since the death of this remarkable woman, none of these who claim Igbo hatred against Obasanjo ever made any statement, that is much as we all know that they never tried to link with the mother of the young man who stood out in his representation the usual Igbo iron will and courage.

Of course, Obasanjo, we know, played a role in the nomination of Ukpabi Asika as the Administrator of East Central State. He was reported to have furthered the chances of the people in his efforts at strengthening the only civilian of the heads of the then 12 states. It was this Obasanjo who made it a personal duty to reconcile Asika with the Great Zik when Asika swore that he was set for full battle with the then influential master of Nigeria politics over the allocation of market stalls in Onitsha main market. As Onukaba Ojo puts it in Olusegun Obasanjo...( p. 180), the General counseled Asika to see sense in patching up things with Zik, since the Great man represented much of Igbo feeling and aspiration. This relationship with Asika and family, we know, has also continued, even as the intellectual-administrator quit this stage a few weeks ago.

Records also showed that contrary to unfounded positions, Obasanjo suggested the boldest moves for Ndigbo to reclaim their property in Port Harcourt and elsewhere. He was said to have urged Ukpabi Asika to put Ndigbo on the train from Enugu, in 1974, to storm Port Harcourt en masse to reclaim what rightly belonged to them. Hear him, I did not fight the war for the Igbos to lose their properties in Nigeria, he yelled at Ken Saro Wiwa who was disappointed that he did not go for the whole story that Ndigbo exploited them in the then regional government and should lose everything in Port Harcourt

(Adinoyi-Ojo...Olusegun Obasanjo...pp.194 - 195). He reasoned that way and so proposed because he rightly believed that the people were being unjustly treated in the policy of dispossession called abandoned property.

Initially, I had believed that it was customary for the defeated to see the conqueror in such endless train of resentment, especially if the conquered has yet to resolve matters of ego in accepting results emanating from superior tactics and armour. I had assumed that it was a normal way of the military never to accept defeat so that the individual officers could maintain a certain level of sanity and hope, if only to have somebody to pile one's blames on.

This belief has already worn when I came to realize that it has not been a popular position that Obasanjo ever acted in ways for which we would ascribe to him an Igbo hater or sadism. Indeed, I discovered that this whole claim of hatred had emanated mainly from one or two leading actors on the side of Biafra who have yet to accept the possibility of being seen to be resoundingly defeated in modern warfare by forces led by Obasanjo, a back water Egba boy who only hoped to be an automobile mechanic, son of a mere farmer and an "engineer officer", not even Sand Hurst-trained, who ought not know swift and effective deployment of troops.

It quickly dawned on me, as I am sure it would have for others, that some of us have claimed a duty in presenting Obasanjo in such perpetual bad light so that he would never savour any form of reciprocal filial (ty) attendant upon such high-minded disposition and handling of the last days of a major civil war.

Against this background, it baffles me that a certain considerable weight of Igbo elite opinion has run unchallenged in this bid to impugn the character of another as in desperately fixing it in the minds of every Igbo man that this is an Igbo hater.

To some extent, it looks very unreasonable that such wild elite claims emanating from their personal political misfortune could be sold to the generality of Ndigbo who should have seen the un-abating tirade and bashing as designed by personal fancies and peculiar/pecuniary interests.

I had believed that we have long gone beyond this kindergarten imputations riding elite fantasies and manipulations suitable only for war years. It is possible that such views that held to present the people with common imaginary enemies worked for the enterprise of those years but it is not quite reasonable to always reach back in time to begin to portray men in their individual enterprises as hating the generality of Ndigbo, for reasons nobody has convinced me about.

I am not for it and I do not think anybody hates the generality of Enugu people, same the whole Igbo.


  • Nnamani, a specialist obstetrician and gynecologist, with sub-specialty in maternal and fetal medicine, is the governor of Enugu State, Eastern part of Nigeria.


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