Akin Osuntokun

Former adviser to ex president, Olusegun Obasanjo, Mr. Akin Osuntokun has described the 30-month Nigeria-Biafra war which took place between 1967 to 1970 as a regrettable episode in the country’s history.

According to Osuntokun, the war is a war of blame, which according to him, is the reason people are unable to accept the truth about it.

Osuntokun who said this on Monday in Lagos during of the 50th anniversary of the end of the civil war, argued that it was wrong for anyone to have believed that the January 15, 1966 military coup led by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, was an Igbo coup.

According to him, even the likes of General T.Y. Danjuma (RTD), former defence minister who played key role in the war for the federal side, is beginning to regret his role.

“Many problems of this world, in this age of over communication, can be simplified and addressed by going back to the first principles. And one of those first principles is to wake up everyday and say, how can everyone a better human being?” he said.

“Biafra is the central issue of Nigeria’s political history. And the attitude of Nigeria to Biafra will indicate the kind of nation we are, whether we have improved or become worse. I’m sure that people noted that recently, (T.Y) Danjuma was getting almost apologetic about his role in the civil war. He said he directed his junior officers not to kill those people. This attitude is different from what it used to be. He used to be celebratory about it. But there is nothing to celebrate about the war, Osuntokun said.

“If anybody is advocating for remedial actions about Biafra, it is not the Southeast you are helping, you are helping Nigeria. It is contradictory to think for instance, that in saying that the next Nigerian president should be an Igbo, you are doing the Igbo a favour. You are not.

“Today, the handshake across the Niger; in the relationship between the Southeast and Southwest, there is no trait that binds that relationship more meaningfully than the action of Adekunle Fajuyi. It shows you the meaning of powerful symbols.

“The defeat of Biafra is not to be celebrated or criminalised. And this is one of the reasons we are incapable of writing our history. Everybody can write about the American civil war today because the issues are clear. You could see the demarcation between right and wrong. How can anyone do wrong by fighting slavery? So it ended on a moral victory for Abraham Lincoln and his army, unlike our own. Our own is embedded on the philosophy of might is right, the law of the jungle.

He emphasised that there was no reason for the war to have happened, noting that if those who carried out the revenge coup of July 1966 knew that the January coup was never Igbo conspiracy against them, there would have been no need to carry it out.

“We can do things about it. We don’t need to be a portioning blames when we seek to improve ourselves. Again, let me tell you something, and I’m not pandering to you. People seem to miss one very crucial element about the coup of January 15, 1966. There is no way you can have a cast of those coup leaders and not presume they were acting on behalf of Nigeria, not on behalf of the Igbo. It is otherwise illogical. This idea of saying that it was an Igbo coup is wrong, it was not. It’s just that it was badly managed,” he said.

Osuntokun advocated for reconciliation, arguing that the first step would be for everyone to own up to their mistakes so as to make it easy for the country to move forward.

He emphasized that although the story of the civil war is that of tragedy and deaths, there were still some acts of courage and solidarity which could be built upon.

“There are many issues about Nigeria’s history. Professor Pat Utomi has mentioned some of the things that will help the process of healing. The greatest statement made by General Yakubu Gowon was that there was no victor, no vanquished. But they didn’t follow through. If he did, we wouldn’t have been having this conference. The problem we have with this kind of conference is that we are clapping with one hand. As I said, I want to look at things less from the perspective of a portioning blames. Everyone has the elements of good and bad,” he said.

“Professor Utomi told us about Garba Wushishi who saved him from being killed in Gusau during the hostilities. There was a Yoruba man who was flogged in Surulere for shielding an Igbo person during the war. We should look for more of this. Nigeria needs to write it’s history. And the reason we cannot write it so far is the conflicting perspectives and the inability to accept the truth.

“Let those of us who are free give ourselves that task. In what ways can we write Nigeria’s history? What is militating against it is the civil war and the perceptions of it. It was not not a glorious war, it should be condemned through and through. Look at the series of events from 1966 to 1970, there is something insensitive about calling some people rebels. It is not a history of rebellion.

“We need to confront the ghost of this country. But I know you can’t convince people who have made up their minds. You can only try to say, I don’t see what you did as bad, you only made a mistake.

“Obviously, if the July 1966 coup was in response to the January coup, then it was a mistaken reaction. They did what they did because they believed that the January 15 coup was a conspiracy of the Igbo against them. But that’s a mistake. Now, if you now know that it was not Igbo conspiracy, you would not have done it. That’s the only meaningful way to proceed for Nigeria. We have to reach common grounds.”

The former political adviser and political strategist also argued that there can be any meaningful progress in the country without restructuring.
According to him, the country’s founding fathers knew that it was the only workable arrangement and that knowledge led them to come up with the independence constitution that guaranteed regional autonomy.

“If we all wake up everyday thinking of how to be better human beings, all these problems we are talking about will be a matter of detail. But because we are unable to do that, we don’t trust one another, we are suspicious, almost paranoid. What is restructuring? Who among the present set of leaders in the north is more northern than Ahmadu Bello? The irony of what we call restructuring is that it’s people who say they are against it that actually did it.

“Those of us who are talking about restructuring, we are talking actually about restoration.You took Nigeria from four to the present 36 states that is chaotic, and we say no, let’s go back because the farther you move under the wrong arrangements, the more chaotic it becomes.

“Restructuring is not for me to cheat the north, it’s not because I hate anybody. There has been no set of Nigerian actors, better in any sense, than those who gave Nigeria the federalism of the independence constitution, Azikiwe, Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello and the British colonialists that gave birth to Nigeria in the first place. It took them years to thrash it out. And they know Nigeria more than any of us. They have they legitimacy of their people more than anybody after them. We had a template that was predicated on logic, on tolerance, on recognition of diversities and things like that. Then, you had an accident, because the military coup of 1966 was an accident, then you chose that accident to be the norm. How will that work?”