IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: El-Rufai’s restructuring plan dangerous, must be rejected — Odia Ofeimun
Foremost Nigerian poet, columnist and secretary to the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Odia Ofeimun has said the restructuring programme of the All Progressive Congress (APC), being drafted by a committee headed by Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State, which according to him, seeks to remove the idea of ownership of homelands in the country, is devious, ill-conceived and must therefore be resisted by Nigerians.
Ofeimun who spoke in this interview with OBINNA EZUGWU, also alleged that there was a plan by a certain ethnic group to overrun the country and dominate everybody, which he notes, probably explains the condoning of the atrocities of herdsmen and bandits in the country. Ofeimun who turned 70 recently also shared insight into the events that led to the Nigerian civil war.
At 70, you have seen Nigeria well enough, from independence, through the first republic to now. Looking at the country today, are you worried about its future?
Yes, I’m 70 years old. That means I was born in the year that the first All Nigeria Conference took place in Ibadan, which is to say that in the year of my birth, Nigeria was looking for a solution and as turn 70, Nigeria is still looking for solutions to exactly the same questions that it was haggling about in 1950. You could say we have moved, but we have not solved any of the problems. We have attempted answers and experienced what looked like solutions, but they never solved the problems. I’m therefore like a man who, the harder he runs, the less distance he covers.
We haven’t resolved the issues that arose in that All Nigerian Conference in 1950, and it appears that some people are trying to destroy the basis upon which we can actually try to have solutions to those problems. We once thought, well, Awolowo who did not attend that conference in 1950 once said that we were a mere ‘geographical expression’. He spent all his life trying to turn that geographical expression into what we ought to call a cultural expression, in the sense that he wished for common welfare programmes, common resort to freedom of speech, association and the rest of them, to even out the differences so that we may begin to perform like a country of a common cultural expression. It never managed to happen because other Nigerians did not quite agree.
And these days, when you are talking about other Nigerians not agreeing, it is no longer a question of talking about there being a mere geographical expression. Some people actually think that we should remove what makes Nigeria a country of distinct ethnic groups so that only one ethnic nationality will be appraised at the centre of our strive for nationhood. If you don’t see it that way, then you may be seeing it along the lines of the principle of overcoming at the level of internal colonialism or the removal of self governance from the various Nigerian nationalities. We find ourselves in a situation where some people really think Nigeria should not be treated like a country.
If I’m sounding very pessimistic, it’s because I believe we all need to know it in a manner that forces us to defend the idea of Nigeria. It is actually the most important rationale for the existence of a black renaissance of a kind. If Nigeria were smashed, the basis for an African renaissance would have been destroyed. There are competitors with Nigeria, mostly non African, using various African communities to push the necessity for Nigeria to be dissolved or dismembered. But it appears that there is a more concerted effort, sponsored by more determined people, to ensure that this place doesn’t stand as one country. I happen to believe that they will not succeed. But if you don’t want them to succeed, it is not going to be a matter of throwing metal force at AK47s, because what is around us does require meeting terror with terror.
Seriously, at 70, it’s as if we have been pushed to where we need either to start afresh or we won’t have a country. I am speaking almost in metaphorical terms, but there is nothing metaphorical about what is happening in Nigeria today. You have a situation where, once upon a time, we said that self governance by different ethnic groups would be one way of building a strong nation. And that Nigerian nationalities should be strong enough, whether as regions or as ethnic groups, and should be self governing in a way that allows for a certain confidence.
In the first republic, the competition that existed among the various regions made that the normal case. But today, when you give the impression of any part of Nigeria acquiring the means for self governance, the dominant and hegemonic view is that you are trying to break-away from Nigeria. Whereas it is precisely those who do not want to allow for that possibility that are breaking up the country because a country that was so used to being free to make demands of the system, is now actually being made to feel that in making demands of the system, you are trying to destroy it.
Well, I’m not a very pessimistic person. So, anywhere I see such positions being ironed out, I see it as just disrupting a movement forward that is bound to return. There is no way any set of people can hammer Nigeria down to the point of dissolution that would prosper. If the old method was, let us protect our ethnic groups, there are those who are now moving in and actually infiltrating all the ethnic groups in order to make it impossible for any particular ethnic group to talk about having a homeland. Without a sense of homeland, people never acquire the confidence to confront and solve problems. A sense of homeland is valuable because it provides a backdrop against which you are able to meet continuity.
At the moment, we are having a situation where all ethnic groups are simply being mish-mashed so that we brush against one another, but without a sense of collective aspirations. In fact, the idea of collective aspirations is what is being destroyed when you open your eyes one morning and you discover that the people you have to relate to not only do not speak your language and do not want to speak your language. And even if they want to, they do it for your own repression. And removing that sense of ownership of place, and ownership of history and atmosphere is actually what Nigeria is confronted by at the present time.
Where it hurts is that even in the most regular approaches to the solution of Nigeria’s problems that we encounter here and there, it is actually being suggested, for instance, the APC programme of restructuring says we must not have status of indigeneity for anybody, and that there should be no state of origin as a basis for interrelationships. If you remove the status of indigenship from people, it means that the formal basis upon which federalism used to exist has been removed. All that we talked about in terms of differences and diversities would have been removed. If you remove the idea of state of origin, as prescribed by El-Rufai’s committee on restructuring, it means that what the Americans and most federal systems talk about, that if you want to move from one state to another, you need to be a registered resident in that state, will also be removed.
If you come to a state where there are fifteen different languages, the state is still treated as a country of, shall we say no languages, which is to say that you have removed coherence from the way people can relate. If you ask those who are pushing for restructuring on this basis, they are not likely to tell you that is what they are doing. They actually think that when you remove ethnicity and you remove the so-called diversities, you are actually civilising the world. It is the most uncivilised people in the world who behave in that manner, because it implies that unless your own ethnicity is dissolved, smashed, removed; there can be no basis for us to relate.
This, unfortunately, is not true. It is not true that you need to remove ethnicity for people to be able to relate normally. Ethnicity and all those things that form a basis for diversities have always been approached in all serious systems in the world, through a federal rearrangement of society. Those who do not want a federal rearrangement of society and are angling for the removal of ethnicity, only do so because they are already in power, or think that they have the means to retain power to be at the centre. The APC programme for restructuring is anti federal. It is unitarian in the most devious sense because it attempts to remove that which makes human beings normal.
In no federal system in the world, even in India where the federal government can create states as it pleases, there is respect for distinctiveness in languages. I mean, why do you want to destroy people’s means of communication; people’s means of storing memories, just so that they will become one country? Especially in a country where you already have English, a fairly neutral language as a means uniting people.
To start by saying that such people should not use their languages; should not express themselves in terms of the cultural geographies that had produced them, you are almost asking them not to be human beings. There is no reason why people of different ethnic groups, different languages and religious viewpoints cannot live properly within the same environment. If you trained a group of engineers, one Hausa, another Igbo, the other Efik, Yoruba, Edo or Ijaw, and they are qualified engineers, they may speak different languages but they can work in the same industry.
The fact that we are refusing to do the normal and proper things; give education to all Nigerians, ensure that they have access to jobs, prepare for them to be taken care of when they have retired, and that is to say, instead of creating institutions that destroy pension schemes, you create those that defend them. I mean, if you have such protective covers for citizens in a society, the emphasis people are laying on whether we speak the same language or belong to the same ethnic group would be largely reduced. It is precisely because governments are not doing the right things that they fall back on all these things.
In the north of Nigeria, which has become the bastion of ignorance and despoliation of progressive youths in this area, it appears people want to change and to resolve issues of nationality by actually giving education and things of that nature. But what that document, the latest document from the government on restructuring has said is that all Nigerians should just be arranged in a mishmash of stateless, non indigenous connotations, where no particular part of Nigeria will be regarded as the homeland of either, Igbo or the Yoruba, the Hausa and so on.
The insult began with the assault on the Hausa. You hear it said that the Hausa are not a nationality, that it is just a language group. It is an insult; it is just like saying that the English who gave their language to the rest of the world are not longer a nationality because other people took their language. It is a very big insult and you can only insult a people like that because you have dominated them to the point of depersonalising all their people. And I think that we have been running Nigeria for too long on the basis of this refusal to accord ethnic groups the right of self-respect.
The word self-respect is a very big word. When you come to think of it, those who do not have it have nothing else. And in the Nigerian situation, what constitutes self-respect has been whittled down for so many groups to the point of meaninglessness. It is no longer meaningful to talk about self-respect of some people. However, something happened to Nigeria recently. With the emergence of a very concerted Fulani push for self-recognition as a nationality with millennial goals covering centuries of claims of ownership over any part of Nigeria they happen to have crossed with a cattle, you are obliged to ask whether we shouldn’t return to drawing proper lines between ethnic groups in order to give them self-respect.
It is important not to forget that a people who have been deprived of self-respect never become self-governing. They become completely invisible, even in their own stories. And when you reduce people to that level, you make it impossible for them to be anything but the enslaved who can be used by others to do what others wish, not what they themselves want. What allowed it to happen in Hausaland was that the Fulani who conquered the Hausa accepted the domination of the Hausa language. It was as if they were prepared to reject their own language and take the Hausa language.
That’s not a proper way to build a nation, if that was what it was about. But you see, as Bala Usman used to say, you have to contend with a specific distinction between the Hausa and the Fulani. A Kado is a Kado, a Pulo is a Pulo. Once you don’t go by the rules like that, you are actually saying that there is no basis for Coalescence between people of different ethnic groups; which is to say, although the Fulani and the Hausa may be living together and may have lived together for centuries, they can never be one. People who don’t go by such a rule, when they begin to insist on their being of a particular nationality, as in the case of saying the Fulani owns this land and we took it from you, it pushes the average Hausa into a non person, because the idea of Hausa land would be one of the things that would be removed.
And to worsen matters, you have a Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore who says they will bring all the Fulani from all parts sub-Saharan Africa to Nigeria and simply take over the place. And therefore, that’s another way of saying that those who live in those parts of Nigeria today and are not Fulani will become non persons. It is not quite clear whether they think that those who are therefore being de-nationalised and de-personalised are going to accept the new status that is being drafted upon them. But that is the point I’m trying to make.
In 1950, it was still a matter of hedging around self definition, but now there is this dominant strain that says you do not have indigeneity state, even your state of origin should be removed so that the idea of state of origin no longer arise, the notion of pluralism as the basis for the creation of federal set up will also be removed. When you get to that point, anarchy is actually being introduced into the system as a norm.
I’m not sure that those who talk about a civil war are using the right language because the assumption of those who have this notion is that we must first of all deny the distinction between people. But we must then accept the dominance of some people. How you can have a country that is like that is what I don’t know. But it is the kind of seeking after disaster as a way of life. We do need to look at it closely because as we are talking, some people believe that all the people they refused to send to school; all the people they have kept in the streets, should be pumped into the forests and urban jungles of southern Nigeria in order to neutralise ethnic groups and make it formally possible to say that Nigeria is one country, because for many of them, that is the only way Nigeria can be regarded as one country.
That’s not building a country; it’s building anarchy. The thing is that we owe every one of those children who were not given education in the north a proper civic arrangement that would save them from the enormity of poverty. No Nigerian, no matter where he lives, ought to be allowed to be in that state. Some people have even said that you give education to the Fulani, and you deny it to the Hausa as a basis for stability. Now, it is being discovered that those who were not given education, and those who have not been given any means of earning a livelihood, no skill and no sense of citizenship, can actually acquire guns, whether from the Libyans as Muhammadu Buhari has said, or from the free market of the world, we don’t know.
But we now know that they can acquire guns and become bandits who can take over the urban jungles from the forests where they are kidnappers and terrorists. It is as if we have constitutionalised anarchy already by the manner in which we have brought up the children of our nation. Those who we thought we had left behind us are catching up with us with their guns. And you are not going to stop them from using the guns if hunger pursues them because as you move them from one place to the other, as you load them in trailers from one part of the country to the other, dump them where they have no means of livelihood or self sustenance, they are going to make use of the guns that some people buy for them. And if they don’t have guns, they can use other methods to acquire a means of self sustenance.
How do you build a country if everybody who has to earn a living must do so by acquiring either an AK47 or whatever empowering means are available in the marketplace of the world? The fact that our leaders do not see it this way means that they are deliberately using the method, either to keep themselves in power, frighten others from attempting to take power from them, or they think that anarchy is good for actually winning battles. But anarchy doesn’t win battles. Those who think that by disorganising everything and turning fiasco into norm so they will remain hegemonic are deceiving themselves, because if you sack a village and drive all the people in that village away – let’s say it’s a village of about 20,000 people. If there are 100 people there who are well trained and they have guns, they can keep that village permanently in crisis till they take it back.
That is to say, they will decide that those who took over their village would never have peace. We may find ourselves in a situation where, after 200 years, we are still fighting battles that we could have ended by simply doing two things: First, that is if the Buhari’s of this world will allow it, simply ask all the people who have been moved down to suffer in the forest and urban jungles of the south to go back to base. But go to that base and create a means for them to live normal human lives. If money were being expended to take care of those who did not go to school and those who have no skill, and ensuring that there are proper farms and factories for them to work, you would be saving the country from a major catastrophe.
But as things are, since they are pouring more and more people into the place, you may empty out the troops of Almajiris and related groups, but you are preparing grounds for a holocaust. If those who are bringing in guns are not going to murder all the people whose home lands they want, those whose home lands are being taken over are going to find a means of fighting back, especially because those who are being brought in are not going to immediately learn the same language. It would be like iron gritting against iron. There is nothing that will make them feel like one people. In fact, the idea of being one people is the first thing you drive away from people when you throw them into the kind of environment that they are already creating in Nigeria at the moment.
I am sure no Nigerian wants to live in that environment. But whether you want it or not, it confronts you. What do you do?
Very many people have claimed, and it’s provable in many circumstances, that the federal government has created a scheme for ensuring that all the terrorists are taken care of while their victims are punished literally for being victims. Whether it is true in all cases or not, it is provable that the federal government under Buhari has created a multiple level of citizenship. Some can live within the law; others are allowed to live outside the law. And the federal government is prepared to support them to live outside the law.
Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi has said if you bring all the Fulani from Africa to Nigeria, they are Nigerians. A governor who speaks like that is actually saying that he has no country. When you say that there is no basis for distinguishing between people from one country and another, you are saying that you don’t have a country. And if that is what you are saying, the rest of us who believe we have a country, and that we have ethnic homelands within that country, ought to find a way of reeducating you. But you can’t reeducate people who have guns if you don’t have guns. Therefore, we do have a very serious problem. How that problem will be engaged is one that doesn’t appear as if anybody in government at the moment is thinking about, and if they are thinking about it, they are doing so in terms of overcoming.
But even if you bring all the Fulani in the world to Nigeria, their population will still be a minority. And if that minority is going to take over from a majority, they would have to rule by extreme violence. And if they must justify whatever they are doing, it means they must build a republic of lies and falsehood. I don’t want to live in a country like that, and I’m sure many Nigerians don’t want to live in a country like that. But we are being made to feel as if we don’t have a choice. But I think we do have a choice, which is why Amotekun is very popular. It is a way of letting those on the other side know that we know what is afoot; how they are planning it. But because we love peace, we would not want to destroy the country that we own…
I mean, there was civil war among the Yoruba before colonialism came. For a hundred years, they were murdering one another and selling their children into slavery. That’s how they weakened themselves for both the Fulani jihad and British colonisation. What is going to happen now is that Nigeria, and therefore the whole of Africa, will be weakened to the point where the only possibilities would amount to a return to the 1885 Berlin Conference. Foreigners with bigger guns will move in to help create stability. Many of them are wishing for it because they are already losing in the international competition for capital and therefore creating trouble in a country like Nigeria in order to take it over as peacemakers as they took over Africa by being against slavery.
That will become the new way. That’s how elephants dance. Those of us who will become the grass that would suffer would be given dual mandate. Some hegemons will be used as middlemen to take care of the rest of us. That was how colonialism was done before. But this time around, it won’t pan out the same way. The configurations across the world have become so volatile that if a recolonisation is taking place, using any Nigerian group for that purpose, the fallout will have impact around the world. That is to say, neither Britain nor France, the two leading recolonisers of the moment, will be free in their own country because those, whose Africa they have destabilized, will help destabilize their countries. They will not be safe if they make Nigeria unsafe.
The issues you have laid out lend credence to what a lot of people have been alleging, that there is an attempt by the Buhari government to Fulanise Nigeria. Is that assertion correct?
Buhari and his spokespersons have not denied that that is what they are doing. They are merely saying that, as in the case of Benue, they should be receptive to foreigners who come to live amongst them. And that they need to be nice to the herdsmen who come to sack villages and remove farmsteads from the normal food producing states. Now, it doesn’t matter whether Buhari sees it as colonisation, what is important is that the decisions he has been taking promote a unitary sense of governance controlled by one ethnic group. That is so obvious. At whatever level of government you wish to look at it, he has succeeded in doing that.
But that actually makes them weak but they don’t seem to realise it. But when people imagine that they are in a hegemonic position, they don’t look at the mirror to see how they are looking. And because they don’t look at the mirror, those who see them in terms of their formalisation of, shall we say, terrorism? Because that’s what it boils down to, are actually getting reeducated. What they will do with the reeducation they are getting is a different ball game. But those who have been colonised once, when they are being recolonised, will learn things that the former colonizers would not have imagine that they could learn.
You mentioned that the El-Rufai’s restructuring plan being anti federal…?
Yes, it is anti federal and therefore destructive of the basis for national cohesion.
So, what kind of restructuring do we need?
You know, we got it right at the beginning. What was wrong was the British imposition of a lopsided structure. That is to say, the regions that existed were actually self governing. We had resource control, in the sense that whatever they produced, they could expend on themselves. You did not have one region insisting that they owned the resources in another region. Revenue allocations made sense within that system. And they began doing that by refusing to accept the common notions of federalism, with which all federal systems set out, which is to say that no one part should be so hegemonically large or strong as to be able to dominate all the others.
If in the creation of states, the British had allowed ethnic groups to become regions and states, and each of those ethnic nationalities were allowed to be self governing in the way resource control states are insisting that they should be self governing, we would have had a beautiful country in which a Fulani would come to my state and work without me worrying. But they decided to create a lopsided structure which boasted it was not an ethnic structure. I mean, almost every northerner you meet today tells you that in the north, tribalism is not a problem. It is the biggest lie in Nigeria’s history because you created a region in which only an ethnic group could govern others.
And because that ethnic group did not turn its own language into the official language, and used the language of a majority that it dominates for that purpose, it is actually being claimed that that nationalises all of them. It doesn’t. As I said, always remember that principle that a Kado is a Kado, a Pulo is a Pulo. It simply says that irrespective of how close we are, some are more equal than others. Wherever that principle is allowed to obtain in any part of the world, you can never have peace. You will always have a generation of children who will not be allowed to go to school, even if they want.
You witnessed the events that culminated into the civil war, especially as it concerns Awolowo and Ojukwu. What facts would you like Nigerians to know?
Yes, if you take that civic war as a measure of how Nigerians cannot take correct decisions, you will begin by remembering that the civil war did not begin with the 1966 coup. Nigerians pretend that it was the lopsided killings in the coup that led to the pogrom and so on. No, it was a struggle about how to manage and share the resources of Nigeria. At independence, it was already clear that following the British lopsided mandate, that one side was bound to insist on taking more than its fair share of the resources. The election of 1959 was the real bone of contention. Whoever won that election would determine the future for everybody. Now, the British wanted the North to take over the country in accordance with (Lord) Lugard’s design in 1902.
In 1902, Lugard said that he would train the Fulani to rule over the North over the rest of Nigeria. But that if the generation of Fulani in existence in those years could not acquire the discipline to govern, they would train their children. If their children are unable to govern, they will train their children’s children until it is possible for that to happen. And to make that work well, it required a structuring of the colonial system such that you would always have the North so much bigger than the South, that it can dictate and have a veto over whatever happens in the South. It would have worked, but the South overdeveloped, moved too fast and there was no chance that the North was going to be able to halt it. So for years and decades after, all that the North had to do was trying to catch up with the South, trying to stop the South, trying to destroy advantages of the South, without actually putting things in place to make them even up in a way that allows for fair competition. That is part of it.
But by 1959, when independence was just a step away, they (the British) did not want Nnamdi Azikiwe to be prime minister of Nigeria. Properly speaking, according the elections of that year, Zik should have been the prime minister. But in 1958, they had forced Zik to accept an arrangement that would make him a toothless bulldog, a governor general who had no powers. Zik was obliged to accept that position because they had a tribunal report to dangle over his head. If he did not play, they will send him to jail. So, Zik played. In that election, no one political party, not the NPC, the NCNC nor the Action Group could win outright. The smaller parties like the NEPU, UMBC, Borno Youth Movement and all the others, did not have the gravitas to make a difference. But if Zik was going to take the lower rung of the ladder, he needed to maximize what he could take.
Zik decided therefore, that in the sharing out of national loot, it was best to form a coalition with the NPC (Northern People’s Congress) rather than the Action Group. If he hadn’t formed the coalition with the NPC, NCNC already had a coalition with NEPU. The UMBC was already very pro NCNC and very pro Action Group. Awolowo did not only come out openly to say, I want to work for Zik as his minister of Finance, while he served as Prime Minister, he also sent Zik’s friend, S.O Gbadamosi to go meet him and explain what it was to be. They would have had the Borno Youth Movement and all the other smaller parties. They would have been a party that covered all of Nigeria. But Zik, in 1958, had already taken a decision to be just a governor general without executive powers.
Then, those who know how to do maximise takes, told the NCNC that, look, your first duty is to knock the Action Group out of it, because if the Action Group got into a coalition with you, they have enough people to cover all offices. The competition between the NCNC and the Action Group would be a struggle between the Igbo of the East and the Yoruba of the West, both well educated and that the fight between them would be too much. That’s rubbish, because you know that sharing doesn’t always work like that. But in any case, this was what Zik was told. So, the first job they did upon forming the coalition was to make sure that the Action Group was literally knocked out business. Their members were sent to jail, some to exile and then, they started doing a share out of national resources.
The NCNC and therefore, the Igbo echelon, took over virtually all the strategic jobs in the public service, Nigerian Railway, Ports Authority, Ministry of Education, they were allowed to take over. The Action Group was in limbo. But see what happened; by 1964, the NCNC discovered that they were merely floating on top of the waves, and that real landlords were their senior partners in the coalition. All the railway extensions in Nigeria went to the North. The electricity power house, the Kainji Dam went to the North; all the military installations went to the North.
The iron and steel industry which an international consortium had said should go to the East, near Onitsha, Balewa set up another consortium and this particular industry was again taken to the North. It was at that point in 1964 that an election took place and Nnamdi Azikiwe refused to call a government because according to him, they had rigged the election. I think about 84 people were returned unopposed. And you know, to return 84 people unopposed in a parliament was like scrapping everything. It was on the day Zik refused to call Balewa to form a government that Ojukwu first went to Zik to say, let’s carry out a coup. At least the facts have come out, we now know. Zik refused. Ojukwu then went to Ejoor to say let’s carry out a coup, but Ejoor refused. He then went to Gowon but Gowon also refused. Actually, Ejoor said when he went to see Gowon, he met them arguing but in the end, they did not agree to have a coup
By this time, Awolowo had been jailed and his people were in various prisons. But all the radical Nigerians were waking up to the reality that Awolowo could at least give you free education, could campaign against the Anglo Nigerian Defence Pact and give you at least an economy that works. All of them started campaigning for the man in prison. The Free Awo Movement became a major movement in Nigeria. It was among those groups that coup makers arose. Many people, when they are talking about the war, they forget to tell us that very many of the young people, JP Clark, Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, all of them had gone to school with the Ifeajunas. People forgot those things, and therefore that the ideas of the radicals in Nigeria had infiltrated into the military establishment.
And to make matters worse, the military establishment in Nigeria was more divided than the civilian population because all the soldiers had come to power through ethnic and regional quota. Such that they really were not what you could regard as members of the national army. Although Ojukwu and the rest did not carry out a coup, other people were planning their own coups. And among those planning their own coups were the January 15 boys who had made up their minds, according to Ifeajuna’s manuscript, that they would take Awolowo out of prison, ask him to be their leader. And if he refused, they would lock him up in the state house and issue decrees in his name.
That was the project of the January 15 boys. But what happened is a different story. What happened was they had planned for a later date, but through their own intelligence and Nzeogwu being one of the few properly trained intelligence people in the Nigerian army, they discovered that Ahmadu Bello was going to carry out his own coup on January 17. So, they moved their own coup back to 15. You can say that that is probably why the coup was not as successful as it should have been. Because, by moving their own coup back, so many things that could have been together were not together and that must be why Ironsi, Ojukwu, Madiebo had the opportunity to intervene and smash their coup.
Their coup was smashed by the Igbo who were frightened of these younger elements who turned out to be radically different from them. And once they could smash the coup, they behaved very foully. After they had smashed the Nzeogwu coup and took over power, they did not behave like people who knew that a coup is not the end of the world, that after a coup, you needed to govern. They didn’t learn how to govern. They allowed their people to be bragging. One of the great issues was that Ironsi had no time to study security reports or intelligence reports. So, he didn’t know that there was plan going on to remove his government.
All the reports he was getting from the North were ignored, because in any case, the system he allowed in his office were still the same old system. They simply covered up whatever information he needed and Ironsi was living in cloud open land. He didn’t know what was happening in the country he wanted to govern. I will tell you how it happened. The civil servants of the North were genuinely frightened by the unitary decree, which was actually Ironsi’s decree. They were so frightened of it that they got together and decided to send one of them, Ahmed Joda, to meet Hassan Katsina, governor of the North so that they could create a new leadership core for the North.
Ahmed Joda went to meet Maitama Sule who was one of the lordships of the first republic. Maitama Sule told him no, what you people are trying to do required somebody who can move around and that he, being NPC, could not be moving around, that he would be locked up. And that he would take him to the man who can do it. It was Maitama Sule who took Ahmed Joda to Aminu Kano. Aminu Kano called his men together the following day and they arranged how they would visit one emirate after another. That was how the killing of Igbo was planned.
This interview was first published in March 2020