Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu
“On the whole, you spent 10 years with the Nigerian army. What was it like and how did you end up in Kano?
The Nigerian army, I say this not to denigrate anyone, is the remnant of a force that had grown steadily from the West African Frontier Force, until it became, with independence, the Nigerian army. When I was there, it was a force with five battalions, and we were sort of inching our way to the sixth battalion. And every officer knew brother officers; because of my peculiar type of education when I came into the army after my training I was selected to be either an instructor, or a staff officer. But my calling was for infantry; and if you remember a lot of British officers had a tried approach and really I was looked upon as that officer that you could leave with minimal supervision. In fact, at one stage my annual report had these words that I was one officer ‘‘who never served under anybody but we all served under him.’’ Naturally, I was a senior officer my number was 29, and I moved up every year since my commission, and I had created quite a bit of jealous enmity by my rapid promotion, and that sort of alienated me from my military colleagues. And if one was not within range, I was a friend. The army for effectiveness was very good ceremonially, we were also good for internal security actions, but I would not vouch for its war efficiency, which you found during the war, that the army proved itself. It was the biggest and most effective defoliant agent, they would shoot through any amount of leaves, and miss out the enemy. And for propaganda sake people were given so much reputation, reputation for what? And they go about prancing about: ‘we did this, we did that,’ no. We have this latent problem, because we have been given this bullshit about their efficiency, they began to believe it. When I say this, I am also recognising the limitation of my own training as an officer. By Nigerian standards I was some good, but I cannot go into modern war with other people, better trained. I was alright as an infantry officer, I was alright as a small formation officer. But I do not think that internationally at the power points that I would go beyond the command of a brigade. That is me, so when you see pipsqueaks prancing around as divisional commander, core commanders, I just laugh.
The army today is blamed for the instability in the political system. When, in your opinion, do you think the army began to eye a role in the political system?
The army lost discipline with the appointment of Yakubu Gowon. It was Gowon that rooted indiscipline into the Nigerian army. This is the basis of my disagreement with the Nigerian army officers’’ corp, nothing more than that. In a way, it is the politicisation of the officer corp; I have always been committed to the professional army. We argued the appointment of Ironsi as the major-general, who would take over from Maj-General Wilbe Everad, the last British commanding officer, I maintained the position that for the army to remain we have to follow the natural chain of command of the hierarchy. Despite the disruptions of the Ifeajuna coup, we still held together as an army. Later it became a question of how to handle the disruption of the demise of Ironsi. If you remember, I had been posted to Enugu, so I was not in Lagos to argue this. But I kept on the telephone arguing the point, that Ogundipe should take over; no problem then because there was a chance of resolving the issues. Nigeria was let down by Ogundipe, because his action tended to give more strength to people who believe that anybody could be the head, at any time; I say no to that kind of thinking. Those who designed the military structure knew what they where doing; when I finally learnt that Ogundipe had fled, I did not stop. I then proposed Adebayo, he should take over by seniority. Then, of course, Gowon proclaimed himself commander over and above so many senior officers. It is true that people acquiesced but that was when discipline broke down. So I was not in Lagos, but I did what I could, but Gowon became head of the army. The danger was that some of those who acquiesced did not have the guts to move across to Gowon, they remained under command, here in the East. That confused the whole thing, but basically that was what the whole war was about. The question is :Do we have an army or don’’t we? Some people chose to have an army of war lords, anywhere you are, if you look outside the window and you command more rifles you become the boss. No, you should have a superior loyalty; loyalty to the institution, not so much to the men. If I had been in Lagos we might have saved the situation; but I had won two arguments the one that made Ironsi the general and the one that made him Supreme commander. I gave him the direction the army should go, but because I was in Enugu I was not as effective to prevent the aberration of Gowon being placed at the head of the army, at the time he did.
At the time of the coup against Ironsi it was obvious that Ogundipe did not enjoy the support of the officers and men and had to go?
When you use the word obvious, you tempt into the obvious question? How do you know, give me proof? How did it become obvious if it had not been fed into you. I was in the army I did not see anything obvious, so tell me how?
Nigerians are not interested in my thoughts it is you they want to hear?
No the point is that a lot of these things you people take and digest, and once you are confronted with the true situation you are so reluctant to shift, why? When Ironsi became head was there a military council vote? He was appointed, he took over and you saw the result. Ogundipe should have taken over, why did he not. Or that he ran away, who threatened him? And they threatened him he ran away from being in command, but ran into the arms of Nigeria and became an ambassador. I am glad we are talking about this, because this is part of the half -baked beliefs of many Nigerians, and it is significant they accept these things on matters they are not experts in. That the NCO’s were not taking orders from Ogundipe, who are these Non-commissioned officers. ? What rank? I am being deliberately mischievous to make a point. Forgive me, why should you know! It is my profession and I wish that you would be a little hesitant with these statements that come from Nigeria propaganda to legitimatise Gowon. It is just like the propaganda that says you have to be very careful in the North, the North does not like Ojukwu, and you journalists you continue saying it, when in fact even the northerners in ANPP, and quite a number in PDP, say if Ojukwu stood for election side by side with Buhari we do not know who would win. Because we are very popular with the North of today, but the eastern journalist of today say, no, no the North will not do this, or do that. And it becomes the truth of our misguided era. No, the only way we would have known what the reaction would have been was for Ogundipe to take up his position, and then we would know. Even today, wherever I go to talk, even at the war college they recognise the commanding presence of their superior officer, and that is it.
One of the reasons adduced by observers for the July coup , is that it was a revenge coup since the January 15 attempt was inspired by mostly Igbo officers (interrupts)
And Ogundipe was Igbo?
That is not the point…
That is the main point. That it was an Igbo coup did not make it a Yoruba coup.
Between January 15 and July 29, do you think that Ironsi had taken steps to put back some discipline in the army, as a way of correcting the breakdown of order the January coup caused?
I would be very honest with you, and I would ignore certain Nigerian propaganda. You see we were brought up as one Nigerian army, when the British were pulling out they left one commanding officer, we found ourselves being pulled by ethno-centric forces, we found ourselves being pulled apart. The idea that Ironsi after serving the world as Major-general, force commander in the Congo, should come back to Nigeria and be relieved of his rank sharpened the ethnic divide of the army. Even when I moved and argued that the important issue was the chain of command and the military hierarchy, the institution we inherited we should keep it inviolate. It was easy for many people to say, you Ojukwu, would say that after all, you are an Igbo man. The mere fact that when he took over, the Nigerian army remained and he went round and spoke to so many people, it is possible he could have done more. But I do not think that he saw the danger, so he dealt with it at the level he understood it. Ironsi, a good soldier perhaps. I never saw him in war, but I saw in the Congo, and the way he was appreciated showed he had very good military instincts. I think he did enough to reassure everybody ,the brotherhood of the officer corp. Enough? I saw him doing it when he went round. But my own personal feeling was that he did one of the things I blame Igbo leaders, because they always think the answer is to cry mea culpa, mea culpa. You can do it without accepting guilt, but he lent over backwards accepting guilt. For example, the appointments he made were in accordance with our own rules, he believed in Nigeria. Even before his death, I told him that I did not like the congregation of northern officers in Benin, he said no, no ; “they are my boys”. I said yes, but it would be better because of what has been going on that he should try and mix them up even those around him, but he did not. It was the same thing, when I said there is danger these meetings being held in Nasarawa, Kano, our good friend JS Tarka gave me a tape to listen to, and I gave it to him to listen and he listened and he was quite upset. He called Kam Salem, he gave him the recorder and the tapes “to go and listen to what your brothers are planning for me.” To reassure me of his solidarity with the North, right there he dialed to speak with Sultan Abubakar, and he spoke to him in fluent Hausa, and all that was to convince me that Tarka was wrong and that he was on very close personal contact with the Sultan, what could be better. So he did what he could within his understanding of the best he could.
Those who planned the coup against Ironsi, said their grouse was decree 34 that created the unitary system and the second was that Ironsi was reluctant to punish the January coup plotters?
What was said that those who plotted the coup would be investigated, I was there at the Supreme military council(SMC). General Ironsi said that those who were involved would be investigated and would, if found guilty, be charged accordingly. But who was in charge of investigating this matter, it was Gowon. That he did not do it was wrong, that they then took action after how many months, four or five months is odd. Blaming Ironsi for a promise unfulfilled after four months only; you know that all of these are mere rationalisations for their actions that they had taken. It was because of what happened on January 15th 1966, that we started having difficulties, and Ironsi decided to go round. If you notice, in his moving round it was so anti-east that Enugu was not even on the list for Ironsi to visit, which was wrong. The decree 34 that you talked about, what actually is in that decree? The point is that I was in the SMC, and I do not think that there was any decree that Ironsi issued , which we in the SMC did not sit round and we all discussed. I know that there was a move for the creation of a unitary government at the SMC, but it had not being written, at all. Nigeria was not unified that was why I remained military governor in the east; if it had been I would not have remained governor in the east. The other person they hated was FC Nwokedi; but if you remember what the SMC told Nwokedi and the nation was that he should go round and discuss, and come back and report; but the rationalisation you find is that he had gone and reported and it was clear a decree was going to be promulgated, not that it had actually been promulgated. Ironsi did not do anything to the contrary, the government was not unified, rather it was the civil service. How does one command areas that he actually had no jurisdiction over? And if they say that is the reason for killing Ironsi, and killing Nigeria, why is that since they have taken over they still retained the system of appointing governors. What the decree did was to unify the civil service under a military system.
At the time you were in touch with Ogundipe, you knew Ironsi had died?
No, not officially. I had the rumour that he had been assassinated, so I began making contacts because I wanted to force them out in the open so that we could start dealing with the real situation.
It was said that you told him that if he makes radio announcement that you would follow from the East giving your support, was that what you said?
It is a long time now, but I can tell you that to establish Ironsi, was a question of something like please, do not keep the nation waiting. Whatever it is, now that the rump of Tafawa Balewa government had vested authority, you speak to the nation and get to work. That if that happens, I would from the north lend some support, and the various commanding officers would also show support. We managed it and stabilised the situation. But this second one, I told him I did not like the crowd around him in Benin, the officers were from a particular grouping; it is possible because of the seniority he did not identify the tendencies. I was a Lieutenant colonel, so I was closer and I knew their tendencies . When the upheaval then took place, I began first to talk to Murtala Mohammed, who was in Ikeja, we understood each other, and what he said to me was very straight forward and simple: ” I do not want to stay with Nigeria. I just want us to separate the north from Nigeria, which would mean that we would move the northerners of a certain standing to the north”. I said to him, if that is the case okay, go ahead with it. But as I later on understood some western diplomats, the British- Americans and some permanent secretaries told them not to break up Nigeria. I learnt they told them everything they wanted they now have so why leave the country. But I said no, if we have to do it togther we must return to the chain of command, the hierarchy of the military. Then I started to get in touch with Ogundipe, it was difficult at that time, but with my own Yoruba connections, I found him.
Apart from Ogundipe, Adebayo, who else might it have fallen upon to lead the army?
Ogundipe was then a full colonel. After him, it would have fallen probably to Bassey, who was senior to all of us, the only person he was junior to was probably Ironsi.
When Gowon made his national broadcast, you followed up with your own broadcast. Was that when you made up your mind to secede?
I told you early that the whole question was that we return to hierarchy as we had it in the army. Gowon was in Lagos and he took over, he spoke to me and I told him no, that he can’t take over. I made it clear that it was not his right.
By accepting to negotiate with him at Aburi, was that not a recognition of a fait accompli?
I do not know what you call a fait accompli. When you suddenly caught a robber that invaded your house and carried your belongings, what do you do? You start talking with him, is that a fait accompli? If it were a fait accompli there would have been nothing to discuss. This thing got accomplished at the end of the war.
There is been the suggestion of the rivalry between you and Gowon being a factor(interrupts)?
I will not let you finish, because you are feeding ideas into my mind. Please if you have to use a little courtesy, to respect me, and let me know what you are talking about.
You were administratively senior to Gowon, even though he joined the army two years before you did, and it is suggested that provoked some rivalry having him assume command?
It did not, you are the one reading that into it. Where did you find that, there are many people who were in the army long before me, that I was ahead of eventually. Do you honestly think having been to University and gotten two degrees that would not even have given me an advantage? It did. There were many people who joined the army before Gowon, it did not provoke rivalry. What I am opposed to is to encapsulate a national tragedy and reduce it to a mundane level. For instance, Col Hilary Njoku might even argue that he was senior to me, and I might disagree, but technically he would be right because even though I became a lieutenant colonel before him, by virtue of his military seniority, he was senior to me and once he became a lieutenant colonel, he assumed seniority. But Gowon’s case was a little bit different. Like you said he joined the army two years before me, but at my commission I had caught up with him anyway; because I got the advantage due to my university training. So that he was in the army two years before me by this time did not come into thought. I hope I have explained myself well.
It was suggested that Decree 8 suspending the constitution and putting into effect some of the understanding that was reached at Aburi was promulgated but you did not accept it, do you still remember some of the aspects that offended you?
If you put the decree on the table I will look at it and tell you. As I said to you, I did not agree with the actions taken, we quarreled and eventually we went to war. There must be so many things that we could not agree on.
But it is said that some senior officers of the army thought you should accept this decree, even EU Apkan, the then Secretary of Eastern Region?
I would like to see their affirmation that they asked me to accept Decree 8 and I refused, certainly EU Apkan can not say that I worked very closely with him through out. I do not know the other senior officers, I would be very keen to know; if they told you anything I would like to know so that I can know what answer to give. We went to Aburi , the whole of the East, more especially the army in the East were hopeful on the agreement. But we did find a reneging of the agreement, and you want us to find accommodation not in line with the agreement signed.
The National reconciliation committee led by Awo was constituted, but you rejected it why?
We did not accept it because the East was not consulted. We were a federation, that we had a dispute did not confer the right on anyone to act arbitrarily. They cannot just promulgate that, or this without the East. Remember at that time it was the North, East, West and the Mid-west, so do I allow the East to be sealed up before acting, or do I say if you go and do this you are wrong? Do I say let’s go back to Aburi, let’s do this or that because it is the right of the people we are trampling on? And whilst we are on this, because I believe journalists have done a terrible service to Nigeria, forgive me, but the problem is your backed legalisms. During that period, I was legitimate having been duly appointed, by a duly appointed head of state to look after the East. The quarrel to a large extent was that nobody of any legitimacy appointed Gowon. So Gowon should be arguing and explaining, what you are asking me to explain; there was nothing illegitimate about my appointment even Gowon knows because Ironsi appointed me.
You met Awo on May 4th 1967, and as part of your conversation he asked you about your attitude of southeast leaders to question of the North, it was said that you responded that: ” on the specific question of whether there is a possibility of contact with the North, the answer is at the battle field”?
This is what I have been arguing all morning, I mean this is another Nigerian propaganda, that is okay. This quotation is all wrong, I do not even speak that way. If I am going to waste my time the least that you can do is to play me the tape. If people are putting out their own account, I will write my own. But if you, on my 70th birthday are going to ask me questions, first you are not going to be given my memoirs. Secondly, you are not going to have the extracts of the book; I am going to do what I agreed to do with you which is to talk to you generally. If you then come with matters that I consider false, then before I start I would demand for the authenticity of the claims you are making because I am very much aware of the burden of history. I am the final Biafran truth, and that is why I would not be irresponsibly dragged into areas to justify Nigerian propaganda. Do you also know that I released Chief Awolowo from prison? Do you also know that I also maintained contact with Awo that when I had problem with Nigeria that he came to see me in exile? Do you know that there is nowhere in the written annals of Nigerian history where you would see a harsh word from me against Chief Awolowo. If you take all these into consideration you would find why some of your questions are provocative. And incidentally at the time you were talking, who was Chief Awolowo? On the Nigerian side, who has just been released from prison, that Gowon sent on a mission. He did not come to impose the federal might, otherwise he would not have crossed the Niger bridge.
Before the war broke out, Gowon talked about creating the COR state ( Cross Rivers, Ogoja and Rivers state), as a way of reducing your area of influence. But did you anticipate that if you went ahead that you would still have the support of the people of those areas?
That is a good question, but in any case as the head of state of Biafra, what you expect me to do is to sit beside the radio to listen to what Gowon had to say. No. We were running a republic of our own. On the creation of states he had no powers over us; remember that technically at that time Gowon was a rebel.
In your book ‘‘ Because I am involved’’ you said of Gowon, ” An aspect of him which I found often disconcerting, was his ability, when pushed to the wall in any discussion, to close off his mind, to close his door, as it were, to all logic.” At Aburi did you push him to the wall?
Aburi presented immense opportunity to present our case before the international community , I went there as a leader of eastern regional faction, and it was not a question of pushing him to the wall. Should I tell you what I did? You judge from what you heard… Aburi, you have the complete transcription of what happened. You have the record of all the discussions, you can read with objectivity. And you sit here after many years and ask whether I pushed him to wall; you want to reduce everything to personal dispute, I resent that, I must tell you.
You and Zik never agreed?
Me and Zik never agreed? How can? Who am I, no. He carried me on his laps when he came back from America and visited my father. All my life I referred to him as Pa, my mate was his son Chukwuma. We were not contemporaries, he might have disagreed with my father if ever; but remember at the Foster Sutton, it was my father that bailed him out. So at least he and my father were quite close, if you feel that you are not getting all the facts no problem, but that is the fact. I found him amiable, and in Biafra I gave him maximum protection, and he even led some delegations abroad; when he found the rings around the enclave had become tighter he took a step when I sent on a delegation he decided to flee to Nigeria, so where did you get this information about me not agreeing with him?
You removed him as Vice-chancellor of University of Nigeria?
I removed him as Vice-chancellor for certain reasons, but the bigger reason was that it was the only place available to me in an emergency; I brought in Ado Bayero as the chancellor, it was in the midst of the crisis and I decided that the Emir should come here to show the positive attitude of our people.
What particular reason do you have for removing him?
Has he got glue to his buttocks, he had done a good job up to that point , but the issue as I pointed out earlier is that it became very necessary to relieve him of that position.
Given the way the war ended would you have fought it differently?
Well, as I look back, I would say yes. I would have for those battles I lost; but for the ones I won, I would not change anything. One of the things that I would like to do since I came back from exile is that I would like to hold a plebiscite, not that it would have changed much, but that it would have shown it was the wish of the entire people of the southeast.
When you went into exile there are those who thought that you would have organised resistence to save Biafra(interrupts)
Even today there are those in Nigeria who still think that I am organising some resistence.
But you did not do that why?
Because I did not think that it was necessary. My dear young man, when you fight a war you do what you must do to define your war aims very clearly, and that is what you fight for. Well, some times, having achieved it, you might be tempted to raise it further, but in this case my war aim was to ensure the survival of the Biafran people from the former threat of genocide. In the end, many pronouncements have shown that we succeeded.
At the beginning of hostilities, you had said that no power in black Africa could stop Biafra, did you really mean it?
I am terrible sorry I will not reduce myself to that level of discussion: ‘‘ No power in black Africa did you really mean it?’’ There are ways of talking; at that time with the temper of the moment, that was it. And in any case I proved it, not borrowed power from Europe, I am talking about power from Black Africa. That I had a battalion of weapons? Everybody knew what I had , I said even the grass would fight. Did I mean that every blade grass would put on a uniform and start fighting?
When you came back people expected you to play the oracle, but you said you would not; the present crisis of leadership in Igbo land has been traced to that fact, do you agree?
There is no doubt that some people want me to play the oracle, but I do not look like an oracle. I remember telling the people that I am not a politician, but it is there well-being in the North, West and elsewhere that forces me into their defense, but if they want me to stop they should withdraw and come to the East; and not every time you would shout and complain that you’’ve been massacred, that their shops have been destroyed and looted you look for me. So, for as long as they are out there they need protection from here, that was what I said. And then finally, I enjoy talking to you, I really do; but I wish that you did a lot more reading. But tell me actually, what leader in history had gone into exile, and returned with certain youthfulness and then became an oracle? When you say something you should be able to say like x, or z, tell me?
Do you realise that whenever you try to take certain stage in Igbo politics you evoke passion not only amongst other Nigerians, but even within Igboland?
So I should commit suicide, give me a suggestion. God created me that way or what do I do, cut off my tongue? Go to a cosmetic surgeon to change my face; that is a question you should pose to the almighty God, and ask him why he created me. But clearly I intend to use every ounce of energy to nudge Nigeria into the right way.
When APGA was being formed your were not central to it, at what point did you then develop interest?
As an idea, I found it very fascinating; I would normally take interest in any existing party. But in this case, I took passionate interest watching, and evaluating APGA until after it received INEC certification; but don’’t forget I was the person Ohanaeze entrusted with the task of ensuring a closer interaction between it and the party, so I got the opportunity, and later I found it was the right way.
Why then was it difficult for Ohanaeze to adopt APGA?
They must have their reason, and I felt personally insulted that Ohanaeze should even consider some else too. I know what effort I have made to protect their interest and integrity; now for Ohanaeze to even look in the direction of a man who had the chance of fighting alongside Ndigbo, but decided to fight along side the North during that war was too much. I said, no. I can take most things but not that one. So these are the problems with Ohanaeze, they are not clear where they are going, and I am the one that said Ohanaeze is dead. Maybe now, they are trying to find life, I wish them luck.
You were reported to have proscribed Ohanaeze, a statement many have wondered what gave you the right to say so?
It is a God given right, and I would say what I think it is appropriate in a democracy. And we are talking about a political situation, and we are facing an election, and I say that Ohanaeze is dead and you say who gave me the right? It is a God given right, that is my opinion. So because it is an umbrella organisation, there are certain things you are not allowed to say, come off it. It is my right and your job is to prove me wrong, and not to say that it is not right.
Your forming Igbo National Assembly (INA) is seen by many people as not helping in forging a common front lacking in Igbo land, what do you say?
Ohanaeze is an organisation born out of strife, I can understand the reason why they decided to be socio-cultural organisation. With that, we were able to function under a military government. But as we evolve such there are greater freedoms, we have reached a stage where I think that Ndigbo needs a political organisation. We have a party which is national, it needs INA charged with the mobilisation of Ndigbo. Nobody quarrels with Ohanaeze, if they continue with being socio-cultural, no problem. If I am invited to an mmanwu festival, I will be there. But remember that Ohanaeze and its leaders over the years have been a group pregnant with politics, but very cowardly they could not express it, actually they are jealous of political initiatives. I cannot dismiss the organisation totally, even despite the question of conflict, but the problem with Ndigbo today is particularly political. Nobody under the pay of the state or federal government should be an executive of Ohanaeze, this is simple and requires nothing more than commonsense. Nobody aspiring for federal appointment should be in position in Ohanaeze. In INA, I hope we would be able to do what Nigeria needs Ndigbo to do constructively, which is critical opposition.
Are you aware Ohanaeze is being restructured?
Yes I am aware, we are watching them, but I am not satisfied because I do not think they have got to the bottom of their problem. They first thing they have to do is to separate the politics from the socio-cultural, and there are so many things to be done. The other is organisational, I do not think they can command a lot of fellowship amongst Ndigbo. One of the reasons is that the leadership does not inspire the confidence of Ndigbo, there are so many factors that at my age and position it would be almost irresponsible of me to go into details.
There is the observation that you do not get along with many Igbo leaders?
Since the end of the civil war, you would find people from the North, from the army barracks and everywhere tell you these are the leaders of Ndigbo, and people go trudging after them, they are our leaders. Emeka Offor is your leader and they go after him, he is our leader. They are told Chris Uba is your leader, they go after him ,he is our leader. Come of it; soon or later we should be able to say no. These people are not our leaders, and that is what a political organisation should be able to do. Now they have ended up telling us somebody who was on the Nigerian side during the civil war is our leader and they say yes sir, he is our leader. That cannot go on.
Can you confirm that you said in Owerri that you handed over the baton of leadership of Ndigbo to Chekwas Okorie?
Wishful thinking, I did not say that. I said I would hand over to the likes of Chekwas Okorie. And the other thing I want you to know is that I have no intention of dying yet.
In your book, you said that Nigeria is crippled by four fears: fear of change, fear of truth, fear of unity and fear of man. Have you discovered more fears?
The worst fear is actually the fear of unity, at every step. As I reflect about Nigeria, I find that one thing we all agree on is the fear of unity. That is why I said that the beginning of wisdom of Nigeria must be a national conference, let us come together around the table. Let no subject be made a taboo, and design a Nigeria that can accommodate all of us. Nigeria should be restructured. You see, when I say a national conference I never like going into details, because I would prefer everything to be discussed. And for everybody to understand me, I would say if the people of this area want a Biafra, why not? And if some other people want an Oduduwa republic, why should it not be discussed; to try then to spoon feed a constitution to the Nigerian people is wrong. And the people who want this are the military, who are the least qualified of the lot to do so. And whilst we are on it, do not tell me that every time we are changing the document the point is that the constituion is made for the people, not the people for the constitution. If we have to change the constitution every year, why not? Provided we are easing the situation for our people, there is nothing wrong with that.
From your book, you said about the surrender of Biafra: ” when the news of the capitulation of Biafran forces under Effiong reached me, first it was anger: anger that perhaps I had been tricked into going out on a fruitless and futile mission.” Did you mean to stay back?
My intention was to stay back, but whether I would have stayed is another thing. We like to beat our chest and be the great baboon, pillars of courage; but I do not know what I would have done. The intention was to stay.
You described Obasanjo in our book this way: ‘‘Here was a man who without being a great statesman in his time grew to become the greatest elder statesman of his time, what is your view of this statement now?’’
I repudiate it. I think I do so unabashedly, because in my latest statement I said Obasanjo is a fraud, and I think that captures him better than anything else I have said. He is not that which he presents himself to be. He is not a civilian; he is not a democrat; he is not a Nigerian. He is not a Yoruba as such.
You wrote in your book, that: ‘‘ we treat electoral opponents as malicious enemies instead of as persons with opposing view points.’’ Do you today feel vindicated?
Yes, I do feel vindicated. Election opponents in Enugu here are being hunted by assassins. In Anambra, it is not much better. In Abia, it is not better.
Do you think that the civilians have re-imposed order over the army?
Not so long ago, when I said to you that Obasanjo is a fraud, I indicated that he says he is a civilian, but he is not. When you say whether the civilians have control over the army, I say to you that it has not been tested. The Obasanjo regime, in my view, is not totally civilian. All his massacres are military, he clearly gave orders to some people and they carried them out. So it is difficult for me to say right now that they are under civilian control. But once we get to the constitutional conference, procedure would be established for better control of the armed forces.
Do you have some ideas that you may like to share with us?
In the constitutional conference, it would be a passionate interest of mine to serve in the group that would try to cage that beast called the army. You see the army came out of the barracks in 1966, it would be duty of all patriotic Nigerians to see that the army is caged back to their barracks again. They have to be made professional again, what you have today are an officer corps of land lords. No efficient army can run with land lords in command, and at the end of each month they had to go back to the town to collect their rents. The army in Nigeria is a heavy burden to the national economy, and this is so because of black mail. I have argued for years that the army can be made productive, but people do not believe me, they prefer we continue the colonial all-consuming army. And this does not fit well into the economy of a third world country. They should be divested of their obvious intimidatory role. For instance, a soldier can only be in uniform whenever he is on duty, and if he is moving from barracks to duty other arrangements could be made. But one thing I will not support is an army in uniform on the roads, and on foot carrying weapons it is intimidating, and when they are hungry, to extort, and when they feel randy, to rape. I am saying this not as an accusation, because whatever I say about the army affects me. But I am saying this to point these loopholes out to the new commanders of today. A lot of privileges you can grant the army, you do so because you look at them not as super humans. The Nigerian army has to be drastically restructured. When we were being trained, we were told that as soon as you have taken part in a coup, the entire force is disbanded, and then you build a new army whether it is a battalion, a brigade. What has happened is that in Nigeria they have tried to cover up treason. What right has Theophilus Danjuma, to butcher his general officer commanding in Ibadan, what right? What right has Gowon to benefit from such a crime, what right? The things they did led us to a grotesque situation where for six months Nigeria was being ruled from a grave. Murtala Mohammed was effective dead and buried in the grave, while an inscription was in every wall as part of Murtala- Obasanjo regime; Obasanjo did not have the courage to repudiate it, it was grotesque, but we had it.
On this Danjuma’s role there is the view that says killing Ironsi was not part of the plot, but at Ibadan the NCOs pushed him aside and then took Ironsi and killed him?
My answer is that you are either a commander or your are not. And I loathe this situation where those who committed crime remain faceless. Is there any book where you have been told which NCOs pushed (him) aside, and he went on to benefit from that act. And would you tell me which NCO reinstated him?
What message do you have for Nigerians at your 70th birthday?
I want to thank every Nigerian for one thing or the other, contributing to making my day a success. The situation in Nigeria is very bad, but I want to assure them that it is not a situation that is irreparable, it can be repaired. It requires wisdom and wit. Whereas some people say we are one nation, I want to tell my country men and women that we are not. We are an agglomeration of people seeking to become one nation, the search for one nation has become very valid. We have not arrived there and the only way we can get there is through a sovereign national conference. We need and should design and re-design a polity that accommodates not one group but everybody. My fellow country men and women, I have a strong belief that we can make it. What has transpired in the past is an aberration; the concept that, might is right, is an aberration. It is only through a national conference that we can create a Nigerian of ourselves, instead of patching it up . My beloved people I believe that together we can make it.
When is Ikemba going to retire?
I will retire a few months after my death.”