Ayo Adebanjo, a member of Afenifere, has urged Igbos and Yorubas to join forces to move Nigeria forward. He made the plea at a book launch in Lagos
| By Anayo Ezugwu | Oct. 28, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT
THE Nigeria-Biafra war may have come and gone but the unresolved issues it generated still linger on. Ayo Adebanjo, a member of Afenifere, a pan-Yoruba socio-political group, said that Nigerians should stop blaming the Igbos for the 30-month civil war that claimed about three million lives. He urged the Igbo and Yoruba ethnic nationalities to join forces and develop the country, arguing that a recurring mistrust between them has stunted Nigeria’s socio-economic development.
Speaking in Lagos, at the presentation of a 771-page book titled: “The Untold Story of the Nigeria-Biafra War,” written by Luke Nnaemeka Aneke, Adebanjo said if the late Nnamdi Azikiwe and Obafemi Awolowo had closed ranks, collaborated and ruled Nigeria, the country would have been an oasis of development. “When we chronicle the diary of what led to the Nigeria-Biafra war, a lot of people felt the Igbos must be blamed. There is no doubt that mistakes were made but the principle on which the war was fought was on the ground of a person who does not want to be cheated. The major blunder the Igbos and the Yorubas made was that they misinterpreted friendship. If Azikiwe and Awolowo had come together, will we be where we are today? So, that was the major mistake that we made. If Azikiwe was prime minister of Nigeria then and Awolowo was minister of finance, where do you think Nigeria will be today? All the wonders of what happened in the West would have been replicated in the entire country, with such collaboration. But, it was never so,” he said.
According to him, the history of the war has to be told very honestly. Said adebanjo of the book: “There have been a lot of prejudices here and there. And a lot of friends have been made enemies all because of book presentations. The meticulous way, intelligent manner and chronological order that the author put the book is commendable. The author has been able to move from the trend whereby previous authors make unnecessary comments in their books at a time we ought to ensure that Nigeria is united and the various ethnic nationalities live in oneness. This is not a time when we should be emphasising what separates us.
“At this point, I want to direct your attention to what is captured in the book, how long the Yorubas and the Igbos have been coming together to ensure the unity and progress of Nigeria. When we discuss this, we have to talk about the crisis of 1963. When the crisis came, the President at that time, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, waded into it to ensure there was peace in the West. I must also mention that we must not allow minor things to separate us because we committed a lot to keep this nation one, especially the Igbos and the Yorubas. Therefore, the Igbos and the Yorubas have no cause to quarrel. We have our differences, so, I’m also not oblivious of the fact that the tongue and the mouth at times do quarrel. In those days, in spite of the fact that Zik was a non-Yoruba, he was very popular in the West.
“You hear Zik this, Zik that. In fact, when the football club of Azikiwe is going to play in Apapa, we all thronged to that place to watch the team. But, we must remember where we are coming from and go back to the old times. In view of what is happening in the country today, let us learn our lessons. It was surprising to some people when President Jonathan recently sued for a national conference because of his earlier arguments that there was no need for it. According Chief Obafemi Awolowo, only an unreasonable man will see a superior argument and not change his mind. In case many of you don’t know, Azikiwe, during his time, sued for one Nigeria based on unitary government. The likes of Awolowo preached federalism, which Azikiwe later got convinced in 1956 and said that federalism was imperative.”
On the ongoing debate trailing the proposed national conference, Adebanjo said, “Our unity in this country should be that of unity of purpose. We should not allow minor things to disunite us. That’s why I’m grateful to the author in the way he has presented the book. It will make the young ones see the war from an unbiased perspective. Our unity should not be like that of a horse and its rider. That’s why this national conference is imperative at this moment. And one thing previous governments had used to confuse Nigerians is that a national conference will disintegrate Nigeria and bring the sovereignty of the constitution to question.
“But come to think of it, is this present constitution ours? Even when Olusegun Obasanjo was being sworn-in in 1999, he swore to uphold the tenets of the constitution. The constitution, which he doesn’t know anything about the content? Even Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar himself said before the swearing-in that he doesn’t know the content of the constitution. So, why do you want to tie us down with a constitution that you don’t know the content? In fact, let me say that the constitution that we had at independence was a better one because it preached that each region must be allowed to grow at its own pace. That was why the West had free education, the East had free education. Let us go back to that constitution. The sovereignty we all sue for should be that of the people.”
In his welcome address, Anya O Anya, president general, Ndigbo Lagos, said the book is a must-read for the young generation to know the history of the nation. “It’s important that we make them conscious of what history has been. We the old ones must remind the younger ones that the rules have changed, through a book like this. Before the war, the Igbos had no problems with the North or the West. But the Igbos was only standing up against the injustice meted against them. But the fact remains that we wouldn’t have gone to war. The major problems we have encountered in this time past, is that Nigeria has been in dispair in the midst of plenty and governance does not face the welfare of the common people. It’s unfortunate that Nigeria has the highest level of poverty and youth unemployment in the world. It’s also sympathetic that I have never seen a nation like Nigeria where the people are dismissive and negative about their country.
“Our politics is so bad that most politicians are never concerned about building the nation but what they can take out of the nation, even if they can take it from the pockets of others. Imagine, the North that has been at the helms of affairs in this country for over 40 years is engulfed in poverty and insecurity even till date. Their contradictions caused it. We might as well say that it serves them right, but should we allow them to continue this way? The answer is no, because should this continue, it will soon engulf the entire nation. From now on, the Igbos and other Nigerians should come together to build a greater and indivisible Nigeria. Today, President Jonathan, out of pressure, has bowed to the demand for a national conference. Ironically, the earlier agitators for this conference are the ones saying no to it. This is why I say that our politics in this nation must change. It must no longer be the politics of ‘nay’ saying,” Anya said.
On his part, Douglas Anaele, reviewer of the book, passionately recounted the genesis of the war, pogrom against Biafran children, sacrifices made by white nuns and others during the war, how the war could have been averted and the roles of Awolowo and General Yakubu Gowon. He said if Awolowo had fulfilled his promise of having Western Nigeria leave if the East seceded and not joined Gowon to fight Biafra and used starvation as a weapon, the destruction would have been minimised. He also wondered why Nigeria did not reap from the technological know-how of Biafran scientists after the war if the Nigerian government did not hate the Igbos.
Although, the event was meant to be a book launch, it became an avenue to rally the South and the Middle-Belt for President Jonathan’s proposed national conference. For instance, the Ijaw delegation was led by TK Ogoriba, the Itsekiri delegation was led by Fred Agbeyegbe and the Middle-Belt Forum by Abuga Onalo.
The book launch was jointly organised by Ndigbo Lagos, Aka-Ikenga and Lower Niger Congress. Notable personalities that attended the event were, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, secretary to the government of the federation, who was represented by Ferdinand Agu, his special adviser, Rear Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu (rtd), Raymond Obieri, Professor Laz Ekwueme, Fred Agbeyegbe, Martins Agbaso, Professor Joe Ezigbo and Kalu Onuma.