A quarter of a century ago, the Igbo nation was torn between two choices.
The larger group believed the Igbos should stay away from General Abacha’s fight with the Yoruba leadership, who after discreetly extracting assurances from M.K. O. Abiola, that he would remain resolute in the demand for the full restoration of his stolen mandate, activated a total war against the Abacha regime through NADECO, as they saw both the annulment of the June 12 1993 election and the emergence of Abacha as an affront to their honour and dignity as a people and bad omen to the future of Nigeria.
This group of Igbo leaders, led by Dim Odimegwu Ojukwu, Comrade Uche Chukwumerije, Dr. Pius Okigbo etc argued it was proper to allow the Yorubas, who interestingly suddenly discovered that injustices existed in Nigeria with the June 12 annulment injustice, to sort themselves out with their ally and close partner in the 1967_1970 conspiracy to destroy Ndigbo.
The Igbo they insisted, who have been swallowing all manner of injuries and injustices for years, are welcoming our Yoruba brethren to the club of the oppressed tribes.
This group of Igbo leaders asked me to stop following Admiral Godwin Ndubisi Kanu to NADECO meetings; they said he was assisting what they termed “Yoruba agenda”.
But Admiral Kanu, Dr. Ebitu Ukiwe, Bobo Nwosisi, and co, argued that, the Igbos should align with NADECO, to stave off caliphate hegemony. They believed that if the caliphate, which had crushed Ndigbo, with the assistance of the Yoruba in the 1967-1970 war, successfully crushes the Yoruba nation, assisted by Ndigbo, then both the Igbo and Yoruba nation would be badly weakened, with the caliphate greatly strengthened and emerging too strong to be challenged.
They reasoned that it was better to stand with the Yoruba and resist Abacha’s onslaught, in order to establish a kind of balance of power.
The committee of unity and understanding CUU played a great role in forging Igbo/Yoruba partnership at the time.
That also made a lot of sense to me, moreover, Chief M.C.K. Ajuluchukwu, who fortunately mentored me greatly, advised me to stand in the middle. He identified with the Admiral Kanu block, but didn’t agree with Dim Ojukwu’s taunting, that Admiral Kanu only needed me, so I would bring all the youth associations and traders organisations I was coordinating at the time, over to NADECO.
The idea of fighting and dying for Abiola’s mandate wasn’t attractive to Ndigbo. They sympathised with Abiola, but confronting a bellicose Abacha on his behalf, was a different kettle of fish.
The Igbo seem to find it difficult to make up their mind, even till date.
Dr Pius Okigbo impressed everyone, when he turned down IBB’s offer to head the interim national government, and that crippled the north’s plan to split the Igbo and Yoruba synergy. Many people do not know that Ernest Shonekan, wasn’t IBB’s first choice.
The Yoruba nation would have greatly lamented and blamed Ndigbo for burying the June 12 revalidation dream, had Dr Okigbo accepted the offer to head the ING.
Dim Ojukwu brought me close and opened my eyes to the reality of the Igbo condition in Nigeria. The complicated political situation of the Igbo, and the only path to freedom from oppression and persecution.
Ojukwu knew a lot about the Igbo of West Africa. The only man to lead Ndigbo in peacetime and wartime. In his twenties, with Oxford education, he served as a Distict Officer in Igbo rural communities, away from his nativity.
He saw them sweat profusely at the peak of the very bloody war, as they buried their dead in their thousands every day.
He saw them freely donate their properties to support the war effort, even amidst so much hunger and deprivation.
He spent 13 years in exile. He returned to a hero’s welcome. He understands the Igbo man’s weaknesses and his strengths. He told me why he detained so many pesky fellows during the war. He found out those who sabotaged the war effort of Ndigbo by selling information to the enemy, only at the war’s end, through his Nigerian colleagues.
His list was almost identical with the list both Generals Philip Effieong and Alexander Madiebo gave me.
He saw all the sides of the Igbo man, especially his reactions during starvation and when under intense pressure.
Ojukwu, like all humans had his own faults and weaknesses as well, but he articulated what I still hold as the solution to the problems holding our country down.
I keep saying that I am yet to see a superior argument, because that is the truth. Ojukwu made this argument at Aburi, Ghana in January 1967. He expanded on it all through the last decades of his life. He laboured with other Nigerians through his Ethnic Nationalities Conference.
Other groups, such as Afenifere, the Patriots etc, reechoed and amplified the restructuring pathway.
Great Nigerians, Chief Solomon Lar, Chief Rotimi Williams, Dr Tunji Braithwaite, Chief Abraham Adesanya, Chief Anthony Enahoro, etc shared this vision.
The economic and political realities of today, confirms this truth.
Yet some people strangely believe that Nigeria will survive without fundamentally restructuring the polity along the lines of true federalism, regional autonomy, resource control and devolution of power via a new people’s constitution affirmed at a referendum.
Almost three decades after the NADECO era, and a decade after Dim Odimegwu Ojukwu’s demise, some people still don’t realise that without resolving the Igbo question and the Nigerian structural issues, that there would be no progress and stability.
The Igbo political class should do well to study Dim Ojukwu’s pathway to a greater nation. He espoused a roadmap to unity, harmony and peaceful coexistence for all.
Most importantly, he knew that the current agitation would continue, until the needful is done. He completely identified with sincere youth groups and shared with them deep truths because he knew there was no other way out.
It is sad to note that Igbo leaders have not shown that they have outgrown the confusion and division of the Abacha and NADECO era.
It is time to stand up and face reality.