A former member of the House of Representatives and author of “Politics of Biafra and the future of Nigeria”, Chudi Offodile, said that former President Nnamdi Azikiwe and Emeka Ojukwu, the leader of the breakaway Biafran Republic of 1967-1970, were unlikely to be “on the same side” as Nnamdi Kanu, who is currently leading another attempt at the secession of southeast Nigeria from the rest of the country.
Offodile was speaking while reviewing his book on Lagos-based Channels TV.
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He felt that both historic figures were likely to support Kanu’s right to agitate for Biafran independence, but would not have thought it appropriate because the circumstances of the first attempt at secession in 1967 were clearly different from today.
Host Olakunle Kasunmu asked Offodile about those circumstances in the 1960s that led to the civil war and this included the first military coup in January 1966. This coup has always been described by many as an “Igbo coup”, but the author disagreed saying “there would have been no justification for the counter coup in July if the the first coup wasn’t tagged an Igbo coup”. He argued that such a tag ignored the roles senior Igbo officers played in foiling the January coup. The Igbos that “frustrated the coup” included then Lt-Colonel Ojukwu in his role as commander of the 5th Battalion in Kano, and General Aguiyi Ironsi, then Nigeria’s most senior military officer.
Offodile claimed that while Igbo officers played prominent roles in the first coup, it was essentially a “University of Ibadan coup”. He wrote in his book: “The narrative that the coup was an Igbo coup has survived every attempt to straighten the facts. If it was [Chukwuma] Nzeogwu’s coup, then the narrative does not fit Nzeogwu’s personality because everyone who knew him would testify to his incorruptibility. Tribalism is a form of corruption and Nzeogwu could not have been part of a tribal coup. He was a true Nigerian, a Marxist and left-wing radical, who had no links whatsoever to the Igbo power block. He was a soldier to the core.
“[Emmanuel] Ifeajuna was identified by Ojukwu as the leader of that coup. Ifeajuna, one of the few university graduates in the army at that time, was politically inclined. He was a science graduate of University College Ibadan, where he was director of information of the Student Union and was known for mobilising and encouraging protests in the school. After graduation, he taught briefly in Western Nigeria before joining the army. Ifeajuna had direct links to the intellectual movement based in Ibadan that was fiercely opposed to the [Samuel Ladoke] Akintola regime. Western Nigeria was in deep crisis.
“Major Adewale Ademoyega, a Yoruba, studied history at the University of London. He stated clearly that, The coup was conceived and planned together by myself, Ifeajuna and Nzeogwu.
“He was a radical himself and had links to the Ibadan group. It is safe therefore to classify the three of them as the ringleaders with other members including Captain Tim Onwuatuegwu, Major Chukwuka, Major Anuforo, Major Okafor, Captain Adeleke and Lieutenant F. Oyewole.
“The fact that the coup had no clear leader explains why it failed. First, it was not well thought out and second, sub-plots existed within the coup itself. An Nzeogwu revolutionary sub-plot existed as well as an Ifeajuna/Adegboyega sub-plot. Ifeajuna and Adegboyega were the intellectual drivers of the coup who drew inspiration from the Ibadan intelligentsia. Their objective was to release Chief Obafemi Awolowo from jail and install him as Nigeria’s Prime Minister. Col. Ben Gbulie, author of The Five Majors, and many others associated with the coup lend credence to this thesis.
“It is difficult to associate Nzeogwu with the idea of installing Awolowo as prime minister if the coup had succeeded. He evidently had a different agenda, considering his posture and the tone of the broadcast he made on the day of the coup. Both camps were nationalist in orientation but one was more radical than the other. Ironsi’s emergence foiled both plots.”
On the current agitation for Biafra, Offodile condemned the killing of members of Kanu’s Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). But said it still didn’t make the situation like it was in the last 1960s. He argued that Azikiwe and Ojukwu were likely to favour a solution based on “decentralisation” rather than separation. The author seemed to be of the view that separation should only be an option when decentralisation has failed.
He claimed that those he called “agents of centralisation” such as President Muhammadu Buhari and former president Olusegun Obasanjo had failed to interpret federalism due to their military “command and control” backgrounds. This failure, according to Offodile, was at the root of Nigeria’s problems.
His solution was a return to the “original vision” of Nigeria “upon which the country was formed”. Nigeria was formed on the basis of the amalgamation of the northern and southern protectorates by the British in 1914. They created three regions in the north, west and the east that had a fair degree of autonomy. Offodile was of the view that “Nigeria will be a better place” with this structure. Presumably, there wasn’t enough time for him to explain why this structure failed in a spectacular way by the mid 1960s.