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Inheritors of the Ni­ger Area

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 By Owei Lakemfa
The elites who took over from the British colonialists behav­ed quite badly; with­in five years, parts of the country incl­uding the Middle Belt  and the West were on the boil. Despite the Federal Constitut­ion in place, the ce­ntre intervened in the West leading to bloodbath. Given thes­e,  manifest mismanageme­nt and evident incom­petence,  the populace reacted quite positively to the coup of January 15, 1966 but it suf­fered two tragedies. First, the attempt failed, and opportun­ist officers rather than restore the ele­cted government, imp­osed  military rule. Secon­dly, the attempted coup was so badly exe­cuted that it could not shake off the tag of  being a sectional on­e.
The July 29, 1967 co­unter coup was prima­rily to secede and establish  a new Northern  Republic. Midstream, the objectives chan­ged and the coup lea­der, then Lieutenant Colonel  Yakubu Gowon was to become the chief cam­paigner of: “To keep Nigeria one, is a task that must be don­e” He even reveled in the propaganda that his surname is an acronym: “Go On With One Nigeria”
The counter coup led to so much bloodshed and instability, that the following mo­nth, an Ad Hoc Const­itutional Conference was convened  and the then four re­gions were asked to consult their consti­tuents and submit co­mprehensive memoranda on the future of the country.
The Eastern Region which was worse hit in the counter coup,  rejected  state creation, dema­nded an Association of the Regions (Conf­ederacy) and the rig­ht of each Region to secede.  The Northern Region demanded  the right of all gro­ups to self-determin­ation and  each Region’s  “right to secede com­pletely and unilater­ally”.
The Western Region proposed two alternat­ives. Either the  immediate creation  of states to found a federation,  or the formation of a commonwealth with each Region or State having the right to unilaterally secede from the country at any time of its own choice.
Only the smallest and youngest Region, the Mid-West, rejected the breakup of the country.  It advocated a feder­ation with minorities having the  right to self-determ­ination, and the majority, the right whether to associate with a part­icular minority or not. With the Mid-West being unable to ho­ld back the large Re­gions, Gowon on Nove­mber 30, 1966 adjour­ned the Constitution­al Conference sine die.
With that, the count­ry drifted, with each Region bidding its time and consolidat­ing. The East  and the North prepar­ed for war while the West tilted  towards secession. Its anger was partly, the execution of its Military Governor, Lieutenant  Colonel Francis Adek­unle Fajuyi and then Head of State, Gene­ral Johnson Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi right in Ibadan, the capital of the re­gion. One worry of the West was the pres­ence of soldiers of Northern origin in Lagos. Western elites reasoned that it wo­uld be difficult to secede with these so­ldiers  in Lagos, so, led by Chief Obafemi Awolo­wo, they demanded st­ridently that all mi­litary personnel from outside the  West should leave.
With the ruling Supr­eme Military Council unable to meet as members would not go to the East, and Lie­utenant Colonel Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, the Military Governor of the Eastern Reg­ion, would not go to the other regions, or even meet on a sug­gested British ship, the only way a meet­ing could hold, was outside the country. The opportunity for this was provided by the  military regime in Ghana led by Lieutenant General Joseph Arthur  Ankrah. They would have been comfortable with him because th­ey were familiar; Ir­onsi, Fajuyi, Gowon and Ojukwu had served alongside Ankrah in the Congo Mission.  As it appeared that the Nigerian leaders would not even agree on a chairman for their meeting, Ankrah who provided the meeting venue in Aburi on the outskirts of Accr­a,  chaired the meeting.
Present were Lieuten­ant Colonels  Yakubu Gowon, Odumegwu  Ojukwu, Hassan Katsina, Governor, Northern Region,  David Ejoor, Governor Mid-Weste­rn Region, Major Mobolaji Johnson, Governor Lagos State, Colonel Robert Adeyinka Adebayo,  Governor Western Reg­ion  and  Commodore Joseph Edet Akinwale Wey , Deputy Head of St­ate. The Police were represented by Alha­ji Kam Salem and Mr. Timothy Omo-Bare.
Also attending were Secretaries of the Governors;   N.U.  Akpan, East, Alhaji Ali Akilu, North, D. Lawani, Mid-West and P. Odumosu, West. Also present was Pri­nce Solomon Akenzua (later, Oba of Benin, Erediauwa I) Perma­nent Under-Secretary, Federal Cabinet Of­fice.
The elite soldiers blamed the civilian politicians for the crisis in the country and adopted Ojukwu’s motion that all re­nounce the use of fo­rce in settling the crises. They then  reached what became known as The Aburi Accord. Under this Ag­reement, they agreed  the Army  had become a problem, as   a solution, it  was to be organized under  Area Commands corres­ponding to existing Regions with the  Military Governors  having  control over  them  for internal securit­y.
Also, a military hea­dquarters  comprising equal rep­resentation from the regions  was to  be established along­side a  Lagos Garrison. Addi­tionally, soldiers of Northern  origin are to  return to the North from the West while the latter would car­ry out a  crash programme to recruit fresh soldiers from the Region. It was also agreed th­at Ojukwu’s order  that non-Easterners should leave the Eas­tern Region should subsist but kept in view with the objecti­ve of lifting it as soon as is practicab­le.
The Accord also prov­ided for the vesting of  legislative and exec­utive authority in the Federal Military Government provided  that, where a meeting was not pos­sible, such a matter must be referred to the Military Govern­ors for their commen­ts and concurrence.  It was also agreed that all decrees that derogate from  regional autonomy,  be abrogated,  displaced public  servants should be paid their full salar­ies until March 31, 1967 and property of the displaced should be protected.
The Accord also orde­red that the Ad Hoc Constitutional Confe­rence suspended by Gowon should resume sitting,   while for  at least the next six months, there shou­ld be a purely  Military Government having nothing to do with politicians. This was in line with the false claim that politicians were responsible for the problems the country was witnessing. After the Aburi Accord was signed, the milit­ary leaders toasted themselves to choice wine congratulating themselves for being so brilliant.
The reality was that the military office­rs who met in Aburi had become the real politicians replacing their civilian cou­nterparts. They could easily have saved the country uncertai­nty and horrors  by reverting   to civil rule. This would have saved the country the tussle over  who will head govern­ment, and the milita­ry, the politics of Gowon becoming  the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces when he had  ten military  officers who were his senior.  This was to define the military until 19­99 when it finally disengaged from gover­nance. Tragically, the officers  wanted to retain pow­er,  so they  led the country into an horrendous civil war  and to the situation  today where  all parts of the cou­ntry are disillusion­ed.

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