It is a sad but instructive irony that Lt. Col. Odumegwu Ojukwn, one of Africa’s one-time most brilliant political promises, was the man who led his own people with such a lack of ingenuity into what was clearly a foreseeable disaster. This agonizing paradox is resolved only by an understanding of the man.
There are scholars who hold the view that the personality of Adolf Hitler was the factor, which, more than any other, determined the destiny of Second World War Germany, as much indeed, as they argue that Winston Churchill’s determined that of Great Britain. Leaning a little on the basic hypothesis of this school of thought, it can be said for the Nigerian Civil War that the personality of Odumegwu Ojukwu, more than any other single factor, determined much of the course and certainly the character of the end of the Biafran adventure.
Avid for power, he paid more attention to the politics of the war than to the one basic question of security. Biafra’s efforts were trimmed to his size and through much of the conflict reflected his own strength as well as his own weaknesses. This personification of the struggle and the lethal cloud of illusion, which it created around him, were to persist until the end. Thus on the same day as his more down-to-earth successor, General (Phillip) Effiong, signed the formal act of Biafra’s surrender, General Ojukwu was still declaring: “While I live, Biafra lives. If I am no more, it would be only a matter of time for the noble concept to be swept into oblivion.”
Ojukwu’s error, which proved fatal for millions of Ibos, was that he put the latter first. A good deal of the war effort was diverted into promoting Ojukwu and his leadership. Be it the question of starvation and relief or other vital matters affecting the population at large, propaganda considerations took precedence over cold realities. Calculation as a method was replaced by hopeful interpretations of ambitious wishes. Personal ambition thus adroitly grafted onto the genuine grievances of an injured people produced a mixture, which lacked the purity and sanity that the Ibos needed badly in so unequal a fight. The result was that in the end Biafrans secured an undisputed head but not the body of their state
On Yoruba Role:
At the beginning of the struggle, the Ibos had a very good chance, if not of winning against the authorities in Lagos, certainly of avoiding a humiliating defeat. Politically, Ojukwu inherited considerable assets. The political alignment in Nigeria just before the introduction of military rule was by no means unfavourable. Up until the eve of the civil war, Nigerian politics were dominated by the three big tribes: the Hausa-Fulani of the North, the Ibos of the East and the Yorubas of the West. In this triangular fight, the key to victory was the combination of any two sides. It did not matter which two.
The seeds of Biafra’s failure took root from this point. Eastern Nigeria’s leadership failed to appreciate what Gowon saw so clearly – the vital necessity of securing the alliance of Chief Awolowo and the Western Region. Was General Ojukwu simply and innocently overconfident? Or, too anxious for his own position, did he feel that an alliance with Chief Awolowo, already a towering national figure, would dwarf his own fledgling personality and jeopardize his chances for supreme leadership? The fact remains that too little or nothing was done to woo Chief Awolowo. When on 7th May 1967 the Yoruba leader came to Enugu at the head of a reconciliation committee, Ojukwu had a handsome opportunity to play his card. He missed. Dr. Michael Okpara who still enjoyed popular support in Eastern Nigeria and whose friendship with Chief Awolowo had sustained the UPGA alliance was not even invited to meet Chief Awolowo. After a hurried reception, Chief Awolowo’s delegation left Eastern Nigeria. Ojukwu saw fit to describe the mission as an “ill-conceived child.”
General Gowon sensed this mood and acted swiftly. Not only did he release Chief Awolowo immediately from prison, he wooed him with the unprecedented flattery of welcoming him, with a guard of honour, at Ikeja airport. Gowon’s clever release of Chief Awolowo had the effect of reducing but not eliminating Yoruba dislike for the North. This fact soon became evident. In March 1967, Chief Awolowo, now free and still the undisputed leader of the Yorubas, made a public statement, which reflected very clearly his sympathy for Col. Ojukwu’s Eastern Region. In an open letter to the government, he demanded that the two battalions of northern troops stationed in the West should be withdrawn from that region which, according to him, was being treated by the northerners as an occupied territory.
He went further to threaten that if “the Eastern Region was pushed out of the federation, Western Nigeria would quit the federation as well.” Faced with this threat of an alliance between the Yoruba West and the Ibo East, the Northern controlled Federal Military Government became visibly alarmed.
General Gowon sensed this mood, studiously drew Chief Awolowo closer to himself. He offered him the highest civilian post in the Federal Military Government – the vice-presidency of the Federal Executive Council – with the unspoken understanding that Nigeria was his as soon as the war was over and the army withdrew.
By this act, the East-West alliance foreshadowed by UPGA was destroyed and a new North-West axis was born.
From this moment on, Ojukwu’s Eastern Nigeria was isolated and when war broke out she had to fight it alone. Eastern Nigeria’s political choice of secession completed the region’s isolation. The struggle was no longer between the so-called Christian East and Moslem North. That decision united all shades of opinion in Nigeria, giving to them a sense of oneness – and to the Northern-dominated Federal Government an invaluable instrument-in the common fight to defend Nigeria’s unity.
Based on this fact from President General of Pan Igbo social group (Ohanaeze) why should any sensible and intelligent Ibo be putting blame of Biafra downfall and Ibo misfortunes in Nigeria politics on Yoruba people/nation? Why calling Yoruba names i.e. btrayers and cowards on what we did not have hands in, why? why? What did Yoruba do to the Ibos to warrant being hate by many ignorant Ibos?