Between a non-Igbophobic Awolowo and an Awophobic Achebe, By Ayo Adebanjo

Adebanjo says Awolowo never hated the Igbo, but that Achebe has always hated Awolowo with passion
Adebanjo says Awolowo never hated the Igbo, but that Achebe has always hated Awolowo with passion

I am sad and distressed that a literary giant and an elder statesman such as Professor Chinua Achebe should be credited with the statement attributed to him in his latest book on the Nigerian Civil War at this time in Nigeria’s political history, over 40 years after the end of the war.

His statements, however, are not unfamiliar to those of us who were around during the civil war, and who knew what falsehood and half-truths were bandied around then especially from “Biafra Radio” and supporters of the Biafra cause, notable amongst whom was Professor Chinua Achebe. Some thought they were effusions from supporters of Biafra in order to enlist international support for Ojukwu, but many, on the other hand, attributed Achebe’s position to his pathological hatred for Chief Awolowo and the Yoruba race.

Achebe has accused Chief Awolowo of being part of General Gowon’s cabinet that initiated pogrom and genocide as a policy against the Igbos. Yet, Achebe cannot claim ignorance of the fact that specific recorded instances of pogrom and genocide were a consequence of the second military coup of July 1966 in which northern soldiers and northerners committed series of atrocities against the Igbos in the North.

At this time, Awolowo was still in prison in Calabar serving his jail term for treasonable felony. It was after his release from prison that Gen. Gowon invited him to join his cabinet as vice chairman of the Federal Executive Council and Minister of Finance. The war was already brewing at such time. At the risk of his life, and against the advice of his cabinet colleagues, Awolowo made contact with Ojukwu and met him in Enugu to dissuade him from going to war. In his one-on-one meeting with Ojukwu, Chief Awolowo tried to persuade Ojukwu to come to a roundtable conference with the Federal Government to iron out his differences with the government. But despite the assurances the then Colonel Ojukwu gave to Awolowo that he had accepted dialogue, Ojukwu reneged and a few weeks later attacked the Midwest and thus declared war against the Federal Government. Which is how the civil war became inevitable. The above facts are verifiable. Fair-minded persons cannot accuse Awolowo of being part of the intellectual arm of a cabinet that intentionally initiated the pogrom of the Igbos, when in fact the record shows he took positive steps to persuade Ojukwu to avoid the conflict.

Whilst the war was raging after the liberation of part of the then South East, which then included Port Harcourt and Calabar, Awolowo visited Enugu and Port Harcourt where he saw Kwashiorkor (malnourished) victims for the first time. He wondered how this could happen in view of the quantity of food items sent through international agencies to the civilians in these areas. He was then informed that the food never got to the civilians as the soldiers, who were feeding themselves with the food, to the detriment of the civilians. One can imagine such a report being provided to a cabinet filled with military officers conducting a war. It should not be surprising that to avoid feeding enemy soldiers, the Federal Government at the time put a stop to the delivery of food meant for the civilian population that was being hijacked by Biafran soldiers. This is what Achebe mischievously called the deliberate starvation of the Igbos. I would like Professor Achebe, if he can, to make reference to any publication, where Awolowo made the statement that starvation was a legitimate tool of war. Furthermore, if such starvation ended with the end of the war, Professor Achebe should explain why, if the specific objective of the policy was to reduce Chief Awolowo’s enemies, did he not influence the continuation or doubling up on such policy when Nigerian troops had control of Biafran territory at the end of the war. One would have thought the charge of genocide should have been better directed at the leaders of Biafra, who had first hand knowledge of the starvation in the area they controlled, and yet did not as they could, bring an end to the war sooner before two million people, mainly members of future generations, had died of starvation as Achebe claimed.

Also, during the war it became known that the Nigerian currency, which Biafran soldiers had looted from Central Bank locations in Biafra-occupied areas were being exchanged to buy arms for the Biafran army. To put a stop to this, Chief Awolowo, as the Federal Commissioner for Finance, suddenly changed the Nigerian currency without the prior knowledge of members of the cabinet. Even General Gowon, who was the head of state, was informed only a day before the announcement. These two major policies of stopping food meant for civilians, which was being ambushed by the Biafran soldiers and the sudden change of Nigerian currency were the two factors that quickly brought the misery of the civil war to an end.

It should be noted that Chief Awolowo’s prudent management of the Nigerian economy made it possible for the Federal Government to prosecute the civil war without borrowing a kobo from the outside world. This achievement was acclaimed globally. It is this policy that quickly put an end to the insurgence that Professor Achebe has interpreted as a punitive measure against the Igbo.

At the end of the civil war, a problem did arise with respect to how to verify the amounts creditable to Biafrans, who made claims to money held in Nigerian banks before the declaration of war. Unfortunately there were no records to confirm the amount in savings or current accounts held by a good number of such Biafran claimants. As a result, a committee was set up by the Central Bank, the members of which were unknown to Chief Awolowo. The committee recommended an across-the-board payment of £20 to every claimant. It is therefore most uncharitable for professor Achebe to put the blame of the payment of this amount on Chief Awolowo.

Furthermore, to extrapolate from this policy a deliberate policy to stunt or obliterate the economy of the Igbo does not stand up to critical review and is rather far fetched.   Firstly, what is an administrator to do in the face of such unverifiable claims? Pay every sundry claim? As Awolowo had stated, doing so would have bankrupted Nigeria at the time. Secondly, common sense would suggest that claims that such sums as were left behind were very substantial needed to be substantiated. It should be noted that the percentage of Nigerians with substantial amounts in banks during that period was limited. In addition, with the advent of an impending war, the natural reaction is a run on banks to withdraw all such sums or as much as possible, particularly for Igbo then fleeing to a new country, Biafra.

Under such context, the payment of £20 pounds (a substantial sum at the time) to all claimants without proof of specific amounts due to them was not altogether an unreasonable policy. More to the point, this was not a policy recommendation that can be specifically attributable to Awolowo, but rather the recommendation of a committee of the Central Bank set up at the time.

It is noteworthy that after the division of the country to 12 states by General Gowon in 1968, the East Central State composed mainly of Igbo people emerged. Awolowo then diligently saved the monthly allocation due to Igbo during the war and released same to them at the end of the war. The African Continental Bank (ACB) and the Cooperative Bank for Eastern Nigeria, the two main financial institutions of the Igbo at the time, which had become moribund during the civil war were rejuvenated by Awolowo by releasing substantial funds to them for active operation. Achebe would have to explain how these actions beneficial to the Igbo emanated from somebody who he claims had hatred for the Igbo or harboured any intent to deliberately and systematically exterminate the Igbo or deny them their right of existence as a group.

Furthermore, after the civil war, Achebe cannot claim ignorance of the fact that Awolowo personally wrote to prominent Igbo people (including Achebe himself), who had fled the country during the war to come back home. One of those, who responded to the call and whose home coming was facilitated personally by Awolowo was the late Chief M.C.K Ajuluchukwu, the former editor of Dr. Azikiwe’s Newspaper, The West African Pilot and his wife, a medical doctor, who were then based in Germany. Chief Awolowo facilitated the employment of the wife at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital and also later employed Chief Ajuluchukwu as the director of research and publicity of his party, the Unity Party Of Nigeria.

If it is true that Chief Awolowo was such an architect of pogrom and genocide against the Igbo, how would Professor Achebe explain the fact that there were no incidents of pogrom or genocide against the Igbos in any part of the then Western Region composed mainly of the Yorubas, and Chief Awolowo’s primary sphere of influence. Rather, the Igbo, who fled the West on the clarion call of Ojukwu for them to return to the East had their property kept safe for them, with the rents collected on the property duly accounted for at the end of the civil war and paid to such Igbo owners. It should be noted that no incidents of “abandoned property” occurred in the Western Region-Chief Awolowo’s zone, rather the controversy around such property were restricted to areas such as Port Harcourt and the Northern Region.

Whilst it is true to say that Awolowo had the ambition to rule the country, it is unkind to say he wanted to achieve this by wiping out the Igbo, whom he considered an impediment. On the contrary, Chief Awolowo’s position had always been to rule the country with other progressive elements from all parts of the country including the Igbo. This he demonstrated in 1959 after the pre-independence general election, when he offered to serve under the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe as Prime Minister, with him as Minister of Finance. The NCNC (the party led by Dr. Azikiwe) turned the offer down and preferred an alliance with the NPC under the late Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello. This incident was referred to, by the late Dr. M.I Okpara (former Premier of the former Eastern Region in an interview in the New Nation Magazine published in 1977 by the veteran journalist Chief Gbolabo Ogunsanwo. In the interview Dr. Okpara said he will regret to the last day of his life that he did not support the alliance between the Action Group and the NCNC, which could have made Dr. Azikiwe the Prime Minister and Chief Awolowo the Minister of Finance. Even before the general election of 1983, there were attempts to form an alliance between the UPN led by Chief Awolowo and NPP led by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe all in an attempt to have progressive forces form an alliance against the conservative NPC. Again this attempt did not materialise due to the opposition by the Yoruba leaders in the NPP at the time.

It is also interesting to recall that at the demise of Chief Awolowo, Chief Ojukwu, himself, remarked that “Awolowo was the best president Nigeria never had”. None of the foregoing suggests a man with hatred for the Igbo. Yoruba leaders led by the late Senator Abraham Adesanya have been working in close political collaboration with prominent Igbo leaders like Admiral Ndubisi Kanu, a former Governor of Lagos State and Admiral Ebitu Ukiwe, a former Chief of General Staff and Professor Ben Nwabueze, in an honest attempt to find equitable solutions to the problems of the country. The leaders of both ethnic groups have been putting their heads together for the emergence of a progressive Nigeria in peace and unity. It is sad that instead of Professor Achebe joining this progressive movement, he has chosen to bring into the front burner the dark period of Nigeria’s history. What he stands to gain by repeating such falsehood, I cannot honestly comprehend. I believe however it is clear from the historical record that Awo had no Igbophobia, it is Professor Achebe that has to be cured of his Awophobia.

  • UDO O UDO

    Awolowo was the best president Nigeria never had”. MEANING A TRIBALISTIC LEADER INDEED

    • Abubakar

      ah i do not understand these people again ooo. Udo o Udo I don tire for una. You only need to show what is wrong in adebanjo’s account rather than run away with style from looking at the fact in the face.

      • http://www.facebook.com/olasoji.aro Olasoji Aro

        Col. Banjo RIP service without pension.

        • Prince Wole Omoluabi

          Thanks so much Ayo Adebanjo for shedding more lights on this controversial issue.Like this writer said,Awolowo did all he could to stop the war by risking his life against the advice of the cabinet and traveled as far as Enugu to meet with Ojukwu to dissuade him against DISUNITY en quote ” At the risk of his life, and against the advice of his cabinet colleagues, Awolowo made contact with Ojukwu and met him in Enugu to dissuade him from going to war. In his one-on-one meeting with Ojukwu, Chief Awolowo tried to persuade Ojukwu to come to a roundtable conference with the Federal Government to iron out his differences with the government. But despite the assurances the then Colonel Ojukwu gave to Awolowo that he had accepted dialogue, Ojukwu reneged and a few weeks later attacked the Midwest and thus declared war against the Federal Government. Which is how the civil war became inevitable. The above facts are verifiable. Fair-minded persons cannot accuse Awolowo of being part of the intellectual arm of a cabinet that intentionally initiated the pogrom of the Igbos, when in fact the record shows he took positive steps to persuade Ojukwu to avoid the conflict ” Those people telling lies know what they are doing and WHY they are doing it and what they stand to gain by doing it.People claiming telling the truth can still be challenged.But can’t Achebe who is still alive come out boldly to defend what he wrote again? The whole populace are no fools and he should not use SILENCE as a weapon to let the issue keep rolling on ground as it were.
          As if it was not enough,to show Awolowo’s love for the Igbos read this…… ”Furthermore, after the civil war, Achebe cannot claim ignorance of the fact that Awolowo personally wrote to prominent Igbo people (including Achebe himself), who had fled the country during the war to come back home. One of those, who responded to the call and whose home coming was facilitated personally by Awolowo was the late Chief M.C.K Ajuluchukwu, the former editor of Dr. Azikiwe’s Newspaper, The West African Pilot and his wife, a medical doctor, who were then based in Germany. Chief Awolowo facilitated the employment of the wife at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital and also later employed Chief Ajuluchukwu as the director of research and publicity of his party, the Unity Party Of Nigeria.
          If it is true that Chief Awolowo was such an architect of pogrom and genocide against the Igbo, how would Professor Achebe explain the fact that there were no incidents of pogrom or genocide against the Igbos in any part of the then Western Region composed mainly of the Yorubas, and Chief Awolowo’s primary sphere of influence. Rather, the Igbo, who fled the West on the clarion call of Ojukwu for them to return to the East had their property kept safe for them, with the rents collected on the property duly accounted for at the end of the civil war and paid to such Igbo owners. It should be noted that no incidents of “abandoned property” occurred in the Western Region-Chief Awolowo’s zone, rather the controversy around such property were restricted to areas such as Port Harcourt and the Northern Region”
          Awolowo’s love for the Igbos resurfaced when he died and Ojukwu himself knew this and reiterated by saying…………“Awolowo was the best president Nigeria never had”. None of the foregoing suggests a man with hatred for the Igbo.
          Please,let the sleeping dog lie. Awolowo has done the best he could do,likewise Ojukwu.Both of them are now deceased ,let posterity judge. The best thing to do now is how to start from where they left and move our beloved country forward.

  • lanre Omikunle, England UK.

    Brilliant master piece! Loved the genuine References… One may suggests that..Achebe is ploting a yoruba against the igbo.. So that they (igbos) would have to say.. They are not wanted in Nigeria.. Hence need for Biafra state.. He losts his Respect as a state man in Nigeria.. What a shame!

    • Inaju

      can someone help me understand this? “Yet, Achebe cannot claim ignorance of the fact that specific recorded instances of pogrom and genocide were a consequence of the second military coup of July 1966 in which northern soldiers and northerners committed series of atrocities against the Igbos in the North.” are we saying that after the specific pogrom and genocide that the author wrote about, none was witnessed in the war? i think, Achebe’s book talk of the the war in it totality and indeed it did acknowledge the pogrom of the northern lead coup, but went on to write about what Gowon and his cabinet, amongst which Awa is one did i n his opinion

  • AFAM

    PA ACHEBE HAS SAID THAT HIS BOOK IS NOT FOR FOLKSTALK..

    • Inyang

      afaaaaaamu! ah ah you could not “see” what Akerele said. You cannot “see” again what adebanjo said. Is it not conversation. For example, show that Awolowo did not do what adebanjo said he did. since you are alive, Papa Achebe is alive, adebanjo is alive, then all of you will point to where the facts are either ignored or distorted. this is how we can reconcile all these. Also, Nigerians are interested in how Col Banjo died. Did Nigerian soldiers kill him in combat sitiation? or did ojukwu just give am bullet for head gboo sa, gbooosa like dat. So Nigerians want to know. It is never too late to know Like Papa Achebe said.

  • ogidiogidi

    If Achebe hates Awolowo, that is a big if, then, there is a reason for the haterade, Could it be for the reasons that Achebe stated in his book?

    • ume

      engage adebanjo fact for fact. that is the way of truth. you can see now . those who were around are talking. you can talk again except to begin to dance around the bush. take the facts adebanjo raised, say they are wrong and bring out your own data. this is the way to help naija. not this ethnic shout from you. nobody is saying that war is good. but why do you want to bury some truth by suppressing some facts. I am not saying adebanjo is correct because I was not there. he was there. but if you were there too, then state what you know. dont begin this atilogwu dance by shouting without referencing any fact.

  • ogidiogidi

    The bigger shame is what Awolowo did to Igbo children.

    • ekpene

      ogidiogidi, why cant you respond fact by fact to the issues Ayo Adebanjo raised and call them to question? That seems more reasonable. This is the way to let us know the facts and the truth. This shout from you people I do not understand again.ah ahh ah

    • adams

      Yes you are right . Certain things are big, certain things are small. For example a ship is bigger than a boat. A trailer is bigger than a volkswagen car. So you are right. But Papa Achebe did not talk about this “lesser” shame before now, this “small” boat of shame, this small volkswagen of shame. Why? This is what Nigerians are saying. Why did Papa Achebe not talk about this very very “small” “volkswagen” of shame, and highlight this “trailer” and “bigger” shame. Does it mean that our situation affect truth and fact? That is why Nigerians ask questions about what Papa Achebe has written.

  • Aiyeola

    The igbos are generally a people who always play the victim card and try to always blame others for the misfortunes! Achebe is no difference and he don’t move me or my odua people. His a brain dead old man who pretended to be a friend to the yorubas. His lucky his still talking!

  • Angry Nigerian

    Achebe should keep his mouth shut and stay in America where he has obv lost touch with the reality of things on ground in naij…rouble shoots old man

  • idris

    I’m sure Mr Ayo adebanjo didn’t read this before sending it to be published,maybe he wrote this in his dreams,he is sounding like a typical yoruba man who doesn’t like facing his problems directly! I suggest he does a proper reserch and apologise to prof Achebe.

    • ume

      Idris,
      The way of academic research as it is taught in respectable universities in the world and self respecting countries is to do a factual rebuttal when you disagree with a position. Ayo Adebanjo has rebutted factually Chinua Achebe. He has done it painstakingly. You have disagreed with Ayo Adebanjo . But we see that disagreement ONLY in your phrases. We DO NOT see your disagreement in the FACT you presented because you presented NONE. You DID NOT REBUT OR REFUTE A SINGLE SENTENCE written by Ayo Adebanjo in his refutation of Chinua Achebe’s memoir. Do not forget that Chinua Achebe was and is still one of the public relations officer of the failed Biafra Republic. Chinua Achebe belonged and still belongs to the inner structure of the then Biafra. So he has a duty to spin and defend Biafra. If you remember Joseph Goebbels, the chief propagandist of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany. Goebbel as a propagandist of untruth believed falsehood begins to take on the appearance of truth when you repeat falsehood ceaselessly. Chinua Achebe is Biafra’s Goebbels. He implemented Goebbels during the civil war, he continues to do so after the civil war. In Chinua Achebe’s mind the civil war continues. Ayo Adebanjo’s response and refutation of Achebe has called to question any academic integrity Chinua Achebe used to have. It shows that Achebe cannot even distinguish a piece of war propaganda from history. This is a disaster. This is one reason people talk about senility. I invite you to refute Ayo Adebanjo word for word, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph. This is the obligation you have. You have not done this. That is the way of academic scholarship. You did not do this. What you have done is the way of Goebbels and Achebe. Repeat falsehood, put a spin on a tiny gossip, enlarge it, blind your constituency who may not have access to information or who may not be interested in the whole truth, hoping that this act will take on the appearance of truth. But this is NOT the true intellectual and academic tradition. So Idris, please take Ayo Adebanjo and refute him word for word. After that you may abuse him. You have the right to do that. And you should.

      • Muh’d al-Amin

        Ume, its very obvious you have some personal interest in this. The way you are defending this article shows there is more to this. I have never heard of Mr Adebanjo before, every nigerian know Prof Achebe, we know that he is a man of intergrity. You,Mr ume who is comparing Prof Achebe with Nazi killers shows your animosity towards Prof Achebe,and that is enough to tell me there is truth in what achebe said.

        • Abubakar Sokoto

          Muh”al_Amin,
          Joseph Goebbels was Hitler’s chief propagandist who lied with both sides of his mouth. Achebe wrote a book and lied through it . His mouth drains with bare lies in the book. For an old man to od , is too much for we Nigerians. That lie is being rebutted everyday. Check the current news from PT on a US cable about the joint culpability of Col Ojukwu in denying entrance to food to enter Biafra area during the war. Chinua Achebe did not tell that. Why? But he WILL NOT because Chinua Achebe does not make any bones that he was and is still the chief propagandist of biafra. There is A BIG DIFFERENCE between the lies in his book and Literature. He did not write literature. He wrote a piece of Biafra war propaganda. Reading it you will think the war is not over. Why? because it is not over in the mind of the chief propagandist of Biafra-Chinua Achebe. And about Ayo Adebanjo’s identity. Please check the first and second republics in Nigeria. That may tell you who Adebanjo is. Find out by yourself . if you cannot then that is your business. And back to Achebe, if you think Achebe is a professor, you are deceiving yourself. No self respecting scholar and academic will write what he has in that book. Anyway, I withdraw that-a Biafra “scholar” will write that kind of thing in the so-called book. That is a piece of Biafra war propaganda. Please DO NOT insult us by calling the book an academic or scholarly work. We have read it.
          Thank you.
          Abubakar Sokoto