Igbo leaders fought hard for one Nigeria, while Northern, Yoruba leaders opposed, Achebe says in new book

ABIC Books published Chinua Achebe's "The University and the Leadership Factor in Nigerian Politics", an interesting 26-page monograph published in 2006

Foremost novelist, Chinua Achebe, has laid the blame for the deep-seated disunity confronting Nigeria on the doorsteps of Northern and Yoruba leaders who he said opposed the idea of one Nigeria before and after independence.

In his new book, which has become largely controversial in the past days, Mr. Achebe said while Igbo leaders and intellectuals worked hard, promoting the idea of one Nigeria, Northern leaders, led by the Sardauna of Sokoto, Ahmadu Bello, and their Yoruba counterparts, led by Obafemi Awolowo, worked in the opposite direction, making sure the dream of a united Nigeria did not materialize.

Mr Achebe made the claim on Page 51 of the 333-page book, saying, “The original ideal of one Nigeria was pressed by the leaders and intellectuals from the Eastern Region. With all their shortcomings, they had this idea to build the country as one.

“The first to object were the Northerners led by the Sardauna, who were followed closely by the Awolowo clique that had created the Action Group.

“The Northern Peoples Congress of the Sardaunians was supposed to be a national party, yet it refused to change its name from Northern to Nigerian Peoples Congress, even for the sake of appearances. It refused right up to the end of the civilian regime.”

The author did not give any details regarding how and where the Northern and Yoruba leaders opposed the idea of a united Nigeria.

In the book, Mr. Achebe was full of praises for Nigeria’s first President, Nnamdi Azikiwe, who he described as the father of African independence.

“The father of African independence was Nnamdi Azikiwe,” Mr. Achebe said on page 41 of his book. “There is no question at all about that. Azikiwe, fondly referred to by his admirers as “Zik,” was the preeminent political figure of my youth and a man who was endowed with the political pan-Africanist vision. He had help, no doubt, from several eminent sons and daughters of the son.”

Mr.  Achebe criticism of  Mr. Awolowo’s civil war policies in the book had earlier sparked a fierce  disagreement between the Yoruba and the Igbo in Nigeria and fired up a rare dichotomy between the two ethnic nationalities , with each side teaming with their kinsman.

Nearly a week after an excerpt of Mr. Achebe’s memoir, blaming Mr. Awolowo for starving to death over two million Biafran children, became public, leading Yoruba leaders and activists have poured invectives on the writer.

In turn, Mr. Achebe’s Igbo kinsmen have sided with him, justifying his claims and attacking Yoruba critics in return.

But our reporter, who skimmed through the book last night, says Mr. Achebe in one instance eulogized Mr. Awolowo in the book, portraying him as a master political tactician,  a committed leader of his people, a unifying factor, an excellent organizer  and an erudite and accomplished lawyer.

Mr. Awolowo was clearly one of Nigeria’s dominant political figures of his time, Mr. Achebe wrote in the book.

On Page 45 of the book, Mr Achebe wrote of  Mr. Awolowo:  “By the time I became a young adult, Obafemi Awolowo had emerged as one of Nigeria’s dominant political figures. He was an erudite and accomplished lawyer who had been educated at the University of London. When he returned to the Nigerian political scene from London, Awolowo found the once powerful political establishment of western Nigeria in disarray – sidetracked by partisan and intra-ethnic squabbles. Chief Awolowo and close associates reunited his ancient Yoruba people with powerful glue –resuscitated ethnic pride-and created a political party, the Action Group, in 1951, from an amalgamation of the Egbe Omo Oduduwa, the Nigerian Produce Traders’ Association, and a few other factions.

“Over the years Awolowo had become increasingly concerned about what he saw as the domination of the NCNC by the Igbo elite, led by Azikiwe. Some cynics believe the formation of the Action Group was not influenced by  tribal loyalties but a purely tactical political move to regai regional and southern political power and influence from the dominant NCNC.

“Initially Chief Obafemi struggled to woo support from the Ibadan-based (and other non-Ijebu) Yoruba leaders who considered him a radical  and a bit of an upstart. However, despite some initial difficulty, Awolowo transformed the Action Group into a formidable, highly disciplined political machine that often outperformed the NCNC in regional elections. It did so by meticulously galvanizing political support in Yoruba land and among the riverine and minority groups in the Niger Delta who shared a similar dread of the prospects of Igbo political domination.”

Below are other mentions of Mr. Awolowo in the book.

Achebe’s latest work: There was a country

Page 51: “The original ideal of one Nigeria was pressed by the leaders and intellectuals from the Eastern Region. With all their shortcomings, they had this idea to build the country as one. The first to object were the Northerners led by the Sardauna, who were followed closely by the Awolowo clique that had created the Action Group. The Northern Peoples Congress of the Sardaunians was supposed to be a national party, yet it refused to change its name from Northern to Nigerian Peoples Congress, even for the sake of appearances. It refused right up to the end of the civilian regime.”

Page 86: “By March 1967, two months after the summit in Aburi, Ghana, the Aburi Accord resolutions had yet to be implemented, and there was growing weariness in the East that Gowon had no intention of doing so. The government of the Eastern Region warned Gowon that his repeated failure to act on issues pertaining to Nigerian sovereignty could lead to secession

Gowon responded by issuing a decree, Decree 8, which called for the resurrection of the proposals for constitutional reform promulgated during the Aburi conference. But for reasons hard to explain other than as egotistical self-preservation, members of the federal civil service galvanized themselves in energetic opposition to the agreements of the aburi Accord. Seeing this development as a strategic political opening, the Yoruba leader, Obafemi Awolowo, the West’s political opening, heretofore nursing political trouble himself, including prior imprisonment for sedition, insisted that the federal government remove all Northern military troops garrisoned in Lagos, Ibadan, Abeokuta and throughout the Western Region – a demand similar to those Ojukwu had made earlier, during the crisis.

Awolowo warned Gowon’s federal government that if the Eastern Region left the Federation, the Westen Region would not be far behind. This statement was considered sufficiently threatening by Gowon and the federal government to merit a complete troop withdrawal.”

Page 88: “The first part of May 1967 saw the visit of the National Reconciliation Commission (NRC) to Enugu, the capital of the Eastern Region. It was led by Chief Awolowo and billed as a last-minute effort at peace and as an attempt to encourage Ojukwu and Eastern leaders to attend peace talks at a venue suitable to the Easterners. Despite providing a friendly reception, many Igbo leaders referred to the visit disdainfully  as the chop, chop, talk, talk, commission”.

Page 227: “A day later, on January 15, 1970, the Biafran delegation, which was led by Major General Phillip Effiong and included Sir Louis Mbanefo, M.T. Mbu, Colonel David Ogunewe, and other Biafran military officers formally surrendered at Dodan Barracks to the troops of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Among the Nigerian delegation were: General Yakubu Gowon; the  deputy chairman of the Supreme Military Council, Obafemi Awolowo; leaders of the various branches of the armed forces, including Brigadier Hassan Katsina, chief of staff; H.E.A. Ejueyitchie, the secretary to the federal military government; Anthony Enahoro, the commissioner for information; Taslim Elias, the attorney general; and the twelve military governors of the federation.”

Page 233: “It is important to point out that most Nigerians were against the war and abhorred the senseless violence that ensued. The wartime cabinet ofGeneral Gowon, the military ruler, it should also be remembered, was full of intellectuals like Chief Obafemi Awolowo among others who came up with a boatload of infamous and regrettable policies. A statement credited to Awolowo and echoed by his cohorts is the most callous and unfortunate: all is fair in war, and starvation is one of the weapons of war. I don’t see why we should feed our enemies fat in order for them to fight harder.

“It is my impression that Awolowo was driven by an overriding ambition for power, for himself and for his Yoruba people. There is, on the surface at least, nothing wrong with those aspirations. However, Awolowo saw the dominant Igbos at the time as the obstacles to that goal, and when the opportunity arose – the Nigeria-Biafra war – his ambition drove him into a frenzy to go to every length to achieve his dreams. In the Biafran case it meant hatching up a diabolical policy to reduce the numbers of his enemies significantly through starvation — eliminating over two million people, mainly members of future generations.”

Page 234: “If Gowon was the “Nigerian Abraham Lincoln,” as Lord Wilson would have us believe, why did he not put a stop to such an evil policy, or at least temper it, particularly when there was international outcry? Setting aside for the moment the fact that Gowon as head of state bears the final responsibility of his subordinates, and that Awolowo has been much maligned by many an intellectual for this unfortunate policy and his statements, why, I wonder, would other “thinkers,”nsuch as Ayida and Enahoro, not question such a policy but advance it?”


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  • Inyang

    hmmmmm Papa Chiiiiiinuuuuuaaaaa Acheeeeebeeeee. While I will not agree because the two areas are different, Papa Achebe’s venture here is saying History Writing is far more academically and intellectually more demanding because of its rigour than ordinary Story Telling. Now because Papa Achebe went into an area he is academically incompetent to go to because of the academic rules of such area, and because Papa Achebe refused to pay attention to those rules for reasons that are becoming obvious, he has attacked the very foundation of truth. Let me just give an example because this is a mere post. He says Zik is pan-Africanist. We know Zik wrote many words about Africa and all that. But is there not a difference between “radical” phrases and concrete actions.? Why did Papa Achebe not give us the full story about Zik. In 1978 when Zik was contesting elections and he among other contestants were asked to produce his tax receipts, Dr Azikiwe could not. When FEDECO insisted, he said he was being persecuted because he was Igbo. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe studied in America where the payment of tax is seen as crucial and indicative. I do not know, but I hear Papa Achebe still teaches in America. In other words if Papa Achebe still teaches in America he knows what paying taxes mean. So why did Zik of Africa the great pan Africanist suddenly say two things. He would not pay tax or forgot to pay tax to the Nigerian state. he wanted to contest to rule the country-(he has every right to do that like every Nigerian. I am quickly saying this so that people do not again mischievously misinterprete my observation). He was asked to produce his tax receipt. He could not . He did not appeal to any intelligible reason-including being a pan Africanist. He appealed to his Igboness. That appeal to his Igboness means a lot to historians and psychologists. It means a lot to the way Zik perceived himself. He has a right to the way he perceived himself. It means a lot to the way Zik perceived his fellow Nigerians. he has a right to the way he perceived his fellow Nigerians. It means a lot to the way Papa Achebe perceived him (by PAPA ACHEBE FAILING TO BRING TAX PAYING AS CRUCIAL TEST OF A MODERN NATION AND A MODERN UNITED COUNTRY OUT, AND ZIK’S FAILURE TO DO THAT BECAUSE THAT WOULD SAY A LOT BETWEEN WORDS AND DEEDS, AND PAPA ACHEBE’S FAILURE TO SAY SO) and other Nigerians from other nationalities. Papa Achebe should know that in the works on Nigerian history and the struggle for its independence, a major observation all historians agree on is the issues of “radical” phrases , words about unity that sound great and verbose, which many of the politicians bandied about then to sound radical, and actual deeds and concrete actions about unity. So it is either Papa Achebe knows the basic rules about history writing or he does not. So if Papa Achebe fails to bring out this crucial but simple act of tax paying and Zik’s failure to perform his duty and obligation to the Nigerian state and his open statement that he was being persecuted because he was Igbo, then it says a lot about Papa Achebe’s competence in history writing and political goals in writing such. I am saying this because in writing YOU MUST constantly reflect everything. At least that is the way our lecturers taught us in school, and I am not sure that has changed inspite of the challenges in our universities. Please the thing about he cannot “remember” everything or he cannot “say” everything should be set aside. Please and please and please set that aside. Do not insult people’s intelligence and the intelligence of Nigerians. Do not tuern Nigerian intellectuals to laughing stock in the world. But I am happy Papa Achebe wrote the book. Like someone said we did not know this part of Papa Achebe. And someone said hypothetically if he contested to be our president two months ago, I can bet it EVERY NIGERIAN middle class would have GONE out to campaign for him. The chilly thing, the question that run cold down my spine is that: “Is this the person we would have GONE OUT to campaign for to be our president?” Honestly I am sad as a Nigerian where those we used to take as one of our best do this to every Nigerian. I am a psychologist by academic training, and I teach this in a university. This says a lot about Papa Achebe’s sub conscious . The subconscious is a powerful organ in everyone’s body, thought and state. That is what produces the so-called stream of consciousness-an outburst we all made inspite of ourselves. The thing is that we humans do not know that that organ in our body works secretly to record our true, honest and inner most thoughts and feelings. That organ-the subconscious does this independent of each human. We thank God for everything-abi wetin we go say again my peoplesss!

    • Folo

      You’re only blabbing. I wonder the sort of things you teach your students. What has tax payment got to do with Zik being a Pan Africanist? How did Awo acquired the Dideolu estate and other property in Lagos? Don’t get me wrong; I am a beneficiary of the UPE programme of the Western Region despite my not being from the yoruba stock. You can’t take away the intelligence of the late Sage likewise you should not deny Zik of Africa his doggedness for African unity.

      • Inyang

        Read the post very well Folo. Zik said I am being asked to show that I pay tax because I am Igbo. But Papa Achebe gave us the image of a pan Africanist. He did not give us the image of a “pan Africanist” who resorted to his Igboness. Folo, this is what is being said-historian as a writer of part of history rather than the whole history, a part being presented as the whole. I beg dis na wetin people dey talk. And why e do am like dat? Second, how did Zik miss paying tax? How did Achebe “miss” that Zik “missed” paying tax and that he said he was being asked because he was Igbo when he was asked a simple question about tax.? How did Papa Achebe “miss” that Zik said that he was being persecuted because he was Igbo when he “missed” paying his tax to a country whose unity he allegedly fought for? That is the question. And the relevance is still about historiography. That is why must you present a part as the whole? I think one way to have the whole would have been to say Dr. Azikiwe is an “Igbo-pan Africanist” or a “pan Africanist Igbo”. Here we are even ready to ignore those “radical” phrases and slogans, those “progressive” phrases and slogans which melt and wither away when we are asked to concretise our “radical” phrases and slogans. But the question why did Papa Achebe give us the ‘great” “pan Africanist” who “worked” “hard” and “furiously” for Nigerian unity and even African unity, who other national groups “blocked” from achieving national unity, but who suddenly fell back on his Igboness when he was asked if he had been performing his civic duty to the same country whose unity Papa Achebe said Zik and his Igbo people “worked” so hard and so “furiously” for? So please read again and reflect before you write. I am mot saying the Owele of Onitsha is not intelligent. Please check, you cannot see that in this post. I am not raising anything about Zik’s property. Please check , you cannot see that in this post. You have the LEGITIMATE RIGHT to raise and OBJECT to Awolowo on Dideolu. Why not? Raise it. It would contribute to our desire for presenting THE WHOLE and not a part. So I encourage you to raise it. But what I am raising here which you did not “see” is how and why did Papa Achebe give a PART image that does not include ALL the FACTS about historical figures he is writing about. This is going to be worse for academic scholarship and the Nigerian brand of it if we do not know that history writing require some basic ground rules. Well I will not know what to say if you deny this. I finis.dis thing bad e too bad.

        • Lanre

          Inyang, once again brilliant submission. I am so proud that we have “old school” academics like you that can write so eloquently. I think Achebe’s work might fail the Academic Test of scholarship. As a personal narrative, it appears to kowtow to the pedestrian igbo mindset.

      • Abiodun

        what it has got to do with it is that he appealed to his Igboness and not his pan Africanistness when he failed and did not perform his civic obligation to a country whose unity we are being lectured he and his Igbos worked for. Second, that Professor Chinua Achebe did not tell us this about Zik, that he appealed to Igbo when he was asked a simple question about duty to the WHOLE country. Some people think that this Professir Achebe way of writing history raise many things than meet the eye-this may be complicating things rather than resolve them. This is the concern of people. You have the right not to be bothered. But saying everything without holding anything back is good trait we teach children. Prof Achebe has not done this. hence people wonder , why especially because children are generally taught to say everything they know about a thing or event when there is a conversation. And i think it is proper to ask why the Professor did not do this.

    • Lanre

      Inyang, thank you so much for your brilliant scholarly remark. You have said everything. Chief Awolowo in 1979 paid his taxes as and when due. It is sad where Nigeria is headed. But we have to bear it because where there are lies a house cannot be built. Like I said in my last post you responded to, I would rather regard Igbos as foreigners (citizens of another country) than this hatred which lies in their subconscious, ready to stab their fellow countrymen with theit bitterness.

  • Akinlabi

    Achebe needs something. let him speak out instead of writing cooked Jargons.
    God Bless Nigeria

  • Lanre

    Premium Times,Monday Ateboh. Thank you for this. I am reading the book myself presently. I am not sure what is going to define Achebe’s legacy. “Things Fall Apart” or “There was a Country.” What I know is that this book is leaving us the present generation with a task: The Nigerian Question must be answered in this generation. A way must be sought to leave together in peace or stay apart as friendly neighbors.

    • Lanre

      Premium Times,Monday Ateboh. Thank you for this. I am reading the book myself presently. I am not sure what is going to define Achebe’s legacy. “Things Fall Apart” or “There was a Country.” What I know is that this book is leaving us the present generation with a task: The Nigerian Question must be answered in this generation. A way must be sought to live together in peace or stay apart as friendly neighbors.

  • It is so obvious that Nigeria can not move froward as a nation so why don’t we divide it and let everyone be on its own peacefully. SNC should do us all a favor.

  • I admire Achebe’s uncommon courage to air his views and the truth for generations to read. The book is ‘his memoirs’ not yours, you don’t have to agree with it so you can bloody well write yours. Atleast by the time we read all the memoirs about the war from different individuals the real truth will emerge. Meanwhile, I will advise our arm chair critics & emergency intellectuals to channel their wasted energy towards Gowon the grand master of the civil war who has maintained an undignified silence about why he led this nation into an avoidable civil war under his watch! The man Gowon is alive and have remained inchoate each time he’s question about his roles during the war.

    • adams

      Victor, you are absolutely right.It is Achebe’s , it is not that of anyone. I quote you here:”The book is ‘his memoirs’ not yours, you don’t have to agree with it so you can bloody well write yours.” By these posts, Nigerians are already writing. People like you deliberately misinterpreted the genuine responses of Nigerians to the book as being “ethnic” . Now that people have read the book, and direct factual quotes of what Chinua Achebe said are being made available to Nigerians everybody is holding his breadth. It is as if “could this man have really said all these? where are his facts?” When having read the book, and we all see that it lacks ANY FACTUAL defence of the claim he made, the sense of “oh it seems we did not know this fellow called Achebe all along” enveloped everyone. It is a complete shock. Now those who were there and are still living started writing to rebut Achebe’s claims, his defenders resorted to “write your own”. But while the response “write your own” is perfectly legitimate, it does not address Achebe’s intellectually and morally dubiuos academic conduct. If one is not a Hitlerite propagandist, one does not do what Achebe has done with our history and truth and what our children will read. Thus you forget the following.
      1. Because some of us only have contact with this man through his books, we used to have absolute respect for Achebe. So no one thought he would embark on a deliberate attack on truth and our history this way-for an old man who people thought was a scholar to turn truth on its head this way is shocking. It is shocking because it calls to question ALL THE FAITH one has in Nigeria, its unity and the possibility Nigeria has in redeeming itself. You are compelled to ask yourself and introspect and say “oh doesn’t this bear those who already lost faith in NIgeria as a country out if the one you thought was one of your best could conduct aggression against truth and history this way for petty reasons.” So it is less about “writing yours” It is more about is the market not over given this act? Think please. This fellow used to be one of our best. And here is one of our best. Is this market not over? Perhaps this is Achebe’s tactics to close the market. If that is it, I think he got it, because this market seems over.
      2. You forget that by our responses, we are already writing our memoirs. I will advise you to go and read Ayo Adebanjo’s response to Achebe. Please you can abuse Ayo Adebanjo after you have read it. You are free to do this. But after the abuse do one thing ” REFUTE AND REBUT AYO ADEBANJO SENTENCE BY SENTENCE WITH FACTS AND DATA, DATES, REFERENCES ETC. If you that it will be sufficient. These are all we need before the market closes.

      • Adams, nobody can possibly have a genuine response to a 333 page book that just hit the book shelves 72 hours ago. Very clearly most of the responses to the book so far has been born out of outward ignorance by people who probably have never read any book for the past 5 years and yet they want to be heard. For those who have bothered to read the book there are other segments of the book where he openely complimented Awolowo.

  • Nagoma

    The elders in any civic society has a moral responsibility to speak the truth so as at least to justify their elder status. Pa Achebe has once again re-open the Nigerian wound in this memoir, Already the heat is on between the Igbos and the Yorubas, Classical display of Nigerian ethnocentrism? I am awaiting a Northern response to this memoir instead of a Hausa or Fulani one, There are still remnants of the old establishment enough from the North who are so qualified to speak on this book. Here we are again, Despite the civil war, the apparent disunity and growing mistrust between Nigerian ethnic groups who is now better off between say the Igbos, Yorubas, Hausas and others? Who is presently so dominating with a bulldozer character in Nigeria affairs? Who among the Nigerian ethnic group is getting the larger slice of the Nigerian cake and still complains more? Who among the Nigerian ethnic group are presently at the receiving end of things in Nigeria? I wish Pa Achebe a healthier and longer life to see the effects of his memoir on future Nigeria.