Reuben Abati's fallacies on Nigeria, Igbos and secession

By Bayo Arowolaju

Special to
USAfrica The Newspaper, Houston

Rueben Abati's language was unethical when he wrote (about the pre-civil war killings of Igbos): "The Igbo had lost out; they licked their wounds and returned to the East, where they all had a dull Christmas in 1966." Yet, in spite of all these, Rueben Abati has declared that the Igbo and nobody for that matter can secede especially under Obasanjo because "he made his career but helping to finish off the Ibos. He has also been a good friend of the north. If the Ibos provoke him with any threat of secession, he would have no option to do his duty as Gowon did". He went further to say that the Northerners have made Nigeria secession-proof by taking off the 'heads of Ken Saro Wiwa and his kinsmen and "Obasanjo would not hesitate to take off some Ibo heads to prove a point" if MASSOB and Ojukwu get too serious talking about secession.

The three-part piece by Reuben Abati titled 'Obasanjo, secession and the secessionists' in The Guardin newspaper of Lagos, Nigeria (December 2001) was not originally read by this writer. I got series of e-mails asking for my opinion but since I did not read them I had none until some concerned people sent the articles to me. My first reaction after reading them was that of confusion as to what actually Rueben was up to. However, what was apparent was that there was a motive, as no objective writer could have written in the light of his three-piece. I didn't see Rueben defending Nigeria's President retired Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, as what Obasanjo said as bad as it was, was a child's play compared with the venom coming from him.

Did he have a personal ax to grand with the Igbo? I don't really think so since there was nothing in his write-up that indicated that directly or indirectly, except there was an undisguised hatred for a whole race. Was he acting for the Yoruba race of which I just realize he is one? No, as Yoruba myself, I found nothing in his write-up that represented my interest or that of the entire Yoruba race. Instead, I saw apparent disservice, so he must be working alone for some selfish parochial interests. The only reason I think propelled Abati to write with so much hatred for Igbo was his unhidden love for the northern establishment, which has not over the years hidden its hatred for the Igbo. So Rueben Abati's love for the northern oligarchy makes him an enemy of Igbo. Then the question is why? I have no idea but can risk a guess. He may be eyeing a political appointment or office, which might need the northern endorsement.

As a writer, I think Rueben (in picture above) will take this critique of his work in good faith especially as his work contained some historical as well as political fallacies, which should not be left uncorrected. This is besides his language, which is quite unbecoming of a person occupying an exalted position of editorial page editor of a national newspaper of the status and stature of The Guardian newspaper.

Right from his page one I started feeling uneasy with Rueben's instigation against freedom of speech when he said that if Obasanjo turns on former leader of Biafra, retired Gen. Chukwuemeka Ojukwu personally 'with the SSS and NIA etc. on his side' he (Ojukwu) would be afraid to talk again. He made a similar incitement that Professor and Dr. (Mrs.) Aluko 'would by now, be cooling their heels in a detention camp' if they had made their comments in the days of Abacha, as they did on Obasanjo. I know he might want to say that he did not mean what he wrote, but how many of his readers including Obasanjo himself took courses in journalism as to know that his comments were satiric if they were actually. That is dangerous.

Rueben's report on the January 15, 1966 attempted coup contained so much inaccuracies that brings to question his knowledge of the events and his research ability as a journalist. It was only the northern execution of the process of the plot that was code-named 'Operation Damisa' under the command of Major Patrick Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu. In the south it was code-named 'Operation New Wash' and commanded by Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna. I am surprised that Rueben Abati a Yoruba did not know the name of the Yoruba member of the Five Majors' group. He is Major Adewale Ademoyega and NOT Ademoyega Ademulegun as written by Rueben (Brigadier Ademulegun was a victim). Five and not six Majors planned the coup. They were Majors Nzeogwu, Ifeajuna, Ademoyega, Okafor and Anuforo. Major T. Onwuatuegwu was co-opted by Nzeogwu in its execution in Kaduna and was not part of the planning. How did the southern press 'eternally' offended the north when they wrote, 'Bribe? E Done Die O, Chop-Chop-E No Dey'. For God's sake Rueben, what is eternally offensive in this? Or are you just making a case for your friends where there is none?

Was there a carpet crossing in the Western House Assembly in 1964? No not at all! The politics in the West in 1964 did not give room for carpet crossing. That was when Yoruba's AG and Igbo's NCNC for the first time saw the need to work together with the formation of United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA) which boycotted the 1964 Federal elections that was blatantly rigged. Chief Obafemi Awolowo was already in Calabar prison then and Chief Ladoke Akintola had formed his UPP, which was in alliance with NPC to form NNA. It was an attempt by the NNA to rig the October 1965 western region election that brought Nigeria to where it is today. Carpet crossing was in 1954 when the NCNC led by Dr. Azikwe won the western regional elections by 22 seats to AG led by Awolowo 18 seats. Azikwe was on his way to making history by becoming the Premier of the Yoruba west. Overnight four members of the NCNC moved their party's allegiance to AG, which gave Awolowo the Premiership. I agree this truly 'ethnicized Nigerian politics' but not irretrievably except with people like Rueben and not singularly as the earlier regionalization of political parties was a factor also. Some of us are working hard to get this type of our ugly past behind us and bring amity and harmony within the people of the south and especially between the Igbo and Yoruba.

Rueben's love for the Hausa-Fulani was so much that he did not recognize his fellow Yoruba men and women, military and civilians who lost their lives in the early morning of January 15, 1966. To him mainly northerners were killed. He should be reminded that Yoruba also lost notable leaders among who were:

Commander of the 1st Brigade Brigadier Samuel Adesoji Ademulegun and his wife, the Deputy Commander, Nigerian Defense Academy Colonel Raph Adetunji Shodeinde, Major Samuel Adekoge, deputy Adjutant and Quarter-Master-General 1st Brigade all in Kaduna. The west also lost its Premier Chief Samuel Lagoke Akintola. The Mid-West lost Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh, the Minister of Finance.

Did the coup succeed? NO. All the principal actors were later arrested and put in prisons scattered all over the country awaiting trial. Was Major General Johnson Thomas Aguiyi-Ironsi part of the plot? No. Was it an Igbo affair as alluded to by Rueben and many like him with limited knowledge of the Nigeria political history? NO. Let me shed more lights on the contentious issues surrounding the events of the January 15, 1966.

Those responsible for the attempted coup were Nigerians who were no strangers to the signposts of doom of the first republic. Some of them were university graduates who joined the army with a view to correcting the ills that bedeviled the society even from their student days. Are they heroes or villains, traitors or patriots, revolutionaries or reactionaries and tribalists or nationalists? It is only posterity that will judge them as I am not competent to do that here.

Since they were Nigerians living in Nigeria, they were not insulated from the rot that Nigeria had become before the putsch. If they could tolerated every other mess, the military was very much at odd with the civilian leaders using the army to further their political interests, as seen during the Tiv riots and the riots in the west. But it was the Federal elections of 1964 that broke the loyalty of the army to the civil governance.

Major Patrick Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu one of the most detribalized fine officers in the Nigerian army conceived the putsch as early as 1964 during a Shooting competition organized by the army and recruited Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna. Nzeogwu as the Chief Instructor of the Military School in Kaduna and Ifeajuna as a Brigade Major in Lagos perfected the logistics needed for the operation, so each went about recruiting loyalists for their course in their respective theater of operations.

The Operational Order of the coup plot were as follows:
To take or strike simultaneously in ALL the regional capitals at the agreed 'H-Hour'.

To arrest ALL leading politicians at the regional capitals and kill those who might resist arrest To take over all key and vulnerable installations such as Radio and Television stations, telephone exchange, power stations and police headquarters, etc. Blocking the Niger and Benue bridges at Jebba and Makurdi by troops and armored personnel carriers to prevent north or south counter movement of troops Killing of senior military officers who in their opinion were in a position to raise any counter troops against the plot (this included Maj.-Gen. Aguiyi Ironsi).

The taking over of the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and forming a new government. All the top military and civil leaders were put under strict surveillance with their movements and contacts tagged till the zero hour.

Officers and men were allocated to each regional capital including the East for the execution on the D-Day.

From the Operational Orders can an objective observer see the coup as tribal or Igboish? Not really. That the plot was not bloody in execution in the east could not have been the making of the plotters who though originally did not want a bloody coup. Let it be known that the D-Day was shifted at least ones to avoid shedding too much blood especially of their fellow officers and men. Also Officers were given specific instructions to kill ONLY where there was a resistance to arrest. It would be recalled that Sir Kashim Ibrahim as Governor of the North and Chief Fani-Kayode deputy Premier in the West were not killed when they did not resist arrest. So what happened in the East?

As part of the insensitivity of the Nigerian government to the killing and looting (Weti e) in the West that time, and pretending as if nothing was going on, went ahead to host the meeting of the Commonwealth Leaders in Lagos on January 12, 1966. In the wee hours of January 15, 1966, Lt. Oguchi led team was at Enugu to arrest Dr. Michael Okpara or kill him if he resisted arrest. But with him, was Archbishop Makarios, the President of Cyprus who after the Commonwealth Leaders' conference on January 12, had arrived in Enugu for a visit. The officers as gentlemen, politely waited for the departure of the visiting president before they arrested Okpara without any resistance.

How then did the attempted coup qualify as an Igbo affair? Nzeogwu the prime mover was not Igbo in the true sense of the word. He was from Okpanam then Mid-West, born and bred in Kaduna hence his name Kaduna, and spoke Hausa with a flawless and impeccable native accent. His best friend was a Yoruba Major Olusegun Obasanjo. I am not sure he could speak his own mother tongue. Ademoyega is Yoruba and three others were Igbo. General Ironsi (Igbo) assisted by Lt.Cols. Njoku another Igbo and Yakubu Gowon was at the head of the loyalist troops against the so-called Igbo coup plotters. Lt.Col. Njoku was the Commander of the Ikeja Cantonment where there was the largest concentration of combatant soldiers. But for the counter offensive by Ironsi and Njoku, the five Majors would have succeeded. How then did these events qualify as 'Igbo Conspiracy'? Come to think of it. The President and the Senate President were Igbo, and many other names I grew up to know in my civic class as Jaja and Aja Nwachukwus and the Mbadiwes. General Ironsi the head of the army, was Igbo and Police Inspector General Louis Edet was from the East. So by every standard the Igbo were not marginalized in the first republic. It is therefore preposterous to talk of Igbo conspiracy in view of the above facts except the conspiracy was against themselves which sounds unreasonable.

Let us admit it, nationalism and not tribalism fired the five Majors. Otherwise, what then did the Igbo want from the Coup if actually it was an Igbo affair. Nothing, this is what makes the case for the so-called Igbo coup a nullity. May be it is the predominance of Igbo officers and men who participated in the coup that brings the notion. This is where we have to be very objective. Coup making does not require the use of quota system or any form of ethnic balancing unless the planners are signing their death warrant. It requires faultless courage, confidentiality and commitment to the mission. It does not matter therefore who and who and what ethnic group is represented.

Rueben again lied when he said that 1966 was the first time the idea of secession crept into Nigeria politics. No it was in 1953. This was shortly after the northern parliamentarians had walked out of the Lagos parliament in protest against the motion for self-rule moved by Honorable Anthony Enahoro then of AG. Because the north felt that such pace of political development was too fast for them they decided to walk of parliament and out of Nigeria. It took the persuasion of the other Nigeria political leaders to bring them back to Nigeria after they issued their ten-point demands.

Rueben was also untrue when he listed Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon as one of the 'key executors' of the July 1966 coup. Rather the leader of the coup was Lt.Col. Murtala Mohammed. As the Chief of Army Staff Gowon was left out of it. In fact when the execution of the coup started, he alerted all the commanding officers to counter it. He tried to reach General Ironsi at Ibadan by phone but it was another Yakubu, this time Major Danjuma who picked up the phone, having took over control of the government house Ibadan. He it was as a loyal northern army officer that commanded the brutal, cruel and inhuman torture and killing of General J.T.U. Ironsi and Col. Adekunle Fajuyi.

Rueben was terribly lying again to say that Lt.Col. Odumegwu Ojukwu (spelled Odimegwu by him) had fled to the East during the July 1966 coup when in fact the Lt.Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu I know had been appointed Governor of the Eastern Region since January 18, 1966 more than six clear months before his alleged flight. This assertion portrays Rueben more not as a journalist who lives by the pen but as a mercenary who lives by mischief. Facts are sacred and should be so treated to avoid destroying our credibility. I expected Rueben to have learnt this in Journalism 101.

It is also untrue that Airplanes manned by northern soldiers were already airlifting northerners to Kano. No! It was only part of the Operational plans which had not started because all flights within, out and into the country were still banned as part of the execution of the coup. It was eventually not implemented since the north was persuaded not to secede from the rest of the Nigeria. Rueben Abati's language was unethical when he wrote (about the pre-civil war killings of Igbos): "The Igbo had lost out; they licked their wounds and returned to the East, where they all had a dull Christmas in 1966." What else do we expect from one of the northern coup plotters?

Rueben's characterization of the Nigeria-Biafra 1967-1970 civil war and its end are inhumane, evil, atrocious, vicious and outrageous. To him, it was the might of the Hausa-Fulani that 'completed the second phase of their offensive against the Ibos'. Was Rueben Abati too young to know and too lazy to find out about the exploits of the Benjamin Adekunles, the Alani Akinrinades, the Ayo Ariyos and his mentor Olusegun Obasanjos, all Yoruba during the civil war. How can any right thinking person think the Hausa-Fulani could have fought let alone won the civil war without the Yoruba.

Now to the hard issues of secession.

Rueben demonstrated a lot of confusion or mischief or both in his handling of this issue. He navigated between making points and justifications for and against secession throughout. I will try to come up with some of the reasons why people like me are calling for secession as the last resort, especially if the powers that be will continue to reject the idea of a Sovereign National Conference. I will use Rueben's words as much as possible.

The northern power elite has continue to make sure that the Igbo are kept out of sensitive positions in government and consigned to the role of second fiddle.

The Hausa-Fulani has also instructively not stopped taking off the heads of Igbos in the North. The Igbo and other southerners are routinely killed in their hundreds.

Nigeria as a country has no building plan, no foundation, no road map or they have been abandoned and therefore Nigeria is uniquely structured to fail and fail it must.

For many Nigerians, their citizenship is useful only as a label without a sense of citizenship. Many have fled never to return; their hope of reconnecting with Nigeria forever sealed. Major Nzeogwu should be told many of us are still ashamed to be called Nigerians and many are called because they have no better alternative for now.

Nigeria is merely a space within which we live without any feeling except that we feel safer as members of our own ethnic group and only within our enclaves. A Nigerian is always confronted by hostile fellow-citizens who in fact wish him dead daily and also a public system that is not interested in the individual in any form either as human being or as a citizen.

Nigeria is a country where anything at all is unpredictable and anarchy is clear possibility all year round. A country where nothing works. Many Nigerians believe there is no government in Nigeria since successive ones at all levels have shown lack of capacity to address the problems of the people and make society function. Every encounter with government is a nightmare. The purpose of government in Nigeria is to enrich its leaders and enslave its people.

The project called Nigeria has failed as there is injustice and inequalities in the land coupled with the callous manner in which the structures of government have been kidnapped by a few, who believes and behaves as if it is their birthright to rule forever even with ineptitude.

Nigerian national currency has Arabic or Islamic inscription in a secular society without having Arabic as its official language. The motto of its Army is inscribed in Arabic. The Nigerian National Assembly building in Abuja by design and structure, is a mosque, when it not meant for Moslems alone as a place of worship. Yet the lawbreakers that meet there, don't care as long it provides shelter to share their loots.

Crude oil is produced in Niger Delta but its money is spent in the northern desert and Some northern states have become republics within a republic capable of doing whatever they like and getting away with it. They have thrown the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to the dust of the great Sahara Desert. And nobody dares talk or else his head will be taken off him.

Yet, in spite of all these, Rueben Abati has declared that the Igbo and nobody for that matter can secede especially under Obasanjo because "he made his career but helping to finish off the Ibos. He has also been a good friend of the north. If the Ibos provoke him with any threat of secession, he would have no option to do his duty as Gowon did". He went further to say that the Northerners have made Nigeria secession-proof by taking off the 'heads of Ken Saro Wiwa and his kinsmen and "Obasanjo would not hesitate to take off some Ibo heads to prove a point" if MASSOB and Ojukwu get too serious talking about secession.

Ridiculing his own Yoruba people Rueben said, "Yoruba were talking about secession. They even set up OPC and they have a constitution but you can be sure that if push comes to shove, the average Yoruba will stockpile food and stay indoors and 'siddon look'. He won't cross the line". To him every talk about secession is 'body language' as nobody really means it. I had thought only sadists could speak in this manner. How I wish I can speak like Obasanjo. I would have said, "Reuben need to get his head examined". The purpose of the examination would be to find out if his head was still appropriately communicating with his hand as he wrote all these junk. I think Rueben should be told that 'body language' is a non-verbal form of communication where eye contact and the use of gestures take the place of the use of words. Again his use of 'body language' is patently wrong.

>From the above twelve reasons for secession drawn from Rueben's write-up, there is no doubt that, there is something fundamentally wrong with Nigeria, which seems to have defied solution. It follows therefore that there are more reasons for the Igbo and Yoruba to want to secede from Nigeria today than were in 1966. It is the same thing that has always blinded us from learning from the past especially our past mistakes. It follows therefore that we cannot learn from our own history. The only people who can wish or pray for the survival of Nigeria as a country and as it is constituted today are the very few parasites, less than 1% of the population, who have been benefiting from the so-called unity in diversity by sucking the blood of the sufferers.

Without the fear of getting my head taken off by Rueben's prescription, let me declare again that I have never had, don't now have and will never have any faith, trust and confidence in one Nigeria as it is configured today. My reason has always been that it was a deceit and fraud right from January 1st 1914 when it came to being. If it was a British experiment, Nigeria has failed its architects. I was old enough to fight in the civil war but I refused. As a Yoruba, I was one of those who proudly wore the T-shirt "On Aburi We Stand" in 1967 because I knew the Igbo has their right to self-determination. Nothing has happened to change my mind except to reinforce my conviction that Nigeria needs a serious all round redesigning, restructuring and reconstruction.

This has been the stand of many lovers of Nigeria and Nigerians over the years. Have we been calling for war? No, far from it and God forbid. All we have been saying and are still saying is that each of the national or ethnic groups in Nigeria should find a way of coming together to decide their own individual destinies, which would decide the destiny of the whole. Simply, to convey the Sovereign National Conference. Is there anybody preaching secession as a first option? No, but some of us would opt for secession if we continue to be treated as second class citizen in our own country; as endangered people who are gradually but systematically going into extinction by the systematic decimation of our people including our leaders. Yet, every effort would be made to achieve our objective in a very peaceful atmosphere devoid of violence, bloodshed and war. The Abatis and the Obasanjos and any one for that matter should be told, No More War.

It is for this noble objective that some well meaning Nigerians have tore down ethnic walls and tribal barriers especially between the Igbo and Yoruba, the West and the East to establish the 'Faju-Ronsi Institute of Peace and Harmony'. The objectives include promoting and achieving peace and harmony between and within the peoples of the regions in particular and Nigeria in general. Promote and defend their political, economic and human rights. Ensure that our peoples have a controlling or determinate voice in all the affairs of any geographical entity called their country and never again will they or their children or future generations be treated as strangers or second class citizens in their own country. To build a solid and indestructible bridge across the Niger; and to ensure that the handshake across the Niger is a permanent feature of the socio-political and economic lives of our peoples.

It is therefore no surprise that the vexatious article of Rueben Abati drew so much negative attention and reaction from those Nigerians who do not want the blood of our heroes past shed in vain. Especially Yoruba and Igbo who have seen that it is only in our unnecessary division and infighting that we loose our rightful place in the socio-political and economic direction of not only our people but that of Nigeria as a whole. Particularly this time, they have said enough is enough, away with divide and rule. General Ironsi and Colonel Fajuyi whose bond of love, unity, loyalty, comradeship and sacrifice became inseparable even at death should be our shinning examples. These great brothers, leaders, soldiers, officers and gentlemen laid down their lives in laying a good example for us to follow. We would not let them die in vain. Members of the Faju-Ronsi Institute for Peace and Harmony in Nigeria and in Diaspora and all people of goodwill, should see the writings, actions and words of people like Rueben Abati as the ranting of an ant, which is without any distracting effect on their determined efforts to achieve peace and harmony across the regions. Rather, it should be a stimulant for success in the realization of their objectives to bring a change and make a difference. Let me say here and now that there are many Rueben Abatis all over the places and especially in our midst. The Yoruba says that if you go to the market place and focused on the noise and other detractions of the market, you might virtually not be able to buy or sell. We must avoid such side attractions that could blind our vision and mission. Rueben Abati in spite of his exalted editorial position in the Guardian Newspaper is not a threat and not even a distraction but just a rambler in the political jungle of Nigeria.
Hello! Rambler Rueben ramble on....
Arowolaju JP is co-founder of the Faju-Ronsi Institute For peace and Harmony.

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