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Abati's Revisionisms and Distortions of
By OBI NWAKANMA
Special to USAfrica The Newspaper, Houston
USAfricaonline.com and CLASS magazine and The Black Business Journal
December 31, 2001: In a two-part essay titled "Obasanjo, Secession and the Secessionists" Reuben Abati (in picture, right) took us through the whorl of his own version of modern Nigerian history. His narration in The Guardian (Lagos) dated December 16 and 23 2001, was replete with too many untruths and distortions. I wish to draw attention to the numerous ahistoricalities and outright falsehoods prevalent in Reuben Abati's two-part exhortation -which ended up being a threat to Ndí Igbo. Abati knows, although he deliberately refuses to acknowledge this fact, that the Igbo people have suffered the burden of Nigerian history in a proportion that makes it legitimate for all conscious Igbo to rethink their relationship with Nigeria.
The Igbo have suffered victimization in public policies; they have suffered a terrible form of apartheid in post-war Nigeria in terms of employment, in terms of education, in terms of investments, and in terms of political representation; to the point that the exclusion of the Igbo from the public sphere is the beginning of orthodox wisdom in Nigeria.
The Igbos have also suffered ethnic violence disproportionately around Nigeria, and it is now taken for granted that the Federal government of Nigeria cannot protect the Igbo anywhere in Nigeria. As for Abati and what referred to as the Igbos not being able to deal 'with their new pre-eminence' they even had a song, Celestine Ukwu's 'Ewu Ne Ba Akwa' (meaning 'Goats Are Crying') with which they taunted the Northerners", to quote Abati , I must say that nothing can be further from the truth. First, is that 'Ewu N'ebe Akwa' was not Celestine Ukwu's song, it was Cardinal Jim Rex Lawson's, an Ijaw man, one of the finest Nigerian musicians of 20th century, which had been released to popular appeal as far back as 1964; that's long before the coup! To denote a triumphalist strain in that song is to generally justify the massacre of the Igbo as Reuben Abati has done, because, as he apparently grew up to "learn" and became indoctrinated. Today, he spews forth such lies that the Igbos are the demons of Nigerian history. Abati's essay and views on Igbos, essentially, constitute a form of puerile animadversion.
Abati knows, although he deliberately refuses to acknowledge this fact, that the Igbo people have suffered the burden of Nigerian history in a proportion that makes it legitimate for all conscious Igbo to rethink their relationship with Nigeria. The Igbo have suffered victimization in public policies; they have suffered a terrible form of apartheid in post-war Nigeria in terms of employment, in terms of education, in terms of investments, and in terms of political representation; to the point that the exclusion of the Igbo from the public sphere is the beginning of orthodox wisdom in Nigeria. The Igbos have also suffered ethnic violence disproportionately around Nigeria, and it is now taken for granted that the Federal government of Nigeria cannot protect the Igbo anywhere in Nigeria.
Very often, when the Igbo and their leaders make known their grief publicly, the response from the rest of Nigeria has always been very familiar: it resonates in the kind of ministerial idiocy that a Dupe Adelaja could muster, or in the imponderable hagiography that is immediately inscribed in Abati 's essay. It is often a form of puerile animadversion.
The latest form of these kinds of response was recently directed at the Head of state of the former Republic of Biafra, Gen. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu,, whose warning to retired Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo was simply to girdle up. Ojukwu took a close look at Nigerian history and uttered the obvious: if the current caretakers of this sad entity called Nigeria do not accede to the Igbo quest for equity within the federation of Nigeria, the Igbos would once again seek secession. Rather than taking a disinterested look at the general ineptitude of the Obasanjo administration, Reuben Abati sallied forth, his breath hot with aporetic fallacies, as he descended on the Igbo.
It is true that the Igbo have become the mule that anybody who could muster enough attitude kicks, just to make a point of it. But I suggest that Reuben Abati should look a bit more carefully and see, that Ojukwu in fact may not be making an empty threat. Recent events indicate that Nigeria has willingly stepped into the Blakean cycle of Orc: the seasons have turned full circle. History is, once again, being enacted on the same scale that authored our original eruption.
My worry however is that Abati has evinced a clear propensity to evacuate history or has simply chosen to ignore its solemn truths. Nothing can be more horrendous than a deliberate effacement of the facts of history - especially the whole history of a particular people. As an act, it equals intellectual genocide. Abati's take on Ojukwu very deliberately distorts Igbo history. But it points to a clear problem: other Nigerians have been nurtured in their hatred and suspicion of the Igbo around the lies that have often been spouted from the intellectual perch, by people, so many of whom are ignorant of Nigerian history even down to its more elementary detail.
Abati for instance took his first degree from the University of Calabar and a doctorate from the University of Ibadan. He is a leading commentator on public issues in the Nigerian media. Only two possible interpretations can explain his treatment of historical verities in his essay - one is that he certainly does not have his facts in which case he succumbs to damaging inaccuracies, or the second is that he may be just too reckless with truth, with the intent of mischief. Both in my mind have consequences that utterly frame the significance of his place in the Nigerian media.
First is that Colonel Nwobosi may have led the operations in Ibadan on January 15, 1966 but he did not kill Akintola. Another fact is that the carpet-crossing episode in the western house took place in 1951-52, not in 1964. But more to the core issues he raised: there are more facts out there now to show that the so-called 'Igbo Coup' was by no means an Igbo coup, not if one of its objectives was to install Obafemi Awolowo as president. I would refer Abati to Ifeajuna's unpublished manuscripts, but in the Oputa commission, Colonel Ben Gbulie made that fact very clear.
In actual fact, if the truth must be told, the government that was overthrown in January 1966 was the government of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. Given the Republican Constitution of 1963, which made Nnamdi Azikiwe President of the Republic and commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces, the authority that was usurped was the authority of the state as it devolved around the person of the Commander-in-chief of the Republic. In other words, only the President could reconvene parliament and appoint the Head of government. Once that authority was ceded, Nigeria went on break.
It must be an act of supreme patriotism and idealism for Igbo officers to overthrow the government ran by their kinsmen in order to install Awolowo. It is an act that deserves more than the backhanded analysis that Abati makes of it. Besides, the January 15, 1966 was certainly a coup executed by mostly Igbo officers as Abati but I do not think that names like Ademoyega and Oyewole are Igbo names. In the North, such officers like Atom Kpera and the late Anthony Ochefu, among others crop up as participating in the Nzeogwu operations.
It is one of the greatest fallacies of Nigerian history that Ironsi "surrounded himself with his Igbo kinsmen." This again, in Abati's article rekindles one of those unique ways in which the Igbo dog was called a bad name, in order to hang it. Let us start with Ironsi's supreme military council:
General Aguiyi-Ironsi Ironsi -Head of state.
Brig. Babafemi Ogundipe (Chief of Staff, Armed Forces)
Lt. Colonel Yakubu Gowon (Chief of Army staff)
Commodore J.E.A Wey (Chief of Naval Staff)
Lt. Colonel George Kurubo (Chief of Air Staff)
Lt. Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu (Gov. East)
Lt. Colonel David Ejoor (Gov. Mid-west)
Lt. Colonel Hassan Kastina (Gov. North)
Lt. Colonel Adekunle Fajuyi
From the above its is clear that only Ojukwu and Ironsi were the two Igbo in Ironsi's SMC. The other Easterner was George Kurubo, an Ijaw. The west had Ogundipe, Fajuyi and Wey. While the North had Kastina and Gowon. The minorities had two: Kurubo and Ejoor. This was the highest law making body of the land and it had only two Igbos out of nine. Of the twenty one permanent secretaries who worked with Ironsi, there were only three were from the East (Tim Eneli, S.S Waniko and B.N Okagbue), one of whom was an Eastern minority. Philip Asiodu (Mid-west) was the only other Igbo. So of the twenty-one federal permanent secretaries that Ironsi appointed only three were actually Igbo. Five from the North and Four from the West. I do not want to extend this further. Ironside, Chuks Iloegbunam's important biography of Ironsi gives close details of the Ironsi years.
But it questions Abati's assertion that Ironsi surrounded himself with his Igbo kinsmen, including the headstrong Francis Nwokedi. In case Abati does not know, Nwokedi was the highest ranked Nigerian civil servant appointed by the British, long before Nigerian independence. He was a sort of 'fair-haired boy' for the Brits. But more importantly was that he had already retired as Permanent Secretary for Labour, where among his other numerous accomplishments was that he established the National Provident Fund. He had been seconded to the UN, and like Simeon Adebo was one of those whom Ironsi invited to help stabilize Nigeria. It is patently false to dress those men in the garb that Abati has done. One of the greatest challenges before the Nigerian administration today is that it must release the classified transcripts of the SMC meetings held under Ironsi and the truth will be further revealed.
As for the Abati and what referred to as the Igbos not being able to deal 'with their new pre-eminence' they even had a song, Celestine Ukwu's 'Ewu Ne Ba Akwa' (meaning 'Goats Are Crying') with which they taunted the Northerners", to quote Abati , I must say that nothing can be further from the truth. First, is that 'Ewu N'ebe Akwa' was not Celestine Ukwu's song, it was Cardinal Jim Rex Lawson's, an Ijaw man, one of the finest Nigerian musicians of 20th century, which had been released to popular appeal as far back as 1964; that's long before the coup!
To denote a triumphalist strain in that song is to generally justify the massacre of the Igbo as Reuben Abati has done, because, as he apparently grew up to "learn" and indoctrinated and spews forth these days, the Igbos are the demons of Nigerian history. Abati's consistent distortion of the history of that event resonates even in his conclusion that Ojukwu 'fled' to the east with the July 29, 1966 coup.
The truth is truly different: Ojukwu simply prevented the coup from succeeding in the East. He was governor of the Eastern region. The Northern coupists had murdered General Ironsi and Lt. Colonel Fajuyi in Ibadan, secured Lagos with the help of the British and carried out a systematic pogrom of Igbo officers in the Army. But Ojukwu held firmly to his command in Enugu.
His face-off with Gowon was on the principle that since General Ironsi was dead, the next officer to take command of the Armed forces was Brigadier Ogundipe. Ojukwu, like any well-trained professional soldier refused to cede his command to mutineers, and remains the only Nigerian officer who has refused to serve under his junior. Besides, when the genocide against the Igbo and other Easterners in the rest of Nigeria ensued, he secured the East as haven for them, and led them valiantly to a defence of their humanity and their rights to live. That was the real story of Igbo resistance.
Adaka Boro was not any idealist: he was given money by the NPC government of Tafawa Balewa in 1966 to subvert the government of the Eastern Region under Okpara. The ploy was to instigate a condition of anomie, which would necessitate the federal government declaring a state of emergency in the East. He too is one of the great products of the utter revisionism which has generally been the hallmark of modern Nigerian history.
I just want Abati and his group to understand, that there is no amount of alteration that would change certain basic facts of Nigerian history. The one truth Abati cannot change no matter how much he distorts the facts on the pages of The Guardian or elsewhere is that the Hausa-Fulani North alone did not fight the Igbo. The Yoruba west was always complicit in the political oppression of the Igbo, and especially since the end of the war has been in the alliance that justifies its deeds by distorting the true story of the events that led to war. The laws that have been written to subvert Igbo ascension had always come from the willing pen of the Yoruba, and fortified by the fear and hatred of the North and the suspicion of the rest of Nigeria against this group. But the truth is, the Igbo is a unique race of survivors and high-achievers.
The rest of Nigeria may fight it, clobber it, and even levy war
against it, but its fate is determined: God has kept the Igbo to lead
the Black races of the world. Those who hold the Igbo on the ground
are simply wrestling with their chi.
Nwakanma, poet, journalist and former visiting scholar at one of the pre-eminent universities in Nigeria, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, is currently a visiting scholar at The Meeting School, Rindge, New Hampshire,USA, where he teaches Literature, Creative Writing and Journalism. This winner of the Association of Nigerian Authors Cadbury Poetry Prize in 1996, is at an advanced stage in the writing of 'The Stifled Sneeze', a biography of the late poet Christopher Okigbo who died during the 1967-1970 Nigeria-Biafra war. He is a contributing editor of USAfricaonline.com, CLASSmagazine and USAfrica The Newspaper. This commentary for USAfricaonline.com and USAfrica The Newspaper is copyrighted and archiving on any other web site or newspaper is unauthorized except with a written approval by USAfricaonline.com Founder.
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SPORTS: Tiger Woods makes more history with another golf Masters win. He shot 12-under-par 276 and a final round 71 at Georgia's Augusta National Golf Club event and collected $1,008,000, on Sunday April 14, 2002. With it, the world's golf phenom added another green jacket to his array of championships and titles, placing him, in this instance, in the same respected Masters' league as Nicklaus (winner 1965 and 1966) and Nick Faldo (1989 and 1990). The three are the only men to win back-to-back Masters. At 26, Woods has since become the youngest golfer to win his seventh professional major championship. He was joined by his parents and his 22 year-old Swedish model girlfriend, Elin Nordegren.
Impeachment process shows Nigerian democracy "is alive... being tested." Nigeria's president retired Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo has said that the impeachment process shows that "democracy is alive, is being tested, and being tried.... What they (the legislators) have tried to do in the democratic way, which is not easy, would probably have been done by taking arms or by -- with bullets. So, but with democracy, of course, some people feel that this is the way this should be, and then I have an opportunity to defend myself. There is discussion. There is dialogue. There is a decision. There is fairness." He made these comments when he appeared on Tuesday September 17, 2002 on CNN International to discuss the issues of impeachment facing him, the allegations of corruption, abuse of the constitution and deployment of soldiers ina civilian environment which led to the "massacre of civilians" in Odi (Bayelsa) and Zaki Biam (Benue). On the charges by international human rights organizations and Nigerian media that his government has been involved in actions which have led to the deaths of thousands of Nigerians, the retired General gave a surprising answer. He was asked that "as many as 10,000 people, it's being reported, have been killed in Nigeria (in) communal rivalries, and the number is believed to be increasing. And people are saying that although President Obasanjo has done a lot of good for Nigeria, you're accused of not -- accused of failing to halt that spiraling violence."
Obasanjo: Let me say this to you, when you put the question of 10,000 -- 10,000 people dying in Nigeria, of course, for a population of over 120 million people...." But USAfricaonline.com Founder and recipient of the Journalism Excellence award (1997), Chido Nwangwu, who appeared on the same program as as a CNN International analyst (Africa) pointed out that "when (President Obasanjo) answered that in a country of 100 million that 10,000 people are said to have died, as if that was a small number, that in itself reflects a disconnect with the concerns of Nigerians. The second one is that when the risk is civil disagreement, the police are required to intervene in the country. And the deployment of the armed forces of Nigeria requires at least some consultation, however modest, with the parliament." Nwangwu, former member of the editorial board of Nigeria's Daily Times continued that "the third factor that is equally important to underscore is that the armed forces of Nigeria moved in for a punitive action rather than just containing a civil disagreement." He noted in USAfricaonline.com backgrounder "it was revealing and interesting interesting discussing Nigeria's issues with its leader - under the current circumstances of an increasingly out-of-schedule elections and the gathering storm of an impeachment process by a majority of the members of the National Assembly, predominantly by Obasanjo's party members." See rush transcript of the CNN International news program.
Why Colin Powell brings gravitas, credibility and star power to Bush presidency.
Steve Jobs and Apple represent the future of digital living. By Chido Nwangwu
The coup in Cote d'Ivoire and its implications for democracy in Africa. By Chido Nwangwu
(Related commentary) Coup in Cote d'Ivoire has been in the waiting. By Tom Kamara