After a series of pogroms in which people from the former Eastern Region of Nigeria living in other parts of that country were massacred between and , the region seceded in and proclaimed an independent Republic of Biafra. A bitter war ensued as Nigeria fought to foil the secession of the oil-rich region. After three years of war and the loss of more than two million lives, the nascent republic lost its struggle for independence and was reabsorbed into Nigeria in January The leader of the republic, Oxford educated General Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu , went into exile, but later returned to Nigeria in under special pardon. In Biafra adopted one of the most progressive national constitutions in Africa at the time.
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On Friday, we served you the first part of this interview series with late defunct Biafran, Col Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu covering the first military coup in Nigeria and his battle for One Nigeria. Today, we bring you the second covering the Ahiara Declaration that gave birth to the Republic of Biafra among others.
Enjoy it! The famous Ahiara Declaration drew quite some flak from not a few quarters, in Biafra. Depending on the angle of the various spectra, from which each war-weary Biafran viewed the document and on who exactly did the critique the Ahiara Declaration was as controversial, as it was mystifying.
But then, as an Igbo saying goes, is it not when one has actually shot down a hawk and has its meat ready that one decides whether women should partake of the meal of hawk meat? How could any leader busy prosecuting a war of survival, be more concerned with who would finally own what oil well, even whilst the war still raged?
Speaking with great passion during his enunciation of the Ahiara Declaration, Ojukwu had told the enthusiastic crowd to simply call him Emeka, as he tried to illustrate to one and all that everybody was equal in the struggle. And it was out of this portion of his speech that the mother of all hilarity was finally delivered by this one interpretation of the document.
Of course, cigarettes, like food, itself, were very essential and scarce commodities in Biafra. So, sometime after the Ahiara Declaration, this audacious army recruit cornered Ojukwu at one of his numerous flying stopovers, all over Biafra. Marching up to His Excellency, H. Taken aback, completely, everyone looked in total shock, in the direction of the young soldier but unruffled, he continued, in pidgin-English:.
I beg, give me some jot. But, in reality, the document was to form a basis for a welfarist state, should Biafra win the war; one that should address the issues of equity, corruption and their likes.
As Ojukwu himself points out here, the Ahiara Declaration was, if anything at all, more welfarist, than it was socialistic…. The Ahiara Declaration, deeply rooted in socialist principles, as it were, was hugely popular amongst the masses of the people, but it was also rumoured that it was resisted by some of the top military brass. During the war, we had tremendous difficulties and it occurred to me that material deprivation was beginning to affect morale.
I decided to enunciate my own concept of what we were really fighting for and the result of that was the Ahiara Declaration, take away the propaganda first part of it… chuckles …the main bulk of the Ahiara Declaration is my thoughts.
And these thoughts were based on a number of meetings I held regularly with what was fondly called, my Kitchen Cabinet.
These were people from all walks of life that I met every Thursday and when they arrived, most informally, somebody would take the Chair and I would be just a floor-member, just like everybody else. We would discuss points, analyse and synthesise them and finally, I came up with what I considered the consensus of the aspirations of our people, in this life or death struggle.
That army officers did not accept it? That is news to me. The Ahiara Declaration, a number of people had given socialistic connotation to. I did not go out to be socialist in that declaration. No, what I did was to get a mass of ideas together and try to harmonise and evolve an ideology which would have a sustaining effect towards what we were engaged in.
Yes, there are certain aspects of it that are Pubitan socialistic. I personally feel, actually, that it is more welfarist than socialistic and I know a lot of things have been said about ideology in Nigeria. I personally do not believe you can install a socialist ideology in a society that is not yet industrial. The nearest to socialism you would find in a rural type of society — we have to admit, Nigeria is essentially rural — is a welfare state, where the government helps and does more things.
Now, about the practice in Nigeria, the problem is this: we have not yet moved into the politics of issues. We are still involved in personality politics. There is really no political party that is truly issue orientated. When issues are mentioned, they are purely cosmetic, they are essentially propaganda. But when you look deeper, you find that all political parties revolve around individual personalities; individual groups of persons and so on. I personally look forward to when we can break this vicious circle and move into issue orientated politics but for the time being, no….
I believe that it is the spectre of a tribe that blocks us. We seem to be fixated on tribal politics and this is why I look at the parties in Nigeria and I find the most evenly spread. I look at the one that contains the greatest number of various ethnic groups. I believe the answer is to strengthen that party so as to erode the walls of tribalism, because only by so eroding the walls of tribalism can we then be liberated into an issue orientated type of politics, the sort that I am really looking for.
If I remember correctly, you were once quoted as saying that the Yoruba wield bureaucratic and economic power and the Northerners, political power, while the Igbo have neither advantage. Could your joining the NPN [National Party of Nigeria] be for you to help the Igbo achieve some mileage in these areas, as well as breaking the walls of tribalism?
Breaking the walls of tribalism is vital to Nigerian progress. That is why I am going into the Senate and certainly, I want to gain an advantage for my senatorial district. I want to gain an advantage for the Igbo people. That the Yoruba have bureaucratic preeminence or predominance, this is a statement of fact; that the North, today, controls political power, again, that is a statement of fact.
But, if granted that the Igbo must participate and must participate in peace, then it becomes almost axiomatic that the Igbo must go where, and partake of the political power. Because political power is that power that has the capacity for balancing. I am very keen that the situation in Nigeria is balanced so that nobody feels rejected, nobody feels cheated.
In fact, I put it very crudely, once. I said: what type of question, what type of argument do you put to the Yoruba, to make them relinquish 40 per cent of their hold over the bureaucracy? There is no argument. But at least if you are involved with political power you can decide, as an example, to widen the bureaucracy so as to ensure certain balancing. It is very crude, but remember that what we are trying to do is to explain very, very, complicated issues to a rural population.
No, no way. I was granted amnesty and it was totally without any strings. No, I spent some time, I analysed the situation and decided what was best. But you seemed to have held a different view earlier. Nobody in exile could have imagined the degree of misgovernment that exists in both Anambra and Imo States.
I was quite shocked when I came back and in fact that I am in politics today is that I feel a certain urgency to change the situation. Errm, at the Federal level, the little I saw was Lagos and I must say I was shocked, also, at the chaos that is Lagos, today and coming into politics was, in fact, my own way of lending my hands to solving some of those problems.
But certainly, the situation of Lagos cannot do anybody proud. It is dirty; it is disorganised; it is violent. These things, nobody who really feels inside him that he is a Nigerian, can allow that to go on without getting involved, to try and find a solution.
How do you react to this? To talk about corruption, it is at a very, very, high level and it is a level that should not be tolerated. But you see corruption pervades the entire Nigerian body politic: state, federal, the lot.
I think we are begging the question, trying to blame one and leaving out the other. Nigeria is corrupt and up till now, I have not actually seen a strenuous effort from any part of Nigeria to try and limit corruption. There are many things that could be done, certainly, but they are not being done. About the level of corruption, yes, it is greater now than before. Once you start counting the figures and putting figures to the amount of corruption, yes.
But what I find is that our society, generally, has degenerated. I am convinced, also, that our inability, since independence, to make examples of those who, rightly, have been found corrupt has, in fact, aided and abetted the society. Even, I notice that nobody talks about theft anymore.
Theft is only that which you have been caught with, not the act of stealing. I find, also, that in our society, wealth is the object. This is what everybody wants.
Nobody ever asks you how you have made it. And anybody that makes a million naira in four years is a thief, pure and simple. Now, these are things that Nigerians just refuse to look at. There are many people — army officers that you know when they left school; you know their first jobs, you can, in fact, add up all their legitimate salaries. You see, I keep asking myself, are we really serious that we want to stop corruption? There are certain things so glaring. But if you allow them to go by then, of course, it means that we condone corruption in our society.
And I believe a lot can be done about it. If I have the opportunity, I would do a great deal to stop it. Now, that is a general sickness in Nigeria. People just refuse to look at corruption in the face. I agree with you. You just spoke about corruption pervading the entire society and in this regard, even if you talk about the ordinary market woman, her intention is to maximise profit, possibly kill you, if she can. Yet, these are the same masses you fight for and want to change with mere rhetorics such as this new government invention, the so-called Ethical Revolution?
Beyond rhetorics, what mechanism would your devise to change a totally corrupt populace, all the way down the line? Since my return, I have had so many other preoccupations. But when I talk about minimising corruption, in the first place, the person in the market selling tomatoes and making a profit is a trader.
That, to me, is little profit — indeed, you have mentioned it — that is not our problem in Nigeria. Our problem is, in fact, people walking away with the national treasury. And it hurts me when I see somebody going to jail for say, theft of N1,, or whatever it is, something quite small.
Ojukwu: The many shades of Ahiara declaration