If Former Head of State, Yakubu Gowon, had not breached the Aburi Accord, the 30-month Nigerian Civil War that killed the post-independence promise of national development and integration and claimed millions of lives would not have happened.
Chudi Offodile, a lawyer and two-term member of the House of Representatives, observed this in a new book, while making a retrospective scrutiny of the Nigerian Civil War, almost half a century after the outbreak of hostilities on May 30, 1967.
The Aburi Accord, which was reached between January 4 and 5, 1967 at a meeting attended by delegates of both the Federal Government of Nigeria, led by General Gowon, and the Eastern Region’s leader, Emeka Ojukwu, at a small town in Ghana, presented a last chance of avoiding an all-out war between Eastern Nigeria and the rest of Nigeria.
The Accord broke down due to differences in interpretation of its contents by both parties. The war began a few months later.
The recent publication of his 280-page book, The Politics of Biafra And The Future of Nigeria, offered Mr. Offodile a moment for the re-examination of the tragic incidents that nearly split Nigeria.
In debunking the position of some that the issue of the Nigerian State was already a settled matter, he asked:
“Settled by who? In any case, nothing is ever settled until it is settled right. Nigeria is still very much unstable and the democratic institutions remain fragile. There is need to reinforce the structures of the country through deliberate inclusiveness in order to achieve stability.”
The author, who said he was just two-and-a-half years old when the war broke out and was exactly five years and two months old when it ended, in a conversation on his book with PREMIUM TIMES observed that, “Someone once said that history is always current because it always manages to repeat itself. It is never too late to discuss historical matters”.
He singled out a specific episode that could have altered the course of Nigeria’s history:
“In the case of the Aburi agreement, I am of the view that it was the breach of this agreement voluntarily entered into in Ghana that led to the war.
The terms of the agreement were clear and unambiguous. No one disputes the original terms. But once General Gowon returned to Lagos, the so-called super bureaucrats, composed mainly of ethnic minorities in the north and south of Nigeria, persuaded him to jettison the agreement.
That was not really a problem, and let me even concede for a moment that they had genuine reasons and even good intentions for all.
“The problem was that they UNILATERALLY altered it. To suggest therefore that General Ojukwu should have accepted the unilateral alteration, even if it offered the East 95 percent of the original agreement, as argued by Chief Phillip Asiodu, is at the root of the lack of honour and integrity in the conduct of national affairs.
As I pointed out in the book, honour and integrity cannot be measured in percentages.”
Recalling the sequence of missteps be believed triggered the war, Mr. Offodile regretted that some officials, acting on behalf of the Federal Government, circumvented the implementation of an important provision of the accord and plunged Nigeria into a bloody conflict.
“The second point about the Aburi agreement, which may be even more important than the first, is that both sides agreed that the constitutional conference which was ongoing before the counter coup that brought Gowon into power should continue and draft a new constitution for Nigeria.
The decision by Gowon to dissolve that conference and then unilaterally set up a ‘political committee’ to advise him on the creation of between 12 and 14 states exposed clearly the real motives for the breach of the agreement.
The constitutional conference had the mandate to draft a new constitution and a timetable for the return to civil rule.
“Gowon and the new power elite in Lagos wanted to elongate their hold on power, and state creation was the bait. Yet, they successfully branded Ojukwu as the ambitious one, despite clear evidence to the contrary.
This is one of those strange paradoxes of history. How can one who wanted a new constitution drafted and a return to civil rule be accused of provoking a war because of his ambition?
Ojukwu had his own faults but they manifested in Biafra but not before it. It was the breach of Aburi that led to the war and nothing else.”
Mr. Offodile, who was elected into Nigeria’s Federal House of Representatives in May 1999 for Awka North/South federal constituency of Anambra State and served as Chairman, Special Committee on Joint Venture Oil Operations between 2001-2003, and, Chairman, Public Petitions Committee between 2003 and 2005, disclosed further that the recurring disregard for the will of the people arising from arbitrary breaches of agreements and the law resulted in Nigeria’s experience of prolonged military rule that has distorted Nigeria’s federal structure.
“Let me finally point out that this same matter of whether the people or the government should work out the structure of their government was again an issue in 1970 when the instrument of surrender was being negotiated after the fall of Biafra.
“The Biafran Chief Justice, Late Sir Louis Mbanefo, insisted on inserting clause ‘C’ of the surrender instrument, which after accepting the EXISTING ADMINISTRATIVE AND POLITICAL STRUCTURES [12 States], says that any future constitutional arrangement will be worked out by the representatives of the Nigerian people.
Six years later, in 1976, General Murtala Mohammed and General Olusegu Obasanjo unilaterally increased the number of states to 19. General Babangida added his, and General Abacha brought the number to 36.”
He advised that in view of the prevailing turmoil in the land, there should be an end to the arbitrary use of state power.
He noted that in order to foster a sense of national belonging, Nigerian citizens need to agree on the terms of being together.
“This raises issues of jurisprudence and, of course, the compelling argument that the new states arbitrarily created have been accepted by the people by electing representatives in those states under the existing constitution over the years,”
Mr. Offodile said. “Equally compelling, is the concern, in view of existing tensions in the land, of the sustainability of the arbitrary exercise of state power. There is the need to have Nigerians agree to the terms of our union. It will infuse the citizenry with the missing dose of patriotism.”
Addressing the revival of the Biafran idea in the emergence of MASSOB (Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra) and IPOB (Indigenous People of Biafra), he blamed it on the non-inclusive exercise of state power by successive governments at the centre.
“Uwazurike formed MASSOB in 1999, I believe, in response to the mood of the Igbo nation after Dr. Alex Ekwueme lost his presidential bid. It is there in Wikipedia,” the author said.
“The struggle has gone beyond Uwazurike. There are several other groups but Nnamdi Kanu has emerged as a charismatic leader and captured the imagination of not a few of the Igbo people. They have a strong following and should be engaged.”
The author, whose father, Chris Offodile, now late, was the first Nigerian Editor of the Hansard (the official parliamentary reports of the Federal House of Representatives) and the author of a biography on Dr. M.I. Okpara, former Premier of Eastern region, also expressed serious concern about what he said was the unsatisfactory performance of some of the past governments in the South East of Nigeria.
He praised Ukpabi Asika’s post war administration (1970-1975) as the golden era of governance in the region, that now comprises five of the 36 states in the federation – Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, Imo. He suggested that one of the most effective ways to alter this dismal picture of non-performance by state governments was through devolution of powers to the states.
“I am persuaded that a change in the structure of the federation will make for better performance by the component units but even with the present arrangement, we could have done better but I leave that for the citizens of the respective states to make their own assessment.”
On the planned national census for which almost N300 billion has been proposed, the author suggested that the controversies that dogged past national census exercises would be of little consequence when Nigeria is restructured.
“Census is good for planning purposes. It is politicised in Nigeria because of the kind of system we operate. Money accrues generally into the federation account and all the states share from it every month…
These things will not be so important if a proper federal arrangement is worked out.”
Projecting into the future of Nigeria in global terms and condemning what he called Nigeria’s descent into a dysfunctional “Unitary-Federalism”, Mr. Offodile, whose book was publicly presented at an elaborate event at the Yar’ Adua Centre in Abuja also lent his voice to the calls for the restructuring of the federation.
“The future of Nigeria depends to a large extent on how the calls for restructuring are handled,” he said. “Those who insist on the status quo keep on attacking the patriotism of those who call for a review of the existing structure, instead of giving reasons for the continuance of what has clearly failed. In the end, it is what it is – a contest of ideas.
“I stand firmly on the side of those who insist that the present consumption structure must give way to a competitive structure, no matter how configured. A lot of Nigerians have become global citizens, living and competing all over the world.
The government of their home country should modernise and embrace global best practices in line with the aspirations of several thousands of its people playing on the world stage. That would help lift millions of others out of poverty.