By Ori Martins
July 2 (Newshour.com.ng) – It is indeed very senseless that a journalist, writer and public affairs analyst in the standing of Lasisi Olagunju, would, for whatever reason, launch such a primitive, primordial and disparaging attack on the Igbo as he did about two weeks ago.
Discussing on the possible reasons Biafra was crushed even quoting a colonial era columnist who also functioned in decolonized Nigeria who he identified as Abiodun Alaoba and who wrote with the pseudonym Ebenezer Williams, Olagunju lampooned the Igbo thus: “The Ibo (now Igbo) are too mechanical in a technology world. They are too bookish., they are too much of a crowd, jumping just where the leader had jumped”. This was reported three months after the civil war. Nothing could have been more insulting.
With the above conclusion, Lasisi Olagunju demonstrated his crass ignorance on the multiple feats and noble accomplishments attained by Ndigbo during the intractable civil war. It is most imperative to note that notable foreign and local commentators recorded Igbo’s ingenuity especially in the areas of invention and production, during the unfortunate war episode.
John de St Jorre, a French British journalist, in his epic work, The Nigerian Civil War, acknowledged Ndigbo’s extraordinary achievements during the war (pages 125 – 130). In his account, Frederick Forsyth, a BBC Africa correspondent, captured it succinctly in his illuminating book., The Making of an African Legend: The Biafra Story. Between pages 114 and 115, Forsyth stated the captivating gallantry, industry and never say die spirit of the Igbo.
Yet, Olagunju, a renowned columnist and one with thriving historical background, overlooked all these landmark greatness, to describe Ndigbo as being “too mechanical in a technology world”. What a senselessness.
To remarkably underscore Biafra’s heroism during the war, Arthur Nwankwo’s narration is essential herein. “The discoveries of the Research and Production Unit, RAP, were put in effective use in the military field. Homemade rockets, weapons and armoured vehicles were used. Biafran army engineers began to be an effective unit.
“The Ojukwu Bucket made its catastrophic appearance…This period in Biafra’s history can be called Biafra’s fininest hour. For it bore evidence of what Biafra had come to mean to Biafrans: dedicated, purposeful government., patriotic, resourceful and hard working citizenry. The promise of the first technologically advanced black nation…
“Ingenious improvisation were made for scarce commodities. Coconut milk proved as good as any brake fluid. A mixture of diesel and grease served as engine oil. Worn out engine parts were remoulded and made fit for use again. Motor mechanics built new engines from scraps… The Biafran war was now not only a war of survival but also a revolution” – Nigeria: The Challenges of Biafra, pages 35 to 37.
Just to ridicule Ndigbo, Olagunju tried unsuccessfully to paint them, as he derogatorily put it “Igbo is the witch”. He gave instances to ascertain that Ndigbo are ingrates even as they lack respect and hardly accommodate the other ethnic nationalities.
Probably, Olagunju’s most unguided charge against Ndigbo was when he described them as their own worst enemies, insisting, as he compared them with his Yoruba nation and inferred that his people could never go against one another. It was outrageous.
First, the late General Aguiyi Ironsi, was the only Igbo to have held executive position as he was the head of state in 1966. To douse the allegation of Igbo being tribally minded as Olagunju claimed, here is Ironsi’s composition of government.
His Supreme Military Council, SMC, had nine members to wit: Ironsi, head of state – East., Chief of staff, armed forces, Brigadier Babafemi Ogundipe, West., chief of army staff, Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon, North., head of the navy, Commodore J.E.A. Wey, West., head of the air force, Lt Col George Kurubo, East but non Igbo., East military governor, Lt Col Emeka Ojukwu, Igbo., West military governor, Lt Col Adekunke Fajuyi, Yoruba., Mid West military governor, Lt Col David Ejoor, Urhobo., North military governor, Lt Col Hasan Katarina, North. It shows Ironsi as man with firness, equity and justice – out of the nine, only himself and Ojukwu were Igbo.
Again, Ironsi’s army ADC, Sani Bello, was not Igbo. His private secretary, Hamzat Ahmadu who later became the Walin Sokoto, was a relation of the late Saduana of Sokoto, Alhaji Ahmed Bello. As a matter of fact, of his four ADCs, only one, Nwankwo, from today’s Ebonyi State, was Igbo.
And, of 21 permanent secretaries that served in Ironsi’s regime, only two, S.N. Okagbue and TCM Eneli were Igbo. Ironsi promoted about 60 army officers to various ranks and only seven were Igbo.
Quite interestingly, Ironsi, to demonstrate his avowed disposition to the One Nigeria concept as coined by fellow Igbo, the Great Zik, and as promoted and encouraged by Ndigbo, on April 19, 1966, appointed four Nigerians to critical and sensitive top federal government positions. They were: Alhaji Sule Katugum as the chairman of the Public Service Commission of the Federation., Howson Wright, chairman, Nigeria Railway Corporation., A I. Obiyan, chairman, Nigerian Ports Authority., H.O. Omenai, chairman, Nigeria Airways.
The erudite journalist, renowned author and commentator, Chuks Iloegbunam, said, “None of them came from the East. None was Igbo. No other Nigerian head of state or president has equalled this record of fairness and balance in the distribution of public appointments”. (Ironsi: Nigeria, The Army, Power and Politics, page 92).
Shockingly, Ironsi is more remembered today for the ill fated Decree 34 that made Nigeria a unitary state and of which account he was brutally assassinated.
As it was, Michael Okpara was the premier, Eastern Region in the First Republic that had present day Bayelsa, Rivers, Cross River and Akwa Ibom states as its integral parts. He too had a sense of fairness and equity plus balance while he called the shots in Enugu. He was Igbo and there were Eastern Minorities.
Thus, Okpara set up the elegant farm estates known as Colaro Etate and Qua Falls Estate in the old Cross River State. He rebuilt the Nkalagu Cement Factory at Emene in Rivers State. Visionary and enterprising, Okpara also built the Asbestos Cement Factory, the Nigersteel Factory and Nugetgas Factory, all at Emene, Rivers State.
One of the biggest projects of the Okpara administration was the Trans Amadi Industrial Layout in Port Harcourt established at the cost of three million pounds. He set up the Michelin Factory, the Glass Factory in Port Harcourt as well as the Cement Factory in Calabar.
Okpara put in place the gigantic Hotel Presidential, Port Harcourt and established the now popular Obudu Cattle Ranch in Cross River State. He equally started the Port Harcourt – Mbiama – Yenegoa Road before the January 15, 1966 coup caught up with it.
In appointments, Opkara appointed his able deputy, Chief I .U. Akpabio, minister of education of Eastern Region – he was the father of Godswill Akpabio, the serving president of Nigeria’s senate. On the other hand, he also brought Dr S. E Imoke to the government and was working towards handing over to him ahead of Akpabio because he was younger. S.E. was the father of the former governor of Cross River State, L.Imoke.
Go to Bayelsa to Cross River and Akwa Ibom states, what you hear is, Ironsi never did anything for them!
Taken together, wherein lies Lasisi Olagunju’s thunderous accusations against the Igbo as being tribally inclined and lacking in fairness and equity against other ethnic nationalities in Nigeria? Olagunju only went on an insult spree against Ndigbo on account of unsubstantiated claims and charges.
In the next article we shall dismantle, with facts, Olagunju’s biles against Ndigbo as being thier worst enemies, while pouring his enterprising Yoruba people encomiums for ever being “united” and accommodating Yoruba in Kwara and Kogi states.