Gowon Must Speak Up About Civil War: Moghalu

Yakubu Gowon

Former presidential candidate of the Young Progressives Party, YPP, Kingsley Moghalu, has asked Nigeria’s former head of state, General Yakubu Gowon, to speak up about the genocide and other atrocities committed against the Igbo people during the civil war.

Speaking at the second memorial lecture of Dim Odemegwu Ojukwu on Monday, Moghalu said Gowon still had the opportunity to do so.

Moghalu while delivering the keynote speech on the theme ‘Ndigbo in the Contemporary Nigeria Politics: problems, prospects and way forward’, said that Gowon, as superintendent of the war, had long overstayed without making comments about his regrets or handicaps of the war.

He further describes Ojukwu shouldn’t be blamed for the war because he only answered the call to duty.


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He said: “Clearly, those who blame Ojukwu for the effort by Igbos, under his leadership, to break away from Nigeria at that particular time and in the prevailing circumstances, are those who thrive in self-serving historical narratives. The reality of the time was that owing to an unfortunate set of circumstances, the security of the lives and property of Igbos in Nigeria could no longer be guaranteed. Ojukwu simply answered the call of duty.

“He rose to the occasion as a result of the weight and burden of historical responsibility upon his soldiers. The real and relevant question, looking back now, is: could the war have ended earlier in a negotiated settlement rather than the military collapse of Biafra and the short-lived republic’s ultimate surrender?

“At any event, we must recognize that President Shehu Shagari’s noble decision to officially pardon Ojukwu — even if there were clear domestic political calculations embedded in it — and the former Biafran leader’s return to Nigeria in 1982, 12 years after the civil war ended, was one of the most remarkable attempts at nation-building in Nigeria.

“The narrative that the January 1966 coup was an “lgbo” coup has largely framed the Igbo in contemporary Nigerian politics, in particular, the relations between the Igbo in the Southeast and Northern Nigeria. I believe the January 1966 coup was, looking back, a big mistake, but not because it was an “lgbo” coup, because, from the historical accounts, it was not conceived as such.

“It was a strictly military affair, within the armed forces, and its planners and participants included several non-Igbo military personnel. There was no known, concerted group ethnic Igbo effort in its planning even inside the military, let alone outside the armed forces.

“Indeed, indications from some historians are that the main purpose of the coup was to release Chief Obafemi Awolowo from prison, where he was serving his sentence after conviction on treasonable felony, and install him as Prime Minister. A whole ethnic group cannot bear the responsibility for the actions of a few individual members of it, just as, for example, all Fulani in Nigeria today cannot bear responsibility for the criminal and terrorist acts of herdsmen who may happen to be Fulani.”

In any case, the Nzeogwu coup was frustrated and defeated by military officers of Igbo origin such as Gen. Thomas Aguiyi-lronsi and Col Emeka Ojukwu, although the genie was already out the bottle. The lopsidedness of the execution of the Nzeogwu-led coup, in terms of high-level casualties, cannot also be glossed over.

Understandably painful as it was, however, we have to tell ourselves the truth that the reactions to it, which continue to this day, have been extremely disproportionate. The January 1966 coup was a mistake (just as the July 29 coup was a second historical error, and two wrongs don’t make a right) because it was deeply naïve and was unnecessary. The civilian politicians of the time would ultimately have resolved the political crisis in the country if there had been no military intervention.

“If the frustration was about the corruption of the politicians of the time, well, Nzeogwu would turn in his grave if were alive today, and would doubtless have concluded that he made a big mistake, for the corruption then was a kindergarten class compared to what obtains in Nigeria today!

“But we need to heal, forgive collectively and move on as a country. Difficult as it might be, the Igbo should not remain permanently bitter about the loss of the lives of our loved ones. If we remain permanently bitter, we can’t heal. And if we can’t heal, we can’t compete effectively in the political terrain in Nigeria.

“But, realistically, the burden is far less on the Igbo who were the main victims of the tragedies of war but nevertheless have largely integrated back into Nigeria since the war, except, I would argue, in the political terrain, then it is on non-Igbo Nigerians who continue to resent the Igbo based on distorted historical narratives.

“I believe that the class of today’s military generals who fought to keep Nigeria one, and who later emerged as military-political leaders, bears an even heavier burden of history to close this horrible chapter by putting it in its proper and more accurate perspective.

“Among this class, Gen. Gowon as Commander in Chief and Head of State during the civil war is uniquely placed to speak directly about the war, acknowledge the pain of the loss of millions of lives, and express regret for the loss of so many lives. It is a tragic failure of nation-building that Nigeria’s Federal Government sends official delegations to the annual commemoration of the Rwandan genocide, but refuses to confront and address our own history of conflict and the millions who died in its wake. And so, bitter memories fester. We have difficulty in moving on because no one wants to address the pain directly.”



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