Nigeria’s wartime Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, has given further insights into happenings that led to the Biafra war, which ended 50 years ago. According to excerpts from an exclusive interview with the former military leader and published as part of Mike Awoyinfa’s Press Clips column in Saturday Sun, Gowon said Ikemba Odumegwu Ojukwu’s excuse for avoiding initial peace meetings before the war eventually broke out was absolute nonsense.
He said, “For absenting himself from the meetings, Ojukwu tried to use insecurity as excuse. But to me, that was absolute nonsense. Even in Accra, in Aburi, there could be the question of insecurity there. Anything could have happened. If we wanted, could we have not have arranged for some deranged persons in Ghana to deal with that particular problem? That was really the question that he tried to raise. That it is insecurity. We promised him security. That all of us were there and none of us would have had any desire to hurt or harm him, or to hurt the Igbos. Because if you do anything, you are hurting the Igbos. And if you do that, then they would have had all the rights to say that if you have done this to our leader, we are not accepting anyone else, unless you produce him. At least, we are honest and honorable enough to ensure the security of everyone there, for the sake of the country.”
While dismissing insinuations of existing rivalry between him and Ojukwu, he said, “I don’t know why people keep referring to the so-called rivalry between me and Ojukwu. There was no question of rivalry between us at all. As young officers in the army, our relationship was exceptionally good. We were very friendly. The only time that anything happened was in 1964 after the election, when Zik sacked Balewa and Balewa sacked Zik. That was the time that probably you can say certain developments led me to give a warning, because there was this question of some of the senior military officers between Banjo and Ojukwu, urging the military to intervene on behalf of Zik.
“Of course, I listened to their presentations and what I thought they meant was that there should be military intervention led by us the senior officers at the time: With David Ejoor as the GSO 1, as the Senior Staff Officer, and then myself as Adjutant General of the Nigerian Army and then Ojukwu as the Quartermaster General and then Banjo as the head of the electrical and mechanical engineers. Now, four of us: Ejoor from the Midwest, myself from the North, Ojukwu from the East and Banjo from the West. So if you have four of us from the four regions of the country at the time saying that we are heading a change on behalf of Zik, and not the government, what does that mean? So, I warned, asking: “Is that what you meant? Count me out! God help anybody who starts any such nonsense.
“Afterwards, I went to see our commanding officer, a British officer and told him he should get all of us senior officers and brief us on whom our loyalty belonged. Yes, our loyalty belongs to the government. Zik is part of government and Balewa is also part of government. So when you start talking of starting something like that in favour of one particular person and not the whole government, there would be problems. So I asked the GOC to call all of us and discuss. And I can assure you that I did not mention any name. No name was mentioned but he called all the senior officers to be briefed on the correct thing to do, which he did and made contact with the Inspector General of Police Mr. R. Bovell and the Attorney General and all the legal people to be able to define what our loyalty should be. And of course, we were briefed on what our loyalty was. And so, probably that stopped the possible first coup in Nigeria. The next time it happened, it was not by the senior officers but by the majors and captains at the time.”