Ralph Uwechue
Ralph Uwechue

By ONUOHA UKEH

Elder statesman and President-General of the pan-Igbo socio-cultural organization, Chief Raph Uwechue, has sensationally revealed, in a book, how ego and quest for absolute control by Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu ruined Biafra.

He said, in the book, Reflections on the Nigerian Civil War – Facing the Future, that Ojukwu adopted a maximum ruler posture, shunned advice as well as believed in his won judgment, factor, which he said, caused the failure of the break away of the Eastern Nigeria.

He said: “By keeping Ojukwu constantly enveloped in an atmosphere of superiority, it made him, as a matter of habit, distrustful and disdainful of other people’s judgment, impatient with their opinions and finally simply authoritarian.”

Uwechue had visited the corporate headquarters of The Sun sometime ago and while fielding questions from a team of senior editors, he spoke about pre-independence Nigeria, the politics after independence, civil war and the country after the war. He had promised to send to The Sun copies of his book: Reflections on the Nigerian Civil War – Facing the Future, a revised and expanded edition of his previous book, Reflection on the Nigerian Civil War – A Call for Realism. The book was reprinted in 2004. True to his promise, the elder statesman sent copies of the book, which turned out to be expository.

Indeed, the 199-page book told the story of the first military coup in the country, the second military coup, the crisis after the second coup, the meetings to forestall a war, the secession of the eastern part of the country and the efforts to end the war. The book also has two epilogues, where the author analysed the fall of Biafra, in the topic: The Genesis of Failure and also there is the examination of government structure, in the topic: An Elastic Federal Union.

Reading Chief Uwechue’s book, we found The Genesis of Failure very interesting and, therefore, decided to reproduce it. The chapter talked about the things, in the author’s opinion, caused the failure of the Biafra Republic. He pointedly laid the blamed on Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, who led Biafra. He said that Ojukwu lacked tact, never took advice, suffered what could pass for inferiority complex and was power drunk. In the opening paragraph of that chapter, Uwechue said: “It is a sad but instructive irony that Lt. Col Odumegwu Ojukwu, one of Africa’s one-time most brilliant political promises, was the man that led his own people with such a lack of ingenuity into what was clearly a foreseeable disaster.” He said that the personality of Ojukwu robbed off negatively on Biafra, adding: “It can be said for the Nigerian Civil War that the personality of Odumegwu Ojukwu more than any other single factor determined much of the course and certainly the character of the end of the Biafran adventure.”

The elder statesman said, in the book, that Ojukwu was ambitious and, therefore, paid attention only to the “politics of the war” instead of the security of the people he led. He said that owing to Ojukwu’s interest, two wars were fought with the territory of Biafra then: “The first was for the survival of the Ibos as a race. The second was for the survival of Ojukwu’s leadership.” He said that Ojukwu was more interested in the survival of his leadership at that time, which, he said: “Proved fatal for the Ibos” during the war.

The Ohanaeze chieftain said that if Ojukwu were smart enough to understand the politics of alliances in the country, Biafra could have survived. According to him, there was an opportunity for Ojukwu to align with the Western Region then, but he did not see the necessity for that. He said that this opportunity came when the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo was released from prison by General Yakubu Gowon and he declared: If “the Eastern Region was pushed out of the federation, Western Nigeria would quit the federation as well.” According to him, Ojukwu should have taken that declaration as a cue and wooed the Western Region.

Uwechue said that another opportunity also came the way of Ojukwu to forge an East-West alliance when Awolowo visited Enugu, as Gowon’s emissary. According to him, what Ojukwu needed was to bring Awolowo to his side, but he did not utilize the opportunity and ended up describing the meeting as “ill-conceived child.”

He had revealed: “When on 7th May 1967 the Yoruba leader (Awolowo) came to Enugu at the head of a reconciliation committee, Ojukwu had a handsome opportunity to play his card. He missed. Dr. Michael Okpara, who still enjoyed popular support in Eastern Nigeria and whose friendship with Chief Awolowo had sustained the UPGA alliances, was not even invited to meet Chief Awolowo. After a hurried reception, Chief Awolowo’s delegation left Eastern Nigeria.”

He said that Gowon, understanding the way alliances worked in the country, had wooed Western Nigeria, first by releasing Awolowo from prison and second, by not only offering him an appointment, but also making him the highest civilian in the government as the vice president of the Federal Executive Council. According to him, by this appointment, there was an “unspoken understanding that Nigeria was his (Awolowo’s) as soon as the war was over and the army withdrew.” He said that this cemented the relation between the Northern Region and Western Region and, therefore, left the east in the lurch.

Uwechue said that within Biafra, Ojukwu alienated talented Igbo, using iron hand to establish his authority. Towards this end, he said that Dr. Okpara, former premier of Eastern Nigeria, was jailed as well as others. “These political figures were to remain out of favour and far from the corridor of power, except for their occasional utility as window dressing, such as posing for photographs with General Ojukwu or flanking him on ceremonial occasions,” he wrote.

He said that the same thing happened in the army, as Ojukwu suppressed officers and, therefore, had a “timid army tamed to unquestionable obedience.”

The elder statesman said that Ojukwu had the opportunity of using the diplomatic front to sell Biafra, but that instead of doing this he shunned advice, especially on the need for compromise. He said that when the war dragged, many eminent Igbo advised Ojukwu to asked for a confederal nation, which would keep Biafra within Nigeria and also give it adequate local autonomy, but this was not only rejected but also those who suggested it were witch-hunted.

He said: “The climax came on 7th of September 1968, just before the OAU summit meeting in Algiers. A number of anxious Ibos, including Dr. Azikiwe, former president of Nigeria, Dr. Michael Okpara, former premier of Eastern Nigeria (Biafra), Dr. K. O. Dike, former rector of Ibadan University and myself made a formal recommendation in which we told General Ojukwu that as Africa was sympathetic to the Ibo cause, but at the same time opposed to secession, he should use the opportunity of the Algiers meeting to seek OAU guarantee for a confederal arrangement, such as was agreed at Aburi (Ghana). General Ojukwu not only rejected this advice outright but also asked some of us to recant or resign. Dr. Azikiwe left Paris in disgust and went to London in voluntary exile. I myself chose to resign.”

Uwechue said that Ojukwu saw himself as a supremo during the war and only trusted his own judgment. In trying to explain why this could have been so, he said: “To this special development of his ego and the feeling of self-sufficiency was added the confidence acquired from an Oxford University milieu and from the fact of his father’s great wealth. Back to Nigeria, Ojukwu soon joined the army, where, as an officer, he got more accustomed to giving orders and receiving prompt obedience than meeting opposition and arguments.” He said that Ojukwu found himself always at the “giving end” rather than at the “receiving end,” adding: “By keeping Ojukwu constantly enveloped in an atmosphere of superiority, it made him, as a matter of habit, distrustful and disdainful of other people’s judgment, impatient with their opinions and finally simply authoritarian.”

The elder statesman concluded that owing to Ojukwu’s attitude, Biafra failed. He said that the failure was mainly a “political one,” which, according to him, “was, in turn, the failure of the leadership, which firstly, made a wrong tactical choice – outright secession – instead of maneouvring appropriately for vital political alliances within Nigeria and exploiting in that context the numerous weaknesses of its opponents.” He said that by breaking out of the country, “the Biafran leadership abandoned the Nigerian field to those who had then only recently wrenched federal control from the Ironsi government, thus uniting various shades of political opinions in the country behind the new federal authorities, as had never been the case before in Nigeria’s political history, in defence of Nigerian unity.”

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Culled from:  http://sunnewsonline.com

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