By Agha Egwu
Whether Nnamdi Kanu is the best person to lead us or not, it is VERY, VERY uncharitable for any Igbo person not to acknowledge his achievements to date, appreciate and say thank you.
I get rather annoyed when I see Igbos insulting Kanu. And I ask can you not see that his cause is right? Can you not see his sacrifices and successes. Why focus on only his limitations?
Even if Kanu’s achievement was only awakening Igbos to the depth of political disregard that they have suffered in Nigeria, it is a huge achievement. But then Igbos have been so successful in commerce that they have captured all retail markets in Nigeria leading to a universal outpouring of hatred by indigenous traders. The same as the Jew experienced in Europe.
But then Kanu built global freedom fighting IPOB, a global radio station and TV and millions of highly motivated shock troops for Biafran Independence.
On the other hand, Kanu has done some pretty silly stuff. It takes huge naivety to allow yourself to be captured a second time. He has on occasion deviated from his freedom fighting to give weird advice about Coronavirus, 5G networks and vaccinations. He has made many broken promises like signed, sealed and delivered to call off the election boycott. He has also directed unnecessary and ill-informed hatred against Zik in the rank and file of IPOB youth. Yet Kanu’s achievements are supremely more important than his inconvenient idiosyncrasies.
This is exactly how I feel about IPOB people when they are criticising the Great Zik – the greatest achieving Igbo son that we should all be proud of. Yet IPOB treats him with such disrespect and disdain. Do they ask silly questions like what did he achieve?
Such questions can leave you dumbfounded with the sheer ignorance and idiocy of it. Who is responsible for Igbos spreading all over Nigeria and dominating every market? This began with the Igbo Unions of the 1940s and 1950s driven by Nnamdi Azikiwe. Who developed African Continental Bank that provided money to Igbos? Who started Onitsha Main Market that is daily churning out Igbo millionaires through the unique and Jewish Igbo apprenticeship system? Who built the University of Nigeria Nsukka that have trained generations of Igbos? Who started the University of Ibadan and the University of Lagos with Igbo Vice-Chancellors? Who established a chain of Newspapers, such as the West African Pilot, that unleashed Nigeria Independence? Who, with his pen, lit the fire of Black liberation from colonialism from the white man?
The answer to all these questions is Nnamdi Azikiwe. He fought for the Black man and Africa on a large scale, but he also fought for the Igbos at the ethical level with movements such as the Igbo union. Zik was the greatest politician of his time; the greatest African Statesman; the greatest businessman, even more than Ojukwu’s father, in the spread and variety of his business acumen – Publishing, Real Estate, Banking, Education, Agriculture, etc plus investments and a foundation member in many great companies like UAC.
Zik stowed away on a ship to go to America to study. He was caught sent back then went again. He worked to pay his way through College and University and ended up with multiple degrees, masters and PhD. How did he do it so early, at such a young age?
A lot of Igbo Youth condemns Zik as a saboteur, as being pre-occupied with Africa rather than his fellow Igbos – which is not true from the examples I gave above of the Igbo Union. Why did Igbos dominate every facet of Nigeria before the war – the markets, education, the civil service, political liberation. It was Zik that led Igbos to achieve so much until the coup of 1966 destroyed everything and wiped away Zik’s achievements.
When I read about Zik, I just wonder how one man made all these incredible achievements in one lifetime. It boggles the imagination – completely dominating education, journalism, politics, business, banking, the Igbos, the Yorubas until the rise of Awo, and the North until the rise of Ahmadu Bello. How did one man excel in everything?
I had this discussion with Nnamdi Kanu in Israel and I thought I had persuaded him that Zik was not a saboteur, but a man frustrated by the headstrong antics of Ojukwu, and who took decisive actions to save his people from starvation and further massacre, even to the point of betraying his principles and fully knowing that his people would call him a saboteur. Before long Kanu was blaming Zik again on Radio Biafra. I was exasperated.
How can you call Zik a saboteur when he wrote the Biafran National Anthem with such beautiful words. When he crisscrossed Africa and the Atlantic Ocean to win all our 5 recognitions from Tanzania, Gabon, Zambia, Ivory Coast and Haiti? When he set up Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, plus Haille Sellasie of Ethiopia, to back us at the OAU Summit in Tunisia in 1969, to win the support of the Organisation of African Unity, chaired by Emperor Haille Sellasie – a descendant of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. It was our last chance to win African support and then move to the World Stage to win the UN, with Black Africa behind Biafra. That was Zik’s plan.
Zik briefed Ojukwu, a young man of 35, on what to say. He wanted Ojukwu to be humble, to talk about our suffering, the hunger, the death, plead for our freedom and thank his elders like Sellasie, Nyerere, Kaunda, Kenyatta and Houphet Boigny of Ivory Coast. Zik as Africa’s greatest Statesman had primed it all. They all respected him as the father of African liberation. Everything was ready. Biafra would win the diplomatic war and then move on to victory at the UN.
When it was Ojukwu’s turn to speak he put his foot in his mouth. He probably imagined himself as an African Fidel Castro and went bellicose. As a historian from Oxford and the son of the richest black man in Africa, this man did not have the capacity for humility, for stooping to conquer. He gave a 3-hour historical tour de force and declared that Biafra could win on the battlefield. He trumpeted the Biafran propaganda slogan: “No power in Black Africa could defeat Biafra.” Okwu agbasala.
Ojukwu sat down, happy with himself and his blazing oratory. But for all his Maradona skills with the English language, he completely missed the goal post. His mates congratulated him for his amazing speech. What else could sycophants do? After his speech, he left immediately for Biafra. Zik saw it differently. That was the day that Biafra lost Africa and lost Zik.
Nnamdi Azikiwe said he was embarrassed and gave up any further efforts for a diplomatic solution. From that day on he was convinced we had lost the war and focused on finding a soft landing for Igbos and saving as many lives as he could, by ending the war as fast as possible.
If Zik was a saboteur then many of our great leaders were saboteurs. The first of Ojukwu’s advisers to bail out was Michael Okpara, the Premier of the Eastern Region that made the economy, the fastest growing in the world. If there was no 1966 coup, Eastern Nigeria could have become like Malaysia today, the world’s biggest exporter of Palm Oil. Okpara went back to school in France.
The next to bail out was Dr Akanu Ibiam. He became President of the World Council of Churches and used his good offices to persuade the churches to feed Biafra. Without Akanu Ibiam’s church relief, Igbos would certainly have been exterminated.
Phillip Effiong, second in Biafra and Achuzie, top field commander, finally pulled the rug from under the feet of Ojukwu. By December 1969, Achuzie met with his Nigerian counterpart Akinrinade. They agreed that nobody was winning and nobody would win. It was now a war of attrition and children were dying like flies. They decided to end the war. That Christmas, the Nigerian troops fed the Biafran soldiers and they were moving freely amongst themselves without fighting.
Achuzie persuaded Effiong. Together they persuaded Ojukwu that only he could win Diplomatic recognition for us. They packed his belongings and Mercedes Benz into a plane and sent him off to Ivory Coast. I do not know whether Ojukwu knew he was not coming back. His last broadcast on Radio Biafra was very sad. I stood at attention and my mum came into the room wailing that we would all be slaughtered.
The slaughter did not happen. Why did it not happen? The simple answer was Zik and Gowon. Left to the Northern Troops, and butchers like Murray Mohammed, the Igbos were yamiri, vermin to be exterminated. But Gowon did not feel the religious anger that the sons of Usman Dan Fodio bore in their hearts, because of the killing of Ahmadu Bello and Tafawa Balewa by what they called the Igbo coup of 1966, even though it was not an Igbo coup. They held the Igbos responsibly.
If Effiong and Achuzie were not saboteurs, then Zik can never be a saboteur. Effiong and Achuzie knew that so far as Ojukwu was in Biafra, the war would not end and children will keep dying until we were exterminated. The Igbos would not give up or allow Ojukwu to be captured. Effiong and Achuzie decided to put the dying children first, more than the dream of an independent Biafra. Was that sabotage? I don’t think so. That was exactly what Zik did.
Zik was not a warrior. He was a Statesman and Diplomat. Once he decided to end the war and save lives he put his enormous skills to devastating effect. He got lodgings on Finchley Road London and began efforts to see the British Government.
Remember, Zik was the man that drove the British out of Africa, not just Nigeria. His pen lit the fire of Independence throughout Africa. They did not like him, but he persisted and they eventually granted him an audience. Think of the humiliation Zik faced when he had to eat his words before these white men. Just ten years ago he was railing at them, accusing them of all kinds of colonial evil. Ten years later, he was down on his knees begging them to save his people from certain death.
I cannot imagine any Igbo man that witnessed the horrific killings of Igbos in 1966 that did not want separation or Independence. That was why Zik, Ibiam and Okpara became advisers. But first Okpara went, then Ibiam, then Zik. None were traitors but they all found it difficult to work with Ojukwu who was a child to them. Zik stayed back the longest.
Still imagine the position of Zik. Ten years before, the British had warned him that the blackman could not run a country, but Zik insisted on Independence. Most ordinary people will not have the gall to eat that humble pie, but Zik did, to save his people. Zik had to swallow that humble pie to beg the British to stop and find a way to get him a passage to Nigeria. Remember Zik was one of those on Nigeria’s hit list. Yet, he had the courage to go.
How could Zik achieve this? He could not do it by telling the story of what really happened. He had to lie and justify the British and Nigerian stories. That was the only way he could get into their good books. He was fully aware of the truth, but he heaped blames on Ojukwu, accused him of misleading the Igbos, and thereby absolved the Igbos as victims of Ojukwu’s megalomania.
Zik finally gained access to Nigeria. They took him on a tour of Lagos and the nation. Zik firmly believed, like all Igbos that Nigeria will wipe out the Igbos. That tour ended all of that as Zik strenuously tried to change the Nigerian narrative that all Igbos were to blame. He heaped the entire blame on Ojukwu and claimed Ojukwu manipulated us for his own megalomaniac ends.
Of course all that was nonsense and I have no doubt that Zik knew it was all nonsense and a big lie. But he was willing to throw Ojukwu under the bus in what he believed was a desperate attempt to save his people. He had no bargaining chips, just the plea of a wise old man of great dignity. Zik took his narrative Global. In France he made an impassioned plea, begging Governments not to supply any more arms to prolong the war.
I am always Amazed that Zik was so willing to destroy his image with the Igbo people in order to save the Igbos. The Igbos had done terrible things to his Onitsha people too. Ojukwu called Ifeajuna, an Onitsha man and Zik’s protege a saboteur and killed him. Ifeajuna was a great African hero after winning the Empire Games medal. He joined in the coup in 1966.
After the Igbo Pogroms in 1966, Ifeajuna differed from Ojukwu. He believed we could not win the war and sought to negotiate with Nigeria. Whether you like it or not, if Ifeajuna had his way, three million lives could have been saved. Who knows. But with anger of 1966 and the heady propaganda of Radio Biafra, we thought we were invincible. It was the same Ifeajuna that warned Zik of the impending coup in 1966 that led Zik to escape the coup. Igbos hated Ifeajuna as a saboteur and transferred this hatred to his Onitsha people. Throughout the war, Igbos persecuted them to the extent that till today, many Onitsha people, like the Iwerne people, do not want to be called Igbos. Such hates emanated from radio propaganda from Biafra or Nigeria.
In this essay it would seem as if I am accusing Ojukwu of a lot of negative actions. Don’t get me wrong. In many ways, Ojukwu became and remains our number one hero. He was a player with women, a lover of life, but he was the most courageous man we ever knew. Compare him to present day Igbo Governors and his honesty and courage blazons forth. His personal sacrifice for his people was unrivalled. He fought to the bitter end, and it took the exceptional dexterity of Effiong and Achuzie to get him out of Biafra or he could have been captured or killed.
If Ojukwu had died. Igbos would have died completely. That he survived gave us hope that someday he would return. Ojukwu did many great things but he also had flaws and made some really bad mistakes. Yet, if Ojukwu had not stood his ground at the beginning of the war, we would have been wiped out, given the fury and anger of 1966, with which the Norther hordes came. The slaughter of every male from Agbor to Asaba, and the Asaba genocide, were all part of what they intended to do to us all.
Ojukwu’s courage and obstinacy saved us. But at the time when that obstinacy could have destroyed us, the military manoeuvres of Effiong, Achuzie and Akinrinade burst the Biafran bubble. However, it was the international diplomacy of Zik, his willingness to destroy his great name and be called a saboteur that snatched Baby Biafra from the jaws of a British-Nigerian shark.
Dismissing or abusing Nnamdi Kanu or Nnamdi Azikiwe are both wrong. So also is it to forget Akanu Ibiam who fed us, Okpara who put us on the world map or Effiong and Achuzie who put starving children before personal glory.
Heroes do not always come clean and wholesome. Let us love all our Igbo heroes. They all made mistakes. They all had flaws. Even Ifeajuna, the great gold medallist. He did no wrong. On hindsight, he was even right that we could not win. That was not a crime. It is time to dust away the warriors of war and their paintings of propaganda in our myths and moments of monstrous madness.