Nigeria: A Personal Encounter (2)

Nigeria: A Personal Encounter (2) – Professor Eghagha

The federal troops bombed a school. Abbot School owned by an Igbo man. Mere vandalism. There were no enemies in there. The bombing shook the town. It was my first real experience in war time bombing. Later a lone Biafran war plane would bomb targets in the town. We lived without slat and onions. Security lights were switched off. Those lights gave away targets to bombers! Our parents secretly listened to Biafran broadcasts. Uche Chukwumerije. Oko Okon Ndem. Those guys had the tongue to turn white into black! Their concoctions were sweeter than the drab from Lagos! Hahahahaha! That was their Nigeria.

Gowon had taken over in Lagos. Before he settled down, the war started. They tried to prevent war. His archfiend was Col. Odumegwu-Ojuwku. Rebel leader. Secessionist leader. We believed the latter was more intelligent than the former. They went to Aburi in Ghana. Gowon led his team. Ojukwu led the Biafran team. At the end peace was announced. But the joy was short-lived. Gowon came home and rejected the Aburi Accord. Ojukwu said: ‘On Aburi we stand! How the war was fought and won, is it not recorded in books written by the Generals? Obasanjo. Alabi Isama. David Jemibewon. Alexander Madiebo. I will not bother the reader with the details. I will not bother you about the war time hero Col Adekunle. He was a crank. But he delivered. He was capable of disobeying headquarters. That man! He made a name. third Marine Commando. I will also not bother you about how federal troops massacred innocent civilians in Asaba – The Asaba Massacre. What about how Murtala Mohammed recklessly sacrificed hundreds of Nigerian soldiers when he attempted to capture Onitsha by crossing the Niger? Or when he attacked from Abagana and lost soldiers? Or how he raided the Central Bank in Benin to ‘abduct’ money to prosecute the war? those are stories for another day! Colonel Obasanjo took over the command from Adekunle and on January 15 1970, Major General Phillip Effiong surrendered on behalf of Ojukwu who had fled to Ivory Coast ‘in search of peace’. Hehehehehe! That was Nigeria!

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Yes, o! After thirty long months, Biafra crumbled. We saw pictures of starved kids. They were walking skeletons. They said Awo suggested a food blockade of Igbo people. Some family friends returned. We did not recognize them. Some lost their property to Midwesterners. It is true that some people handed over property of Igbo people to those who returned. But it was a bitter time. Yet Gowon proclaimed: No victor no vanquished. He declared the three Rs- Reconciliation. Rehabilitation. Reconstruction. Whether this was achieved is matter for another day! Gowon could now settle down govern Nigeria. That was Nigeria!

Yakubu Gowon! For nine years, from Age 32 that man occupied the seat of federal government in Dodan Barracks Lagos. I am sure some of the young ones reading this piece do not know that Dodan Barracks was once synonymous with power in Nigeria. Gowon lived the life. He attended ‘owambe’ parties. He was Queen Elizabeth’s friend. He built Lagos with Niger Delta money. He ignored the Niger Delta. He played politics of the Big Three ethnic groups. Once they were okay, Nigeria was okay. Amid the war he had an elaborate wedding. Victoria, a self-effacing beautiful nurse was the lucky bride. We loved Gowon though. We even appropriated Gowon to ‘Go On With One Nigeria! First Lady Victoria had her baby in LUTH. Yes, LUTH. The same LUTH we now consider a death sentence! He didn’t fly her to London. In our innocence we thought Gowon would take us to the Promised Land. Yes oo! He was our Moses. There was money, too much money. Gowon did declare that ‘our problem was not money, but what to do with it! Hehehehehehehe! The international vultures started circling Nigeria! But Gowon made civil servants happy with the Udoji awards. I enjoyed some of it through my father the civil servant. That was Nigeria!

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But the honeymoon soon ended. He had promised to hand over power to civilians in 1976. But in 1974, he changed his mind. The politicians were not mature enough to inherit power! Ha! The whole country was abuzz. Aghast. The smiling General had fallen with power. One man, how can I forget the great Tai Solarin, wrote an essay ‘The Beginning of the End’. Ha! That man! He was afraid of nobody. There was talk of rampant corruption. Gowon could not control the state governors. They were members of Supreme Military Council, the highest ruling body in the country. There was a massive importation of cement into the country. The ports were blocked. The ‘Cement Armada’ it was called. In July 1975, while Gowon was in Kampala for an OAU conference, his government was toppled by a group of Colonels! One of Gowon’s trusted men, Brigadier Joseph Nanven Garba, Commander Brigade of Guards, announced the coup to the Nigerian people on 29th of July. I was in Port Harcourt that day, visiting with my dad. I woke up to hear ‘Where are all the soldiers Gone’ on radio. Soldiers were celebrating along the streets! Ha! So, our beloved Gowon was gone! That was Nigeria!

In those days, any time we heard martial music on radio stations at dawn or when the station was silent at night, we knew there was a change of guards! How many radio stations did we have then? There were no private radio or TV stations. Not these days that we have TV and radio stations everywhere like moinmoin and akara! That was Nigeria!

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The new Head of State was announced. General Murtala Mohammed. His deputy, then titled Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters was Lt. General Olusegun Obasanjo. That man! His was a whirlwind. From Day One, he knew what he was about. He set about it with a fiery temper and determination that altered history. He condemned the rot of the Gowon administration. He removed all the governors and probed them. Governors were yanked off the SMC. He warned that that being posted to govern a state was a military posting! There was a new kid on the block, a non-nonsense kid! He retired civil servants in a mass purge, calling them dead woods. Ha! They were not all dead wood o! he destroyed the confidence and stability of the civil service. The so-called ‘Super Permanent secretaries were kicked out. But he showed he was a man of action. He announced a return to civil rule scheduled for 1979. Then on February 13th, 1976, while driving to work, Murtala Mohammed was gunned down in Lagos! Just like that! Fiam! His life was over! The whole county was in a turmoil. News filtered in. What had really happened? That was Nigeria! CORRECTION: REMI Fani-kayode did not lose his life in 1966 as erroneously stated in Part 1 last week. He lived till 1995.

– Professor Eghagha (who writes from the University of Lagos) can be reached on 0802 322 0393 or [email protected]

– Credit: Daily Times

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