The last has definitely not been heard about the dust raised by Professor Chinua Achebe’s latest book, There Was A Country, in which he insinuated that Chief Obafemi Awolowo and General Yakubu Gowon were responsible for the death of millions of Igbos during the Nigerian Civil war.
Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, a historian and former Minister of Aviation happened to be one of those who reacted sharply to Achebe’s position. Again Fani-Kayode was interviewed on a television programme in which he tried to set issues straight and made it clear that instead of pointing accusing fingers at Awolowo and Gowon, the late Biafran warlord, Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu should bear most of the blame. Fani-Kayode in the one-hour interview took on Achebe who he said lives in a “warped time”.
Fani-Kayode also reacted to insinuations that he is anti-Igbo, saying that if he was anti-Igbo, he would not “have had anything to do with Bianca Onoh” who he disclosed was his girlfriend when they wer both much younger.
Excerpts of the interview:
Professor Chinua Achebe stirred controversy in his new book, There Was A Country where he alleged that genocide was committed against the Igbos. Let me read the statement to you, “it is my impression that Awolowo was driven by an overriding ambition for power for himself and his Yoruba people”. Why do you think this statement is causing controversy?
The statement is controversial but I think the one that has brought more contention and dissension within this country is the other one where he said Awolowo was responsible for the starvation and that they committed genocide against the people of Biafra, Awolowo and Gowon and Awolowo’s people. That is what he said in his book and that is the one that really upset many people. But even this one, I think it is quite inaccurate. If you look at Awolowo’s history from the 40s right up till the time he died in 1987, it will be very difficult for anybody to sustain the charge that he was somebody that was driven by ambition to such a point that he would subscribe to people being denied their rioghts as human beings which is for me what the war was all about. It was a far more complicated issue than that.
Awolowo played a role that was expected that he would play by all right thinking people, to keep Nigeria one, having tried his best to appeal to the Igbos not to take the course of action that they took.
Because it is untrue. Like I said, the area of contention was the suggestion that Awolowo was responsible for the situation and the “genocide” committed against the Ibos during the civil war. He didn’t just say that, he said Gowon and Awolowo, he didn’t just say that, he said Gowon and Awolowo and the Yoruba people were responsible for the genocide that was committed against the Igbo people during the civil war. That is a very heavy charge to make.
But was there actually genocide?
It is a very complicated issue. There are many stages to it and it needs to be understood so that people can put everything into perspective and then make their own judgment. I am talking to you now as a historian, not as a politician or somebody that is a Yoruba person. We need to be very much bound to the facts of history and to tell it as it is, no matter whose ox is gored.
I have always been somebody who has supported the position of the Igbos during the civil war. It was based on the idea of self determination. They were murdered and massacred in the core north of the country, they went back home and they were faced with a situation whereby they had to survive and they determined to go on their own, in their own direction and the rest of Nigeria didn’t want them to go and a war came as a consequence of that. But if you are talking about genocide, if you are talking about killing, it didn’t start during the civil war. The genocide, the mass killings started before the civil war and everybody knows that in the South West where Awolowo comes from, where I come from, not one Ibo man was killed before the civil war as a consequence of the first coup, January 15, 1966 which was an Igbo coup.
There was a counter coup six months later which was a Northern coup, July 1966. When the second coup took place and the northerners took power effectively and Gowon became Head of State, what happened was that reprisal killings took place in the core North. Why? Because in the January 15, 1966 coup, which I term as an Igbo coup because 95% of the people that participated in it were Igbos, 99% of those that were killed were non-Ibos. They didn’t just kill, they killed family members of Northerners, they killed family members of Yorubas and family members of people from the South South. In fact every single region in the country suffered terrible losses that night when the Ibo coup took place. You can imagine how the Northerners particularly felt. Sardauna who was their leader, a grandson of Othman dan Fodio and Premier of the North was murdered in cold blood and two of his wives tried to shield his body, and they killed the wives as well.
Ademulegun, one of our key officers in Yorubaland, he was number 2 in the Nigerian Army, I think. He was butchered in Kaduna, he was sprayed with machine gun fire on his bed, in his home, so was his 8-month pregnant wife. Tafawa Balewa was tortured and he was killed. These were horrendous acts that took place that night. I am talking about that because you need to have a starting point to everything in order to clearly understand what happened.
Ironsi came in, people were upset, particularly the Northerners, that “look, we need to do something about this”. There was a counter coup in July, 1966. That night, 300 Ibo officers were killed, in one night alone, it didn’t stop there, I am not saying this with relish, I am not saying who is right or wrong, I am just giving the facts.
The next thing that happened in the core North was that the people decided to take the laws into their own hands and punish the Ibos for what happened to Sardauna, Tafawa Balewa and other northern leaders in the January 15, 1966 coup and the pogrom started. 100,000 plus Igbo people were slaughtered in the spate of a few days which is something I would call genocide anytime any day. That was where the problem started. Yorubas didn’t do that, Northerners did it. All over the North, they were killing people in their houses, they were killing people in hospitals, they would go into hospitals and cut open pregnant women and say that they want to know if this is a male child or a female child, dash the child all over the floor. It was a nightmare and Ibos suffered immensely.
Nobody in his right mind would support such a thing. As a consequence of that, Ojukwu, quite rightly in my view, I would have done the same if I was Governor of the Eastern region at the time, he said look, his people would have to come back home because his people were being massacred and they went back home in droves. As they got to each train station, they were stoned, they were attacked, they were killed all the more until they found their way to Biafra, their homeland, what was Eastern Nigeria at that time. Once they crossed that famous line, they felt look, they were safe and at home, and of course no one could take that from them.
As I said, I have always believed that they had every right to do that. Now a lot of issues unfolded, Aburi discussion and so on and eventually, we came to the civil war, which is what we are talking about. And during the course of the war, what happened was that the Biafran side prosecuted a war that they knew they could not possibly win. Why? Ojukwu and the Biafran troops took over the whole of the Midwest and they were eventually pushed back.
That was the first strike?
It was the first military strike.
Remember Gowon struck Enugu?
Gowon didn’t strike Enugu. It was a police action. There was no way anybody could penetrate the East at the time. He ordered a police action and immediately, Ojukwu now said well, we are not going to accept any police action, this is a military conflict and he swept the Midwest, literally overran it, knocked on the doors of Yorubaland at Ore and it was that time that the 3rd Marine Commando rose up iunder the leadership of Gen Benjamin Adekunle, the Black Scorpion. The 3rd Marine Commando was 95% Yoruba fighting force and that was when the war really started and they pushed them back to the heartland of Iboland.
Now, what happened during the course of the war, it was very clear that this war had to be fought on a number of fronts whether it is an international war between two nations or a civil war, a blockade is always enforced. It happened in the American Civil War, it happened in the First World War, it happened in every single war. A blockade is a standard practice and a blockade was enforced.
And of course, the consequence of that was that the Biafrans found it difficult to have food. But you see, it wasn’t even that bad initially because Nigerian Government was allowing food supplies to go in through the Red Cross and all these international humanitarian agencies. They were getting a reasonable amount of food but what happened? At the outset of the war, Awolowo went to Enugu to meet with Ojukwu to appeal to him, that listen, this is not the way forward, lets try and work this thing out. He risked his life, Ojukwu assured him that he would, but he decided not to do so. But during the course of that trip, he noticed a few things. He noticed there were many of these malnourished children and he asked what is going on. The food aid is coming in from international agencies, why is this food not being given to these people? Why are they starving? He was shocked and he was told that what is happening is this, the Biafrans are collecting the food, rather than giving it to the ordinary people, they are giving it to the soldiers, their own soldiers. And people were suffering while the soldiers were being fed. That was why Awolowo came back and said if that is the case, it is preferable and better for us rather than to be feeding the soldiers that are killing our own troops and our people, if they are not going to allow their people to have the food, we will stop even the humanitarian agencies from talking the food into those places. We cannot feed our enemies. That was what he said. And that was what was done.
All the air corridors and the road corridors were blocked. A complete blockade was put in place by the Nigerian Government, but what happened next? The international communities now appealed to the Nigerian Government and told them that look, this thing can only make matters worse for the children and the people. We see them on our screens every day and every night, you need to find a way of solving this problem. The Nigerian Government made a proposal that “we are willing to open land corridors to enable food get to the people”, you people, that is the international communities can ferry as much food as you like in but it must be through land corridors so that it can be verified. We are not going to have a situation whereby you have planes flying in the middle of the night like before, the food is now diverted and you now bring in arms. We are not prepared to accept that, and that was the proposal that was put on the table, and Ojukwu said no. He said he was not prepared to allow land corridors to be opened, he is not prepared to have anything except to have night flights coming in. of course what that meant was that he wanted to continue to ship in arms through those night flights in lieu of food, and when food comes in, they would divert it. That is why a complete blockade was enforced. So, if you are going to ask, the consequence of that was that many more people suffered and that was sincerely Ojukwu’s call, nobody else’s.
People said about the corridors that there was a fear that Nigerian soldiers were going to poison the food before it came into Biafra?
Absolutely not. The Nigerian Government wouldn’t do that. The food could not have been poisoned by anybody; neither would the Nigerian Government think of poisoning the ordinary people of Biafra. It is an irrational, unreasonable and unfounded fear and it is borne out of nothing but propaganda and if it is true that Ojukwu said that, or any Igbo person said that, then they don’t even understand the logic of war.
Let us take the emotion out of this thing, war is a very bad thing. Terrible things happen, but the suggestion that food that is being supplied by the Red Cross or by Medecins Sans Frontiers and co would be poisoned by Nigerians, food that is handled by international agencies, not Nigerian soldiers, is absolutely ludicrous. People carrying the food, don’t they test the food? I have never even heard of this one but it is one of these ludicrous things that people come out with regularly. Ojukwu made that call and if you want me to tell you why he made that call, I will tell you. He was more comfortable with ensuring that the pictures of the people that we were seeing in those days, of kwashiorkor-ridden Biafran children, suffering, starving to death day in day out hitting the screens of Europe, hitting the screens of America and the world and Russia and everywhere in the world brought tears to the eyes of people, even to the Nigerian people.
Nobody was happy about it. He was comfortable with that. Why? Because what it meant was this, that France would continue to supply him with money, would continue to supply him with mercenaries, would continue to supply him with arms, ditto apartheid South Africa. Apartheid South Africa supported Biafra, with arms and money, Portugal did the same. Those were the three allies Biafra had and it would have got far more allies had it not been for the fact that the Nigerioan Federal Government and those on Nigeria’s side made it clear to the whole world that this thing could have easily been relieved, the suffering could have been alleviated if the man had made use of the road corridors, but because he preferred his people to suffer and he wanted to show the world that his people were being punished by Nigeria.
Once you know this to be a fact, how can you then possibly say that some other people were responsible for the starvation? You know Hitler said something, what you call the “Goebbelian” theory. Goebbel , former Information Minister of the Nazi, it is a very interesting theory and it is very true. If you repeat a lie enough times, people will eventually assume that it is the truth and this statement that Awolowo was accused to have made, as I said, I quoted him wrongly until I did my research. He apparently said during the war that “starvation is one of the weapons of war”. Most people say Awolowo said this. I read an article by my egbon, Duro Onabule in The Sun newspaper in which he said the same thing. I challenge anybody to produce the newspaper, the link whether in Britain or in Nigeria, the footage where he said it. And they cannot, do you know why? I have been looking for that for the last ten years of my life. It doesn’t even exist, and you know what, I met the person that said it. He told me that he said it and he was not even a Yoruba man. He is an Itsekiri man by the name of Chief Alison Ayida. He is the one that made that statement and he was a key player within the Gowon’s government at the time.
Let me also kill another fallacy for you today, it was often said that Awolowo said starvation is a legitimate weapon of warfare. What Awolowo said is this and it is even quoted in British newspapers, you can find the link if you want to. When confronted with this issue in the United Kingdom, he said “the blockade is perfectly legitimate in a state of war. You do not expect us to feed our enemies”, meaning the Biafran soldiers. So, the idea that he ever said that starvation is a weapon of war and that their people should be starved to death, he never said so.
He went on right to defend that policy.
There was no policy of starvation, there was a blockade. The starvation was a consequence of the intransigent nature and stubborn nature of Ojukwu who preferred to watch his people starve than to allow them to have food. The Nigerian government offered food corridors. Ojukwu never denied it whilst he was alive, no Biafran official, till today has even denied that they were offered food corridors, they turned it down for whatever reasons. It was on record, up until that time, food was flown in by international agencies, then it became clear that they were not giving the food to those they were meant for. The soldiers and the families of the elite were people that were the ones eating that food. The ordinary Biafran people were not getting food.
Some people say you are anti-Igbo, and that you have this bias against them and that is also responsible for your opinion about the war in your articles and comments.
I heard 3 million Ibos died during the civil war. It is not true. If you look at the civil war, about 2 million people died, which was a huge number of people. It was just Biafrans, Nigerians died as well and the 2 million included many Nigerian civilians, Nigerian soldiers who fought for the country. I lost three uncles in that war. 2 million Nigerians and Biafrans died in the civil war. That notion that 2 million Igbo children starved to death, it’s a lie. It didn’t happen and what I said was this, if Achebe and other members of the Igbo intelligentsia needs to call upon anybody as the cause of the starvation as Gowon, Awolowo or anybody on the Nigerian side, they really ought to point those fingers at their leader and themselves because they were very comfortable to allow that to happen and they denied their people humanitarian aid, medical care and so on through food corridors.
That could have been avoided. The Nigerian Government was very gracious, we weren’t cruel, we were gracious. We tried to do all the best we could when it was clear that suffering was taking place but the Biafrans for one reason or the other said no. To that extent, I believe that if you are going to say that anybody is responsible for that suffering, it is far more at the doorstep of Ojukwu and the others around him than anybody else.
There is a man called Ralph Uwuchue, who for me is one of the most formidable in the Biafran side. He is a great intellectual. He was the person that brought the French into the war. He was Ojukwu’s link man to the French. He is the person that negotiated with the French to convince them to support Biafra. He wrote a book in 1971 called “Reflections of The Nigerian Civil War”. Go and read the book, read what he said in 1971 about Ojukwu and about the fact that Ojukwu placed more value on the propaganda and to push out pictures of the suffering children than allowing food to get to the people. He was very comfortable with that. He didn’t think so much about his people. He was ready to watch his people suffer rather than try to ameliorate their pains and allow food the food in, he was more concerned with the propaganda and political gain he would get from these pictures being shot all over the world. And I think if Uwuchue can say that, being a major player, where was Achebe at the time?
You spoke about being anti-Igbo, how on earth could anybody assume that I am anti-Ibo? The things that I have written about Ojukwu, about his heroic disposition during the civil war in the sense that he tried to defend the lives and property of his people. I believe he is a true hero, but like all heroes, like all great men, he is not infallible. Every one that has been called a great leader anywhere in the world, especially in Nigeria has never been perfect. You make some mistakes, but other than that, I have always admired the disposition of Ojukwu during the civil war, that this was a man who was ready to stand up and defend the life and property of his own people.
I have had many links with Igbos over the years, I have argued the Ibo position on many occasions. I believe that self-determination is part of international law, and everybody has a legitimate right to say they want to opt out of a federation at any point in time. I believe in that strongly and for anybody to be compelled to stay within a federation, against their will, I think it is wrong.
You also mentioned being against Igbos. I have many Ibo friends. If I was against Ibos, I don’t think I would ever have anything to do with Bianca Onoh, before she married Ojukwu. She was very close to me. Yes, we went out together for a number of years. When I was in Cambridge University, she was my girlfriend and I have been out with many other Igbo women since then. I almost married an Igbo woman at a point in my life, so I think I am the last person you would lay that charge against. But I am also a Yoruba man and I can’t be somewhere and somebody gets up to denigrate my people, and to question the role of the leader of the Yorubas, even though he is not alive to defend himself. Those of us in the next generation are very much alive and we will certainly defend his legacy and defend his name. we believe that it is very important to do so.
Lets look at history now, in Nigeria, it seems some each group has its own historical facts and beliefs. The Igbos have their own belief about what happened during the war, the Yorubas have their own belief, the Hausas have theirs. Why do you think this is so?
History does not give room for ethnic, religious or even subjective interpretation. It is very important that we all understand that facts are sacred, like you journalists say, “Facts are sacred, opinion is cheap”. I can have whatever I want about anybody, it really doesn’t matter, its my opinion. Facts are sacred and I think that is where we in Nigeria and we in Africa are missing it. Have you noticed that it is very difficult for Nigerians to discuss history because they get emotionally involved. They become so subjective and emotions becloud their thinking. There was a very famous British historian called Trevor Roper. He said something about Africans which was quite disturbing actually. He said “the history of Africa is darkness.” Very insulting and there was a debate that how could you say that?
Ask an African about his own history, you know different versions, oral history, nobody really knows what happened, there is no evidence of anything. People just say what they want to say and even if it is not the real history, lets just say it. And I see here, how can you say an Ibo man will see the war and relate a different historical account from a Yoruba man? But you are right. But its unfortunate. The issue is history, there was a war. Certain things happened, these are facts, people did certain things, these are facts. It is very simple, it either happened or it didn’t happen.
The problem we have here is that you will get people like Achebe who will get up and try to revise history. If you say Awolowo and Gowon were partly responsible for this thing, in your view, fine. But don’t forget to put that Ojukwu also had a little role to play. Do your research, do the work and then you can come out and say what you want. The problem is that when you have people that are literary icons, Achebe is an icon, a great man, a great writer, unfortunately, Professor Wole Soyinka seems to have done a lot better, he got the nobel prize. I sincerely pray that one day, Achebe will achieve that as well. He is a great writer, he commands an enormous following, not just in Nigeria, in international communities. For him to come out with that, imagine the impact that would have on millions of Igbo youths today and to come in the future. They would say oh Achebe said Awolowo of the Yorubas was responsible for the starvation of our people. We need to be careful. If we want reliable history, lets be factual about it.
Let me give you two quick examples of where we got it wrong. I believe even if he speaks against me as an individual or against anyone dear to me, truth is the most important thing when you are talking about historical matters. Don’t bring your emotions into it. There were two instances where I had to make personal interventions against what I call historical revisionalism which is what Achebe is trying to do.
The first case was a few years ago, for a number of years, if they asked you who moved the motion for Nigeria’s independence successfully, I am sure depending on where you come from, in Nigeria, but I assume an overwhelming majority would say oh, it was Chief Anthony Enahoro, he moved it in 1953, he was such a great man. And the man was alive, he was enjoying those accolades and most Nigerians actually believed it to be true, and this was untrue, it was a lie.
He moved the motion and it failed in 1953. The motion for Nigeria’s independence was not successfully moved until 1958 and it was moved by a member of the Federal Parliament called Remi Fani Kayode who incidentally is my father. He moved the motion and the British Parliament accepted and agreed to have independence. There was an amendment later by Tafawa Balewa, he made it October 1st instead of April 2, 1960 but the fact is that it wasn’t Enahoro. Fani Kayode played a role, Ben Njoku, the former Minister of Transport, Tafawa Balewa played a role so Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba all played a role and even Enahoro played his own role by starting the process in 1953. But you see, it cant happen anywhere else but in Nigeria.
The second one was the issue of the death of Tafawa Balewa which was a far more serious issue. A couple of years ago, I was sitting in my house and reading an article written by no less a person than Chief Matthew Mbu, he was a Minister under Tafawa Balewa in the 1950s, he was also interestingly enough a Minister in the Biafran Government. I read something he wrote that Tafawa Balewa was not killed by the Ifeajuna and other Ibo coup plotters in the January 1966 coup and that his body was intact, he was not murdered, trying to revise history.
I was the one that first brought it up that this wasn’t true. After I said Mbu you are wrong and everybody started saying what do you know? Then the debate started and thank God, the whole Editorial Board of Vanguard Newspapers too went against me that I didn’t know what I was talking about. The debate started and everybody started doing their research, at the end of it all, you know what happened? Matthew Mbu who was over 80 years old at the time, a man so many of us look up to, he is like a father to me. I have known the family for so long. He got up, to his credit, and he said he was sorry he was wrong, that he got the information from one Okigbo who died during the civil war. He really didn’t know what he was talking about, he apologized to the whole family that the evidence was clear that this man was murdered, his body was mutilated and so on and so forth. The funny thing about this was that people like Chief Segun Osoba and so many others joined the fray on his side. But we got it right then, we set the records straight.
There is no way Achebe would get up and speak about Gowon and Awolowo in this way, I cannot possibly keep quiet because we cannot allow that. Let people make up their minds who to believe but I challenge anybody, do your own research, do your homework, read the books written by the British and French historians, they are far more reliable because they are detached. Go and read the books written by people that actually played a role during the war, find out what happened. Don’t just accept what people say from a subjective position or from a subjective opinion. That is what you call a fairy tale, a fantasy and he has written his book, nothing other than a subjective account by somebody that is still living in Biafra.
Looking at it from the angle of reconciliation and reintegration, what do you think is the way forward for Nigeria, considering the fact that it is being alleged that Nigeria didn’t really reintegrate the Igbos? Achebe too made that allegation.
I have told you that Achebe is living in a time warp of Biafra. His entire mind is Biafra, Biafra. There is absolutely no truth in that and it is unfair to the Nigerian people for anybody to suggest that. Let me tell you, if General Murtala Mohammed, who was one of the greatest Heads of State Nigeria ever had, even though he was there for only six months, if he had been the Head of State and not General Yakubu Gowon, I don’t want to be unkind and I don’t want to misrepresent anybody, but there is a distinct probability that millions and millions of Igbos may not have survived the war because he was a radical and he believed in crushing the enemy, as most soldiers do.
This business of reconciliation after the war, “no victor, no vanquished”, people like Murtala Mohammed and a good deal of Nigeria’s military were against it, that “what are you talking about? These people killed our people.” In a war, people suffer and somebody is defeated and you crush him. That was a very strong school of thought epitomized by people like Murtala Mohammed and to a certain extent Obasanjo, I hope I am not getting myself into trouble here with my Oga. These guys were real soldiers, they didn’t understand the humane position that people like Awolowo and particularly Gowon took that how can you be talking about full integration? People have been defeated.
But nevertheless, Gowon was in power for 9 years and he did everything he could to integrate them. And what happened? In the South West, these people that Achebe says hates them and starved Igbos, they came back. There was no abandoned property, they got their savings back, got everything they ever wanted back. There was the issue of the change of currency during the war, I should have mentioned that earlier, that happened because Nigerian currency was being used in Biafra to buy arms, so the currency had to be changed. There was the issue of £ 20, that wasn’t an Awolowo initiative. It was a committee set up by the Central Bank that made that proposal because nobody could verify all the claims that were being made. But apart from that, the Ibos were welcomed home to the South West. They got their properties, they got more or less their jobs, as a matter of fact, there was a policy to try to put as many Igbos in key jobs immediately after the civil war.
Ten years after the civil war, you had an Igbo Vice President in this country, Alex Ekwueme. Check world history and I am a historian, I know what I am talking about, it has never happened anywhere in the world, that you would have an armed conflict where millions of people died, and the rebel side that was defeated produces a Vice President ten years later for the whole country. It has never happened anywhere. Nigeria was gracious enough to do that. In the South West where the Yorubas reside in this country, Ibos have probably more property, more land, more businesses, more houses than any other ethnic group apart from the Yorubas themselves. They have virtually taken over Lagos.
Is this as a result of any policy put in place by the Nigerian Government?
This is as a result of the fact that the Nigerian Government and Nigerian people, including Yoruba people were very gracious after the war. No victor, no vanquished, we fought, we were brothers and sisters, we have made up, let them come back. It doesn’t often happen after a civil war. Civil wars are the most brutal types of wars. They go on for generations after the cessation of hostilities, not here in Nigeria. We are very different. They came in droves and we were happy to have them. And by 1999, look at the sitaution, a beautiful thing happened. By 1999, some people had sworn that Ibos would never take key positions in the Nigerian military again because they are rebels. 1999, you had a Yoruba President who came in by the name of President Olusegun Obasanjo. He appointed the first Ibo GOC ever since the Civil War took place, General Obiakor , a very wonderful officer.
You are speaking of Igbo integration, we had an Ibo Foreign Minister, an Ibo Minister of Finance under Obasanjo, Ibo Minister of Education, Oby Ezekwesili, Okonjo-Iweala, Andy Uba in the Villa, virtually running the whole country, running the government. I could go on and on, Charles Soludo, Igbo Governor of the Central Bank. After 1999, the Igbos were fully integrated. The Obasanjo Government which I served in, I can tell you that from 2006-2207, Ibos were exceptionally strong in that government to the extent that Yorubas were were even saying “is Obasanjo a pure Yoruba man? He is giving so much to the Ibos and so on and so forth.” That is what some people say, I don’t subscribe to that view, I know he is a Yoruba man, I am just saying what people are saying.
So how can anybody in his right mind Ibos were not fully reintegrated. Look at the rise of Ibo women today, in Nigerian politics, look at Dora Akunyili, just look at their rise. I wrote an article about Ibo women about a year ago, many Yoruba women and non-Igbo women were not happy about it. Look at the sheer dynamism of of Igbo women, they dared to excel and it all happened after 1999. They are everywhere doing so well now. How can anyone say they have not been fully reintegrated now? They have been reintegrated and they have done exceptionally well in this country.
I am proud of them. So for anybody to come out at this time to say the Yorubas who are the most accomodating and charitable among the ethnic groups is responsible for the starvation is a very unkind statement. It is very painful to hear such a thing coming from him.
Some of your critics have wondered why you took it upon youself to defend Awolowo considering the kind of relationship he had with your father.
I am Femi Fani-Kayode, I am different from Remi Fani Kayode. I was quite well educated. My education allows me to disagree even with the person that brought me into this world from time to time. There was a division in Yoruba politics, I am well aware of that and I know the history inside out.
My father was an Action Group Youth Leader from 1949 and he stayed as Leader of the Action Group Youth wing till 1958. He represented Ile Ife where I come from from 1953 to 1958 for the Action Group in the Federal House of Parliament. He was one of the most active, one of the most brilliant and most loyal people to Chief Awolowo and the AG. So he was there for all those years and there was a fallout in 1959. They went their separate ways, my father did not quit politics. He went for another election, he became the the Leader of the NCNC in the NCNC in the Western House of Assembly in 1959. He led the opposition against Awolowo, that was the time they were talking about. And of course, when the schism came within the Action Group, Akintola left AG, joined my father and they fought together. The rest is history. There is no question about that, there was a big divide in Yorubaland in the early 60s.
Yorubaland was more or less 50-50 at the time. NCNC was even stronger than Action Group and Zik almost became the Premier of the West. So when anybody tells you we are anti-Igbo, forget it. Unfortunately, what happened was that on January 15, 1966, like I said there was this Igbo coup, they came for my father, they took him away, I was there, I witnessed the whole thing. They now went to Akintola’s house, unfortunately, Akintola fought back, he wounded two of the Ibo soldiers and there and then, they murdered Akintiola in the presence of everybody and moved on. What that meant was this, the leadership of the anti-Awolowo Group in the West had only one man left, which was my father. He now took the leadesrship and what happened? By 1967, Awolowo was freed from Prison by Gowon, not by Ojukwu as some people were saying. It was the Federal Government that controlled prisons. It was Gowon that released him.
When he came back, there was a famous meeting that was called on May 1st 1967 at the Western Hall, Agodi, Ibadan, a very important date and a very important venue that Nigerians don’t know enough about. When that meeting took place, all Yoruba leaders both from the NNDP divide and the AG side, those were the two factions , they came together. It was aclled by a man called General Adeyinka Adebayo, he was the military administrator of the West that time. The issue was this, we had we had a civil war that was about to come, all of us have to unite and keep the Yoruba people as one. Everybody who was somebody was there, including my dad. After a lot of arguments and discussions and analysis, they all agreed to be one and it was at that meeting that Awolowo was pronounced by popular acclamtaion of the leaders there as the Leader of the Yorubas. Many people don’t know this. And you know what, it was an NNDP person, one of my father’s men that proposed that and at that same meeting, my dad who was the leader of the other side was appointed Deputy Leader of the Yorubas. From May 1, 1967 onward, Awolowo and Remi Fani Kayode were Leader and Deputy Leader of the Yoruba and they were one. There was a war in front and we were fighting against the Biafrans.
At that same meeting, Awolowo made that famous statement and he made an appeal to the Federal Government that (I can’t remember the exact words but they are in his book) if the Biafrans needed to be spoken to, they needed to be kept within the federation and that the Federal Government should do its very best to allow them to have it so that they can keep Nigeria one. If they go, if they are forced out and are not treated fairly, that the Yoruba nation would have no choice but also leave the federation.
What happened was that I gathered that after that famous statement, he went to Enugu to see Ojukwu. He went into enemy territory, risked his life and appealed to Ojukwu who gave him a proposal. They gave him about 90% of what he asked for. He told him, accept this and let’s have it, lets all remain together, you’ve got what you want, Ojukwu said no. Awolowo now came back.
Of course at that point, he decided not to take the Yoruba nation out of the federation. We were all , the killings that took place from 1964 after the Western Region election that led to violence, the acrimony between the two groups ended in 1967. There was a lot of bad blood at the time, from 1959 when my dad left the Action Group, he was treated very badly by them. Where they messed him up in Ife, he won the seat for NCNC.
Awolowo, leader of the Yorubas by popular acclamation and my dad was his deputy. They were forced together because there was a war to be won and we were one from that point on until politics came again in 1979. When Gowon left power, Awolowo left government and was palnning his comeback as the President of the country and I think that was where everyone missed it altogether. By 1979, when politics came again, instead of them sticking together, people like my dad went to the NPN and Awolowo was in UPN. If they had stuck together like they did during the war and the post war years maybe the situation would have been different, but that was their call.
I cant bear grudges and I cannot look down on anybody, I am just conversant with my history. I will defend Awolowo, indeed anybody that has been wrongly criticized by people that should know better, like Achebe.