FLASHBACK: Zik berates Obasanjo

From: [email protected]

Interview conducted by Mohammed Haruna and originally published in the defunct New Nigerian Newspaper between March 8 and 9 1979

My role in the civil war, by Zik

NN: Before I begin to ask you questions on your

manifesto, I want to touch on one more thing. In both his network and West German television interview, the Head of State [General Olusegun Obasanjo] condemned all old politicians. He said the old politicians are responsible for our ills. Do you agree?

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           Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe

ZIK: With respect, I don’t. I feel that his speech

writers or whoever is responsible for the final draft of his speech, misconceived the whole idea by generalizing. If he has said that many politicians, or some politicians he would be correct but he made

  a sweeping generalization. I don’t feel I am a saint or

perfect, but if you study my history in the last 30 years of

this country’s political development, you will find that

most of the things I stood for, which my opponents opposed

are the basis of what the

  present Federal Military Government has endorsed, and which

is the basis of the new constitution.

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            General Olusegun Obasanjo

Now, how can you turn round now to say that all of us

are responsible? Let me give you examples. In 1945, the

Richard’s Constitution was promulgated. I opposed the

division of Nigeria into three parts. I felt that

regionalism was not in the interest of

  Nigeria and that it would lead to provincialism and

parochialism.

It means that we began to think in terms of our region

and not of one Nigeria.

Then, I coined the concept of one Nigeria and the

slogan ‘One Nigeria’. But is that not what we fought for

in the civil war and is it not the basis of our new

constitution?

Well, if in 1945 my contemporaries felt that I was

wrong and in 1949 conference at Ibadan, this Richard’s

Constitution was endorsed and my party submitted a minority

report which was brushed aside and 30 years later, the

concept is found to be correct,

  don’t you think it is unfair to judge those of us who

fought 30 years ago for one Nigeria with those who oppose One Nigeria?

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                Chief Obafemi Awolowo

NN: If I may take you on. The principle of what you

supported is being vindicated alright. But what actually

happened in practice? People say that NCNC was vehemently

opposed to the creation of what are now the Cross River and Rivers States. In other words

  there seems to be a contradiction between principles and practice.

ZIK: That was propaganda. It is wrong. The NCNC

supported the creation of Calabar States, Ogoja State and Rivers State but not to lump the three together, because if

you do that you will have permanent minorities. Again on the

question of secession. In

  1953 the NPC under the leadership of my good friend, the

late Sardauna, threatened to secede from the federation unless their 6-point proposals were adhered to. I had to use personal diplomacy. We had been personal friends since 1940.

So, I saw Sir Ahmadu Bello and prevailed upon him that the unity of this country

was greater than himself and myself and the other people too

helped so that the North shifted grounds and agreed and so

the country was saved. That was in 1953.

Again, however, when the 1954 constitution conference

started, my good friend, Chief Obafemi Awolowo tabled a motion to the effect that in the new constitution, provision

should be made that any state which feels like seceding should do so. I was opposed

  to it and said ‘no’ and said that once we have a

federation, we are indivisible and perpetual. That was when we began to use that expression – ‘The Indivisibility and

perpetuity of the federation’ – and that to secede would

amount to treason. And so, a debate ensued.

The Secretary of State then was Oliver Littleton, later

Lord Chandos and he was very much interested and that was

his first time in saying that the people of African descent were people actually debating at a high level. So a full day was given to Chief Awolowo to make his points. He spoke brilliantly as a lawyer. He made his points why secession should be

incorporated in the constitution. He cited the case of the Soviet Union which is a federation, and that secession is

written there so that any state in

  the Soviet Union can secede at will.

He also cited the case of Western Australia and

eventually he finished his case and was applauded. We

adjourned. 

The next day, I had to reply. I availed myself of

the opportunity to, well, demolish the arguments of my

friend and I cited the case of United

  States which based its constitution on that of the Swiss Confederation. That is Switzerland. I pointed out a case, I

think, that of Texas versus White, where Mr. Salmon Chase,

the Chief Justice laid down the principle – he was really an

arbiter – that the

  union was intended to be perpetual and indivisible and that

any attempt to divide the union by secession was

treasonable.

The North (NPC) supported Action Group. The question

was then: Should we have secession? The Colonial Office came

to our rescue. You know, the usual principle of Britain –

‘divide and rule’ (laughs) but this time, it was in our

favour. So, the colonial

  office backed us. Lord Chandos said that on the face of the

arguments before him it would be suicidal to incorporate

secession in our constitution and that is why we have

section 86 in our constitution that if any region or state

should secede, then it will

  be an act of treason and that was what led to this war,

because Col. Ojukwu seceded and so violated the

constitution.

Now, if in 1954 I, as a politician fought against

secession and won against Chief Awolowo and others who were

in favour of secession, don’t you see that the Head of

State won’t be fair to me in saying that the politicians

of pre-1966 were responsible for

  the downfall of the republic?

NN: But if I can take you on again, perhaps one can say

here too that there was disparity between principles and practice because quite a lot of people say you played a prominent role in Biafra.

ZIK: Yes. I played a prominent role in Biafra for the

unity of the country in order to restore peace and bring

about unity of the country. That’s the role I played. I

advised Ojukwu. I said well look, you have declared

secession. What we should do is to

  get the elder statesmen and women of the nation to

reconcile you and Gowon. I said by declaring secession, you

get so many people who do not believe you to remain there.

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      General Yakubu Gowon

You see all of us were interned. As we were interned then,

we couldn’t express our own

  views as we see it because, he made Decree Number 5 which

vested absolute powers in himself and if you were against

his views, it then constituted an act of subversion and the

penalty was death by shooting. Well, it was a war-time

measure and that is understandable.

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      General Chukwuemeka O. Ojukwu

  So, I advised him. I said go to the conference table and

iron out your differences. Allow elder statesmen and elder

stateswomen to bring the two of you to the conference table

and settle this matter so that there will no more be civil

war and the country may

  be united. He agreed. But Gowon was advised by the Ministry

of External Affairs to insist on pre-conditions. That is

that before he could negotiate with the secessionists, that

they must accept certain terms; accept the 12-state

structure and all. So, it was

  quite obvious that the Federal Government wanted Biafra to

come to the conference table with their hands tied and their

feet tied. But they won’t be free agents. That was the

diplomatic mistake on the part of the Federal Government.

So, when they did that,

  then Lt- Col. Ojukwu told me, “How can I go to the

conference table based on these ultimatums?”

Still I advised Ojukwu to go to the OAU and ask them to

use their good offices to settle the dispute and that we

should avoid loss of lives. He accepted my advice in good

faith. Then he said, ‘Now, you have some heads of state in

Africa who are your friends,

  would you mind going to appeal to them to use their good

offices so that the Nigerian civil war could be an item on

the agenda for OAU summit in Kinshasa?’ I said I would

gladly go. So he sent me to Monrovia as a peace envoy. I went there and met my friend,

  President Tubman. Tubman expressed his willingness to use his good offices. He told me he would see another mutual

friend, the late Haile Sellassie, Emperor of Ethiopia, and

both of them would see that the civil war was placed as first item on the agenda of the OAU Summit in Kinshasa.

I returned and broke the news to Ojukwu. He was very

pleased. Then, when the OAU summit opened, Chief Awolowo, as Vice-Chairman of the Federal Executive Council and Commissioner for Finance, led a strong Nigerian delegation to Kinshasa and raised a very

  strong objective on the Nigerian civil war being placed as

an item on the agenda on the grounds that according to the OAU Charter, this was a domestic affair and member states

were precluded from interfering in the domestic affairs of each other, which was really sound according to international law. But we wanted

to solve it in the African way, to use mediation and

conciliation to bring two warring brothers together.

The OAU accepted the submission of Chief Awolowo and so

it was not put into the agenda. Well, history will show now

between Chief Awolowo and myself, who actually accentuated

the war. I was trying to get the OAU to settle the dispute

so they could go to the conference table and he was thinking of legalism, that

it would amount to interference in the domestic affairs of a

member-state. But meanwhile here you have two brothers

killing each other.

Well, Ojukwu told me, I have done my best. You see,

Nigeria was relying on law and we are relying on humanity.

What’s next? I said why not try other heads of states and

see what could be done to bring about peace? He then said he

left the initiative with

  me. I suggested going to some heads of state and see what

could be done. But his advisers led by Dr. Nwakama Okoro suggested recognition. That if we can get other states to

recognize Biafra, maybe the hands of Nigeria may be forced

to go to the conference table.

Well, I thought that was a sound idea and I placed my

services at their disposal so as to meet my friends. We had

in mind President Senghor of Senegal, President Houphouet

Boigny of Ivory Coast, President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania,

President Milton Obote

  of Uganda, President Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia and of course

Francois Bongo, he is now Omar. He now has become a Muslim.

He was then a Christian. The long and short of it all was

that I and these great African statesmen agreed that if

Gowon persisted with pre-conditions,

  then they would accord recognition to force the hands of

Gowon to go to the conference table and bring about peace.

That was one.

Two, Gowon had already predicted that the war would end

on March 31 and as far as these African statesmen were

concerned, these killings and atrocities did not do any

credit to the image of Africa and as such what should be

done was to stop it as soon

  as possible. Therefore if the war didn’t end by March 31,

then the propaganda of ‘Biafra’ that it was an act of

genocide would be justified. And they didn’t want to

accept that.

I went on this mission and succeeded in persuading

these heads of state to agree to give recognition just to

force the hands of Nigeria, diplomatically speaking, to the

conference table.

President Senghor said he couldn’t because the

majority of his supporters were Muslims and rightly or

wrongly they felt it was a religious war. And he said well,

if he granted recognition, then his government would fall.

But he supported the idea of forcing

  the hands of Nigeria to the conference table. Houphouet

Boigny was prepared, provided his people backed him. Ditto

for the others except Milton Obote who told us that Prince

Mutesa and the Bagandans wanted to secede and he couldn’t

support secession when his

  own state was confronted with similar problems. It left four of them. That is, President Nyerere, Houphouet Boigny,

Kaunda and Bongo. They agreed on the understanding that the

war did not end by March 31, 1968 and pre-conditions would

be removed to make it

  easy for both Ojukwu and Gowon to go to conference

table.

So they granted recognition and it worked like magic

because immediately after this, Dr. Okoi Arikpo, who must be

presumed to be responsible for this diplomatic blunder

 (he was the Commissioner for External Affairs]—a

good man no doubt, but he is a

  very poor diplomat in my own humble opinion – announced to

the outside world that Nigeria would no longer insist on

pre-conditions and that he was prepared for conference table

but the war did not end on March 31 and so, they left the

impression, you see,

  that Nigeria wanted to annihilate the Ibos.  You

noticed the Soviets gave Nigeria more arms and Nigeria used

those arms to destroy the secessionists. Here, I came in

again and I advised Ojukwu. I said look since Gowon has

withdrawn the pre-conditions, go to

  the conference table and argue the points so as to pave way

for a peace conference. It was agreed that they should meet

in Niamey. I advised Ojukwu to go. Again Gowon was

ill-advised so he couldn’t come.

At Niamey here was Ojukwu. I was on his side. Gowon

wasn’t there but Haile Sellassie, Hamani Diori, Tubman and

General Akran were there representing OAU. So, I told

Ojukwu, I said now you have an upper hand. These respected

leaders of the OAU were there.

  I had briefed Ojukwu. I said ‘look your line of approach

is to express appreciation for what the OAU was doing in

order to maintain peace in Africa but you were prepared to

co-operate and you are leaving the whole matter in the hands

of the OAU to see what

  could be done to bring an earlier cessation of hostilities.

I said just say that and thank them and sit down.

Now Gowon didn’t attend. He sent a junior man, I

think Alhaji Femi Okunnu or so, to represent him. And they

didn’t even attend this conference at which the four heads

of state presided. It was only the Biafran side. So Ojukwu

won a diplomatic victory and

  you know Ojukwu is a very good speaker if you give him all

the facts.  He was a good public relations expert and

he won. He said, ‘well if Gowon was sincere why did he

spite such great men and didn’t attend?’ That

worked.

They agreed that Nigeria could be contacted so that we

have a peace conference in Addis Ababa. It was a diplomatic

victory for Biafra and so we returned to Biafra highly

elated. And Ojukwu insisted that I should accompany him to

Addis Ababa. Then something

  happened. Some of his advisers felt that I was becoming a

victim of compromise and that I was a bad influence. That

all I was trying to do was to make Biafra impotent. They

told Ojukwu that Biafra was holding its own militarily. And

why should we want a peace

  conference? That he should be very, very careful with me,

especially as an Onitsha man because they thought that I was

using him as a means to give publicity for myself

internationally and that time will come when people will

look more to me than to himself.

Well, as a young man, human, he fell for such flattery.

I don’t want to mention all the names, but particularly

influential in swinging his opinion at that material time

was Mr. C. C. Mojekwu, who was based in Lisbon. Then Mr. Matthew Mbu was our Commissioner for External Affairs and he himself did as much as possible, but then he realized that he was having someone who has power of life and death over everybody. So, we went to Addis Ababa and on the night before the conference,Matthew came to my bedroom at about 10 in the night. He said, “Do you know that all we have done, this man is going to undo them tomorrow?’ I said ‘No’. Then he brought out a printed version of a long speech. The world press said it lasted for 90 minutes.

He [Ojukwu] went back on everything we discussed. He

attacked the United Kingdom, the United States, the Soviet

Union – all the nations of the world and the OAU, and said

that they were misleading us and that the sovereignty of

‘Biafra’ was not negotiable.

  We went to the conference. I sat next to him. I thought

that he was going to speak in accordance with the spirit of

Niamey. But he spoke for 90 minutes and he just got the

whole place upside down.

Naturally Tony Enahoro – he led the Nigerian delegation

– replied in kind and so we were back to square one. So,

when we returned, I advised him. I told him that I was

surprised at what he did but it was not late. He said,

‘The sovereignty of Biafra is

  not negotiable and if anybody should try to compromise that

sovereignty, then it will be an act of subversion.’ Well,

that was quite clear to me so I said, ‘Your Excellency,

you still have Port Harcourt and you can still bargain from

position of strength –

  after all, the main issue in the civil war is oil and they

say that in international politics, oil is combustible and

as you have a combustible situation you can begin from the

position of strength’. He said, ‘No, Port Harcourt is

impregnable.’ ‘Very well,

  Your Excellency,’ I said.  I went back to Nekede

where I had been in protective custody since February, 1968.

Two weeks later, Port Harcourt fell.

He sent for me. I said, ‘Well, Your Excellency, I did

warn you. You cannot now negotiate from a position of

strength but having received recognition from four states,

we can still use them to see what we can do to appeal to the

outside world.’ He said,

  ‘Very well, I think you should go to the United Nations

to seek for recognition.’ I said, ‘Your Excellency, let

us wait until after OAU summit in Algiers and find out what

Africa thinks.’ In the meantime, I went to Tunisia to see

my friend Habeeb Bourguiba

  of Tunisia. He wasn’t quite well, so we moved from

Carthage to Hermit where he stayed. Ojukwu had always said

the civil war would be won on the battlefield and not on the

conference table, and Bourguiba didn’t take kindly to

that. He said don’t you people

  advise this young man? I explained to him that I have done

everything I could to advise him, but he insists on going to

the battle field.

So we crossed our fingers awaiting the verdict of Algiers. You know it was decided by 33 to 4 in favour of Nigeria. I advised Ojukwu that to go to the United Nations to seek recognition would be unrealistic since Africa had decided by 33 to 4 in favour of Nigeria. I said Nigerian envoys, the Nigerian delegations, would just percolate the membership of the United Nations and they would frown at the whole thing. He insisted. I was then in Paris. I wrote him a letter. I said,

‘Since you refuse to go to the conference table to negotiate for peace, since you prefer

that the civil war should end on the battle field and not on the conference table; since you said that the sovereignty of

Biafra is not negotiable, I am afraid I cannot continue as a

peace envoy because

  you have destroyed all the vestiges of any optimism for

peace. Therefore I am relieving myself of my services as a

peace envoy. I cannot continue as a peace envoy. I cannot

continue as a peace envoy because you have let me down. You

left me under the impression

  that if I succeeded in getting recognition you will go to

the conference table. You got four recognitions; you did not

go to the conference table. I am therefore going to London on exile.

I went to London in voluntary exile and the British

government granted me asylum. I do not see how anybody could

say that I ran away from my country. I crossed the Atlantic

46 times, trying to negotiate with various heads of state so

that they could grant

  recognition or make OAU to settle the dispute. How could the head of state turn round now and accuse all those who were politicians in pre-1966 and post-1966 as beingb responsible for the downfall of the republic? I did my best to preserve the unity of Nigeria and also to preserve the lives of old men, able-bodied men and women and children but I failed. What could I do? I went on free exile and they keep saying that I was among those responsible for the downfall of the republic. I plead not guilty.

That was the Rt. Hon. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe GCFR, Zik of Africa, Owelle of Onitsha and first President of Nigeria and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria. His 114th birthday is marked this week – November 16.

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