I was locked in an argument with a friend. He argued that, if not for the saboteurs, the Biafran Army would have fought its way to Lagos and captured it. He refused to understand that an ill-equipped, ill-clad, ill-fed army that could neither defend its borders nor its capital, could not project military power to hundreds of miles from its frontier, and sustain serious battles and capture Lagos. I explained to him that it takes so much to project military power beyond your borders; and gave him series of examples on the inverse relationship between the distance military power is projected and the combat effectiveness of an army.
My quandary about his determined, repetitive argument was heightened by his supposed education. He has a PhD in economics. How can a man with such extensive knowledge of Economics, “the management and distribution of scarce resources among alternatives” or “maximizing utility subject to constrains”, be so unimaginative?
Once the topic is Biafra, the enduring grip of the lies of the Biafran propaganda on Igbo minds makes it impossible for many Igbo, irrespective of their education, to reason, thoughtless of reason rationally. Irrespective of the intrusively available information and the incontestable facts presented to them, they refused to appreciate the futility and absurdity of Biafranism. They continue to believe that Biafra was a realizable objective, scuttled by the subversive activities of the saboteurs. Ironically, there was no saboteur in Biafra; and Emmanuel Ifeajuna was not a saboteur.
For the naysayers that will consider this fact a desperate attempt at historical revisionism. And, as usual, haul invectives on me: Igbo hater, Fulani slave, agent of northern hegemony, bastard fathered by a Hausa/Fulani, etc, I recommend four books by four prominent actors in the Biafran war: Alexander Madiebo, Adewale Ademoyega, Bernard Odogwu and Frederick Forysth. They all wrote about Emmanuel Ifeajuna, and made it clear that he was not a saboteur.
In his declaration of Biafra, Ojukwu rejected the advice of the Igbo military elite, and political elite, namely his father, Sir Louis Ojukwu and Nnamdi Azikiwe. He, contemptuously, overlooked the refusal of the minorities in Eastern Nigeria to be part of his Biafra. He ignored Yakubu Gowon, who had implemented the Aburi Accord with Decree 8, and repeatedly, warned of an impending war, if Ojukwu tried to secede from Nigeria. In addition, he disregarded the Organization of African Unity (OAU)’s ingrained opposition to secession, and its insistence that the resolution to the conflict must be within the context of one Nigeria; and scorned the British and American governments’ opposition to the breakup of Nigeria.
With his declaration of Biafra against the grain of the Igbo military and political elite, the minorities in Biafra, the federal government of Nigeria, OAU and the governments of two most important Super Powers, Biafra was a reckless, suicidal enterprise. Just as the war started, Biafra started collapsing. With its superior fire power, the Nigerian army copiously slaughtered Biafran soldiers. After six days of fighting, they had captured the whole of Nsukka, and were on their advance towards Enugu.
Ifeajuna and his group urged Ojukwu to make peace, at least, arrange a cease fire, because the war was futile; it was wasting lives, especially of Biafran youths and destroying our material resources, and will still end in our defeat. Ojukwu refused. Ifeajuna, once had a test of fame as a Commonwealth Athletic champion and was one of the few university graduates, then, in the Nigerian army. He was the intellectual/ideological leader of the January 1966 coup. He was among the Igbo military elite that were opposed to the declaration of Biafra. With Alale, Ifeajuna went seeking support from other army officers to end the war immediately and to stop the waste in human lives; and to replace Ojukwu with someone more amenable to peace, if need be.
Alale was a trade unionist, expert of mass psychology and propagandist, and a very important aide/adviser to Ojukwu. He organized those series of rallies, graced by Ojukwu’s personal magnetism and mesmeric oratory. He was not originally a soldier, but was given a protective rank of major in the Biafran army.
In his book, The Nigerian Revolution and the Biafran War, the Biafran Chief of Army Staff, Alexander Madiebo, wrote about the visit of Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna and Major Alale to his military headquarters at Nkalagu. They told him of their desire to remove Ojukwu and replace him with another army officer prepared to negotiate with the federal government and bring a peaceful resolution to the war.
In his book, Why We Struck, the 2nd in command in the Victor Banjo-led Biafran invasion of Mid-West, Adewale Ademoyega, wrote, “Ifeajuna visited me in Benin and discussed a political solution as a possible alternative to the military, in view of Biafra’s heavy and continued loss of men, material and credibility”. He was disturbed that “Enugu was badly threatened and could fall any minute. And that it would be tragic to wait for that to happen.” To him, “Ojukwu was totally intransigent and that a political solution, if any, might have to be put into effect without his consent.”
As they sort the support of other army officers for their enterprise, the Chief of the Biafran Military Intelligence, Bernard Odogwu, got a wind of it; and informed Ojukwu. In his book, Nowhere to Hide (Crisis and Conflict in Biafra), Bernard Odogwu wrote that Ifeajuna, Alale and Agbam, a lawyer and a friend of Ifeajuna, planned to overthrow Ojukwu. And in his book, Emeka, Ojukwu’s friend and confidant, Frederick Forsyth, concluded his circuitous presentation on Victor Banjo-led military invasion of the Mid West with: Banjo was executed for insubordination. He “was shot along with one of the plotters of the January 15th 1966 coup, Emmanuel Ifeajuna.”
Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna, Lt. Colonel Victor Banjo, Major Alale and Barrister Agbam were arrested, and hurriedly tried and convicted for “intending to overthrow Ojukwu”. Members of the Special Tribunal instituted to trial them were ordered in advance to convict them. A member of the tribunal, a lawyer from Onitsha, Godwin Nzegwu, disobeyed the order to convict the four men because, as far as he was concerned, “There was no concrete evidence against them; it was totally unjust to convict them on hearsay.” He was arrested, and thrown into detention, where he remained till the end of the war.
Although they were convicted for “intending to overthrow Ojukwu”, the Biafran propaganda portrayed them as saboteurs that, for long, leaked Biafran military secrets to the enemy and subverted the Biafran war efforts, and thus, were responsible for the series of Biafran military setbacks. It also accused them of having infused and concealed their members throughout the entire Biafrian army, and infiltrated enemy soldiers within artillery range of Enugu, and thus, the city had been under the artillery barrage of the enemy.
As he stood, bare-chested, blindfolded and tied up, and awaiting the volley of bullets from the firing squad that will snuff-out his life, Ifeajuna said that: his death would not stop what he fears most, that the federal troops would enter Enugu, and the only way to stop this was for those about to kill him to ask for a ceasefire. The Biafran propaganda twisted his statement, and quoted him as saying that: even with his death, his plan, for the defeat of Biafra, will still work; the federal forces will soon enter Enugu and Biafra must lose the war. Quite naturally, the Biafran masses believed this lickerish, salacious, but mendacious, narrative.
The saboteur politics proved terrible for the Biafran Army, but very handy for Ojukwu. It seriously undermined discipline in the army: soldiers distrusted their commanders, and sometimes, disobeyed their orders, beat them up and murdered them because they suspected them of being saboteurs. Madiebo wrote that he repeatedly asked Ojukwu to stop the saboteur politics because it was destroying the Biafran Army, but Ojukwu refused. It provided him scapegoats for his repeated blunders. It exonerated him from all blames, as everything that went wrong in Biafra was blamed on the saboteurs. As Biafra wobbled from one defeat to another, and lost one city, town, village after another and Ojukwu rejected every opportunity for a peaceful resolution to the war, Biafrans trained their venom and blame on the supposed ubiquitous saboteurs; and not on the real culprit: Chukwuemeka Ojukwu.
After Nnamdi Azikiwe secured five international recognitions for Biafra; and the conflict seized to be Nigerian internal affairs, the prospect for peace significantly improved. But Ojukwu scuttled every attempt at a peace resolution because peace demanded a number of compromises that will strip him of his absolute and despotic powers: Head of State and Supreme of the Biafran Armed Forces. At the continued waste of Igbo lives and destruction of Igbo land, he continued to protect his power, until the federal forces closed in so dangerously on him, and would have captured him within a few days; he ran away.
Tochukwu Ezukanma writes from Lagos, Nigeria.
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