Monday, October 8, 2012

Awolowo Was No ‘Friend’ of Ours

By Biko Agozino

I eagerly await the arrival of my copy of Achebe’s personal historiography of Biafra with my mouth salivating in anticipation, given the spoilers already raising storms of debates. The charged debate over Achebe’s book gives Nigeria enough reason to reverse the dumb policy of Obasanjo who banned the teaching of history in Nigerian schools under the excuse that history is a yeye subject that does not lead to employment. Dalu (thank you), Nna anyi (our father) Achebe, you will live life until the endless time! I will wait until I have read every word and reflected on it before I comment on your magnum opus.

Meanwhile ... In response to this welcome addition to the cleansing of the historical conscience of Nigeria by Chinua Achebe, some misguided and misinformed miscreants have dredged up what looks like a fabrication, claiming that Awolowo regarded himself as a friend of the Igbo. The strange document lacks any of the clarity of the sage and digresses from a serious discussion of the haunting responsibility for genocide to the trivial mythology of fish as an astrological sign. That apparent forgery smell foul like a dead fish all right for the following reasons supported by quotations on friendship from Awolowo’s favorite text, the Bible:

1)   Awolowo was an elder, uncle or father of the Yoruba nation and not a friend of the Igbo. But being a beloved elder does not mean that you could never err: Soyinka has a character in Mad Men and Specialists who despite his immense wisdom grossly erred by teaching military officers how to enjoy cannibalism. ‘As soon as he began to reign and was seated on the throne, he killed off Baasha’s whole family. He did not spare a single male, whether relative or friend.’ 1 Kings 16:10-12

2)   To suggest that Awolowo saw himself as a friend is to distance himself from the Igbo as if we are not related, ‘why can’t we be friends’ is a polite turn-down for a jilted lover, as Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald dueted. ‘Then he said to them, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.’” Exodus 32:26-28

3)   If Chief Jeremiah Obafemi Awolowo really said what was attributed to him as a justification for the absolutely unjustifiably act of genocide, he must have been reading the book of his angry name-sake too literally: ‘For this is what the LORD says: ‘I will make you a terror to yourself and to all your friends; with your own eyes you will see them fall by the sword of their enemies. I will give all Judah into the hands of the king of Babylon, who will carry them away to Babylon or put them to the sword.’ Jeremiah 20:3-5
4)   To claim that you are a friend of someone is no argument for mitigation in any court of law especially when the charge is genocide: ‘You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death.’ Luke 21:15-17

5)   I have never met any young Nigerian who calls Azikiwe, Balewa, or Awolowo, nor the legends, Kano, Achebe and Soyinka his friend; they were/are more like elders. An old man who goes about saying that he is a friend of starving children but refuses to feed them as punishment for their parents is surely dodgy and dishonest. I doubt if Awolowo stooped that low.

6)   As a statesman, you are not expected to serve only your friends – you serve the whole country whether you love them or hate them. "My life has been a joy to me wherever I may be, for I have learnt to live in peace with either friends or foes." NNAMDI AZIKIWE.

7)   To say that Awolowo is a friend of the Igbo suggests that the Igbo regarded Awolowo as their enemy despite the fact that predominantly Igbo officers led a military coup for the explicit purpose of freeing Awolowo from prison and making him an executive president. As one of the coup plotters, Nwobosi, stated, he supported Awolowo over his next-door neighbor, Azikiwe: ‘Awolowo was our man, our man for the job; I don't think he was even the best friend of the Igbo. He wasn't, but we wanted a job done and we knew that the man who would do it well was Awolowo.’  Odia Ofeimum, the secretary of Awolowo, was quoted as saying that this is true but strange to Nigerians today because they do not know any patriotic Nigerians who would rise above ethnicity. No wonder Odia is yet to publish that book of his.

8)   Gowon was reported as having apologized to Asaba people for the massacre that took place in the town under his watch as Head of State but he claimed that he was ignorant that such atrocities happened. He is yet to apologize to the Igbo for the genocide that he was fully aware of and over which he actively presided. Descendants of Awolowo, Enahoro, Gowon, Danjuma and others still alive should lead in the soul-searching that Achebe has launched and support the call for reparations that Wole Soyinka has been making, lest future generations continue to believe that the genocide of more than 3 million of our compatriots was a heroic thing to be celebrated with honors and rewards.

9)   Starvation as a weapon of war especially after seeing that the prime victims were children is not just a mistake by Awolowo, it is a wicked crime against humanity. Even after the war, did he justify the stripping of Igbo families of all their life savings in exchange for 20 pounds to demonstrate his ‘friendship’? ‘Jesus answered, “Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? Luke 5:33-35

10)  It is painful to associate the respected sage with such a crime but he allegedly bragged that he saw malnourished children with his own eyes but said that he did continue to starve them because the adults were not also equally bloated with kwashioko and dying to surrender. Did he really say that?

11) He said that the allocation of public funds to a state in Nigeria was a sign of his friendship and expected to be commended for claiming that he did not demand 10% for himself out of the statutory allocation. Now that does not sound like the wise Awolowo. ‘If anyone denounces their friends for reward, the eyes of their children will fail.’ Job 17:4-6

12)  He said that he built schools in Warri but the credit probably belonged to the communities that built their own schools through community effort and he claimed that he saved abandoned properties for the Igbo in Lagos, yet Ojukwu had to go to court in 1985 before recovering his father’s property. If he suggested that Ojukwu was the real enemy of the Igbo, it must have been in the context of the 1983 election when Ojukwu declared for the National Party of Nigeria rather than join the Progressive Parties Alliance of Awolowo’s Unity Party of Nigeria, Azikiwe’s Nigerian People’s Party, and Aminu Kano’s People’s Redemption Party.

13) ‘You are not my friend, my friend.’ That is a style of rhetoric that Nigerians use as a retort whenever an antagonist calls you his friend without meaning it. We are expected to know who our friends are even if we may not know our brothers and sisters from other mothers or fathers. Achebe’s book should be read by all Nigerians and by all Africans to learn how to love one another like brothers and sisters and avoid any excuses to indulge in genocidal rages that have continued to consume the continent since the Igbo genocide as Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe has been documenting. Instead of reacting by defending ethnic icons, let us all demand that the Nigerian government, the British government, Russia and Egypt should atone for this heinous crime that has robbed Nigeria of some of its greatest minds. Reparations for the Igbo genocide will help to heal the open sores of that crime and pave the way for a progressive future for all Africans to enjoy.

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