Firestorm: Yoruba leaders blast Achebe for “attacking” Awolowo

by Stanley Azuakola

It was bound to happen. You don’t speak ill of one of the greatest Yorubas of all time and not expect a backlash. Not even if you are a legendary world icon like Prof. Chinua Achebe.

The literary giant recently released his civil war memoir titled There was a Country last week, in which he asserted that war-time Head of State General Yakubu Gowon and the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo both formulated policies that promoted genocide against the Igbo nation.

Achebe wrote in the book that: “Almost 30 years before Rwanda, before Darfur, more than 2 million people- mothers, children, babies, civilians-lost their lives as a result of the blatantly callous and unnecessary policies enacted by the leaders of the federal government of Nigeria.”

He said: “Throughout the conflict, the Biafrans consistently charged that the Nigerians had a design to exterminate the Igbo people from the face of the earth. This calculation, the Biafrans insisted, was predicated on a holy jihad proclaimed by mainly Islamic extremists in the Nigerian Army and supported by the policies of economic blockade that prevented shipments of humanitarian aid, food and supplies to the needy in Biafra .”

Then the part of the book which has riled lots of Yorubas. Speaking about Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who was the vice chairman of the Federal Executive Council and minister of Defence, Achebe said: “The wartime cabinet of General Gowon, the military ruler, it should also be remembered, was full of intellectuals, like Chief Obafemi Awolowo, among others, who came up with a boatload of infamous and regrettable policies. A statement credited to Awolowo and echoed by his cohorts is the most callous and unfortunate: all is fair in war, and starvation is one of the weapons of war. I don’t see why we should feed our enemies fat in order for them to fight harder’.

“It is my impression that Awolowo was driven by an overriding ambition for power, for himself and for his Yoruba people. There is, on the surface at least, nothing wrong with those aspirations. However, Awolowo saw the dominant Igbo at the time as the obstacles to that goal, and when the opportunity arose with the Nigeria-Biafra war, his ambition drove him into a frenzy to go to every length to achieve his dreams. In the Biafran case, it meant hatching up a diabolical policy to reduce the numbers of his enemies significantly through starvation eliminating over two million people, mainly members of future generations.”

As expected, some eminent Yorubas have been reacting to Achebe’s claims. According to reports on this and you can read excerpts of that report below:

Mr. Ayo Opadokun who was Assistant Director of Organisation of the late Chief Awolowo’s Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) and later Secretary of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), described the Achebe assertion as “typical”.

“It is a reharsh of the perverted intellectual laziness which he had exhibited in the past in matters related to Chief Obafemi Awolowo. When Achebe described Awo as a Yoruba irredentist, what he expected was that Awo should fold his arms to allow the Igbo race led by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, to preside over the affairs of the Yoruba nation,” Opadokun said.

Opadokun pointed out that some of his colleagues who played prominent roles in liberating Nigeria from the clutches of military rule, such as Rear Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu (rtd),  Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe (rtd), Dr. Arthur Nwankwo, Alhaji Abulaziz Ude and others who he described as “men of honour and integrity”, are Igbo. But he found it difficult to believe that a scholar of Achebe’s stature could be so unforgiving.

He said, “Let our Igbo brothers be reminded that about three-quarters of their assets not in the eastern Region are in Lagos and we have been very liberal and accommodating. We have allowed them to live undisturbed.”

Senator Biyi Durojaiye shares Opadokun’s view. He said: “My view is that you don’t expect somebody on the receiving end of a war to say something pleasant about the winners.

“I don’t share Achebe’s view that Awolowo did all he did for personal political aggarandisement. It was all in the process of keeping Nigeria one. What he and General Gowon did was in the process of preserving the integrity of Nigeria .”

He urged the Igbo to be more charitable, seeing that both sides of the war are now benefiting from its outcome. He enjoined all to join hands in facing the challenges of the moment, insisting that the way to go is for all Nigerians to support a Sovereign National Conference and restructuring of the polity. Mr. Jacob Omosanya who participated actively in Action Group politics as a member of the Action Group Youth
Association AGYA), said Achebe and many of his kinsmen in public life are tribalistic and “that is what he has exhibited in this new book.”

“It is not new. He canvassed similar views in The Trouble with Nigeria. Dr. Azikiwe and his people should be grateful to the Yoruba who have always been liberal. When Zik was on his way back home from the United States, he ran into trouble in the Gold Coast. It was a team of lawyers led by the late H. O. Davies that saved him. This is a fact of history that should not be lost on the Igbo.”

Mr. Omosanya said he had expected that people intellectuals such as Achebe, would be bridge builders and avoid inflaming passions.

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Comments (31)

  1. Everybody w surely die and face the reality in the final house (grave),let achebe's and other's think of this last home

  2. Godis ever faithful to nigeria especially to the Igbo man.whether Nigeria likes it or not,we'll be moving forward.

    simple sorry is difficult even to Nigeria as a nation.

    till now another set of massaccre is still going on in the North but a remnant shall be preserved.God bless Nigeria,God bless the egood people of Eastern Nigeria,Long live Biafra,the salt,light,heart and heartbeat of the nation

  3. @Olaitan jobi, i failed to respond to your allegation that comparing your write-up and mine that it is easy to tell who is wiser and ready to learn in my response. Well it is self evident from the write-ups that you mentioned that you are the one who is less wise and needs to learn. First you laughably claimed that the coup that intervened to stop the crisis in the west was not an igbo coup because nzeogwu was born in kaduna. I dont know since when being born elsewhere diminished peoples ethnic identity because i know many people including ojukwu who were like nzeogwu born in the north but did not have their ethnic identity diminished. I also pointed out to you that of the 5 majors 4 were igbo. And because your attempt to rubbish the igbo angle in helping to stop the crisis in the west failed you have now come-up with the nonsense of why the coup plotters killed the corrupt leaders. It is obvious from these write-ups that you are the one who really needs to be wise and to learn.

  4. @Olaitan jobi, again your ignorance is obvious, what did Jerry Rawlings do in Ghana in his coup? Every revolution in history involved some killing. Even today many nigerians are praying for a coup that will kill all nigeria's leaders. And by the way the wetie crisis was killing hundreds of people on a daily basis in the west. At the end of the day, what ever the demerits of the coup the bottomline remains that the Igbo officers intervened to stop the violence and carnage in the west for which the yorubas should at least be grateful. Biafra was a legitimate act of self preservation in the face of the pogrom at the time and you have no right to say the process for which a people choose to act for their own preservation was wrong. It was yakubu gowon who could have implemented Aburi accord as he himself had agreed in Ghana but decided to renege and who also had the choice to resolve the issue democratically by holding a referendum or plebiscite which ojukwu called for who caused the war. Awolowo on his own part had many choices one of which was to insist on a peaceful resolution of the problem without going to war and putting pressure on gowon to implement aburi accord as agreed in ghana, but awolowo choose instead to join gowon in a war of genocide even though he knew the problem that caused the crisis was a patriotic intervention by igbo officers to stop the crisis in the western region. Truth is awolowo and the yorubas betrayed the igbos and no amount of semantics by people like you can change the fact of that ungratefulness and betrayal. Yorubas should have the humility to accept that what Awolowo did was wrong. Reverse the situation and imagine that Azikiwe and the igbos joined the north to wage a genocidal war against the yorubas, i am sure the yorubas would never have forgiven the igbos. worse of all the war was not even genuinely for one nigeria but for crude oil and selfish ethnic agenda which is why 43 years after the war there is northern domination (born to rule) and there has been no reconcilliation and nigeria continues to stumble with social, political and economic injustice. We need to learn from the past and move on but that can only happen when both the opressors and the oppressed accept the truth. Yorubas should for once show gratitude for the igbo coup that stopped the carnage in their region and accept that awolowo was wrong so that we can all move on!

  5. @ tony, you are still not getting the point. It's a shame what you were fed with while growing is bitterness towards awolowo n yoruba when ever the dark days are mentions. Tony, your cup appears full, and not just full but filled with irrelivant and distorted views and knowledge about the civil war, compaipring my write up and yours, u could easily tell who is wiser and ready to learn. Until you ease your cup of the distorted views and knowledge burdening it, you will never find the pinnacle of substance, philosophy and greatness. You applaud the 'ibo officers' in your write up that killed the leaders in 1966, but chastice the federal government and awolowo for doing all it takes to win over the 'enemy- biafra' at the time. You can see your views are vieled with foolishness and bias, well I'm not surprised. Even if wetie was on, was killing the leaders to take power a solution to it? Like u said to 'help the yoruba'. That's shooting before aiming, ibo's have a knack for that, and that's evident again in the biafra war, every knowledgeable ibo I have met agreed with me when I tell them there was nothing wrong in biafra's opting out but it was not done with a thorough thinking of all the options and aftermaths. Biafra was right but the process was wrong.having said that, no one can now stand alone in nigeria, we need each other, long live ibo, long live the memories of the ones we lost on both sides in thw war. Remember, if your cup remains full, u are the most wreched and the most foolish of all. God bless nigeria. Peace

  6. At tony, 1st u stood logic and fact on it's head and therefore rendered it an hilarious foolishness, you don't declear the uniqueness of a coin by staring at one side, there are two sides to it. I only could make a point on biafra until I read the two parts, Gowon and the making of an african legend-the biafran story. Corruption started when 1959 election was stage which the colonial masters rigged against the yoruba's in the national polls because the believed the west will be difficult to control with the likes of awolowo in charge, a brithish young commisioner names Howard withnessed the rigging and money exchanging hands and latter wrote about it in his book but was silenced by powers that be in england, Yoruba didn't start corruption and greed in nigeria, instead yoruba was the 1st victim of that evil. Secondly, major nzeogwu who led the coup was born and raised in north and hardly spoke or understood igbo, he was only igbo by birth and that singular reason led to the unfortunate death of million, if he was charles bello by name, hausa's will have been confused on who to vent their retarliation on for the death of tafawa, bello and akintola. Fate was just dat singular factor sorrounding the name nzeogwu, a ibo name, that made things fall apart. So ibo's didn't start the coup, infact major nzeogwu said the soldier he took to amahdu bello were all of northern desent and they got the job done, it just happened that hauesa's were in power then, if they were ibo nzeogwu would have killed them equally. Lastly, concerning pa achebe, let the man grief the lost, its allowed, I'm only wonder it's 40 years too long of grieving, it should be the next stage now, strenght and moving on. Awolowo's name can never be soiled, he remain the greatest achiever in nigeria till date. Look to the future, naija shall be great.

    1. @Olaitan Jobi, your writing does reveal your level of ignorance. The january 1966 coup was done by 5 majors 4 of whom were Igbo, so apart from Nzeogwu there were 3 other igbo officers who did a coup out of patriotism to stop the violence in the western region (wetie)as a result of the election rigging corruption in the western region in 1964.These are historical facts which prove that the first incidents of election rigging corruption by nigerians after the departure of the colonial masters was in yorubaland. Before the election rigging in 1964 a state of emergency had been declared in the western region in 1962 and Awolowo was jailed for coup plotting in 1963. So the western region was practically aflame with crisis after crisis.

      Awolowo could not manage his own region from whence election rigging, thuggery, arson, mass murder and other forms of violence and corruption was introducd into nigeria which led to the first coup and truncated the first republic. Awolowo also introduced tribalism into nigerian politics when he orchestrated the carpet crossing incident on tribal grounds after the 1954 elections. Awolowo never beleived in nigeria and should have used the opportunity of Biafra to pull out the west from nigeria but he choose to be a cheap and greedy opportunist because gowon promised him nigerian presidency after the war and thus joined gowon in perpetrating an unjust war. Awolowo's scorecard can only be good for those who lack a sense of justice. The undeniable fact is that yorubas introduced election rigging corruption, thuggery and violence and predominantly Igbo officers did a coup out of patriotism to stop the carnage in yorubaland and the yorubas who should have been grateful stabbed the igbos in the back by joining gowon to fight against them. These are hard facts and God will be the ultimate judge! The Igbos have suffered immeasurably because they intervened to stop the violence and mass murders in yorubaland for which the yorubas whom the igbos helped by stopping the carnage in their region never showed any gratitude instead they fought against the igbos and continue to insult the igbos till today. I know there is a God of justice and one day no matter how long it takes justice will be done!

  7. The jan 1966 coup that led to the civil war was done by Igbo officers to stop the carnage and violence (wetie) in yorubaland as a result of the 1964 election rigging corruption in the western region. The Igbo officers could have allowed the violence which was consuming yorubaland to continue but they acted out of patriotism for which the yorubas should have been grateful. But as soon as the tables turned the ungrateful yorubas led by Awolowo rushed to join Gowon to wage an atrocious and unnecessary war. Where was the yoruba penchant for justice before the war? where was yoruba social activism and opposition to injustice before the war? These are pertinent questions because the yorubas could have chosen to raise their voice against the war and stood on the side of justice but out of opportunism Awolowo choose to join an unjust war. Usurping the inalienable rights of a people to self determination rights is not a virtue of civilisation or justice but of barbarity and injustice and that was what Awolowo did. Lets reverse the situation and imagine that the Igbos joined the north to fight against the yorubas,the yorubas i am sure would never have forgiven the Igbos. As the past continues to haunt nigeria i hope the rest of us will learn!

  8. @ify don kuti and who is the over dog in a failed nation crippled by corruption, poverty and social chaos? the best desription for nigeria is a jungle. If you think there is any merit in being an over dog in a jungle then it proves how ignorant, barbaric and animalistic you and your types are. The rubbish you wrote speaks more of you as a confused and ignorant troll.

  9. Am an Igbo man,as long as I leav I feel d igbo race wz plan to b wiped out of dis earth,historian nos dis,we all nos dis,but at dat I belive One nigerian shud wil b n wud eva b

  10. The igbos are architect of their misfortunes. As long as they can do anything, to make money they will remain pariah in any civilized society they found themselves. It will be difficult to entrust the destiny of a nation to the igbo race.

    The way out,is for them to reform themselves,emphasis should be on integrity as virtue rather money at cost, that makes other people resent the igbo man.

    1. You are partly right but not for the prewar Ibo man. The prewar Ibo man was a man of integrity. As for the post war Ibo man, sure, I agree with you, will remain pariah as long as he can do any thing to make money. The post war Ibo man is the product of war imposed starvation organized by Awolowo. This is the point that Achebe is making. But who goes to party while the Ibo man is tethered to money?

    2. @godwin oyibode the bible says remove the log in your eyes before you see the speck in another mans eyes. Which nigerian does not do anything to make money in a nation where 99.9% are corrupt? Nigeria became corrupted after the civil war under the watch and leadership of hausa-yoruba leaders and their win the war allies. Take a roll call of all the federal looters since 1970 and see that over 90% of them are hausa-yoruba. Today nigeria is the most corrupt and dysfunctional nation on earth lacking the most basic amenities such as pipe borne water, electricity etc In practically every sector from NEPA to customs to the police force and practically everywhere there is corruption propagated by the win the war hausa-yoruba group(the most corrupt tribes on earth)So why dont you start the reform to intergrity from your win the war hausa-yoruba leaders who turned the nation into a failed state and jungle of massive corruption and misrule? You are nothing but a dirty hypocrite who needs to cover your head in shame for how your people have looted and destroyed the nation. I thank god that today the whole nation including your tribes that fought out of selfishness to keep this useless nation are all suffering the consequence. Who is now asking for a sovereign national conference is it not the yorubas and others? Ojukwu has been vindicated while opportunists like Awolowo have been shamed.

  11. Every action or word is an open check drawn on the bank of nature and its maturity is manifest by an outburst of Achebe's type. Any action more than 40 year rating producing the present kind of reverberation as using Achebe as a reflector is in itself a highly rated one. If interpreted in the negative, the reverberation is an abomination, then the action itself is a greater abomination. If in the eyes of Afenifere, Chief Awolowo was right, then Achebe msust have been more than right. After all, the so called starvation has continued every where outside Ibo land, only changing shape and posture.

  12. I will get the book there was a country….. but surely i knw Nigerian never existed and that is true…Nigeria has no Hero never….All these men struggled for them self and at best for thier people.Nigeria never missed it,we just never got it right from the start.This was a country whose foundations was built on power tussle and dominance schemes from all sides.

    I am not Igbo but I am of the view that Ojukwu {maybe too partly selfishlly} saw what the likes of Awolowo and Zik did not see,If Biafra had successed no part of Nigeria will be as decaying as we have in Nigeria now….I do not see any benefit that any part of Nigeria has benefited by stayying together in a struturally defective entity called Nigeria for 52 years-now i am looking beyound waht Nigeirans see as success-staching money and slicing the national cake- nuthing is on on ground any where in nigeria and no tribe or region can boast of a healthy society that the next generation can boast of.

    Someone said yourba has benefitted from what…benefitted by paying DSTV to south africa after having the first tevesion staion in Africa,benefited by having universities that can rank about the best 50 in Africa,the pace at which the western region was going clearly no DSTV nor MTN could have coem 30 year after to milk the land…….the price of staying together for 50 year is being feltt by allll

  13. Its a pity the way Nigerian engage themselves in almost all fora.This man Achebe has made an allegation-that we can summarize as having Awolowo commiting a war crime,instead of facing this main point,Nigerians are doinin waht they have been knwo for for 52 years -beating about the bush.

    Is this allegation true or false? Was it the right to do {if true}, if False someone tell us the true stories ? All the Yoruba leaserd that have responded has failed to address what has been highlited by Achebe.

    I am a yoruba man,I wont defend anyone just blindly castigate anyone that whats to throw light on the live of Awolowo,lets us engage in an intellectual thinking and do more research on this

  14. Whether Achebe right or wrong shouldn't be τ̲̅ђe argument here. Τ̲̅ђe sleeping dog should be allowed to lie peacefully. We all know τ̲̅ђe truth but τ̲̅ђe point ΐƨ, considering τ̲̅ђe surrounding political exigencies of that moments, anybody at τ̲̅ђe ruling divide could have done thesame even Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe himself. Frankly speaking, instead of we τ̲̅ђe igbos trying to cast aspersions on τ̲̅ђe Actions of Awolowo and Gowon, our outrage should descend on Azikiwe for being so myopic and could not read τ̲̅ђe hand writings on τ̲̅ђe wall with his one-nigeria slogan even when it was crystally clear that such dream would be a tall one. Awolowo did all he could to sway him to τ̲̅ђe side of reasoning but he would not listen. This ΐƨ not τ̲̅ђe time to go into what precipitated τ̲̅ђe war both remote and immediate. Instead of Achebe coming up to open up our healed wound, he should join hands calling for a get together for us to talk. It ΐƨ better late than never. Bringing up this issue now amounts to making we τ̲̅ђe younger Igbo generation remember how disappointed we feel towards τ̲̅ђe actions of our then leaders. With all intents and purposes, for all I care, a leader like Awolowo, who had τ̲̅ђe interest of his people first at heart and did all he could to leave lasting legacies behind ΐƨ a Great leader and a heroe…my igbo folks, plz A̶̲̥̅m very sorry for not sounding sentimental but I just have to speak τ̲̅ђe truth. t

    1. Hon. Christian Obhahiagbon, you wan wound us? Take am easy bro.

  15. The Igbos are shitless spineless schmucks,who will remain under-dogs of the Nigerian-Nation till extinction. They are the cause of their woes. Traitors and betrayals bedevils them. My heroes remain: late Dim Odimegwu Chukuemeka Ojukwu,Prof Chinua Achebe,Colonel Joe Achuzie(rtd). These men sacrificed their comfort for a terribly ungrateful igbo.

  16. I agree with Mr. Opadokun. Comments made in war shouldn't hold water when structuring relations in peace time. What does he hope to achieve by digging up the past? All is fair in love and war. The Warlord Ojukwu who deliberately witheld food supplies from his own people; so pictures could be taken of starving children and smuggled abroad is free of blame? Apportioning blame to just one party is wrong. The truth is; in war.. However "brotherly"; there will be human rights abuses. Ojukwu in all his wisdom must have ben mindful of this before seeking secession. The current situation is peaceful; yorubas and ibos live peacefully side by side. Such comments coming from such an influential elder statesman are inflammatory and could lead to renewal of hostilities.

  17. Let the truth be known,& let the "dogs" eat their shit. . The igbos are the cause of their disaster. Let them keep licking their wounds while they may never recover.

  18. Let the truth be known,& let the "dogs" eat their shit. . The igbos are the cause of their disaster. Let them keep licking their wounds while they may never recover.

  19. how do you expect a race who's race was slaughtered in cold blood to forget? Everyone is biased , igbo's face prejudice every and lack a sense of belonging in nigerian, so this is always reflected in both our actions , speech and as you've seen , even writting. So let no body get judgemental though we forgive we can never forget, even if you remove history studies from our curriculum.

  20. Everyone has a point .the past is the past let's move forward

    1. The past is NEVER the past. You must study the past to prevent revisionism

  21. I do not expect such from someone of Achebe's stature. I respect him so much.

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