Femi Fani-Kayode’s Tangled Web (Part 2)

by Henry Chukwuemeka Onyema

Apart from Adewale Ademoyega, there were other Yoruba military officers who willingly gave their best for the January coup. There is Second Lieutenant Olafimihan, an officer who served under Major Alexander Madiebo, one of the Igbo officers who crushed the January coup. Olafimihan was sent by the plotters to gauge Madiebo’s loyalty and only his shrewdness saved Madiebo. This information can be read on pages 17-18 of Madiebo’s book ‘The Nigerian Revolution and the Biafran War.’ There is also Lieutenant (some sources refer to him as a Captain) Fola Oyewole. He, like Ademoyega, fought for Biafra and wrote a book titled ‘reluctant Rebel.’ There is also Captain Ganiyu Adeleke. Were all these men acting on behalf of the millions of Yoruba who had nothing to do with the coup? So why should Ifeajuna, Nzeogwu, Anuforo, etc be labeled as acting on behalf of the Igbo? Why was Colonel Arthur Unegbe, the Army Quartermaster General, excluded from Fani-Kayode’s list of casualties of the January coup? He should read Silloun’s accounts and Ademoyega’s book. Those who want to label the January coup as an Igbo affair ignore these facts:

Unegbe was shot by the January plotters, specifically Major Chris Anuforo and his team.

Unegbe was NOT killed because he refused to surrender the armoury keys to the plotters. He was not in charge of any armoury because his post as Quartermaster General was an administrative one. From day one he was on the plotters’ list because of his pro-Establishment leanings. Ademoyega confirmed this in page 60 of his book.

Some writers on the coup claim that Unegbe was an Anioma so he was not Igbo. But I was informed by a townsman that Unegbe was from Ozobulu in present day Anambra State. However, whether from Anioma in Delta State or Ozobulu, he was an Igbo.

Igbo officers, namely, Ironsi, Ojukwu, and Madiebo, were instrumental to crushing the coup.

Ironsi was a target of the coup plotters but he outsmarted them. Fani-Kayode should look for the British ‘Daily Telegraph’ newspaper, 22 January 1966 edition, and read Nzeogwu’s interview to confirm this. Ademoyega wrote the same thing in chapter 5 of his book.

Much has been written about how Ironsi and Senate President Nwafor Orizu strong-armed the remnants of Balewa’s cabinet into handing over to Ironsi. Fani-Kayode described the episode as a ‘murky and deep-seated Igbo conspiracy.’ But a few basic posers are necessary:

Why did Ironsi not arbitrarily shoot himself to power if he wanted it so badly? Everything was going for him. Why should he seek Orizu’s blessing and the cabinet’s backing?

What of Northern officers like Yakubu Gowon and Hassan Katsina who supported Ironsi in crushing the coup? Could they not have stopped Ironsi’s so-called plot? They got top jobs in Ironsi’s administration.

Have you ever heard of unarmed Nigerian civilians stopping armed military coup plotters? How would Orizu do it? Was the so-called British support ready for an all-out war with Nzeogwu’s forces? Nzeogwu had control of the North, where the coup succeeded. Back then, most of Nigeria’s military structure was concentrated in the North. Minus the Fifth Battalion in Kano under Ojukwu’s command, the rest were at Nzeogwu’s beck and call and he was ready to march down on the South where his colleagues failed. Only negotiations stopped him.

It is a tragedy that nearly fifty years after these unwholesome history, Fani-Kayode refuses to be an objective historian. This idea that the Igbo published and aired material celebrating the killings of January 1966 is widely accepted by many people who want to blame the Igbo for Nigeria’s woes. But facts do not lie. Fani-Kayode should go online and read ‘Operation Aure: The Northern Military Counter-Rebellion of July 1966’ by Nowa Omoigui, a Nigerian military historian who by no account is pro-January 1966 coup. I raise the following facts that can be verified.

The controversial ‘Goats Are bleating ‘song which is regarded as Igbo rejoicing over the coup was released in 1964 by Cardinal Rex Jim Lawson, a Kalabari highlife musician of the 1950s and 60s. Although an Ijaw, he sang in Igbo and other languages. How did a song released in 1964 become an anthem for a bloody coup in 1966?

Drum magazine which published the incendiary pictures and articles that shook the North had been operating in Nigeria for some years before 1966. The awful cartoon on Sir Ahmadu Bello was allegedly drawn by a Coz Idapo. That edition of the monthly magazine came into the North on May 28; just four days after the region began seething over the Unification Decree promulgated by the Ironsi regime.

Coz Idapo does not sound like an Igbo name to me and I hope I am sufficiently Igbo to know an Igbo name. Who comprised the magazine’s editorial team that gave the green light for the publication of such material when Nigeria was burning? Given that there were Northern agent provocateurs sowing seeds of disaffection among the Northern military and civilian populace then, was the arrival of the magazine deliberately timed? Who is this Coz Idapo? Was he a cover to deal with the ‘stubborn’ Igbo?

Thank God it is known that Nigeria declared war on Biafra on July 6 1967. The Nigerian Army fired the first shot at Garkem, Ogoja, in present day Cross Rivers State. This is not the forum to address the vexed question of Eastern minorities but Fani-Kayode needs to be reminded that the name of the secessionist republic was coined by Frank Apuigo, an Ijaw politician who served Biafra to the end. Till they eventually got their Mid-Western Region in 1963, the peoples of that area, including the Igbo of Asaba, Aboh, Ika, etc. did not have a sweet life with their dominant Yoruba neighbours.

When the Igbo came back to Lagos after the war they had to contend with official policies such as the Indigenisation Decree of 1972which the Yoruba hegemonists capitalized on to squeeze the Igbo out of Nigeria’s post-war economy. Agreed, there were individual and low-level official Yoruba efforts to integrate Igbo returnees after the war. But by and large the Yoruba bureaucrats and leaders were not so strategically unwise to allow the Igbo to rise to their pre-war levels of rivalry in the stiff competition for the boons of the new world order initiated by the British and consolidated after 1960. Fani-Kayode is a lawyer. Is he unaware of records of Igbo who had to fight through the courts for their ‘abandoned property’?

Fani-Kayode should realise that Lagos is a complex phenomenon. I agree there are indigenous ownership of parts of the area of Lagos; ex-slaves, returnees, etc. Even the ancient Benin Empire once called the shots. But no modern city thrives on solely indigenous enterprise. Come to think of it, what are the generally accepted criteria for defining the indigenes of a place? History is an endless wave of migration and with her access to the ocean, Lagos is particularly susceptible. However, if Fani-Kayode’s ambition of ‘deporting’ all Igbo from Lagos comes to pass, what of non-Lagos Yoruba?

Modern cities thrive on integration, not excluivism. If Yoruba residents in Owerri are hounded by the Imo State government I will condemn it. Lagos is not ‘no man’s land.’ Every inhabitable land on earth is owned by man, even the Wild West frontiers penetrated by early Americans in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They had to contend with Indian tribes. But today they have come to terms with each other. As a significant part of Lagos, the Igbo deserve all the rights and responsibilities of being part of its evolution and mega-mix. We do not beg to be part of Lagos. We wish to prove that, like all others who come from or to Lagos, are worthy of a place under its sky. Our record so far shows that we deserve it.
I acknowledge the Yoruba head start in scholarship and the professions in Nigeria. But if Fani-Kayode wants to use that to consign the Igbo to the non-starter’s block he is wrong. It is not who first started the race counts. For every Soyinka there is an Achebe; for every D’Banj there are the P-Square twins; for every Lola Shoneyin there is an Adaobi Nwabuani; for every Sefi Atta there is a Chimamanda Adichie; for every Omotola Ekeinde there is a Genevieve Nnaji. So let us outgrow primordial sentiments.

These developments should spur Igbo people to channel their resources and talents to developing their region. That we are traditionally footloose is no excuse. This is necessary because the utterances of the likes of Fani-Kayode imply that Nigeria is not yet home for all that dwell in it.

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