FOR his comments on the late Premier of the Western Region , Chief Obafemi Awolowo, over his role during the 1967-70 Civil War, Prof. Chinua Achebe has drawn the ire of a leader of the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo.
He described Achebe as someone suffering from incurable Yorubaphobia.
Achebe had, in his recent book, There was a country: A Personal History of Biafra, among other claims, said that Chief Awolowo hated the Igbo and promoted policies that were meant to exterminate the Igbo – when he served in Gen. Gowon’s government during the war.
Adebanjo, one of Awolowo’s close lieutenants told The Guardian that he and his colleagues in Afenifere were not surprised at the way Achebe tried to portray the late Awolowo.
“We know Achebe as somebody who has some hatred for Yoruba, and the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, in particular. Many of us who were around during the war are already familiar with (Achebe’s) styles and actions. He has a pathological hatred for Awolowo and the Yoruba race. He’s suffering from Yorubaphobia; and he needs help.”
Adebanjo said if indeed Awolowo, who was Federal Commissioner (Minister) of Finance during the conflict, played an ignoble role, the leader of the then Eastern Nigeria and of the secessionists, Chief Chukwuemeka Odumekwu-Ojukwu, would not have described him (Awolowo), upon his death, as the best president Nigeria never had.
“If Ojukwu had the same opinion on Awolowo like Achebe has, would he have made that remark? Ojukwu could have said good riddance to bad nothing or merely stayed away from Awolowo’s burial. He said Awolowo was the best president Nigeria never had; even after Achebe had expressed similar cynicism about 30 years ago that Awolowo did not like them, that he hated them.”
In his account of the events leading to the Civil War, Adebanjo dismissed Achebe’s accusation of Awolowo of being part of Gen. Yakubu Gowon’s cabinet that supposedly initiated genocide against the Igbo.
He said Achebe could not claim ignorance of the fact that specific recorded instances of pogrom were a consequence of the second military coup of July 1966 in which the northern soldiers and northerners committed a series of atrocities against the Igbo in the North.
Adebanjo said: “At this time, Awolowo was still in Calabar prison serving his jail term of treasonable felony. It was after his release from prison that Gen. Gowon invited him to join his cabinet as Vice Chairman of the Federal Executive Council and Minister of Finance. The war was already brewing at such time.
“At the risk of his life, and against the advice of his cabinet colleagues, Awolowo made contact with Ojukwu and met him in Enugu to dissuade him from going to war. In his one-on-one meeting with Ojukwu, Awolowo tried to persuade Ojukwu to come to a roundtable conference with the Federal Government to iron out his differences with the government. But despite the assurances Ojukwu gave to Awolowo that he had accepted to dialogue, Ojukwu reneged and a few weeks later attacked the Midwest and thus declared war against the Federal Government. Which is how the civil war became inevitable.”
Adebanjo, who explained that Afenifere as a group had not responded to the Achebe’s book because members were still studying the situation, however, did not rule out a possible meeting of members of the group to discuss the development.
Lamenting the impact on younger generations the alleged hatred “being unwittingly promoted by an elder in the mould of Achebe” could promote, Adebanjo said he was at a loss over what the author sought to achieve by “deliberate misrepresentation of events.”
“Our fear is exactly the impact of this kind of thing on younger generations. I can’t understand, particularly when the two ethnic groups have been collaborating ever since. Achebe is just a cantankerous person, who loves to be controversial and who probably does not like being an elder statesman.
“You would recall that in 1986 when Prof. Wole Soyinka was awarded Nobel prize, Achebe said he, Soyinka, stole his mandate.
“While one does not want to start going into all that now because Soyinka is still very much alive and is ever capable, but oro ni o nko mo pe mo ro wa (one thing leads to another). The truth is that Achebe has always been cynical about anything Yoruba, however remote. It’s a sickness. If not, what does he intend to achieve after over 40 years when people have moved on with their lives, mistakes had been made, people had learnt lessons and fresh alliances and collaborations are ongoing daily? Achebe must really be living in a stagnant time zone. I really don’t know what he wants.”
Adebanjo debunked the insinuations that “Awolowo wanted to rule Nigeria at all cost and that he saw the Igbo as his major obstacle and so wanted to exterminate them.”
“What manner of garbage is that? The same Awolowo offered to serve under Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe as Prime Minister and he, Awolowo, as Finance Minister. But that was turned down by Azikiwe.” He said the account was re-enforced by Sir Michael Okpara in 1977, when he said “Azikiwe would regret till his death that he did not go into that accord with Awolowo.”
Adebanjo contended that other attempts by Awolowo, looking for progressives all over the country to work with suffered varying degree of successes. “The Awolowo Achebe accused of having this animosity against his race could not be making these attempts,” he said.
“Like others before, the Achebe’s hate preaching will die off. When Awolowo was preaching federalism, he was accused of wanting to destroy the country and that he was a tribalist, but the nation later had to come to terms with that reality. Everything Awolowo advocated is what everybody eventually comes to. Look at the resource control issue we have been advocating since in the 50s”, he added.
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