His Royal Majesty, Eze (Dr.) Cletus Uwadiegwu Ogbonnaya, the traditional ruler of Umuaniyi Autonomous Community in Uturu, Abia State has called on Igbo to drop agitation for Biafra, but to unite and push for President of Igbo extraction in 2023.
The veteran journalist, historian and university lecturer turned traditional ruler relived his civil war experience and the lessons of the three years hostility that too many lives.
The monarch called for restructure of Nigeria, adding that with the way things are going, Nigeria may collapse.
He speaks about other issues.
From pen pushing to royalty, what has it being so far?
It has been eventful, exciting and demanding. It has not been easy. I was in journalism for 23 years having started with NTA Abia in 1989 during my Youth Service. I later moved to Concord Newspaper. I was a former member, Nigerian Guild of Editors. In fact, it was the late Dele Giwa, Alhaji Ashiru and others from the Concord Newspaper who came to interview us in Port Harcourt in January 1980. I was barely six months in NTA when I joined Concord Newspaper at inception as the pioneer Chief Correspondent in the old Imo State comprising Abia and half of Ebonyi State and and by the grace of God, I had been the traditional ruler of Umuaniyi Autonomous Community in Uturu, Abia State since April 2001. Uturu is ancient town and today it is the host community of the Abia State University and Gregory University. In 1983, Governor Sam Mbakwe appointed me Zonal Secretary, Educational Board and I could have gone to the federal House in 1987 if not for the coup that brought President Muhammadu Buhari to power. Therefore, because of the love and passion I have for journalism, I went back to Concord after the coup and I was one of the five Editors appointed in 1986. In 1989, I became the Deputy News Editor and in 1990, I rose to the position of Assistant Editor in charge of defence.
Many are of the view that traditional rulers in Igbo land don’t command the level of respect and honour their counterparts in other parts of the country earn from their subjects, what are the challenges you face as a monarch?
Yes, those with such view are right. The traditional stool in Igbo land is not as developed as that of other tribes and ethnic groups. For instance, you see retired generals in the North going back home to become traditional rulers. The Sultan of Sokoto was a colonel in the Nigerian army, and also there is Gen. Hassan Yakubu of Kogi State. The same thing applies in the South West, Middle Belt and some parts of the South South geo political zones. Unfortunately, in Igbo land, traditional rulers are not accorded the kind of respect, regard and reward their counterparts in the other zones are accorded.
January 15, 2020 made it 50 years Nigeria/Biafra civil war ended; can you share your experience?
I joined the Biafra Army when I was in primary three at the age of 16 years and 4 months. Incidentally, my first training was at my Alma-Ata, Aquinas Secondary School, Osu, Isiala Mbano LGA where I started school in 1965. No person who saw the event of 1966 to 1970 will want to witness it again. We saw how everything happened and its consequences. It was the adventure of Major Nzeogwu and co who staged a coup and they could not take charge and the coup failed. Gen. Aguiyi Ironsi who never planned coup took over and it was the British lecturers at Ahmadu Bello University that interpreted the 1966 coup as Igbo coup. On July 29, 1966 when Ironsi was on tour of the Western Region at Ibadan, a counter coup happened. In fact, the people who staged the coup were Major Martin Adamu, Major Murtala Mohammed and T. Y. Danjuma. The only Igbo officer who died in Nzeogwu coup was Brigadier Arthur Unaegbu. So, the counter coup by the Northern army officers was more bloody. It was T. Y Danjuma who kidnapped Ironsi and handed him over to Major Williams Wabe who later became A.D.C to Gen Yakubu Gowon and they finished Ironsi at Moore Plantation in Ibadan. Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu rose up to the challenge and he gave Igbo the leadership we needed to survive the unfortunate incident. So, if Gowon had implemented the Aburi Accord, the war wouldn’t have broken out on July 6, 1967. It were agreed that Nigeria should confederate yet, it was not adhered to. It was the students of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka that asked Ojukwu to declare war.
To you, was that declaration a mistake?
It was not a mistake even though we were not prepared for war because the whole military formations in Nigeria with the exception of the 7th battalion of the Nigerian army in Enugu, were all in the North. Our people were chased away from all parts of Nigeria. What do you expect us to do? In fact, I look at Biafra army as a resistance army because we resisted attack on us by the Nigerian army.
Many will say you are not fair to the North considering the fact that only Northern leaders were killed in the Nzeogwu coup; wasn’t that an injustice against the North?
What happened was that Zik was already out of the country on health grounds. Col. David Ejoor who was the battalion commander when the coup happened would have moved to the Government House, Enugu and picked M. I. Okpara, but unfortunately or fortunately, the then President of Cyprus Archbishop Macarious was on a state visit in Nigeria and was in the Eastern State and it would have looked odd to pick Okpara in the presence of a visiting Head of state even at the airport. The five majors were idealist in their perception of Nigeria not knowing ethnicity is stronger than whatever they thought of. There was a journal I read in my final year in the University of Nigeria, Nsukka which says, looking at the whole world, ethnicity is stronger than religion and that even nationalism is stronger than religion.
Which can guarantee peace and unity in the country?
The answer is restructuring. The way things are going, if the country is not restructured, I’m afraid Nigeria may collapse one day. Those who are holding Nigeria at the jugular don’t want Nigeria restructured. Restructuring is all about state governors using the resources in their regions to develop their states. That was how Nigeria was structured before 1966. It was the unitary system of government introduced by the army that resulted to concentration of too much power in the centre.
What would you say are the lessons we should learn from the civil war?
Like I told you, I enlisted into the Biafran army on February 12, 1968. I saw action both as Infantry and Radiance personnel as well as a ranger. So, January 15, 2020 made it exactly 50 years that Biafra surrendered and was handed over to the then Head of state, General Yakubu Gowon at the Dodan Barracks by Major Gen. Philip Effiong, the Biafra Second-in-Command. Therefore, one has to thank God that one is alive witnessing 50 years of the end of the Nigerian civil war. Unfortunately, Nigeria doesn’t seem to have utilized or learned any lesson from the war. Take for instance, every brigade in Biafra had a mini refinery. What you call illegal refinery today. Why can’t Nigeria harness them? If Biafra could build three airports within the two and half years of the war apart from having Enugu, Port Harcourt and Calabar ports, why can’t Nigeria replicate and utilize these opportunity? During the war, Biafra built an airport here in Uturu after the fall of Enugu at Onuaku where you have Masters Energy Industrial City.