“It was during Gowon’s term as Head of State that the country was most receptive to revolutionary ideas that could have taken our country out of the woods”
George Onyejiuwa, Owerri
Lambert Iheanacho retired as a Colonel from the Nigerian Army. The ex-Biafran fighter insists that General Yakubu Gowon, who had emerged Head of State after the counter coup of July 1966 lacked the vision and capacity to address the imbalance in the federal structure, saying Gowon rather entrenched same which, has continued to militate against the unity of the country.
The civil war ended over 48 years ago but the agitation for Biafra has continued to gain currency especially among the youths of the South East. What is your take on that?
First and foremost, the war was imposed on the then Eastern region by the Federal Government led by Gowon, because the Eastern region did not cause the war.
So, the people fought simply to defend themselves from being wiped out by the Federal Government of Gowon which was the real intentions of Gowon and his backers. Nigeria won the war because the ‘no victor, no vanquished’ policy of Gowon was just a ruse; the Eastern region was really vanquished.
Now, at the end of the war; Gowon had introduced what he called the 3Rs which is Reconciliation, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction, but that policy was never implemented by the person who initiated it in the first place. Ironically, the same Gowon who was talking about ‘no victor, no vanquished’ handed twenty pounds to every Igbo man that had money in the bank regardless of how much. He also did not reconstruct the devastated Igbo land. He rather went ahead to create states and the Igbo were left in one state called East Central state because Gowon never deemed it fit to create more states in Igbo land to put it at par with the other regions and that was the beginning of the political and structural marginalisation of the South East.
Therefore, the agitation for Biafra should be situated in this context because of the structural imbalance caused by the actions of Gowon. We are not going to fight another war but the Igbo never intended to fight a war in the first instance because what they did in 1967-1970 was for self-preservation.
So, the country needs to be restructured to give every part a sense of belonging and especially the South East that has only five states as compared to the South West with six, South South–six, North Central–six, North–East–six and North–West–seven states. We know the political and economic implications of that; and if that is not done, the problem will persist.
So, are you saying that the problem with the country was caused by Gowon?
Nigeria’s problem did not start with General Gowon but having been the major beneficiary of the counter coup; he did not have the capacity to act decisively and had to depend on the likes of Murtala Mohammed, Theophilus Danjuma and other few hotheads to decide the fate of our country. Gowon’s emergence as Commander-in-chief, therefore, became the worst misfortune that befell the nation at such a pivotal time.
It is Gowon who will forever be blamed for allowing darkness to overwhelm the country. He was aware of the imbalance in the federal structure, coming from the north; he was in a position to start a process of addressing the imbalance in sharing of Nigeria’s wealth. It is only a truly patriotic Nigerian who is a beneficiary of this imbalance that can help to address it and thereby provide a foundation on which a democratic Nigeria can then latch on to refine herself and expand her frontiers for peace and progress. He was totally blank about this. He allowed himself to be controlled by those who feared hurting the rulers up north to the detriment of positive values for the Nigerian nation.
Nigeria’s problem is anchored on this imbalance and Gowon made it worse. He was not interested in the true unification of Nigeria. He was only interested in crushing dissidents in order to maintain the existing status quo.
It was during Gowon’s term as Head of State that the country was most receptive to revolutionary ideas that could have taken our country out of the woods, but he lacked the vision and the courage to move the country in the right direction. His current preaching should have yielded more dividends had he taken a few bold steps to check our national drift that was born out of imbalance.
So, he had sided with a people whose desire is to conquer the entire Nigerian nation and created states lopsidedly which the successive military administrations headed by northerners with exception of General Olusegun Obasanjo continued with, just to give their people undue advantage which is very unfair.
What do you think is responsible for many northern leaders rejecting restructuring of the country; including President Muhammadu Buhari whose party had made it part of his election promises in 2015?
I think some people are now tele-guiding him on what to do; because this is not the Buhari I used to know. The Buhari I used to know was bold, honest and straightforward. I don’t know why he should allow ignorant people around him to mislead him. He should do the right thing. What we want in Nigeria is equity, justice and fairness and we don’t want any single ethnic group to dominate others.
Now, Kano, Katsina and Jigawa states have more local governments than the entire South East. It is Gowon who disorganised Nigeria because he failed to do the right thing and imposed on Nigeria the lopsided structure we have today which has given the north more states and local government areas than others and that is what the country is suffering today.
Part of the restructuring is that states must be given some level of autonomy to manage their own affairs including this over centralised system which is not working. So, a well restructured Nigeria is to the benefit of all the people of this country so that they can equitably share from their God–given resources and not the current hand out from the centre.