These are not the best of days for the Northern Nigerian political class. Who could have made them to believe that three years after the power was handed back to them following the eight years tenure of Olusegun Obasanjo, they would today be going through a sleepless night, thinking on how to wrestle power back from the South? Perhaps, the current political situation calls for a sober reflection and a realistic assessment of our history on the part of every sincere minded Nigerian.
My people’s proverb says that one who couldn’t recall from where the rain started to beat him equally finds it difficult to remember the one who made for him the fire with which he dried himself. Yes it is not only that the Northerners have found the political power which most of them thought to be their birthright suddenly back to the South, but the event that gave rise to this situation, the death of President Umaru Yar’Adua although it was a bad news to all Nigerians, was particularly a nightmare for Northern Nigeria.
The crying and wailing that characterized the city of Kastina and the whole of far Northern Nigeria as they buried their illustrious son and president of Nigeria was something memorable. Incidentally, since the end of the Nigerian civil war, this is not the first time that Northern Nigeria was to have this experience, neither was it the second. It was the third of its kind and in each occasion, the pain of it has been aggravated by their suffering a setback in their bid to consolidate their political sovereignty over Nigeria. This year, the center of the sorrow was Kastina.
On February 13 1976 and June 8 1998 the venue was the ancient city of Kano where with great weeping, thousands gathered to bury Gen. Murtala Mohammed and Gen. Sani Abacha respectively. At each of these occasions, it was always untimely and unexpected death and at the time when the said leader was about to consolidate his political power. General Mohammed was only six months in office with many great projects lined up ahead of him when his life and reign was abruptly cut short by Lt. Col. B. S. Dimka. For Gen. Abacha, his mysterious death took place just at a time when he was about to consolidate his reign by transforming himself into a civilian president.
North evidently wants the political power of Nigeria and they know how to get it and hold on to it, yet on these three respective occasions it was factors that are beyond human resistance that have been at play to result in their loosing what they thought to be under their firm stronghold. It is true that the death of Abacha seemed to be perceived as a good omen by an average Nigerian because of his being a corrupt military dictator, but the same could not be said of Murtala Mohammed and Umaru Yar’Adua. They were perceived by many as sincere leaders with a sense of purpose.
But how do we regard our leaders with sense of purpose and how do we treat them sincerely despite the part of country they come from? How do we correct the wrong that has been done instead letting ourselves to be carried away by tribal sentiments and prejudice? We are Christians and Muslims who believe that injustice has retribution and yet we live and play our national politics as if our religious tenets have no bearing on our practical lives.
The man that was mourned by his people in the way that the people of Kano, Kastina and the whole North mourned Mohammed, Abacha and Yar’Adua was General Aguiyi Ironsi, a very sincere minded head of State of Nigeria who was murdered in cold blood by some Northern officers on the pretext that he was a tribalist. It was the killing of Ironsi, and many other Ibo military officers and civilians in the North that lead to the civil war. At the end of the war, Biafrans lost and as such were looked upon as rebels who have been humiliated to the point of surrender.
Since history is always written by the victor, many Nigerians who knew the truth didn’t care to say it and those who were in position did not have the humility and sincerity to apologize to the ones that have been offended. Gen. T. Y Danjuma and his fellow Northern officers who interrogated Ironsi before they killed him knew quite well that he was not a part of the first military coup which they purported to be an Ibo coup and that it was not any tribal consideration but his position as the chief of army staff that made the leadership of Nigeria to fell on his shoulders. Gowon who was a close confident of Ironsi knew the whole truth but he connived with the Northern political class in order to become the head of State.
One would have expected that after having done all he did in order to please the northerners and to win the war against Biafra, Gowon would have come out one day after the war to eulogize Ironsi for being an innocent victim and to apologize for 1966 massacre of the countless Ibos in the North. He never did that till today. Another man who although he did not share in the original crime, was in a position to tell Nigerians the truth and to render the needed apology to the appropriate quarter was Olusegun Obasanjo. He had in some occasions made reference to the truth but indirectly and with caution.
He did not render the apology neither did he try to correct the injustice that was done. He in 1987, eight years after his tenure as a military head of state, wrote a book on Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu the leader of the first military coup. Among other things, the book exonerated Nzeogwu as a man who could not have been acting out of tribal sentiment. It also established that Ironsi was not a part of the first coup neither was he favored to become the head of state by the coup platters. His taking over as the head of state was a part of the failure of the coup.
Even Obasanjo himself had to offer to mediate between the two parties in order to avert the blood shed that would have resulted in the impending confrontation between the coup plotters and the new military government of Gen. Ironsi. In August 2006, less than one year towards the end of his civilian regime, Obasanjo appointed the son of late General Ironsi as the minister of defense in his government, the first time that an Ibo was to hold such post since after the murder of his father. Obasanjo was definitely implying a statement which he had no courage to make explicitly.
The heavens would not have let loose but Nigerians would have learnt the lesson of humility and sincerity if Obasanjo had come out openly to apologize to the Ironsi family and the whole of South East for the unjust murder of Ironsi and for the great injustice and oppression meted on his race.
An essential lesson that both the Northern political class and every sincere minded Nigerian should learn is that it is not possible to build a stable nation on the foundation of injustice, insincerity and arrogance. Nigeria is a country where we hate to tell ourselves the truth. One of the great misfortunes of Nigeria as a sovereign state is that we have had at the corridor of power, some individuals whose personalities epitomize the sickness at the fabric of our society.
General Danjuma is a case in point. It was not enough for this man to have committed the hideous murder of General Ironsi and Col. Fajuyi on July 29 1966. He had the gut to open his mouth in 2008(forty two years latter) to make an offensive remark against this just man whose life he and his fellow reckless Northern officers were in a hurry to cut off in order to advance the domination of the North over Nigeria’s political landscape. Was he trying to portray himself as a man without conscience or was he trying to run away from the inner state of restlessness that his crime has brought on him?
The stage at which we are today, forty four years after the murder of Ironsi is an indication of the state of failure into which the political/military class which hijacked the political terrain of the country has plunged us. Danjuma, a centre stage player of the said class in his characteristic arrogance and insensibility to the feelings of poor Nigerians had the audacity to tell us recently of the more the $500million that he had made from our oil.
There is no true peace without justice. In the same way, those who have ventured to silence the truth in order to get something will realize that a lasting monument is never built on the foundation of falsehood. Are we really working towards a situation where the right candidate could rule Nigeria and be given the needed support by all no matter his tribe or zone of origin? If we are, it is then better to admit the wrong we did on the day that a just man was killed in a most violent manner, and a false impression given of him, just because of the tribe that he came from.
Thank God, the widow of Gen. Ironsi is still alive. I am sure she will be willing to accept the apology of Nigerian Government. The family should be paid arrears of all they have spent over the years in their bid to survive, following the killing of the man. His name should be immortalized by having some places and institutions named after him as it was the case with some others of our eminent statesmen of old.
People like Gowon and Obasanjo should come out clearly and tell Nigerians how innocent, good and well intentioned Ironsi was and how it is necessary to honor him as a true nationalist. Col. Fajuyi, a man of honor who chose to die than to betray the truth and his loyalty to his country should also be immortalized as a national hero.
As for Gen. Danjuma, he should be advised to render an unreserved apology to Ironsi’s widow while he and his likes should be made to return all that they have stolen from our treasury. The Arewa Consultative Forum in collaboration with the Northern Council of Elders also needs to explicitly apologize to Mrs. Ironsi about the unjust killing of her husband.
They should show a visible sign of commitment towards the building of Nigeria, not as a nation under their political domination, but as a nation where all citizens have the right to belong, and where the best candidate has the right to rule despite his tribe of origin. If this is done, I believe that the ghost of General Ironsi would have a reason to rest happily, and the North would have the right to enjoy the full tenure of any of their own whenever the right time comes for Northern presidency.