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Nzeogwu coup not Igbo • They were just idealistic – Uwechue

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Nzeogwu coup not Igbo • They were just idealistic – Uwechue

Post  Admin on Thu Jan 22, 2009 11:54 am

Former Nigerian envoy to France, Ambassador Raph Uwechue has said that almost forty years after the end of the Nigerian civil war, many of the problems that triggered off the war which came after a military intervention in January 15, 1966, are yet to be addressed by subsequent governments, even when the war ended on a no victor, no vanquished note.

Uwechue who defended the Federal government’s inability to tackle the problems completely, told newsmen at his Africa House, country home at Ogwashiuku in the Aniocha South local government area of Delta state that, “the truth of the matter is that the development of any nation is evolutionary. The boys had their own ideas, eventually confusion came in. We had the threat of Biafra, the civil war. But luckily Nigeria remained intact, at a very heavy cost, over two million people mostly children died. It’s a lesson that we have learnt.

Nobody would wish another of such fracas.”

However, the problems that the young men saw and thought they could resolve through military intervention, some of them have over time, been tackled , obviously, many of such problems remain and this is natural because as a country evolves, people come up with ideas to help solve the problems they meet. Many a time, with a level of success because obviously , not every problem can be resolved “

Uwechue was of the opinion that the said coup was not an Igbo coup as being peddled in some quarters but a coup between young and older officers that cut across ethnic divide in the army .

Driving home his point the retired ambassador plenipotentiary said,

“For example, Colonel Conrad Nwawo is from Onicha Olona here. He was the one sent to Kaduna to bring Nzeogwu down to Lagos. They were against the coup. Nwawo is not from across the River Niger .So , it had nothing to do with the part of the area the Igbos come from. It was a matter of young idealistic officers versus older ones who had other views.”The OhanezeNdigbo President General- elect also spoke on what his executive intends to achieve as he said, ”my hope is that with the cooperation of everybody, we will be able to help Ndigbo to revive their cultural heritage. Ohaneze is not, I repeat, not a political organization. It is a socio-cultural organization and we intend to invest our time and effort in helping to revive the Igbo language which some people are losing now, because of where children are being brought up outside Igbo land, and dig into our culture and revive it, so that would be the first task that I will like to see tackled as head of the organization of Ohaneze Ndigbo.

Obviously, Ndigbo besides serving their tradition and culture are part of the world and have economic and political interests. Where we notice that there is need to give out rice, we will encourage Ndigbo who are involved in economic and political activities to be good citizens of their country. Ohaneze cannot be partisan, if in terms of politics you have people belonging to the various political parties, they all have the responsibility of Ohaneze. We do not tell people what party to join and so forth, but we are interested in every Igbo person that is doing the right thing if they go into politics or business, they should not go in there as thieves and be a disgrace to the community, both to the Igbo nation and to Nigeria in this case. So, our job will be to help revive and improve upon whatever successes that have been achieved by our predecessors in the traditional and cultural fields of Ndigbo.

The 39th anniverssary of the Nigerian Civil War

I was already in France, Paris when the war started.I opened our Embassy there.Nigeria and France had problems in 1960 when we had our independence over the testing of Atomic Bomb in what was then known as the Algerian Sahara.Nigeria didn't like the idea, and so we broke off diplomatic relations.Then French President Charles de Gaulle didn't like the way we treated him.For nearly six years, there was no relation between Nigeria and France.When the matter was settled in 1966, I was the one sent to go and open our Embassy there.I was just 33 at the time.

Jan ’66 coup

Most Nigerians just like me heard it on the radio.Coups are plotted by very few people.One of Nzeogwu's closest friends, Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, the former President was not even aware, though he was outside the country when it happened.

We received it as something new.That was the first coup in Nigeria.We have had coups elsewhere.In Pakistan, Gen. Ayub Khan took over,Abdel Nasser in Egypt.These were idealistic young men who thought that they could do certain things and change the image of our country.

Unfortunately as you know, the coup was not bloodless.That was an aspect that complicated matters.It brought the complications that eventually led to the revenge killings.The January coup was on the 15th and six months later, there was another coup.

Gen. Aguiyi Ironsi who was the Head of the Army was invited by the remnant of Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa administration to help steady the nation. He was not part of the coup, but was officially invited to take over government as Head of State.

It was Ironsi who helped to put down the coup because senior officers were not involved.Ojukwu was in Kano commanding 4th Battalion. He didn't join the coup. Col. Arthur Unegbe, the Quarter Master General was in charge of the armoury. When they came and asked for the keys to the armoury so that they could arm their boys, he refused and was shot dead in Lagos.

They were denied access to the armoury and therefore the means of executing the coup in the supremely strategic position like Lagos. If you have not taken the capital of a country, you have not succeeded. The next day, Ironsi had access to the armoury and armed his boys to ensure that the coup failed. It was the Igbo officers who actually stopped the coup.

The problems that led to the coup are still there.

The truth of the matter is that the development of any nation is evolutionary. The boys had their own ideas.Eventually, confusion came and we had the threats of seccesions from Biafra and the Civil War.Luckily Nigeria remained intact but at a very heavy cost to lives.Some two million people mainly Biafran children died but okay it is a lessons that we have learnt.Nobody will wish another such fracas for Nigeria.

However, as far as the problems that the young men saw and thought that they could resolve through military intervention.Some of them have over time been tackled.Obviously many of such problems remain.This is natural.As a country evolves, people come up with ideas to help solve the problems they meet.Some are solved but not all of them if not the country is not evolving and growing .

Igbo conspiracy against Nzeogwu

It is not a question of Igbo from across the Niger and Nzeogwu being from the other side. There were non-Igbo who participated in the coup. It was the middle ranking officers who carried out the coup. Those who stopped it were the senior ones.Col. Conrad Nwawo is from Onicha-Olona, Delta State. It was he who was sent to Kaduna to go and bring Nzeogwu down to Lagos. They were against the coup. He is not from across the Niger.It has nothing to do which side of the river the Igbo belong to. It was a question of young idealistic officers versus the older ones who had other views.

Honours for Nzeogwu

The very fact that Gen. Yakubu Gowon who was the Head of State then decided to bury him with full military honours is already a recognition that this gentleman was Nigerian and a great nationalist. That in itself was already an acknowledgement of the fact that, that Nzeogwu was a true Nigerian and a nationalist.

What kind of man was Nzeogwu?

Nzeogwu...I was with him in college.We were students together for four years and I thought in that school for another two years, so I was with him for six years before he left and joined the army.

Nzeogwu was an idealist, a very intelligent young man at the time.If you use the word pure in terms of attachment to principles, he was one such person. They were in the mould of people like Nasser who were idealistic and pan African and wantedto bring about change through military means, thesame changes that politicians wanted but through other means. They wanted to use military power to do it. He was somebody that those who knew him respected.Obasanjo said that much in his writings.When his mother died a few years ago, as President, he came all the way to Okpanam for the burial, some thirty five years after his death.What greatest tribute can a man pay to a true friend.



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Re: Nzeogwu coup not Igbo • They were just idealistic – Uwechue

Post  Admin on Thu Jan 22, 2009 11:54 am

Support for Biafra and later Nigeria

It is not a question of going to the Biafra side and back.I opened the Nigerian Embassy in Paris.The diffulties that arose which later led to the Civil War occurred.I personally felt that the Federal Government at the time under Gowon-I do not hold the government responsible for what happened that provoked the war- did not do enough to do enough to reassure Igbo people about their safety and security in Nigeria after the successive massacres of Ndigbo in the North and a tearful exodus of them with women and children on their backs running helter skelter.

Many people felt that the Federal Government should have come in and admit that something has gone wrong.The government should have taken over andlets see how we can repair it. That did not happen I remember that Yoruba Obas came to Enugu.Some of them were crying at the airport when they saw what happened. They parted with the little money with them.The Federal Government did not do enough to reassure the survivors that it was taking enough to see their welfare was protected.

Like Nzeogwu, Iam pan Nigerian and African.What happened in Paris was that why the Igbo were under attack I felt that they needed support and defence to save the lives of those who were alive. I joined Ojukwu in helping to organise support for them but I made it clear from the word go that I did not believe in secession as the answer to the problems facing Igbo in Nigeria just like Nzeogwu who died at Nsukka on the Biafran side. But he was a pan Nigerian.

That was why Gowon did what he did for him. I never believed in the Biafran cause but if you are being killed, you will be forced to fight and nobody should have any apology for that. The important thing is that people like us did not believe in seccesion and that was made clear to Ojukwu.

I met Ojukwu for the first time in my life in 1976, six years after the Civil War at Charles de Gaulle Airport. He came from Ivory Coast and Ihappened to be at the airport at the time. He was shopping but I recognised him from his pictures. Immediately, I shouted "Emeka", he asked who I was. I told him I was Raph and we embraced, and went out to a restaurant for lunch.What happened in Paris was that I felt that Igbo needed to defend themselves from attack.

My support was conditional: within Nigeria yes, seccesion no. We should use the experience of the Civil War to readjust the Nigerian Constitution.What we got at independence was something arranged by the British.Our people took over the Nigerian structure from the British and the founding fathers were specific on what they wanted, a federation.When you talk of a federation it means that the corporate units are the base who then concede to the apex what they want to do. The base of the federation is the unit that makes it up. That was what was agreed. Of course, since then other things had happened because of military intervention and socialization.

In my book, Reflections on the Nigerian Civil War, I recommended for Nigeria what I called an elastic federal union of six states, twenty-four years ahead of the concept of six geopolitical zones in 1968. In fact, the states coincided largely with six zones. I mentioned North-West, North-East, North-Central, South-West, South-East and South-Central. What they called South-Central I called South-South.

Dissillusionment with Biafra

What happened is simple. Basically, I do not believe in secession. I had to help because the Igbo were under attack. The condition was that we should settle within Nigeria . We had a chain of peace talks. When they were collapsing, some of us knew that Ojukwu was insisting too much on sovereignty, we believe that what the Igbo was lacking in Nigeria was not sovereignty but security. Any arrangement that gave them security as well as give to other ethnic groups was good enough. I specifically mentioned the agreement we reached at Aburi in Ghana which gave autonomy to the various regions. I felt that it was good enough as it will keep Nigeria together.

Security for the Igbo

When there is crisis, a lot of people suffer. Those in the theatre of crisis always pay a price. There are more Igbo in other parts of Nigeria than other ethnic groups in Igbo land. That is a fact. So, when there is an explosion, it is those in the vicinity of the explosion that suffer. What we are saying really is that security in Nigeria should be for every Nigerian and not just for Igbo people alone. Security in Nigeria should be better guaranteed for all Nigerians. There is no reason why if there is a minor disagreement you start slaughtering your neighbours. Government should come in and ensure that no one takes law into his hands especially taking peoples¢ lives whether it is on religious or political disagreement.

Rivalry between Ojukwu and Nzeogwu

I don’t think so. You don¢t have people in any family or group having an identical view on every issue. Each person, military or otherwise has his or her own view. If he didn¢t believe in what Ojukwu is doing you did as in fighting the Biafran side. There are other people like Col. Banjo and co who had problems with Ojukwu and paid with their lives.

1966 pogrom

Wherever you find crisis involving the killing of human beings, any normal person will feel distressed. We are going through the process of nation building; different ethnic groups with different traditions, different way of thinking. These groups are being fused together and in the process of fusion, you have friction, some of which becomes violent but we hope that with time we will all be learning from each mistake that has occurred in the process of nation building. So the word build is common to building a house and building a nation. If you go to a building site, you have cement, nails, planks, all over which makes the place untidy while the house is built.

When it is completed with marble and everything, it is a different thing altogether. Nigeria is still in the process of nation building and we hope that with time as we learn progressively from experiences and mistakes that we have made, we will continue to move closer and closer to what will be a safe and prosperous country for everybody. Igbo as a nation, Yoruba as a nation, Ijaw as a nation, Hausa/Fulani as a nation. Every Nigerian should feel happy and safe within the Nigerian union. That should be the ultimate objective. We talk a lot about Nigerian unity.

That is important but the easiest way to guarantee unity is to carry out programmes and policies that encourage people to feel happy that they are part of the group. Unity becomes automatic when people feel happy to associate and belong. Government at any giving time must ensure that every ethnic unit in Nigeria has course to feel happy within the Federal union.


A: MASSOB is like Chief Ganiyu Adams of the Oodua People¢s Congress (OPC). When the people have a problem confronting them, different members of that community have different views on how to solve the problem. In case of MASSOB, if they break the law of the land, then obviously they will be doing the wrong thing but if they have views that will not coincide with other peoples¢ views but are not violent and do not carry arms to cause confusion, what you do is to note what they are saying. If you do not agree with them, try to pursue them that may be what they are trying to achieve for Igbo can be achieved otherwise without violence or without breaking away from Nigeria .

You have to balance the need for government to be in control with the need for individuals to have enough freedom to express their views as long as they do not express these views with violence and the expression of these views does not break any known law of the land.

You must balance the need to keep Nigeria together and have peace with the need to allow people free expression. If they have taken no step to break the laws of the land then, you must respect their views. It is where they take up arms that you take up arms to stop them. They are free to think the way they want to think and that is what the freedom is all about.


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