‘ON ABURI WE STAND’
Between January 4 and 5, 1967, the small town of Aburi in Ghana played host to the then Nigerian military leaders who went there to seek solution to the lingering political crisis that had engulfed the country since the previous year. The meeting was convened under the auspices of the then Ghanian Military Head of State, Lieutenant General Joseph Ankrah.
Since January the previous year, Nigeria had been on tenterhooks, almost on breaking point, as a result of series of crises that erupted following the overthrow of a democratically elected civilian government by a section of the Nigerian armed forces on January 15, 1966. This precipitated series of crises.
On May 29, 1966, to be precise, a carefully sponsored riots took place simultaneously in many cities of Northern Nigeria with indigenes of the former Eastern Region as main targets. This had resulted to hundreds of people being killed and several others severely wounded.
Again, on July 29, 1966, the Head of State, Major General J.T.U. Aguiyi-Ironsi, who was on a state visit to the Western Region, was reported to have been kidnapped, along with his host, Lieutenant Colonel Francis Adekunle Fajuyi, Military Governor of Western Region, and taken to an unknown destination. This was followed by the killing of other military officers and civilians of Eastern Nigeria origin in different parts of the country. This orgy of killings was again repeated on September 29, 1966 and for several days thereafter.
These killings which had resulted to over 300,000 deaths, with over one million Eastern Nigeria indigenes rendered homeless and forced to return to their home region as refugees, made many people began to lose faith in the system, and to doubt their continued membership in the entity called Nigeria.
At that Aburi meeting of January 4 and 5, 1967, the atmosphere was said to be friendly and cordial, with the Nigerian military leaders, who had not sat together since July the previous year, exchanging banters among themselves. It was at that meeting that the fate of the Head of State, General Ironsi and the Military Governor of Western Region, Colonel Fajuyi, was made known, as having been killed.
The main kernel of the Aburi meeting, according to reports, was the decision by the military leaders to shift the component units of the country a little bit backwards and give the centre some breathing space so that more functions and more activities could take at place the constituent units.
The argument was that the country was over centralized, which did not take cognizance of the cultural diversity of the people, their level of political and economic development, and in particular, the existing fear and suspicion among members of the armed forces, following the killings that took place the previous year.
The leaders equally agreed that all the decrees promulgated since January 1966 that gave vent to centralization of the country were to be repealed.
The Aburi meeting further agreed on decentralization of the armed forces to be governed by the Supreme Military Council under a titular head to be known as Commander in Chief and Head of the Federal Military Government. A Military Headquarters with equal representation from all the regions and headed by the Chief of Staff would be established, while the main base of the army would be at the regional level or Area Command in each of the four regions, with an Area Commander in charge.
In a nutshell, the Aburi meeting really recommended for a weak centre with very strong component units, which people now refer to as, Confederation.
Present at the meeting were Colonel Yakubu Gowon, Head of State; Colonel Robert Adeyinka Adebayo, Military Governor, Western Region; Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, Military Governor, Eastern Region; Colonel David Ejoor, Military Governor, Mid West Region: Colonel Hassan Usman Katsina, Military Governor, Northern Region; Major Mobalaji Johnson, Military Administrator of Lagos; Commodore J. E. Wey, Head of Nigeran Navy; Alhaji Kam Salem, Inspector General of Police; and Mr. J. Omo-Bare, Deputy Inspector General of Police, while the Ghanian Military Head of State, Lieutenant General Joseph Ankrah was in attendance.
Unfortunately, the military leaders later flew back to Nigeria and gave different interpretations to what happened at the meeting and consequently refused to implement the Aburi Accord. What followed was most despicable and most devastating – attempted secession, and the thirty-month civil war that took heavy tolls in both men and materials.
Fifty-two years after the Aburi meeting, Nigeria is still in a tattered form, in a confused state, the people still ever divided, and the future still ever bleak. The simple reason being that the people have not been sincere and truthful to themselves. They have continued to play the ostrich, believing that everything is okay, when in actual fact, everything is a tops turvy, on the negative side. The moment we decide to tell ourselves the truth and abide by it, the better for us all.
For 105 years since the amalgamation of 1914, we have continued to live with this lie, that Nigeria’s problem is a one-fit solution, that is to say, that all the sections of the country can be administered with the same dose of medicine. That was why Lugard had decided to impose on the entire country, the decadent feudal aristocratic system found in the North, in the name of Indirect Rule. Of course, the people of the East refused to accept it and rose in opposition against the system.
Since January 1966 when the military truncated the civilian administration, Nigeria has continued to be administered as a unitary system, with every section taking even the minutest orders from Lagos, and later from Abuja, for them to survive. No freedom, no individual initiative.
We claim to be practising federalism and democracy pattern after the American system, but while in the United States, there is a New York Police, a California Police, a Washington DC Police, etc., which are in charge of the internal security of each of these states, in Nigeria, a police personnel from Maiduguri who is member of the Nigerian Police Force may be posted to Enugu or Calabar to take charge of their internal security, even when the fellow does not even know the terrain of the area, talk much of the type of crimes committed in the place. All he knows is “wetin you carri”, “roger me”.
Perhaps, some Nigerians are beginning to wake up to this reality that Nigeria is a diverse country that requires diverse treatment of its diverse ailments as recently advocated by a former President of the Nigeria Bar Association, Olisa Agbokoba, a senior advocate of Nigeria, that we should dust up the Aburi Report and begin to implement it.