…Says his coming book will lend credence to Achebe
By CHIDI OBINECHE
A participant and apparent living encyclopedia of the events that led to the fratricidal civil war in Nigeria between 1967 and 1970, Col Joe Achuzia (Air raid), has joined issues with critics of celebrated novelist, Prof. Chinua Achebe, who in his latest work: “There was a country,” blamed former Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon (retd), and the Yoruba political leader and Vice Chairman of the then National Executive Council, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, of formulating policies that led to the horrendous genocide against the Igbos of Eastern Nigeria.
Achuzia yesterday told Daily Sun that Gowon and Awolowo were responsible for the genocide, while dismissing critics of Achebe.
Pointedly, he accused Gowon of playing the ostrich while brazen murders of his military superiors and massive genocide were being perpetrated under his watch.
He also accused Awolowo of using his position after his release from prison to extract a pound of flesh from his perceived enemies, whom he believed, unwittingly, through the NPC/NCNC Accord (Northern Peoples Congress/National Council of Nigeria Citizens) contributed to his imprisonment.
Achuzia, who is putting finishing touches to his own civil war memoirs, said that when released, it would finally settle the issue and put the duo in vintage position as prime perpetrators of the genocide of more than three million Easterners, who were said to have died during the strife.
He went down memory lane to exhume salient facts to buttress Achebe’s stand: “I landed in the country from overseas on the day of the July 29 coup. I had known the late Murtala Mohammed and knew he was one of those involved in the crises at the time. He met me at the Murtala Mohammed Airport, Lagos and arranged accommodation for my family and me for two days before we departed for Benin.
“There was intense struggle for power between Murtala Mohammed and Gowon before and during the Coup. The middle belt, which had more numerical strength in the army, supported Gowon.”
He continues, “When Gowon took over, he relied more on Awolowo and the permanent secretaries – Allison Ayinda, Phillip Asiodu, in formulating policies. Immediately Awo was released from prison, which (late Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu) Ojukwu was instrumental to, thinking he had a friend, strong anti-Igbo sentiments welled up in the government. Unfortunately Awo never forgives nor forgets.
“The events that led him to prison were never lost on him and, somehow, the NPC/NCNC accord was the issue. He became the minister of finance and went after the Igbos through his policies. I was in prison when Gowon held the so-called security meeting that declared police action. The strategic studies institute was originally planned to be located in the Mid-West then. Gowon, at the meeting, directed that I should be released from prison and head the institute. The then head of prisons, Giwa Osagie, divulged the information to the late Anthony Enahoro and Awo. He suggested that instead of sitting down in a house for the discussion, since walls have ears, they should drive about and talk in the car, so that his secrets would be secured. He forgot that the driver of the car was an Igbo man, who later ran to the superintendent of prisons at Kirikiri and squealed.
“The prisons superintendent summoned me and asked the driver to narrate his story again. Thereafter, I demanded to see Barrister Okuzo and the late Chief Collins Obih of ACB (African Continental Bank). They came in the morning to see me and I narrated what I heard to them. Later, they reached out to the military hierarchy, including Gowon. Four days after the incident, Osagie was sacked and it caused a lot of commotion. That was in 1970.
“Achebe got to know about these and he reflected them in his new book. These two people were responsible for the formulation of policies and execution of the civil war, including the genocide. When I release my own book, which is in the making, many things will come to the fore. I remember that after the declaration of police action by Gowon, I urged those who used their position to unleash horror and death on innocent people, before and during the civil war, advising those that are still alive among them, to seek for forgiveness and atonement of their sins against humanity.”