In the sixties we lived a privileged life. Our house in Onitsha was the centre of our existence and the centre of the neighbourhood. All the other children around felt so privileged when they were allowed to come into our compound to play. In my family we were said to be like the white men, so association with us was a thing of privilege. In 1965 being told that you were like the white men was still a thing of great praise. James Brown had not yet come out with his slogan “I’m black and proud”. So we dutifully spoke English and amplified our accents the best we could. My mother and sisters sat down for hours to fry their hair with hot combs to imitate the straight hair of Europeans.
Today’s girls use chemicals and false synthetic hair. In later years I came to abhor this denial of African hair as beautiful. James Brown led us into the world of Afro Hair in the seventies to reclaim our pride as equal species of the human family. Today, Nigerian girls have no such concept as they splatter their beautiful hair with ugly weave-ons and dangerous chemicals. In a society that has little idealism and feeds on gross materialism, the only thing that counts are images that attract men in a population, where prostitute behaviour has become the dominant culture of girls, especially in campuses, and gained a strangle hold on the young women like a steel vice.
By 1966 my parents raised our status. They bought a Grundig black and white telly, the first in the neighbourhood and we had truly arrived. John Wayne was incredibly popular. And when we played we all wanted to be the Actor (that is the Central Character in the Cowboy Films), because “the Actor never Dies”. There were also cartoons in the early evening – the Flintstones, Top Cat and Stingray.
American TV was great and is fused into my childhood memories, but the greatest celebration was a home made series on Saturdays – Ukonu’s Club. The whole neighbourhood gathered into my parents’ sitting room and adjoining dining room and hushed over the TV like a village camp fire – and from time to time a great uproar of laughter and handclapping. The famous Ukonu’s Club, the Clown who made a generation laugh and cry and teach us kpanlogo dance; Stinging Mosquito, the dancer with the fastest feet on TV; Amaechi, the dwarf (or to be politically correct with modern times – the height challenged man) who did hand stands; Seven Seven, the traditional gourd player, who sang about the naughty affairs of Blackie and Joseph.
They made us laugh, they made us cry. They made us feel like Nigeria had arrived. If we could have a TV and if we could make our own shows on TV then we had truly arrived. We were on our way and will soon be like the Whiteman. The future was bright. The future was orange – and yellow and all the colours of the rainbow. The future was beautiful in our minds as we could only see the present. It was 1965. As we laughed and danced and hoped, the dark clouds of war, madness and genocide was gathering in the horizon. Our childhood was sweet but in our idyll innocence we knew nothing. By 1966, the first military coup struck and Nigeria’s descent into darkness, depravity and decades of underdevelopment began.
Major General Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu is to many a hero and to many a villain. He was a dashing, brilliant, handsome young man with an unquenchable zest for life. He was for me, for many years, during and after the Civil War, the greatest hero that ever lived. But as I grew older and cast away the heady propaganda of Biafra, I decided that Major Nzeogwu was a most thoughtless young man who, imbued with a high sense of patriotism, decided to liberate his country from what he believed then were corrupt politicians, but instead plunged us into a whirlpool of disaster and despair. With Nzeogwu there has always been a dilemma: do we judge him for his patriotism and good intentions or for his fruitless lack of foresight and misguided miscalculations?
In 1966, when Nzeogwu and his fellow coup plotters struck, the politicians stole peanuts but they really worked for Nigeria with the meagre resources that they had. If Major Nzeogwu came back now and met politicians who steal billions, and do no work, I wonder what he would think. Would he have been glad to let us practice our democracy and allow time and experience to mature us? Major Nzeogwu and his cohorts cut short Nigeria’s nascent experiment with democracy immediately after independence and plunged us into decades of never ending catastrophe, bred by disastrous military adventurers that thought complex problems could be solved by simplistic decrees. They raped and ripped Nigeria apart. They created a culture of dictatorship, wanton abuse of power and corruption, to which our latest edition of democracy has spectacularly succumbed. Yet we still present these military, genocidal generals as the people’s saviour both in PDP and APC. We are truly warped.
It was January 1966. Major Nzeogwu and his fellow military adventurers, Yorubas, Hausas and others led by mainly Igbo officers did a very silly thing. They went and killed the Sarduana of Sokoto, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, the spiritual and political leader of the Muslim Hausa Fulani nation and the premier of Northern Nigeria. As if that was not silly enough, they killed the Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. They also killed the premier of the Yoruba nation in Western Nigeria. For some reason they botched the assassinations of the President, Nnamdi Azikiwe, an Igbo; the premier of Eastern Nigeria, Dr Michael Okpara, an Igbo; Sir Francis AkanuIbiam, Governor of Eastern Nigeria, an Igbo; and Dennis Osadebe, premier of Midwestern Nigeria, an Igbo. And Nzeogwu and his fellow officers were mostly Igbos. If you were Hausa or Yoruba what would you think? They jumped to a most irrational but understandable conclusion – it was an Igbo coup.
Now Nzeogwu did not consult Igbos. He and his mates went off on their own and committed this offence so it was certainly not an Igbo coup. But as they say, appearances matter. Did Nzeogwu and his cohorts not foresee the consequences? Obviously not. They must have been blinded by patriotism or glory or both.
Now, the Hausa Fulani are an extremely proud race, especially the Fulani. They were masters of the Art of War, politics and governance, and with their political skills played other Nigerian tribes in an artful game of real life poker. All the aces were in their hands – the economy, the army, the prime minister and the majority (who were Northern subjects that were firmly under their rule). They had played out the British in a skilful game of cat and mouse in which they persuaded the British to adopt indirect rule. This allowed them to retain their Islamic empire intact in the control and dominance of the tribes of Northern Nigeria. And when the British finally backed off they effectively negotiated themselves into the centre stage of power. Though they claimed the North was in the majority, it was an amazing political sleight of hand. The Fulani are, in fact, in Nigeria, at least, a tiny tribe of 19th Century invaders who were not even indigenous to Nigeria, but who managed to thoroughly dominate Northern Nigeria and by extension, Nigeria. How did they do it?
The Fulani are makers of a proud civilisation dating back centuries. They had learnt the Art of Cavalry Warfare from the Arabs and had participated in the empire building of Mali and Songhai in West Africa. Then in the 19th Century, their Jihad swept into Nigerian under the extraordinary religious, military and political leadership of Usman Dan Fodio to establish the Dan Fodio dynasty of Fulani Emirs across Northern Nigeria. First they used their military conquests, religious ideology and political sagacity to totally dominate and assimilate the Hausa. Then using the Hausa as an extended appendage, they conquered and dominated the rest of Northern Nigeria. Where there were pockets of resistance as in the Jos Plateau and River Benue basin, they completed the conquest of assimilation under the banner of British indirect rule. The Jos Plateau that could not be conquered by the Jihad was finally absorbed and dominated under the colonial rule of Bauchi province.
The Fulani so assimilated and dominated the Hausa that the Hausas thoroughly lost their cultural identity though not their language. The Fulani, in a master stroke of cultural deception or genius, you decide, harnessed the Hausa language in the integration of Northern Nigerian tribes. By using the Hausa language as the cultural cement to fuse the Northern tribes together they persuaded the Hausa they were working as a team, but the Hausa were firmly under the Fulani. All the leaders and Emirs were Fulani and descendants of Usman Dan Fodio or his Fulani generals.
The Hausas were once like other tribes of Northern Nigeria that you see in Southern Kaduna and Plateau States. Under the Fulani, they were so assimilated they exchanged their tribal costumes and culture for Arabic flowing gowns, Islamic education and Arabic architecture. They were so dominated that today, Hausas, in general, think their present culture has always been their culture. And then, under the fused banner of Hausa Fulani, the Fulani extended their hegemony across the whole of Northern Nigeria.
It is this extraordinary political animal that Nzeogwu and his cohorts troubled. The Igbos have a saying: “No one should touch the lion’s tail whether you think it is asleep or dead”. Nzeogwu not only touched the lion’s tail, he stepped all over it’s feet and killed its cubs. Within six months of the Nzeogwu coup, the empire struck back. All hell was let loose. The Hausa Fulani and the Yoruba reacted in the most irrational way imaginable. Instead of holding Nzeogwu and his mates responsible for the killings, they decided to hold the entire Igbo tribe responsible. They embarked on a genocidal slaughter of Igbos in their territories. In 1966, about 30,000 Ibos were slaughtered in Northern Nigeria. The slaughter then makes today’s Boko Haram child’s play.
This was then followed by the worst nightmare of all. The slaughter of over two million Igbos by bullets and blockade in the BiafranGenocide, still erroneously described as a Civil war, that raged from June 1967 to January 1970. Two and a half years of pure onslaught was the result of the glorious, patriotric dreams of a handsome army Major. It was certainly not an Igbo coup. Nzeogwu was born of an Igbo father and a Northern mother. He was brought up in the North and spent his days in the house of the Sarduana whose death he orchestrated. His mentality was more Northern than Igbo. He spoke Hausa fluently. There were Hausas and Yorubas amongst the coup plotters. His intentions were certainly patriotic and that made him a hero and a darling of many Nigerians at the time. To the Hausa Fulani, he was anything but a hero. He was a veritable villain.
The aftermath of the Nzeogwu coup began Nigeria’s descent into hell followed by years of underdevelopment. First Major General AguiyiIronsi, an Igbo, took over as the military head of state confirming all the fears of the North that this was an Igbo plot. It was followed by a Northern counter coup that brought Lt Colonel Yakubu Gowon to power. Gowon was only 30 years old when he came to power. A baby put in charge of the most populous and most complex country in Africa of over 250 tribes. He appointed military administrators for the four regions of North, West, Midwest and East. Lt Colonel Odumegwu Ojukwu, a pampered 33 year old Oxford University graduate, born of a millionaire father, took control of the East. Two babes lost in the woods. Two impetuous babes that locked their ego-ridden, tribal horns in a war of attrition and words, that slowly, but steadily, descended into a war of bullets and bile. The rest as they say is history.
It was the Generals embroiled in the depravity of that three year war of genocide, rape, robberies and crimes against humanity that was to rule us for the next 40 years. What do you expect when blood soaked, blood mad Generals rule you? Can you see that video of Shekau the Boko Haram leader standing in front of an armoured car, ranting, raving, shaking. He is clearly mad, drunk on blood. Can you imagine such a person ruling Nigeria for 40 years. That was what happened to us. For forty years we were ruled by psychopathic rulers drunk on the blood of Biafra. So what would you expect? Today’s Nigeria, of course. They are still trying to hide the truth so they are not dragged before the International Court of Justice. That was why they banned Chimamanda’s film “Half of a Yellow Sun”.
PDP callously hoisted one of the blood drunk Generals on us and now APC wants to do the same. And you tell me that our politicians do not need psychiatric help? Without a doubt we need a thirdway away from PDP and APC – brothers in the deception of Nigerians.
This article by Agha Egwu was first published by SkytrendNews