On 5 January 1967, I was at Accra airport on reporting duties for the LondonObserver newspaper and hoping to run into some of the delegates who were attending the “Aburi Conference” on Nigeria’s future, hosted by Lt-General Joseph Ankrah, chairman of Ghana’s National Liberation Council. Luck was on my side, for who would be sitting in the VIP lounge of the airport but Col. Odumegwu Ojukwu, then Governor of the Eastern Region of Nigeria and leading actor in the Nigeria-Biafra “drama”.
With him was Mr E H Boohene, an old friend of his from Oxford University. It was through interventions by persons like Boohene that the Aburi Conference had been made possible. Ghanaians in top positions who had an affinity with Nigerian soldiers and civilians of influence, had become fully aware that Nigeria was on the way to a blood-spilling, fratricidal, civil war of immense proportions.
Between May and September 1966, killings of Nigerians by people who harboured ethnic hatred, had led to reports that a “pogrom” of Ibos in the North (in particular) was taking place. The figure usually reported was 30,000 Ibos massacred by Northerners. General Ankrah, to his credit, wanted to do as much as possible to prevent further killings from taking place anywhere in Nigeria.
Under Ankrah’s discreet chairmanship, an “Aburi Accord” was negotiated over a period of two days, and the Nigerians went back home. Col Ojukwu was waiting for a plane to take him back home when I ran into him. His demeanour was not cheerful. In reply to my enquiries as to how the meeting at Aburi had gone, he said – ominously --”We have agreed to so many things before. But the trouble has always been the IMPLEMENTATION of what we’d agreed upon.”
True to form, the “interpretation” of the key decisions taken at Aburi, led to disagreements between the Eastern Region and the Federal side. So, on 30 May 1967, Ojukwu felt justified in declaring the coming into existence of a “Republic of Biafra”, to be headed by himself. A ferocious civil war immediately followed this declaration, and by the time Biafra surrendered on 15 January 1970, an estimated 2 million people or so had lost their lives on both sides. The esimated number doesn't really matter -- Nigerias's collective psyche was absolutely torn asunder by the realisation of what brother could do to brother, in practice.
The Federal Government of Nigeria placed an embargo on imports to BIAFRA (especially food and medicine) and this led to the death from starvation and disease of hundreds of thousands of Ibos, including children.
If you were to ask any Nigerian today, what was achieved by the civil war, and he were to answer you truthfully, he might say, “We experienced in full, the unexpected consequences of carrying out ethnically-based politics”. A more sardonic answer might be, “We achieved nothing – other than learning that once war is declared, everything “go scatter” (in the words of Fela Anikulakpo Kuti).
In truth, Nigerians couldn’t believe what they had done to themselves. An Ibo Editor friend of mine, once described to me, the defection of a mutual friend to the Federal side thus: “We were having a drink at the Enugu Press Club when we heard a federal bomber approaching. Our mutual friend ran away so fast that the next thing we heard -- he had reached Lagos! And -- surrendered to the ‘Feds’!”
There was no mistaking the pain – and scorn – with which my friend recalled this incident. Many similar personal relationships were destroyed in this way by the civil war.
At the end of the civil war, the Federal leader, General Yakubu Gowon promulgated the noble sentiment that “There have been no Victors and No Vanquished.” But if you ask an Ibo, he would tell you that the “Victors” had, for instance, neglected to restore to the “Vanquished”, the properties they had abandoned all over Nigeria, as they fled to their Biafran enclave. Other accusations of Federal "insensitivity" exist.
I recall these events in Nigeria because there are Ghanaians who, probably unaware of what the Nigerian civil war did to Nigeria, have begun to – emotionally at least – follow the same steps that brought the Ibos their greatest-ever ethnic tragedy. Look at what happened at Ho on 16 November 2019:
QUOTE: Separatist group declares ‘independence’ for 'Western Togoland'
“A group championing the secession of parts of Ghana along the border with Togo, has declared independence for the territory they call 'Western Togoland'. The Homeland Study Group Foundation (HSGF) announced its separation [as follows]:
“Today the 16th of November 2019, the leader of Western Togoland independence, Mr Charles Kormi Kudzodzi, has announced the separation of Western Togoland from Ghana…HSGF has been demanding the secession of the Volta Region and parts of the Northern, North East and Upper East Regions from Ghana….
“In May 2019, some members of the group were arrested by the police and charged with conspiracy to commit treason felony…. The leader, 85-year-old Charles Kormi Kudzordzi along with eight others, were arrested … at Ho on May 5… while holding a meeting to allegedly arrange to declare Western Togoland as an independent state on May 9, 20I9. UNQUOTE
According to one report, although the charges against those arrested in May 2019 were later dropped, the HSGF intends to go full steam ahead with secession and is to ask the United Nations for recognition for “the new state of Western Togoland”. Now, that is a rather strange demand for the HSGF to make of the UN. This is because in 1956, the very United Nations Organisation from which the HSGF seeks to ask for recognition, organized a plebiscite to find out whether the people of the area (who had hitherto lived under UN Trusteeship, administered by Britain, after the Second World War) wanted to become part of the new state that was to become Ghana on 6 March 1957. The result of the UN plebiscite was that the people chose to form part of Ghana. The UN implemented the result of the plebiscite through RESOLUTION 1044, and “Western Togoland” became part and parcel of independent Ghana.
Although the plebiscite was cleverly organised, so as to ensure that no minority was ignored, it couldn't, of course, satsifdy everybody. Many people voted against becoming part of Ghana. Some people in the Ewe communities, in particular, feared that by becoming part of Ghana, the division which the colonialists had perpetrated against the Ewe peoples (by separating them into German, French and British territories) would be perpetuated.
But since the plebiscite, the people of the Volta Region (which incorporates the Western Togoland area) have had Governments which they have dominated or with which they had been closely affiliated – for instance, the PNDC [military] Government of 1981-1992 and the NDC Governments that followed the PNDC. If elements like the HSGF were not happy with staying in Ghana, why did they not urge their own “comrades” in government at those times, to take acceptable steps to change their situation? Or are they only prepared to stasy in Ghana when they exercise an overwhelming influence in Ghana's affairs? Anyway, how can anyone expect the international community to acquiesce to a challenge to UN Resolution 1044, which settled the matter on the basis of the plebiscite result?
That the Western Togoland leaders have declared their “independence” only under an NPP administration is no doubt a provocation. But the NPP would be well-advised to handle the issue with tact and maturity. Above all, the NPP Government should do everything it can to use persuasion to try and isolate the HSGF and put it on the wrong foot. The NPP has a strong case which it must not undermine with emotional reactions, for with ECOWAS becoming increasingly relevant in terms of unifdied trade and currency systems, in particular, does it make sense to, say, try to separate territory from Ghana and give it to Togo, when they have begun to use the same currency and charge the same import duties, anyway?
Certainly, any action that could lead to bloodshed or the type of economic and social attrition we saw occur in Biafra, must be eschewed. History is watching to see whether we in Ghana do "Remember Biafra!" It would do us all a lot of good to look again at those horrible pictures of starving children in Biafra, and note, to everyone's shame, that all that suffering brought -- ABSOLUTELY NOTHING in the end.
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