Lt.-Col. Ejoor: The Mid-West please.
Major Johnson: And Lagos. Nigeria is still a Federation and in a Federation there is a Central Government. Where is this Central Government and who is Head of this Central Government? Gentlemen, unless we clear this one, all what we are discussing will not be good enough. What are the conditions the East demand before they can recognise what the rest of us recognise as the Central Government?
Lt.-Col. Ojukwu: I agree with you in essence on what you have just said, Bolaji [First name of Major Johnson], but the last bit is badly put. If you will forgive me it is not ‘What conditions do they demand before….’
If the problem is that we are trying to see how to solve the problem of Government in the centre then I will come in. I will seek your indulgence as I go a little bit back into what a number of people would perhaps wish to call history.
At a certain stage, we all accepted General Ironsi as the Supreme Commander and Head of the National Military Government. During his regime we met or rather whilst he was about we met as often as it was practicable, and sat and jointly discussed and took decisions. When the decisions were good we all shared the kudos, when those decisions were bad it is only natural that we should all share the blame.
On the 29th of July, whilst he was visiting the Governor of the West, he was said to be besieged in that residence in Ibadan and later kidnapped, further abducted. Subsequent to that, it appeared in his absence the normal thing was whoever is the next senior person to manage the affairs of this country until such a time as he reappeared; or it was necessary he was deposed or if he had suffered certain accident, until such a time as the circumstances were made known. Which ever is the case, the question of the headship of the Government and the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces would normally be subjected to a discussion and agreement unless, of course, one party felt he was strong enough to push everybody aside and get to the seat.
When this affair of the 29th July occurred, I remember for certain, the first 24 hours nobody thought it necessary to contact the East from Lagos. I made the contact later and I know the advice I gave Brigadier Ogundipe at that time. I said to him, ‘Sir, the situation is so confused that I feel that somebody must take control immediately. Also, I would suggest that you go on to the air and tell the country what has happened and that you were taking control of the situation.’ Then I was told about concern for the whole country. I knew that if this thing resolved itself into factions we would get ourselves into so much trouble that we would never or we would find it difficult to get out. I maintained and still do that the answer would have been for the responsible officers of the Army to get together thereby trying to get the Army together to solve the problem that we had on our hands. I said to him ‘As soon as you have made your speech I guarantee you within 30 minutes, I needed time to write my own, in 30 minutes I would come on to the air in the East and say that I, the entire Army in the East and the entire people in the East wholeheartedly support you.’
Forgive me, David [first name of Lt.-Col. Ejoor], that I have never said this to you, but I told him too that I was sure that within fifteen minutes you would say the same in the interest of the country as a whole. He told me that he thought it was a good idea but it did not seem likely that it would be accepted by the faction.
Very soon after, I had occasion to talk to you, Jack [nickname of Lt.-Col. Gowon], I did mention amongst other things, two things. The first one was this question of solving the problem and I thought the Army together should solve it. I said also that any break at this time from our normal line would write in something into the Nigerian Army which is bigger than all of us and that thing is indiscipline. How can you ride above people’s heads and sit in Lagos purely because you are at the Head of a group who have their fingers poised on the trigger? If you do it you remain forever a living example of that indiscipline which we want to get rid of because tomorrow a Corporal will think because he has his finger on the trigger he could just take over the company from the Major Commanding the company and so on. I knew then that we were heading for something terrible. Despite that and by force of circumstance as we did talk on the telephone, I think twice, you brought up the question of supreme command and I made quite plain my objections, but despite those objections you announced yourself as the Supreme Commander. Now, Supreme Commander by virtue of the fact that you head or that you are acceptable to people who had mutinied against their Commander, kidnapped him and taken him away ? By virtue of the support of Officers and men who had in the dead of night murdered their brother Officers, by virtue of the fact that you stood at the head of a group who had turned their brother Officers from the Eastern Region out of the barracks which they shared ? Our people came home, there are other circumstances which even make the return more tragic. Immediately after I had opportunity to speak to you again, I said on that occasion that there had been too much killing in Nigeria and it was my sincere hope that we can stop these killings. I said then, and have continued to say that in the interest of peace I would co-operate with you to stop the fighting, to stop the killing but I would not recognise.
I would not recognise because as I said we have a Supreme Commander who is missing. I would not recognise and to underline the validity of that claim of mine you appointed another Officer, be he senior to you, Acting Governor in the West, presumably acting for the Governor who was then abducted and that I saw no reason why your position would not then be acting. From there I think we started parting our ways because it was clear that the hold on Lagos was by force of conquest. Now, these things do happen in the world, we are all military Officers. If an Officer is dead ‘Oh!he was a fine soldier’, we drop the national flag on him, we give him due honours and that is all. The next person steps in. So, the actual fact in itself is a small thing with military men but hierachy, order is very important, discipline are sine qua non for any organisation which prides itself for being called an Army. So, the mutiny had occurred, the mutineer seemed in control of the North, the West, Lagos. By international standards when that does happen then a de facto situation is created immediately where whoever is in a position get a de facto recognition of himself in a position over the area he controls. In this situation, Nigeria resolved itself into three areas. The Lagos, West and North group, the Mid-West, the East. What should have been done is for us to get round to discuss the future, how to carry on in the absence of our Supreme Commander.
We could not get together because of the situation so we sent our accredited representatives, delegates of Governments and personal representatives of Governors to Lagos to try and resolve certain issues on bringing normalcy to the country. They met and unanimously agreed to certain points.
Bolaji, I think in fact from this, if nothing else you do know what I consider went wrong. Perhaps at this juncture I might stop for others to contribute otherwise I would go on and tell you what I consider to be my solution to the problem even now, irrespective of the amount of water that had gone under the bridge. I think there is still a solution provided we are honest with ourselves and we are really very serious about solving this problem. I agree with you it is vital, it is crucial, without it I do not think we can really go anywhere. I leave it for the time being.