c. The problem of the army
Lt.-Col. Gowon: I think all of us have at one time or the other discussed the situation in the country with regard to the reorganisation of the Army. With reference to 3 (b) ‘the implementation of the agreement reached on 9th August’ this is on the disposition of Army personnel, that they should go back to their region of origin. This recommendation was made by the Ad Hoc Committee which consisted of Secretaries to the Military Governors, advisers and representatives of Regional Governors. They did not have any mandate to decide anything other than to come and express their feelings and make recommendations. Their recommendations, of course, would be considered by the Regional Governors. I think the recommendation says:
It was accordingly agreed that as far as possible the Army personnel should be posted to barracks in their Regions of origin with immediate effect as an interim measure. Having regard to its peculiar position, the question of maintenance of peace and security in Lagos should be left with the Supreme Commander in consultation with the Military Governors.
This question of movement of troops to their Region of origin arose from the fact that at the time there was so much misunderstanding, so much clash and killings between troops of Northern origin and troops of Eastern origin. I discussed this on the telephone with Emeka and I told him that ‘Honestly, my consideration is to save the lives of these boys and the only way to do it is to remove the troops back to barracks in their Region of origin. ‘ Emeka also told me that there were a number of threats to his life and any moment the troops in Enugu of Northern origin could mutiny and his life and the lives of the people of Eastern Nigeria would be in danger. I agreed with him and said the best thing we could do was to send them back to their Region of origin and some of the boys were already escaping from their units. We agreed to repatriate all troops of Northern origin from the East and those of Eastern origin particularly Ibo speaking from the other major units because the clashes were severest within major units.
As far as I was concerned I did not think the problem was in other units because the feeling at that time was that it was the Northern versus Eastern boys as a result of some things that had happened in the past which had been with us for a long time. If you remember, Emeka, you said something about the boys in the services returning and I agreed to this reluctantly but as far as the major units were concerned, I thought that was necessary. If we can mix up a little now this will certainly be a good basis for future coming together. If we separate totally we will sort of probably get further and further apart and each Region may have an independent Army. I think I have said enough as far as the review of the current situation with reference to the organisation of the Army is concerned and the implementation of the agreement of 9th August. I think we can now discuss this point and later on come to some sort of agreement on the subject….
I think we can now go to the question of the organisation of the Nigerian Army. There was a Committee that was set up in August or September to think on the re- organisation of the Nigerian Army and I think they produced a paper which we sent to all Military Governors to comment upon and from that we will work out the question of re-organisation. This is something on a nation’s security and I think we should be very careful about it. This is the truth about defence in the world today.
If I can say something about my idea for the re-organisation of the Army. I will be very brief. I think that the Nigerian Army today probably would not be able to remain exactly as it was before January 15 or July 29. There has been so much fear generated between ourselves as a result of events since the beginning of 1966 that there is something to be said towards the modification of the present stand. There are two extremes on this. One sort of saying that we remain exactly as we were before January 15 and the other which says, we go completely on Regional basis. I think those are the two extremes. In the middle of course, you have got the possibility of having an Army predominantly people of that Region in their Region.
If I can express my own view or if you like you can call it my philosophy. As far as the Nigerian Army is concerned we cannot get everybody to where he was before January 15 or July 29. If we want to go to the other extreme of having Regional Armies we are trying to have the beginning of the arms race which is what we are trying to do away with. These Regional Armies will turn into private armies and before we know what we are doing we will start having internal troubles within the private armies and, of course, the whole country will be in flames. My thinking is that I do not feel that the basis of trust and confidence has been completely broken, it has been disrupted, it has been shaken but with little mixing and jingling we have got between people, I am quite convinced that it would form the basis of probably a more realistic mixing together in the future. If every Region wants to go its own way and think one day we will meet again, I feel that it may not work properly….
On immediate re-organisation, one would like to see first of all proper command and control. Secondly, we all agreed that most of the soldiers in each Region should come from that Region.
The East and the Mid-West are lucky they have all their people there, unfortunately in the West, I have not got enough Westerners in the place and the people in the West are very afraid now because a lot of their own people were killed during January, July and August. I have tried to clear the fear from them but still they insist on having more Yorubas than they have at the moment. I know there are not enough Yorubas in the Army and those who are there are mostly tradesmen. I do not want to disrupt other units, but from what I said when we last met in Lagos, we can find an immediate solution to the Yoruba problem. That is, try and continue on the normal quota business which we started in Zaria and as a crash programme we should use Abeokuta area as a crash programme training centre for Westerners, for Mid-Westerners who cannot go to Zaria and possibly for the Easterners who cannot go to Zaria at the moment.
I still feel very strongly about this, this is the only way to clear the problem of the Yorubas and this is the only way we can get the confidence of the people of the West because they feel they are the only people now being helped because there are not enough Yorubas in the Army. The moment we can clear this side and we get command and control properly established, I do not think there will be any more problem That is the immediate reorganisation which I would like now but the long term one is on the paper given to us by the committee which was appointed. It is a very good paper and I am still commenting on it.