Major Johnson: We can take a date here but I see what Lt.-Col. Hassan is getting at. Usually anything you do in a Federal Government, instructions come from the nerve centre and that nerve centre for all we know is Lagos. It is Lagos that will tell the Regions ‘You send your Solicitors-General to meet at Benin at so and so date….’ Personally, I feel we have a duty to the people, we should forget about ourselves at the moment. We must put behind our minds that we are all soldiers and we are all likely to go back to the Army after this. All we need now is to find a solution to the problem of Nigeria and that solution must be a sincere one….
I know the Ghana system is working well; if we had started with that system from the beginning it would have been a different thing. There is nothing wrong with our own system, only the timing is bad, it will be bad if we change it now and I think we must make our own organisation workable….
Lt.-Col. Ojukwu: I have to come in again. I do not agree with 90 per cent of what you have just said. I have used the analogy of sweeping dirt under the carpet, I again used the question of the ostrich posture burying our heads in the sand and hoping everything is all right. The fact remains that in the year 1966, Nigeria has gone through a turmoil and as Jack himself said, the basis for real unity in this..
Lt.-Col. Gowon: Unitary system of Government, please, not the question of unity.
Lt.-Col. Ojukwu: You made an important and realistic declaration in which you said’ Our difficulties in the past have been how to agree on the form which such an association should take and the task of my Government’, meaning yours, ‘is to provide facilities for the widest and fullest consultations at all levels on all vital matters of national interest before a decision is taken.’ In the past we have been too presumptuous and have acted on such presumptions. Too often we presume that we know what the people desired. In one or two cases hasty decisions were taken without sufficient consultation. Based on that and knowing what has gone, therefore any government set up now in Nigeria that does not take into cognisance Regional loyalties is complete eye-wash. The Federal Government or support of Gowon or support of anybody, or of Emeka, whatever it is, is neither here nor there. What we want is that certain things were wrong, what are they, let us put them right. When I said Chairman, you can call him Chairman and still call him Governor. The fact still remains, it is really a nomenclature on functions and this is the crux of the matter. On the basis on which he assumed the position in Lagos, it is not possible for the East to accept blindly the leadership from Lagos. For this we have fought, we have struggled for in the past few years. For this the East will continue to struggle and fight if necessary, but thank God we have said there will be no force.
Lt.-Col. Gowon: You can thank God but your attitude is what will say.
Lt.-Col. Ojukwu: The point I am making is that this Council of ours whoever we decide should sit on the Chair would have limited functions and only act with our agreement. This was what caused the last downfall. We all know it, there were so many times that we quarreled about this, argued about this, a number of things went down and not fully understood elsewhere. After all, we were all there when Decree No. 34 was made. The point was, amongst the Governors and senior officers, we knew, and we saw it and left it. The people did not, they felt it and re-acted, so we are told. If we are not going to fall into that trap again let us here agree that whoever sits on the chair can only act after consultation . . . and his action would, of course, be limited by our own agreement….
The question of Government, Gentlemen. It would be entirely unrealistic not to take into full cognisance what has happened in the country. There was a mutiny in the Army on January 15, Army leaders from all parts of the country got together halted it and set up a Government. Until May there was a massacre which the Army leaders in their entirety regretted; based on the good faith generated by the realistic way in which the Army or the Armed Forces tackled the problem, it was possible for populations to continue to go back to their areas of domicile and continue living side by side with one another.
Come July, there was another mutiny in the Army as a result of which Jack assumed the title Supreme Commander. This title certainly is contrary to my own views as a member of the Supreme Military Council…. By September the molestations and the killings of Easterners had assumed such large proportions that Easterners everywhere outside the East lost complete faith in a Federal Government that could not offer the basic need to their citizen, that is to offer the citizen protection. The citizens from the East, therefore, sought that protection within their ethnic groups in the East. Contrary to sentiments and all advice, everybody thought the East was going to revenge.
I will say this here because it is no boast that but for my own personality in the crisis the East would have thrown itself completely into a revenge. I halted it because I foresaw that anybody that started an inter-tribal civil war would never be able to control it. I was absolutely certain that once we get into civil war it would take us at least 25 years to sort out. Contrary to all expectation I sent our delegates from the East to the Ad Hoc Constitutional Conference. During this, contrary to what should have been indeed the Military Government’s way of doing things, I think a genuine mistake, politicians found themselves for the first time in the forefront of national discussions and, as usual instead of facing the problem before them sought to gain personal triumphs and advantage. The East at the Conference was not doing very well, the molestations continued, the gory details I will spare you….
In this case unfortunately, Gentlemen, Officers and men of Eastern Nigeria origin who had moved from other parts of the country know the names, the faces of individuals who perpetrated these atrocities. Mention a name, we know who killed him, mention somebody we know who at least hounded him out of his barracks. So, Gentlemen, for as long as that situation exists men from Eastern Nigeria would find it utterly impossible to stay in the same barracks, feed in the same mess, fight from the same trenches as men in the Army from Northern Nigeria, they would find this impossible because we know it.
My policy has been that of ensuring the prevention of further killing. If we do not take cognisance of all these and we put our men together and mix up we write in Gentlemen, vendetta into our Armed Forces and once it becomes vendetta it becomes extremely difficult for us to solve because they will stay by force in the same barracks but each Commanding Officer will never be sure when his day will come.