Nigeria in Crisis: The paper that overthrew Gowon –Asiodu
By Our Reporter on March 10, 2014 · ICON, Specials
By Chidi Obineche
Elder statesman and quintessential bureaucrat, Chief Phillip Asiodu was among the elite corps of permanent secretaries, dubbed (super perm secs) that held sway in the pre-and immediate post civil strife years in Nigeria. He was in the inner kitchen of the power convulsions that rocked the fragile foundation of post independence Nigeria for more than a decade.
With an elephant memory that belies his age, the Oxford trained technocrat in this interview with Sunday Sun at his Victoria Island, Lagos residence digs up the throbs of the emerging nation and proffers candid remedies for stability and progress.
The French 5th Republic Constitution which operated a presidential system with inner checks and balances gladdens his heart, and he recommends it for adoption in Nigeria, through the forthcoming national conference.
“I have always thought that we should adopt something like the French 5th Republic Constitution. It is presidential. The president is elected by the whole country, but in actual functioning, it has a lot of the parliamentary, elements which we are used to since apart from the president, there is a prime minister”, he explains.
Asiodu sees the present 36 states structure as a colossal waste and mis-directed. Just 8 of them will do and the others should be converted to provinces in his view.
His foray into the nerve-racking days of social tension and glorious days of the civil service, where they, from behind the in-experienced and overwhelmed military leaders called the shots, elicits boundless awe.
He reveals: “And the Army at that time wanted the permanent secretaries to assume the title of ministers reporting to the Supreme Military Council. I was one of them. We said no, the army didn’t say they came to be in government forever. We assumed it was transitional. We still preferred to have a non-political civil service. We said no. But they did not appoint ministers. Ironsi didn’t. And when Gowon came after Ironsi was overthrown and killed in July 1966, you know for 2 days there was no government, because people were looking for their supreme commander. He wasn’t there. The number two, Brigadier Ogundipe had taken refuge in a British man O’war facility off shore. Gowon was only Adjutant General of the Army. But the civil service had prestige then. It was able to cover up. The country didn’t know there was no government.”
He goes out to give detailed behind-the- scenes reasons and manoeuvres that culminated in the 1975 coup d’etat that removed General Yakubu Gowon from office. The field commanders had returned from the war front piling pressure on the head of state to change the state governors and accommodate them. They were restive, as Gowon played the highway of endless postponements. Then, the permanent secretaries lumbered into the fray and produced a paper that nailed Gowon’s coffin.
“In fact, we, sensing things, did produce a paper once asking him to change 8 governors. This country was good at the time. Gowon must have told them, these people want you changed. And when they saw us, they said, “ah Jaga Jaga man, you want me changed.?” If it were today, they will kill you. Isn’t it?
He continues: “I don’t think anybody will controvert the fact that if on the eve of going to Uganda, he had announced that come October, in three months time, these will be the new governors. Maybe, we would not have had the coup of July 1975, and our evolution would have been different and there would have been a more orderly transition and honest transition to civil rule”
He delves into other related issues, driving a pax-Nigeriana
Here are excerpts from the chat
A lot of people have placed much hope on the upcoming national conference. What do you think it will achieve for the country?
I think we should approach it very objectively, but I believe, with some measure of introspection and humility , we should ask ourselves pertinent questions. We all believe in God. We see even in our lifetime, the tremendous success other colonised people like Asia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore have made. We ask ourselves, are we condemned as black people to be forever inconsequential in terms of world economic and political exchanges? Sometimes, we approach Nigeria’s problems as if we don’t exist in a wider world. Why do I say all this? When I was growing up, the leading lights like Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe published ‘Renascent Africa.’
He was talking about African renaissance. Nigeria was to be just an element, and a vanguard in the renaissance. His peers, also talked about pan-Africanism. And there was this promise to give us back our sovereignty, to give us back our independence, that we shall do for our people, better things than colonialism achieved. ‘Renascent Africa’ was published in 1937; 23 years after the amalgamation of Southern and Northern protectorates. We became independent in 1960,54 years ago. Where are we today? And the people who became independent just about the same time – those Asian countries I referred to, where are they today? For me, we should go to that conference saying yes.When you look at the world as it is, Nigeria happens to be the only country, thanks to the degradation by the Europeans. First was the slave trade for 300 years, and then the partition of Africa under the Berlin Conference ,with enough population and enough resources under black people, and can be significant in world terms. Therefore we must do our best to preserve; in order to prevent the blackman from continuing to suffer for another millennium, the humiliations brought about by the trans atlantic slave trade and colonialism. That will be the departing point. And so it is in that context, that we look at our political arrangements and the philosophy behind our participation in politics, purposes why we enter politics, and then derive what we think should be the best arrangement to ensure that this entity called Nigeria does not disintegrate. And that the entity, called Nigeria, with the enormous, natural and human resources God has given her to be in an excellent geographical position, is able to do for the blackman what the Japanese under the Meji restoration did for the yellow man. Bring us back to international respect; bring us back to those core values without which a nation cannot be great.
You talked about the expectations of Nigeria from the National Conference. But in specific terms, what are the issues that you advocate should be put in the constitution at the conference?
I am not talking about expectations. I am more inclined to the approach of people participating at the conference. That the ultimate aim must be to preserve this heritage of Nigeria, however it came about, because all great nations started from various tribes, hammered together in empires over time, or through negotiations, and all that. The important thing is to have that leadership which looks years and years ahead, and moulds people together for better performance. That having been said, looking at the actual situation, there is the feeling in some quarters that this is an opportunity for various nationalities to say whether to remain as one Nigeria. I have already subsumed that in my opening remark. No great nation today, China, India, America, they have all kinds of people moulded together. And we have interacted, long before the British came, and the French, who drew these boundaries, under Pax-Britannica, in the last 100 years. We have been interacting.
And we cannot begin to think about disintegrating now. But we must have good governance. From this point of view, more important than anything else is that we must agree on redefining what politics is all about. Why do we seek office? Because, whether you divide the country into 10 or 20, or 40, whether every village is a federating state, or we go back to viable state structure which people are advocating – 6 or 8 zones or region , the primary impulse of engaging in politics is not right. We don’t have good governance, and we don’t have justice. At present, what has gone very wrong is that nobody in politics now is talking about the welfare of the masses. In the First Republic, those leaders who fought for independence, vowed and strived to do better for the people.
And they set about it, built schools, introduced in the west free education to standard six, in the East up to standard three. They gave scholarships. Where the British used to give one dozen or less, Eastern and Western regions alone gave more than 250 to create the cadre who were able to take over the bureaucracy and other strata of governance and endeavours from the British. They created farm settlement schemes, and industrial estates. And when the first post independence National Plan (1962-1966), Balewa and all the regional premiers led all the politicians, i.e. ministers at all levels to take 10% cut in salaries for national savings. What is it that we have today? Competitive corruption. People trying to see that when you’re in politics, how much can you amass for yourself.? So we now have a situation in which for instance, the money which goes from the public purse eventually through salaries, allowances etc into the pockets of a Nigerian Senator is four times what goes into the pocket of the American president; it is six times what goes into the pocket of the average American senator. And our economy is 3% of the American GDP.
It doesn’t make sense. We see a situation in which because of these manoeuvres, out of N4.5 trillion of Federal budget, 75% is for recurrent, paying a few thousand bureaucrats and politicians. If the motivation remains to improve the general welfare of the general masses, the bulk of those resources should be going into power infrastructure, education, health, transportation; creating the basis for what we had hoped, that before the end of the 20th century, Nigeria would do for the black race what the Japanese did for the yellow race. But it is still possible if we get the right attitude. So, if we at the national conference, try again to rediscover the motivating principles of our founding fathers, that would be good. If we are in politics, we are patriotic, we want to see Nigeria grow, more united, more just and happier.
And therefore, what I put into my pocket as self-seeking should be subsidiary. Then the nature of politics we are engaging in, the cost of seeking political office would be vastly reduced. The excuse is that it costs so much to become elected, therefore the first desire is how to get it back will be less. We have to have that total shift in attitude, otherwise whatever political arrangements we make will fail.
And having said that, personally, I have always believed that this type of presidential system we are running is not the best. I prefer, and I wrote about it in the early ‘90s,when Babangida was doing the initial transition. I have always thought that we should adopt something like the French 5th republic constitution.
It is presidential. The president is elected by the whole country. But in actual functioning, it has a lot of the parliamentary, which we are used to, whereby, apart from the president, there is a prime minister. The prime minister forms a cabinet and takes it before the Assembly. The Assembly approves it. But more than that, the prime minister, as in the parliamentary system has to lead the debate on the policies pertaining to his ministry. He has to be available to the parliament on a day to day basis. Not what we see here of separate Houses. We have the Assembly negotiating, and there doesn’t seem to be this sense that we are working together, for our government, in the interest of our people.
The fact that the president will be elected, gives us that stability. He is ultimately responsible. He attends cabinet meetings when he wants, and there may be certain reserve functions which he rarely initiates in foreign affairs, and defence, if you like.
But do you think, this French model will remove all the obscene interests you outlined earlier?
Yes, on the day to day administration of education, health, commerce, industry and so on, these ministers go before parliament, and it should be possible for us to defeat as in the French 5th republic, a motion of no confidence. In a motion of no confidence, you can defeat the government i.e. the prime minister and his cabinet. They are obliged to reign. The president remains. So there isn’t that national instability. And then there are consultations. A new prime minister and sets of ministers are produced. So the day to day responsibility to the people will be there. I would like to see that.
Would that make Nigeria a true federation?
I would like to see Nigeria as a genuine federation, which means that as we federate, there are certain national purposes we must work together and administer as one. For instance, defence and security, currency, credit, international commerce, transportation, federal trunk roads, railways, aviation, ports. Customs and excise, and things pertaining to international treaties like health, where you have agreements on preventive health. It requires the co-operation of states. These special subjects are for the federal government. The rest, the states will do. But those states must be viable states. And like I have said on another occasion, apart from the 12 states created under Gowon, where there were a lot of consultations with various sections of the country, and where we were addressing certain obvious imbalances, for instance, the idea of the Northern region being bigger than all the others combined. Neither of them makes structural sense in terms of governance. But they could not be justified on the basis of ethnic groupings of the place. And it is very interesting that in 1948, Zik in his political blueprint for Nigeria, was advocating a federation of six states. Of course, later on, because of politics, we ended up starting with three regions.
But even at that, remember that the Wilkins Commission reported on the minority things, and the British said if they were to address it, independence will be postponed. So you go and have your independence, but look into this matter. They then created the Niger Delta Basin Authority. At that time, it was quite clear, the middle belt was up in arms. They wanted their own region, and infact the military had to be deployed there after independence to quell the agitations and disturbances.
The Midwest had always campaigned for it. Infact, originally it was Benin, Ondo, Warri. It wasn’t tribal. It was more or less a region with old historical affinities; which felt a bit marginalised in terms of activities. Later on, it narrowed down to Benin, Warri states. And there had always been this agitation for CORE (Calabar, Ogoja, Rivers). So, though, we had three regions, you could see there were three natural sub-regions, which could have given us a federation of six. Infact, if there was more patriotism and far- sightedness, the NCNC/ NPC alliance at the centre, in the wake of the collapse or the split of the Action group, we had created the Midwest, if they had only created the middle belt and CORE, maybe our history could have been different.
Now, some people are talking in terms of a federation of the six zones, but when you look at it closely, North Central, North East, in any way you look at it, there are two clear sub-regions there. So even on that basis alone, you will be talking about 8. But anything beyond 8, or as I said, even the 12 of Gowon may not hold. As I said, the 12 of Gowon addressed the problems of the 8. But there was a special situation in Lagos – The old colony of Lagos. There was also the necessity, with the crises of that time ,of strategically, containing the South East. i.e. East Central State.
I was about to come to that. Some people insist that the 12 states structure created by Gowon were created out of the urgency to contain the rebellion in the East Central State. How do you look at that?
A lot of consultations occured. I happened to know that General Gowon at that time wanted to know if the North was in agreement with the split. That was the biggest area to be split up. In the south, there were already 3 regions. In the North, there was one to be split into six. There was that delay. But what I am saying is that the difference between having 8 and 12, because with the exigencies of the crisis, the talk about secession, strategically became more important.And this is not to just talk about CORE – (Calabar, Ogoja, Rivers) but in terms of South East and Rivers.
You could say that strategic imperative made it a division into three, instead of two. In the west, it was already two. But then there were agitations in Lagos which from 1861 enjoyed special status,as colony of Lagos. And even when we had the provinces, the colony of Lagos was separate and the people really wanted a separate state. And then, in terms of national strategic implications, the port of Lagos was special.
These were what made it 12. Now, apart from these deep reasoning which went into those twelve states, the creation of 19 states, 21, and 36 were just pandering to the demands of ‘share, share, share’. If you go that way, if you were having surplus oil revenue, you didn’t want to apply for development, you could keep sharing. But if we recognize the situation before 1975, under the first republic, under Ironsi, under Gowon, that oil was a wasting asset ,and this was the opening chapter of the 1975 – 80 rolling plan, then, we could take a different approach.
You see that oil will not be with us forever. It was imperative that while the oil resources were there, to make sure that in terms of renewables and development, the economy was diversified, and that Nigeria will thrive as it did before oil came, and will continue to thrive even when oil becomes less important. This is one of the tragedies that occurred before 1975, that we abandoned the plans to diversify the economy and develop it, and kept this kind of planless squandamania, whereby you cannot really see all the enormous revenues we got ,especially, since 1999.
The escalated oil prices, where has it gone? We agree that to go into politics we must change our motivation and core values. We want to have a state which grows stronger, where the general masses of the people, are becoming better off, so that even the richer ones can sleep in more peace and the world respect us. To have this, your governance system must insist on justice, your interactions with the world must go back to sanctity of contracts, quick adjudication if there are disputes, zero tolerance for corruption, because corruption is so distorting, prompt sanctions for people who transgress, and re-emphasis again on the kind of bureaucracy (civil service) you have.
We must go back to well trained, professional, non-corrupt civil service, trying to measure itself with international norms and merit driven. Clear requirements for recruitments, well staged training, courses to enable you to become effective as it used to be.
Let me take you up on the civil service. A lot of people believe that the civil service is responsible for the nation’s stunted growth. While growing up, we had a lot of respect for the civil service. But at a stage, it evaporated. What happened? At what stage did the mess start?
The British, when they recognized us, had to go. This was as far back as 1948, after the Victor Adebo report started Nigerianisation of the administrative service. And in 1958, they had got Nigerian leaders, Zik, Sardauna, Awolowo, Eyo Ita, Aminu Kano in the pre-independent conferences that they would have an independent civil service that they had in Britain, with independent public service commission who were responsible for recruitment, discipline, promotions. And they would in that, pursue merit and productivity as advancement in the public service. And that was followed.
Would you say the post independence crises that led to the first coup affected it?
The first coup truncated our political evolution, destroyed the First Republic. The army at the time wanted the permanent secretaries to assume the title of ministers reporting to the supreme military council. I was one of them. We said no. The army didn’t say they came to be in government forever. We assumed it was transitional. We still preferred to have a non-political civil service. We said no.
But they did not appoint ministers. Ironsi didn’t. And when Gowon came, after Ironsi was overthrown and killed in July 1966, you know for 2 days there was no government, because people were looking for their supreme commander. He wasn’t there. The number two, Brigadier Ogundipe had taken refuge in a British Man O’war facility offshore. Gowon was only Adjutant General of the Army. But the civil service had prestige then. It was able to cover up.
The country didn’t know there was no government. It was able to persuade some of the more radical coup makers who thought Nigeria was finished, blew up Carter Bridge,and repatriated people to the North. Even if you wanted to take your family by train, there must be an authority on a single track to say oh; a train is coming from Ibadan, another from Ilorin, please stop at this station. It was not so easy.
They just plunged 50 – 60 million people into chaos. We said, get one of you, who you can obey to take over. You know of the delegation of permanent secretaries which went to the Ikeja cantonment, and they were challenged,and asked, which tribe are you? Then, there were so many killings of Igbo officers. They replied, saying no, we are civil servants.
And the army did not insist on knowing their ethnic background. Those in camouflage rose up, and there was the joke of the rising grass. And then, they had a parley and got to know that Gen Gowon had been chosen as someone they could obey. Even though Ojukwu said he was not the most senior, but Ogundipe, took refuge in a British Man O’War facility. In fairness to him, he tried to give instructions to a major, who refused, and told him, I won’t obey you. But the point is this, the civil service rallied together.
Gowon came and had to be presented to the world as the new commander-in-chief and head of government of Nigeria. The world press descended on the nation, and I am glad to say that we drew up questions, possible ones asked at that press conference, which had been anticipated by the civil service people, who prepared him for it. That was the civil service.
How did it go bad then?
Both Gen Ironsi and Gen Gowon respected the civil service, and allowed it to work. But as I said, Gowon only agreed in May 1967, just before the outbreak of the civil war, to have distinguished politicians join his cabinet. We always argued that the world will not take us serious. But we were convinced Nigeria will not survive as an entity, if they did not see people who they knew as leaders join the administration.
I don’t think we would have successfully fought that civil war, if leading civilian politicians were not seen to be members of the Gowon cabinet. It was at the insistence of the civil servants; he agreed, and people like Awolowo, J.S Tarka, Aminu Tarka, Okoi Arikpo, Wenike Briggs joined. And with these sort of people, you won’t say Nigeria was finished. Later on, we had Dr. Okeke, joining from the East. He was not in NCNC, but part of Eyo Ita’s unit group. But during that time, there were no ministers.
Unlike before, when the permanent secretaries co-ordinated all the technical inputs from ministries, prepared council memoranda, for the minister and the minister will take it to the cabinet, if it was approved, he was the one who publicly said this was the policy of the ministry, and explained it. And it was the minister who stood up in cabinet every day to answer questions.
And so the civil servants were in the background. But with this situation, government policies had to be explained. Permanent secretaries were seen for the first time before cameras explaining policies and articulately. And of course people shouted these are the people in power. Unfortunately, though, the politicians joined to prosecute the war of national unification, many of them were hoping that as soon as the war ended, the military would hand over.
That didn’t happen, and this was blamed on the civil servants. I am telling you how things built up, which led to the greatest disaster, next to the coup of January 1966, which this country has suffered. Again, many of the field commanders during the war had retuned after the war and were pressing Gowon to change the military governors. They claimed that those military governors did not bear the brunt of fighting, and were enjoying themselves, in the capitals. Gowon kept promising and postponing.
I didn’t think anybody will controvert the fact that if on the eve of going to Uganda, he had announced that come October, in three months time, these will be the new governors, maybe we would not have had the coup of July 1975, and our evolution could have been different and there could have been a more orderly transition, and an honest transition to civil rule
Are you saying that the issue of military governors promoted the overthrow of Gowon?
Infact, we, sensing things, did produce a paper once, asking him to change 8 governors. This country, was good at the time. Gowon must have told them, these people want you changed. And when they saw us, they said, “ah Jaga, Jaga man, you want me changed”. If it is today, they will kill you. Isn’t it?
But then , Nigeria was still fine. We were doing it because the military was his constituency. And I tell you too, with the change, when we launched the 1975 – 1980 plan, it was going to be the beginning of economic transformation. There was emphasis on capital goods and intermediate goods, industries and the creation of an industrial sector which would be self-generating and diversifying sources of income. He thought that this was not too important to be disturbed. But pressure was on him by those who wanted a continuation of military rule, so that they would be governors.
And he made that announcement that he would no longer handover in 1976. People blamed it on the civil service. The civil service had nothing to do with it. Gen Gowon is alive. Infact when we heard it, we produced a memoranda for him, saying that was terrible, and that unless there were immediate changes, the government may not survive. What were we suggesting, was that at least if you were not going to keep to the programme of handover in 1976, then the idea of laws by decree must end. There should at least be a consultative parliament. What is the advantage of the parliamentary system I was talking about or even presidential system? In those days, in a parliamentary system, you produced a green paper for a major policy outlining ideas which government was thinking about.
It was published and you could buy it from government printer. People debated it and made suggestions. Then when government was firmer about what it wanted, it produced a white paper. Then a bill was introduced and it went through parliament before it became law. Under military rule then, you just sat down, the Attorney General and the ministries concerned, things were drafted. Overnight it was published. It was a decree. Like this infamous Land Use Decree for instance. It could never had passed through in a parliamentary system. It did not even pass through the judicial commission set up to advise on it. But the commander-in chief, Obasanjo, said it should be a decree. The commander in chief said, before they left office that it should be part of the constitution, and it was enshrined in the constitution. And it has had many, many economic consequences, and political ones.
But that is a different matter. Fortunately, he kept on postponing the change of governors until the coup happened. When the coup happened, there were many elements who were very happy to see the civil service dethroned. Those who said ah, so these were the people actually behind producing the policies? Those politicians who felt that the civil service had kept propping up the rulers and prevented Gowon from handling over as he should have to them, were aggrieved against the civil service. Then of course, the army boys who were hoping to have been given jobs probably felt too, that it was these civil servants who held them. So there was this concentration of feelings against the civil service which was exploited by Murtala and Obasanjo. And they initiated the kind of purge which has never happened in the British Commonwealth. In two months, 10,000 civil servants were either retired, sacked, or removed from office. From permanent secretary to messenger. All the rules we had, including if you did something bad you could be given just maximum of twenty four hours to explain yourself were never used. People didn’t get queries. Somebody would just whisper somebody’s name and in a 1:00 pm announcement, he was retired with immediate effect. That destroyed moral. But in the process, some of the leaders and obvious models of productivity, integrity, hard work, discipline.were affected. When we joined the service, we saw wonderful examples and said, we’ll be like them. They were all removed.
The checks and balances which a permanent, professional, non-partisan civil service brings about were destroyed. They even went about saying civil servants were not to be heard, because, the saying that, ignorance is strength was a mere slogan. They didn’t want to know what led to a policy and they wanted to implement. But worse than that, there were people working in the office who had good records, their names were announced among them. And then came this notion that if you are there, make hay while the sun shined, an euphemism for corruption.
When those who should be leading in financial instructions and transparency felt that there was nothing in there for them, they went into the spiral, from which we are yet to recover – of unrestrained corruption which is extremely damaging to national development and national interest. Infact, it was very sad, because at that time, especially in the middle grades, people who had put in 20 years service, were living in quarters given to them in Ikoyi, or wherever, the children were in school in Corona in Ikoyi, suddenly they were thrown out without preparation. They had to go and look for a house at Ojota, Kirikiri and their children still in Corona.
Some died. Some were in bad shape. Not only that, even in our time, there was what was called affirmative action. After the break up of the regions, in order to be more participatory, officers came from the North to join the federal service, and were given positions. But they were told, have this position, there is still a lot to learn. They felt challenged. They rose to the challenge and they performed. After 1975, came the notion, that anybody can do the job. It was now a question of quota. And if you were not challenged, you didn’t perform. The tragedy of this country is that if we had not had that type of coup and destruction of public service, the Universal Basic Education, UBE, introduced in 1975 could have been properly pursued and implemented and in twenty years, you will not hear of a disadvantaged state. So, the reason given for watering down standards, for enthroning mediocrity in some cases would not arise. Then, we were all well trained.
It would be a competition. Who has merit? Who is productive? What we had was a continuous deterioration from that traumatic destruction of the basis of a non-partisan independent, fearless, objective, efficient civil service. And without an efficient civil service, no government can cope. No amount of special assistants can do it, especially in a developing country where there are no excess talents, not too many think tanks. No consulting houses can substitute well motivated, honest people providing the basis for research and selecting options for policies and also giving coherent and independent analysis to the ministers and their political bosses, so that decisions are taken easily. But more importantly, when decisions are taken, they are seamlessly executed.
What we now have are ministers quarrelling in the open, of competitive contracts ,of competitive corruption, of lack of collective responsibility in government. It is not only inefficient, it is a laughing stock. One prays for God in His mercy to create enough awareness in a critical mass of people amongst the present practitioners of politics to realise that what we are doing is not sustainable, and we must change course.
You talked about confederacy earlier. You were part of the Aburi Accord that preached confederacy just before the outbreak of hostilities in 1966. Do you subscribe to it?
No. And I don’t talk about confederacy because it means neither this nor that. Each situation must be examined for what it is and what are the basic rules of implementing it. I did not participate in Aburi. No federal civil servant participated. Gen Gowon had been away, thought Ojukwu had got Gen Ankrah to call them as old army officers, talk together and say don’t take things too far. So, Gowon did not even inform his head of service and secretary to the government until one or two days before the conference.
He thought they were just going to break ice. Ojukwu, on the other hand, assembled his best people, prepared his papers and went to Aburi. In fact he had one of the most brilliant brains this part of Africa has ever produced, Dr Pius Okigbo. So when they reached there, here was Ojukwu with all his advisers and permanent secretaries. All Gowon had was the perm sec who used to take notes in council meetings. We behind, since Balewa days had what we called economic and finance committee of permanent secretaries, set up by the prime minister at that time to advise the cabinet on cross-cutting issues.
We also had our regular meetings of permanent secretaries. If we had been intimated, even for a week, that they were going to discuss how to bring back law and order, restructure Nigeria, of course, civil servants could have participated. So, when they went there, they more or less had the papers produced by Ojukwu and thought it was one of the conferences to follow – the first – but one thing they agreed on was to drop the title supreme commander, which Ironsi used to have and Gowon inherited. They also agreed on several things like they would not promote anybody in the civil service beyond grade 7 to super scale, except with unanimity. No ambassador, to be appointed except with unanimity. The army will be regionalised. But if there was a threat to Nigeria, they will consult and decide what forces to send. These were some of the things, the preliminaries were to be worked out in details.
And they came back with this .Of course it didn’t make sense. So, when the federal permanent secretaries saw this, they analysed it and said these were the consequences. I don’t know if you are familiar with European history. There was a time Poland had a parliament where one person could exercise veto. So, for hundreds of years Russians and the Swiss would come and divide them and rule them. Can you imagine a country where you cannot promote somebody from assistant secretary to senior assistant secretary except there is unanimity. Of course, this was predicated on the pattern of killings of officers which occurred in January. 90% of the Northern officers were killed, and the Igbos who constituted 75% of the officer corps at that time, only one was killed. He who courageously refused to hand over the keys to the armoury. Not credit is given to him, when people talk about an Igbo coup. Gowon, gentleman soldier, said no, we had agreed on certain things and on his insistence Decree no 8 was promulgated in 1975. It is a pity that my good friend Ojukwu, we schooled together at Kings College, and Oxford University, was not very well advised in rejecting that decree. When you go and read that decree, you will see that within three months, Nigeria could have been finished as a country. They still had this question of appointment of secretaries and ambassadors by unanimity.
When you can’t appoint a senior assistant secretary, let alone deputy secretary, what do you get? Paralysis. Revenues would have been collected and not remitted. Unfortunately, the so called Biafran purists said no, ‘On Aburi we stand.’ Having been rejected, we began to consult. Infact I and a few others went on a delegation to Ojukwu in October 1966 to ask what it was that he really wanted? We wasted the whole day.
This was after the pogroms and people were just returning to the East. We went to the hospitals, we saw the frail and the badly injured, I began to think of how to patch up things. But of course if they could shrink in such a situation, I felt some people should, know better. You talked about no power in black Africa could defeat Biafra when you had only 100 rifles. They talked about nobody can blockade them when they had not bought any ship and given to an Igbo captain. And they thought a white captain would want to be shot by NNS Nigeria. There were many things which would never have happened.
Unfortunately, as Ojukwu was just trying to tell us what he wanted, which would have enabled us to prepare grounds for a more useful meeting, there was a freeze. Mr Allison Ayida who was with me, we later sent a personal letter to him, through an insider, 13 pages, and pleaded with him, not to take the step of secession, because if he did , it will lead to war. In a war situation, except you are recognized almost immediately by one of the super powers, even if it is a cockroach that is in charge of the opposing government, you have no future. We sent it through one great Nigerian. I still grieve at his death, Gogo Nzeribe (weeps).
We did our best, but Ojukwu told us it was too late. Look at the rubbish going on now. People are not listening. This is not Somalia. Somalia is a desert. You have to go miles to get somebody, to kill. But down here, overnight, millions will be slaughtered. And people are pushing and pushing. And I know there is no civil service like in the 1960s. There is no police like in the 1960s. So, I don’t know where we are pushing. Ojukwu said it was too late and we went into what we went to. Can you imagine a Nigeria with a customs post at Shagamu, Ofusu, Onitsha, Umuahia.
It will be chaotic. Or you go to Ibadan customs post, Ilorin customs post, Kebbi customs post, Kaduna customs post ? As I said on federation, if it were possible for 8 states, or maximum 12 states, the present states can become provinces and within those states. Like we had in the First Republic, you don’t need uniformity. States should be able, depending on historical circumstances, to have their own constitution. The number of local governments, ministers, how they share their money, should be left to them.
That brings us to resource control which some people are clamouring for…..?
(cuts in) Oil gives foreign exchange, but a lot of food we eat comes from middle belt and Northern areas. How do they get revenue from that? I was perm sec (industries) from 1966 –to 1971. When the North was trying to charge different prices for cotton going to textile mills in the south, we said no.
It means that, we must be statesmen enough to agree to that. Not this is my area, this is the income I raise. Since we are 80% dependent on foreign exchange and that is what is going to enable us to attract investments in those sectors, we must still have a revenue formulae which enables a distribution to non-mineral producing states.
The formulae was laid down by Bins Revenue Allocation Commission(1962). It enunciated this principle by which it enabled Federal government to give a little bit more than would have been the case on pure derivation principles to the Northern region, because it said the Northern region must be enabled to give basic services, not less than the minimum which has already been accepted in the south. So, this is why the economically illiterate pronouncements of some people saying that the North should produce the money to invest to discover oil is sheer rubbish. It is these false statements from people in authority which mislead others.