Today In History – September 2nd

SEPTEMBER 2, 1967

On this day, the head of state and commander-in-chief of the armed forces of the Federal Military Government, Major-General Yakubu Gowon, addressed the nation on the situations of the current civil war at the time:

“Fellow countrymen and women. For eight weeks now, troops of the Federal Military Government have been fighting rebels led by Ojukwu. The fight has raged on several fronts in the three Eastern States and recently in the Mid-Western State. The forces of the Federal Government have achieved signal victories. They have captured rebel strongholds like Obudu, Ogoja, Obolo Eke, Nsukka, Eba Amufu near the rebels capital, Enugu. They have also captured Bonny and its surrounding islands in the Rivers State.

Recently, there was the disgraceful betrayal of trust by certain Ibo officers in the Mid-West. The military coup they organised enabled rebel infiltrators to occupy the State. The rebels have also in a desperate effort tried to penetrate into the Western State. This has failed.

I consider it important to restate at this juncture the objective of the Federal Government and to explain once again the reasons for the fighting.

You all know that I made every effort, and many Nigerians exerted themselves true to our traditions timely compromise to achieve a peaceful settlement. All the concessions I made were rejected by Ojukwu who was bent on secession. We decentralised the Government. We agreed to autonomy for the Regions to a greater extent than allowed in our independence Constitution. We even agreed that each Regional governor could exercise a right of veto on decisions of the Central Government. We agreed to look into the question of revenue allocations so as to remove any grievance on the part of any state which felt that it was subsidising any other state.

All these efforts which would have prevented the tragedy through which the country is now passing were brought to nothing by the ambition and greed for personal power of Ojukwu and his collaborators.

Whenever reviewing the background to the Nigerian crisis, Ojukwu and his clique conveniently forget the killing in January 1966 of innocent military officers and of civilian leaders other than members of their own ethnic group. Instead, they widely distorted versions of the unfortunate events in this country in January, May, July and October last year on which many lives were lost in different parts of the country. I condemned these unfortunate incidents. I proceeded to seek a political solution which shall ensure that no tribe is allowed to become a threat to others. Everybody knows that even now thousands of Ibos are still living in Lagos and other parts of Nigeria. The rebels have tried to convince the world that they are fighting for what they called self-determination for the Ibos. This is only false propaganda.

The Federal Military Government cannot accept that Ojukwu and his clique should force five million Ekois, Efiks, Ibibios and Ijaws into bondage. They cannot drag them along in their so called secession. These so-called minorities are entitled to equal dignity and equal protection as the Ibos under the laws of Nigeria. What is the explanation which the rebels can offer for the coup in the Mid-West? The Edos, the Urhobos, the Itsekiri, the Ijaws, and even the majority of the so-called Mid-Western Ibos do not desire to be dominated by Ojukwu’s agents from the East Central State. The lands and farms of these people in the Mid-West have been plundered. Their shops have been looted. All this and their abortive push towards the West do not support the false claim of the rebels to be fighting for Ibo self-determination.

It is clear that what Ojukwu and his collaborators want is naked power for themselves over the rest of Nigeria. Only the new structure of the Federation with 12 States can save this country from continuous unrest and civil war. No proposal based on the former four Regions in the country can provide a lasting solution to the Nigerian crisis. All honest Nigerians know this truth.

As far as the world is concerned, the African States have shown a deep appreciation of the problems involved in the Nigerian crisis. The Federal Military Government appreciates the decision of all the leaders of Africa not to recognise the so-called secession of Ojukwu.

All friendly countries must appreciate the true facts of the Nigerian situation. There is no alternative to a federal Union of Nigeria. The only possible alternative is the emergence of several armed camps in this country and continuous fighting for many years to come. There will then be the chaos of an arms race and the confusion of one ethnic group fighting the other. There will be the type of tyranny and the petty dictatorship of warlords already exhibited by Ojukwu and his clique. In such a chaos Nigeria will be converted into a theater for cold War and other disastrous adventures……… “

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