EXCLUSIVE – Chief Obafemi Awolowo On Biafra (In His Own Words)
“During the 1983 elections, Chief Awolowo was hosted to a town hall interview in Abeokuta, where in addition to other pertinent topics of the day, he spoke on his role in the civil war, the 20-pound policy, starvation as a weapon, change of currency, abandoned property etc. Collectors item.
CHIEF OBAFEMI AWOLOWO IN HIS OWN WORDS
t the age of 11, he struggled through primary school here at Wesleyan School Imo, Abeokuta. He then became a teacher, he was a trader, he was a school clerk, he was a stenographer, he was a transporter, he was a produce buyer, a unionist, name it, he has experienced it all. He even knows the problems of the police, the warders and the prisoners, because he was there.
When he was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment in 1963, and he predicted a glorious dawn many did not believe that he will live to see the glorious morn which we are having today in Ogun, Ondo, Oyo, Bendel and Lagos states.
That at 74, he’s here today is a testimony to the fact that the great good Lord and Allah needs him to save Nigeria.
Ladies and gentlemen, here is a self made man, who battled all the institutes of life to rise to the highest peak of his calling as Senior Advocate of Nigeria. He was first leader of government business, and first premier of the old western region. The first leader of opposition in the federal republic of Nigeria, the first chancellor of the University of Ife, first civilian deputy chairman in any military government in Africa, the first man ever to win the highest honor from an opponent as the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is the greatest moment of my life as I present to you the next president of the federal republic of Nigeria.
At this point I’ll hand you over to the moderator.
Papa Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the Governor of the state- Chief Bisi Onabanjo, the deputy governor- Chief Sesan Soluade, distinguished ladies and gentlemen. On behalf of the interview panel, I’m welcoming our distinguished guest – Chief Obafemi Awolowo to this program. Its going to be a 90 minutes program during which one hour of the period will be spent by the interview panel to ask various questions on various issues from Papa Chief Obafemi Awolowo. The following 30 minutes will be devoted to the audience to ask questions either English language or in Yoruba. And I want to appeal to the audience to keep very quiet throughout the program because this is an important program which we are having today, we want to use the program to get as much information as possible from Papa Chief Obafemi Awolowo and to enable us determine who to vote for in the presidential election.
Programs of UPN And Qualification to be President
Well, Papa Chief Obafemi Awolowo, our first question, which we are allowing you 30 minutes to answer this question, is to tell the audience and the viewers at home the programs of the Unity Party of Nigeria, and also especially what qualifies Papa Chief Obafemi Awolowo to be the next president of this country, taking into consideration our national economy, the nation’s social services, and also the nation’s foreign policy.
What I was saying was that we are giving Papa Chief Obafem Awolowo 10 minutes within which to tell the audience and the viewers at home the programs of the Unity Party of Nigeria, and also especially what qualifies Papa Chief Obafemi Awolowo to be the next president of this great country, taking into consideration the nation’s economy, the nation’s social services, possibly too the nation’s foreign policy, thank you sir.
Programs of UPN
I thank the moderator for the questions. The programs of the Unity Party of Nigeria are well known, and I have no doubt that all of you are now familiar with them.
There are four cardinal programs on which the UPN embarked in 1979. They are free education at all levels, free medical services- services to include curative and preventive services, integrated rural development which is a very wide program, and also full and gainful employment.
The beauty of our program is that they are programs which embrace every aspect of our desires. All of us want education, we want health services, we want food, we want our rural roads to be developed and we want our rural areas to be developed in the same way as the cities and towns. Under the integrated rural development all these things are included. Of course all of us want to be employed, and gainfully so.
Other important aspect or feature of our program is that it is the first time in all political history as far as I know, that a political party enunciate program which are all embracing, in other words all public problems are summarized and epitomized in our four cardinal programs. Think of anything at all, electricity supply, water supply, anything you can think of – they are all included in our four cardinal programs.
Now most of the programs are things which can only be handled by the states, and the question now is in what way does the federal government help in executing these programs, especially those aspects of them that belong to the states. It is the duty of the federal government which holds the resources of the nation to see that the states are sufficiently supplied in executing these programs.
The outgoing NPN government did not pay enough attention to this aspect of their responsibility, instead they have tried to embark on projects which rarely (…inaudible..) when we get control, we will see to it that enough funds are available for the states. Right now, our 4 cardinal programs are being implemented in only 5 states out of 19, reason, of course is that we are not in control of the remaining 14 states. We hope that at the next elections we will be control of the majority of the 19 states in the country. But whether we are in control of the majority or not, it is the duty of the federal government controlled by the UPN to see to it that every state embarks on the four cardinal programs and implement them for the good of the people.
Qualification to be President
A second question has been asked what qualifies me for the job of president of the federation of Nigeria. Well, I believe that I am qualified, if I don’t believe so, I wouldn’t have applied for the job in the first instance. I always like to tackle any problem that is difficult and challenging.
I was talking to a friend the other day……. power is the greatest motivation of any human being, I said that if it were not so why would anyone want to be at the head of Nigerian government after Shagari shall have relinquished office. He’s leaving behind a huge foreign debt, not to talk of local debt of something like 14 to 16 billion naira. They have failed in every respect, there’s no food, not enough food for our people, not enough of the things that we require in our various houses, the country is depressed, there’s poverty everywhere and there’s hunger and why should anyone want to be the head of that kind of country. But the more difficult situations become, the more I feel like tackling that kind of situation. Because anyone who is able to handle a difficult and intricate complex situation and is able to make a success of it …..write in letters of gold, so to say, in the history of that country.
So I believe that I can handle the situation of Nigeria, I have an ambition, and that is within 4 years and 8 years, to lay a foundation of progress which no rascal, which no other President however rascally he may be, can destroy.
I am determined, for instance, to see that water flows in every part of the country. The states are in charge of water supply, but I will see to it that the states have enough money to supply water in every part of the country. Electricity will be supplied uninterrupted to all our people whether they’re in cities, towns or villages, and so on and so forth. And telephone communications will be available, even in the villages. It will be possible for a person living at Igan Alade, to cite and example or at Odeda, to telephone to Abeokuta to Ibadan to Oyo to any part of the country to Kano and also beyond to Tokyo and London, if not why not.
So I believe I can get these things done and that is why I want you to vote solidly for me my esteemed supporters.
Moderator: I now call on Mr Oparadike to ask the first question. Mr. Oparadike.
Question: Many people believe that after so many tries, in the past, you now have a good chance of being the next president of Nigeria. Should that be the outcome in October this year, to what will you attribute such a victory. To the Mitterrand principle under which the people will say you have tried long enough let’s give you a chance to see what you can do or will it be attributed to a better…the people’s better appreciation of what you stand for.
Well, I do appeal to the audience to be quiet so I can hear the questions, otherwise I can’t give the correct reply. Well, when by the grace of God I succeed on the 6th of August, I shall attribute that success to the providence of God first of all, and then to perseverance on my part. Many people fall by the wayside, they try the first time they don’t succeed, then they give up or second time or third time. Well one of the things that has sustained me in this world is that I keep on trying. When I know that a goal is good and beneficial to other people I strive to attain that goal come what may.
So I’ll attribute my success to the providence of God, the grace of God, and to perseverance, and also to the fact that after some time however falsehood may prevail in a community, sooner or later truth also shall prevail over falsehood.
When we enunciated our 4 cardinal program in 1979, our opponents did say these things are not possible. One NPN leader said “they’ll be performing magic if they are able to introduce free education and free medical services on first of October 1979”. Most people believed them because they’re unusual….they were never done anywhere before, all we did in the old western region was to free primary education in 1955, but this business of free education at all level is something novel, it’s something strange, and they were not sure whether anyone, any government, could implement them.
Now over the 4 years we have succeeded in implementing them to the satisfaction of all those who have benefitted from them. And the news have spread all over the country, even in the north where people use to say they didn’t want free education, they didn’t want education at all, people now want free education everywhere and that is why they cry in the north “changi changi” all over the place. And they have no doubt in their mind that if that change is to take place I, by the Grace of God, should lead the team that will effect that change. That is the position.
Expanding the Base Beyond the West
Question (Sina Bamgbose): I have a follow up question – Chief Obafemi Awolowo, there is no doubt that you are full of talents, and that you are one of the idols in the realm of politics in this continent, but it seems that …..today needs leaders with national outlooks and it seems your problem and political party is acceptability by the other ethnic groups in this country, what do you say to that?
Moderator: Can you repeat the question please.
Question: There is no doubt as I said earlier, that you are a man of talents, but the problem you seem to face is that other, although among the Yorubas your very person and your party are very popular, among the Yorubas. But it seems that the problem you have is breaking the frontiers, that is reaching into other ethnic groups in Nigeria. That seems to be your problem. What do you say to that?
Well, that’s a very good and fair question. He’s been pointing out to me, if I heard him properly, that whilst am accepted in the old western region, among the Yorubas mainly, my problem is acceptability among the other ethnic groups in the country.
Well, in the old days of the Action Group, I was well accepted among the so-called middle belt people, that is, among the people of Plateau, Benue, Gongola, and Kwara. Then, in the eastern side of the country, I was well accepted by the people of what is now known as Cross River, Calabar province at that time and also by the people of Rivers state which we then know as Rivers province. And also I was accepted in Borno I’m being reminded.
But then something happened, and I don’t like to go into that long history. Some leaders in the north thought I was too much of a threat to them and they went all out to fight back, first of all, by imprisoning me, and wherever they thought they could get away with it.. even killing some of my followers. And then of course they turned their attention to me and then got me out of circulation for some time in the hope that once I was out of circulation, it will be possible in the meantime to pass a preventive detention act which will then keep me in prison for the rest of my life. But man proposes, God disposes.
That went on, until 1979 or 78 when ban on political activities was lifted. Then I went all out to campaign among the people of non-Yoruba areas. It has been suggested that I didn’t make efforts enough to widen my base. Since 1952 I made strenuous, strenuous and relentless effort to widen the base of the Action Group, and I succeeded to the extent that the Action Group at that time was the only party that control the regional government and have opposition members in all the other regions, in the other two regions, the only party that did, no any other party did.
Anyway, now the position is that, as a result of perseverance and preaching the same doctrines, doctrine which when implemented will benefit all the people without exemption. I’ve persisted in preaching free education since 1942. The first memorial that we submitted to the secretary of state on the subject was written in 1942. And since then I’ve openly advocated free education at all levels, and mass education for the adults so that they too can become literates, and I still advocate these things up till now.
Because of this persistence in advocating what is good for the people, the people now realize that they have no other friend or they have no better friend than UPN under my, by the grace of God, my leadership.
The result is that today, and it use to be the case that wherever I walk the masses use to hail me but when it came to voting they will vote differently, because they were under very great stress and duress to vote differently. But today, the position is completely different, whether we go to Sokoto, or to Borno, or to Bauchi, or to Kano, or to Kaduna or Benue or Plateau, wherever you go, the school master is already abroad. Everyone wants to be educated, everyone wants his children to be educated, and for these reasons, the masses throughout the country are prepared to vote for the UPN. I shall not be surprised if at the conclusion of the election, the UPN gets more votes, so you should beware, the UPN gets more votes, in percentage terms, in the northern region- the old northern region, than in the southern part.
Moderator: Ladies and gentlemen, I want to appeal to you again for restraints and quietness so that we could ask as many questions as possible, we are still going over to the audience, and we have only taken two questions from the panel of interviewers. Please, exercise restraint and keep quiet. Mr. Sonala Olumhense.
I just got a note from one of my colleagues at Thisday that a gentleman by the name of professor Mamoud Tukur, I think he is the younger or elder brother of Bamanga Tukur, the NPN governorship candidate for Gongola, and he says that, he has spoken today on Radio Kaduna defending my leadership. This never happened before.
I’ve been told by one of the leaders in the North that when they grew up into politics, they found a parcel and on that parcel it was written don’t touch, you know, like having something in the corner of the room covered up and you tell some children “don’t touch that o, it will bite you”. It really doesn’t bite. It may even be that you put inside there cakes and biscuits, and you tell the children “it will bite you if you touch” so the parcel bears the inscription “don’t touch” but after some time they were watching closely the parcel, and they discover the content appear to be good, now they open the parcel and found that all the contents are good. So the position today now is that whilst in 79 it was difficult for me to get a running mate from among the northern brothers and sisters, and whilst it was difficult for us to get the educated elite to work with us, today we have the vast majority of the educated elites and we have succeeded in getting Alhaji Mohammed Kura, the Makanam of Bisau, who has been described in one of the opposition papers as a political giant, he’s now my running mate. So things have changed throughout the country, and let’s wait until August 6th and 7th and we shall…………………….
How Policies Will be Executed
Moderator: Mr. Sonala Olumhense.
Question ( Sonala Olumhense): Mr. Awolowo, it is true that the widespread cry in Nigeria now is for change, it is true that many people in Nigeria are now crying for change, and the events, elections of August will tell whether you are that change. But if you come to power in October this year, you be inheriting, as you yourself noted this afternoon, a foreign debt of something like 14 to 16 billion naira as well as local ones, and you’ll be inheriting an economy that’s in a very bad shape.
In spite of these problems, in spite of these obvious problems many of the promises that you are making to the electorates are being timed for October or a few months after October. How do you think you can overcome the problems as I have enumerated so as to be able to execute your promises in the short run?
Well, that’s a good question, and a fair one. When we take over on October 1, as I’ve said before, we’ll be taking over a debt of about 14 billion to 16 billion. I say 14 to 16 billion because they are now about to succeed to get 2 billion loan from the bank, that will take us to 14 billion roughly, they expect 2.5 billion from the IMF, that will take us to 16.5 billion. We’re going to be faced with the payment of the principal as well as the interest.
Now we don’t want to be, declared a bankrupt nation. A bankrupt nation is a nation that’s unable to pay its debts and that hasn’t got enough resources to pay the debt. Fortunately, we have the resources, but how long it will take us to pay 16 billion and at the same time carry out and implement our promises is another matter.
It is not easy sitting down here to give an accurate answer to the question because one need a number of facts which are not available now. One thing that many Nigerians don’t appreciate is that the Nigerian government doesn’t give us accurate figures about its affairs and activities. For instance the Nigerian government itself doesn’t know how much it owes, and one of the difficulties in raising the 2 billion naira loan from the banks is that they say they are owing 2 billion trade debts whereas the banks say they are owing up to 3 to 4 billion.
I’ve said this before that most of the corporations, especially the big ones don’t know how much they owe and they don’t know all their creditors, they can’t identify them all. And on one occasion they pay monies ( I hope they paid, if the money didn’t go to their pockets) to people who they did not owe anything at all, and fail to pay those whom they owe. So its not possible for me sitting down here not having all the figures to know exactly how to go about it, but during the war, during the civil war, I did something to get the debts of Nigeria, how do I put it, to renegotiate the debts Nigeria owe at the time. I knew how I did it at that time, and this is not the forum for telling people how it was done because Shagari might try to(… general laughter.. ) so, all I know is we are taking over with our eyes open, we know that our interest rate will be something like 1 point something billion a year, and we have to pay, that is if they come from favourable sources and not from LIBOR market.
Question: Chief Awolowo sir, my own guestion is about political violence , with the election approaching fast the mass of Nigerians are beginning to panic and some of your political opponents have insinuated that some of your utterances’ are likely to incite your supporters into violence.
For example the quickly refer to this paper publication at one time that you said any news media or mass media which publishes false election result will be destroyed, but I think in another vein, you try to take back that speech when you went to Cross River state , but some of your followers have made their position rather to blunt like Chief Bola Ige, for instance has said consistently anybody who rigs the election will not live to hear the result. In another vein, Honorable Tadish Ismail when i asked him concerning political violence he insinuated that rigging is a violence act therefore it must attract violence retribution.
Chief, sir would you like to seize this opportunity to sound to this audience whether represented individual views or views of your party whichever way it is, would you want to clarify your position on political violence?
Awolowo: I don’t believe, and I say it emphatically, in political violence or any form of violence at all because violence breeds violence, greater violence. Greater violence breeds still greater violence and so forth, and no one who wants democracy to prevail in the society will favour violence.
Democracy thrives under an atmosphere, in an atmosphere of peace, concord and tolerance. You cannot promote democracy unless the people of the area in which they want democracy to thrive are tolerant to one another.
But at the same time democracy does not favour any act of blatant criminality. All that I’ve said and I want to repeat here is this – policemen are law enforcement agents, they are agents of the people. The people are the keepers of the law, they are the makers of the law, the keepers of the law and the executants of the law. What we are practicing here is representative governance, representative democracy. The whole of people of Ogun are selecting 36 people only to make laws on their behalf, but they are their agents for the purpose of making laws, they are selecting only one person as Governor to execute the laws, but there are millions of them selecting just one man. And the whole of Nigeria are selecting only one person to be their executive head. So it’s all about representing the people for the purposes they elect us.
What I say is simple, and it’s part of the philosophy of law, that if you have an agent who is to carry on certain things on your behalf and he refuses to do those things on your behalf and you want and those things are requisite and must be done, then it is your duty to go there and do them yourself. If you put an agent in your shop to sell things on your behalf and he’s refusing to sell, you want to sell and you want to make profit, then you go into the shop, dismiss the agent and carry on yourself.
So all I say is this, if there’s any trouble anywhere get the police informed about it, and say here’s this man wanting to burgle my house, he’s already equipped with weapons to enter my house and take my things away, and the police refuses to do his duty, then you go there it’s within your powers to do those things yourself.
And in connection with the elections I say when NPN thugs come to town, lock your doors. I’ve said repeatedly, and the audience here can bear me witness, those who have listen to me, lock your doors, lock your shops so that they don’t come and loot your properties, your goods, your wares. Lock up, and stay in your houses. Don’t provoke anyone, don’t throw stones at anyone and don’t involve in vulgar abuse against anyone, but whilst you are in your house, if some thugs comes there or a thug comes to your house to try and molest you. If there’s a policeman around, call his attention to it, if there’s no policeman around you just have to do something to help yourself. You can’t wait, you can’t leave him in your house and go out to the policeman to report. It may be too late.
I gave the instance of Awotesu, who on one occasion in 79 came to Ikenne to campaign. I’d already preached this sermon to people, and all the people of Ikenne locked their doors. They haven’t got, well, they had 4 members in Ikenne or about 6 members in Ikenne at that time, but they did not want the people of the town to know they were members of the NPN, so he came to the place, brought his audience, as the NPN leaders do now, wherever they go they carry their audience with them like a snail. Now he brought his audience with him, in one or two vans, brought the chairs on which they were going to sit and brought the table on which he was going to mount and address. So he came to a place they call Ajino market- it’s a junction, come from Lagos and turn right and get to my house. It’s about 200 yards from my house or so, he mounted the table, abused me for about 20 minutes and went his way. It doesn’t matter to him, but that’s all he could do. But if they were to go out of their way and enter the house of the people, I’ll say react.
No man can lord beyond his house. A man’s house is his castle. As a matter of fact, the law is- that if a man invades your house and wants to kill you, you can kill him. You don’t want to wait until he kills you or kills your wife or kills your child. That is the position in the law, and all I want to achieve is to warn people not to invdulge in thugery.
Then rigging is the worst form of violent robbery, and robbery is a crime. When a man goes to the police station and rigs an election, he’s rigging the will of millions of people, and that is dangerous. And I’d already added in one or two places, and Ebino Topsy had written an articles on it, on what happens to riggers in history. And I’d always had in mind when I say that those who rig will not live to tell the story, I don’t say they’ll die, but not be around to tell the story, and I’d always have in mind the case of Syngman Rhee.
Syngman Rhee of Southern Korea was a great fellow, some. He led his people to freedom and independence. And they revered him a lot, respected him very much. Then he used to win elections and on this occasion he got it into his head that his son-in-law should be his Vice-president. People said you’re alright by yourself, you’re president, we are returning you unopposed but your son-in-law we don’t want him to be our Vice-president. Here’s this other man in the party who’s going to be our Vice-president. Syngman Rhee objected, so the other man who the masses wanted stood as independent Vice-president, and his son stood on the platform of the party.
The election was held, and the people voted solidly for the other man. Then Syngman Rhee saw to it that there was a false announcement. He then announced that his son-in-law had won the election, and the people ask “did you vote for him?” “I didn’t vote for him, I didn’t vote for him” where did he get his votes from?
You know I told this story the first time in 1962 on May 28, at the press conference to warn Balewa and co that they should desist from what they are doing. I told them the story of Syngman Rhee, I told them the story of Menderes of Turkey and one or two other stories and I ended up by saying let those who think they stand beware lest they fall, let those who think they stand beware lest they fall. That was what I said at the time, and of course they used that as evidence against me in the treasonable felony trial, that I wanted them to fall.
Anyway, the people reacted and said your son-in-law hadn’t got a single vote in this country, how could he be Vice-President? So first of all, as ….the women match forward with the children, they said No it can’t happen, so Syngman Rhee then ordered that his police men should disperse them. The police men too did vote at the election and they knew they didn’t vote for his son-in-law so they refused to disperse the crowd. Then he called in the soldiers, the soldiers too voted, and they knew they didn’t vote for his son-in-law, and they refused to disperse the crowd.
So he found himself alone and the people matched on the palace, and he then begged that they leave him alone, they said well we’ll allow you to go out of this country forever. And so he left in a car, boarded a plane and left the country on that day. He died about 4 or 5 years ago in Honolulu, if I remember rightly, at the age of ninety-something. And the son-in-law, in the meantime, committed suicide by shooting himself in the head.
So this is what we want to avoid, it’s a warning to all intending riggers, because this time, it’s not going to be trouble in the western region alone, there’s going to be throughout the country right up to Sokoto and Shagari’s village. My warning is to them, not to do robbery. Don’t you warn high-way robbers “if you go and commit High-way robbery you’ll be shot”? don’t we say so to them, but that doesn’t mean that you’re inciting anybody against anybody, you are only saying high-way robbers should desist from high-way robbery and live a peaceful life. All we say now is that riggers should stop and violent men should stop being violent.
See what the NPN has done so far- they killed three of our people in Ado-Ekiti in cold blood, they also killed six of our people, I hear nine altogether now, in Modakeke. Well, I don’t know what the people will do, I won’t know what they will do, and I don’t want to know what they may do if this sort of thing continue. You can’t sit down and people kill your men and just watch them idly. Let killing stop, let violence stop, and there’ll be no violence from us. We want to win, and under peaceful condition, and we therefore want free and fair elections, free from violence, free from rigging and free from any act of fraud.
Moderator: Yes Mr…….Mr. Oparadike.
Question: Chief Awolowo, your stand on the civil war, however unpopular it may have been to the Biafran people…Your stand on the civil war, however unpopular it may have been to the Biafrans or Ibo people, helped to shorten the war. Today, you’re being cast as the sole enemy of the Ibo people because of that stand, by among others, some of the people who as members of the federal military government at that time, were party to that decision and are today, in some cases, inheritors of power in one Nigeria which that decision of yours helped to save. How do you feel being cast in this role, and what steps are you taking to endear yourself once again to that large chunk of Nigerians who feels embittered.
Awolowo: As far as I know, the Ibo masses are friendly to me, towards me. In fact, whenever I visit Iboland, either Anambra or Imo, and there’s no campaigning for elections on, the Ibo people receive me warmly and affectionately. But there are some elements in Iboland who believe that they can maintain their popularity only by denigrating me, and so they keep on telling lies against me. Ojukwu is one of them. I don’t want to mention the names of the others because they are still redeemable, but ….Ojukwu is irredeemable so I mention his name, and my attitude to these lies is one of indifference, I must confess to you.
I’ve learnt to rely completely on the providence and vindication of Almighty God in some of these things. I’ve tried to explain myself in the past, but these liars persist. Ojukwu had only recently told the same lie against me. What’s the point in correcting lies when people are determined to persist in telling lies against you, what’s the point. I know that someday the Ibos, the masses of the Ibo people will realize who their friends are, and who their real enemies are. And the day that happens woe betide those enemies. The Ibos will deal with them very roughly, very roughly.
That has happened in my life. I have a nickname now, if you see my letterhead you’ll find something on top, you’ll find a fish done on the letterhead. Some people put Lion on theirs, some people put Tiger, but mine is Fish. And Fish represents my zodiac sign, those of you who read the stars and so on in the newspapers; you’ll find out that there’s a zodiac sign known as pieces, in Latin pieces mean Fish.
So I put pieces on top, that’s my zodiac sign being born on the 6th of March,….er well, the year doesn’t matter, it’s the day that matter. And then on top of it I write Eebudola. All of you know the meaning of that. You know I don’t want to tell a long story but………………Awolowo school, omo Awolowo, the…… started in Urobo land, in mid-west in those days. They were ridiculing my schools, I was building schools –brick and cement, to dpc level, block to dpc level and mud thereafter. And so the big shots in the place..”ah what kind of school is this? is this Awolowo school? Useless school” and when they saw the children..”ah this Awolowo children, they can’t read and write, Awolowo children” that’s how it started, with ridicule, and it became blessing, and now they say “Awolowo children, they are good people” no more ridicule about it, that’s how it started, so the Eebu becomes honor, the abuse became honor.
And so when I look back to all my life, treasonable felony, jail, all the abuses that were heaped on me, to Coker Inquiry, all sorts, and I see what has happened to the people who led, who led all these denigration campaign, where are they today? Those that are alive are what I call Homo Mortuus- dead living, oku eniyan, that’s what they are, those that their lives have gone.
So when I look back, I come to the conclusion that all these abuses which have been heaped on me all my life for doing nothing, for doing good, they have become honor, and so Eebudola is one of my nicknames. So I’ve cultivated an attitude of indifference, I’ve done no evil to the Ibos.
During the war I saw to it that the revenue which was due to the Iboland- South Eastern states they call it, at that time..east central state, I kept it, I saved the money for them. And when they ….was librated I handed over the money to them- millions. If I’d decided to do so, I could have kept the money away from them and then when they took over I saw to it that subvention was given to them at the rate of 990,000 pounds every month. I didn’t go to the executive council to ask for support, or for approval because I knew if I went to the executive council at that time the subvention would not be approved because there were more enemies in the executive council for the Ibos than friends. And since I wasn’t going to take a percentage from what I was going to give them, and I knew I was doing what was right, I wanted the state to survive, I kept on giving the subvention – 990,000 almost a million, every month, and I did that for other states of course- South eastern state, North central state, Kwara and so on.
But I did that for the Ibos, and when the war was over, I saw to it that the ACB got three and a half million pounds to start with. This was distributed immediately and I gave another sum of money. The attitude of the experts, officials at the time of the ACB was that ACB should be closed down, and I held the view you couldn’t close the ACB down because that is the bank that gives finance to the Ibo traders, and if you close it down they’ll find it difficult to revive or to survive. So it was given. I did the same thing for the Cooperative Bank of Eastern Nigeria, to rehabilitate all these places, and I saw to it as commissioner for finance that no obstacle was placed in the way of the ministry of economic planning in planning for rehabilitation of the war affected areas.
TWENTY POUNDS POLICY
That’s what I did, and the case of the money they said was not given back to them, you know during the war all the pounds were looted, they printed Biafran currency notes, which they circulated, at the close of the war some people wanted their Biafran notes to be exchanged for them. Of course I couldn’t do that, if I did that the whole country would be bankrupt. We didn’t know about Biafran notes and we didn’t know on what basis they have printed them, so we refused the Biafran note, but I laid down the principle that all those who had savings in the banks on the eve of the declaration of the Biafran war or Biafra, will get their money back if they could satisfy us that they had the savings there, or the money there. Unfortunately, all the banks’s books had been burnt, and many of the people who had savings there didn’t have their saving books or their last statement of account, so a panel had to be set up.
I didn’t take part in setting up the panel, it was done by the Central bank and the pertinent officials of the ministry of finance, to look into the matter, and they went carefully into the matter, they took some months to do so, and then make some recommendation which I approved. Go to the archives, all I did was approve, I didn’t write anything more than that, I don’t even remember the name of any of them who took part. So I did everything in this world to assist our Ibo brothers and sisters during and after the war.
And anyone who goes back to look at my broadcast in August 1967, which dealt with post-war reconstruction would see what I said there.
Then, but above all, the ending of the war itself that I’m accused of, accused of starving the Ibos, I did nothing of the sort. You know, shortly after the liberation of these places, Calabar, Enugu and Port Harcort, I decided to pay a visit. There are certain things which I knew which you don’t know, which I don’t want to say here now, when I write my reminisces in the future I will do so. Some of the soldiers were not truthful with us, they didn’t tell us correct stories and so on.
I wanted to be there and see things for myself, bear in mind that Gowon himself did not go there at that time, it was after the war was over that he dorn himself up in various military dresses- Air force dress, Army dress and so on, and went to the war torn areas. But I went and some people tried to frighten me out of my goal by saying that Adekunle was my enemy and he was going to see to it that I never return from the place, so I went.
But when I went what did I see? I saw the kwashiorkor victims. If you see a kwashiorkor victim you’ll never like war to be waged. Terrible sight, in Enugu, in Port Harcourt, not many in Calabar, but mainly in Enugu and Port Harcourt. Then I enquired what happened to the food we are sending to the civilians. We were sending food through the Red cross, and CARITAS to them, but what happen was that the vehicles carrying the food were always ambushed by the soldiers. That’s what I discovered, and the food would then be taken to the soldiers to feed them, and so they were able to continue to fight. And I said that was a very dangerous policy, we didn’t intend the food for soldiers. But who will go behind the line to stop the soldiers from ambushing the vehicles that were carrying the food? And as long as soldiers were fed, the war will continue, and who’ll continue to suffer? and those who didn’t go to the place to see things as I did, you remember that all the big guns, all the soldiers in the Biafran army looked all well fed after the war, its only the mass of the people that suffered kwashiorkor.
You wont hear of a single lawyer, a single doctor, a single architect, who suffered from kwashiorkor? None of their children either, so they waylaid the foods, they ambush the vehicles and took the foods to their friends and to their collaborators and to their children and the masses were suffering. So I decided to stop sending the food there. In the process the civilians would suffer, but the soldiers will suffer most.
CHANGE OF CURRENCY
And it is on record that Ojukwu admitted that two things defeated him in this war, that’s as at the day he left Biafra. He said one, the change of currency, he said that was the first thing that defeated him, and we did that to prevent Ojukwu taking the money which his soldiers has stolen from our Central bank for sale abroad to buy arms. We discovered he looted our Central bank in Benin, he looted the one in Port Harcourt, looted the one in Calabar and he was taking the currency notes abroad to sell to earn foreign exchange to buy arms.
So I decided to change the currency, and for your benefit, it can now be told the whole world, only Gowon knew the day before, the day before the change took place. I decided, only three of us knew before then- Isong now governor of Cross River, Attah and myself. It was a closely guarded secret, if any commissioner at the time say that he knew about it, he’s only boosting his own ego. Because once you tell someone, he’ll tell another person. So we refused to tell them and we changed the currency notes. So Ojukwu said the change in currency defeated him, and starvation of his soldiers also defeated him.
These were the two things that defeated Ojukwu. And, he reminds me, when you saw Ojukwu’s picture after the war, did he look like someone who’s not well fed? But he has been taking the food which we send to civilians, and so we stopped the food.
And then finally, I saw to it that the houses owned by the Ibos in Lagos and on this side, were kept for them. I had an estate agent friend who told me that one of them collected half a million pounds rent which has been kept for him. All his rent were collected, but since we didn’t seize their houses, he came back and collected half a million pounds.
So that is the position. I’m a friend of the Ibos and the mass of the Ibos are my friends, but there are certain elements who want to continue to deceive the Ibos by telling lies against me, and one day, they’ll discover and then that day will be terrible for those who have been telling the lies.
Moderator: After the question, this particular question from the interview panel we’ll move to the floor, and later we’ll go back to the interview panel for the final two questions. But before we move to the floor I call on Mr. Sonala Olumhense to ask the question.
Question (Sonala Olumhense): Chief Awolowo, I think it is fairly clear that the two major problems responsible for the failing of government in this country are inability or incompetence of officials to manage the economy and corruption. You have been reported on the campaign ground to have said that when you come to power on October, that you will not probe anybody. I haven’t heard or read of any denial of that statement. If it is actually true that you did make that statement, how is it that you plan to deal with the problem of corruption in this country? Or don’t you have any such plans?
Awolowo: The statement referred to is not new, I first made a statement like that, I believe, in 1969 during my convocation address at Ife University. I then demanded to know why the probe was confined to only the western region and parts of the eastern region. The other part of the country, there was no probe in the other part of the country. And then, they were probing civilians, but then soldiers have boldly begun to enter, to enter the area of those who should be probed. And I said, well, some trees have fallen on other trees, and they should start with ones on the top. Which means to probe soldiers, and who will dare to probe soldiers at that time? So I said they should call off the whole business.
And then a decision was taken that those who had stolen money and had died should not be probed, so it is easy for someone who wants to enrich his children to steal as much as possible, then commit suicide so that his children can live in affluence forever. It’s a far fetch illustration, but it can happen. So I said the best thing is to call off the probe. And how much have we earned in the process? How much have we got back? You remember that all the thing that Adebayo got in his own time he returned them on the eve of the 10th anniversary of independent. So there’s no point in continuing the probe, I said it at the time, and I repeated it at Ahmadu Bello University when I was delivering my second convo… address there.
So it’s nothing new, but people don’t border to read some of the things I say, but they go on criticizing me for saying this things. Anyway, I don’t want the UPN to embark on probes, first of all I believe that those who have deliberately stolen public money…we keep on saying government’s money, it’s our money, it’s your money, it’s my money. Those who have deliberately done that would dislodge them sooner or later, that’s the law of nature, it has to happen.
In the bible we are told God says “Vengeance is mine, and I will revenge” and I believe it. Then secondly, when you start probing, where do you begin now? The corruption has gone to a very high scale since the Army took over. They were to be corrective, then they became corruptive, and so on, where do you begin? And with whom? And with which part of the country? Throughout the country? You’ll need a large staff of people to do the probe, and then the probers themselves might be bribed and corrupted in the process, and so we won’t get any genuine report. And then would you also probe members of your own party in addition, because we are not perfect. There must be people who are probable even within UPN, but party pressure will make it absolutely impossible for you to probe anyone within your party.
So why start at all? And what is more, if you probe the past, it’s like going to a grave yard and exhuming the bodies and tried to see what was the cause of the death of each of the copses that you have exhumed. And when you have discovered that so and so who died 10 years ago was killed by …… what do you do then? Do you revive the body? You cannot revive the dead, but in the process you pollute the air, you pollute the air of the place.
Whereas, you can help the living. I’m interested in the living, and don’t forget that I’m 74 years plus now, and I don’t want to waste my years trying to see what happened in the past instead of attending to the problems of all these people in front of me, and millions who are listening to what I say. If they steal they’ll suffer, if they don’t steal, and you never can know all the truth, sometimes they say somebody take a bribe, then find out and see no bribe has been taken, and so on and so forth. As far as I am concerned, the past- that’s from 30th of September 1983 backwards sealed. But from 1st October 1983 onward, open.
There’s a saying, the past is a story told, the future will be rich in gold. And I’ve always said it that the future is like a wet clay. In the hands of a good potter it can produce very fine potteries. But the past is dead you can’t produce anything from it except acrimonies, exacerbation, hatred, and so on and so forth. So I’m not interested in the past, I’m interested in the future.
And you can correct corruption by examples more than by precepts. Many of us can say corruption is bad. Even the most corrupt person will say “corruption is not good”, but then to see what he can do by examples rather than by precepts and I intend, that’s what UPN has been doing, we intend to lead the people out of corruption into honesty and probity by example. That’s what we intend to do. But you must bear in mind; you can never stamp out corruption, you can minimize it considerably. In those days of the western region, in 8 years people will say no corruption, there might be, I didn’t know, but the important thing is that people ought to realize that there’s someone somewhere who must never hear that an act of corruption has taken place.
But when the boss himself is the chairman of the corrupt club, then there’s nothing you can do, like what happened, a simple matter, one member of the ministry of housing asked one of the officials to go and get 200 bundles of roofing sheets. Yes sir! And then he went and collected 2,200 roofing sheets. That’s a fair business, the boss wants 200 and he needs 2000. And the boss can’t pressure on him, on what ground? “You went to go and steal that….”, he’ll say “er master but you asked me to bring you 200…” that’s the trouble. So you get a lot done by example rather than by precepts, and that’s what we intend to do. The future may be rich in gold, like a wet clay in the hands of the good potter.
Moderator: Thank you sir. We now go to the floor for some questions, and please when you’re called to come and ask question, please announce your name before you ask the question.
Question: Your party, you were voted in mostly in the Yoruba states in 1979, on the premise of your 4 cardinal programs, in particular because of your idea of free this free that, free in all these things. But since then, the people of the Yoruba states, particularly in Ogun state where I happen to be resident, I’ve come to realize that most of these 4 cardinal things, plans of your party, mainly free education, free medical services, full employment and rural integration are a colossal failure, for example free education- in all the schools, most of the children will have automatic promotion, the children are not good, most of them cannot even write letters, for example about…. ago, I had a boy in my house, he’s in class one secondary, and asked to spell rice he couldn’t spell rice. That is the sought of free education that we have in the country. Secondly, you talk of a few things…that your party UPN got voted in on your four cardinal programs. People have now realized that the program is a colossal failure…..”
Program ends abruptly
Source : NigeriaVillageSquare
Acknowledgement: Thanks to Dr Olu Ogunremi who made the audio cassette tape available to NVS