BY SIMON EBEGBULEM, BENIN CITY
…Says Bini tradition does not stop the Oba from seeing the crown prince
Prince Edun Akenzua, the Enogie of Obazuwa and younger brother to the Benin monarch, Oba Erediauwa, is one of the few journalists that covered the civil war. He relishes his experience of the war in this interview and warns against any attempt to plunge the nation into a fresh war. A member of the Edo State Council of Traditional Rulers and Chiefs, he had predicted victory for Governor Adams Oshiomhole before the July 14 governorship election in the state.
The Enogie expresses concern over violent killings in some parts of the North and admonishes President Goodluck Jonathan to seek the assistance of the traditional institution, just as he faults the allegation against northern leaders that they have failed to speak out against the activities of Boko Haram. He also gives an insight into the workings of the Benin royal family, particularly the long-held insinuation that the Oba does not see the crown prince. Excerpts:
People feel the Boko Haram insurgency has defied solution. What do you think?
I don’t think the Boko Haram challenge has defied all political solution because I do not think we have exhausted political answers to the problem. Some people said it is not just political but also religion, but, which ever way we look at it, we must get a quick solution to it.
I do not think traditional approach can stop this thing from going on but it could stop it from escalating and, of course, if that happens, government and politicians must make direct appeal to the traditional institution here and the North of their honest desire to bring this thing to an end.
I think government has not been honest enough in the quest to bring the Boko Haram insurgency to an end. All they have been doing is playing politics with it. The political approach to it alone will not work if the authorities are not soliciting the support of the traditional institution.
Don’t you think that President Goodluck Jonathan has lost grip of the situation?
I believe that a number of these things that have been happening have made Nigerians lost confidence in the ability of government to protect lives and property. The authorities have failed to deal with some issues squarely in order to find solution to them.
The Boko Haram thing, we must first of all identify what it is. Is it an insurgency, is it a group of dissatisfied people who are eager to get some things from government. It seems government is yet to establish what the Boko Haram is. Until you know who your enemies are, you can hardly fight them. But I don’t think the president has lost grip of the situation but I feel the president is not doing enough to arrest the situation and that probably is the reason a lot of Nigerians are frustrated with the situation.
Again, I do not think it is right to blame northern leaders generally for Boko Haram and to tie it up with Jonathan going back in 2015. The reason I do not think it is right to blame northern leaders is that Boko Haram came when the late Yar’Adua was President. For some people to tie it only to northern leaders I think it is a bit preposterous because the people who are being killed are largely northerners even though some times southerners are killed in the churches.
I think that is the area that is being politicized in this matter, accusing northerners. I read some of the comments made by Chief E.K. Clark where he said northern leaders have failed to condemn the insurgency but I don’t think that is true because the Sultan of Sokoto has spoken out. The Arewa Consultative Forum spoke, emirs spoke. So I don’t know the forum Chief E.K. Clark wants them to use.
I read what he said while he was comparing Boko Haram with the Niger Delta militants. But I want to say that the Niger Delta militants are mainly Ijaws and E.K. Clark is from there; so it was easier for him to intervene then. But the Boko Haram people have not come to say they belong to a geographical entity. If they have done that, maybe people would have said, ‘okay’ IBB you go and speak to your people; you are from there.’
The truth is that the Boko Haram people are faceless, they have not really told the authorithies their grievances. If any group just comes up to say every body in Nigeria must be a Muslim, they must practice Sharia, that will be impossible because even before Nigeria came to be, people had their different religions.
Fear of disintegration
An American group predicted that Nigeria may break up by 2015. Well, I don’t not think that any one will want to secede, those who are spitting fire at the moment, I think they are just doing that because, in the long run, they will discover that it will be difficult for anybody to try to secede. You can stockpile weapons but I can’t see anybody who experienced the past civil war beating drums of war this time.
But I don’t think any unit will want to break away from this country and others will just allow it to go like that, I think that will probably lead to another civil war. And when you have another civil war as we had in other parts of the world, you will set the place on fire. War is some thing that I hate to talk about because nothing good comes out of it. A number of people do not even know the implication of war.
I was one of the first journalists who went into the war zone when the war started in 1967. I actually had a long chat with Oko Arigbo, who was the External Affairs Minister then. And we requested that we be allowed to cover the war. The late Oloba was my Editor-in-Chief in the Morning Post then. After we had made the request to General Gowon, one day they asked us to bring some body.
Prince Edun Akenzua
And suddenly Oloba and I realized that all the time we were asking government to allow us cover the war, we had not even thought of who will go from our stable. However, I offered to go because I was head of news and features then. Few of us went to cover the war and we saw the war from close quarters and, like the Benin people say, ‘it is the child who has never seen war that swears by war’.
War is ugly I tell you. The young men who are now in parliament, many of them were very young at the time the war started in 1967. Many of them who are Generals now, I don’t know what they were in 1967. But those who actually saw the war, they hardly talk about it and I don’t think they will want a repeat of such experience.
Covering the civil war
I had known Ojukwu before the war started, when he was a Captain, we were in Kaduna together before they went to the Congo at that time. But when he came and became the military governor of the South East Region and the war was building up, there was so much tension. I was in Lagos then, I went to Asaba and tried to see him. From Asaba I put a call across, I was able to speak with Cyprian Ekwensi. Uche Chukwumerije, who is a senator now, was a friend in Lagos but I could not reach him from Asaba at that time.
And Cyprian could not make the appointment for me to see Ojukwu. However, when the war fully started, I started covering it from Makurdi with the first Division. We moved on until the Federal Government recovered Nsukka. When we moved into Nsukka, the whole place was empty, the people had fled.
We went into a house in Nsukka and we saw a table which was set for a meal but that meal was never eaten. The people obviously fled and abandoned the food. I reported that for the Morning Post. And of course any body who had a car then will just go to a petrol station and fill his tank, it was free for all.
But when it got to a situation where you saw dead bodies littering the road, you will know that war is not a joke. After the federal troops moved into Onitsha, there was something called Ogbunigwe that the Biafrans used. Murtala Muhammed was leading the federal troops at the time and they were trying to access Onitsha from Awka but while they were doing that, the Biafrans exploded the Ogbunigbe and it was a mass destruction.
The federal troops had to do a retreat, a very quick one. Months after, you could see skeletons of cars, bodies littered the streets. Murtala Muhammed was even lucky to have escaped. It was not a pleasant sight. I don’t think anybody who witnessed the civil war, not those who only read about it, will ever want to witness another war. Those who witnessed the war will not be in a hurry to say,’ look, let’s go and fight it out.
But there is this fear that the country may witness another civil war with the growing agitation from different groups that they want autonomy amid even the killings in the North?
Yes, there were killings then in the North but what happened then is not exactly what, happening now. I think the cause of the civil war was more because of the personal difference between Ojukwu and Gowon not necessarily because the Igbo and non-Hausa were killed in the North.
The reason I am saying this is that after the January 15, 1966 coup, which saw several Hausas officers being killed, the next one, I think in July which they referred as the vengeance coup, came and a number of Igbo officers were now killed in retaliation. But before the war started, Gowon apologized that the Igbo who left the North should return to the North.
The Sultan of Sokoto then launched one shilling per person fund. And it became a national policy, every body was contributing one shilling per person which was to be sent to help those who survived the initial massacre. It gave the Igbo reassurance and they went back to the North. So what I feel caused the war was that Ojukwu, being at that time a senior officer to Gowon and even more educated, did not see why Gowon should have been appointed as head of the army and head of state.
Ogundipe was the most senior of all of them in the army then but Ogundipe refused it. Ojukwu would not have been angry if Ogundipe had emerged as the head of the army. But Ogundipe refused the offer because he felt that the military was too in disciplined for him to accept that offer.
That how could he be a Commander-in-Chief when junior officers no longer respect their seniors? He had a bad experience in Government House, he was with some top military officers and he called one private soldier who came with a lieutenant.
The private soldier was in the car with a lieutenant to that meeting. And when Ogundipe called the private soldier to go and buy him cigarette outside the State House, the private soldier said he could not go unless he got permission from his boss a lieutenant while Ogundipe was a brigadier general.
We were told that Ogundipe said how could he lead an army like this when a private soldier will want to take instruction first from a lieutenant? So that left Gowon and Ojukwu, and, of course, Ojukwu was senior to Gowon but the northerners wanted Gowon there as head of state but Ojukwu never wanted it. So what happened then was not exactly what is happening today. What happened then was purely political, initiated by the military high command.
Edo guber election
The election was okay. I before-hand knew that the outcome will be like this. Before the election, I stated that you do not change a winning team because the Oshiomhole administration is doing what Edo people wanted him to do. When I talk about the achievements, I am talking about the government led by Oshiomhole because I do not see much difference between the PDP and the ACN.
The difference is actually the leadership. Oshiomhole has come out to let people know that this thing can be done if you want to do it. And the people followed his foot steps and what ever he was saying they did. Whereas in the past, no body did any thing in the state.
But people thought the royal family will support the PDP candidate because of his status as a son of the soil?
I am a member of the royal family. I told you we were not going to accept the PDP candidate just because he is a Benin man. I told you that we were not going to change a winning side. The PDP candidate, it is a pity that the young man insisted on playing that kind of game with the PDP. What I had said then and I told you, when the PDP leader, Chief Anenih, gave the Bini people the opportunity to present a governorship candidate, the people just got carried away by the euphoria but they forgot a lot of things.
But I was sure that even Chief Anenih, knew that nobody could win that election but Oshiomhole. But I think the chief was playing for 2016 because at that time if the chief wants to come up with a non-Benin person or some body from Edo Central, no Benin person will be able to say ‘no you cannot do that because we are more in population’. He will now tell them that ‘we gave you your son the other day but you said you didn’t want him’. That was one strategy.
The second strategy the PDP leadership had was when the Benin members of PDP were dancing from one roof top to the other that they got the governorship ticket, PDP members in Edo Central and North were picking all the appointments available at the federal level leaving Edo South with nothing.
Ministerial appointment, Board membership, ambassadorial appointment and every thing, not one of them came to Edo South. Which was very strange because in Edo South, the President got the highest votes here. But no single appointment was given to them.
Again the royal family, not only the royal family, the good people of Benin Kingdom, who wanted some thing good for their land and for the state, could not push away Oshiomhole who was doing some thing good for the state and bring in some body else.