no other Nigerian has been perceived by Ndigbo to be personally
responsible for crafting the policies that compounded the misery
of ex-Biafrans as the Late Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Serving his jail
term for treason at the Calabar Prison by time the Civil War was
imminent, Awolowo was set free by General Ojukwu with an understanding
that the Yoruba leader was bent on using the opportunity of ongoing
national crisis to pull his people out of the Nigerian federation
and declare the Oduduwa Republic in the West.
the master tactician had something else in mind as he paid lip service
to an accord with Biafran leadership before his release from jail.
As soon as he made it safely out of Biafra, he pitched his tent
with General Gowon who rewarded him with appointment to the highest
civilian post in the military junta in Lagos. Awolowo also was the
Minister of Finance where he had full rein on the national coffers.
elevated position instantaneously made tens of thousands of Yoruba
recruits to join the Nigerian armed forces. The command structure
and bulk of foot soldiers that spearheaded the maritime invasion
from the southern front were mostly Yorubas. As the Yoruba chieftain
acquired more control of the federal bureaucracy, he became more
aggressive and vocal in defense of federal war policies in Biafra,
which included deprivation of food and medical supplies to the civilian
victims of the Civil War. He was reported to have told foreign media
correspondents, who expressed global outrage at the level of misery
inside Biafra, that starvation was a legitimate instrument of warfare.
It was the post-war policies of Awolowo-led Ministry of Finance
that inflicted the most lasting pain on those who managed to survive
his starvation policy. The Biafran currency, which was the only
legal tender of the survivors of the Biafran siege, was overnight
declared worthless and everyone with a bank account was issued a
measly N40 (40 cents US), in lieu of their deposit, to start life
anew on their own. A few years afterwards, the same Ministry embarked
on the process of selling off foreign-owned businesses to Nigerians
who were able to pay. In that indigenization process, penury did
not allow Ndigbo to participate as the collective wealth of Nigeria
was handed out only to those who had the cash in hand. It could
be said that Chief Awolowo was not only a proven bedfellow of the
Nigerian military establishment, but he also sanctioned the tacit
gang-up by the North and West to use authoritarian military rule
to keep Ndigbo marginalized for the next 30 years.