On Aburi We Stand

On January 4 and 5, 1967, delegates and representatives from both the Federal Government of Nigeria and the Eastern Region, led by Lieutenant-Colonel Emeka Ojukwu, met in Aburi, Ghana to agree on what is now known as the Aburi Accord. The meeting at Aburi was supposed to be the last opportunity to avoid any conflict or civil war. Unfortunately, it was not to be.

The Genesis of the Aburi Accord

After the first military coup that installed Major-General Johnson Thomas Aguiyi-Ironsi as Nigeria’s first military Head of State on January 16, 1966, the Northern soldiers had started planning, by May 1966, the revenge of their leaders who had been murdered in January. The Northerners were the major casualties of that coup that was carried out by soldiers mainly from the East.

To them, it was an Eastern-favoured coup as Aguiyi-Ironsi’s regime was believed to be extremely partisan. This highlighted the feeling of insecurity of other groups. It created more problems than it solved old ones which led to severe criticism of the Supreme Commander.

Image of Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi
Major-General Johnson Thomas Umunakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi (1924-1966). Nigeria’s first military Head-of-State (1966)/United Nations.

The General himself may not have been necessarily nepotistic. Rather, he failed to see the sectional and clannish implications of events, policies, and appointments that were made during his tenure of office.

194 days after taking office, Aguiyi-Ironsi was murdered in a Northern counter-coup on July 29, 1966, and for three days, the nation had no leader until Lieutenant-Colonel Yakubu Gowon succeeded the late Head-of-State on August 1, 1966.

Significance of the July 29, 1966, Coup

The immediate significance of the July coup was that it forced a return to an ethnic balance within the Army as neither the major ethnic groups, Hausa or Yoruba, was placed in power but a minor ethnic group from the Northern Region in present-day Plateau State.

In the confusion that followed the second coup d’état, the slender confidence that remained between the Igbo and the Northerners was shattered. Disturbances broke out in the East but even more so in the North after August 1, 1966.

The mass killings of the Igbo in the North were a deplorable act which was condemned by Nigerians, including the Military Governors.

With the Northern counter-coup of July 29, 1966, the political development of Nigeria’s federal structure took a different turn. It was accentuated even more by the fact that the Eastern Region Government in Enugu immediately threatened secession if certain grievances and demands were not met.

The immediate concern of the Federal Government, therefore, was for it to find ways to appease the East so long as such concessions were within the framework of one Nigeria.

On the Road to Aburi

Claiming he was not safe outside the East, the Eastern Military Governor, Lieutenant-Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu refused to leave the Region for any meeting anywhere in Nigeria. In a rejoinder, the Federal Government too argued that the Nigerian leader, Yakubu Gowon should also not go to the East for a meeting. His life, they also claimed, was not safe there either. Tension mounted and Lieutenant-General Joseph Arthur Ankrah of Ghana offered a neutral meeting place. The venue was Aburi, Ghana.

On Aburi We Stand
Aburi: Echoes of the Nigeria-Biafra War (get the book here).

The Aburi meeting started on January 4, 1967, and lasted for two days.

Those who attended the meeting included, Head of State Lieutenant-Colonel Yakubu Gowon, and the Military Governors of the four regions: Hassan Usman Katsina of the Northern Region, Robert Adeyinka Adebayo, David Akpode Ejoor, and Chukwuemeka Ojukwu of the West, Mid-West, and Eastern Region respectively.

Others included, the Military Administrator of Lagos, Mobolaji Johnson, the Head of the Nigerian Navy, Commodore Joseph Edet Akinwale Wey, and the Inspector-General of Police, Alhaji Kam Selem, among others.

The Significance of Aburi

Aburi was significant for several reasons. First, that the leaders met at all was an achievement in itself. But even more tangible was the fact that the leaders agreed that force would not be used to settle the “brothers’ palaver”. There was also the question of the disposition of Nigerian troops and the reorganisation of the Army after the second coup on July 29, 1966, and the subsequent killings that followed in May and September.

Biafran Head-of-State, Emeka Ojukwu unveils Biafran currency and postage stamps, January 29, 1968.

Further, Ojukwu said that his Region was perturbed that contrary to Gowon’s promise on August 9, 1966, which all soldiers would return to their Region of origin, Northern troops still “occupied” the Western Region.

Gowon replied that his promise of August 9, applied to the repatriation of soldiers of Northern origin stationed in the East back to the North and those of Eastern origin stationed in the North back to the East. He had fulfilled his promise, he said. He then emphasised that soldiers of Northern origin would remain in the West since there were only a few Yoruba in the Nigerian Army.

The Brothers’ Palaver

Ojukwu was not satisfied and further insisted on a reorganisation of the Army on a Regional basis. Gowon was also firmly opposed to splitting up the Army.

Image of General Yakubu Gowon
General Yakubu Gowon, Nigeria’s 2nd Military Head-of-State (August 1, 1966 – July 29, 1975).

Ojukwu claimed that Nigeria did not have a central government since the country as a result of the second coup and its aftermath resolved itself into three separate sovereign areas; the Lagos-West-North Area, the Mid-West Area and the East Area. But Gowon insisted that Nigeria was still one nation, an entity composed of four regions and a central government in Lagos.

Ojukwu then proposed that the situation in the nation necessitated “a drawing apart” of the Regions because “the separation of forces, the separation of the population is, in all sincerity, necessary in other to avoid further friction and further killings.” The other leaders who all wanted “One Nigeria” agreed to Ojukwu’s proposal, but apparently without understanding the implication. This was the bombshell of Aburi.

So, why did Ojukwu go on to declare the Republic of Biafra? You can get the book here.

Alternatively, you can find out in the video below…

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