DECONSTRUCTING DOYIN OKUPE
By Bar. Kenneth Ikonne
Okupe may have been prompted by mischief! Yet, I don’t understand him to have meant that the Igbo as a tribe killed Balewa or Ahmadu Bello. That is not my surmise of what he meant.
What I think him to have meant is that the notion is deep (though misconceived), and widely held, that the Igbo, as a tribe, killed both men. And that until that notion which is held by a critical segment of the Nigerian electorate is overcome, the idea of Igbo presidency will remain a mirage.
Around January 15 of every year, you only need to visit Northern Nigerian pages and blogs to read shocking justifications of the pogrom that followed that unfortunate coup of January 15, 1966. There, you are going to catch friends you thought were human beings justifying the murder of infants and pregnant women on no other ground than that they were Igbo – and “the Igbo killed Sarduana.”
To insist that the notion is not deep is therefore to hide our head in the sand. Okupe merely recognized this reality, though he did not state it elegantly!
However, the belief that the “Igbo killed Sarduana” is false, notwithstanding that a preponderance of the January 1966 mutineers were Igbo.
It is false because it assumes that the Igbo, as a race, arrived at an ethnic consensus and sent out the mutineers to act on its behalf.
Of course, those versed in military matters, and who appreciate the great quotient of secrecy needed to successfully plot and execute a coup, know that broaching the dynamics of a coup beyond the confines of a very narrow conclave is to invite disaster; that is why wives, girlfriends and even comrades are not put in the know.
It is indefensible that the coup happened at all, and that it took a bloody hue, tragically consuming titans like the Sarduana and Balewa, and sparing Igbo politicians like Azikiwe and Okpara. That in itself might have been evidence of ethnic prejudice on the part of the plotters themselves, but it was certainly not evidence of ethnic complicity or consensus.
Even at that, from an operational perspective, having regard to the power configuration in Nigeria in 1966, the neutralization of Okpara in Enugu was not an indispensable condition for the toppling of the Federal Govt.
And everyone knows that the plotters were fundamentally chastened by the political situation in the Western Region, thought then to have been brought about by agents of the Federal Govt, in collaboration with the Premier; this was what the coupists went to avenge, and the fact may therefore have informed the profile of the killings.
Suggestions that Azikiwe and Okpara conspired, on behalf of the Igbo, to topple themselves appear to me jejune and facile, in the absence of proof of the strategic advantages they stood to derive from such a deal. For even Local Govt Chairmen will not agree to such an unnatural deal!
But the fact that this belief is held at all, is evidence of the abject absence of rigour that continues to haunt political thought in modern Nigeria.
I agree with Okupe nevertheless that that belief poses the greatest mountain on the path of the realization of a Nigerian President of Igbo extraction!