Speech by Chief Obafemi Awolowo made to the
Western leaders of thought, in Ibadan, 1 May 1967.
(quoted in “Crisis and Conflict in Nigeria (Volume 1),
January 1966-July 1971″ by A. H. M. Kirk-Greene. )
The aim of a leader should be the welfare of the people
whom he leads. I have used ‘welfare’ to denote the
physical, mental and spiritual well-being of the people.
With this aim fixed unflinchingly and unchangeably
before my eyes I consider it my duty to Yoruba people in
particular and to Nigerians in general, to place four
imperatives before you this morning. Two of them are
categorical and two are conditional. Only a peaceful
solution must be found to arrest the present worsening
stalemate and restore normalcy. The Eastern Region
must be encouraged to remain part of the Federation. If
the Eastern Region is allowed by acts of omission or
commission to secede from or opt out of Nigeria, then
the Western Region and Lagos must also stay out of the
Federation. The people of Western Nigeria and Lagos
should participate in the ad hoc committee or any similar
body only on the basis of absolute equality with the other regions of the Federation.
I would like to comment briefly on these four imperatives.
There has, of late, been a good deal of sabre rattling in
some parts of the country. Those who advocate the use
force for the settlement of our present problems should
stop a little and reflect. I can see no vital and abiding
principle involved in any war between the North and the
East. If the East attacked the North, it would be for
purpose of revenge pure and simple. Any claim to the
contrary would be untenable. If it is claimed that such a
war is being waged for the purpose of recovering the real
and personal properties left behind in the North by
Easterners two insuperable points are obvious. Firstly, the
personal effects left behind by Easterners have been
wholly looted or destroyed, and can no longer be
physically recovered. Secondly, since the real properties
are immovable in case of recovery of them can only be by
means of forcible military occupation of those parts of
the North in which these properties are situated. On the
other hand, if the North attacked the East, it could only
be for the purpose of further strengthening and
entrenching its position of dominance in the country.
If it is claimed that an attack on the East is going to be
launched by the Federal Government and not by the
North as such and that it is designed to ensure the unity
and integrity of the Federation, two other insuperable
points also become obvious.
First, if a war against the
East becomes a necessity it must be agreed to unanimously by the remaining units of the Federation.
In this connection, the West, Mid- West and Lagos have
declared their implacable opposition to the use of force in
solving the present problem. In the face of such
declarations by three out of remaining four territories of
Nigeria, a war against the East could only be a war
favoured by the North alone.
Second, if the true purpose
of such a war is to preserve the unity and integrity of the
Federation, then these ends can be achieved by the very
simple devices of implementing the recommendation of
the committee which met on August 9 1966, as
reaffirmed by a decision of the military leaders at Aburi
on January 5 1967 as well as by accepting such of the
demands of the East, West, Mid-West and Lagos as are
manifestly reasonable, and essential for assuring
harmonious relationships and peaceful co-existence
between them and their brothers and sisters in the North.
Some knowledgeable persons have likened an attack on
the East to Lincoln’s war against the southern states in
America. Two vital factors distinguish Lincoln’s campaign
from the one now being contemplated in Nigeria. The first
is that the American civil war was aimed at the abolition
of slavery – that is the liberation of millions of Negroes
who were then still being used as chattels and worse than
domestic animals. The second factor is that Lincoln and
others in the northern states were English-speaking
people waging a war of good conscience and humanity
against their fellow nationals who were also English speaking.
A war against the East in which Northern
soldiers are predominant, will only unite the Easterners or
the Ibos against their attackers, strengthen them in their
belief that they are not wanted by the majority of their
fellow-Nigerians, and finally push them out of the
We have been told that an act of secession on the part of
the East would be a signal, in the first instance, for the
creation of the COR state by decree, which would be
backed, if need be, by the use of force. With great
respect, I have some dissenting observations to make on
There are 11 national or linguistic groups
in the COR areas with a total population of 5.3 millions.
These national groups are as distinct from one another as
the Ibos are distinct from them or from the Yorubas or
Hausas. Of the 11, the Efik/Ibibio/Annang national group
are 3.2 million strong as against the Ijaws who are only
about 700,000 strong. Ostensibly, the remaining nine
national group number 1.4 millions. But when you have
subtracted the Ibo inhabitants from among them, what is
left ranges from the Ngennis who number only 8,000 to
the Ogonis who are 220,000 strong. A decree creating a
COR state without a plebiscite to ascertain the wishes of
the peoples in the area, would only amount to
subordinating the minority national groups in the state to
the dominance of the Efik/Ibibio/Annang national group. It
would be perfectly in order to create a Calabar state or a
Rivers state by decree, and without a plebiscite. Each is a homogeneous national unit.
But before you lump distinct
and diverse national units together in one state, the
consent of each of them is indispensable. Otherwise, the
seed of social disquilibrium in the new state would have
On the other hand, if the COR State is created by decree
after the Eastern Region shall have made its severance
from Nigeria effective, we should then be waging an
unjust war against a foreign state. It would be an unjust
war, because the purpose of it would be to remove 10
minorities in the East from the dominance of the Ibos only
to subordinate them to the dominance of the
Efik/Ibibio/Annang national group. I think I have said
enough to demonstrate that any war against the East, or
vice versa, on any count whatsoever, would be an unholy
crusade, for which it would be most unjustifiable to shed
a drop of Nigerian blood. Therefore, only a peaceful
solution must be found, and quickly too to arrest the
present rapidly deteriorating stalemate and restore
With regard to the second categorical imperative, it is my
considered view that whilst some of the demands of the
East are excessive within the context of a Nigerian union,
most of such demands are not only well-founded, but are
designed for smooth and steady association amongst the
various national units of Nigeria.
The dependence of the Federal Government on financial contributions from the regions?
These and other such like demands I do not support.
Demands such as these, if accepted, will lead surely to the complete disintegration
of the Federation which is not in the interest of our
people. But I wholeheartedly support the following
demands among others, which we consider reasonable
and most of which are already embodied in our
memoranda to the Ad Hoc Committee….
That revenue should be allocated strictly on the basis of
derivation; that is to say after the Federal Government
has deducted its own share for its own services the rest
should be allocated to the regions to which they are
That the existing public debt of the Federation should
become the responsibility of the regions on the basis of
the location of the projects in respect of each debt
whether internal or external.
That each region should have and control its own militia
and police force.
That, with immediate effect, all military personnel should
be posted to their regions of origin….
If we are to live in harmony one with another as Nigerians
it is imperative that these demands and others which are
not related, should be met without further delay by those
who have hitherto resisted them. To those who may
argue that the acceptance of these demands will amount to transforming Nigeria into a federation with a weak
central government, my comment is that any link however
tenuous, which keeps the East in the Nigerian union, is
better in my view than no link at all.
Before the Western delegates went to Lagos to attend
the meetings of the ad hoc committee, they were given a
clear mandate that if any region should opt out of the
Federation of Nigeria, then the Federation should be
considered to be at an end, and that the Western Region
and Lagos should also opt out of it. It would then be up to
Western Nigeria and Lagos as an independent sovereign
state to enter into association with any of the Nigerian
units of its own choosing, and on terms mutually
acceptable to them. I see no reason for departing from
this mandate. If any region in Nigeria considers itself
strong enough to compel us to enter into association with
it on its own terms, I would only wish such a region luck.
But such luck, I must warn, will, in the long run be no
better than that which has attended the doings of all
colonial powers down the ages. This much I must say in
addition, on this point. We have neither military might nor
the overwhelming advantage of numbers here in Western
Nigeria and Lagos. But we have justice of a noble and
imperishable cause on our side, namely: the right of a
people to unfettered self-determination. If this is so, then
God is on our side, and if God is with us then we have
nothing whatsoever in this world to fear.
The fourth imperative, and the second conditional one has been fully dealt with in my recent letter to the Military
Governor of Western Nigeria, Col. Robert Adebayo, and in
the representation which your deputation made last year
to the head of the Federal Military Government, Lt. Col.
Yakubu Gowon. As a matter of fact, as far back as
November last year a smaller meeting of leaders of
thought in this Region decided that unless certain things
were done, we would no longer participate in the meeting
of the ad hoc committee. But since then, not even one of
our legitimate requests has been granted.
I will, therefore, take no more of your time in making further comments on
a point with which you are well familiar. As soon as our
humble and earnest requests are met, I shall be ready to
take my place on the ad hoc committee. But certainly, not
In closing, I have this piece of advice to give. In order to
resolve amiably and in the best interests of all Nigerians
certain attributes are required on the part of Nigerian
leaders, military as well as non-military leaders alike,
namely: vision, realism and unselfishness. But above all ,
what will keep Nigerian leaders in the North and East
unwaveringly in the path of wisdom, realism and
moderation is courage and steadfastness on the part of
Yoruba people in the course of what they sincerely
believe to be right, equitable and just. In the past five
years we in the West and Lagos have shown that we
possess these qualities in a large measure.
If we demonstrate them again as we did in the past, calmly and heroically, we will save Nigeria from further bloodshed
and imminent wreck and, at the same time, preserve our
freedom and self-respect into the bargain.
May God rule and guide our deliberations here, and
endow all the Nigerian leaders with the vision, realism,
and unselfishness as well as courage and steadfastness
in the course of truth, which the present circumstances