Inside the Aburi accord
By NDUBUISI ORJI
Wednesday April 11 , 2012
“The Aburi summit was a last ditch effort to save a tottering
republic from collapse. So, on January 4 and 5, 1967, Nigerian’s top military brass converged in Aburi, in the Republic of Ghana for an unusual conference.
It just refuses to fade away. It is called the Aburi Accord, signed by the leaders of the country forty six years ago in Aburi, Ghana. It was an accord that was meant to tackle the issue of true federalism in the county. In its fifty two years as a sovereign state, Nigeria has held several conferences and arrived at several decisions.
Even before Nigeria’s Independence in 1960, the nationalist leaders held several conferences to agitate for the country’s independence. But none of these many conferences has generated much interest like the Aburi conference that produced the popular Aburi accord.
The Aburi Accord was precipitated by the crisis that trailed the counter coup of July 26 1966, and the massacre of Southerners, mainly Igbos in Northern Nigeria. The counter coup was a revenge coup to the military coup that occurred earlier in the year.
On January 16, 1966, six young Majors in the Nigerian Army had staged the first coup in the history of the country. That military putsch of January 15, 1966 that toppled the first republic claimed the lives of then Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, finance Minister, Chief Okotie Eboh and other leading lights of that republic. Though the coupists, did not succeed in taking over power, the then Senate President, Nwafor Orizu invited the Military High Command to take over the running of government. Thus General Aguiyi Ironsi , the General Officer Commanding (GOC) Nigeria Army assumed office as Nigeria first Military ruler.
Six months later, some Northern soldiers led by Murtala Mohammed, who later became Head of state staged a counter coup. Soldiers of Eastern origin were targeted with many of them killed while others were chased out of the barracks by the Northern troops. Ironsi, who was on an official visit to Ibadan, capital of the Western Region, was abducted by the coupists alongside his host and Military Governor of Western Nigeria, Col Adekunle Fajuyi. Both men were eventually killed. And Lt Col Yakubu Gowon, the Chief of Army staff was installed by the mutineers as the new Head of State.
But Lt Col. Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, Military Governor, Eastern Region, as he then was, would take none of that. He refused to recognize Gowon as the new Head of State and Supreme Commander of the Nigeria Army. He had insisted that in the absence of Ironsi, the most senior Army officer, in this case Bragadier Babafemi Ogundipe should take charge of affairs in the country to maintain order and discipline in the Army. But Gowon held on to power in Lagos.
The entire country was enveloped in tension. Fear and mistrust pervaded the land. Soldiers and civilians of Eastern origin resident in the North, who had run home after the massacre that trailed the July 26 counter coup could not return to the North for fear of their lives. The nation was thrown into chaos. Meetings were held. Conferences were conveyed to find a solution to the national problem. On August 9, 1966 the representatives of the four military governors met and agreed that troops should return to their regions of origin to allow tempers to cool.
An Ad-Hoc Constitutional Conference began on September 12, same year to find solution the problem in the country, but that was a futile effort. The constitutional conference was adjourned indefinitely on October 3, 1966.
The Supreme Military Council (SMC) could not meet. Ojukwu had refused to attend a meeting in any part of the country where there are soldiers of Northern extraction,while the other members of the SMC could not come to the East for a meeting. For months , there was a stand-off between the Government of the Eastern Region and the new Military rulers in Lagos.
It was this state of affairs that gave rise to the Aburi conference. The Aburi summit was a last ditch effort to save a tottering republic from collapse. So, on January 4 and 5, 1967, Nigerian’s top military brass converged in Aburi, in the Republic of Ghana for an unusual conference. Unusual in the sense that that would the first and only time, after the country’s independence in 1960, the nation’s leaders will gather in a foreign land to brainstorm on the problems of the country.
The conference, facilitated by the then Ghanaian Head of State, Lt. General Joe Ankrah, was attended by nine military leaders of the country namely: Gowon, Ojukwu, Commodore Joseph Akinwale Wey, Head of the Nigerian Navy; Colonel Robert Adeyinka Adebayo, Military Governor of the western region; Lt-Colonel Hassan Usman Katsina, Military Governor of the Northern region; Lt-Colonel David Akpode Ejoor Governor of mid-west region; Major Mobolaji Johnson Military Governor of Lagos; Alhaji Kam Selem Inspector-General of Police and Timothy Omo-Bare
Others who attended the momentous Aburi conference were: N. Akpan Secretary to the Military Governor-East; Alhaji Ali Akilu Secretary to the Military Governor-North; D. Lawani Under Secretary, Military Governor’s Office-Mid-West; P. Odumosu Secretary to the Military Governor-West and S. Akenzua Permanent Under-Secretary-Federal Cabinet Office.
The agenda included: the re-organisation of the Armed Forces, Constitutional Arrangement and the Issue of displaced persons within the Nigeria, with the overall aim of of a political re-engineering for the country. For a start, it was also agreed by the participants that the Nigerian crisis would not be resolved through the use of arms.
In Aburi, all the participants made a strong argument for a return to true federalism that was in operation in the country before the first military coup of January 1966.
Specifically, Adebayo advocated a “repeal [of] those Decrees that were passed after 15th January, 1966 but I think we should revert to what the country was as at 14th January, 1966, that is regional autonomy”. While Gowon agreed to “do away with any decree that certainly tended to go towards too much centralisation.”
At the end of the two days conference, the much talked about Aburi Accord was signed by the participants at that historic summit.
It was resolved amongst others that “Members agree that the legislative and executive authority of the Federal Military Government should remain in the Supreme Military Council, to which any decision affecting the whole country shall be referred for determination provided that where it is not possible for a meeting to be held the matter requiring determination must be referred to military governors for their comment and concurrence.
“Specifically, the council agreed that appointments to senior ranks in the police, diplomatic, and consular services as well as appointment to super-scale posts in the federal civil service and the equivalent posts in the statutory corporation must be approved by the Supreme Military Council.
“The regional members felt that all the decrees passed since January 15, 1966, and which detracted from previous powers and positions of regional governments, should be repealed if mutual confidence is to be restored.” .
Besides, it was agreed “that the Ad Hoc Committee Should resume sitting as soon as practicable to begin from where they left off.” And “That all the Law Officers of the Federation should meet in Benin on the 14th January and list out all the Decrees and provisions of Decrees concerned so that they may be repealed not later than 21st January if possible”.
On the issue of displaced persons, it was resolved that “that civil servants and Corporation staff (including daily paid employees) who have not been absorbed should continue to be paid their full salaries until 31st March, 1967 provided they have not got alternative employment”. While “ Finance Permanent Secretaries should resume their meeting within two weeks and submit recommendations and that each Region should send three representatives to the meeting.
The major thrust of the Aburi Accord was that each region would be responsible for its own affairs, while matters that affected the entire country would be thrashed at the level of the SMC, where in the words of Ojukwu “ whoever is at the top is a constitutional chap – constitutional within the context of the military government. That is, he is a titular head, but he would only act where, say when we have met and taken a decision”.
On return from the Aburi conference, there were differences in the interpretation of the Accord on both the sides of the federal government and Eastern Region government. Consequently, the Accord finally broke down without addressing the problems it set out to solve. Gowon repudiation of the Accord is attributed to the Federal Bureaucracy at that time.
On January 26, 1967, Gowon in a press conference reportedly stated that the permanent secretaries had advised him “to stick to their previous recommendation and advise” on most of the issues contained in the accord.
Ojukwu reacted sharply. He gave a March 31 deadline for the implementation of the Accord or he will take measures to give effect to them within the Eastern Region. One thing led to another and on May 30, 1967, the Eastern Region government declared the Eastern Nigeria as an Independent Republic of Biafra. Gowon launched a Police action against the Eastern Region, to crush what he described as the rebellion of that region and the Nigerian civil war broke out.
All the actors of that era have faded away, but the Aburi accord still sticks out like a sore thumb.