Author: Leo Oko Ogba (email@example.com)
Pagination: 138 Pages
Available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B092M51YC1
Reviewer: Goke Ilesanmi
Experience, the maxim goes, is the best teacher. In short, valuable first-hand experience, accurate historical record and right education are capable of changing the mindset of any group of disgruntled people through potency of enlightenment and persuasion as well as quenching the otherwise raging fire of conflicts, prejudice and/or discrimination.
According to Charlotte Bronte, “Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilised by education; they grow there, firm as weeds among stones.”
That is why I want us to analytically X-ray this book entitled “The Road Not Followed” written by Dr Leo Oko Ogba, who was once a young Biafra Soldier between 1967 and 1970 and thus has an authoritative first-hand experience nostalgically articulated in this historical book.
Ogba, who is currently a Senior Legislative Aide at the Senate of the Nigerian National Assembly, Abuja was educated at the University of Toronto, Carleton University, Ottawa and the University of Ife, Nigeria, where he bagged his Ph.D., MA, and B.Sc. (Hons) degrees, respectively. He was once a Special Adviser on Speeches and Public Communication to a Governor of Abia State. Ogba, who had earlier retired at the age of 63, is a former University Lecturer and an experienced Executive Banker of 20 years.
He is an expert and Consultant in Conflict Management, Legislative Studies, International Development Studies and Voluntary Services Management. Ogba has published several academic and policy papers in the local and international journals.
This book is centred on the memories of the author as a boy soldier during the Nigerian Civil War. It also examines the multiplicity of threats dragging the integration of the Nigerian nation in the corridor of fragility among other issues.
According to Ogba, the story of the failure of Biafra is simply the story of the failure of a threatened polity to employ peaceful negotiation as well as creative imagination strategy of nation-building as an alternative conflict resolution mechanism in a multi-ethnic nation.
This author says sometimes in the search for and development of potential solutions to different issues, our biases as individuals or groups tend to frustrate a revolution from fulfilling the goals of its singular and collective potential. Ogba adds that this may in turn result in undermining the objective of superior performance envisaged by the revolution. This author asserts that such was the case of the Biafra State experiment between 1967 and 1970.
According to Ogba, fifty years after the quest for a superior performing Biafra State in the African regional space, and the end of the resultant devastating civil war, not much has changed about the resolve to accomplish a unique environment to showcase the potential of the Biafra vision within or outside the Nigerian State.
He says today, the same issues that led to the civil war have re-ignited massive secessionist agitations for a Biafra nation, championed by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) with the support, both public and covert, of the younger generation of the Igbo, many of whom are either too young to remember the war or were not yet born at the time.
Ogba submits that although much has been written about the Biafra struggle, most of such narratives have not really addressed the area of “the other road not followed” and how this affected the outcome of the civil war and the future agenda of the struggle. He says the purpose of this book is to fill this historical vacuum and offer rational enlightenment.
Ogba stresses that as a participant and an observer, he was part of those in the forefront and warfront of the Biafra struggle at the young age of 19. He says now that he is past the age of 70, he feels a sense of urgency to contribute to the story about the Biafra struggle, especially about “the road not followed” to save a generation of youths from making the same mistakes of the past.
Structurally, this 138-page book is segmented into ten chapters. Chapter one is christened “The Biafra questions – where and when it all began for me”. As a prelude to the thematic focus of the chapter, Ogba quotes Plato thus: “No soul likes to be robbed of truth, and the same holds of justice, moderation, kindness, and all such virtues.”
According to the author, “In 1958, I was in Standard Two, the fourth year of an eight-year primary school system in Nigeria. The air of political freedom and emancipation from colonialism swept through Africa, having made landfall in the Gold Coast (now the Republic of Ghana), which became the first country to secure independence from Great Britain in 1957.” Ogba adds that Ghana, under its charismatic and educated leader and President, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, had solid plans for the economic and political development of the new nation and the enthronement of justice and fairness throughout all the colonised African countries.
This author educates that Nkrumah’s goals to build a strong state that could liberate Ghana and the entire Africa from the shackles of neo-colonialism were extensive. The author says Nkrumah was making progress until his obsession with the creation of the “United States of Africa” as well as the push of Ghana as a bridgehead for Soviet penetration of Africa brought the new state into the conflicting embrace of the cold war era.
In Ogba’s words, “Despite its shortcomings, it is undeniable that the State of Ghana was a budding star and a beacon of hope for all European colonies in Africa struggling to be free of colonialism. This perhaps encouraged Anthony Enahoro’s famous 1953 motion in the Nigerian Parliament calling for Nigeria’s independence.”
This author adds that the motion was defeated as it was evident then that there were no clear plans of how the more than 200 ethnic nations making up Nigeria could peacefully and inclusively be accommodated in a new independent state under good governance, equity and economic development.
Ogba says after Ghana had secured its independence in 1958, the enthusiasm for Nigeria’s independence grew exponentially. However, nothing was any clearer about the Nigerian political and economic space to support the will of a collective people in search of a shared goal, submits this author.
According to Ogba, while no consensus could be reached among the component regions on the why, when and how of the independence, among the citizens, the desire for independence was high and most Nigerians were sentimentally against the idea of continuing life under the colonial rule of Great Britain.
The author says but solid plans or no plans at all, the lure of independence for Nigeria was akin to a bright candle in the dark, drawing the weak moths and butterflies to its blemishing flames. In the post-independence era, the Ministries of Education of the three regions of Nigeria separately controlled the development of primary and secondary education in their territories, assisted by British Missionaries and in a manner that was unequal in content and management educates Ogba. He adds that the Federal Government of Nigeria built and ran few elitist Federal Colleges and other tertiary institutions in the regional capital cities.
This author says the primary education of pupils lasted for eight years and ended with a First School Leaving Certificate. He adds that college education lasted for four years with the award of the West African School Certificate.
In his words, “In 1962, at the age of 14, I took the First School Leaving Certificate examination. I passed with distinction along with a handful of other pupils in what was then called the Owuwa Anyanwu Division of the Eastern Region of Nigeria. This placed us in the class of young stars that could be harnessed for future education and productivity.” Ogba discusses the remaining part of his early education, his exemplary scholarship performance and the decision to work as a volunteer in an international youth camp event organised in his village by the American Friends Service Committee in this chapter.
The author says in 1965, he began to develop interest in the turbulent politics unfolding in Nigeria and other developments across the world of politics, economic development and military revolutions. “Each time, I had the same question of whether there was enough understanding and planning to reap the consequences of the nation’s political and economic actions that our elites were sowing,” submits Ogba.
Chapter two examines the subject matter of the making of the Nigerian Civil War and the Biafra question. Going down the memory lane here, the author says Nigeria became an independent nation on 1st October, 1960. According to him, moving from a colonised to an independent status was a road overloaded with difficulties and disagreements not just from the colonialists, but from the different ethnic groups and the political elite. This author discloses that the colonialists had ruled three regions of Nigeria differently and employed the divide-and-rule tactics before independence was eventually granted in 1960.
In Ogba’s words, “It was not until 1958, under the Willink Commission, that the Northern Region reluctantly joined others in agreeing to the question of granting Nigeria independence in October 1960. But before independence would occur, the 1959 general election into the British-dominated Federal Government of Nigeria saw that no political party of the regions could gain a majority vote to form a stable government. This led to a coalition between NPC and NCNC to form the Government of the Federation of Nigeria.”
He says questions on the direction of political independence for Nigeria, led by the Northern region struggling to catch up with its stronger peers in the Eastern and Western regions in all indices of economic and social developments, already pervaded the political atmosphere, even if not conspicuously expressed. According to Ogba, “Then, the thunderbolt of the alleged rigging of disputed census figures in 962-63 struck. The British were alleged to have helped to manipulate the figures in favour of the Northern region to keep it in control of the political and democratic game plan of the Nigerian future federation for Britain’s economic and other selfish interests.”
The author says while the Eastern Region under the NCNC and the Northern Region under the NPC felt the pressure of a plunging Nigeria, they both pretended that the Nigerian Federation could be prevented from derailing.
In Ogba’s words, “Under the AG, the Western Region vehemently protested the ethnic control of the Federation of Nigeria by the Hausa/Fulani oligarchy in collaboration with the Igbo-dominated Eastern Region. The growing suspicion became real in 1963, when a fourth region of Nigeria – the Midwestern Region – was carved out of the Western Region, partly as a way of controlling the dominance of the strong opposition elements under the leadership of Obafemi Awolowo.”
The author stresses that this protest was still raging on when the failed election of the Federal Government of Nigeria in December 1964 generated extensive mutual resentment of the ethnic groups against one another, especially in the Western Region.
According to Ogba, “The intensely divided ethnic groups in Nigeria were already in a state of cold war when the Nigerian Civil War exploded in 1967. It was not a spontaneous action; rather, it was built up by a series of connected actions and sequential issues that followed in the wake of 1964, and the ineffective moderation of the open and covert policies driving them.”
The author says theoretically, several intervening issues can be underpinned for eventually driving the Nigerian Civil War towards inevitability. Ogba adds that they separately or in combination reflect the identity questions of many Nigerian groups and citizens sharing the Nigerian Federation with no clearly-defined interests as well as different leadership issues in the Nigerian independent state among many issues.
According to the author, many of the series of post-independence disputes that emerged in Nigeria from 1964 were driven by the struggle of ethnic groups and other blocs of power competing for recognition, in which securing superior positions was like a zero-sum game.
Ogba says the travesty of the first Nigerian coup in 1966 became an albatross on the neck of the ethnic Igbo personality in Nigeria. He adds that since the Igbo were the dominant ethnic group in the East, the effect rubbed off on all other minor constituents of the region who were themselves non-Igbo, including the Efik, the Ibibio, the Ogoni and many other smaller ethnic groups. The author stresses that the Igbo and other minor ethnic groups of the Eastern Region in 1966 were in dominant positions in terms of the economic control of resources, military and the civil service in Nigeria, having been exposed to Western education.
Ogba says one would be tempted to believe that it was in the basic collective regional and ethnic interest of the Igbo to maintain the status quo in the Nigerian system, short of the political stranglehold of the Northern region. He stresses that as a result, it was difficult to convince anyone that the first coup was not driven by the need for unfair advantage to perpetuate superior recognition by the Igbo and their co-travellers of the Eastern Region. In his words, “The coup arguably had the capacity to promote a debilitating national conflict, which it ultimately did. There is no doubt that contentions on the above must have informed the North, when Colonel Yakubu Gowon emerged as a compromise leader of the July counter-coup to lead the Nigerian military government.”
Ogba educates that shortly before the civil war, Colonel Gowon had begun the restructuring of Nigeria from four to 12 regions, each led by appointed military administrators from those areas. The author adds that Colonel Ojukwu remained as the Military Administrator of the Eastern Region. According to Ogba, “This later became the first step to intended balkanisation of Nigeria, mostly to weaken the Eastern Region against resorting to secession from the Federation of Nigeria. With these adjustments in Nigeria’s national structure, the final civil war dice had been cast, and it was just a matter of time before the shootings commenced.”
In chapters three to six, the author examines the concepts of the odds in the making of a Biafra soldier; the realities in the lives of young soldiers and the last days of Biafra; the post-traumatic effects of the civil war and survival of young Biafra soldiers as well as the possibility of a way manifesting where there is a will.
Chapter seven, thematically tagged “Biafra-Nigeria war: The road not followed”, constitutes the title chapter. According to Ogba here, “War is never an alternative to a peaceful environment because of its serious consequences on communities and human nature. However, any war that must be fought and won must be planned to end quickly. It should only be fought because the stakes are too high to reach a unilateral agreement and the exercise of superior power is the only available option to arrive at urgent resolutions.”
The author stresses that nothing ever warrants a conflict other than those arising from spontaneous actions against despicable injustice that threatens human and social values. Ogba says yet, even conflict interventions as a change agent should not be allowed to degenerate and escalate into hot wars but must yield to mediatory solutions at the appropriate phase.
In his words, “The implication of such spontaneous hostile human outbursts should be undertaken only as a deterrent to draw attention to injustices and must yield quickly to peaceful mediation to manage or resolve the primary causes and impending issues. This remains the preferred option towards securing a peaceful environment for human and material progress. Otherwise, when conflict issues revolve around individual egos, merely wrapped within group interests, they become more intractable and difficult to resolve.”
Chapter eight is christened “So that we do not forget”. Here Ogba concretely appeals to personal and national conscience and consciousness here. According to him, whenever a war has already been fought and caused enormous destruction, dislodged lives and truncated the ambition of many, it is important that we never forget what caused the war, the missed opportunities for a peaceful settlement and the implications we derive from the ugly incident.
Ogba says the youth who are always the cannon fodder in all conflicts need to be wary of the fallacy of perpetual conflicts as the only available solution to all problems that deserve the hope of change. In his words, “They need always to learn and seek the road less followed, which when sought, may be found. Fifty years after the end of the Nigeria-Biafra War, the failure of Nigerian Federal Government policies for youths, and especially the re-integration of the defeated Igbo states into the mainstream of Nigeria’s political leadership in the post-civil-war era, the effect of that conflict still reverberates.”
With their defeat, the Igbo lost everything they owned, including personal ambition still in gestation, submits Ogba. He says the crudest fact of the end of the war was and is that the Igbo, no matter what the amount of money in their personal and business accounts, were given only 20 pounds as reparation with which to begin life anew. The author stresses that through diligence, ingenuity and survival desire, the Igbo as entrepreneurs and in other areas of endeavour became some of the most successful Nigerians economically and educationally within the first ten years at the end of the war.
Ogba says one thing, however, remains out of reach of the economically-investing and aspiring Igbo. That is, according to this author, “They were barred by a muffled Nigerian State policy that appeared to declare them unfit from being fully reintegrated in the political leadership of Nigeria or for elevation into the high cadres of the State apparatus such as security, military, and the civil service echelons.” Ogba educates that since the end of the civil war, Nigerians have not learnt to trust the Igbo to lead the country politically.
In chapters nine and ten, Ogba beams his conceptual and analytical searchlight on the subject matters of the third option as the Biafra of the mind and the pathway towards achieving the Biafra of the mind.
Conceptually, this book scores an excellent mark, especially with the depth and quality of contents confirming massive first-hand experience and research. This distinction is especially expected given the fact that the author was an active participant in the war.
Stylistically, this text is exceptional. Ogba proves his scholastic acumen and eclecticism of quality high-profile work experience, particularly as a former Special Adviser on Speeches and Public Communication to a Governor of Abia State, with his professional mode of presentation and simplicity of language. He also shows that he was a University Lecturer by aligning with the academic culture in the form of including rich Notes and References at the end of the text to lend conceptual authenticity.
Another thing worthy of note is the visual communication of the outer cover of the book which reinforces the book title. The layout of the inside pages is also aesthetically creative and communicative, especially with professional embroidery of accurate graphical and pictorial illustrations and embellishments.
Ogba uses quotes/classical allusions and proverbs to amplify his message and sustain readers’ interest. He employs a literary allusion by inserting an accurate motivational and philosophical poetic piece by Pudyard Kpling to reinforce the Conclusion segment of the book, thus creatively blending prose and poetry together to create a blended-genre stylistic effect.
By articulating eclecticism of concepts in the book, Ogba nostalgically and commandingly assumes the role of an Omniscient Narrator employing the Eye-of-God Narrative Technique with his first-hand experience radiating conceptual authority and credibility.
However, some errors are noticed in the book. One of the errors is the word “presently” used in the profile of the author. “Presently” means “very soon” in British English and “now” in American English. Since the book is written in British English, the British English choice of “currently” or “at present” should have been used to refer to “now”. Also in the final part of the book, “conclusions” is used instead of the singular form “conclusion”.
Another error that is prevalent in the book and generally common in Nigerian English when we refer to many people in a particular tribe is “Igbos” instead of “the Igbo”. In the Prologue, the word “potentials” is used in place of “potential”. The word “potential” is an uncountable noun and therefore does not structurally take an “s”. In one of the photo captions, the symbol “&” is used instead of the proper coordinating conjunction of adding “and”.
In chapter two, the word “froth” is wrongly used in place of “fraught”. In chapter eight, “dent of ingenuity” is used instead of “dint of ingenuity”. Also in chapter eight, the phrase “ugly incidence” is used instead of “ugly incident”. These errors need to be corrected in the next edition, especially given the quality and thematic focus of the book.
On the whole, this highly nostalgic and historical text still passes for a masterpiece. It is highly recommended to those who want to become well informed about the Nigerian Civil War, the genesis of the Biafra agitations and origin of some of our current national crises.
GOKE ILESANMI (FIIM, FIMC, CMC), CEO of Gokmar Communication Consulting, is an International Platinum Columnist, Professional Public Speaker, Career Mgt Coach and Certified Mgt Consultant. He is also a Book Reviewer, Biographer and Editorial Consultant.
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