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Nigeria: Grisly Record

2 minute read

Coups have become the rule rather than the exception in populous Nigeria, which is divided into four rival regions and torn by tribal competition. In 1966 alone, two rulers have been murdered, along with countless of their countrymen, in bloody riots and slaughters. When Army Boss Yakubu Gowon, 31, seized power in July in the last coup, he promised that his military government would quickly “fade away,” presumably without the necessity of another coup. Last week Gowon announced that he had changed his mind, at least for now, and that he personally would draft a new constitution for Nigeria. In an obvious warning to the discontented Eastern Region, Gowon, a Northerner, added that any attempt at secession would be crushed “by force.” With that he brought Nigeria toward the brink of civil war.

Gowon’s proposed constitution makes sense enough. To ease the tribal tensions that threaten to tear the country apart, he proposed dividing Nigeria’s four regions into “no fewer than eight and no more than 14” separate states within a federation. Gowon also extended his ban on all civilian political activity, refused to withdraw Northern army units from the suspicious East and West, and made his only obeisance to Eastern feelings by promising a federal “rehabilitation program” to aid the 40,000 merchants and bureaucrats of the Eastern Ibo tribe who were driven out of the North by last fall’s terrorism. Pleaded Gowon in a nationwide radio broadcast: “Help us in saving this country from falling apart. If we fail, the whole of Africa and the black race will not forgive us.”

Bedrock opposition to Gowon’s plans came from Eastern Regional Leader Odumegwu Ojukwu, like Gowon an army lieutenant colonel, who has resisted every attempt to slice the East into tribal minorities and favors a loose confederation of regions with considerable political autonomy for each. Ojukwu’s Ibos dominate the oil-rich East, and they want to keep things that way. Gowon, commanding 7,000 troops who are armed with sophisticated weapons and stirred by a stern Moslem faith, could easily put intense—perhaps fatal —pressure on Ojukwu’s single battalion of 2,500 men. If he decides to, Nigeria may yet add to its grisly record before 1966 is out.

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