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Francis Nwokedi

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The perception that Nwokedi was the Svengali behind Ironsi was a well-orchestrated propaganda aimed at demonizing him because of his stature at the time and frankly, because he was Igbo. This propaganda was orchestrated by the British, sold to the North and then when he went on to serve Biafra, it went national. Nwokedi was the first indigenous Permanent Secretary and therefore the highest placed Nigerian civil servant pre-flag independence. Apart from that, he was a distinguished UN envoy in the Congo who helped broker the deal that brought Tshombe’s group to join the central government at a time their leader was under arrest. The British trusted him, but he was himself a smart fellow who didn’t want to be led by the nose, but who bided his time. Due to the fact that the Foreign Service contained some of the best brains of British colonial personages, not a few were quite disgruntled at his elevation since they could not countenance as White officers serving under him. Though he was reported to be a member of the NCNC, knowing the suspicion in which Azikiwe was held by the colonialists, he kept their friendship under wraps until after independence. The British were not amused and the brickbat throwing and stigmatization games were championed by none other than the then British Deputy High Commissioner, Sir David Hunt.

Under Ironsi, Nwokedi held only the post of a Commissioner for Special Duties charged with preparing a report on the administrative reorganization of the Civil Service. But in the context of Unification Decree No 34 of 1966, his adversaries, especially the foreign ones began to spread the falsehood amongst their Northern clientele that he was the sole person put to execute Ironsi’s plan to take away administrative powers from the entrenched Native Authority system in the North. However, the plain truth was that Decree No 34 passed by the military hierarchy (without dissent) was aimed at the de-regionalization of the Civil Service, dissolution of “tribal unions” and the creation of non-ethnic based Town Development Unions where mere domicile entitles every citizen to participation and the creation of trans-ethnic citizenship and entitlements. These were clearly things aimed at correcting the distortions the colonialist had entrenched in terms of attempting to create a true national order, but its failure was not the failure of idealism, it’s the failure of tactics and stratagem.

At any rate, Nwokedi’s role, as the most experienced civil servant was to report on the de-regionalization of the civil service. He was the best person for the job and, indeed, no matter who was at the head of government at the time, it was obvious that they would have needed him, because he was by far the best and most experienced we had in the nation at the time. Indeed, the work he was given by the Ironsi government was the same work he did for the United Nations in Congo in terms of reorganizing the Congo Civil Service. But his misfortune was being Igbo and being that he was in the Congo at about the same time Ironsi was there leading the UN peacekeeping mission, those looking for a rope to hang Ironsi found in him the perfect instrument. For the North, their real grouse was that the apparent effect of the Unification decree was that they were going to be paid less as the federal Civil Service’s seniority list was based on salary and since they had always been paid less, they felt their fortunes were plummeting, even though there were plans to restructure that part as well. Nwokedi was therefore the perfect villain.

So, whatever role Francis Nwokedi played, he was only one civil servant and he wasn’t the head civil servant nor was he the closest person to Ironsi within the establishment. More importantly, he was only one in the establishment who supported the idea of unitary system, not because he proposed it, but because it was the policy of the government he was serving at the time. Perhaps, his undoing was that while the other fair-weather supporters began to backtrack in the face of the political onslaught that followed, he felt it was proper for him to stand firm, even when all around him was collapsing. Call it stupidity or courage, it shouldn’t be seen for more than what it was.