President Muhammadu Buhari has said that millions of Igbos wouldn’t have survived the war if nit for the passionate plea by then Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon.
Buhari said the call for restraint by Gowon saved the lives of millions of Igbos, who he recalled, would have been killed by federal troops during the Nigerian civil war which existed for almost three years.
The president recalled the sad development after he was decorated as the Grand Patron of the Nigerian Red Cross Society at the investiture which took place at the Presidential villa, Abuja.
Buhari, who said he was among the commanders in the frontline who recieved specific orders to treat the Igbos as brothers, particularly hailed Gowon,who he noted, had reasoned that the Igbos “were our brothers” and did not deserve to be visited with federal might and treated as enemies.
He said, “I remember with nostalgia the performance of the Commander-in-Chief, General Gowon.
“Every Commander was given a copy of the Commander-in-Chief’s instructions that we were not fighting enemies but that we were fighting our brothers. And thus, people were constrained to show a lot of restraint.
“The international observer teams were allowed to go as far as possible within and outside the front and I think this was generous and very considerate of General Gowon. He is a highly committed Nigerian.”
Paying tribute to the Red Cross Society’s frontline role especially during emergencies in Nigeria, President Buhari said the organisation’s sacrifices for the country, especially during the civil war cannot not be quantified.
“Earlier in my profession during the civil war, I know how much sacrifice members of the Nigerian Red Cross and their international counterparts did both in the real front of operations and at the rear, on both sides. I think it is a lot of sacrifices because anything can happen to you in the operational areas.
“The risks they faced were real and I admire their caurage and commitment to helping people who were in distress and were virtually in millions. Those photographs of people from the Biafra enclave spoke a lot.
Meanwhile, the President has pledged the readiness of his administration to provide a permanent office accommodation and other logistics assistance sought yesterday by the humaniterian organisation in Abuja.
President Buhari, while expressing appreciation to the Red Cross Society for its numerous assistance to Nigeria during emergencies and particularly to the distraught internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the North East region of the country, also noted the Philanthropic gesture extended to the citizens during the Nigerian civil war.
“I have taken note of your logistics especially your request for office here since we returned to Abuja from Lagos I assure you that the government will do its best when you decide to build such facilities in terms of securing an area.
“I assure you that the government will do its best when you decide to build such facilities in terms of securing an area here within the Federal Capital Territory and we hope you will not do the Nigerian ways of doing things.
“To use the words of famous Nigerian Minister `I hope you will not build an elephantine headquarters’ which is going to be functional because we have seen your activities throughout the country,’’ he said.
Speaking earlier, the National President of the Society, Bolaji Anani said the society which was registered as an independent national society in 1961, had over 800,000 trained volunteers based in communities across all the 774 local government areas of Nigeria.
He stated that the society’s interventions included responses to disaster cases, disease outbreaks, displacements and providing succor and psycho-social support to victims of dehumanization.
He called for the review of the Nigerian Red Cross Society Act which he said had not been reviewed since it was passed in 1960.
“A review is long overdue. We note with pleasure that the current National Assembly is in the process of doing that. In fact, the revision has already undergone public hearing.
“We hope when the revised Bill is passed by the national assembly it will be to begraciously assented to by Mr President,’’ he said.
Anani also appealed to President Buhari to restore federal government’s grants, subventions and programme support to the society to enable it discharge its mandate in the country.