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53 years after the Nigerian-Biafran war, old wounds have not healed. The consequences of the violence and hate born during the war between the Igbos and their fellow Nigerians have not died out completely. Many hearts are still hurting. Many souls are still troubled. Many born after the war are looking for answers to their questions.
The Nigerian Government has left many questions unanswered. It has failed to render an apology for the massacre and pogrom orchestrated against the Igbo race before and during the civil war. It has failed to explain why it was so much engrossed in a genocide against a people who had contributed so much to the growth and development of Nigeria.
The anti-Igbo pogrom in 1966 left thousands of Igbos dead and seriously injured. About 30,000 Igbos were rounded up and slaughtered by irate youths and Muslim mobs. The perpetrators, of what were unquestionably crimes against humanity appear to have got off free. The consequences of the Igbo genocide for Africa have been catastrophic.
In 1966, soon after the world commemorated the 21st anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz courtesy of the inhuman practices carried out during the second world war, Nigeria defiled that season of reflection, commiseration and hope. Its military officers, the police, Hausa-Fulani emirs, Muslim clerics and intellectuals, civil servants, journalists, politicians, and other public figures planned and executed the Igbo genocide under the direct orders of the then General Yakubu Gowon.
Most of Africa and the world stood by and watched, hardly critical or condemnatory of this wanton destruction of human lives, raping, sacking, and plundering of towns, villages, community after community in Biafra and elsewhere. Most Igbo were slaughtered in their homes, offices, businesses, schools, colleges, hospitals, markets, churches, shrines, farmlands, factories/industrial enterprises, children’s playground, town halls, refugee centres, cars, lorries, and at bus stations, railway stations, airports and on buses, trains, and planes and on foot, or starved to death. In the end, the Igbo genocide was enforced, devastatingly, by Nigeria’s simultaneously pursued land, aerial and naval blockade and bombardment of Igboland, Africa’s highest population density region.
Earlier on in 1945 and 1953, under the very watch of British occupation, the Hausa-Fulani political leadership had carried out two premeditated pogroms on Igbo immigrant populations in Jos and Kano in opposition to the Igbo vanguard role in the struggle for the restoration of Nigerian independence from British conquest. Hundreds of Igbo were murdered on each occasion and tens of thousands of pounds sterling worth of their property looted or destroyed. Neither in Kano nor Jos did the occupation regime apprehend or prosecute anyone for these massacres and destruction. Tragically, these pogroms turned out as ‘dress rehearsals’ for the 1966-1970 genocide. The civil war that ensued shortly after the pogrom displayed the barbarity of the Nigerian Government. Rather than targeting the so-called rebels the army chose to pour down fury on innocent Easterners. A typical example is the Asaba Massacre. Scores of young men were gunned down after being called to a briefing in an open square. It is estimated that more than 700 men and boys were killed, some as young as 12 years old. To date no one has been questioned or arrested for war crimes committed against Asaba people.
The records of those who carried out the Igbo genocide make no pretences and offer no excuses, whatsoever, about the goal of their dreadful mission – such was the maniacal Igbophobia that propelled the project. The principal language used in the prosecution of the genocide was Hausa. The words of the ghoulish anthem of the genocide, published and broadcast on Kaduna radio and television throughout the duration of the crime, are in Hausa:
‘Mu je mu kashe nyamiri
Mu kashe maza su da yan maza su
Mu chi mata su da yan mata su
Mu kwashe kaya su
(English translation: Let’s go kill the damned Igbo/Kill off their men and boys/Rape their wives and daughters/Cart off their property).
The Hausa word for war is ‘yaki’. Whilst Hausa speakers would employ this word to refer to the involvement/combat services of their grandfathers, fathers, uncles, sons, brothers, other relatives/friends in ‘Boma’ (reference to World War II Burma, fighting for the British against the Japanese) they rarely use ‘yaki’ to describe the May 1966 – January 1970 mass murders of Igbo people. In Hausa, the latter is either referred to as ‘lokochi mu kashe nyamiri’ (which means: ‘when we murdered the damned Igbo’) or ‘lokochi muna kashe nyamiri’ (which interpretes to: ‘when we were murdering the damned Igbo’).
In addition to this, genocidist documentation on this genocide against the igbos is equally malevolent and brazenly vulgar. A study of the genocide-time/‘post’-genocide era interviews, comments, broadcasts and writings on the campaign by key genocidist commanders, commandants and ‘theorists’ and propagandists including, particularly: Yakubu Gowon, Yakubu Danjuma, Ibrahim Haruna, Benjamin Adekunle, Olusegun Obasanjo, Oluwole Rotimi, Obafemi Awolowo, Allison Ayida and Anthony Enaharo is at once revealing and profoundly troubling. Adekunle, a notoriously gruesome commander, had no qualms; indeed, in boasting about the goal of this horrendous mission and how he took his orders straight from Yakubu Gowon. He told an August 1968 press conference, attended by journalists including those from the international media:
‘We shoot at everything that moves, and when our forces march into the centre of Igbo territory we shoot at everything, even at things that do not move’.
True to type, Adekunle duly carried through his threat with clinical precision both on his ‘everything that moves’-targeting, especially in south Igboland where his forces slaughtered hundreds of thousands, and on the ‘things that do not move’-assault category. Adekunle’s gratuitous destruction of the famed Igbo economic infrastructure, one of the most advanced in Africa of the era, was indescribably barbaric.
A brief review of Olusegun Obasanjo’s own contribution (published in his memoirs, My Command) that focuses on his May 1969 direct orders from General Yakubu Gowon to Obasanjo’s air force to destroy an international Red Cross aircraft carrying relief supplies to the encircled and blockaded Igbo shows how cruel the chain of command was at that time. Obasanjo had ‘challenged’ Captain Gbadomosi King (genocidist air force pilot), who he had known since 1966, to ‘produce results’ in stopping further international relief flight deliveries to the Igbo. Within a week of his infamous challenge, 5 June 1969, Obasanjo recalls nostalgically, Gbadomosi King ‘redeemed his promise’. Gbadomosi King had shot down a clearly marked, incoming relief-bearing International Committee of the Red Cross DC-7 plane near Eket, South Biafra, with the loss of its six-person crew. Obasanjo’s perverse satisfaction over the aftermath of this horrendous crime is fiendish, chillingly revolting.
He writes: ‘The effect of this singular achievement of the Air Force especially on Third Marine Commando Division (the notorious unit Obasanjo, who later became Nigeria’s head of regime for 11 years, commanded) was profound. It raised morale of all service personnel, especially of the Air Force detachment concerned and the troops they supported in my third Marine Commando Division’.
There was an extensive coverage of the Igbo genocide in the international media throughout its duration. The United Nations though never condemned this atrocity unequivocally. Its Secretary-General at the time U. Thant, consistently maintained that it was a ‘Nigerian internal affair’. The United Nations could have stopped this genocide; the United Nations should have stopped this genocide instead of protecting the interests of the Nigeria state, the very perpetrator of the crime.
The very central role played by Britain in support of the Igbo genocide no doubt reinforced the scandalous failure of the United Nations to protect Igbo people during this catastrophe. Britain, a fully-fledged member of the United Nations, indeed a founding member of the organisation who enjoys a permanent seat on its security council and participated in drafting the anti-genocide declaration supported the Igbo genocide militarily, politically and diplomatically.
Britain was deeply riled by the Igbo lead role in terminating its occupation of Nigeria and had since sought to ‘punish’ them for this. A senior British foreign office official was adamant that his government’s position on international relief supply effort to the encircled and bombarded Igbo was to ‘show conspicuous zeal in relief while in fact letting the little buggers starve out’.
Indeed as the slaughtering of the Igbo progressively worsened, Prime Minister Wilson was unashamedly unfazed when he informed Clyde Ferguson (United States State Department special coordinator for relief to Biafra) that he, Harold Wilson, ‘would accept a half million dead Biafrans if that was what it took Nigeria to destroy the Igbo resistance to the genocide’. Such was the grotesquely expressed diminution of African life made by a supposedly leading politician of the world of the 1960s – barely 20 years after the deplorable perpetration of the Jewish genocide. As the final tally of its murder of the Igbo demonstrates, Nigeria probably had the perverted satisfaction of having performed far in excess of Wilson’s grim target. Predictably, it was to Wilson that the Nigerians turned to, in 1969, to ‘sort out’ the international revulsion generated by the latter’s destruction of the ICRC aircraft as we have already stated.
Without British active involvement in the perpetration of the Igbo genocide, it was highly unlikely that this crime would have been committed. Nigeria did not have an arms-manufacturing capacity then to embark on this terror without external support. Many years later, Nigeria still does not have such an internal military capability. It still relies heavily on Britain, currently the world’s leading arms exporter to Africa, for its supplies.
Most of the key actors in the civil war are still alive. Personalities like Yakubu Gowon and Olusegun Obasanjo still have breath in their nostrils, they appear to have got off free from any forms of sanctions from Africa (and the world) for what are, unquestionably, crimes against humanity. They should come down from their high horses and explain why the government was silent when the Igbo race was being decimated. Gowon should apologise for turning a blind eye when thousands of Igbos were killed under his watch.
The consequences of this Genocide against Biafrans has been catastrophic for Africa. Several regimes elsewhere in Africa are ‘convinced’ of the conclusions that they have drawn from this crime by their Nigerian counterpart: ‘We can murder targeted constituent people(s) at will within the state we control, haul off their prized property and livelihood, comprehensively destroy their cities, towns, villages, communities – precisely their age long, priceless, inheritance. There will be no sanctions from Africa – and the world’. As a result, the Igbo genocide becomes the clearing site for the haunting killing fields that would snake across the African geographical landscape in the subsequent 40 years, with the murders of additional 12 million Africans, since January 1970, by regimes in further genocide in Rwanda, Darfur and Zaïre/Democratic Republic of Congo and other killings in Liberia, Ethiopia, Congo Republic, Somalia, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire, Chad, South Sudan, and Burundi.
AFRICA DAILY NEWS, NEW YORK