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 Easterners 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.
What’s more striking in that event is that the Nigerian army actually led the slaughter.
Ethnomusicologist Charles Keil, who was visiting Nigeria in 1966, recounted, “The pogroms I witnessed in Makurdi, Nigeria (late September 1966) were foreshadowed by months of intensive anti-Ibo and anti-Eastern conversations among Tiv, Idoma, Hausa and other Northerners resident in Makurdi, and, fitting a pattern replicated in city after city, the massacres were led by the Nigerian army. Before, during and after the slaughter, Col. Gowon could be heard over the radio issuing ‘guarantees of safety’ to all Easterners, all citizens of Nigeria, but the intent of the soldiers, the only power that counts in Nigeria now or then, was painfully clear. After counting the disembowelled bodies along the Makurdi road I was escorted back to the city by soldiers who apologised for the stench and explained politely that they were doing me and the world a great favour by eliminating Igbos.”
Frederick Forsyth in his book ‘The Biafra Story’, noted that “the police and army not only joined in but in many cases actively led the killing gangs, spearheading the looting of the victims’ properties and the raping of their womenfolk.”
The role of the Nigerian army and police in the horrendous despatching of citizens of eastern origin cannot be doubted nor can it be forgotten. But to date the Nigerian government has not tendered an official apology to the Igbos for the war crimes committed against them. Nobody has been brought to book. Nobody has been arrested. In fact officers who led the slaughter are now paraded as heroes instead of criminals.
The immediate precursor to the massacres was the January 1966 Nigerian coup d’état led mostly by young Igbo officers. But this does not justify why thousands of Igbos had to pay for the sins of a few. This does not justify why the government had to play the blind eye while thousands of Igbos were murdered.
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 blockade slammed on Easterners proved to be more disastrous than bombs and bullets. The defunct Biafra was cut out from the rest of the world and 3 million people died of hunger. These were not “rebels”. They were ordinary citizens.
Biafra was born on the 30th of May. This date not only serves as a memorial for the birth of Biafra, it infuses pain and questions in the minds of those whose people were pummelled to the dust because of Biafra. Until the government apologize to the Igbo people I see no reason why we should call Nigeria a united nation. Where is the unity and sense of patriotism? Can a people whose ancestors were butchered and traumatized be patriotic to Nigeria?
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 should come down from their 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.
Femi Fani-Kayode in his article ‘A Morning of Horror and The Slaughter of Igbos’, writes, “To those that want the Igbo to forget the past and to stay in Nigeria despite their suffering, anguish, pain and sorrow I suggest that the best way of convincing them to do so is to stop the hate, the lies, the historical revisionism, the insensitivity, the bullying, the cheating, the ethnic cleansing, the mass murder, the genocide, the Islamisation, the Fulanisation, the callousness, the attempt to dehumanise and enslave and the deceit and instead to show them love, compassion and understanding.
“Make them feel like equals with other Nigerians and prove to them that Nigeria has much more to offer them than the usual empty promises and vain hopes of a better tomorrow and the ephemeral and deceptive illusion of perhaps one day achieving the Presidency.”