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Tuesday, 30 May 2017 12:38

An Ode to Biafra at 50 and Nigeria's inconvenient truth - Femi Fani-Kayode

"O Igbo arise! O Igbo arise! O Igbo arise!

Let the chains of subjugation be broken, let the yoke of slavery be shattered and let the shackles of servitude fall.  

For the voices of your ancestors and your dead are calling. The voices of your slaughtered children wail, scream and screech through the night and they shed whimpering and pitiful tears through the day.

They call for justice and vengeance that their souls may be appeased and that they may find peace and eternal rest. 

For they were slaughtered in their millions by the barbarians and infidels and they were butchered like cattle in the sanctity and privacy of their churches and homes. 

They cry for Biafra. They cry for the land of the rising sun.  They cry for the memory of the fallen and those that stood like men to defend their honor. They cry for the pitiful souls of the chidren yet unborn. 

Heed their cry and honor their sacrifice. Forget not the land of the rising sun. Forget not Biafra.

Forget not the slaughtered millions and those that were cut short in the prime of their infancy"-  'The Land Of The Rising Sun', Femi Fani-Kayode, May 30th 2017.

I have written this essay as a historian and not as a politician. Consequently I am not guided or bound by political correctness but rather by truth. 

I do not seek to create division but rather to establish the facts with a view to ensuring justice and healing the wounds. 

I do not believe that we can ever have peace in our country without that justice. I write this essay for the helpless and innocent victims of ethnic cleansing, mass murder and genocide that were cut short during the civil war and I dedicate it to them. 

I write it as a patriotic Nigerian who fervently and passionately believes in the equality of every Nigerian, regardless of ethnicity or faith, and in justice for all. 

I write it as the voice of the voiceless, the servant of truth and for those that cannot speak for themselves because they are either dead and buried or because they do not have the skill, the reach or the wherewithal to do so.  

I write it for the young and new generation of Nigerians and particularly the Igbo who have no knowledge or recollection of most of these ugly events and who were never taught history in our schools because the powers that be did not want them to know. I write it in the name of God and by the power of the Holy Spirit.

It is not an essay for the cowardly, the faint-hearted, the slow, the intellectually challenged or the dull but rather for those that courageously seek truth and that thirst for knowledge about our very ugly past. 

It seeks to shine the light of truth into the darkness of deceit, lies, historical revisionism and the continuos and godless supression of the ugly and utterly barbaric facts.

It is a long essay. I urge each and every Nigerian and Biafran that is interested in seeking truth, no matter how ugly and inconvenient that truth may be, to read it and to meditate earnestly on its contents and assertions. Fasten your seat belts and come fly with me!

50 years ago today the Nigerian civil war began and the struggle for the sovereign state of Biafra commenced. 

Since then it has been 50 years of blood, sweat and tears for the Igbo people of south eastern Nigeria. 

The only redeeming factor is the fact that the last few years has witnessed the rise of a new generation of relatively young, fresh, strong-willed and deeply courageous Igbo nationalist leaders who have made it their life's work and calling to ressurect the noble vision and compelling dream of Biafra. 

Names like the heroic Nnamdi Kanu of IPOB and notable leaders of other Igbo nationalist groups come to mind.

Words cannot possibly express the indignities, anguish and turmoil that the Igbo have suffered in the hands of Nigeria over the last 50 years.

And no matter how one attempts to put it or narrate the story it is difficult, nay next to impossible, to fully comprehend their degradation and suffering. 

Few events come close to it in world history. Some of those events are as follows. Firstly the slaughter of 10 million natives of the African Congo by King Leopold 11 of Belgium. 

Secondly, the mass murder of 6 mllion Jews by Hitler's Nazis during the course of the Second World War. 

Thirdly, the massacre of 1 million Armenians by the Turks whilst under the leadership of Kamal Ataturk, the founder of Turkey. 

Fourthly, the almost total elimination of the Red Indian tribes and races in the plains and prairies of the American "wild west" by the white American settlers. 

Fifthly, the commission of genocide and ethnic cleansing of almost 1 million Tutsis by the indigenous Hutu population in Rwanda. 

Sixthly, the 30 million black Africans that were killed by white and Arab slave traders and slave owners over a period of three hundred years in north Africa, the Middle East and the west.

Seventhly, the butchering of at least 2 million innocent Cambodians by Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge in the killing fields of Cambodia. 

Eighthly, the ethnic cleansing, mass murder and premeditated starvation of 1 million Irish farmers, peasants and serfs by successive English monarchs. 

Ninthly, the almost entire elimination of the indegenous black Aboriginal tribes in Australia by the British settlers. 

Tenthly, the systematic and cold-blooded elimination of 25 million ethnic Russians and dissident Soviets by Russia's Josef Stalin. 

And finally the mass murder of thousands of Bosnian civilians by the Serbs during the Yugoslavian civil war. 

Yet, as unbelievable as it may sound, none of these monumental tragedies and acts of the most hideous, barbaric, cruel and sublime forms of wickedness come close to the suffering of the Igbo people of Nigeria. 

This is because in all the other cases over the years there has been a conscious attempt by humanity to stop the madness, to bring the perpertrators of these horrific crimes to book, to serve them justice, to show varying degrees of contrition and remorse, to compensate the victims and to come to the firm and clear resolve that such a thing must NEVER be allowed to happen again.

In the case of Nigeria and Biafra this has not been the case. Instead of contrition and remorse for the horrific events that they were subjected to both before and during the civil war, the Igbo have been visited with even more mass murder, humiliation, degradation, shame, marginalisation, deprivation and subjugation since 1970 when the civil war ended right up until today.

50 years after the first shot was fired in a brutal and gruelling civil war in which we slaughtered no less than 3 million innocent Igbo civilians in cold blood (1 million of them being little children) the Federal Republic of Nigeria has learnt no lessons and shown no remorse. 

In fact the contrary has been the case. Rather than stop, the slaughter of the Igbo has continued in the northern part of our country without any apology and has become something of an expected ritual and regular sport. 

The Bible says "the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel".  How true this is. What a country and what a people we are.

Yet the suffering and dehumanisation of the Igbo did not begin during the civil war and neither did it end with it 3 years later. 

It started on the night of July 29th 1966, almost one year before the war began, and it persists till today. 

Permit me to share a narrative that was sent to me by an Igbo friend who I believe captured the history of the pre-civil war suffering very well in the following words. 

He titled it "What A Country and the Origins Of The Offensive Word Nyamiri". He wrote:

"Aguiyi-Ironsi and Francis Fajuyi had just been killed in Ibadan by a horde of blood thirsty northern officers. The northern military had seized most barracks in the country and were performing the ethnic Igbo cleansing that had been planned all along.

From the eve of July 29, 1966 over 270 Igbo senior military officers were killed in Abeokuta, Ibadan , Lagos, Zaria etc.. As this butchery of human beings was going on in what was tagged a retaliatory coup, the northern officers declared "araba" and ferried their families home to secede from the rest of Nigeria.

But this plan was discarded when the Britain sold the idea of oil to them and how they will profit from taking control of the oil.

As the killing of military officers of Igbo origin was getting to a climax, the northern civilians unleashed their clubs and matchetes on innocent civilians all through the north. People were cut into pieces. In 60 days over 100,000 Igbo lives were mowed down by this sheer barbarism. In those days rail transportation was the major means of traveling to the east from the north. So when the train departed one will have to wait for its return before another set of Igbo could depart from the North.

The orgy of violence by the northern civilians was without limits. Students killed their Igbo teachers. Colleagues at work killed their fellow Igbo colleagues. House owners killed their Igbo tenants. It was in this frenzy and death orgy that the Igbo devised a plan of survival. The plan was to run to the emirate and seek refuge until the train that left for the east returned.

Many Igbos ran to the Emir's palaces in the north seeking refuge not knowing that the emirate was planning the final Igbo solution. As they ran into the palace they were all welcomed. So this encouraged other Igbo who were hiding to run to the palace as well. Then the final solution set in when the numbers of Igbo seeking refuge was increased. They will be allowed to die slowly: no food and no water must be offered to them. For days the Igbo seeking refuge from the northern pogrom were denied food and water. They started crying, begging the palace to give them water in their local Igbo dialect "nye mu mmiri " but the northern civilian heard "nya miri". So that was the origin of the offensive name called the Igbo by the north. Whenever they call you "nyamiri" they are trying to remind you of your Igbo predecessors who they starved of food and water until they all died. May 30th is another day to remember all those defenceless Igbo civilians who died in that progrom that preceded the war.

May 30th is another day we remember those who sought refuge in the emirate but were allowed to die slowly in pain. May 30th is another day for retrospection and introspection on our commitment to building up our homeland to cater for all the Igbo aspirations the world over. Ozoemena. Maka odinma Ndi Igbo. ( meaning "another should not happen for the good of Igbo people"). Send to all ur friends".

This is a compelling, troubling and moving narrative. It is also graphic evidence of man's inhumanity to man and, as a historian, I can confirm to you that every word of it is true. Yet it does not stop there. 

What is even more revealing and brings home the true horror of what transpired during the war itself was provided by Mr. Anayo Johnpaul, a historian and public commentator. He wrote as follows:

"Shocking revelations of the hatred for Igbos and how the north used the Nigerian Federal troops and locals in the South-West and  North to commit genocide with the help of Great Britain and America during the civil war.

Permit me to share some excerpts from the confessions of the perpetrators.

“I want to see no Red Cross, no Caritas, no World Council of Churches, no Pope, no missionary,  no UN delegation. I want to prevent even one Ibo from having  even one piece of food to eat before their capitulation. We shoot at everything that moves and when our troops march into the centre of Igbo territory, we shoot at everything: even things that do not move”- (Benjamin Adekunle, Commander, 3rd Marine Commander Division, Nigerian Army to French Radio Reporter). 

“All is fair in war and starvation is one of the weapons of war. I don’t see why we should feed our enemies fat in order for them to fight harder”- (Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Nigerian Minister of Finance, July 28, 1969).

“Until now efforts to relieve the Biafran people have been thwarted by the desire of the central government to pursue total and unconditional victory and by the fear of the Igbo people that surrender means wholesale atrocities and genocide. But genocide is what is taking place right now and starvation is the grim reaper. This is not the time to stand on ceremony, or go through channels or to observe diplomatic niceties. The destruction of an entire people is immoral objective, even in the most moral of wars. It can never be condoned”- (Richard Nixon, during the presidential campaign, September 9, 1968).

“Federal troops killed, or stood while mobs killed, more than 5000 Ibos in Warri, Sapele, Agbor”- (New York Times, 10th January, 1968).

“It (mass starvation) is a  legitimate aspect of war"- (Anthony Enahoro, Nigerian Commissioner for Information at a press conference in New York, July 1968).

“Starvation is a weapon of war and we have every intention of using it against the rebels”- (Mr Alison Ayida, Head of Nigerian delegation, Niamey Peace talks, July 1968).

“The Igbos must be considerably reduced in number”- Lagos Policeman quoted in New York Review, 21 December, 1967).

“One word now describes the policy of the Nigerian military government towards secessionist Biafra: genocide. It is ugly and  extreme but it is the only word which fits Nigeria’s decision to stop international Red Cross and other relief agencies from flying food to Biafra"- ( Washington Post editorial, July 2, 1969).

“In some areas in the east, Igbos were killed by local people with at least  the acquiescence of the Federal forces, 1000 Igbo civilians perished in Benin in this way”- (Max Edward Reporter, reporter on the ground -  New York Review, 21 December 1967).

“After Federal forces took over Benin, troops killed about 500 Igbo civilians after a house to house search with the aid of willing locals”- (Washington Morning Post, 27 September, 1967).

“The greatest single massacre occurred in the Igbo town of Asaba where 700 Igbo males were lined up and shot as terrified women/children were forced to watch”- (London Observer, 21 January,1968).

“Federal troops killed or stood by while mobs killed more than 5000 Ibos in Warri, Sapele, Agbor- (New York Times, 10th January, 1968).

“There has been genocide on the occasion of the 1966 massacres, the region between the towns of Benin and Asaba where only widows and orphans remain, Federal troops having, for unknown reasons, massacred all the men”-(Paris Le Monde, 5th April, 1968).

“In Calabar, Federal forces shot at least 1000 and perhaps 2000 Igbos, most of them civilians”- (New York Times, 18th January,1968).

“Bestialities and indignities of all kinds were visited on the Biafrans in 1966. In Ikeja Barracks (Western Nigeria) Biafrans were forcibly fed on a mixture of human urine and faeces. In Northern Nigeria numerous housewives and nursing mothers were violated before their husbands and children. Young girls were abducted from their homes, walking places and schools and forced into intercourse with sick, demented and leprous men”- (Mr Eric Spiff, German War Correspondent, eyewitness, 1967).

“650 refugee camps, contained about 700,000 haggard bundles of human flotsam waiting hopelessly for a meal, outside the camps, was the reminder of an estimated four and half to five million displaced Kwashiokor scourge, a million and half children, suffer(ed) from it during January; that put the forecast death toll at another 300,000 children. More than the pogroms of 1966, more than the war casualties, than the terror bombings, it was the experience of watching helplessly their children waste away and die that gave birth to, a deep and unrelenting loathing. It is a feeling that will one day reap bitter harvest unless”- (Frederick Forsyth, British Writer, January 21st 1969).

“The Nazis had resurrected just here as Nigerian forces”- (Washington Post, editorial, July 2, 1969).

“The loss of life from starvation continues at more than 10,000 persons per day over 1,000,000 lives in recent months. Without emergency measures now, the number will climb to 25,000 per day, within a month and 2,000,000 deaths by the end of the year. The new year will only bring greater disaster to people caught in the passion of fratricidal war, we cant allow this to continue or those responsible to go free”- (Senator Ted Kennedy appeals to Americans Sunday November 17, 1968).

“Myself and the same UNICEF representatives went on to convey something of what lay behind this intransigence:  Among the large majority hailing from that tribe who are the most vocal in inciting the complete extermination of the Igbos. I often heard remarks that all Nigeria’s ills will be cured once the Igbos have been exterminated from the human map.”- (Dr Conor Cruise O’Bien, 21 December, 1967, New York Review".)

As harrowing as these words are, they accurately and graphically capture the mood and horrific essence of the civil war. 

They also reveal an inconvenient truth which is as follows: that the Nigerian people and General Yakubu Gowon owe the people of the east a sincere and unwavering apology for the barbaric and criminal manner in which they conducted the civil war. 

We also have an obligation to make restitution to them, offer them compensation for all they have lost and to bring to justice all those that were directly or indirectly involved in the commission of the barbaric and hideous atocities and crimes against humanity that were visited upon the Igbo civilian population and defenceless Igbo women and children.  

I refuse to describe the killer of children and the murderer of women and defenceless civilians as war heroes. My conscience does not permit it. 

If the German people could find it in their hearts to ask the Jews to forgive them for what they did to them in the Second World War, the Nigerian people should be big-hearted enough and strong enough to ask the same of the Igbo.

Such a course of action does not diminish or weaken us: it makes us more humane.

And neither do I believe that offering them "more cake" as President Olusegun Obasanjo has suggested can make up for all that we have subjected them to over the last 51 years. 

The last person that suggested the offering of cake to the irate masses and victims of injustice as a way of calming them down and getting them to stop their agitation for emancipation was Queen Marie Antoinnete of France. That was in 1789. 

Unfortunately it did not go down too well and a few weeks later the French revolution took place and both the Marie Antoinette and her husband King Louis XV1, together with much of the French royal family, courtiers, nobles and landed gentry were arrested by the Jacobins, publicly humiliated, tried in the people's courts of law and had their heads chopped off with a guillotine. 

That signified the end of the monarchy in France,  the demise of the long rulership of the proud and distinguished royal Bourbon lineage and family and the beginning of the great French Republic which changed the face of Europe, the history of world and which endures till today. 

So much for the offering of cake as a panacea or solution to the unjust and barbarous treatment of the oppressed and the deprived.

I do not believe that the dream of Biafra can be shattered and obliterated by promises of cake and a few crumbs from the master's table. 

And neither do I believe that they can be wished away or destroyed by reckless and dangerous attempts to break their will and dampen their spirits by killing them in the streets or incarcerating them indefinately or with threats of wiping them off the face of the earth and total and complete annihilation.

I am a man of peace and I believe that war is evil. It is the darkness that seeks the darkness. It is utterly repugnant and manifestly destructive.

It is a complete and total descent into madness, barbarism, hell, chaos and inhumanity. 

Those that glorify it or encourage and endorse it any shape or form are either shallow, naive or simply insane. 

It is the will and law of God to fight for freedom, equity and justice. Our cause is just. What we must NOT do is use violence or shed blood.

Yet despite this fundamental principle which I hold dear, one thing that I know is this: If, God forbid, were there ever to be any major conflict or war in our country again the Igbo would not be left to fight it on their own. 

If, God forbid, there were to ever be a round two of our civil war I have little doubt that this time around the entire south and the Middle Belt would stand together as one against our common oppressors and those that kill and slaughter our people at will in the name of ethnic supremacy and faith. 

I pray that it never happens and I hope that we either restructure the country or peacefully go our separate ways before it is too late. 

Those that resist that course are playing with fire and are sitting on a keg of gunpowder. 

When it ignites no-one will be left standing, no-one will come out whole and no-one will escape being amongst the victims of the cataclysmic and horrendous events that will follow. 

As a matter of urgency we must pray fervently for peace in Nigeria. We must counsel and encourage restraint, understanding and patience from all sides.

Most important of all we must find it in our hearts to display and express a high degree of regret and contrition for what we did to the Igbo, pay them compensation and make restitution for what we subjected them to before, during and after the civil war. God demands it and justice requires it. 

Until this is done every Nigerian, including yours truly, should hold himself partially responsible for the atrocities that have been committed against the Igbo in our country over the last 51 years.

May the souls of all those that lost their lives on both sides of the divide during the course of our civil war rest in peace and may May 30 1967, the day that the war started 50 years ago today, be acknowledged and set aside as a day of honor for the unsung heroes of the Biafran struggle.

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