By Tobe Nnamani
Electronic contact thro`: Umuigbo@Igbo-land.com
"We do not remember in order to reproduce the hates, the violence, and the corruption which characterised our past. Rather we remember in order not to repeat such abominations and in order to transform such latent forces of domination into potent forces for the empowerment of the weak" (E.E. Uzukwu).
On January 15, 1966, a dramatic event took place in Nigeria. Five majors in the Nigerian army staged a bloody coup d’état in an attempt to topple the federal government. The coup failed but the military took over the mantle of leadership. Consequent upon that tragic event were waves of frightening and unrelenting cold-blooded massacres of peoples from Eastern Nigeria. On July 29, 1966, an even bloodier military coup struck the country once again like a sledge-hammer and set in motion a series of events that culminated in the secession of the Eastern Region as the independent Republic of Biafra.
Predictably, what started as an intra-state political turmoil, crystalised into an international social armed conflict and, for the first time, in Cold War bipolar era, most of the major world powers found themselves courting and supporting one party to the conflict. The result of this was that the solution to the Biafran crisis depended to a greater extent on decisions made in London, Washington, Moscow and Paris. Consequently, the role of the international community in the thirty-month internecine war that ensued, generated heated moral and political controversies, especially over why the United Nations did not launch a humanitarian intervention to forestall further loss of lives and to bring in relief aid to the starving people of Biafra in accordance with international humanitarian and human rights laws.
War is an ill wind, which blows no one any good. Both the aggressor, the victim, the victor and the vanquished – all get a substantial share of the ill-fortune and bitter taste and ravages of war. With the declaration of surrender by General Philip Effiong on January 15, 1970, Biafra formally ceased to exist. The military struggle came to an end but according to Emeka Ojukwu – the General of the People’s Army in a statement released on January 14, 1970, in Ivory Coast, "Biafra lives, the struggle continues..." (N. U. Akpan, 1976). For Ndigbo mostly, the struggle continued though from a different angel, as they began to settle down to gather the pieces of their lives; to get a decent meal; to sleep now with both eyes closed, walk around in the open without the fear that a Jet-Fighter might dive in the night or daylight and drop bombs on the roof of their houses, at the hospitals or market places; to give their daughters in marriage without fear of their being kidnapped and raped by marauding federal soldiers.
For Ndigbo, it was time then to count their losses and they were many indeed. Thirty-three years after the war, Ndigbo are still bearing the brunt of losing a war that was forced upon them without any reasonable alternatives to choose from. Nor is the issue of security of life and property for which the war was fought in any way guaranteed them in the present Nigerian society. Incessant riots leading to destruction of property and massacres of Igbos still go on in some parts of the new and united Nigeria. No doubt, all this brings back to them the tragic years punctuated by traumatic memories of a lost war.
Generally speaking, when losses are mentioned, especially in war situations, the mind goes immediately to the physical material losses such as life and property in form of houses, cars, office equipment etc. (Stephen Lewis, 1968). For the Igbos and for the entire Nigerian populace for that matter, the thirty-month war was a set-back for about three hundred years or more. The impacts and effects of the war are multi-faceted and varied - some are positive as bye-products but far too many are negative. I shall discuss the impacts and effects of the war on Ndigbo under the following sub-headings: human casualties, destruction of development and manpower, economic losses, health and environmental disasters, dislocation of political, religious and psycho-social life.
Human Casualties: Loss of life and Personal Injuries
During World War II, one of the issues that attracted indignation and revulsion and, in fact, "shocked the world conscience," was the Holocaust – the Nazi policy designed to wipe out the Jews completely from the face of the earth. There seems to be no other crime or inhuman treatment that would affect a race or group of people so adversely as the physical and brutal elimination of its people. The massacre of the Igbos in many parts of Nigeria, to put it in a Nazi parlance, was the 'final solution' to either wipe them out completely or reduce their number drastically so that in future, any hope of attaining a numerical strength which would put them in the lime light of political affairs in the country would be dashed.
For Nigerians and particularly, for the Igbos, the most painful effect of the war is the toll of human life – the loss of innocent people who died in a most horrible manner. It was estimated that about three million people died in the war. For the people of Eastern Nigeria, a huge loss of life and property preceded the military combat which started on July 6, 1967. It stretched back to the mass-slaughter of mostly Ndigbo, which began on May 29, 1966 and continued unabated till October 1966. The British government, in 1969, put the figure of those who died in the pogrom at 7,000. After checking and cross-checking of those killed or missing during this period, the Biafran government estimated the death toll at 50,000.
The Tribunal of Inquiry instituted by the Biafran Government to investigate the causes and extent of the killings had as its reference point among other things, to "ascertain the extent of loss of life and personal injuries." The Tribunal sat from December 1966 to June 1967 – a period of 49 days (Ben Obumselu, 1988). The Tribunal conducted a thorough inquiry and recorded evidence from 253 witnesses and received a total of 498 exhibits. Venues for the sitting of the Tribunal included Enugu, Onitsha, Aba, Port Harcourt, Calabar, Uyo and Ogoja. During the period covered by the Tribunal, a total of 45,000 to 50,000 were said to have been killed in the North and other parts of Nigeria from May 29 to December 1966. Out of this number, 4,665 lost their lives during the massacre in the Midwest in September and October 1966, following the aborted invasion of the Biafran troops in August 1967. In Asaba alone, 700 Igbo males who came out to welcome ‘victorious’ federal soldiers were singled out and slaughtered in a market place (Emma Okocha, 1994).
This incident was further collaborated by the reports from the international press and an International Committee on Crimes of Genocide. The New York Review, on December 21, 1967 reported: "In some areas outside the East which were temporarily held by Biafran forces, as at Benin and the Midwestern Region, Ibos were killed by local people with at least the acquiescence of the Federal forces. About 1,000 Ibo civilians perished at Benin in this way." The London Observer also reported on January 21, 1968: "The greatest single massacre occurred in the Ibo town of Asaba where 700 Ibo males were lined up and shot." Again, Monsignor Georges Rocheau, an envoy from His Holiness Pope Paul VI in an interview with Le Monde, a French Newspaper had this to say concerning the killings: "There has been genocide, for example on the occasion of the 1966 massacres... Two areas have suffered badly. Firstly 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."
There were also other incidents of mass killing of especially young boys and men in Nsukka and Ikot-Ekpene. The killing at Ikot-Ekpene, one of the minority towns in the Eastern Region was particularly more revealing in the sense that it contradicted the much-publicised federal propaganda that the crisis was entirely an Igbo affair and that the federal soldiers were quite benevolent in their dealings, especially with the minorities whom they claim to have liberated. Furthermore, this incident also contradicts the claim that the minorities in Eastern Nigeria wanted to join the Nigerian federation but were prevented by Ojukwu. According to Axel Harneit-Sievers et al, (1977), the killing in Ikot-Ekpene was in retaliation for the latter's support of the NCNC in the first Republic. Again, the fact that such retaliation could still take place in that circumstance seems incomprehensible.
What is even more horrifying about the pogrom was the orchestrated and coordinated planning aided and abated by Northern leaders with the instigation of erstwhile colonial officials especially lecturers at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. Worthy of note also is the fact that there had been incidents of such unprovoked killings dating back to 1945, 1953 and 1964. The Commission of Inquiry set up to investigate the 1953 massacre warned that if the underlying causes were not tackled, it would happen again. The manner in which those unfortunate victims lost their lives is better experienced than imagined. There would be no point in recounting the whole disgusting story; it suffices to mention just a few of those incidents. This cursory glimpse into the massacres of genocidal proportions throws some light into the mood, feelings, trauma, humiliation and total frustration of the people of Eastern Nigeria in the aftermaths of the pogroms and the subsequent war of attrition waged against a people whose patience and spirit of forbearance had been stretched far beyond any reasonable limit.
The pre-war killings of 1966 were an undeclared war. The Easterners residing in the North were completely taken by surprise. The narration of the gruesome event by lucky survivors arriving by road, air, and rail and on foot were enough to prompt an instant incursion by the Easterners into the North to avenge themselves. On arrival the refugees
The American Time Magazine described the scene in Kaduna on October 7, 1966: "In the Northern capital of Kaduna, raging mobs of Moslems armed with iron bars and broken bottles surged through the streets shouting anti-Ibo slogans. They killed at least thirty of the Ibo aliens from the East. From the airport, the troops fanned out through downtown Kano, hunting down Ibos in bars, hotels and on the streets. One contingent drove their Land Rovers to the railroad station where more than 100 Ibos were waiting for a train, and cut them down with automatic weapon fire. The soldiers did not have to all the killing. They were soon joined by thousands of Hausa civilians, who rampaged through the city, armed with stones, cutlasses, machetes, and home-made weapons of metal and broken glass. Crying Heathen! and Allah! the mobs and troops invaded the Sabon gari (stranger’s quarters), ransacking, looting and burning Ibo homes and stores and murdering their owners. All night long and into the morning the massacre went on. Then tired but fulfilled, the Hausas drifted back to their homes and barracks to get some breakfast and sleep. Municipal garbage trucks were sent out to collect the dead and dump them into mass graves outside the city. The death toll will never be known, but it was at least 1,000."
The survivors of this sorry spectacle were still being carried from one place to the other, when the Nigerian Air Force started strafing hospitals, civilian populations, markets places etc. It is to be noted that not all Northerners participated in the pre-war killings. Some of them objected but were overruled by the authorities who organised it. Some Northerners and Westerners were instrumental to the survival of some Easterners. General Ojukwu noted that his own sister was saved by a Yoruba neighbour who came to her rescue.
In addition to loss of life and personal injuries as a result of the pogroms, at the battle fields, strafing of airplanes etc., was the more painful and agonising deaths due to mass starvation. According to John Okpoko, conservative estimate of death toll arising from starvation presented to the British Parliament on July 22, 1968, by George Thomson, the Commonwealth Secretary, pegged the figure at 200-300 daily. Obviously, death toll impacted more on children – the future of any race. It was estimated that 50% of children between 2 to 5 years of age during this period lost their lives in the war. The UN, the OAU and the Nigeria military government systematically obstructed and prevented relief aid from being sent to Biafra. The UNICEF was the only UN organ that defied intimidation and threats from Britain, the US and the then UN Secretary-General, U Thant and sent food to Biafra.
In a Petition submitted to the Oputa Panel of Inquiry on April 26, 2001, by the Ohaneze Ndigbo, death arising from massacre of civilians in conquered areas, air attacks on concentrated areas, rape, torture, murder of war prisoners and civilians who surrendered, amounted to one million. Thirty-three years after the war, Ndigbo are still singled out and massacred in many cities in the North and West and their property looted. The government turns a blind eye and the perpetrators of this savagery go unpunished. What type of one Nigeria are we living in?
Destruction of Manpower and Infrastructure
Closely related to the loss of life is the devastation of infrastructure that took millions of 'man-hours', energy, time and enormous amount of money to build which impacted so adversely and negatively on manpower development and infrastructure potentials of the country. As Kofi Annan observed in reference to the Persian Gulf War, "none can yet say how much time reconstruction will take, nor calculate its price in billions of dollars." The tragedy of the thirty-month war can only be compared with the inhuman and obnoxious traffic of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade that robbed Nigerians especially the Igbos of their vibrant manpower. The state of affairs in Eastern Nigeria after the war fits well with Isichei's evaluation of the impact of Slave Trade. Commenting on this impact on the Igbos, she stated that "it robbed the people of Eastern Nigeria especially the Igbos a great number of their strongest and able bodied and most vibrant men and women who were just in their prime." As mass starvation threatened to wipe out the entire population of Biafra, non-governmental agencies through aid workers in collaboration with some friendly governments flew thousands of Biafran children to safety in some African and even European countries. These children are valuable assets to their second homes today but their first homes have been robbed of their useful services.
Nor should the negative impacts the war brought on skilled labour be over-looked. The late Ivorian President (a very good friend of Biafra) Felix Houphouét-Boigny, expressing his disgust and disappointment on the senseless killings during the war lamented:
This policy of running down schools appears to be targeted against the morbid fear of Igbo domination which was seen to have stemmed from the latter's unparalleled ambition to acquire Western education. It is difficult not to see this approach as a means of reducing Igbo potentials in Nigerian affairs. As education was considered the 'biggest' industry of the Igbos due mainly to the socio-economic leverage and mobility it gives them, the take-over of schools slowed down the pace of progress in education and badly affected its standard which has deteriorated to its lowest ebb. It is only now that government, after destroying the system, is gradually handing back some of those schools in total chaos and dilapidated state to the Churches and other private proprietors. To revamp the school system to its pre-war standard will take a long time.
In the area of infrastructure, the appalling sight of homes, hospitals, schools, churches, industries, bridges, airports and seaports being smashed by diving Jet Fighters, by burning and other forms of wanton destruction, was a sorry spectacle to behold. Before the war started, community development projects in Biafra include: Bridges (12,561 feet), 13 Cooperative Shops, 214 Postal Agencies, 680 Maternity Homes, 36 Leper Segregation Centres, 89 Hospitals and Rural Health Centres, 350 Dispensaries, 275 Community Schools and Domestic Science Centres, 1,216 Adult Education Centres, 60 Libraries etc (Biafra, 1967). Paul Anber (1967) observes that by 1965, Eastern Nigeria "had the most extensive hospital facilities in the country, the largest regional production of electricity by 1954, and the greatest number of vehicle registrations by 1963." A good number of Easterners were well represented in the federal service.
For instance, Anber notes that in 1964, 270 Igbos out of 431 officials occupied the senior post in the Railway Corporation and that the Igbos were also massively represented in the Foreign Service. Having lost the war, the Igbos, who used to be in the forefront of Nigerian affairs, have now been marginalised and almost completely banished from the main stream of economic and political arena in Nigeria. There are certain strategic posts no Igbo person would dream of getting in the present day Nigeria. The Ohaneze argues that there was mass dismissal of Igbo public servants after the war coupled with systematic exclusion of Igbos from higher echelon of policy-making. Prior to the war, the Igbos were able to attain enviable position in spite of the overt favouritism of the North, which characterised the British imperial policy.
Perhaps, one of the most adverse effects of the war, which impacted so negatively not only on Biafra and Nigeria but also on the whole Black race, was the destruction of the astonishing and mesmerising technological breakthrough that was the hallmark of the short period of Biafra's existence. This jump over the dreadful and intimidating abyss that separate the 'almighty' first world from the weak - impoverished and exploited third world, seemed to have frightened the superpowers whose monopoly of this potent and mind-boggling technological tool guarantees it limitless power and hegemony over the rest of the world. Cataloguing items on these priceless technological achievements, General Ojukwu, with some kind of ironic pride reminisces:
The dream and hope of the black people as envisaged by Osei, Ojukwu and Nwankwo and many others, when viewed in the context of the scientific and technological breakthrough that was fully manifested in Biafra, now appears to have been a dream unrealised - a shattered hope. The generation of those veterans and scientific doyens – nuclear physicists such as Sam Orji and Roy Umenyi both of blessed memory, is dying out gradually without passing such life-saving and potent tools of freedom and emancipation to the young ones. In this, lies the defeat of Biafra and in fact, the defeat of Nigeria and the entire black race in general. The unfinished business of Biafra is a quagmire and a stagnant water into which Nigeria is likely to sink unless something is done and urgently too.
(To be continued).
By Tobe Nnamani
Electronic contact thro: Umuigbo@Igbo-land.com
In the first part of this essay, losses such as human casualties with regard to loss of life and personal injuries and destruction of manpower, infrastructure and development were examined. Part two takes a cursory look into the areas of health and environmental disasters, disruption of political and psycho-social life. All these impacted negatively on the life of Ndigbo. The present chaotic political situation in Igboland, in which ‘mercenaries’ and the wrong people are empowered to continue the suppression of Ndigbo is not unconnected with these painful disruptions. When the Igbos came to the painful realisation that Gowon’s ‘no victor no vanquished’ slogan was only a political ploy, their drive and ceaseless ingenuity to fashion a better life for themselves were effectively stifled. The Northern Nigerian oligarchs tightened their strangle-hold on political power while the Yorubas hijacked the higher echelon of the civil service and economic channels. Consequently, the Igbos were left in the cold and driven to the periphery where some of them began to irk out a living in some ways that are altogether not wholesome such as in drug pushing and ‘419’ fraudster. Furthermore, brain-drain and massive migration of Ndigbo to all parts of the world in search of a greener pasture with their attendant negative impacts and erosion of the fabrics that held their socio-cultural and political life together are some of the numerous losses the Igbos are still counting.
Health and Environmental Disasters
One Igbo adage says that health is wealth – ndu bu aku. A healthy environment also contributes immensely to the wellbeing of the inhabitants. For the Easterners, the stinking smell of putrefied dead bodies and animals, which filled the air with strong repugnant and repulsive pungent odour during and immediately after the war, had a traumatic effect on the psyche of the people. It constituted one of the disastrous health hazards of the war. Mrs. Comfort and Cecilia Achiugo describe the situation thus:
Take for instance the urban areas, new diseases hitherto unheard of broke out, like Cholera and hepatitis. This was due mainly to poor sanitary condition. The water supply systems were destroyed, there was no electricity, and sewage systems were destroyed. With the rains and floods the human wastes in them were carried into surface water systems, which thus became contaminated. These new diseases claimed so many lives before they were diagnosed; even after that, the lack of drug never helped matters. In fact, hepatitis claimed the life of Samuel my brother, after the war. Some of the problems are still with us today. We are simply accommodating the impact of the war in our present life styles, and not that it has been wiped out completely. I doubt that it will ever be. (Axel Harneit-Sievers et al, 1977).
Stephen Lewis (Journey to Biafra, 1968) estimated that outbreak of Tuberculosis in the wake of the war would last over a generation. The unhealthy environment to which the people were exposed despite the federal government promises as contained in the three Rs - Rehabilitation, Reconstruction and Reconciliation exposed the people more and more to the risk of infectious diseases such as cholera, diarrhea, dysentery etc. Here is a brief description of the frequent risks to which one was exposed every now and then immediately after the war by Cecilia Achiugo:
As we journeyed back to our home we saw many places littered with human corpses; some decaying, some very swollen while some were real skeletons. The most horrifying was the numerous places where dead, decaying bodies were heaped together and burnt just beside the road. I had to behold charred remains of fellow human beings. In some places I had to cross over dead bodies and bare footed. I had to trample on some oily substance oozing from the decaying bodies; the oily substance clings to the feet and takes a lot of wiping to clean. This experience was nightmarish and still haunts my memory; in fact the arthritic pain I now have on my legs I suppose is attributable to my matching on those dead bodies and the oil oozing from them at the end of the war.
At the same time, health situation worsened as the lack of social amenities such as toilet facilities, drinking water, proper waste disposal including proper burial of dead persons received less and less attention. It was not only health hazards that confronted the people. Agriculture also suffered a severe blow. Consequently, ecological problems also arose such as decrease in soil fertility due to some chemicals and other related war materials dumped in many places such as Umuahia, Awgu, Nguru etc. Furthermore, frequent erosion was blamed on over-utilisation of scarce land. Many Igbo people also complained of massive destruction of economic trees like palm trees, pea-trees, orange-trees and coconut trees by the advancing federal soldiers. There is no doubt that serious strain was put on the environment as the number of inhabitants increased tenfold from what it used to hold following the refugee influx at the beginning of the war. This led obviously to massive exploitation of hitherto virgin forests and small streams dried up due to frequent and increased consumption.
In the midst of the total chaos and excruciating situation that characterised the sudden flight of the Easterners from all parts of Nigeria, there was no doubt that preservation of dear life ranked highest on their priority list. Consequently, they left behind belongings and investments painstakingly acquired over the years. In spite of the difficulties in ascertaining the accurate statistics of the economic losses incurred by the Biafrans during the war especially with regard to cash, property looted, vandalised or burnt, a conservative estimate of losses was still very high. In a sampling survey of 5,000 persons conducted by the Onyiuke Tribunal of Inquiry, a total number of losses estimated at over 9 million (Nigeria) Pounds were recorded. Of this amount, landed property such as houses numbering 2,607 amounted to £4,154,652, while the cost of 586 vehicles amounted to £435,851.
Added to this figure is the cost of stock-in-Trade valued at £2,046,522, cash worth £741,784 and personal effects estimated at £1,644,709. In Kano alone, where the highest number of Easterners lived, about 2,000 houses situated in Sabon Gari – strangers' quarters with an average value of £4,000 each amounted to 8 million Pounds. The loss of personal effects in the same Kano was estimated at £3.2 million. Documented evidence also shows that Easterners owned 7 large chemist shops valued at £70,000. The value of hotels including stock and equipment were valued at £180,000. Off License Beer Parlours and over 150 provision stores were valued at £50,000 and £75,000, respectively. Furthermore, according to documented evidence taken from Traders' Union Membership in Kano, about 10,000 stalls valued at £30 million were also lost.
The losses mentioned above, are only those incurred by the people who lived in Kano; it does not include losses in small railway stations and other places where the Easterners worked and earned their living. If the pre-hostility losses are high, they would in no way be compared to the incalculable losses incurred by the Easterners when they were pursed into their own land. There were instances of looting of property by federal soldiers and this looting continued even after the war had ended. In Afikpo for instance, destruction of houses and looting by federal soldiers were said to have continued as they removed bricks and zinc from the remaining houses. However, the federal soldiers were said to have taken such measures for fear that Biafrans might resort to guerrilla warfare. This reason is hardly satisfying when one considers the fact that no incident of guerrilla activities was recorded anywhere after the war. The looted property ended up in the military barracks where the federal soldiers inhabited and from where, they moved out at will and mounted illegal check-points and terrorised the returning refugees.
The figure given above though conservatively put, is only a tip of the iceberg of the colossal loss incurred in the big cities such as Enugu, Aba, Owerri, Port Harcourt, Onitsha, Umuahia etc. Before the war started, Onitsha was the largest market in West Africa. As mentioned in the first part of this essay, Eastern Region had a very extensive number of hospitals, schools and other higher institutions. Added to these are industries, bridges, markets and other landed properties. All these were reduced to rubble.
As if the damage and expropriation suffered during the war was not enough, properties owned by Easterners were declared 'abandoned'. This meant that the surviving owners were by law, barred from reclaiming them. This happened in spite of the assurances given by the federal government as was contained in the Blueprint for post-war reconstruction issued as early as 1967. It is to be noted that the 'abandoned' property issue was a federal legislation apparently aimed at inciting the Easterners against one another. The issue generated a lot of heat and led to litigations in law court. Dee Sam Mbakwe (former Governor of Imo State) of blessed memory fought tirelessly against the abandoned property law. In some places such as Port Harcourt – originally known as Igbo city since the Slave Trade era, where the Igbos had invested heavily in landed property, the state government promised to compensate the victims instead of handing back their properties to them. As the controversy intensified, the Rivers State government credited the federal government’s account with the sum of 23 million Naira as compensation for the owners. However, some of these properties were recovered most often through the 'benevolence' of the new occupants and/or friendly ties with neighbours or business associates established prior to the war.
The final blow to the economic impoverishment of the Igbos came with the £20 flat rate compensation given to every single Igbo man and woman irrespective of the amount each person had deposited in the bank prior to the war. A few years after the war, came the Obasanjo Indigenisation Policy, which nationalised many foreign companies and handed the greater percentage of their share-holdings to Nigerians. It was at this time that the government of Olusegun Obasanjo in its 'Indigenisation Decree' nationalised lucrative businesses such as the African Petroleum, AP, which replaced British Petroleum BP etc. The timing of this decree practically meant strangling the Igbos economically for they had, at this time, no purchasing power at all when one considers the fact that only £20 was given to an insignificant number among them to begin life anew. Edmund Schwarzenbach quoted a statement credited to a commissioner in the Nigeria government as follows: "The war ... properly speaking of the entire problem, was to discriminate against the Igbos in the future in their own interest."
Dislocation of Political and Psycho-Social Life
As pointed out in the first part of this write-up, it would be considered normal that more emphasis is laid on tangible losses such as houses and other landed property for these are easily calculable and more perceptible. However, the ravages of the war brought about intangible losses, which, by their nature, cannot be mathematically calculated or valued in monetary terms. These include the disruption of political, religious, moral and other psychosocial aspects of life. Andre Aletta, lamenting some of these intangible losses says:
Gone are the days when men gathered in moonlight nights to wrestle. Gone are the times when children went to school or gathered round the fire on cold nights to tell tales and munch roasted corn. Holding sway, are the tortuous pangs of hunger, the heart-sinking din or war, and the rich harvest of tolling death (Chinua Achebe et al, 1971).
Comparatively, the intensity of the social dislocation engendered by the war is reminiscent of the social upheaval that bedeviled the Igbos during the British conquest, which was beautifully described by Chinua Achebe in his Things Fall Apart. For Ndigbo, the war was a cataclysmic event – a pivotal point that literally tore apart the fabrics that held them together. To paraphrase Achebe – adapting it to the context, the foundation of their lives turned and turned in a whirling gyre; the centre could no longer hold and their society fell apart. The psycho-social effects were even more agonising for those children flown out to safety in Ivory Coast and other African and European countries. In spite of the fact that they lived thereafter in a somewhat comfortable environment, they will however, never forget that they have lost their homes, their roots, their identities and had to sojourn in foreign countries with the social stigma and discriminatory tendencies attendant in such sojourning. Although some of them are economically prosperous, they and their children face psychological alienation both in their place of abode and even in their first homes as long absence from this sweet home had estranged them from their kith and kin and consequently from their culture and tradition. That distinctive mark which language, tradition and culture accord to each individual is missing. Having stayed away for a long time, adaptation in their first homes becomes difficult and this exacerbates their alienation.
Not only the political and social aspects of life that were dislocated; disruption of psycho-social wellbeing occurred at the intra- but also at the inter-ethnic level. This means that although the Igbos were the hardest hit in the war, other Easterners also suffered this social dislocation. On the inter-ethnic pedestal, it engendered a much more strained relationship between the Igbos and their neighbours. On the intra-ethnic level, the neighbouring ethnic minorities suffer from antagonisms and acrimonies arising from shifting allegiances during the war. Those ethnic minorities who supported the Biafran secession and those who did not still have strained relationships. The war created leadership tussle in many communities as displaced educated elite returned and tried to supplant the home-based leaders. Struggle for chieftaincy or traditional leadership is still a very delicate and distablising factor in many Igbo communities today. The Kalabaris till date still see themselves as Nigerians and Biafrans as a result of the two sides of the fighting lines the groups found themselves during the war. The dethroning of some traditional Chiefs in this area who fled their homes to safety and thereby were accused of having sold out by showing allegiance to Biafran still causes squabble and social tension among the local inhabitants.
As A. E. Afigbo (1987) notes, early accounts of the relationship between the ethnic groupings in Nigeria painted a one-sided picture of incessant wars and barbarous acts of unparalleled nature. On the contrary, Afigbo, as he tries to reconstruct the events of those early times, fully demonstrates that trade and inter-ethnic relationship including inter-marriages actually thrived on a large scale in the pre-colonial times. The war did not only revive antagonism and enmity where they existed but at the same time, it strained cordial interrelationship that existed between various segments in Igboland prior to the war.
The war also brought an unprecedented increase in social maladies such as prostitution, armed-robbery, fraud such as Four-One-Nine ('419') and depreciation in moral values with its spiraling consequences such as bribery and corruption engendered by the survival instinct etc. The federal soldiers had forced a number of women into prostitution. The womenfolk bore the brunt of the war in many ways. First, whenever any Biafran town or city fell into the federal hands, women, especially young girls, were targets for rape, torture and abduction. Federal soldiers sent out messengers, bribed young boys to fetch women from their husbands houses and, if the men objected, they risked being killed or subjected to torture until they surrendered to the obnoxious and humiliating demand of the unscrupulous soldiers. According to Axel Harneit-Sievers et al,
[t]he days immediately following the end of the war in January 1970 were very traumatic for women, particularly those in areas that had remained under Biafran control throughout or for most of the war. For such women the end of the war brought them face-to-face for the first time with federal troops and their tendency to sexually abuse women. Reports about cases of rape come from all the areas that had finally fallen under Federal control.
She reported that in Eket, Akwaibom State in southeastern Nigeria, parents had to resettle their girls and women in a thick swampy forest to prevent them from being abducted or raped by soldiers. For women in federal held territories, marriage with the federal soldiers was a lesser evil to incessant sexual harassment. As many of the men had fallen in the war, there were surplus women much more than natural demography would have permitted immediately after the war. It is arguable whether this imbalance has been filled adequately.
Generally, the war to a great extent impacted more adversely on the societal values of the Igbos. The age-long barriers that sustained the social fabric epitomised in traditional safeguards of communal life disappeared. On the religious level, the damage may not be so apparent but the psycho-spiritual trauma suffered by those whose dead ones could not be buried properly and who had no time and the conducive atmosphere to mourn their deceased ones was a crushing anguish. The Igbos have strong belief in life after death even before Christianity came. Ancestral shrines and deities were also destroyed. Children born during this war period were terribly affected as their early childhood and normal growth were stunted as a result of the brutalising social condition.
For the Igbos, just like the Jews in the Nazi era, the war threatened their physical existence and although a certain level of prosperity appears to be returning after many years of neglect and devastation, the debilitating effects of the war still haunt them everywhere. The Igbos still have to contend with sporadic riots in which they are always the victims even when the clash is between other ethnic groups. They are still hunted and victimised in the one Nigeria they were forced to join. In the 11 violent riots recorded between 1980 and 1999, all occurred in the same Northern Nigeria where the Igbos met their waterloo in the pogroms of 1966 (Ohaneze, 2001).
If the foregoing has been a litany of woes, it is because the main aim of this retrospect is to bring out once more to the fore, the calamities and the ripple effects of the war. Inversely, from these woes, a lot of positive things have also emerged. Biafran technological breakthrough remains one of the most remarkable things the black race has achieved even when the story is distorted or the books containing them are allowed to rot away on the floor in Nigerian libraries. It has gone into the annals of history and, as the story is told from one generation to another, those monumental ideas and the ingenuity of those heroes who produced them may one day resurrect and be harnessed to free the black race from the shackles of economic slavery imposed on it since the white man set foot in the black nation. According Prof. Ikenna Nzimiro (1982), part of the lessons from the war consisted also in the fact that international observers testified to the ingenuity of the Biafran engineers who built Uli Airport. The Biafran Directorate of Propaganda led by Uche Chukwumerije was described by Harold Wilson the then British Prime Minister as "success unparalled in the history of communication in modern societies" (John Stremlau, 1977).
The Research and Production Directorate (RAP) produced 56% of arms used in Biafra. The ‘Ojukwu Bunker’ in Umuahia also demonstrates that it is possible to build underground tunnels to decongest traffics in Nigerian cities. Biafra also refined crude oil using only local materials. Refineries built at Uzuakoli and Amandugba were capable of refining 50,000 gallons of fuel per day. Yet today, Nigeria imports refined fuel because none of her refineries is working at full capacity. Biafran chemists also produced 10 tons of pure salt per month. It was estimated to increase up to 50 tons if production continued. In the area of consumer goods, items which were usually imported such as toilet soaps, face-creams, Vaseline, biscuits, liquor, dyes, protein extracts and engine oil were all produced by Biafran scientists and engineers. Biafran engineers in the United Kingdom were also able to design plastic housing units for refugees. In fact, with regard to the principle of self-reliance which is what Africa so badly needs today, Biafra was a pace-setter. If this breakthrough were integrated and harnessed by Nigeria after the war, her crushing external debt would have been contained at least to a certain extent.
The Igbos have also learned a lot from the war. They now know that no matter how much money they make and keep outside, home is still home and that if the worst case scenario arises again, they have kept some sizable reserve to fall back on. Axel Harneit-Sievers et al point out that "it was common for successful Igbo migrants to invest in property at the places where they had spent most of their lifetime, today more investment is directed to home areas". Another positive lesson from the war is a sense of 'cooperation and self-help' it instilled in the people. The illusion of self-sufficiency and narrow sectionalism was shattered by the war. S. O. O. Ogazi sums it up in this way:
[The war] thought many people exactly how we are. We are not the rich people that we think we were. We discovered that without Hausa nama [cow], we couldn’t get meat. We thought that we are self-sufficient in food and in the end we discovered that we depended so much on outsiders. Not that it has altered their way of life as such, but they were now more conscious of the dependence upon others.
The self-help syndrome of the Igbos became more prevalent when it became clear to them that the federal government rehabilitation and reconstruction plan was a political propaganda. With the help of the then East Central State government social clubs and age-grades in virtually every town or community began to reconstruct their damaged amenities and built new ones. The early 1970s and 1980s witnessed a boom in social clubs, which rendered help to needy members such as during funerals, marriages, and setting up of businesses etc. Unfortunately, the level of cooperation among Ndigbo in the early post-Biafran period is waning very rapidly; this will not augur well for Ndigbo at all. The survival of Ndigbo in a contemporary Nigerian society consists in a coalition of forces to rebuild eroded social capital and networking, to re-energise, harness and re-channel Igbo spirit and ingenuity for a total integration into the mainstream of Nigerian affairs and/or a peaceful parting of ways.
To be Nnamani
When the first shots were fired on July 6, 1967, following the collapse of the Aburi Accord, there was little prospect that the crisis was going to be resolved peacefully. In fact, the Aburi accord could have prevented the tragedy that ensued, had the British High Commissioner Francis Cumming-Bruce and Elbert Matthews, the US Ambassador not prevailed on Gowon to repudiate that life-saving accord. The Aburi accord had secured a quasi-confederation with self-autonomy for each region pending the return of normalcy. When this flicker of light in a dark tunnel of Nigeria’s destiny was quenched, reason gave way to folly. Hence, all hopes were now focused on the international mediators.
Unfortunately, the tone of the international mediators portrayed bad omen for peace. It was bad omen in the sense that the initial reactions from the OAU, the Commonwealth and the UN gave indication of the direction any mediation effort would go. Fredrick Forsyth, Suzanne Cronje, John Stremlau and many others argue that decisions concerning peace talks were taken in advance. Forsyth further asserts that there was allegation that the US and Britain even promised cash gifts to African countries to persuade them not to back Biafra.
A total of seven official peace talks were undertaken and these were named after the state capitals where they took place - Kinshasa (Congo), London (Great Britain), Lagos (Nigeria), Kampala (Uganda), Niamey (Niger), Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) and Algiers (Algeria). There were also some private and non-official initiatives from individuals and religious groups. In the end, none of the peace talks got close to any meaningful resolution but not without genuine struggle by some of those who took part in the flawed negotiations.
East Africa Offers to Mediate: Another Bright Prospect for Peace
As the political turmoil in the aftermath of the Biafran secession boiled in Nigeria, the ripple effects sent shocking waves of apprehension to many African countries. Consequently, some African leaders began to voice out serious concerns about the would-be spiral consequences of the crisis. The Organisation of African Unity, OAU (now African Union AU), was at this time, preparing for its Fourth Annual Summit billed to take place in Kinshasa the capital of Congo on September 10, 1967. This concern was even more vigorous among the East African countries for, as early as June 1967, the Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda started muting the idea that the crisis in Nigeria must be taken seriously by African leaders. He urged the East African Community to review it and arrange a negotiated settlement. At the same time, the Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere also took keen interest in the matter. Both of these Presidents had no vital economic interests to fight for in Nigeria and were seen as truly neutral persons. Apart from this aspect of neutrality, two factors appeared to have facilitated East African interest and subsequent support for Biafra by two of its leading Presidents. First, Ojukwu had, before hostility began, started a diplomatic shuttle in East Africa where two prominent Igbo intellectuals – Austin Okwu, a seasoned diplomat and Professor Chike Obi (Professor of Mathematics) had penetrated the parliaments. Second, the Zambian High Commissioner in Nigeria, Matiya Nglande had visited Eastern Nigeria (now Biafra) and had seen for himself the injustice meted out on the people of this area and became genuinely concerned about their plight.
Also, before hostilities began, Milton Obote of Uganda sent a message to Gowon urging him to promise that he would not attack Biafra until the East African Summit took place. Gowon rejected the plea and attacked Biafra on July 6, 1967. There was another request by the East African leaders pleading with Gowon to allow a peace mission to visit Nigeria. This invitation was also turned down. Amongst the four East African Presidents, Nyerere and Kaunda showed more understanding of the plight of Biafra. Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, who had served as Chairman of the OAU ad hoc committee in the Congo crisis of 1961, was quite cautious and reluctant to undertake any peace initiative. Milton Obote, on his part, was also careful as he too was facing ethnic problems and threat of secession from the Baganda province in Uganda. When the East African initiative failed, President Mobutu Sese Seko garnered support from other African heads of state to present the matter before the forthcoming OAU Summit. However, other sources indicate that it was the US which requested Mobutu to make the move. This latter appears more plausible as later development in the process of mediation unfolded. Hence, OAU's entry and effective control of mediation efforts obstructed rather than facilitated peaceful resolution. It was a perfect instance when mediators became obstacle to peace.
The Kinshasa Peace Talk: OAU Hijacks and Obstructs Peace Talks
Meanwhile, two other peace initiatives were proposed prior to the Kinshasa Conference. These requests came from Dahomey (now republic of Benin) and Ghana, respectively. Nigeria, while expressing appreciation for the interest shown by her neighbours in the crisis however rejected both appeals, insisting that the crisis was exclusively internal matter and that such initiatives should come through the AOU. Afraid that these peace initiatives may gain currency among African leaders, the Gowon Government sent out envoys to OAU members and got assurances from many of them that the matter would not even feature on the Organisation's agenda in the Kinshasa Summit. As the war intensified, the United States began to show some signs of anxiety over Soviet arms sale to Nigeria. Hence, Nigeria became worried that a US-led peace initiative might slip through and stop the war prematurely. In light of what has been mentioned above, Nigeria's interpretation the intention of the US appeared peremptory and unjustified as shall be seen later.
On the eve of the Kinshasa Summit, the US recommended that a special committee under the auspices of the OAU be set up to look into the escalating crisis. It appears that the US did not disclose to Gowon her position on the matter and why it wanted the OAU to handle the peace talks. Subsequent events made it clear that the US had a strategic reason why it wanted the OAU to be in charge of any mediation effort. Furthermore, shortly before the Kinshasa Summit, Ojukwu made a passionate appeal for peace talks to resume and called particularly on the OAU to take up the matter in its forthcoming Summit. Ojukwu held up an olive branch to Gowon and outlined areas of cooperation between Nigeria and Biafra such as railway, road, habour, aviation, post and telecommunications, customs and monetary issues. However, Gowon’s response was a flat no and insistence on a reunited Nigeria. This position was maintained till the end of the war.
Meanwhile, the OAU Council of Ministers meeting in Kinshasa began on September 4 and lasted till September 11, 1967. The Council meeting normally prepares the agenda for the Heads of State meeting. Okoi Arikpo, Gowon's External Affairs minister had a short but firm mandate for the preparatory meeting: "Under no circumstances allow the Nigerian crisis to appear on the agenda for the OAU Summit." To back up his mandate, Arikpo would cite Article II (2) of the OAU Charter, which states that member states should not interfere in the internal affairs of other members unless invited to do so. He also insisted that Nigeria was not keen to invite the mediation of a third party. Gowon also mandated Arikpo to stage a walk-out from the Summit should the matter, by any means, appear on the agenda or be mentioned during the Summit.
As the unfolding of events in Africa and elsewhere in the world would reveal, every conflict or war has the potential to attract responses from the international community especially the big powers. This is because a lot of calculations come into play such as arms supply, spare parts, likely intervention etc. All in all, any armed conflict is bound to raise international relations’ temperature in the world depending on what strategic interest the world powers have in the area in question. The Nigerian delegation was ready to allow only a total condemnation of the Biafran secession by the Summit. The OAU Secretary-General Diallo Telli confirmed the Nigerian position and noted that the only mention of the Nigerian crisis was an ill-fated and short-lived peace initiative sponsored by Lesotho. The Lesotho initiative died a natural death because Nigeria was strongly opposed to it. On the ground that Biafra was not a recognised country, the Zairian government deported the Biafran delegation, which had arrived Kinshasa airport to present the Biafran own side of the matter to the OAU ministerial Council meeting. This was perhaps, a tip of iceberg of what was coming, signaling a pro-Nigerian approach by the OAU and this position continued unchanged till the end of the war.
The Summit began on September 14 1967 and closed on 16 of the same month. Presidents from thirty-nine member states were in attendance, while others sent in delegations. Gowon, at the last minute, sent Obafemi Awolowo to represent the federal government of Nigeria. In spite of the hope and assurances made by the host country that the matter would not feature on the Summit agenda, Awolowo skillfully found out that Mobutu, Obote and Kaunda were planning to bring up the Biafran crisis to the Summit. Awolowo described his shrewd foiling of the plan as follows:
As it turned out, Awolowo's lobbying was a partial success for, apart from the passing statement about the Biafran crisis by Emperor Haile Selassie; the topic was never mentioned again during the deliberation. But a few African heads of state were still bent on bringing the OAU into the peace initiative. Hence on September 12, 1967, Presidents Mobutu Sese Seko (Congo), William Tubman (Liberia), Kenneth Kaunda (Zambia), Ahmadou Ahidjo (Cameroon), Hamani Diori (Niger), Haile Selassie (Ethiopia) and General Joseph Ankrah (Ghana) met with Awolowo to discuss the crisis. It was agreed that no formal record of this meeting would be kept. The federal delegation was apprehensive that the array of these African statesmen might change the situation against Nigeria. A number of factors account for this apprehensive move. On the one hand, Diori and Ahidjo were neighbours to Nigeria. On the other hand, Diori was the Chairman of OCAM coupled with the fact that both Diori and Ahidjo had strong connections with France, the latter a major power, perceived to be sympathetic to the Biafran cause. Another source of worry for Nigeria stemmed from the fact that both Tubman and Selassie could be influenced by the United States against Nigeria. It was also calculated that, with the United States and France pushing the matter, it would be difficult for Nigeria to continue to suppress it and prevent the OAU from having a hand in resolving the issue. All these calculations turned out to be wrong as the US was solidly behind Nigeria and was in fact, tele-guiding the peace talks.
The Nigerian delegation fears appeared to have been justified though from another angle. Kaunda, with the backing of OCAM, had proposed a resolution which would empower the OAU to order an immediate cease-fire and thereby compel Nigeria to negotiate on equal basis with Biafra. The bottom-line of the resolution would have amounted to a de facto recognition of Biafra by the OAU. This appeared to be a really genuine effort to stop the war. Unfortunately, the Nigerian delegation destroyed this plan. Awolowo continued to cite the principle of non-interference and threatened that if the OAU went ahead with this proposal, Nigeria would not only withdraw her membership of the Organisation but that she would effectively sponsor rebel groups seeking to topple their governments anywhere in Africa. This threat changed the tempo of the mediation effort. Consequent upon the acrimonious and tensed atmosphere that the discussion with Kaunda and the Nigerian delegation assumed, Kaunda left in anger and this gave Awolowo a good chance to push further the principle of non-interference.
Thus, Kaunda's most hopeful chance of a peaceful resolution of the conflict came to naught. Instead of his proposed Mandatory Committee, which according to OAU Charter has more power, a lame-dock Consultative Committee was instituted to please the Federal Government of Nigeria. In fact, the Consultative Committee had only an advisory status and the Military Government in Nigeria would not in any way, be bound to accept its recommendations. Gowon's consent was sought and obtained through the United States embassy in Lagos, which relayed the phone call to him. Kaunda, frustrated with the way things turned out, was not even in the six-man Consultative Committee. In the end, the Communiqué issued by the Summit was overly partial in deference to Nigeria. It read:
Apart from placating the federal government of Nigeria, the outcome of the Summit had other disadvantages for Biafra. First, the East African countries that appeared to have sufficient interest in ending the war back-pedaled and reluctantly supported a rather partisan resolution on the conflict. Second, the impending diplomatic recognition of Biafra by Tanzania and Zambia was delayed for seven months. Had this recognition come at the time of apparent military stalemate, more countries could have joined in recognising Biafra's right to self-determination. The Biafran government reaction to the outcome of the Summit was cautious.