Femi Fani-Kayode, a prominent thought leader in Nigeria, writes this two-part essay to commemorate 50 years of Biafra, the Land of the Rising Sun – and remind Nigerians of the country’s dark history with regards to relations with the Igbos. You may read the first part of this essay HERE.
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:
“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 can’t 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”. (CONCLUDED).
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 atrocities 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 masters 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 indefinitely 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, there were 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.
Femi Fani-Kayode is a lawyer, a Nigerian politician, an evangelical christian, an essayist, a poet and he was the Special Assistant (Public Affairs) to President Olusegun Obasanjo from July 2003 until June 2006. He was the minister of culture and tourism of the Federal Republic of Nigeria from June 22nd to Nov 7th 2006 and as the minister of Aviation from Nov 7th 2006 to May 29th 2007. He tweets from@realFFK.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.