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.
“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 and consequently I have broken it into two parts. 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 both parts 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 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 indigenous 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 perpetrators 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 bloodthirsty 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 machetes 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 Igbo 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 pogrom 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. (TO BE CONCLUDED).
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.