In a classical reviewed article of Robert Platt on Dan Jacobs’ Bestseller book on Biafra, “The Brutality of Nations” (1987), Platt showed how Jacobs’ book revealed the failures of the International Community, the U.N., U.S, U.K., and other world powers, to prevent the loss of lives of millions that occurred during the Biafra War (1967-1970):
“We tend to remember Vietnam as the defining event of the late 60’s and early 70’s, but Biafra was and is ultimately more heartbreaking to contemplate, because it is nearly forgotten, even though millions died. Jacobs tells a story of valor and treachery, of relief pilots and aid workers who risked death everyday so that they could bring medicine and food into the oil-rich Biafran separatist enclave, which was completely surrounded by a huge and vengeful, British-backed Nigerian military machine bent on the Biafrans’ extinction.”
Continuing, Platt adds:
“We follow along as an ethnic pogrom festers into a civil war, and ultimately a holocaust. Along the way, all the vaunted fail-safes of our modern world, from the U.N., to the Red Cross, to the liberal governments of the U.S and the U.K., actually aid and abet the Nigerians, and exacerbate the Biafrans’ plight and prolong their agony. The U.S.S.R., long falsely seen as an anti-imperialist engine for African liberation, cynically plays its hand as cruelly as anyone else, providing military and technical assistance to the Federal Government of Nigeria whenever the West loses their stomach for it.” – Dan Jacobs’ book, “The Brutality of Nations” (Knopf, New York 1987). Reviewed by Robert Platt, in the United States, with the title, “Gripping and Heartbreaking”, December 5, 1999 (Emphasis mine).
President Muhammadu Buhari on June 4, 2018, said that the “Nigerian Army was not harsh on the Biafrans during the 3-year Nigeria-Biafra War (1967-1970).” The President made that statement after his investiture as grand Patron by Nigerian Red Cross Society held at the Council Chamber State House in Abuja. – (See, “The Heavy Hands of Nigerian Federal Troops on Biafra”, in “Nigeriaworld.com”, September 21, 2018).
However, everyone knows that the President’s statement is bogus and misleading. The history of the Nigeria-Biafra War is still too fresh in the memory of many of us, for anybody to try to tell a lie against the over 3.5 million Biafrans, mostly Igbos killed by the Nigerian Federal Troops and through the Nigerian Government’s policies on starvation and blockade against the Biafra enclave, during the war.
It is this type of deceptive narrative on Biafra by those in the corridors of power that has emboldened successive Nigerian Federal Governments to continue with business as usual in their marginalization and persecution of the Igbos since the end of the war to the present-day. It is also largely responsible for the continued reign of state-sponsored ethnic-cleansings, bloodbath, and herdsmen terrorism in Nigeria today.
It suffices to cite some quotations from various sources with date that show that the statement of the presidency is bogus and misleading. Thus, our aim in this Part 2 of our article, is to debunk President Buhari’s assertion that the “Nigerian Army was not harsh on the Biafrans during the 3-year Nigeria-Biafra War (1967-1970).”
The article continues with the argument already espoused in Part 1. Our major concern remains how to awaken the conscience of the U.N., and the other world powers, to act now on the Biafra quest for self-determination, by organizing a referendum to help them achieve that goal. This is to prevent another massacre of the Igbo Biafrans (or any other indigenous ethnic-group) by the British-backed Federal Government of Nigeria.
We want the U.N and its Security Council, to please, help prevent another ‘Biafra Genocide’, or massacre of the Igbos, indeed, of any other indigenous ethnic-groups in Nigeria, by organizing a referendum for self-determination for the indigenous ethnic-groups that may wish to opt out of the country. This is the only way to stop the carnage going on in Nigeria today. We beckon on the world powers, especially, the U.N. and its Security Council, to act now before it is too late. To stop the raging ethnic-cleansings and bloodbaths of Christians and indigenous ethnic-communities, as well as the nerve-racking Islamists’ herdsmen terrorism in Nigeria. A Stitch in Time Saves Nine!
The Burden of History
In the well-researched book of Dan Jacobs, entitled, “The Brutality of Nations”, mentioned earlier on, Jacobs uncovers a provocative paragraph from an editorial in the “Washington Post” of July 2, 1969. According to the “Washington Post” editorial:
“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 the International Committee of the Red Cross, and other relief agencies, from flying food to Biafra.” (Dan Jacobs, “The Brutality of Nations.” Cited also in Chinua Achebe’s “There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra”, The Penguin Press, New York 2012, p.230).
One thing is certain. The attention of the U.N and other world powers were drawn to the plights of Biafrans during the war. Especially, by some conscientious individuals, aid workers, church organizations, journalists, and so forth. Unfortunately, they were simply, ignored. So, it is not a question of ignorance, but lack of good will, on the part of the U.N and other world powers, towards the Biafrans.
In a special way, Jacobs, ultimately, castigates the British for supporting Nigerian Government policies of blockade and starvation against the Biafrans. The author of the book, “The Brutality of Nations”, alleges a cover-up of Western complicity in obstructing food aid to Biafra enclave. He charges that supplies for the starving Biafran refugees during the Nigeria-Biafra War of the late 1960s, were impeded by major nations, notably Britain, U.S., U.S.S.R (Russia), among others.
In particular, Dan Jacobs reveals how the world powers failed to heed to the lamentations of Pope Paul VI over what may befall Biafrans should the world powers themselves allow the victory of arms to prevail in the Conflict between Nigeria and Biafra:
“The war seemed to be reaching its conclusion, with terror of possible reprisals and massacres against a defenseless people worn out by deprivations, by hunger, and by the loss of all they possess. The news this morning is very alarming. … One fear torments public opinion. The fear that victory of arms may carry with it the killing of numberless people. There are those who actually fear a kind of genocide.” – (Pope Paul VI, cited in Dan Jacobs, “The Brutality of Nations”, Knopf, New York 1987 (Emphasis mine).
The observations of Pope Paul VI confirms what we all know already, namely, that genocide was committed during the war against Biafrans. The Pope also was worried about what might await Biafrans in Nigeria at the end of the war should the wishes of the aggressor be allowed to prevail. That is, without the Biafrans achieving their self-determination for which the war was fought.
Quotations and Sources with Dates on Biafra
We now turn to some quotations from various sources with date that show that the statement of President Buhari that the “Nigerian Army was not harsh on the Biafrans during the 3-year Nigeria-Biafra War, is not only a lie but also very misleading.
For instance, the “New York Times” of 21 December 1967, wrote as follows about the atrocities of the Nigerian federal troops and government against the Biafrans:
“In some areas outside the East… Ibos were killed by local people with at least the acquiescence of the federal force… 1000 Ibo civilians perished in Benin in this way.”
Herbert Ekwe Ekwe, professor of history and politics and an expert on genocide, chronicled a number of actual series of atrocities, real crimes against humanity, that occurred on the battlefield and as a result of the policies of the federal government of Nigeria. Ekwe Ekwe contends that the International Committee in the Investigation of Crimes of Genocide carried out exhaustive investigation of the evidence, ‘interviewing 1082 people representing all the actors in the dispute (the two sides of the civil war and international collaborators).’ After thorough painstaking research, the Commission concludes, through its Investigator (Dr. Mensah of Ghana):
“Finally, I am of the opinion that in many of the cases cited to me hatred of the Biafrans (mainly Igbos) and a wish to exterminate them was a foremost motivational factor.” [Emphasis in original.] – (Herbert Ekwe Ekwe, “The Biafra War: Nigeria and the Aftermath”, Edwin Mellen Press, Lampeter, Ceredigion, U.K. 1991). As quoted in Chinua Achebe, “There Was A Country”, p. 230).
Arthur M. Schlesinger, a distinguished American historian, social critic, and political insider has this to say on the dire situation in Biafra:
“The terrible tragedy of the people of Biafra has now assumed a catastrophic dimension. Starvation is daily claiming the lives of an estimated 6,000 Igbo tribesmen, most of them children. If adequate food is not delivered to the people in the immediate future hundreds of thousands of human beings will die of hunger.” – (Arthur Meier Schlesinger, “Dynamics of World Power: A Documentary History of U.S. Foreign Policy, 1945-1973, Volume 1”, Chelsea House, New York 1983.)
Schlesinger went further to cite the most compelling powerful statement of the era on Biafra tragedy from the U.S. President Richard Nixon’s campaign speech on September 10, 1968:
“Until now efforts to relieve the Biafran people have been thwarted by the desire of the central government of Nigeria to pursue total and unconditional victory and by fear of the Ibo 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 to ‘go through channels’ or to observe the diplomatic niceties. The destruction of an entire people is an immoral objective even in the most moral of wars. It can never be justified; it can never be condoned.” – President Richard Nixon (cited in Arthur Meier Schlesinger, “Dynamics of World Power.”)
In the same context, “Washington Morning Post”, 27 September, 1967, writes that, “after the federal government take over of Benin… troops killed 500 Ibo civilians after a house-to-house search.” The “London Observer”, 21 January, 1968, on its part, reported that, “The greatest single massacre occurred in the Ibo town of Asaba where 700 Ibo male were lined up and shot.”
“New York Times”, 10th January, 1968, has this to say, “Federal troops… killed, or stood by while mob killed, more than 5000 Ibos in Warri, Sapele, Agbor…” Also, the French newspaper, “Le Monde”, 5th April, 1968, reports that “There has been genocide on the occasion of the 1966 massacre… 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.” Again, “New York Times”, 18, January, 1968, reports that, “In Calabar… federal forces shot at least 1000 and perhaps 2000 Ibos, most of them civilians.”
Apart from Newspapers’ reports and editorials, there were also quotations from statements made by some individuals on Biafra during the war, which are equally, revealing.
For instance, Benjamin Adekunle, Commander, 3rd Marine Commando Division, Nigerian Army, is reported to have said:
“I want to see no Red Cross, no Caritas, no World Council of Churches, no Pope, no missionary and no UN delegation. I want to prevent even one Ibo from having even one piece to eat before their capitulation. We shoot at everything that moves and when our troops march into the center of Ibo territory, we shoot at everything even things that do not move.” – Benjamin Adekunle.
Federal Nigerian Minister to E.C. Schwarzenback, Swiss Review of Africa, in February 1968, was reported to have said:
“The war aim and (final) solution properly speaking of the entire problem… is to discriminate against the Ibos and in their interest. Such discrimination would include above all the detachment of those oil-rich territories in the Eastern Region… In addition, the Ibos’ freedom of movement would be restricted, to prevent their renewed penetration into other parts… leaving any access to the sea to the Ibos… is quite out of the question.” – (“The Heavy Hands of Nigerian Federal Troops on Biafra”, published in “Nigeriaworld.com”, September 21, 2018).
Mr. Erif Spiff (Eyewitness), 1966), says that:
“Bestialities and indignities of all kinds were visited on Biafrans in 1966. In Ikeja Barracks (Western Nigeria), Biafrans were forcibly fed on a mixture of human urine and faeces. In Northern Nigeria, numerous Biafran house-wives and nursing mothers were raped before their husbands and children. Young girls were abducted from their homes, working places and schools and forced into sexual intercourse with sick, demented and leprous men.” – (Ibid.)
Monsignor Georges (sent down on a fact-finding mission by His Holiness, Pope Paul VI), reports as follows:
“There has been genocide, for example on the occasion of the 1966 massacres… Two areas have suffered badly [from the fighting]. Firstly, in the region between the towns of Benin and Asaba where widows and orphans remain, federal Troops having for unknown reasons massacred all the men. According to eyewitness of that massacre the commander ordered the execution of every Ibo male over the age of ten years.” – (“Le Monde” (French Evening newspaper) April 5, 1968).
General Alex Madiebo, noted that when he arrived at Ikot-Ekpene, July 1968, with his Biafran Army battalions to salvage the situation there and protect the civilians from the invading Federal Nigerian troops, what he saw was heartbreaking:
“I saw several of Zombie-like creatures – men, women, and children, lying sitting or squatting in the midst of others who were dead. The living ones were completely reduced to skeletons and could not talk. I was seeing for the first time… kwashiorkor… Frankly, I took fright… I believe that any foreign troops from anywhere in the world occupying Ikot Ekpene or any other town in Biafra would have shown much more sympathy…” – (Alex Madiebo, “The Nigerian Revolution and the Biafran War”, Fourth Dimension Publishers, Enugu 1980.)
Anthony Enahoro, Nigerian Commissioner for Information at a press conference in (New York, July 1968), said, “… it (starvation) is a legitimate aspect of war…” Alison Ayida, Head of Nigerian Delegation, Niamey Peace Talks, Republic of Niger, July 1968, echoed a similar sentiment when he said, “Starvation is a legitimate weapon of war, and we have every intention of using it against the rebels…”
Chief Obafemi Awolowo (who doubled as Nigerian Minister of Finance and Vice President to General Gowon’s military junta during the Nigeria-Biafra War), was more pointed in echoing similar sentiment, when he said, “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.” – (Cited in Dan Jacobs, “The Brutality of Nations.” See also Chinua Achebe, “There Was A Country”, p. 233.)
Lagos Policeman quoted in “New York Review”, 21 December 1967, was reported to have said, “… the Ibos must be considerably reduced in number.” The theme song of Radio Kaduna, government-controlled, 1967-1970, went as follows, “Let us go and crush them. We will pillage their property, rape their womenfolk, kill off their menfolk and leave them uselessly weeping. We will complete the pogrom of 1966.”
Frederick Forsyth, foremost author on Biafra, has the best description of what the Biafran people went through during the war. Writing from Umuahia, Biafra, in January 1969, Forsyth, said:
“… 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 a half to five million persons… the Kwashiorkor 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, more 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 a bitter harvest unless…” – (Frederick Forsyth, “Biafra: Fighting a War Without Guns”, BBC Documentary (1995). See also Ralph Uwechie, “Reflections on the Nigerian Civil War: facing the Future”, Trafford Publishers, Bloomington, Indiana 2004.)
One could go on and on quoting from more sources on the Biafra War, what the Igbos were subjected to during the war. However, what we have said so far is enough to convince whoever cares to know, the reason why we are calling on the International Community, the U.N and the other world powers, to take a decision on Biafra now, to avoid a repeat of the past.
Because none of those who participated in committing the war crime against the Biafrans had been charged, or prosecuted, fifty years since the end of the war in 1970. Moreover, all these atrocities happened in the name of “Keeping Nigeria One” – the Nigerian military federal government’s civil war slogan, “To Keep Nigeria One is a Task that Must be Done.”
Is this not one of the major reasons, why the Igbo persecution, has continued unabated in Nigeria? Is it not for the same reason that the state-sponsored killings, ethnic-cleansings, and bloodbath have, instead of decreasing has continued to increase terribly in the country. And is today extended to other indigenous ethnic-groups and Christians in Nigeria? In the name of keeping Nigeria one, genocide against the indigenous ethnic populations has become the driving force of the Nigerian State! What a pity?
Mind you, the bulk of military officers of the federal troops who actually fought the war for the federal government of Nigeria, came from the so-called minority ethnic-groups. These were the soldiers used by the military junta at Lagos in fighting the Biafrans. Today, the chicken has come back home to roost. Nemesis has caught up with everybody in the Nigerian State.
Time for U.N to Redeem Its Image on Biafra
There is an urgent need for the U.N. to act now on the Biafra quest for self-determination by organizing a referendum to that effect before it is too late. The world body needs to act now, and act very fast. The U.N. and indeed, the humanity in general should do all that is humanly possible to avoid a repeat of what happened in the 60s’ during the First Nigeria-Biafra War (1967-1970). That is, when at the watch of the U.N., U.S., U.K., Russia and other world powers, the British-backed Federal Government of Nigeria, mercilessly massacred millions of Biafrans, mostly Igbos in a senseless war that could had been averted had the world powers intervened in all honesty and justice, as and when due, to save lives of the Igbo Biafrans.
The most painful part of it all is that even at the end of the war in 1970, the world body, U.N., instead of mitigating the end of the war armistice reached between Nigeria and Biafra, for the rehabilitation and reintegration of the war victims, the U.N decided instead, to leave the Biafrans at the mercy of their former aggressors. This is the crux of the matter!
When the war ended in 1970, some conscientious individuals, journalists, aid workers and other organizations of note, were calling the attention of the U.N and International Community to the plights of the Biafran Igbos, but they were simply, ignored. The U.N. showed little or no interest. Such that at the end of the war in 1970, the U.N. left the Igbo people at the mercy of their former aggressors, the Nigerian military junta and hostile federal government. Nobody in the U.N., or elsewhere, suggested even the need to send Peace-Keeping Force in Biafraland that could have helped to protect the lives of civilians, war victims from the wild bullets of the “victorious” Nigerian soldiers.
In addition, the world body, U.N., and other world powers never thought it wise of forming a federal government of national-unity in post-war Nigeria. Something that would have helped to incorporate and integrate once more, the Igbos into the mainstream of the Nigerian society, and helped them to participate on equal footing with others, in the running of the affairs of the country at all levels of the leadership structure of the federal government.
When the war ended in 1970, Igbos, were left at the mercy of their former aggressors. There is no doubt that the failure of the U.N. and other world powers to come to the aid of the Biafrans at the end of the war in 1970, had helped to cement the injustice and scenario of bloodbaths against the Igbos, we are witnessing in Nigeria today?
Nigeria’s Current Disturbing Situation
Again, President Buhari’s statement that the “Nigerian Army was not harsh on the Biafrans during the 3-year Nigeria-Biafra War”, is contradictory in terms. Everyone knows that the President was not been sincere, because he knew within himself that the opposite of what he said was what happened during the war. The story of the Biafra war is still very fresh for anybody to be misled by the President’s unfortunate statement.
President Buhari’s latest infamous statement that, he “will treat the Igbos in the language they understand”, contradicts everything he said that the “Nigerian Army was not harsh on the Biafrans during the War.” Even the way he reacted swiftly by banning Twitter in Nigeria, for deleting his Twitter post of that particular civil war genocidal threat he made against the Igbos, tells you exactly, that the Nigerian maximum ruler himself had no regrets at all for making such a threat against the Igbos!
With the same mindset, President Buhari recently, described the Igbo nation as a “dot in the circle” in the map of Nigeria. Which, according to him, “even if they (Igbo) want to exit have no access to anywhere.” The President had also, during a press conference in 2015 at Washington, D.C., described the Igbos as 5% (five-percenters), who should not expect equal treatment from his administration as those he claimed gave him 97% of their votes during elections. That was to justify why he is running a lopsided and nepotistic government, in which he has deliberately, excluded the Igbos from the echelons of his administration.
Considering all these, it is legitimate for all well-meaning people across the globe, to be worried with the present travails of Nnamdi Kanu at the hands of Buhari regime. In fact, many fear that Buhari and his Aso Rock Cabals are ready to vent their anger of hate on Nnamdi Kanu, use him to set an example, as a warning to Igbo people in general, and to any other Igbo person that may arise tomorrow to challenge the Fulani dominance and conquest agenda of Nigeria.
Even though the Nigeria-Biafra War (open combatant), was said to have ended in 1970, however, since then, Igboland, the epic entre of the three-year war has been under military siege (militarization) by the Nigerian military and police. In addition, Igboland has continued to be subjected to various forms of discrimination by successive Nigerian Federal Governments. A situation, which today, has helped to sustain the Nigerian state-sponsored killings and persecution of not only the Igbos, but also indigenes of other indigenous ethnic-groups in the country.
The question is, ‘What is still holding the U.N from doing the needful, to stop the bloodbaths going on in Nigeria today?’ Why is the U.N delaying in living up to its principles and ‘doctrine’ on referendum for self-determination of indigenous peoples in Nigeria?
Francis Anekwe Oborji is a Roman Catholic Priest. He lives in Rome where he is a Professor of missiology (mission theology) in a Pontifical University. He runs a column on The Trent. He can be reached by email HERE.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.