Did the Federal Government of Nigeria Engage in Igbo Genocide?
By Emma Enekwechi, 9 May 2013
Chinua Achebe's recent book has revived fierce discussions about the Biafra genocide, the darkest chapter in Nigerian history. The country is still divided over the issue and 'Biafrans' want out of Nigeria
After Chinua Achebe published his new book - 'There was a country: A personal history of Biafra', Nigerian politicians, and intellectuals assailed his account of events accusing him of propaganda and creating the impression that what he wrote was some sort of fabrication. They went further to attack his person and impugn his reputation as one of Africa's greatest novelists. It has therefore become necessary to put together a sample of narratives from international observers, reporters, and writers articulated during or immediately after the events of 1966 -1970 and after.
People need to know what events preceded and precipitated the January 15, 1966 coup; what happened as the conflict escalated culminating in the slaughter of tens of thousands of Igbo and other Easterners; what brought about the secession of Biafra from Nigeria; and how Nigeria conducted the war and committed the worst genocide in Africa in the 20th century. This information is important because young people need to be able to look at contemporary Nigeria in the light of her history so they can appreciate the present mess the country is currently in and be able to judge for themselves the future of the fiction called 'One Nigeria.'
The January 15, 1966 coup was conceived and planned by Majors Chukwuma Nzeogwu, Emmanuel Ifeajuna and Ademola Ademoyega. 'Why We Struck: The story of the first Nigerian Coup' published by Evans Brothers, Ltd Ibadan, 1981, is the original work of the only surviving member of the trio that conceived and planned the coup. Here is the background to the January 15 coup given by Major Ademoyega. 'By November 1965, the people (of Western Nigeria) had started to fight the unpopular Akintola government. They sang war songs and fought on the streets. They invented the 'wetie' (meaning soak him up), a practice in which a political opponent and his house or property were sprayed with petrol and set ablaze. Somehow, in 'wetie' only the intended victim suffered. By December 1965, there had been a total breakdown of law and order in Western Nigeria. The lawlessness had gone beyond the control of the mobile (anti-riot) police and the Akintola government was seen to be tottering to its collapse... .. This was the appropriate time for a state of emergency to be declared in the West and for a caretaker government to be set up, pending the conduct of a free and fair election. However the Balewa government was more anxious to preserve Akintola (whose political party NNDP was in alliance with Balewa and Sarduana's party, NPC, to form the NNA led by Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, Sarduana of Sokoto; the NCNC, AG, and UMBC were also in alliance as the UPGA led by Dr. M. I. Okpara) as the premier of the region than to restore law and order. Therefore Balewa announced that the situation in the West was normal and that everything was under control.'p.22.
'I met Chief H O Davis, who was then a Federal Minister in the Balewa government, who had come to spend the New Year holidays at his retreat just behind the Army Chalet at Taqua Bay. I greeted him and asked if he was Chief Davis and he said 'Yes'. I soon got into deep conversation with him on the political situation in the country. I was particularly interested to know what the Federal Government's view was, apart from Balewa's public statements. Chief Davis made it clear to me that the Federal Government had no solution to the political crisis. He said that everybody was just waiting to see what would happen next and that nobody knew exactly what that would be; but surely something was bound to happen. I left Chief Davis feeling that the Balewa Government had something up its sleeve. Otherwise the minister would not be so emphatic that something was bound to happen. When I returned to the Officers' Mess, Apapa, on January 3, 1966, I went to work with Ifeajuna. After extensive prodding, we discovered that the Balewa Government had a terrible plan to bring the army fully to operate in the West for the purpose of eliminating the elites of that region, especially the intellectuals who were believed to be behind the intransigence of the people against the Akintola Government. It was for this reason that the government had attacked the intellectuals of the Region, especially those at Ife, intimidating and victimizing them for their refusal to support it. People like Tai Solarin of Mayflower School, Ikenne, were among those marked down. It was also intended that if the plan succeeded in the West, the next target would be the East. The Federal Government was to use loyal troops for this purpose and the 4th Battalion in Ibadan commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Largema and the 2nd Battalion in Ikeja temporarily commanded by Major Igboba, but soon to be taken over by Lieutenant-Colonel Gowon, were designated for this assignment. The operation was fixed for the third week of January 1966, when the Sarduana would have returned from his pilgrimage and Lieutenant-Colonel Gowon would have completed his takeover of the Ikeja Battalion. In preparation for this horrible move by the Federal Government, the high echelons of the Army and the Police were being reshuffled. Major-General Ironsi was ordered to proceed on leave from mid-January. He was to be relieved by Brigadier Maimalari, over the head of Brigadier Ademulegun. Lieutenant-Colonel Njoku was to temporarily command 2nd Brigade HQ at Apapa. In the Police Force Inspector-General Edet was sent on leave from December 20, 1965. The officer closest to him was retired and the third officer Alhaji Kam Salem was brought in as the new Inspector-General. The stage was thus set for the proper walloping of the UPGA 'rioters' of the West. From our own stance, this proposed 'whipping of the West' was a most dastardly plan. Anuforo, Onwuatuegwu and I had each in turn commanded the troops in Makurdi against the Tiv rioters who were opposed to the high-handedness and oppression of the Sarduana Government of the North.' pp 66-70….