At the moment, we all have reasons why Nigeria cannot continue. Everybody feels betrayed one way or the other. The Yorubas feel betrayed by the Igbos while the Igbos feel betrayed by Nigeria (most especially the North). And Niger Delta in turn feel betrayed by Biafra. The feeling of betrayal is a continuous cycle in which one cannot pinpoint how it started therefore the end cannot be predicted.
A lot of us agitating for war were not born when it all started. We are probably acting based on tales by our fathers and forefathers. And some of us may have taken extra steps to read about Nigerian history. But since Nigerian history is intentionally omitted from our school curriculum, we only have different narratives from different actors telling the story from their own personal point of view. This is fair because no one man can be everywhere at the same time to see everything. The only problem is that we in this generation only take one point of view and run with it as if we know everything that happened.
In the beginning, some sources state that around 1945–1950, there were minor riots in Jos in protest of the northern amalgamation with the southern regions.
In 1953 when Northern Nigerians were beginning to consider secession from the Nigerian colony that would soon be a nation, Nnamdi Azikiwe gave a speech before the caucus of his political party, the National Council of Nigeria, and the Cameroons (NCNC) in Yaba, Nigeria on May 12, 1953. That speech, while not disallowing secession, suggested that there would be grave consequences if the Northern region became an independent nation. He threatened the North to remain as ONE NIGERIA.
When oil was discovered in the Igbo-dominated eastern region, the Emirs of Zaria and Katsina demanded fifty percent of the seats in the newly formed Central Legislature. The Emirs threatened to secede from Nigeria if their demands were not met. The acceptance of these demands signaled the beginning of northern domination of Nigerian national politics.
Furthermore, during the 1954 constitution conference in London, Obafemi Awolowo of the Action Group (AG Party) tabled a motion that a secession clause should be enshrined into the constitution of the emerging Nigerian Nation to allow any part to opt-out of Nigeria should the need arise.
The NCNC through Nnamdi Azikiwe vehemently rejected the motion stating that once we have a federation, we are indivisible and perpetual. In other words, Nigeria’s unity is non-negotiable. They also went further to say that to secede from the newly formed Nigeria would amount to treason.
In 1959, the Igbos under the umbrella of the National Council for Nigeria and Cameroon (NCNC) formed a coalition with the Hausa-Fulani-supported Northern People’s Congress (NPC). The aim of this coalition was to block the western Yoruba-controlled Action Group (AG) party from gaining any significant share of central authority in the December elections. And it worked because a northerner, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, was named Prime Minister.
In 1965, the Yorubas rioted in protest against what they felt was a forced exclusion of the AG from the Federal government.
In 1966, A military coup d’état led by lower and middle-ranking officers, some of them Igbo, overthrew the NPC-NCNC dominated government. Prime Minister Balewa along with other northern and western government officials were killed. The coup was widely considered an Igbo plot to take power and overthrow the northern dominated government.
General Johnson Ironsi, an Igbo, consolidated power in the military and used its power to restore order throughout Nigeria. Ironsi declared all political parties illegal and formed the Federal Military Government (FMG).
In that same 1966, a counter-coup was launched by mostly northern troops. General Ironsi and many others, mostly Igbos, were killed. Between June and July, there was a mass exodus of Igbos from the north and west. Over 1.3 million Igbos fled the neighboring regions in order to escape persecution as anti-Igbo riots increased. Many Igbos were massacred.
The Anti-Igbo riots gained momentum and voracity. The exodus gained greater impetus. Armed bands of civilians and militia slaughtered Igbos indiscriminately.
The FMG, now under the control of Major General Yakubu Gowon, a middle-belt tribe member, and a Christian, restored calm to Nigeria. The anti-Igbo riots led many to believe that the only way Igbos could live securely was to secede and form their own country.
The slaughter of Igbos was a call of duty for Lt. Col. Odumegwu-Ojukwu to try and lead Igbos to secede away from Nigeria for their survival. Although some history books (Azikiwe and Ken Saro Wiwa’s account of the civil war) will tell you that Ojukwu predetermined the Biafra secession before the massacre and only used the massacre as an opportunity to get it. A vexed Azikiwe narrated that Ojukwu was blinded by greed. The Aburi Accord was supposed to guarantee regional autonomy and security for Ojukwu’s people.
This was the genesis of The Biafra civil war which saw between 1.5 million and 2.1 million killed, including many who died in the famine following the war. The end result of the Igbo war of secession was the deaths of a large portion of their more educated male members and the almost total removal of Igbos from the government. And the loss of funds and properties.
Many reports cite the Niger Delta minorities as the weak link in Ojukwu’s strategy while others fault his unwillingness to do business with Niger Delta oil wells in order to get support from the western community as the reason he lost the war. Although some applaud him claiming he didn’t want to sell out, others fault his tactics and claim he wanted all the oil wells to himself after the war.
Now you may be wondering, what does Niger Delta (South-South) have against Igbos (South-East). Well, history has it that Ojukwu betrayed Isaac Boro. Isaac Adaka Boro was arrested and sentenced to death by Aguiyi Ironsi and Ojukwu for declaring the Niger Delta Republic. Ojukwu fought him for 12 days using “one Nigeria” to kill 150 soldiers loyal to Boro, striped him naked, and sent him to Ironsi to charge him to court where he was convicted of treason for trying to break away from “Azikiwe’s one Nigeria”.
Some history books have it that the soldiers that planned the coup in which Hausas, Yorubas, Niger Deltans, and Middle Belters were killed leaving Igbo politicians like Zik and Opara who were part of Balewa corrupt government were left untouched.
However before Ironsi and Ojukwu could execute Boro, another coup happened which saw Gowon take over and subsequently declared Isaac Boro innocent and released him.
About a year after Ojukwu captured and convicted Boro for treason for trying to break away from One Nigeria, Ojukwu himself tried to break away and form Biafra enlisting Niger Delta under Biafra without consulting the likes of Isaac Boro and that was why the likes of Boro and Saro Wiwa fought beside Gowon.
Some history books also have it that during the civil war, South-Southerners were treated as second-class citizens in Biafra. Some history books may suggest that Niger Delta minorities actually suffered the most atrocities during the civil war. Of course, when two elephants fight, the grass is bound to suffer.
Minorities in Biafra suffered atrocities at the hands of those fighting for both sides of the conflict. Minorities, who had always harbored an interest in having their own state within the Nigerian federation, were suspected of collaborating with Federal troops to undermine Biafra.
The Federal troops were equally culpable of this crime. In the Rivers area, ethnic minorities sympathetic to Biafra were killed in the hundreds by federal troops. In Calabar, some 2000 Efiks were also killed by Federal troops. Outside of Biafra, atrocities were recorded against the resident of Asaba in present-day Delta State by both sides of the conflict
Asaba massacre is just one of the numerous stories passed on by South-southerners to their children as their own personal account of the civil war.
The Federal troops entered Asaba around 5 October 1967 and began ransacking houses and killing civilians, claiming they were Biafran sympathizers. Reports suggest that several hundred may have been killed individually and in groups at various locations in the town. Leaders summoned the townspeople to assemble on the morning of 7 October, hoping to end the violence through a show of support for “One Nigeria.” Hundreds of men, women, and children, many wearing the ceremonial akwa ocha (white) attire paraded along the main street, singing, dancing, and chanting “One Nigeria.” At a junction, men and teenage boys were separated from women and young children and gathered in an open square at Ogbe-Osowa village. Federal troops revealed machine guns, and orders were given, reportedly by Second-in-Command, Maj. Ibrahim Taiwo, to open fire. It is estimated that more than 700 men and boys were killed, some as young as 12 years old, in addition to many more killed in the preceding days.
In Omakas book titled The Forgotten Victims: Ethnic Minorities in Nigeria Biafra War, 1967-1970, he said: The gory experiences suffered by the Biafra minorities have largely been neglected in the historiography of the Biafra war.
In Chinua Achebe’s book titled There was a Country, he had this to say on the Niger Delta Region page 47: …” The minorities of the Niger Delta, Mid-West and the Middle Belt were always uncomfortable with the notion that they had to fit into the tripod of the largest ethnic groups that was Nigeria…….many of them Ijaw, Kanuri, Ibibio, Tiv, Itsekiri, Isang, Urhobo, Anang and Efik were from ancient nation-states in their own right. Their leaders, however, often had to subsume their own ethnic ambitions within alliances with one of the big three groups in order to attain greater political results.
And so during the civil war, these minority groups were faced with a great dilemma.
When the war broke out, Biafra had stationed some of its troops in the Cross River region including Ikun in Biase Local Government. Though the Ikun initially supported Biafra and had friendly relations with the soldiers, as time went on tensions emerged. Some Ikun men were suspected of collaborating with Nigerian soldiers with no hard evidence. As a result murder, arrests, looting, and rapes were meted on that community by Biafrans.
William Norris of the London Times who visited Biafra reported an eyewitness account of how Ibibio men were surrounded and beaten to death in Umuahia on April 2, 1968. They were reportedly forced to march across an open space while the local people attacked them with sticks and clubs.
In another episode, Biafra soldiers took Ikun men to Ohafia for a meeting but never came back with them. An informant alleged that soldiers returned to the community and rounded up some men within their reach and shot them.
B J Ikpeme a Senior Medical Officer in the then Eastern region revealed atrocities perpetuated by Biafra soldiers against the minorities in towns of present-day Cross River and Akwa Ibom States.
Ikpemes’ argument was that Ojukwu`s declaration of Biafra was done against the wishes of the majority of Calabar, Ogoja, and Rivers provinces who for many years had agitated for a separate state and not secession from Nigeria. They were never consulted and Ikpeme also argued that the Igbo leadership had concluded plans of either to force the five million non-Igbo speaking Biafra minorities to accept Biafra or eliminate them outrightly. It was on this basis that soldiers were quickly sent to the minority areas to keep down the people, detain or kill anyone who raises an opposing voice against Biafra.
In Asang town alone about 400 people were carried away to unknown destinations and never came back. Attan Onoyon town suffered the same fate. Enyong was burnt down and many people killed by Biafra soldiers. Biafra soldiers shot many villagers in Ekpenyong, present-day Akwa Ibom. On October 18, 1967, about 169 civilians in detention were lined up by Biafra soldiers and shot (source: New York Times as an informational advertisement by the Consulate General of the Federal Republic of Nigeria New York).
It is clear to see that the minorities suffered from both hands because they could not be trusted by any. But it was more painful to suffer from the hands of your so-called senior brothers than from the hands of Nigeria.
To many south southerners, Igbos are crying and wanting away from the oppression and dominance of The North in Nigeria just to oppress and dominate the minorities.
Until this is sorted out, Biafra seems like just an unthinkable idea to the South southerners.
If we must move forward be it as One Nigeria or as The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), these fears and doubts must be tabled out in other to build trust. Only when we can trust can we begin to fight for each other
NOTE: The highlighted texts are reference links to web-based references.