Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Igboland – Freedom, survival, future

The major preoccupation of an aggressor/conqueror state is to seek to effectuate a process of memory erasure over its overrun nation and land. This is the opportunity for the conqueror to begin to construct a bogus narrative of possession and control of the targeted society that arrogates it to the fictive role of primary agent of the course of history.

The enduring success of Chinua Achebe’s Things fall Apart is that the classic not only anticipates this conqueror’s predilection but it subverts the triumphalism of the latter’s Pyrrhic victory. Despite the District Commissioner’s bombastically-captioned anthropological treatise at the end of the novel, heralding the latest European “possession and control” of another region of Africa, this time Igboland, the future direction of history here neither lies with the administrator nor his evolving occupation regime – nor indeed with his conquering capital back home in Europe!

To locate the source for change and transformation in Igboland, subsequently, we need to examine, carefully, the import and circumstance of historian Obierika’s address to the administrator on the life and times of his friend and people’s hero, Okonkwo, who had recently committed suicide. We are reminded that as he speaks, two full sentences into a third, Obierika’s voice “trembled and choked his words”, trailing off into gasps and silences of deep contemplation. It is precisely within the context of these kaleidoscopic frames of Obierika’s recalls and introspection that we discern the sowing of the Igbo nation’s regenerative seeds of resistance and quest for the restoration of lost sovereignty. It is therefore not surprising that Okonkwo’s grandchildren would spearhead the freeing of Nigeria, to which Igboland had since been arbitrarily incorporated by the conquest, from the British occupation – beginning in the 1940s, just 40 years after the so-called formal inauguration of the conquest.


For the aggressor state with a clear genocidal goal, memory erasure of the crime scene at the targeted nation is even more frantically pursued. On the morrow of the conclusion of its execution of the second phase of the Igbo genocide in January 1970, Nigeria wheeled out pretentious cartographers to embark on erasing the illustrious name Biafra from all maps and records that it could lay its hand on! During its meetings, the genocidist junta in power banned the words “sun”, “sunlight”, “sunshine”, “sundown”, “sunflower”, “sunrise” or any other word-derivatives from the great sun star that unmistakably reference the inveterate Land of the Rising Sun. This task and symbolism of sun-banning and sun-bashing were of course bizarre if not daft as the junta itself was to discover much sooner than later – and from a most unlikely source indeed…

At the time, a British military advisor to the junta, who was out dining with a senior member of the council in Lagos, unwittingly compared Igbo national consciousness and tenacity with that of the Poles. The advisor, who had studied modern history at university and was a great admirer of the exceptional endurance of Polish people in history, stated that the Igbo had demonstrated similar courage in the latter’s defence of Biafra and that the “rebirth of Biafra is a distinct possibility in my lifetime” – this was unlike the 123 years it took the Polish state to re-appear in history after its disappearance from the world map! The advisor was then in his early 30s and the obvious implications of his Igbo-Polish analysis were not lost on his host. The junta member co-diner was understandably most outraged by the advisor’s crass insensitivity on the subject which he readily shared with his junta colleagues. Predictably, the immediate consequence of the hapless advisor’s impudence was an early recall home to Britain.

There were other bouts of farcical treats on display in Nigeria during the period aimed at erasing the memory of the Igbo genocide. Junta and other state publications and those of their sympathisers would print the name Biafra, a proper noun, with a lower case “b” or box the name in quotes or even invert the “b” to read “p”, such was the intensity of the schizophrenia that wracked the minds of the members of the council over the all important subject of the historic imprint of Igbo resistance and survival.

The Awolowoists and Awolowoids (supporters of Obafemi Awolowo – junta deputy chair, genocidist “theorist” and head of finance ministry) on the junta even toyed with the idea of abolishing money altogether in the economy of the soon occupied-land of the resourceful and enterprising Igbo. They reasoned that this would deliver the “final solution” that had eluded them during the “encirclement, siege, pounding and withering away”-strategy of the previous 44 months… They ended up with the “compromise” pittance of £20.00 sterling (twenty pounds sterling only) per the surviving male-head of the Igbo family – a derisory sum, which, they reckoned, stood no chance of averting the catastrophe of social implosion they envisaged would occur in Igboland subsequently. We mustn’t fail to note that the £20.00-handout excluded the hundreds of thousands of Igbo families whose male-heads had been murdered during the genocide… Dreadfully, the accent placed by Nigeria on this third phase of the genocide, starting from 13 January 1970, was the economic strangulation of the 9 million Igbo survivors… 3.1 million Igbo had been murdered in the genocide between 29 May 1966 and 12 January 1970. This is the foundational and most gruesome genocide of post-(European)conquest Africa.


Igbo survival from the genocide is arguably the most extraordinary feature for celebration in an otherwise depressing and devastating age of pestilence in Africa of the past 51 years. Few people believed that the Igbo would survive their ordeal, especially from September 1968 when 8-10,000 Igbo, mostly children and older people, died each day as the overall brutish conditions imposed by the genocidist siege deteriorated catastrophically.

The Igbo are probably the only people in the world who were convinced that they would survive. And when they did, the aftermath was electrifying. In spontaneous celebration, the Igbo prefaced their exchange of greetings with each other, for quite a while, with the exaltation, “Happy Survival!” Igbo survival, at the end, does represent the stunning triumph of the human spirit over the savage forces unleashed by Nigeria and its allies that had tried determinably, for four years, to destroy it.

Forty-one years on, first and second generations removed from their parents and grandparents, respectively, who freed British-occupied Nigeria in 1960 and survived the follow-up genocide, Okonkwo’s progeny are once again tasked and poised to restore Igbo lost sovereignty. Everyone knows of their firm resolve and ability to achieve this goal. The Igbo can feel it; they feel it; the rest of the world feels it. Surely, the successful outcome of this endeavour is one of the most eagerly awaited news developments in contemporary Africa.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Presaging the Igbo genocide

In his recently published Empire: What Ruling the World Did to the British (London: Viking, 2011), Jeremy Paxman allocates just 12 lines of the total 368-page study to British-occupied Nigeria. But the pithy commentary undoubtedly speaks volumes of the mindset of the occupation regime on the very eve of its presumed departure from Nigeria in October 1960. This is clearly a regime that is not prepared or willing to abandon the bounty harvest or lucre that is its Nigeria. Instead, it is exploring across a spectrum of strategies to subvert the goal of the restoration-of-independence movement for the peoples which the Igbo had led since the 1930s.

Using archival material, Paxman presents the crux of the panoramic conversation on the subject in Lagos, in January 1960, between James Robertson, the outgoing occupation governor, and visiting Prime Minister Harold Macmillan:

MACMILLAN: Are the people fit for self-government?

ROBERTSON: No, of course not.

According to Paxman, James Robertson reckons that it would take “another 20 or 25 years” for Nigeria to be “fit for self-government” (Paxman, 2011: 272). Interestingly, this is the same Robertson who had by the time of his Lagos meeting with Macmillan “concluded” the “terms” of the British “exit” from Nigeria in “negotiations” with the country’s restoration-of-independence movement – begun 15 years earlier and had been successively chaired by two previous occupation governors including sessions scheduled and held in England. This is the same Robertson who had just rigged the December 1959 countrywide elections in Nigeria (part of the restoration-of-independence “package”) in favour of the Hausa-Fulani north region (see the irrepressible Harold Smith, member of the occupation regime in Lagos at the time –, accessed 27 November 2011), Britain’s local clients, vehemently opposed to African independence – and, therefore, the British exit! (This north Nigeria region has the unenviable accolade across the entire Southern World of being home to one of the few peoples who wanted the occupation of their lands indefinitely by one of the pan-European powers of global conquest since the 15th century CE.) Furthermore, this is the same Robertson whose predecessor, in Lagos, had earlier rigged the countrywide census results – again, in favour of Britain’s Hausa-Fulani north region clients ( 27 November 2011).

Macmillan then asks Robertson for his advice on the way forward for the British continuing occupation of Nigeria: “What do you recommend me to do?”

ROBERTSON: I recommend you give it to them at once.

Really?! What? Why? Doesn’t Roberston’s suggestion to his boss sound wholly contradictory to the tract that this conclave had trodden so far? Well, no, not really… Both prime minister and governor have no disagreement, whatsoever, on holding onto British “interests” in Nigeria in perpetuity; they do not believe that they are necessarily bound by the “terms” of the envisaged British “exit” from Nigeria “negotiated” since 1945 even though, ironically, these had largely preserved British “interests”, thanks to the veto-power that its Hausa-Fulani north region subalterns would exercise in the “new” dispensation; most crucially, both men do not subscribe to the inalienable rights of Africans to recover their conquered lands.

It is the case, though, that if the British officials were to renege on their “exit” from Nigeria at this 11th hour, they would have to contend with a serious crisis – at least in the short/medium term – right there on the ground in Nigeria: “The alternative [is] that most talented people [read: the Igbo and those others elsewhere in south Nigeria who demanded and supported the drive towards unfettered restoration-of-independence for the peoples] would become rebels and the British would spend the next two decades fighting to stave off what [is] inevitable, while incurring the opprobrium of the world” (Paxman: 272).

As the Lagos deliberations end, nine months before the designated British departure date, both prime minister and governor needn’t agonise too much over the future prospects of their country’s Nigeria stanglehold. After all, despite the “talented people”, Britain is aware that it holds the trump card to defend this stranglehold via its Hausa-Fulani clients. Twice in the previous 15 years (significantly, it should be noted, during the very years of British “negotiations” of its “exit” from Nigeria with the “talented people”), the clients organised and unleashed pogroms against Igbo people in northcentral town of Jos (1945) and north city of Kano (1953). Hundreds of Igbo were murdered during these massacres and tens of thousands of pounds sterling worth of their property looted or destroyed. No perpetrators of these murders were ever apprehended or punished by the occupation regime.

Six and one-half years hence, from 29 May 1966, these same British clients would unleash the genocide against the Igbo people. During the course of 44 months, 3.1 million Igbo children, women and men are murdered in this foundational and most gruesome genocide of post-(European)conquest Africa. The Igbo and the world suddenly realise that those anti-Igbo pogroms carried out during the years of the Anglo--“talented people”-in-Nigeria doubtful restoration-of-independence negotiations were indeed “dress rehearsals” for the 29 May 1966-12 January 1970 Igbo genocide.

Reexamination and restitution

Britain plays an instrumental role in the perpetration of the genocide – politically, diplomatically, militarily. Now, a new Harold-the-prime minister, this time Harold Wilson, has no qualms about the “opprobrium of the world” considered by the other Harold during those January 1960 talks with occupation governor Robertson. Wilson’s reasons are obvious: the architecture of control and execution of mass violence in Nigeria have altered, somehow, since January 1960, and the forces on the ground spearheading the Igbo genocide are the trusted Hausa-Fulani subalterns of old and their since locally expanded allies (Yoruba west region especially) – not Britain, directly; precisely, what Macmillan and Robertson had sought to avoid!

So, as the slaughter of the Igbo intensifies, particularly in those catastrophic months of 1968-1969, Harold Wilson is totally unfazed as he informs Clyde Ferguson (United States State Department special coordinator for relief to Biafra) that he, Harold Wilson, “would accept a half million dead Biafrans if that was what it took” Nigeria to destroy the Igbo resistance to the genocide (Roger Morris, Uncertain Greatness: Henry Kissinger & American Foreign Policy [London & New York: Quartet Books, 1977: 122]). Such is the grotesquely expressed diminution of African life made by a supposedly leading politician of the world of the 1960s – barely 20 years after the deplorable perpetration of the Jewish genocide. As the final tally of the murder of the Igbo demonstrates, Harold Wilson probably had the perverted satisfaction of having his Nigerian subalterns perform far in excess of the prime minister’s grim target.

Jeremy Paxman, a senior journalist at the British Broadcasting Corporation who anchors the BBC2 “Newsnight” programme, has a 3-minute follow-up video where he explains why he has written Empire. Two reasons are quite striking: (1) “Why did the British go out (sic) to conquer the world?” (2) “What did it do to them [the British, that is]?” For the Igbo of southwestcentral Africa, the double-jeopardy of conquest and occupation and genocide is palpably incalculable. It is now clear that the contemporary British state cannot continue to ignore its responsibilities in embarking on a comprehensive reexamination of the history of its relationship with the Igbo people and make the long-overdue restitution.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu

General Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, who passed away earlier on this morning after a long illness, is one of the greatest Igbo of all time... Okaa Omee. He was 78. In May 1966, at the age of 32, General Odumegwu-Ojukwu was thrust, centrally, in the politics of his people as the leader of the Biafran resistance to the Nigeria state’s premeditated genocide against the Igbo people. During the course of 44 harrowing months, Nigeria murdered 3.1 million Igbo, or one-quarter of this nation’s population, in this foundational genocide of post-(European)conquest Africa. General Odumegwu-Ojukwu’s leadership, throughout this catastrophe, was focused, selfless, stellar. Three urgent goals that Igbo intellectuals will effectuate, in his memory, are: (1) contribute, robustly, to continue to inform the entire world of the nature and extent of this genocide (2) ensure that all those who planned/ordered/murdered the Igbo during the genocide are brought to justice (thankfully, the crime of genocide has no statute of limitations in international law) and (3) the restoration of Igbo sovereignty.