Monday, 29 May 2017

Year 51: Igbo people, 29 May 1966 – Genocide, survival, remembrance

Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe

Andrew Hill’s composition, “Dedication”, appositely sets the tone for the essay below remembering 51 years to the day of the beginning of the Igbo genocide which would subsequently transform the course of Igbo history and that of the rest of Africa most tragically. Here, the Andrew Hill Sextet plays “Dedication” from its Point of Departure album – personnel: Hill, piano; Kenny Dorham, trumpet; Eric Dolphy, bass Clarinet; Joe Henderson, tenor saxophone; Richard Davis, bass; Tony Williams, drums, recorded: Van Gelder Studios, Englewood Cliffs, New York, 21 March 1964.
(i) “[Hope] is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart … Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out” – Válclav Havel, playwright, poet, former president, Czechoslovakia, former president, Czech Republic, “Válclav Havel on hope and power”, (accessed 20 April 2017)

(ii) “Good men and women are even better when they challenge safe zones of human thinking” – Ubaldo Rafiki to Herb Hirsch, communication,, 26 May 2012

TODAY, Monday 29 May 2017, marks the 51st anniversary of the start of the Igbo genocide. Beginning at mid-morning on Sunday 29 May 1966 to 12 January 1970, Britain, Nigeria’s
suzerain state,  then  under the premiership of Harold Wilson, and the composite aggregation of its Nigeria client state-on-the-ground, 3000 miles away in southwestcentral Africa – military officers, the police, Hausa-Fulani emirs, muslim clerics and intellectuals, students, civil servants, alimajiri, journalists, politicians, other public figures – planned and carried out the Igbo genocide. 

This is the foundational genocide of post-(European)conquest Africa. It is also Africa’s most expansive and devastating genocide of the 20th century and the inaugurator of contemporary Africa’s age of pestilence. A total of 3.1 million Igbo people, a quarter of this nation’s population at the time, were murdered during those harrowing 44 months.

FOR THE IGBO, prior to 29 May 1966, three important holidays were high up on their annual calendar: the Igbo National Day, the iri ji, or the New Yam Festival, and 1 October. The latter was the day of celebration for the restoration of independence for peoples in Nigeria after 60 years of the British conquest and occupation. Or, so were the thoughts predicated on this date’s designation... 

Igbo or Nigeria?

The Igbo were one of the very few constituent nations in what was Nigeria, again prior to 29 May 1966, who understood, fully, the immense liberatory possibilities ushered in by 1 October and the interlocking challenges of the vast reconstructionary work required for state and societal transformation in the aftermath of the British occupation. The Igbo had the most robust economy in the country in their east regional homeland, supplied the country with its leading writers, artists and scholars, supplied the country’s top universities with its vice-chancellors (presidents) and leading professors and scientists, supplied the country with its first indigenous university (the prestigious university at Nsukka), supplied the country with its leading and most spirited pan-Africanists, supplied the country with its top diplomats, supplied the country’s leading high schools with its head teachers and administrators, supplied the country with its top bureaucrats, supplied the country with its leading businesspeople, supplied the country with an educated, top-rated professional officers-corps for its military and police forces, supplied the country with its leading sportspersons, essentially and effectively worked the country’s rail, postal, telegraphic, power, shipping, and aviation services to quality standards not seen since in Nigeria …

And they were surely aware of the vicissitudes engendered by this historic age precisely because the Igbo nation played the vanguardist role in the freeing of Nigeria from Britain, beginning from the mid-1930s. The commentator, Sabella Ogbobode Abidde, couldn’t have been more emphatic in summarising the thrust of the Igbo mission during the period:

The Igbo nation ha[s] attributes most other Nigerian nationalities can only dream of and are what most other nations [are] not. The Igbo made Nigeria better. Any wonder then that the Igbo can do without Nigeria; but Nigeria and her myriad nationalities cannot do without the Igbo? Take the Igbo out of the Nigeria equation … and Nigeria will be gasping for air.[1] 

Genocide is the name

The Igbo’s break with Nigeria occurred catastrophically on Sunday 29 May 1966. On this day, starting from mid-morning, leaders of the Hausa-Fulani north region (feudal overlords, muslim clergy, alimajiri, military, police, businesspeople, academics, students, civil servants, other public officials and patrons), who were long opposed to the liberation of Nigeria (there were no comparable clusters of political, cultural, ideational, religious, national or racial groupings anywhere else in the Southern World, during the epoch, which had a similar, unenviable disposition of hostility to emancipation from the European occupation of their lands as the Hausa-Fulani leadership), launched waves of premeditated genocidal attacks on Igbo migrant populations resident in the north. These attacks were later expanded to Igboland itself, Biafra, during phase-III of the genocide which began on 6 July 1967, boosted particularly by the robust participation in the slaughter by the Yoruba, Urhobo, and Edo nations of west Nigeria as well as others elsewhere in the country.

THE YORUBA SUPPORT for the genocide, for instance, bears all the hallmark of a squelching cadence of opportunism. The Yoruba appeared to have lost, quite spectacularly, the 1930s-1960s Igbo-Yoruba competitive “preparatory drive” to develop the high-level humanpower and ancillary resources required to run the prospective post-conquest state after the British departure. The Yoruba therefore viewed the outbreak of the mid-1966 Igbo mass killings in the north region and elsewhere as welcome season to “avenge” their “loss” during the great sociocultural rivalry of those previous three decades, clutching unto any bomb or missile available to lob remorselessly in besieged Igboland, Biafra, into an Igbo home, Igbo school, Igbo shrine, Igbo church, Igbo hospital, Igbo office, Igbo market, Igbo farmland, Igbo factory/industrial enterprise, Igbo children’s playground, Igbo town hall, Igbo refugee centre …

Benjamin Adekunle, one of the most fiendish of the genocidist commanders of the time had no qualms, whatsoever, in boasting about the goal of this horrendous mission when he told a 1968 press conference, attended by journalists including those from the international media: “We shoot at everything that moves, and when our forces march into the centre of I[g]bo territory, we shoot at everything, even at things that do not move.”[2]

Between 29 May 1966 and 12 January 1970, Adekunle and his extended trail of genocidist hordes, starting from the sabon gari-killing fields’ launch pads that were Igbo homes and churches and offices and businesses in north Nigeria to the “centre of I[g]bo territory”, 400 miles to the south, did murder 3.1 million Igbo people – a haunting tally which indeed includes those slaughtered during the Adekunleist “everything that moves”-targeting, duly promised in the infamous press briefing. As for the outcome of the “things that do not move”-assault category, the genocidists were hardly off target. Their gratuitous destruction of the famed Igbo economic infrastructure, one of the most advanced in Africa of the era, is indescribably barbaric.
(Benjamin Adekunle: ... beastly monstrous) 
OLUSEGUN OBASANJO,  a fellow Yoruba commander who later took over the notorious Adekunle-led brigade and who would be a cantankerous human rights violator and very corrupt and inept post-genocide Nigeria head of regime for 11 years, expanded even further the barbarism of his predecessor particularly in his murder of hundreds of thousands of Igbo villagers and the expansive destruction of scores of Igbo villages in the Aba-Umuahia-Owere-Igwe Ocha panhandle of south Biafra. On 5 June 1969, Obasanjo ordered Gbadomosi King, another Yoruba national, a pilot in the genocidist air force, to shoot down an International Committee of the Red Cross DC-7 relief-bearing aircraft to the encircled and bombarded Igbo over the skies of Eket (south Biafra). As instructed, Gbadomosi King duly destroyed the aircraft with the loss of its 3-person. Amazingly, Obasanjo gives a blow-by-blow account of this outrage in his memoirs, aptly entitled My Command,[3] and  expresses a perverse satisfaction over the aftermath of the crime as he gloatingly recalls: “The effect of [this] singular achievement of the Air Force especially on 3 Marine Commando [officially-designated name of the Obasanjo genocidist unit] was profound. It raised morale of all service personnel, especially of the Air Force detachment concerned, and the troops they supported in [my] 3 Marine Commando Division”.[4] Additionally, Obasanjo unreservedly admits, in his records, that his prosecuting genocidist regime (on the ground) had to rely on its key British government prosecuting-ally (see more below) to “sort out” the raging international outcry generated by the destruction of the ICRC plane.[5]

It is this same Olusegun Obasanjo that the London Financial Times in 2012 proclaimed the “godfather of modern Nigeria”[6] without, of course, the irony intended. If the Financial Times is correct, then Olusegun Obasanjo’s must be one of the most troubling terms of paternity that the world must have to deal with and those who call themselves Nigerians do have the scariest scourge of inheritance to live with. As the Financial Times is so enamoured of Olusegun Obasanjo, it is now incumbent on this publication to perhaps upgrade its client to some “global status” by naming two other countries from each of the following regions of the world to where Olusegun Obasanjo should also be installed “godfather”: Africa, Asia, Australasia, Central America/the Caribbean, Europe, North America, South America…
(O Obusonjo: “The effect of [this] singular achievement of the Air Force especially on 3 Marine Commando Division was profound. It raised morale of all service personnel...”)
NIGERIA’s genocidal campaign against the Igbo people was followed, subsequently, post-January 1970, by the genocidists’ implementation of the most dehumanising raft of socioeconomic package of deprivation in occupied Igboland, not seen anywhere else in Africa. The brigandage of terror includes the following 10 distinct features
1. Seizure and looting of the multibillion-(US)dollar capital assets across Biafra including particularly those at Igwe Ocha conurbations and elsewhere and in Nigeria

2. Comprehensive sequestration of Igbo liquid assets in Biafra and Nigeria (as of January 1970), bar the £20.00 (twenty pounds sterling) doled out only to the male surviving head of an Igbo family

3. Exponential expropriation of the rich Biafra oil resources from the Abia, Delta, Imo and Rivers administrative regions

4. Blanket policy of non-development of Biafra

5. Aggressive degradation of socioeconomic life of Biafra

6. Ignoring ever-expanding soil erosion/landslides and other pressing ecological emergencies particularly in northwest Biafra

7. Continuing reinforcement of the overall state of siege of Biafra …[7]

8. 24 cases of premeditated pogroms against the Igbo, particularly in north Nigeria, between 1980 and 2017: 1980 ... 1982 ... 1985 ... 1991 ... 1993 ... 1994 ... 1999 ... 2000 ... 2001 ... 2002 ... 2004 ... 2005 ... 2006 ... 2007 ... 2008 ... 2009 ... 2010 ... 2011 ... 2012 ... 2013 ... 2014 ... 2015 ... 2016 ... 2017

9. 90 per cent of the 54,000 people murdered in Nigeria by the state/quasi-state operatives and agents between 1999 and 2012 are Igbo people, according to the December 2011 research by the International Society for Civil Liberties & the Rule Of Law – an Onicha-based human rights organisation

10. At least 80 per cent of people murdered by the Boko Haram islamist insurgent group’s attacks across swathes of lands in north/northcentral Nigeria in the first three years of its savage insurgency, i.e., 2009-2012, are Igbo

THESE LATTER measures, especially numbers 1-7 which inaugurated phase-IV of the Igbo genocide on 13 January 1970, constitute one of the five acts of genocide explicitly defined in article 2 of the December 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide: “deliberately inflicting upon the group conditions of life designed to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”.[8] We mustn’t fail to add, finally, that these measures were drafted and implemented largely by Yoruba economists and lawyers led by Obafemi Awolowo and included, ironically, Sam Aluko who, along with all members of his family, enjoyed the generosity of a political asylum in Igboland when his life was in serious danger during the vicious intra-Yoruba political violence of the early 1960s.

The Harold Wilson-led British government of the day oversaw and underwrote this devastating stretch of genocide militarily, politically and diplomatically – from its early conceptualisation, liaising continuously with the Gowon-Mohammed-Danjuma genocidist cells of the Nigeria military at varying stages between January and May 1966, to the savage, spiralling aerial, naval and ground onslaughts on encircled Igbo population centres (the “shooting everything”-raging inferno) especially between March 1968 and January 1970. Harold Wilson chiefly coordinated the genocide from the comfort of his No. 10 Downing Street, London, offices and residence. London’s strategic goal in supporting the genocide was to “punish” the Igbo for “daring” to spearhead the termination of the British occupation of Nigeria. Harold Wilson was adamant that he “would accept” the death of “a half a million” Igbo “if that was what it took”[9] the Nigeria genocidists to accomplish their ghastly mission. This Wilson-declaration on the Igbo genocide, this Wilsonian logic of mass slaughtering of the Igbo, was in fact more gruesome than those made by some of the most vociferous Nigerian genocidist commanders and propagandists operating on the ground during the genocide, including the Adekunle-Obasanjo duo already referred to. Pointedly, the Wilsonian logic became the litmus test to calibrate the annhilative threshold on the Igbo genocide.

Such was the grotesquely expressed diminution of African life made by a supposedly leading politician of the world of the 1960s and head of the British government that was one of the countries that actually drafted and a signatory of the 1948 United Nations’ “Convention on the Prevention of the Crime of Genocide” – barely 20 years after the deplorable perpetration of the Jewish genocide. As the final tally of 3.1 million Igbo murdered demonstrates, 2.6 million more than Wilson’s “would accept” the death of “a half a million” Igbo “if that was what it took”, Harold Wilson probably had the perverse satisfaction that his on-the-ground Nigeria genocidists did perform far in excess of his  set, grim annhilative threshold …

(Harold Wilson: ... inaugurates the Wilsonian logic of mass slaughter of Igbo people, the annhilative threshold of the Igbo genocide, as he, Harold Wilson, insists that he would accept a half a million dead Biafrans if that was what it took...”)

Alas, Harold Wilson had apparently set the tone and benchmark of “dispensability” against which African life would be “valued” in Africa itself (particularly by the continent’s genocidist troopers, “theorists” – for example, the infamous Awolowoists and neo-Awolowoists – and allied officials) and across the world in the wake of the Igbo genocide. Fifty-one years on, 12 million more Africans would be slaughtered in the ever-expanding genocidal killing fields of the continent: Rwanda (1994), Zaïre/Democratic Republic of the Congo (variously, since the late 1990s), Darfur – west of the Sudan – (since 2004), Abyei – south of the Sudan – (ongoing), Nuba – south of the Sudan – (ongoing), and in other killings in Liberia, Ethiopia, Congo Republic, Somalia, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Conakry, Guinea-Bissau, Côte d’Ivoire, Chad, South Sudan, Burundi, Mali.

NOT TO THE European World, though, does the Wilsonian malevolent logic apply. On the contrary. For the European World, following the Jewish genocide of the 1930s-1940s, the purposeful resolve struck for the future course of societal direction and progress, rightly so, is ozoemena – “never again”. Never again, European World leaders affirmed, would any peoples of European descent anywhere and at anytime on earth be murdered so malefically and callously for any reason(s) whatsoever. In 1992, I published a satirical commentary entitled “Is Bosnia-Herzegovina in Africa?”[10] in which I meditated on the ongoing robust intervention by the leaders of the European World of the age (Bush, Major, Mitterrand, Kohl) to halt the gestating multipronged genocide in the then Yugoslavia. For days, I was overwhelmed by this laudable intervention to uphold a key fundamental right of human beings – the right to life. The irony of this move was of course not lost on anyone. Since May 1966 some political leaderships of the same European World have, in complicity with their African clients in the field, waged or abetted campaigns of genocide against African peoples. Pertinently, the unfolding genocide in the Balkans that had elicited this intervention was very similar to what the Igbo and some other Africans had been subjected to during the course of the previous 30 years. I couldn’t stop imagining what effect a similar intervention would have had on Biafra, the Congos, Liberia and elsewhere in Africa … If the peoples in Bosnia-Herzegovina were indeed Africans, I wondered, would there have been this high-powered intervention to stop genocide? Could Harold Wilson have waged a genocidal campaign against a European World people, for instance, during the course of 29 May 1966-12 January 1970, similar to his campaign against the Igbo? If not, why not?

In the spirit of ozoemena, the Europeans successfully blocked the simmering genocide in the Balkans. Again, in the spirit of ozoemena, the Europeans worked assiduously to break up the immanently fractured states in the region (Yugoslavia, Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia) which they knew could not guarantee the rights and aspirations of constituent nations and peoples – a recipe for the perpetration of genocide.

Since then, in the spirit of ozoemena, 22 new sovereign states, including Kosovo (population: 1.8 million), have emerged in Europe. This is a figure that is four states less than one-half of the total number of so-called sovereign states in Africa, the latter’s much larger territorial size and population notwithstanding. On this score, is it not ironical that in the same week in February 2008 that US President George Bush ecstatically recognised Kosova rights to exercise their sovereign rights to declare themselves independent from Serbia, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was busy pressurising Africans in Kenya to forego their own sovereign rights – demonstrated, in this case, by electing a government of their choice in December 2007. So, as far as the European World is concerned, in the spirit of ozoemena, a European nation or people is deemed superior to the state. A people does not even have to feel “threatened” in the existing state where it is found to lose this status as the Scots in Britain currently demonstrate.[11] This position is indeed correct for all nations and peoples, not just Europeans. African nations and peoples are also superior to the state. The nation, the people, is enduring; the state is transient.

Peoples vs the state

THAT THE STATE IS INFERIOR to its peoples, irrespective of race, continent, region, religion/belief system, is irrefutable. As a result, and graciously for that matter, Prime Minister John Major of Britain, back in 1992, did not utter some obscenity during the period, à la his predecessor 25 years before, of willing to “accept” the death of “one half million” Serb or Albanian or Croat to keep Yugoslavia “intact”; neither did Major dabble into some nonsense of the “inviolability” or “indivisibility” of the Yugoslav state, an artificial assemblage concocted at the same time in 1918 as the equally inchoate Czechoslovakia and Soviet Union. Noticeably, these two oft-repeated vulgarities, just quoted, were a favourite of Harold Wilson’s on Nigeria in the 1960s as well as by Nigerian genocidists whose state, cobbled together by Britain in 1914, also shares the same non-organic kinship as the central/east European examples. It is now evident that this foundational genocide of post-(European)conquest Africa and the worst in 20th century Africa would probably not have occurred without British active involvement. As a result, Britain, crucially, has played a key role in the emergence of the ongoing age of pestilence ravaging Africa. The continuing presentation of the British policy to Africa since the May 1966 outbreak of the Igbo genocide in both academia and media, particularly in the Western World, as that of some benign foreign state proffering “aid”/“development” programme(s) is at best evasive but at worst staggeringly denialist and thus fraudulent. It should also be recalled that in the two Igbo pogroms organised and perpetrated by Hausa-Fulani leaderships in Jos (1945) and Kano (1953), both during years of the British occupation and, with hindsight, “dress rehearsals” for the 1966-1970 genocide, the occupation did not prosecute those responsible for these crimes. It is indeed inconceivable that a contemporary British government would continue to delay any much longer the historic task of offering its unreserved public apology to the Igbo, one of humanity’s most hardworking and peaceful peoples, for Britain’s central role in the execution of this genocide and pay reparations to the survivors and pay for the destruction of Biafra’s
grand pre-genocide economic infrastructure.

This 29th day of May

Undoubtedly, 29 May 1966 is the most tragic day in the annals of Igbo history. It is the day that the Igbo were subjected to an overwhelming violence and unremitting brutality by supposedly fellow countrymen and women with the prompting and support of a European World power called Britain. The atrocity was clinically organised, supervised and implemented by the very state that the Igbo had played such a crucial role to liberate from the British conquest and occupation. This state, now violently taken over by murderous anti-African sociopolitical forces, had pointedly violated its most sacred tenet of responsibility to its Igbo citizens – provision of security. Instead of providing security to these citizens, the Nigeria state murdered 3.1 million of them. The anthem for the genocide, broadcast uninterruptedly in Hausa on Kaduna radio and television throughout its duration, creating a continental precedent whose local equivalents Hutu and a string of Sudanese genocidist broadcasters would viciously reproduce during their own devastating crimes against humanity in southcentral and northcentral Africa 28 years and 37 years later, respectively, is unambiguously clear on the principal objective of this crime of genocide:
Mu je mu kashe nyamiri
Mu kashe maza su da yan maza su
Mu chi mata su da yan mata su
Mu kwashe kaya su
(English translation)  
Let’s go kill the damned Igbo  
Kill off their men and boys
Rape their wives and daughters
Cart off their property
YET THIS 29th day of May 1966 is also the Igbo Day of Affirmation. The Igbo people resolved on this day, the day that marked the beginning of the genocide, to survive the catastrophe when only few in the world thought that they would accomplish such an improbable feat. 29th day of May 1966 is the day the Igbo people ceased to be Nigerians forever – right there on the grounds of those death camps in the sabon gari residential districts and offices and rail stations and coach stations and airports and churches and schools and markets and hospitals across north Nigeria. They created the state of Biafra in its place and tasked it to provide security to the Igbo and prevent Nigeria, a genocide state, from accomplishing its dreadful mission. The heuristic symbolism defined hitherto by 1 October shattered in the wake of this historic Igbo declaration. For the Igbo, the renouncement of Nigerian citizenship is the permanent Igbo indictment of a state that had risen thunderously to murder one of its constituent peoples.

Biafra freedom march

The Igbo could not have survived the genocide if they still remained Nigerian. They rightly chose the former course of their fate and not the latter which they cast adrift. Consequently, Nigeria collapsed as a state with few prospects for the future as illustrated most cogently and graphically today – 51 years to the day. Despite the four murderous years of siege, the Igbo demonstrated a far greater creative drive towards constructing an advanced civilisation in Biafra than what Nigeria has all but wished it could achieve in the past five decades of indescribable hopelessness. Surely, Nigeria couldn’t recover from committing this heinous crime, this crime against humanity.

This 29th day of May is therefore a beacon of the resilient spirit of human overcoming of the most desperate, unimaginably brutish forces – both locally from Africa and externally from the European World. It is the new Igbo National Holiday. It is a day of meditation and remembrance in every Igbo household anywhere in the world for the 3.1 million murdered, gratitude and thanksgiving for those who survived, and the collective Igbo rededication to achieve the urgent goal of the restoration of Igbo sovereignty.

BY SURVIVING THE genocide, the Igbo have not only dramatically repudiated the vile Wilsonian logic of Igbo mass slaughter and the very course of its Adekunleist, Obasanjoist and other Nigerian génocidairesmurderous tributaries on the theme, but they are poised today, 51 years later, as the Biafra freedom movement has grown inexorably, to resume the interrupted construction of their beloved state of Biafra – the Land of the Rising Sun.

[1]Sabella Ogbobode Abidde, “The Nigerian Presidency and the Igbo Nation”,, 28 July 2004 
(accessed 30 April 2017).

[2]The Economist (London), 24 August 1968. 

[3]See Olusegun Obasanjo, My Command (Ibadan and London: Heinemann Educational books, 1981), p. 78.

[4]Ibid., p. 79.

[5]Ibid., p. 165.

[6]The Financial Times (London), 14 April 2012.

[7]See Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe, “Nigeria perpetuates violence in Igboland”,
perpetuates-violence-and.html16 July 2010 (accessed 30 April 2017).

[8]Office of the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights, “Convention and Prevention of the Crime of Genocide”, (accessed 12 March 2017).

[9]Roger Morris, Uncertain Greatness: Henry Kissinger & American Foreign Policy (London and new York: Quartet Books, 1977), p. 122.  See also Michael Leapman, “While Biafrans starved, the FO moaned with hacks”, The Independent on Sunday (London), 3 January 1999.

[10]Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe, “Is Bosnia Herzegovina in Africa? Reflections on the regionalism of wars and conflicts since World War II”, African Peoples Review, Vol 1, No. 1, June 1992, p. 15.

[11]For an extended essay on this, see Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe, “Rights for Scots, Rights for the Igbo”, (accessed 18 May 2017).

Twitter @HerbertEkweEkwe

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