The Biafra Story - Page 11

As in May the massacres were plotted and organized by much the same elements that had been discredited in January: expoliticians, civil servants, local government officials and party hacks and thugs. Again they were seen driving in hired buses from town to town in the North, exhorting the populace to violence and leading them in their attacks on the Sabon Garis where the Easterners lived. There was one signific

ant difference; in the late summer the police and the army not only joined in but in many cases actively led the killing gangs, spearheading the looting of the victims’ properties and the raping of their womenfolk.

These outbreaks started between 18 and 24 September, that is within a few days of the opening of the Constitutional Conference in Lagos, in the Northern cities of Makurdi, Minna, Gboko, Gombe, Jos, Sokoto and Kaduna. The Fourth Battalion at Kaduna left its barracks and went on the rampage with the civilians. Colonel Katsina issued a warning to the soldiers to desist, with not the slightest effect.

On 29 September 1966 Colonel Gowon made a radio broadcast apparently intended to bring the violence to an end. In it he said: ‘It appears that it is going beyond reason, and is now at a point of recklessness and irresponsibility’, giving the impression to his listeners that up to a certain point the killing of Easterners might be regarded as a reasonable practice. In any event his intervention was fruitless. Far from abating, the pogrom on that day exploded from a blaze into a holocaust.

Lest descriptions of what happened should be regarded by the reader as a figment of imagination, a theory that has subsequently come close to being postulated in some British and Nigerian Government circles, three European eyewitnesses had better tell the tale of what they saw.

The correspondent of Time magazine, 7 October:

The massacre began at the airport near the Fifth Battalion’s home city of Kano. A Lagos-bound jet had just arrived from London, and as the Kano passengers were escorted into the customs shed a wild-eyed soldier stormed in, brandishing a rifle and demanding ‘Ina Nyamiri’ – the Hausa for ‘Where are the damned Ibos?’. There were Ibos among the customs officers, and they dropped their chalk and fled, only to be shot down in the main terminal by other soldiers. Screaming the blood curses of a Moslem Holy War, the Hausa troops turned the airport into a shambles, bayonetting Ibo workers in the bar, gunning them down in the corridors, and hauling Ibo passengers off the plane to be lined up and shot.

From the airport the troops fanned out through downtown Kano, hunting down Ibos in bars, hotels, and on the streets. One contingent drove their Landrovers to the railroad station where more than 100 Ibos were waiting for a train, and cut them down with automatic weapon fire.

The soldiers did not have to do all the killing. They were soon joined by thousands of Hausa civilians, who rampaged through the city armed with stones, cutlasses, matchets, and home-made weapons of metal and broken glass. Crying ‘Heathen’ and ‘Allah’ the mobs and troops invaded the Sabon Gari (strangers’ quarter) ransacking, looting and burning Ibo homes and stores and murdering their owners.

All night long and into the morning the massacre went on. Then, tired but fulfilled, the Hausas drifted back to their homes and barracks to get some breakfast and sleep. Municipal garbage trucks were sent out to collect the dead and dump them into mass graves outside the city. The death toll will never be known, but it was at least a thousand.

Somehow several thousand Ibos survived the orgy, and all had the same thought: to get out of the North.

Mr Walter Partington of the Daily Express, London, 6 October:

But from what I have been told on my journey by chartered plane to towns to which the North civil airline would fly, and hitching a lift through this desolate land, the horror of the massacre at times seems to equal that of the Congo. I do not know if there are any Ibos left in the Northern Region … for if they are not dead they must be hiding in the bush of this land which is as big as Britain and France.

I saw vultures and dogs tearing at Ibo corpses, and women and children wielding matchets and clubs and guns.

I talked in Kaduna with the Airline Charter Pilot who flew hundreds of Ibos to safety last week. He said, ‘The death toll must be far in excess of 3,000’… . One young English woman said, ‘The Hausas were carting wounded Ibos off to hospital to kill them there.’

I talked to three families who fled from the bush town of Nguru, 176 miles north of here [the dispatch was datelined Lagos]. They escaped in three Landrovers from the town where about fifty Ibos were murdered by mobs drunk on beer in some European shops. Another Englishman who fled the town told of two Catholic priests running for it, the mob after them. ‘I don’t know if they escaped; I didn’t wait to see.’ … A lot of the massacred Ibos are buried in mass graves outside the Moslem walls.

In Jos charter pilots who have been airlifting Ibos to Eastern safety talked of at least 800 dead.

In Zaria, forty-five miles from Kaduna, I talked with a saffron-robed Hausa who told me: ‘We killed about 250 here. Perhaps Allah willed it.’

One European saw a woman and her daughter slaughtered in his front garden after he had been forced to turn them away.

Mr Colin Legum of the Observer, London, 16 October 1966:

While the Hausas in each town and village in the North know what happened in their own localities, only the Ibos know the whole terrible story from the 600,000 or so refugees who have fled to the safety of the Eastern Region – hacked, slashed, mangled, stripped naked and robbed of all their possessions; the orphans, the widows, the traumatized. A woman, mute and dazed, arrived back in her village after travelling for five days with only a bowl in her lap. She held her child’s head, which was severed before her eyes.

Men, women and children arrived with arms and legs broken, hands hacked off, mouths split open. Pregnant women were cut open and the unborn children killed. The total casualties are unknown. The number of injured who have arrived in the East runs into thousands. After a fortnight the scene in the Eastern Region continues to be reminiscent of the ingathering of exiles into Israel after the end of the last war. The parallel is not fanciful.

To continue with descriptions of the type and scale of the atrocities perpetrated during those weeks of late summer 1966 would be to invite criticism that one was glorying in the bestiality of the affair. The eyewitness descriptions later put together from the victims’ accounts run to several thousand pages, and in parts the nature of the atrocities perpetrated baffles human understanding. The same applies to the descriptions offered by the European doctors who were among those tending the wounded at Enugu airport and railway station as the refugees arrived back in the East.

But no less awe-inspiring has been the subsequent attempt by the Nigerian and British Governments to brush all this under the carpet, as if by lack of mention the memory of it would the more easily pass away. For the Nigerian Government the subject is taboo; in Whitehall circles it is the best conversation-stopper since Burgess and Maclean.

Many sophisticated newspaper correspondents also appear tacitly to have agreed not to mention the killings of 1966 in regard to the breakaway of Eastern Nigeria from the Federation, and to the present war. This is unrealistic. One can no more explain the present-day attitude of Biafrans to Nigerians without reference to these events than one can account for contemporary Jewish attitudes towards the Germans without reference to the Jews’ experience in the Nazis’ hands between 1933 and 1945.

* The Problem of Nigerian Unity: The Case of Eastern Nigeria, p. 28.

* Verbatim Report of Proceedings of Supreme Military Council, Aburi, Ghana, 4-5 January 1967, p. 45.

† Original memorandum submitted by the Northern Delegation to the Nigerian Ad Hoc Constitutional Conference which opened in Lagos on 12 September 1966. Quoted in full in The North and Constitutional Developments in Nigeria, p. 23.

* Ibid., p. 25.


Tags: Frederick Forsyth Historical
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