December 7, 1966
Visit to Desolate Sabon Gari, Kano
After the Massacre of over 2000 Igbos in Kano on September 29, 1966 and the massive exodus of Igbos that immediately followed, New York Times Correspondent, Lloyd Garrison, visited a deserted and desolate Sabon Gari, Kano, the eastern Igbo quarters, and filed this report:
[Outside the old city walls, in the Sabon Gari, or strangers quarters, the houses were empty and the streets were deserted today, except for a stray dog resting in the shade of a tree. The only sound was the creaking of house doors as they swung gently back and forth in the light breeze. Suddenly, a gust of wind blew several doors shut and the dog, as if startled by rifle shots crouched. The sound left the dog trembling with fear even now, more than two months after the massacre of the Ibos in the heart of Nigeria’s Moslem North.
There is little else to remind one of what happened here, except the sight of occasional litter; the torn Bible on the floor of the Baptist church and the O.K. Jazz Stationery Store. Otherwise, the shops and houses have been stripped of furnishings, as if no one ever lived here. Thirty thousand Ibos once filled these dwellings. But now the Sabon Gari has become, quite simply, a ghost town. The bloodbath began on night of September 29, when Northern troops opened fire on Ibo refugees standing by at the airport. By dawn, Northern soldiers with automatic weapons and civilians with machetes had swept through the city, burning, looting and killing. As if by signal (most foreign observers here are convinced that the program was planned) the slayings spread to other Ibo communities in Nigeria’s vast Northern Region.
No one knows how many were killed, but the official census of the Northern-led Military Government in Lagos has approved the figure 7,000. This is considered to be a conservative estimate. Northerners here do not talk about what happened unless asked, and their responses frequently include the comment that the Ibos had it coming to them. Some samples: “They were too pushy.” “They took the best jobs.” “They weren’t content to do business.” “They wanted to run everything.” “They called us backward because we were Moslems. But we were reading Arabic for centuries while they were still cannibals.” If there was a plan to rid the North of all Ibos, it has succeeded. More than one million Ibos living in the North and in many other parts of the federation have retreated to the sanctuary of the Eastern Region.
In the East, it is widely believed that the program had religious overtones because the Ibos are Christians. But of the 32 Northern soldiers now in detention for their roles in the killings, most are from the southern half of the Region, the Middle Belt; where missionary education was permitted to penetrate. Eleven of those held are Catholic, 11 are Protestant and 10 are Moslem. With the Ibos’ departure, many predict that the North’s economy would be paralyzed.
The breakdown may yet come. Efficiency has certainly fallen off, and there are some doubts that the $50-million groundnut crop can be shipped to Lagos for export.
But the trains are gradually beginning to run again with European engineers and Northern-launched two month programs to train Northern clerks, accountants and adding machine operators. The telephones still work and the mail gets through, although a letter from Lagos may take a week to arrive in Kano. It used to take only two days.
“For too long we’ve been letting outsiders do things for us while we sat back relishing our traditions,” said Aminu Kano, a former opposition politician who runs a small trucking concern here in Kano. “Now, we will have only ourselves to blame for not advancing into the 20th century. But we must do it ourselves.”] (New York Times)