October 2, 1966
Kano Massacre of Ibos on September 29
(Eyewitness account by Time Magazine correspondent.)
“When it fought with U.N. force in the Congo, the Nigerian army’s 5th Battalion took special pride in its rigid military discipline. That was only three years ago, but as far as Nigeria concerned, it is the remote past. Last week the 5th’s proud tradition collapsed in an orgy of mass savagery that rivalled anything the Congo had ever known. The root, as usual, was the tribal rivalry that has been tearing the nation apart all year. The men of the 5th are mostly Hausas of the Moslem north, which has been carrying on a vendetta against the thousands of Christian Ibos who have come from the eastern Region to live.
Aroused by reports that Hausas had been mistreated in the east, the soldiers surged out of their barracks to exact vengeance. They got it.
The Massacre began at the airport near the 5th Battalion’s home city of Kano. A Lagos-bound jet had just arrived from London, and as Kano passengers were escorted into the customs shed, a wild-eyed soldier stormed in. brandishing a rifle and demanding “Ina Nyammari,” Hausa for “Where are the damned Ibo?” There were Ibos among the customs officials, 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, bayoneting 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 street. One contingent drove their Land Rovers to the railroad station, where more than 100 Ibos were waiting for a train, and cut them down with automatic weapons 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, machetes, and homemade weapons of metal and broken glass. Crying “Heathen” and “Allah,” the mobs and troops invaded the Sabo Gari (strangers quarter), ransacking, looting and burning Ibo homes and stores and murdering their owners.
All night long 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 1000.
Somehow, several thousand Ibos survived the orgy and all had the same thought, to get out of the north. Many were packed onto a south-bound train. The management of large companies operating in Kano chartered every available plane. All told, 1400 Ibos were flown out of Kano alone last week. One officer of the 5th dismissed the whole thing as a prank, but there was no assurance that it would not happen again. When a government representative promised at a tense meeting of the Kano Chamber of Commerce that all was under control, he was hooted down. “Assurances are no longer any good,” retorted one local business leader.
The Kano massacre was a critical blow to the attempts of the Nigerian government to hold the country together. In the Ibo east, Military Governor Ojukwu ordered all members of outside tribes to leave the Region immediately, announcing curtly that “I have lost confidence in my ability to continue restraining the violently injured feelings of the people of this Region.” Ojukwu also repeated his pas threats to lead the east out of the Nigerian Federation entirely. “I have said before that the East would not secede unless she is forced out,” he told the Ibos in a radio broadcast. “Fellow countrymen, the push has started.”
In Lagos, the newspaper Daily Sketch made an eloquent and pathetic plea for sanity. “Will no one save Nigeria?” it asked. “Is there no one whose love for Nigeria transcends love of tribe or personal safety, who is willing to come forward and seek others like himself to nurse this sick nation? If there be a man, let him come forward. Today for God’s sake!” (Times Magazine)