POGROM— 29th SEPTEMBER, 1966
On 29th September, as the Constitutional Conference was still sitting in Lagos, events occurred which will always rank as of the utmost significance in the social and political history of Nigeria, events which made fundamental changes in the structure and pattern of Nigerian society and government. On that day began a series of organised massacres of Easterners by armed Northern soldiers and civilians. The pogrom was on a scale never before witnessed in the history of Africa.
The harrowing details of these massacres have been too well documented to need re-telling here. However, the following three accounts of what happened should be quoted; not so as to dwell on the horror of what took place but to establish (a) that the massacres were organised with care and precision, and (b) that the army played an important part in the killings.
John Bulloch, Daily Telegraph, 22nd October, 1966:
“This uninhibited violence has been put forward as another hysterically spontaneous demonstration of Northern dislike of the Ibos. That might be accepted if the massacres had spread in a chain reaction. But they did not.
“In Kano, Kaduna, Jos, Zaria and a dozen other places the killings all began about 7 p.m. on Saturday. At each place Hausa soldiers with loaded weapons were on hand, with gangs of young thugs imported from the surrounding countryside to help the troops. These groups were armed not only with sticks and machetes, but also with typed lists of addresses of Ibos. Hardly a spontaneous outbreak.”
Time Magazine, 14th October, 1966:
“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 Nyammari — 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, 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.”
Special Correspondent, Financial Times, 30th November, 1966:
“Meanwhile in the North itself there is a resurgence of the old N.P.C. with its true Muslim-Hausa-Fulani base, its exercise of control through the emirates and its complex power structure which is little understood. Who indeed plotted violence against the Ibos so that it would erupt, on the same day, in towns hundreds of miles apart?
“More and more pressure is being brought to bear on Lt. Col. Hassan Katsina by the old style politicians such as Alhaji Inua Wada, Zanna Bukar Dipcharima and young army officers such as Lt. Col Shwa.”
The scale and intensity of the massacres prompted Lt. Col. Gowon to make a personal appeal to Northerners to stop the killings; but it was in that speech that the true attitude of those in control of Nigeria was impolitically revealed when Lt. Col. Gowon stated:
“You all know that since the end of July, God, in his power, has entrusted the responsibility of this great country of ours, Nigeria, into the hands of another Northerner. . . . Here I would like to repeat what I have said earlier. The responsibility for the well being of Nigeria is today in our hands and this is a responsibility which cannot be treated lightly.” (New Nigerian, 30th September, 1966.)
This speech confirmed the conclusions already widely held in the East that the Northern idea of unity for Nigeria was one which entailed Northern domination; that the Ironsi Regime was overthrown because it was headed by a non-Northerner, and that Easterners were slaughtered in their thousands because the North saw in them an obstacle to domination.
At the same time as Lt. Col. Gowon was addressing the North in these terms in the hope of reducing in intensity the savage massacres which had then begun, he broadcast to the nation on the eve of National Day. “We must, first of all”, he said, as thousands of Ibos were dying at the hands of organised Northern civilians and soldiery, “thank God that we live to mark this anniversary. . .” With increasing irony he went on to say: “I seize this opportunity therefore to remind the Army, the Navy, the Air Force and the Police again of their sacred charge. Our duty as personnel of the Armed Forces is to protect each and every citizen of this country and to serve any Government of the country. It is therefore absolutely essential that each soldier, or sailor or airman, or policeman, does his utmost himself and together with his company to ensure that every citizen is enabled to go about his lawful duty and personal business free from fear and free from molestation. We have a duty to contribute our utmost to the restoration of normalcy and stability in the country. We must remove any grounds for apprehension.”
These massacres are of further significance in that it is from this point in time that the death of the old Federation dates. The very basis of the Federal system of Government was undermined. The rights of freedom of movement, to seek employment, to set up home or business anywhere in the Federation were curtailed for the majority of Easterners. The scars of these days are, and will remain for many years to come, fresh on the memories of the Eastern people, and it is obvious that any form of political association for the future between the peoples of Nigeria will have to accommodate and make allowances for these realities. As was eventually determined, over 30,000 Easterners lost their lives in the pogrom of May, July, September, and October of 1966. Hardly an Eastern family did not suffer. Over 1,800,000 refugees flooded into the East, creating intolerable economic and social strains on that region — the East was stunned, frightened and suspicious.
In these terrible circumstances the East Nigeria Military Government insisted on the implementation of the 9th August agreement regarding the posting of all military personnel to their regions of origin. It was clear that otherwise the safety of the Eastern delegates to the Conference could not be guaranteed. Lt Col. Gowon would not however, implement the agreement and on 16th November “the Federal Military Government announced the adjournment, indefinitely, of the Ad Hoc Committee”. (Nigeria 1966.) The Federal Government Statement continued after referring to the difficulties in finding an alternative venue suitable to the Eastern Delegation, “Even if an alternative venue was acceptable to all, the stand of some of the delegations, as evidenced from their latest Memoranda and the discussions which the Supreme Commander had had with some of them, leaves one in no doubt that no useful purpose would be achieved by the continued sitting of the Ad Hoc Committee…. In its place, he has himself drawn up proposals for lessening tension and for Constitutional reforms which he will discuss with the Regional Military Governors.”
On 30th November, Lt. Col. Gowon spelt out in greater detail what he had in mind. “I should emphasize”, he said, “that the idea of a temporary confederation is unworkable”. In so saying, he restricted in an important respect the terms of reference which he himself had given to the Ad Hoc Constitutional Conference on 12th September when he invited the delegations to consider Confederation as one of the possible future forms of Government for Nigeria. Lt. Col. Gowon followed his rejection of Confederation by announcing that he would appoint a “drafting committee to prepare the outline of the draft constitution” which would be submitted to a Constituent Assembly whose delegates would be selected by the Federal Military Government. He stressed that the delegates thus selected would not reflect the views of “regional blocs”. Towards the end of his speech he added ominously: “It is easy enough for me to mobilise enough forces to deal with any dissident or disloyal group. But I have always preferred peaceful solutions to our current crisis. We have had enough bloodshed in this country. But if circumstances compel me to preserve the integrity of Nigeria by force, I shall do my duty to my country.”
LISTEN TO AUDIO RECORDING: Biafra Case for Independence Audio – part 4