Planning and Organisation of the Pogrom
Before the Army takeover of January, 1966 the position of Easterners and Northerners was insecure. As far back as 1953 the Eastern community in Kano, capital of Kano Emirate and a famous trade centre, was subjected to ruthless attack by the Northerners. This incident was later to be known as the Kano riots of 1953. It was so violent and bloody that the then British administration set up an official inquiry. The principal organiser of this attack was Mallam Inua Wada, then Secretary of the Kano branch of the Northern People’s Congress and later the Federal Minister of Works in the Federal Government of the late Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. The ostensible reason for this planned attack on an unsuspecting Eastern community was that it was a retaliation for booing and jeering experienced by the Northern members of Parliament at the hands of Lagos crowds in Lagos.
Lagos, be it noted, was and still is the capital of Nigeria whose population has always been mainly Yorubas. The official report disclosed that it was not the proposed visit to Kano of an Easterner that sparked off the trouble but that of a Westerner (Yoruba) politician, Chief S. L. Akintola a member of the Action Group party. The Action Group was then a bitter opponent of the N.P.C. the dominant party in Northern Nigeria. According to the report, Mallam Inua Wada convened a meeting of the Native Authority sectional heads at the Works Depot in Kano and treated them to a most provocative speech. He said, inter alia:
Having abused us in the South these very Southerners have decided to come over to the North to abuse us, but we are determined to retaliate treatment given us in the South. We have therefore organised about 1000 men ready in the city to meet force with force. We are determined to show Akintola and his Group what we can do in our land when they come…. The Northern People’s Congress has declared a strike in all Native Administration offices for 16th May 1953…. We shall post sufficient number of men at the entrance of every office and business place…. We are prepared to face anything that comes out of this business.
On Saturday 16th May 1953, these organised crowds swooped down in bloody massacre on innocent citizens in spite of the fact that the visit of Chief Akintola’s team had been previously banned. Chief Akintola did not turn up in Kano. The irony in the whole incident was that the Northern rioters switched the attack from Westerners (Yorubas) who they scarcely touched to Easterners whom they butchered with a “universally unexpected degree of violence.”
In its conclusions the Commission of Inquiry condemned the riots in these terms: “No amount of provocation, short term or long term, can in any sense justify their behaviour.” and it warned that the “Seeds of the trouble which broke out in Kano on May 16 (1953) have their counterparts still in the ground. It could happen again and only realization and acceptance of the underlying causes can remove the danger of reccurance.”
We take note of the fact that in Kano riots much use was made of Native Administration agencies both in the planning and execution of the riots. When one recalls the important position which the Native Administration occupies in the scheme of government in Northern Nigeria under the system of indirect rule and even after independence, the extreme danger inherent in the deployment of governmental agencies for riotous attacks on innocent citizens becomes disturbingly apparent. Yet this practice reached its peak in the pogrom of 1966.
The evidence disclosed that although there was no incident of violence comparable with the 1953 Kano riots that took place until 1966, yet the position of the Easterners was gravely threatened in other directions. This was especially so in the economic field.
It was a well known fact that Easterners had huge investments in the North. Let Luke Ebere Ejinkonye, the 80th Witness speak.
My name is Luke Ebere Ejinkonye, formerly of AH 11, Benue Road, Kaduna. I was a transporter and general merchant, selling motor spare parts. I went to Kaduna in 1944 where I had my primary education. I left Kaduna on August, 1966. I am 37 years old. I had many lorries by 1966 and they operated all over Nigeria. I was President of Orlu Divisional Union and Treasurer of the Ibo State Union, Kaduna. Between 1957 and 1959 I was a Councillor in Kaduna. Before in 1963 my relation with Northern Government was very cordial, although my councillorship was through NCNC – NEPU alliance. This alliance was in the majority in the Kaduna Central Local Council. In spite of their strength, it was a clear understanding between the NCNC and NEPU not to field Eastern candidates for election to the Northern House of Assembly. During 1959, the Northern Government made the life of councillors in our Council unbearable and their decisions worthless, so we resigned en masse before the Federal election. After the Federal elections, I withdrew completely from political activity although a few Easterners continued in politics.
In 1963, the Administrator wanted to dispossess the Easterners of their stalls in Kaduna market. He dissolved all allocations, some of which had been held for 15 years to 20 years and asked everybody to re-apply. All the stall holders decided to send a delegation on which I was nominated to go and see the Administrator. There were delegates as follows:- Hausa 3, Igbo 3, Nupe 2, Yoruba 3. The leader was an Hausa man, Alhaji Katcha. This was in November 1963. My participation in this delegation started my troubles with Northern Government. I was asked to quit my house which I was told was acquired by the Administrator. The case dragged in the court for up till today. At a stage I was jailed for 2 years. I did not serve the term.
Was this action of the Kaduna Administrator in attempting to dispossess Easterners of their market stalls an isolated act of a spiteful civil servant or was it an expression of a deliberate Government policy? Our witness Luke Ebere Ejinkonye maintained it was the latter and in support of this, he tendered the Hansard (official report of the parliamentary debates in the House of Assembly of Northern Nigeria of 17th March, 1964). This was admitted as Exhibit LEE/203. The debate on the Ministry of Land and Survey Head 247 makes interesting reading. Let some of the Honourable members speak.
Mr. A.A. Abogede (Igala East):
“I have one or two appeals to make. Mr. Chairman, Sir, my other point of advice to the Minister is that in most area in the riverine areas, especially where I came from, in Igala Division, Ibos do farming a lot. I hope there will be legislation to prevent the Ibos from farming in Northern Region and if I am competent and we are allowed, we shall legislate on such matter in Igala Division…. I am very glad that we are in a Moslem country and the Government of Northern Nigeria allowed some few and the Christians in the Region to enjoy themselves according to their belief of their religion but building of hotels should be taken away from the Ibos and even if we find some Northern Christians who are interested in building hotels and have no money to do so the Government should aid them instead of allowing Ibos to continue with the hotels… I suggest the certificate of occupancy of all Ibos having hotels should be withdrawn and transferred to non-Ibo Christians”
Mr. Bashari Umaru (B/Kudu):
“Mr. Chairman I have nothing to say. We are all aiming at the same thing. This is our house, the North belongs to us. The only solution to this problem is to take over all the houses belonging to Ibos and revoke all their certificates of occupancy. A certain Ibo trader living in Kano accommodated all the delegates attending the NCNC (rival political party) convention in Kano and it was in one of his houses that he entertained us…. These are the sort of people whose houses should be confiscated by the Minister of Land and Survey”
Alhaji Usman Liman (Sarkin Musawa):
“What brought the Ibos into this Region? They were here since the colonial days. Had it not been for the colonial rule, there would hardly have been Ibos in this Region.
Now that there is no colonial rule the Ibos should go back to their Region. There should be no hesitation about this matter. Mr. Chairman, North is for Northerns, East for Easterners, West for Westerners and the Federal is for us all. (Applause). Mr. Chairman we do not want to have another trouble leading to bloodshed”
The Minister of Land and Survey (Alhaji the Hon. Ibrahim Musa Gashash O. B. E.):
Mr. Chairman, Sir, I do not like to take up much of the time of this House in making explanation, but I would like to assure Members that having heard their demands about Ibos holding land in Northern Nigeria, my Ministry will do all it can to see that the demands of Members are met. How to do this, when to do it, all this should not be disclosed now. In due course you will see what will happen.” Applause).
It was not in land holding that the House expressed strong views on the position of Ibos in the North during this session. On the Civil Service of Northern Nigeria, Mallam Ibrahim Musa (Igala North West) had this to say:
Mr. Chairman, Sir, well first and foremost, what I have to say before this Hon. House is that we should send a delegate to meet out Hon. Premier to move a motion in this very budget session that all Ibos working in the Civil Service of Northern Nigeria including the Native Authorities, whether they are contractors or not, should be repatriated at once.
On manning of federal posts in the North: Mallam Muktar Bello:
I would like to say something very important that the Minister should take my appeal to the Federal Government about the Ibos in the post office. I wish the numbers of these Ibos reduced. There are too many of them in the North. They were just like sardines and I think they were just too dangerous to the Region.
On Government aspiration and intentions the Premier (Alhaji The Hon. Sir Ahmadu Bello the Sarduana of Sokoto) had this to say: It is my most earnest desire that every post in the Region, however small it is, to be filled by a Northerner (Applause).
We can only end these recitals by saying that the people of the North through their representatives have spoken. It was merely a question of time for trouble to erupt.
What were the reasons for this hostilities to Easterners and especially to the Ibos? We shall deal with this matter most fully in a separate chapter. At this stage we shall merely refer to the evidence of a witness, Chukwuma Anueyiagu (110th Witness). This witness lived in Kano from 1949 to August, 1966. Says he:
Between 1962 and 1963 there was a sort of campaign against Easterners in the whole North that the Ibos must quit the North. When we asked some of the members of the Sarduana Brigade who were the chief campaigners of this ‘Ibo-must-go’ order, they said that with the exception of the Eastern Premier, Dr. Okpara, others were not in their way in the South. But for the fact that Dr. Okpara was stubborn, the Hausa people would have gained full control of the whole of Nigeria. At one stage in about 1963, some members of House of Assembly carried out some campaign to the Parliament in that one of them Alhaji Musa Gashash told the House that it was not a difficult problem to get the Ibos out of the North, that he knew best how to handle them.
Evidence showed that the Sarduana Brigade mentioned above was a para-military organisation built up, trained and maintained by the then Premier of Northern Nigeria, the late Alhaji Sir Ahmadu Bello, Sarduana of Sokoto as his private army and was the instrument to be used for eliminating of Easterners from the North.
Q. 5522: “Why the campaign for Ibos to quit the North?
“One of the reasons was the census trouble…. Again during the 1964 general election, members of the Sarduana Brigade went round telling people that there would be trouble in the whole country if the NPC should lose the election. Many NEPU men and women were killed because they were in alliance with NCNC. Hundreds of them were imprisoned in the North. What saved the situation and a mass killing of Ibos in 1964 was the boycott of the 1964 election by the U.P.G.A. In fact during one of the meetings of the U.P.G.A. for North campaign, we had to wire Dr. Okpara that the elections should be boycotted or postponed because of the threat given us by the Sarduana Brigade and some Northern parliamentarians at that time. Of course between 1962 and 1964 whenever there was any local election or regional election, people were chased up and down especially people who were living in Sabon Gari. They had some trouble with the Ibos because of the alliance with the N.E.P.U”
We shall not conclude this chapter on the condition of things in Nigeria before the Army takeover of January 1966 without referring to events in other parts of the country especially in Western Nigeria. The Federation was papably sick. The Western Nigeria elections of October 1965 brought the Federation to the brink of disintegration.
The 1965 Western elections were openly rigged. The blatant electoral irregularities plunged the Region into serious violence as the citizens were driven to take the law into their own hands.
Chaos reigned supreme. Even the Chairman of the Electoral Commission of Western Nigeria after listing the shortcomings of the election publicly confessed his doubt about “the future of free and fair elections in the whole of Nigeria.” Writing in the same vein a correspondent of the African World, a London monthly commented in the issue of March 1966: “The ruling party in the Western Region, by alliance with its opposite number in the North has practically ended all hopes of effecting constitutional changes in the country by democratic means.”
With the foregoing as a background we now come to deal with the evidence that bears directly on the planning and organisation of the pogrom.
We have used the word “pogrom” to describe what took place in Nigeria in 1966 because it is the most appropriate term to use.
What were the forces responsible for this great tragedy? The evidence disclosed that it was not a case of popular rebellion by an oppressed people or a case of protest getting out of hand or of a spontaneous outburst of communal strife sparked off by some sudden provocation which resulted in the loss of lives, destruction and looting of property in one or two towns. The evidence revealed that it was a planned exercise which involved various “interests” and personalities. The pogrom was planned on a wide scale. We propose to review the evidence and to identify the “interests” involved in all this.