The Nigerian civil war ended in January 1970. In this long time memories have started to grow dim about what really happened. So much is this the case that some highly placed persons now say that the destructive battles of 1965 to 1970 which began with “operation wet-ye” in Western Nigeria and ended with an all-out war in the East was a struggle for the control of oil resources.
To correct this historical blunder, we are forced to issue the report of the G.C.M Onyiuke Tribunal of Enquiry which sat in Enugu from December 1966 to June 1967. It tells the gruesome story of the massacre of about 37,000 persons of Eastern Nigeria origin: Igbo, Ibibio, Efik, Ndoki, Ijaw, Okrika, Ogoni etc in May to October 1966. This bloody event was the immediate prelude to the civil war and indeed its immediate cause.
In recalling the past, we have no intention to inflame passions nor rekindle old enemities; rather the intention is to exorcise and transcend the past. Nations which do not learn the lessons of their past mistakes are doomed to repeat those mistakes. And in Nigeria, the political and constitutional problems which precipitated the crises of the late 1960s have still not been addressed. The following pages dramatise the dire consequences we may have to face again if we do not take consensual measures to heal the nation.
Professor Benedict Obumselu, who was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Biafran Army and official war historian of Biafra provided the signed copy of the G.C.M. Onyiuke tribunal report which forms the text of this book.
Evang. Elliot Uko
Igbo Youth Movement
1 Okolozonma Lane, Off Riverlane
By an instrument dated the 14th day of December, 1966 made under the Tribunal of Inquiry (Atrocities Against Persons of Eastern Nigeria Origin: Perpetuation of Testimony) Edict 1966 you (the Government of Eastern Nigeria) appointed a Tribunal consisting of the following members:-
Gabriel Chike Michael Onyiuke Esq. – Chairman
Dr. Michael Aneke Benedict Ogakwu – Member
Efiom Eyo Ita Esq. – Member
to hold inquiry into matters set out in its terms of reference.
These atrocities and inhuman acts arose out of the disturbances which plagued the Nigerian Federation in 1966 under a military regime but, as we shall show later in this report, the root causes of the disturbances antedated the military regime.
On the 15th of January, 1966 there occurred a military coup d’ etat which was an inevitable sequel to the series of political crises and political disturbances that engulfed Nigeria since she gained her independence in 1960. As a result of this military coup the civilian administration came to a standstill. The only effective authority that had any chance of keeping the country together was the Armed Forces. The Council of Ministers, therefore, handed over the administration of the country to the Armed Forces headed by Major General J. T. U. Aguiyi Ironsi. The details of this revolution have been given in a number of official publications and we do not propose to elaborate on them in this report. We shall only refer to the event of January, 1966 in so far as it may be said to have any connection with the pogrom that took place in 1966.
In May, 1966 widespread disturbances occurred in various parts of Northern Region of Nigeria. The ostensible cause of these disturbances was said to be the promulgation of a decree entitled “The Constitution Suspension and Modification Decree” and now popularly known as “Decree No. 34”.This decree received the unanimous consent of the Supreme Military Council which was the highest authority of the Nigerian Government. There was widespread riot in the Northern Region. Property was destroyed or looted on an extensive scale. Many lives were lost. We shall show later in this report that the evidence pointed to the fact that the attack was directed against persons of Eastern Nigeria origin, and that the decree was the excuse for, and not the real cause of, the disturbances. A conference of Emirs and Chiefs of Northern Nigeria was summoned in Kaduna. It met in the first week of June 1966 and made certain demands.
The Supreme Military Council met in Lagos to consider these demands and to review the whole situation. One of the decisions of the Supreme Military Council was to set up a tribunal of inquiry with the following terms of reference:-
The Tribunal shall, with all convenient speed
- inquire into the causes of the recent disturbances which broke out on or about the 29th May, 1966 in the Northern Group of Provinces;
- determine the areas affected by the disturbances and the societies, classes or groups of persons directly involved therein;
- ascertain the extent of loss of life and personal injuries as a result of these disturbances;
- determine whether any section or class or group of persons shall be held liable to pay any part of the compensation in view of their conduct and involvement in the disturbances;
- frame a scheme for payment of compensation for loss of, and damage to, property;
- have regard to the causes of the disturbances, and suggest measures designed to promote peace and harmony among the various sections of the communities involved.”
Members of the tribunal were appointed and the first meeting of the tribunal was fixed for the second day of August 1966.
Before this tribunal could meet, disturbances broke out again in Nigeria. This time it was disturbance in the army itself. The Supreme Commander and Head of National Military Government was kidnapped and killed along with his host Military Governor of Western Nigeria Lt. Col. Adekunle Fajuyi. Officers and soldiers mainly of Eastern Nigeria were killed and hell broke loose in the army.
Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon assumed power on 1st August, 1966. We need not belabour the details of this assumption of power as it is not strictly within our terms of reference.
Lt Col. Gowon in one of his pronouncements gave the assurance that the tribunal of inquiry set up to inquire into the May disturbances would still hold. Up to the time the Biafran Government set up the present tribunal of inquiry in December, 1966 the ‘Federal’ tribunal of inquiry never met. We venture the opinion that the ‘Federal’ tribunal of inquiry is not likely ever to meet.
We narrate the foregoing in anticipation of the possible criticism that the report of a purely ‘Regional’ tribunal of inquiry into matters that took place outside the Region would naturally suffer from the inherent limitations in the source of information and channels of investigation. It may be argued as a consequence that evidence would tend to be one-sided and that the persons and authorities implicated by such evidence being outside the Region had no opportunity to rebut the evidence against them. The fault cannot be that of this tribunal. Besides, we have taken this aspect of the matter into consideration in evaluating the evidence before us.
Furthermore, we have in evidence the public pronouncements of the authorities in Lagos and in Kaduna touching on the magnitude of the massacre of human lives and destruction of property that took place especially in Northern Region. The mass exodus of people of Eastern Nigeria origin from Northern Nigeria during this period is yet another important indication. It would be a matter of inference from the evidence how this pogrom could have taken place on such a scale and with such success without much planning and organisation involving highly placed persons in authority especially in the areas affected. As the chairman of this tribunal said in his opening address it is for the world and posterity to judge.
We wish to record that in so far as the evidence implicated British nationals in Northern Nigeria we had at the request of the British High Commission made available to it all evidence against its nationals. We are not necessarily suggesting that the British Government as such has by this fact taken any responsibility in this matter for the activities of its nationals who from the evidence before us appeared to be more “Northern” than most Northerners themselves. All we are saying is that we were prepared to receive evidence from, and provided facilities for, any person who could care to come along and give evidence.
The tribunal sat for a total of 49 days, recorded evidence from 253 witnesses and received a total of 498 exhibits. The tribunal sat in Enugu, Onitsha, Aba, Port Harcourt, Calabar, Uyo and Ogoja. The record of evidence and index of witnesses and exhibits are published in separate volumes.
We wish to record our thanks to the counsel to the tribunal who presented the evidence before us and more especially to the secretary to the tribunal who, through his untiring efforts and mastery of public relations, made the work of the tribunal a lot easier. We wish also to thank the various Provincial Secretaries and other administrative officers for the sitting arrangement and accommodation which they provided. Nor do we forget the help rendered by the refugee associations. We owe a special debt of gratitude to the field staff of the Economic Planning Commission of the Ministry of Economic Planning and to the School of Social Sciences of the University of Science and Technology Port Harcourt for their expert advice. Lastly to a number of persons who shall remain anonymous we give thanks for the information they gave us about the events in Nigeria during the relevant period. The credit is all theirs and the liability ours.
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