By Tochukwu Ezukanma
To characterize a scale of mass-murder that defied the English lexicon,
Raphael Lemkin coined a new word, “genocide”, from the Greek word
“geno”, meaning tribe, nation or people and from the Latin word,
“cide”, conjugated from “caedere” – to kill. He was writing
about the Nazi policy of deliberate, systematic extermination of entire
nationalities in Axis-occupied Europe. Although the forces of secession
in Nigeria has endlessly bandied around the word “genocide”, there
has never been any act of genocide in Nigeria.
Leading up to the civil war, there were two anti-Igbo riots in northern
Nigeria in May 29th to 31st 1966, and September 29th to early October,
1966, and an anti-Igbo coup of July 29th 1966. In the two riots, about
ten thousand Igbo were killed but the Biafran propaganda bumped up the
figure to 30,000. And in the anti-Igbo coup, Aguiyi Ironsi and about 300
Igbo soldiers were killed. These were in reprisal to the January 15th
1966 coup by one Yoruba and four Igbo majors that killed the two most
important Hausa/Fulani political leaders and four highest ranking army
officers, without killing any Igbo leader; insulting of the memory of
the most important northern political leader, Ahmadu Bello, by Igbo
living in northern Nigeria: and Ironsi’s Decree 34. Following the
September/October pogrom in the North, there was a half-hearted reprisal
killing of northerners in Eastern Region; a few hundred of them died.
During the war, in some rare cases, both Nigerian and Biafran soldiers
massacred civilians, either in hate or suspicion. At Asaba, the Muritala
Mohammed commanded Second Division, out of hate, murdered 500 to 700
Igbo. In Ikot Ekpene, Ogoniland and other Biafran minority areas,
Biafran soldiers, out of suspicion of sabotage, murdered thousands of
Biafran minorities. But there was no plan or attempt, on either side, to
exterminate any tribe or nation.
After the capture of Enugu by federal forces, my cousin, and her family
returned to Enugu. They ran a restaurant, selling food and drinks to
Nigerian soldiers and Igbo civilians. Like the Igbo that lived behind
“Enemy Lines”, they lived their lives and went about their normal
businesses till the end of the war. That is, as the war raged, some Igbo
lived in parts of Biafra already captured by Nigerian soldiers, and the
“vandals”, “genocidal maniacs” did not kill them. As the war
ended, the Nigerian government, with its “genocidal policy”,
released Biafran prisoners, both soldiers and civilians. Ironically,
Biafra had no prisoner to release because, in our “saintliness” and
“godliness”, we had killed every Nigerian soldier we ever captured.
The Nigerian government had no genocidal policy, and the Nigerian army
did not wantonly kill Biafran civilians. It was a fact attested to by
As in every war, people died in the Nigeria civil war. Soldiers died
from two armies fighting and killing each other, and civilians died from
collateral damages of war, mostly air raids and hunger. Since the Second
World War, the bombing and strafing of civilian centers have been
legitimate acts of warfare. Had Allied warplanes, in a sustained bombing
raid, not destroyed sections of the German city of Dresden and killed
about 25, 000 (some estimated 50, 000) German civilians? So, as the
Nigerian Air Force bombed and strafed civilian centers in Biafra, it was
in exigencies of war, not in an act of genocide. Since history, people
have starved in wars. In the First World War, about 750, 000 Germans
starved to death, and in the Second World War, millions of people died
from hunger. TV footages of wars around the world, like in Yemen and
Syria, show images of starving civilians. Was it not self-deceit for
Biafrans to expect that their enemy, the Nigerian government, will feed
As Chukwuemeka Ojukwu finally ran away, Biafra surrendered
unconditionally. And it became evident that the talk about a planned
extermination of the Igbo by the Gowon government was colossal nonsense.
We were pleasantly surprised by the federal forces: they were
disciplined and benign; they bothered no one and killed no one.
In his book, Why the Jews rejected Jesus, David Klinghoffer, wrote that,
“Widespread misinformation poisons a culture”. The lingering grip of
the misinformation of the Biafran propaganda on Igbo minds is poisoning
Igbo culture, psyche and mindset. The belief in the lies that, for no
offense of ours, all the other ethnic groups of Nigeria, unified by
their relentless hatred against us, massacred us, drove us from Nigeria
and still followed us to our home region to fight us and exterminate us
is psychologically ravaging the Igbo. It fills us with angry,
bitterness, hate and suspicion. With the Igbo collective mind laden with
so much anger, resentment, hate and distrust towards Nigeria and other
Nigerians, we cannot experience the full depth and dimensions of our
political life in Nigeria.
For our own good, we must start freeing ourselves from the
psychological, emotional and sentimental fetters of Biafranism. Despite
the intrusive availability of accurate information on the civil war,
many Igbo prefer to cling to the falsehood of the Biafran propaganda.
Thus, they remain captives to the past, Biafra, and giddy with the
excrescence – abnormal outgrowth – of Biafra, neo-Biafranism.
Neo-Biafranism is a flight into fantasy. It makes them reject a real
country and grasp at a daydream country, which is a major source of our
political dilemma; it enervates us, politically, and erodes our
political relevance in Nigeria.
Already, our political fortune has plummeted to a lamentable low. A
proud and resourceful people that once held sway across the entire
spectrum of the Nigerian social life now whimper over trivialities, and
prattle like political destitute and beggars. And a people, once led by
one of the greatest political minds of the 20th Century, Nnamdi Azikiwe,
are now being hoodwinked by a blustering ruffian, vulgar parvenu, and
inexhaustible liar, Nnamdi Kanu.
Tochukwu Ezukanma writes in Lagos, Nigeria