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In 1966, soon after the world commemorated the 21st anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and made the customary solemn declaration of “Never, Never Again”, Hausa-Fulani emirs, muslim clerics and intellectuals, military officers, politicians and other public figures in Nigeria defiled that season of reflection, commiseration and hope. They planned and executed the first phase of the Igbo genocide, the foundational genocide in post-conquest Africa.(5) This genocide established the precedent for the killing fields that would snake across the African landscape in the subsequent 40 years. A total of 100,000 Igbo were massacred across northern Nigeria and elsewhere in the country, with the total connivance of the central government in Lagos headed by Colonel Yakubu Gowon during the months of May-October 1966. Most were killed in their houses, offices, businesses, schools, colleges and hospitals, as well as those who were attacked at railway stations and on trains, bus stations and buses, airports and in cars, lorries and on foot as they sought to escape the pogrom for their homeland in eastern Nigeria. Thousands of others sustained horrific injuries; many were maimed for life.

By Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe

When is the heinous crime of “genocide” not “genocide”? Perhaps, when everyone of the targeted national, racial, religious, or regional population is not yet exterminated. Henceforth, “genocide” appears to be the case when it can be demonstrated that the population under attack has been totally destroyed… So, to prove that genocide has occurred, there must be no survivors…

In the case of the Sudan, according to the report of the February 2005 UN investigating commission on the character of the slaughter of the African population in the Dafur region by the Khartoum-based Arab regime and its Janjaweed militia allies,(1) such an outcome hasn’t yet occurred – therefore, there is “no genocide”; at least not yet. Instead, there have been what the commission categorises, quite curiously, as “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity” committed by the regime. For the UN, Khartoum has apparently not yet crossed that “dreadful” threshold into the realm of completing its designated mission, its “final solution”, in Dafur. Until this happens, the Dafur report acknowledges that 70,000 Dafuri have been killed during the war waged on them by Khartoum while two million others have been forced into exile,(2) many of them into the neighbouring state of Chad. Equally contradictorily, or so it appears, the UN notes that the “killing of civilians, torture, enforced disappearances, destruction of villages, rape and other forms of sexual violence, pillaging and enforced displacement”(3) are taking place in Dafur. So, even though these appalling crimes have been indisputably and systematically carried out against the Dafuri, as a people, by the Sudanese state and its allies, it is extraordinary that the UN does not think that these “amount to genocide”.(4)

During the recent UN general assembly’s commemoratory session on the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp where millions of Jews, Romany and others were annihilated by Nazi Germany’s campaign of genocide, several commentators speculated whether the UN could have stopped this crime if the organisation had been in existence then. They didn’t need to spend too much time reminiscing on the hypothetical. All they needed was to examine the UN record in confronting genocide in the post-1945 world and they would have concluded, without any equivocations, that the organisation’s performance was dismally disappointing. The current UN attempt to cover up the genocide in Dafur would therefore be seen as consistent with this sordid history of inaction, rather than the bizarre exception that it might otherwise seem.

Foundation

In 1966, soon after the world commemorated the 21st anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and made the customary solemn declaration of “Never, Never Again”, Hausa-Fulani emirs, muslim clerics and intellectuals, military officers, politicians and other public figures in Nigeria defiled that season of reflection, commiseration and hope. They planned and executed the first phase of the Igbo genocide, the foundational genocide in post-conquest Africa.(5) This genocide established the precedent for the killing fields that would snake across the African landscape in the subsequent 40 years. A total of 100,000 Igbo were massacred across northern Nigeria and elsewhere in the country, with the total connivance of the central government in Lagos headed by Colonel Yakubu Gowon during the months of May-October 1966. Most were killed in their houses, offices, businesses, schools, colleges and hospitals, as well as those who were attacked at railway stations and on trains, bus stations and buses, airports and in cars, lorries and on foot as they sought to escape the pogrom for their homeland in eastern Nigeria. Thousands of others sustained horrific injuries; many were maimed for life.

Because they had opposed the liberation of Nigeria from British occupation, which the Igbo had resisted since the 1940s, the Hausa-Fulani had been assured the supreme political role in post-conquest Nigeria.(6) As a result, the main thrust of Hausa-Fulani politics assumed that the Igbo constituted the principal “obstacle” to the perpetuation of Hausa-Fulani sociopolitical hegemony in Nigeria.(7) Hence, the planning and execution of the genocide.

There was extensive coverage of the Igbo genocide in the international media throughout its course. The UN, under its then secretary-general U Thant, never unequivocally condemned this atrocity. U Thant consistently maintained that it was a “Nigerian internal affair”, a cue seized upon with relish by the Organisation of African Unity which continued to trumpet this shameful line throughout the slaughter. No efforts were made by the UN to stop the killings or bring the perpetrators to justice. On the contrary, U Thant repeatedly thwarted several Igbo initiatives, as well as those of others, formally to table the subject for discussion at the UN Security Council. U Thant’s intention throughout this tragedy was to protect the interests of the Nigerian state, even though its leadership had come to power through a violent coup d’état. As for the welfare of the 1.5 million survivors of the initial massacres who fled to their Igbo homeland, neither the UN nor the Gowon junta gave support to the massive rehabilitation programme that the Igbo themselves embarked upon to integrate the returnees in society between October 1966 and June 1967.

Apparently emboldened by the scant criticism from the UN (and indeed from most of the countries of the world) for its 1966 murderous escapades, the Nigerian state expanded the territorial range of its genocidal campaign on the Igbo by attacking Biafra, Igboland, in 1967. Essentially this inaugurated the second phase of the genocide which would last until January 1970. Three million Igbo, a quarter of the nation’s total population—half as many people as were killed in the Nazi concentration camps—were slaughtered under the eyes of the "civilised" world.

Not-“Area Boys”

The Nigerian campaign was unabashedly supported by leading and influential officials of the state, including Obafemi Awolowo, the deputy chair of the federal cabinet and finance minister, who consistently declared openly that it was “justifiable” to starve the Igbo to death as part of the Nigerian military strategy to overrun Biafra. Most Biafran casualties, particularly children and the elderly, were indeed people who starved to death as a result of the Nigerian strategy. The Awolowoist credo became the guiding principle of the third marine division of the Nigerian army, a notorious death squad that operated in southern Biafra at the time, particularly after the Biafran resistance had virtually frozen the Nigerian advance in the north. Most of the officers and men of the squad were recruited largely from western Nigeria, Awolowo’s homeland, including Colonel Olusegun Obasanjo (current Nigerian head of state) who was one of the commanders of the unit.

Just like their Hausa-Fulani counterparts, and the Nazis who had established the precedent from which these Nigerian state officials now operated most enthusiastically, Awolowo and his associates (civilian and military alike) would have regarded themselves as “very cultured” – they surely read the Bible, as well as Shakespeare, Milton, Burke, Paine, Hobbes, Rousseau, Achebe, Okigbo and they listened to Dairo, Beethoven, Olaiya, Handel, and so on. Just as in Nazi Germany, the Nigerian planners of genocide demonstrated clearly that genocidal “theorists” and colonels and generals were often calm, well-educated, cold-blooded practitioners, who were more likely to be dressed in agbada, babariga, 2-piece suit, asho-oke or lace, rather than raggedly-attired, barely-educated miscreants. They were neither alimajiri nor the dishevelled “area boys” that abound in many Nigerian towns and cities.


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