OPINION BY FEMI FANI-KAYODE: Biafra, Buhari And His ‘Soft’ Civil War
History teaches us that there is only one thing that is more painful to the victims of mass murder, ethnic cleansing and genocide than the act itself and that is the tacit denial by its orchestrators and perpertrators that it ever took place.
One of the most wicked and despicable lies that President Muhammadu Buhari has ever told is that the Nigerian Army was “soft” on the Biafrans and “restrained” during the civil war, implying that our soldiers did not indulge in genocide and mass murder.
This is a lie from the pit of hell and it is insulting and deeply offensive. We must learn from our history and never repeat its mistakes.
A few questions will suffice. Was the Asaba massacre in which thousands of innocent and defenceless young boys and old men were slaughtered an act of restraint?
Or was the killing of two million innocent and defenceless Biafran civilians and the premeditated and contrived starving to death of one million innocent Biafran children an act of restraint?
For God sake where is our humanity? Where is our sense of decency, our sensitivity and our sense of remorse?
Must we lie about our history and must we always deny the truth and attempt to revise it? No wonder they banned the teaching of history in our schools. We simply have too much to hide!
We forget that without contrition there can be no remorse, wihout remorse there can be no repentance, without repentance there can be no forgiveness and without forgiveness there can be no truth, reconciliation or progress.
Justice and decency demands that we must collectively get off our sanctimonious and all-knowing high horse and stop behaving like the infallible and almighty conquerors that we think we are.
Whether we are willing to admit it or not, the fact of the matter is that what we did to the Biafrans during the civil war was as bad as what Hitler’s Nazis and the German people did to the Jews during the Second World War. And had the civil war gone on for another three years it would have been worse!
The truth is that if not for the fact that the same group of people have been calling the shots in our country from behind the scenes since July 1966 every single war-front commander in the Nigerian Army during the civil war, including Muhammadu Buhari, would have been charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity at the International Court of Justice at the Hague long ago for the atrocities they commited against the Igbo race and the Biafran people during the civil war.
I do not need to be an Igbo or a Biafran to say or admit that. I just need to be an honest and objective historian and a God-fearing citizen of the world.
We must ask God and the Igbo people to forgive us for what we did to the civilian population in Biafra and we must NEVER allow such a thing to happen again. Until that is done Nigeria will neither know peace nor any meaningful or lasting progress.
War is one thing but the targetting of innocent and defenceless civilians, including women and childen, for ethnic cleansing, genocide and mass murder is quite another!
Despite our utter disgust at Buhari’s outrageous lie and our sheer outrage at his perfidy, mendacity and shameful attempt at historical revisionism, it is important that we attempt to get into his head and attempt to discover the context in which he claimed that Nigeria was “soft” on the Biafrans and “restrained” during the civil war. That context is as follows.
Lt. Colonel Murtala Mohammed, the de facto Head of State during the civil war, the leader of the July 29th 1966 northern officers “revenge coup” and a Hausa Fulani irredentist told Lt. Col. Jack Yakubu Gowon, the Head of State and a Christian Middle Belter, to attack the Eastern Region immediately after the Igbos started fleeing from the pogroms that they were subjected to in the north and wipe out every single Igbo man, woman and child.
This was to be done in retaliation for the murder by the Major Chukwuemeka Kaduna Nzeogwu and Major Emmanuel Ifejuana-led Igbo mutineers of key leaders of the northern political and military establishment, including the Premier of the North, Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Prime Minister of Nigeria, Sir Tafawa Balewa and the second in command of the Nigerian Army, Brigadier Maimalari on the night of January 15th 1966.
It was not enough that 300 Igbo officers and an Igbo Head of State, General Aguiyi-Ironsi, had been murdered on July 29th 1966 during the northern officers revenge coup.
Again it was not enough that over 100,000 Igbos had been murdered in the north a few months later in a series of horrific and utterly barbaric pogroms which were carried out by violent, heartless and crazed civilian mobs throughout major towns and cities in the core north.
Despite all this Mohammed wanted even more Igbo blood to be shed. His desire, and those that shared his views, was that Nigeria should be washed with Igbo blood.
He also felt that the whole matter of Igbo versus Hausa Fulani dominance and supremacy of and in the Nigerian state had to be settled once and for all before Colonel Emeka Ojukwu, an Igbo officer who was Military Governor of the Eastern Region, and his Igbo people had time to settle down, organise themselves and be in a position to defend themselves and fight back.
Thankfully Gowon, who was infinately more humane than Mohammed and who had the full backing of the British, refused to follow that bloody and cruel course and instead bided his time and opted to go to Aburi in Ghana for peace talks with Ojukwu which were brokered by Ghana’s military Head of State, General Ankrah.
The peace talks were succesful and an agreement was reached. Nigeria was to remain one country but was to be a confederation.
However on Gowon’s arrival back to Nigeria things changed overnight. Murtala Mohammed confronted Gowon, shouted him down, banged his fist on the table and said that he had conceeded too much to Ojukwu.
Gowon caved in, Aburi was scuttled and a few weeks later the war began. Unfortunately for Gowon it was the bloodthirsty hawks like Murtala Mohammed and others like him that hated the Igbo that were leading the troops at the war front whilst he was in Lagos dishing out orders that were hardly ever followed.
The hawkish Nigerian field commanders prosecuted the war without any restraint or decency and in a most gruesome and barbaric manner, purposely targetting civilians including innocent and defenceless women and children.
They literally killed everything and everyone in sight and if they didnt kill them they enslaved them and subjected them to indescribable forms of cruelty and wickedness.
It ought to be pointed out that though they led it and they were the most vicious and brazen, it was not just the core northern Muslims that committed these atrocities against the Igbos.
The predominantly Christian Middle Belters, the Yoruba, the Mid- Westerners and even some of the minorities of the Eastern Region did so too!
Consider the words of Brigadier Benjamin Adekunle (aka “the Black Scorpion”) who was the most formidable and ruthless commander in the Nigerian Army during the civil war and whose father was a Yoruba whilst his mother was a member of the Christian Bachama tribe in present-day Adamawa state.
On April 14th 1968 he said,
“I want to see no Red Cross, no Caritas, no World Council of Churches, no Pope, no missionary and no United Nations delegation. I want to prevent even one Igbo from having even one piece of food to eat before their capitulation. We shoot at everything that moves and when our troops march into the center of Igbo territory we shoot at everything, even at things that don’t move”.
Strong words. And believe me that is precisely what the Black Scorpion and every single commander of the Nigerian Army did at the war front during our civil war!
Murtala Mohammed did even worse than most: he bombed and shot his own troops when they hesistated to follow his orders and when they failed to commit the most heinous crimes and atrocities that he desired.
It was so bad that once Gowon heard all the stories and saw the evidence he had to recall him back from the warfront just as he was compelled to do with Adekunle three months before the end of the civil war and the surrender of the Igbo.
How a bloodthirsty and violent man like Murtala Mohammed that was so filled with hatred could later become our Head of State is a story for another day.
Given all this the following question has to be answered: can anyone in his right mind describe the words and actions of the Adekunle’s and the Mohammed’s of this world during the civil war as being “soft” or “restrained”.
Has Buhari lost his mind or is he the quintessential sociopath and predator that is wholly incapable of having any empathy for his powerless victims? One wonders whether deep down he even sees the Igbo as human beings?
Yet the truth is that he is not alone in this gross mindset. In the matter of the barborous conduct of the civil war and the atrocities that the Biafrans were subjected to no-one was free of blame or guilt. We all did it and in my view it is to our collective shame.
Many have said that it was war and asked “what do you expect” and “why do you complain?”
They forget that even in war there are standard and well-established rules of engagement. There is also a Law of War in International law which makes it clear that genocide, ethnic cleansing and the mass murder of innocent civilians, including women and children, is specifically forbidden.
Yet in the Nigerian civil war those rules of engagement and the Law of War were ignored and regularly violated and the open and premeditated slaughter of Biafran civilians became the norm. Yet it did not stop there.
To make matters worse the Nigerian Army put together a vicious civilian militia made up of evil, cruel, bloodthirsty and ruthless genocidal maniacs mainly from Niger Republic and Chad that were commonly referred to as “Godogodos”.
These evil and bloodthirsty men thrived on carnage, spared no-one and were the precursers of today’s Fulani herdsmen.
They were drafted into Biafran towns after those towns had been “liberated” and captured by the Federal troops and they would kill, maim, rape and torture every human being in sight, including children.
They would also steal the chattels and belongings of the civilian population and they would slaughter their animals and burn their farms, places of worship and homes.
What the Biafrans were subjected to at the hands of these monsters was unprecedented and the world was horrified by our sheer capacity for insensitivity, barbarity and ruthlessness. Not even Genghis Khan and his Mongol hordes or Atilla the Hun were as callous and heartless as we were.
The Igbos were treated like animals and they were subjected to nothing less than the worst and most hideous form of mass murder, genocide and ethnic cleansing.
Worse still, had Murtala Mohamned and those that thought like him had their way there would have been no policy of “no victor and no vanquished” after the war and the Biafrans would have been completely wiped out or enslaved.
Thank goodness that Gowon refused to go down that path and it is to his eternal credit that he refused to do so.
It was terrible for the Biafrans before, during and after the civil war but it would have been far worse if the hawks and extrermists had had their way.
If they had done so perhaps there would have been no Igbos left in Nigeria today.
It is in that context and with this mindset that Buhari claimed that Nigeria was “soft” on the Biafrans during the civil war and that they fought it with “restraint”.
People like him wanted the Igbo to be wiped out and ethnically cleansed whilst people like Gowon, playing out the British script, simply wanted to keep Nigeria one.
Both courses of action and paths are, in my view, equally reprehensible. The first presented an existential threat to the Igbo and sought to deny him the right to life whilst the second sought to deny him the right of self-determination.
Though all this took place 50 years ago, let us make no mistake about it: we have learnt nothing from our dark historyand we have refused to change our ways.
Consequently both schools of thought about the Igbo are still alive and well in the minds and hearts of many in our country today.
Despite all pretensions to the contrary, the mindset of President Muhammadu Buhari provides an eloquent testimony to that.
FANI-KAYODE, a former Minister of Aviation, is a social commentator and human rights activist.
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