The thirty months, one week and 2 days civil war had devastating impact on all facet of the country especially the Igbos as the war cost the Igbo’s a great deal in terms of lives, money and infrastructure. Unknown sources estimated that up to three million people may have died due to the conflict, most from hunger and disease caused by the war, (BBC News, 2014). More than two million people died from the famine imposed deliberately through blockade throughout the war. Lack of medicine also contributed.
Thousands of people starved to death every day as the war progressed. The International Committee of the Red Cross in September 1968 estimated 8,000–10,000 deaths from starvation each day, (Korieh, 2013). The leader of a Nigerian peace conference delegation said in 1968 that “starvation is a legitimate weapon of war and we have every intention of using it against the rebels”. Thus that what generally considered to reflect the policy of the Nigerian government, (Njoku 2013, Campbell 2014), where the federal Nigerian army is accused of further atrocities including deliberate bombing of civilians, mass slaughter with machine guns, and rape.
Some scholars including Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe (1990) have backed up this claims arguing that the death of the Igbo’s in the Biafran war were deliberately orchestrated genocide, for which no perpetrators have been held accountable, Though critics of this position suggest that Igbo leaders had some responsibility, but acknowledge that starvation policies were pursued deliberately and that accountability has not been sought for the 1966 pogroms, (Heerten & Moses 2014).
Arguments that the war did not strictly constitute “genocide” focus on political aspects of the war which differ from prototypical genocide, such as the objective to keep Igboland within the Nigerian Federation, and improved conditions for Igbos after the Federal Military Government achieved its political objectives. In 1969, Biafra made a formal complaint of genocide against Igbos to the International Committee on the Investigation of Crimes of Genocide, which concluded that British colonial administrators were complicit in the process of fomenting ethnic hatred and violence, dating back to the Kano riots of 1953. With special reference to the Asaba Massacre, Emma Okocha described the killings as “the first black-on-black genocide”. Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe places significant blame on the British thus:
“Britain was a central operative, along with the Nigerian state, in the planning and execution of the Igbo genocide right from its outset in 1966 to its concluding phases in 1969/1970. It was Britain’s ‘punishment’ of the Igbo for its audacious lead of the struggle for the freeing of Nigeria from British occupation that began in the 1930s.
Twice during that struggle, the occupation regime had casually watched two organised pogroms against the Igbo in north Nigeria – in 1945 and 1953. These murders, which also included the looting and destruction of tens of thousands of pounds worth of Igbo property and businesses, were carried out by pro-British political forces in the region who were opposed to the restoration of African independence but who Britain would hand over supreme political power of the country to on the eve of its so-called departure from Nigeria in 1960. The pogroms were clearly dress rehearsals for subsequent genocide. / Without British complicity, it was highly unlikely that the Igbo genocide would have been embarked on in its initial phase by the Nigerian state with such unrelenting stretch and consequences between May and October 1966.
Without the massive arms support that Nigeria received from Britain especially, it was highly improbably the Nigera would have been in the military position to pursue its second phase of the genocide–namely, the invasion of Igboland – between July 1967 and January 1970. Harold Wilson, the British prime minister at the time, was adamant, as the slaughtering worsened, that he ‘would accept’ the death of ‘a half a million’ Igbo if that was what it took’ the Nigerian genocidists on the ground to accomplish their ghastly mission, (Ekwe-Ekwe, 2013).
Another implication was lack of genuine intention to reconstruct the south east even when oil money was made available for its use. The old ethnic and religious tensions remained a constant feature of Nigerian politics as the Nigerian government officials were accused of diverting resources meant for reconstruction in the former Biafran areas to their ethnic areas. Military government continued in power in Nigeria for many years, and people in the oil-producing areas claimed they were being denied a fair share of oil revenues in that the pre-1966 tax-sharing agreements on mineral wealth was changed to favour the Federal government at the expense of the state.
This agreement has, in the 1980s, been modified to further favour the Federal government.
More so laws were passed mandating that political parties could not be ethnically or tribally based; however, it has been hard to make this work in practice.
Igbos civil servants who ran for their lives during the pogroms and war returned to find that their positions had been taken over; and when the war was over against the announcement by the federal government that they should come out as they will be absorbed to their previous positions, the government did not fulfill their promise or the need to re-instate them, preferring to regard them as having resigned.
Also such loss was extended to Igbo-owned properties and houses. People from other regions quickly took over any house owned by an Igbo, especially in the Port Harcourt area. The Nigerian Government justified this by terming such property as abandoned properties. This, however, has led to a feeling of an injustice as the Nigerian government policies were seen as further economically disabling the Igbos even long after the war. Further implications of the civil war on the Igbos were seen when Nigeria changed its currency making Biafran supplies of pre-war Nigerian currency not tenderable. At the end of the war, only N£20 was given to any easterner regardless of the amount of money he or she had had in the bank. This was applied irrespective of their banking in pre-war Nigerian currency or Biafran currency. This was seen as a deliberate policy to hold back the Igbo middle class, leaving them with little wealth to expand their business interests.
On 29, May 2000, The Guardian reported that President Olusegun Obasanjo commuted to retirement the dismissal of all military persons who fought for the breakaway state of Biafra during the Nigerian civil war. In a national broadcast, he said that the decision was based on the principle that “justice must at all times be tempered with mercy, (The Guardian, 2000).
Biafra was more or less wiped off the map until its resurrection by the contemporary and the recent Indigenous Peoples Republic of Biafra, IPOB. Chinua Achebe’s last book, There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra, has also rekindled discussion of the war, (Jeyifo, 2013).
In all however, wars were supposed to make a peopling learn lessons and gain experiences that can shape their future. Did the Igbos learnt anything at all?
Extract from chapter 8 of my coming book: *History, Politics and Challenges of a New Nigerian Nation*