Bodies stacked in street as genocide grips Biafra

The Times Online Archives

May 12, 1968: Frederick Forsyth, at this time a freelance reporter, finds the breakaway region is now a charnel house

THE war raging between Nigeria and her breakaway eastern region of Biafra has just ended its 10th and bloodiest month. After 10 weeks in the bush with the Biafran army commandos, I have emerged sickened by the senseless violence that this war has wreaked upon a west African nation that could have been an example of harmonious progress to the whole of the continent.

The most disturbing aspect is that inside 10 months it has deteriorated steadily from a war in which the original motivation was the reincorporation of the breakaway east into Nigeria into a spectacle of racial hatred run amok.

General Yakubu Gowon, the head of the federal government, in unleashing a war that he thought could be ended within 48 hours, has let loose forces that white men do not understand and that the Nigerians cannot control.

The Lagos government, to judge from its public utterances, seems blandly unaware of just how far its own army is out of its control.

When one hears what Lagos says about the rehabilitation of the Ibos of Biafra, about non-discrimination, about equal job opportunity and so forth, and then one sees what is actually going on at the battle fronts and behind them, one must come to the conclusion that either Lagos is lying or it has lost control.

In six forays behind Nigerian lines, I was able to observe Nigerian-occupied Biafra. It is being turned into a charnel house of gutted hamlets and rotting corpses.

From the bush a timorous Ibo native emerges to explain what happened when “Hausa man come”. The descriptions tally so closely that they are almost standardised: the menfolk lined up against the wall of the biggest building and machinegunned, the women raped to the accompaniment of the all-too-ritualistic mutilations, the children spitted on machete knives.

Genocide is an ugly word and an even uglier reality. I do not use it lightly, but my judgment that it really could be the extermination of an entire race does not go unsupported.

The two papal delegates who visited both sides in the conflict submitted a report to the Pope which caused the latter to condemn the war for its “strong genocidal overtones”.

I spoke to nearly 100 Nigerian prisoners of war and, once their Ibo captors had been sent out of earshot, they spoke quite freely. All admitted that they had not volunteered but had been conscripted by no-nonsense recruiting sergeants on street corners and in market places. After a week’s training they were sent up to the front with a rifle and a pouch of ammunition. These new soldiers loot, rape, kill and torture.

At Onitsha, under siege from the federal troops, the 300-strong congregation of the Apostolic church decided to stay on while others fled and to pray for deliverance. The Second Division found them in the church, dragged them out, tied their hands behind their backs and executed them. Three hours later, entering Onitsha, I found the corpses stacked in the road.

It is the Biafrans’ firm belief, which seemed to be supported by a lot of evidence, that the great majority of the weapons in Nigerian hands are being supplied by the British. British government spokesmen, both in parliament and elsewhere, have been remarkably evasive about just what has been sent to Nigeria.

The Biafrans vigorously reject Britain’s claim that she is obliged to support Gowon’s war because he is the legal government of Nigeria. The Biafran leader, Lieutenant-Colonel Emeka Ojukwu, points out that Britain does not always feel obliged to arm military regimes, particularly when the use to which the weapons might be put is dubious in the extreme.

His attitude is, as usual, moderate compared with that of his more emotional countrymen. The hatred of Britain has steadily grown as 80,000 Biafrans, more than 65,000 of them civilians, have died. Now they believe that just about everything being thrown at them is of British origin – including bombs and rockets.

Time is running short, as the Biafrans are squeezed ever more tightly into the centre of the ring, with a vengeful Nigerian army seeking its pound of flesh for its own 35,000 casualties. Negotiation is one road; the other leads to the biggest bloodbath the Commonwealth has ever seen.

The Biafra secession was finally crushed in January 1970.


it is quite unfortunate that the man that orchestrated the worst genocide in Africa General gowon was never tried for warcrime.Though out of realisation for peace as the best option for the Nigeria state to attain her full potential.It is very ridiculous for anyone especial other tribes from Nigeria

Joseph , Aberdeen, United Kingdom

My Ibo country people greetings from your Bini sister. I read the story and it puts the chill in my blood... of course I did not experience the war but I'm a firm believer that none should be exempt from justice. This was clearly genocide and those responsible should be tried. May God deliver us!

Stella, Norfolk, USA

Only uneducated Ibos would want a Biafrian nation. And I always pity their mentality(ies). Its time to think of a united and democratic Nigeria where there should be equality. Biafrian war was a political mistake in our history. Lets join hands together to make Nigeria a great and peaceful nation.

ighodaro eguaoje, Moscow., Russia.

Now we know who prolonged the war and told all those lies. Let anyone stand up today and say what Forshyte reported at Onitsha actually happened? Genocide was committed on the Eastern minorities. I know because i was a Biafran soilder. We Ibos need to apologise to the Eastern minoriyies.

Chima, Aba, Nigeria

Biafra is real and one day will come to pass .Nigeria is a failed state and will soon disintigrate. Forces that are against biafra resurgence will soon fizzle out and the sun will rise again. The powers that be in the whole world will be asleep when this will happen.

emeka, nnewi, biafra

I was about 9 years old during the Biafran/Nigerian civilwar. A nigerian captain called Gagara and his men raped women married and unmarried, took many young girls away from their parents. They killed all the Igbos they captured in Ibibio land, no prisoner of war was kept. We know the mass graves.

Nsima, Leoben, Austria

Despite evidence of genocide, no one has been charged by the War Crime Tribunal in Heig. Doesn't this make the UN an accomplice after a fact of genocide? Biafrans are still suffering in Nigeria. UN should redeem it s image by calling for a referandum in Biafra now!

sunday, Aba, Biafra,

Biafra was the first attempt at building true African nation and it was killed by forces intent in keeping the blackman backward.
As for the dramatis personae in this first African genocide, may God have mercy on their souls. As for the way forward, restore Biafra.

Davis, Nri, Nigeria

I call on all Igbos to rise up as one and seek the hand of law against Gowon and the British government.i wish to use this avenue to say categorically that any Igbo that ever stays in Britain should be looked upon as outcast.We should stay away from the british because they are evil,IGBOS BEWARE


Another immense tragedy made possible by British trade in weapons. Is oil worth the price? The British are obliged to say no.

Matthew, Bumpass, USA

All the men and women who killed the innocent Biafrans who were fighting for their right will suffer miserably and their children too.The Nigerian forces were really very inhuman.They killed,raped, committed all sorts of crime to their own people under the guise of war.its horrible.God bless biafra.

Dubem, Imo state, Biafra



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