BOOK REVIEW: Biafra: Okey Anueyiagu’s Horrors Of war

(FILES) This file photo taken on November 16, 1967 shows Nigerian federal army soldiers patrolling near the destroyed prison of Calabar, the oldest port on the West African coast, after the federal troops took the city from the Biafran rebellion, during the Biafran war.<br />Fifty years ago, the Igbo people of southeast Nigeria seceded, declaring an independent Republic of Biafra and sparking a brutal civil war that left about one million people dead. / AFP PHOTO / Colin HAYNES

Dr. Okey Anueyiagu has written a personal history about his experiences as a young fellow, what happened to him in Kano during the pogrom, and how as a thirteen-year-old, he joined the Biafran Army.

He speaks with the raw innocence of a 13-year-old dealing with issues of life and death, dealing with issues that even for a much older person could have been traumatic and difficult to comprehend. But he deals with it well because he tells a story on what life in pre-1966 Nigeria was like; what happened during the civil war, and how the “settlements” after the civil war have left the Igbos still unsatisfied. Incidentally, it has tested the emboldened Hausa Fulani who now feels entitled to rule, determined to maintain power politically and commercially.

And because he tells the story of the child and what his parents told him, it opens new wounds, it opens an ulcer. It also deals with the usual horrors of war and where you have war, those horror seems to be real.

Dr. Okey Anueyiagu has, as Black people say in the United States, “has given the talk to his people.” How people who were your neighbours, and friends in a very short time become your butchers.

What kind of conversation goes on between those who killed women and children and Igbos in the North in 1966… and their sons, what did they tell them happened in 1966? 

We know what the Igbo tell their children as so eloquently expressed in this book.

Pogroms are not nearly as rare as many people imagine. It happened in Sierra Leone, Cote D’Ivoire, Libya, Syria, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, Siri-Lanka, Iraq, Madagascar, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, South Africa, and obviously the most horrendous being in Germany. As of today, pogroms still exist in Myanmar, China, and so forth.

In the case of Germany, the Germans themselves came to the conclusion that whatever they did was abominable and wrong and are willing to make reparations and compensations for their acts. They built monuments to say,” this must never happen again.” They embarked on a policy of expiation.

In Nigeria, nobody talks about it, everybody thinks that you should forget it. How you could possibly forget those skeletal bones of children with bloated tummies, and eyes so sad because they’ve seen what no child should ever see?

In South Africa where a regime of pogrom existed for many many years; in the end, they decided on the reconciliation commission led by Bishop Desmund Tutu. It was not an easy conversation but at least, they tried. In Nigeria, we have the ‘Oputa Commission’ which did not seem to have achieved that much. If anything, the factors that lead to pogroms have continued to escalate in Nigeria. They now come out in different forms; ISWAP, Boko Haram, Bandits, etc. and it is because we have not interrogated ourselves as to what we think happened in 1966 and why it happened, who did what, when and where. This would be because we too believe it must never happen again.

Dr. Okey Anueyiagu makes the point that the coup in 1966 was not an Igbo coup but that’s neither here nor there if the people believe that it was an Igbo coup, because the consequences of that coup to the Northern Elite were so much and have made fundamental changes in how people see the Igbos and the Hausa/Fulani.
However, in Dr. Okey Anueyiagu’s case, his family was saved by some Northerners who escorted them as far as Kafanchan. It was indeed Alhaji Bayero, a future Emir of Kano State who escorted them for 8 hours up to Makurdi. There are many other stories of such heroism. But is that enough?

It is not too much to say that the problem of the Fulani herdsmen, feeling entitled to go into anybody’s farm, to murder and rape is a direct consequence of the failure to deal with 1966; its psychology, its devastating effects on our psyche. For some, the answer is ‘give us the presidency’… maybe that’s an answer? … I don’t think so.

Fundamentally, Dr. Okey Anueyiagu’s is one of those books you will classify under, ‘let’s not forget.’ It is, however, not enough not to forget. We cannot forget it, we confess and apologize.

I have no idea what those Majors and the Igbo group were doing in 1966, but the result of their action is what triggered off the pogrom, maybe unjustifiably so, but again, these are issues that have to be investigated and internalized. You need almost an initiation in self cleanliness in order for us to get to a good place. We may continue to sweep these issues under the carpet, but it certainly wouldn’t stay there. No group of people have a right to try to exterminate another group without consequences, whether it is their children that they’re carrying, whether it is their traders or their leaders that you are killing. These actions have consequences.

One thing is certainly sure for Dr. Okey Anueyiagu: he has written this book and thereby slain whatever psychological pain the Kano and Biafra experience left on his tortured soul. It is an expiation of confession, a coming to terms with his past and his present.

There are millions of others who have not taken this step, worse most of the culprits and the perpetrators of the pogrom try to sweep it all under the carpet; it’s a long time ago- we are in a different world, but are we?
The seminal work on expiation after mass murder is Niemans book learning from the Germans. The expiation is good for both victims and perpetrators. The Germans confronted the monster of the holocaust and wowed never again to behave like that.

In Rwanda, there is no such reconciliation with the evil of the massacre of both Tutsi and Hutu. Instead when you ask if a person from Rwanda is Hutu and Tutsi replies he is a Rwandese. But it is easy to see that this is a ruse that he does not believe in his armies. The people of Rwanda do not regard lying and dissimulation as bad. It is a natural instinct of both Hutu and Tutsi a character trait they both believe to be needed to survive the frequent explosion of violence and the incessant surveillance of a murderous secret service, regime and neighbors. The massacres have continued till of late, no matter how much pretense is made by both the culprits and the victims.

In Nigeria, the massacre of 1966 is repeated nearly every day by those who perpetrated it and the victims who continue to suffer ritual suicide by their inability to comprehend why their lives had been so devastated.

The quest for power by both Igbo and Hausa Fulani and the fear to relinquish even a little of it stems from group guilt that retaliation would surely come. The Northerners’ fear that they must retain power and in any case must not give it to the Igbo stems from a primordial fear of revenge. Both play the role of victimhood to perfection and to the detriment of all others.

The North is at the gate of all matters of security, borders, etc. the Igbo continue to knock on these doors restricting their progress and their right to retaliation and reparations.

The road toward healing is first, to accept the guilt of both sides.
Dr Cole, OFR wrote this as book review.




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