BLOOD OF THE INNOCENT AND A NATION IN DENIAL: DRUMMERS OF GENOCIDE
“A voice is heard in Ramah, lamenting and weeping bitterly:
It is Rachel weeping for her children,
refusing to be comforted because they are no more.” (Matthew 2:18; see also Jeremiah 31:15).
he above biblical citation introduces us to the main trust of our present article. The article is necessitated by the recent pre-genocidal threat of prominent coalition of Arewa youth groups against Ndigbo residing in the North. On Tuesday, June 6, 2017, the coalition of Arewa groups directed all Nigerians of Igbo extraction living in Northern Nigeria to leave the region and relocate to Eastern Nigeria before October 1, 2017, or else face another genocide similar to the one that happened to their kin in 1960s in the North.
On Friday, June 9, 2017, the Northern Elders Forum (NEF), through its spokesperson, Prof. Ango Abdullahi expressed support to the call by the coalition of Arewa youth groups to Ndigbo to leave the North within three months. Ango Abdullahi is a retired Professor and former Vice-Chancellor of Ahmed Bello University, Zaria. He is respected in the whole North as an elder stateman and intellectual giant of first hour.
The question is: Why have the North chosen violence and genocide against Ndigbo in Nigeria in this 21st century? Put in another way: Why have the North chosen violence of genocide against Ndigbo as the only alternative ‘political’ instrument in negotiating relationship with the rest of the country, especially, Igbo people?
The answer to the above questions is not far fetched. The fact is that Nigeria has refused time without number to address courageously and truthfully, the Igbo question, the historical wrongs it has inflicted on Ndigbo, atone for the blood of innocent victims of the Biafra war. Nigeria is living in denial of its historical atrocities against Ndigbo. This is why Igbo-hate in Nigeria has refused to go away. The continued fanning of Igbo-hate in Nigeria, also by successive Federal Governments through marginalization of Ndigbo and their region, especially, since after the civil war and in the last two years in particular, all contributed to the reason why Arewa youth groups and their elders have the audacity to call for another genocide against Ndigbo living in the North.
Therefore, our present article questions Nigeria’s doggedness and refusal to heed ‘the weeping of Rachel for her children’ (Jeremiah 31:15): tender apology to Ndigbo, deliver justice to the blood of the innocent, especially, the victims of Biafra war, men, women and children massacred by the Nigerian state during the pogroms of 1966 and the Civil War (1967-1970). The pre-genocidal threat by the Arewa youth groups and their elders against Ndigbo living in the North, owes its’ inspiration from this refusal of Nigeria as a nation-state to address and acknowledge the evils of pogroms it has inflicted on Ndigbo.
The Nigerian Nobel laureate in literature, Wole Soyinka, captures very well this reality in one of his Television interviews:
“Nigeria does not want to confront its history. Nigeria is living in denial … as long as it refuses to confront the wrong it has done to the Igbos” (Wole Soyinka).
Nigeria and the Blood of the Innocent
Human life is the most sacred of all things God created on the face of the earth. The life of human person is most dear to God. For this reason, both Judeo-Christian traditions and our African Traditional Religion (ATR) forbid the killing and shedding of human blood. In the Decalogue, God commanded the people of Israel thus: “You shall not kill” (Exodus 20:13; see also Matthew 5:21; Romans 13:9; James 2:11).
For the Old Testament, belief in the sanctity of blood underlies the ban on shedding or killing it. The Bible tells us that to take life is to shed blood, and it is avenged by God (Genesis 9:6). The blood of the murdered cries out from the ground (Genesis 4:10), and must be atoned for (Deuteronomy 21:9). This is because, according to the Old Testament, blood is the life of the living being (Genesis 9:4; Deuteronomy 12:23). In the Bible, eating of blood is prohibited (Genesis 9:4; Leviticus 17:10ff). To kill or rather to shed blood of a human person is an offense against God. It is a disruption of God’s continued work of creation, human existence and life on earth.
This prohibition of shedding of blood is retained in the New Testament (Acts 15:20). The blood of Christ is supremely significant here (1 Corinthians 10:16; Ephesians 2:13). This is the shedding of blood of Jesus in violent death. Christ has effected eternal redemption by his own blood (Hebrews 9:11), through which we have access to the sanctuary (Hebrews 10:19). He purchases men with his blood, and by his blood the saints have conquered (Revelation 1:5; 12:11). Through Baptism, we share in the blood of Christ, which is life in the Trinity: Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. In the new dispensation, therefore, we are one because we share in the blood of the Risen Christ, through which we participate in the Trinitarian life of communion and love. The blood of Christ, the Son of God made-man, circulates in our veins. Thus, fellowship with Christ’s blood in the Eucharist means union with him who died for us (1 Corinthians 10:16). To shed blood of any human person is an offense against God who has reconciled us with himself through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ.
In the African traditional society and religion, it is an abomination to kill or shed blood of human person. Africans believe that human life belongs to God, the Creator. Human beings have no right to kill or take away the life of oneself or another. Whenever life of human person is violently killed, both the culprit and the entire community are obliged to atone for it through sacrifices and other laid down traditions. Appropriate punishment, is given to perpetrators according to the tradition laid down by the ancestors. The guilt of violent killing of innocent person or persons would not leave the community until the laid down tradition regarding atonement and sacrifices are performed and ancestors appeased.
All this implies that “to shed blood” is to destroy life (Matthew 27:4; Acts 5:28). It is an offense against God. God avenges blood (Revelation 6:10).
The above discussion confirms our concerned about the dangers inherit in the pre-genocidal threat of Arewa youths and their elders to Ndigbo in Nigeria. The violent language of hate used by the Arewa youth groups and Prof. Ango Abdullahi against Ndigbo in the pre-genocidal declaration is so terrifying. It is a clear indication that all is not well with Nigerian state, no matter how those in the corridors of power pretend to play-down the pre-genocidal threat.
What is very disturbing is the fact that the pre-genocidal threat is what the Arewa youth groups and their elders have chosen as their response to the May 30, 2017 IPOB/MASSOB non-violent “sit-at-home” protest in South-East region. In this 21st century, who in his right thinking would ever imagine that the best way to react to a non-violent protest of “sit-at-home” is to issue a genocidal threat and ultimatum against the rival ethnic and religious group? Who would ever imagine that the best way to reach-out to a rival ethnic and religious group, which chose non-violent ‘sit-at-home’ mode of protest in a pluralistic society such as Nigeria, is to greet them with genocidal threat?
Unfortunately, this has been the case with Nigeria, in the North’s relationship with Ndigbo. Instead of choosing modern civilized way of doing things in responding to IPOB “sit-at-home” protest, Arewa youth groups and their elders have called for violence and genocide against Ndigbo again. All this means that nobody should treat the Arewa youth and elders’ groups renewed genocidal threat against Ndigbo with hand-gloves. The issue is even beyond arresting the announcers of the pre-genocidal threat. This is because, the statement of the elder stateman, Prof. Ango Abdullahi, NEF’s support to the genocidal ultimatum, is a clear sign that a renewed genocide against Ndigbo, is the option already adopted by major political, religious, traditional institutions and intellectual leaders in Northern Nigeria.
A Stitch in Time Saves Nine
An Igbo proverb says, “Ukpana okpoko gburu, nti chiri ya” (a bird killed by a noisy animal is deaf or stubborn). Again, the people say in Igbo, “Ahia akaraka adighi eli onye ngwuro” (a pre-announced war does not find a lame person unprepared).
In other words, nobody should be deceived. Nigeria is not yet prepared, spiritually, psychologically, and even militarily, to defend the Igbo, should another cycle of genocide erupt against Ndigbo in the country today. Moreover, in a country where there is no respect for the law and freedom of the citizens, anything can happen. In a country where there is no respect for the law and freedom of the citizens, anybody can enter your house, kill you and get out of it. In a country like Nigeria, where those in the corridors of power show favor to one group of people rather than another, draw near those who should be kept away and keep away those who should be drawn near, chances of another genocide against Ndigbo is not very remote.
Again, in a multi-ethnic and multi religious country such as Nigeria, where there is preference to a particular ethnic and religious group (Hausa-Fulani Muslims) over the others, there is every likelihood of regular occurrence of genocide against the most hated ethnic and religious group, Ndigbo. Because, there is nothing on the ground to show that Nigeria is prepared and ready to defend, not only Ndigbo, but any other ethnic nationality (except Hausa-Fulani Muslims), should any form of genocide erupt against any of these groups in the country today.
Therefore, we should not take for granted the pre-genocidal threat order from the Arewa youth groups and their elders against Ndigbo in Nigeria. The Arewa youth and their elders, mean business. They have the fellowship of majority of the people in the North, including the military, politicians, intellectual, traditional and religious leaders. We ignore their pre-genocidal threat to our perils.
Moreover, they have the fellowship and tacit support of Nigeria’s former colonial masters, British and their allies. Not long ago, Paul Arkwright, the British Ambassador to Nigeria, in reference to the renewed IPOB/MASSOB pro-Biafra agitation for self-determination, said that United Kingdom “would not allow Nigeria to break up.” His French counterpart in Nigeria, Dengs Gauer echoed similar anti-Igbo sentiment when he said that “those that were agitating for Biafra were indulging in an exercise in futility and that they would NEVER achieve their dream or ambition.” Mind you! None of these foreign diplomats in Nigeria had ever condemned the massacre of members of IPOB/MASSOB pro-Biafra movements in the last two years by the Nigerian military and police. None of them has ever condemned military and police occupation of Igboland, which took an escalated dimension since President Buhari came to power, two years ago.
However, one thing is certain! The two Western European foreign diplomats in Nigeria, should be reminded that we are living in a post-colonial-era. We are in the 21st century, where such ill-conceived pomposity, self-serving claptrap statements are no longer tolerated. Indigenous peoples of Africa are now poised more than ever to take their destiny into their own hands. There is no place in the post-colonial world today for people with such colonial mentality and agenda like Paul Arkwright and Dengs Gauer. The two diplomats should know that the renewed struggle for freedom, self-determination, restoration of wounded humanity and dignity of Africans is non-negotiable. So, they should be advised to toe the route of diplomacy and dialogue with the Africans, not intimidation or provocation.
This is because, modern history of Nigeria shows clearly that Britain is intricately the architect of Igbo-hate in the country, indeed, the brain behind the current Nigerian political impasse. Although, current Nigerian leaders are responsible for the country’s present situation, one thing is certain: Like most of modern African states, Nigeria’s problem is intrinsically, linked to its colonial history with the British.
From the time oil and gas were discovered in large quantity in South Eastern Nigerian coasts of Atlantic Ocean, Britain vowed to destabilize that region at all cost, using its unholy alliance with the Northern Nigeria Hausa-Fulani Muslim Oligarchy. The Nigerian story is the epic of British colonial philosophy of ‘divide-and-rule’ and the infamous ‘indirect rule’ system. In other words, Igbo-hate in Nigeria is intrinsically, linked to British interest in the country. This is why it sparks any sense of history to hear Prof. Ango Abdullahi, twist the history of Nigeria the other day when he read the Northern Elders Forum statement and support to the Arewa youth groups’ pre-genocidal threat against Ndigbo.
The fact is that Britain rigged Nigeria’s first census head-counts, and first pre-independence elections in favor of the North. Moreover, the 1966 Military Coup, which Britain, with its BBC propaganda machinery, sold to the world as “Igbo Coup”, had practically nothing to do with Ndigbo. Britain for its selfish interest and in tacit support to its Northern Nigerian Oligrachy, decided to spread the falsehood, labeled the military mutiny as “Igbo Coup.” This is the fact, the likes of Prof. Ango Abdullahi, wouldn’t like to acknowledge.
Again, the way Prof. Ango Abdullahi rolled out his hate-speech in support of Arewa youth groups’ pre-genocidal threat against Ndigbo, shows that Nigeria has not learnt anything at all. That an elder stateman like Ango Abdullahi could so much misrepresent the history of Ndigbo and Nigeria in general, is indeed very disturbing. However, it suffices to say that those who carried out the Military Coup of January 15, 1966 comprised officers from different ethnic groups, and their mission was simple: “to get rid of ‘corrupt’ politicians and install Awolowo as Prime Minister.”
The Coup took Igbo coloration because those sent to East failed while Nzeogwu succeeded in Kaduna where he grew up. By the way, Nezogwu is a Deltan, and I am sure those who subscribe to the modern day warped history will say he is not ‘real’ Igbo when it fits your narrative. We should not also forget, it was Ojukwu who stopped Nzeogwu in Kaduna. In addition, Ojukwu, personally, took the risk of saving the life of Emir of Kano from the Coup mongers. A fact some individuals like Ango Abdullahi and his likes, choose to ignore.
These are not difficult to read up. A retired Nigerian Army General, a Yoruba, who took part in the Coup, has recently published a book in that regard. The book is titled: “Why We Struck.” Yet it is the pogrom that followed that compelled the Igbo to opt out of Nigeria, a fact now turned into, they wanted oil, or the usual stereotype: they are ingrates or secessionist agitators.
As regard Ndigbo’s relationship with their Niger Delta neighbors, Prof. Ango Abdullahi should not forget, what became the fate of Mr. Ken Saro-Wiwa and Mr. Adaka Boro, two great patriotic sons of the Niger Delta, who chose to work with Nigeria during the civil war against Ndigbo. Both brave men of the Niger Delta were executed by Northern heads of states, who presided over the affairs of a united Nigeria at the time. The first was General Yakubu Gowon and the second was General Sani Abacha. Unfortunately, they were the people used by British and Gowon regime to emasculate Ndigbo, cause disaffection between Ndigbo and their Niger Deltan kin. Gowon under the instruction of Britain, unilaterally created the 12 States in 1967, making the mainland Igbo landlocked. Millions of Biafran children died out of Kwashioko because of the blockade and starvation policy of the Federal Government against Biafra. In this way, the balkanization of Eastern region through the 1967 states’ creation by Gowon served its ultimate purpose for the Nigerian Federal Government.
The balkanization of former Eastern region by Gowon regime, backed by British, and the concomitant federal government policy of ‘blockade and starvation’ as well as the post-war policy of “abandoned property”, frozen of Bank accounts of Ndigbo, all these became a kind of “weapons of mass destruction” used by the Nigerian state against Ndigbo during and after the civil war. The existing disaffection between Ndigbo living in mainland Igboland and their kin in the Niger Delta area, is as a result of the Federal Government, British backed balkanization of Eastern Nigeria at the beginning of the civil war in 1967.
Things were let loose from the time Gowon renegaded on the Aburi conference that suggested true federalism as way of resolving the then impasse in Nigeria before the war. Instead of seeking further dialogue and appeasing the victims of the pogrom, Gowon and his British advisers choose war and balkanization of Eastern region. Gowon chose war against Biafra instead of going for federalism, which was agreed by all parties at ‘Aburi Peace Accord’ in Ghana. Again, instead of providing protection and succor to the victims of Biafra pogroms of 1966 and 1967, Gowon and his British sponsors shifted the war front to Igboland, after balkanizing the region.
There is also the usual comment some Nigerians make in reference to Ndigbo and Port Harcourt. These individuals forget that Port Harcourt is historically an Igbo city, known originally as Igweocha until the colonialists changed it to Port Harcourt in honor of a certain Henry Harcourt who was then British Secretary of Colonies.
Considering all these, one wonders what is it that Arewa youth groups, Prof. Ango Abdullahi and his Northern Elders Forum, are accusing Ndigbo of in Nigeria today? Is Prof. Ango Abdullahi, in particular, trying to suggest that Ndigbo should not agitate and protest, when everything around them suggests, they have been pushed to the wall? That is, when it is glaring to everybody that, Ndigbo have consistently been marginalized, insulted, cheated, pillaged, raped, murdered, singled out for destruction, and treated like filth in Nigeria. The fact that Ndigbo have been so accommodating, tolerant and restrained all this while, in the face of what they have been passing through in Nigeria since after the civil war, and especially in the last two years, is glaring testimony of their maturity and decency.
Again, why are Arewa youth groups and Prof. Ango Abdullahi’s Northern Elders’ Forum against Igbo youth groups (IPOB/MASSOB) for employing non-violent means of “sit-at-home” to press home their request for self-determination? The fact that some Igbo youth groups like IPOB/MASSOB have chosen non-violent means in pursuance of their objective for self-determination is a sign and evidence of true strength and level of exposition to modern civilized ways of doing things. I say this because it takes courage not to retaliate when you have been provoked beyond human endurance as Ndigbo are experiencing today in Nigeria.
Does it not worry Prof. Ango Abdullahi that while IPOB/MASSOB are protesting in non-violent way, the Arewa youth groups, on the other hand, resorted to genocidal violence and threats. Who is at fault among these two groups, IPOB/MASSOB or coalition of Arewa youth groups? This is the type of question, that should worry an elder stateman like Ango Abdullahi in Nigeria of today.
In fact, it is not a crime for a people to attempt to become a nation themselves. As one author once said: In Nigeria, Ndigbo are punished so hideously, for the simple reason: “they were attempting to become a nation themselves.” What is wrong for a people who feel unwanted in a country such as Nigeria, which they had sacrificed everything to build, to seek self-determination, dignity and freedom for themselves and future generations? What is wrong for a people who felt they have been maligned, lynched, hated, and over 3.5 million of their kin massacred by the Nigerian state and its allies, seek to become a nation themselves?
We are not suggesting Nigeria’s dismemberment. No. We are only employing common sense to show that Arewa groups’ pre-genocidal threat against Ndigbo holds no ground in modern day dispensation. It belongs to a distant, decadent past, not 21st century.
Violence against Ndigbo in Nigeria
Violence against Ndigbo in Nigeria has a long history. The causes of it have always remained the same. The present pre-genocidal threat is no different. Apart from the foreign interests mentioned above, there is also the insatiable quest of the Northern oligarchy for political domination and Islamization of Nigeria in perpetuity. This is the bane of Nigerian state. For majority of these people in the North, any person or group seen as obstacle to this Northern agenda in Nigeria becomes a permanent enemy and therefore, must be eliminated or reduced to non-entity in the country. This is the mindset behind the Arewa youth coalition and Northern Elders’ Forum pre-genocidal threat to Ndigbo. For them, it appears Ndigbo are among the few ethnic nationalities in Nigeria yet to be tamed or subdued completely, in spite of the Biafra War.
As the statement of Ango Abdullahi shows, the pre-genocidal threat of Arewa youth coalition, has the blessing of their elders, although, some, like Northern Governors or a few Emirs, may pretend otherwise, because of their institutional positions. The Arewa youth pre-genocidal threat to Ndigbo is where majority of citizens of Northern Nigeria stand. In other words, Nigeria today is standing on ‘time bomb.’ Moreover, nobody should expect any change of heart from these drummers of another genocide against Ndigbo in Nigeria soon. It needs miracle for that to happen.
The creation of Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen militia terrorist groups, the insistence of the North that political leadership of the country must remain there, are all geared towards this goal of domination and Islamization of Nigeria. This is despite the fact that southern Nigeria is practically over 90% populated by Christians and followers of African Traditional Religion (ATR), and that Christian population in Nigeria, generally, is slightly above that of Muslims. Yet, the Islamic intolerance is so intimidating that most often than not, Nigeria is, projected to the outside world as a Muslim nation. What a wicked world?
The successive Nigerian federal governments, instead of addressing the root causes of the Biafra war and working towards atoning for the blood of the innocent victims of the Biafra pogrom, have continued to maintain a kind of war situation in post-civil war Igbo land. Since after the civil war, the federal government notable policy, with regard to Ndigbo, is simply, that of impoverishment and pauperization of the people in Igbo land. Emeka Ojukwu, the Biafra leader, describes the situation as follows:
“The person marginalizing me is the person who thinks he has something to gain by maintaining the war situation without the fighting. They don’t allow you to fight but they want to keep the war situation alive” (Emeka Ojukwu).
In other words, Nigeria’s major problem today as a nation-state is the continued inability of successive federal governments, elites and intellectuals to address the Biafra question dispassionately, appease the innocent victims of Biafra pogroms, rehabilitate the survivors and their children, integrate them into the main stream of the society as full citizens of the Nigerian nation-state. Until these issues are holistically, addressed and resolved, the Biafra question will continue to haunt Nigeria nation-state as its permanent feature and ogre.
History teaches us that we should be careful not to ignore the Arewa groups’ pre-genocidal threat against Ndigbo. Because, Nigeria as it is now, is in disarray. People should be cautious. In other words, similar pre-genocidal threat was issued before the execution of the first Igbo pogrom in Northern Nigeria which took place on June 22nd 1945 in Jos, perpetrated by Hausa-Fulani Muslims. But many people ignored it to their peril. The same thing happened prior to the second Igbo pogrom in the North, which took place in Kano in 1953, in which hundreds of Igbo lives were lost. People ignored the pre-massacre threat to their peril. Similar pre-genocidal threat and warnings preceded the notorious May 1966 and December 1967, third Igbo pogrom in the North. The threats were ignored both by the federal government and Eastern region. The rest is now history.
This is the reason why nobody should underestimate or treat with hand-glove the recent pre-genocidal threat and ultimatum of Prof. Ango Abdullahi and Arewa youth groups to Ndigbo living in the North. ‘A stitch in time saves nine.’ The fact is that Nigeria government both at the federal and state levels are not organized and prepared to handle such genocidal violence against the Igbo in the country, should it happen again today. God forbid!
Nigerian government, as history shows, has never protected its citizens from previous genocidal butcheries. Today, it cannot learn to do it over night. We solicit for peace. But prevention is better than cure.
Lord help me to remember that nothing is going to happen today that you and I together can't handle.
(Blessed Cyprian Iwene Tansi of Aguleri (Nigeria).
Fr. Francis Anekwe Oborji is a Roman Catholic priest. He lives in Rome, where he is professor of missiology (mission theology) in the Pontifical University.