Chinua Achebe: “Genocidal Biafran War Still Haunts Nigeria”

Article by Chinua Achebe in today’s UK Guardian claiming that Nigeria is still haunted by the ghost of the Biafra-Nigeria civil war. Achebe makes a lot of claims, including:

*Nigerian troops and government were fighting a genocidal war against Igbos. He spoke of “the diabolical disregard for human life seen during the war” which was no”due to the northern military elite’s jihadist or genocidal obsession”.

*Yoruba leader Obafemi Awolowo advocated starving the Igbos and economically punishing them as the Yorubas were engaged in rivalry with the Igbos who were their economic competitors.

*The Nigerian government deliberately impoverished Igbos by decimating their bank accounts after the war, and banning the importation of items that were crucial to Igbo commerce.

*Igbo deaths outnumbered Nigerian deaths by 20:1. Igbo casualties were 2 million, while Nigerian casualties were 100,000.

*Igbos have not been reintegrated into Nigeria – contrary to the claims of the Nigerian government.

Is Achebe right?  Are his claims misleading, accurate or only telling part of the story?


29 responses

  1. We all have bad memories of the war and the sad events that led to it. But for intransigence on both sides, including our highly respected Professor Achebe, the civil war could have been averted.

  2. Haba Professor, as revered as you are known, are you then to be henceforth looked at as a crusader for only the Igbnos social, political and economic justice alone? If not for now that you have abandoned concern for our Nation’s National Security for a trivial Igbo sentiments of the past of which the Igbos were the cause, I use to hail you as a literary icon of a broader and even global value. If not that there was isolated approach to a case of treason by the 1966 Military coup carried out by the Late Major Kaduna Chuckwuma Nzeugu for which the plotters were spared by the Late Major General Aguyi Ironsi, the result of which precipitated reaction of a counter coup, and then events leading to the Succession attempt by the Igbos led by the Late Col. Chuckwu Emeka odumegu Ojuckwu, which led to the Nigerian Civil War fromm 1967-1970, nothing could have happened. In any case, the War caused a blood bath, death and general casualties on both sides. So, why should Professor Ochekpe ignored the casualty concern on both sides to insinuate that, it is the nemesis of the Igbo blood? This kind of reaction do not enhance trust and confidence of the Igbos as those who could look at things from a patiotic and Nationalistic perspectives and hence perpetual cause for mutual distrust and suspicion. Prof, please begin to give a Nationalistic and objective opinion on issues.

  3. It is sad when highly revered Professor Achebe said the Igbos had not been reintegrated back into Nigeria. An Igbo man in the person of Chief Ekweme was the Vice President during the civilian regime that followed the civil war. He was deputizing same Northern Politicians Ojukwu and his administration refused to sit with in a meeting that may have restructured Nigeria for good when the East had the Ace. They would rather slug it out with them at the ‘battle field’, and they intended making the Western and Midwestern Region their battle field when leaders of those regions had made it clear they would not tolerate such. Ojukwu also embraced them and ran for political office on their party (NPN), when he could have gotten something much better and more enduring if he had sat to talk with same set of people earlier. If not anything, at least the lives (and properties) of over two million Igbos that perished in that War could have been saved.

    Like I said always, the leadership of Eastern Nigeria took decisions that backfired at that time, and it will not be good for anyone that was not part of that decision making to be blamed on outcome of those decisions. Chief Obafemi Awolowo in particular had the job of protecting the lives and properties of those that entrusted leadership in him at that time and I am very glad he did, in the best interest of the people. Though Prof. Achebe has all the right to write whatever he likes in his memoir, some of us knows there are other versions of the story.

  4. In war, there are rules of engagement. If those rules are not adhered to, it results in a war crime. War is generally between soldiers known as combatants. Actions that directly affect civilians, by the Geneva convention, must not be propagated as an instrument of war. Individuals that utilize unconventional tactics in war are cheats and war criminals. Awo, to have adviced Gowon to use means that jeopardized the life of innocent civilians can best be described as a cowardly cheat and be tried as a war criminal. Currently many of their like are facing war crimes charges in the Hauge, including Charles Taylor. If Awo is to be exonerated, then people like Charles Taylor and Slobodan Milosevic have no business being tried for war crimes.!

  5. Itz true,d jihadist nature of d northerners showed made dem hell bent on eradicating d infidels(ibos).tell me y ibo bank accounts were frozen afta d war,pure hate

  6. But itz bygone,let’s forget d past cos now bad leadership iz d order of d day even ibo leaders r starving dir subjects…so..

  7. Honestly, with all due respect for Yakubu Gowone, If I were him & if I were a true Christian, I will dam all envisaged criticisms from the today Nigerians, the world at large and publicly apologize to the Igbos for shedding about 2 million blood during the Nigerian/ Biafran war and also for starving them to death. On the same side with the Igbos, I will turn to God of justice, purity and confess to Him and asked for forgiveness. I will put my human ego as past president of Nigeria aside, make genuine confession to God almighty, & ask for the cleansing of innocent bloods on my hands.

    If he yields to this most wise advice, he will apparently receive criticisms from some individuals particularly our northern Nigerian brothers. The Igbos will genuinely forgive him! The world will recognize him & possibly remove his name from the ‘World tent tyrant & most bloodshed list’ in the world. Finally, if he dies someday, God of justice would have forgive him & grant him rest. No matter what we may claim to be in life, God only grant GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.

    1. My take has been Awolowo shouldn’t have partook in that Cabinet of the Gowon led government, Ojukwu trusted in the South west to support them, unfortunately, Awo has been bought over,it was pure genocide against the Igbos!

  8. I assume Awolowo did betrayed Ojukwu who had released him from Claba prison & partook in Gowon’s administration simply for gratification purposes. If he is alive 2dy, he would be made to face world crime by now. His grave should be chained for life for his genocide role against the Igbos immediately! Ooooh never mind, he has being facing God’s judgment & rutting in HELL FIRE since death. His other partners in crime will join him soon in like manner. Igbos consolation is that no man can bet or gamble God’s judgment! The Igbos is God’s choose people in Nigeria just like the Israel nation in the world. After all there was a country (Biafran) & God’s will surely prevail if He is God. I hail u professor Acheba. U are a noble man by all standard.

  9. Ekuson Debango | Reply

    I am less concerned about what Awo may or may not have done to further his personal agenda for power grab(he failed one too many times to achieve this goal, either by planning the first ever coup in Nigeria or via electoral process) , I am still baffled as to why Britain which could barely defend itself against Hitler would then supply Nigeria with more small arms that were deployed in the second world war.Documents just recently surfacing indicate that Britain had more economic interest in Nigeria than actually seeing a united country.British barbarism in this affair pales anything the Islamic fundamentalist may have done anywhere in the West for which we now constantly lectured about Islamofascism-whatever that coinage indeed means. Good for the goose also good for the …… It was quite obvious that Awo in his little mind thought with the Ibo vanquished Gowon would hand over power to him.See how it was that when he sensed Gowon’s sit-tight policy he bolted from Gowon’s cabinet in opposition. A fully developed mind would have discerned Gowon’s posture right from the onset.I did. Awo stretched the truth when he claimed not to have been involved in the twenty pounds policy ( a sort of war indemnity levied against the Ibo which proceed many Yoruba used to buy up businesses during the so-called indigenization decree.Yep, all ill-gotten wealth!!!)

  10. Being in Gowon’s cabinet was great for Awo. His two main rivals Balewa (murdered), Sardauna (murdered) and Zik (pushed out of office) had been sidelined. He seemingly was the last of the great first republic politicians that still had influence. Awo had fought tooth and nail to become PM and joining Gowon’s government (where he was the number 2) was strategic.

    1. Ekuson Debango | Reply

      Right.That is precisely what I was hinting at by saying he failed to discern Gowon’s sidon-tight posture. Awo thought it was his turn next with all the other titans either eliminated or sidelined.Gowon had a different plan for himself, with all the nonsense talk of transition to civil rule and all what not.The fact was that Gowon was never in any hurry to vacate Dodan Barracks as some political opportunists, like Awo ,naively believed.I knew from the onset that Mr. Gowon had no plans of handing over power to anybody.In fact the only feasible transition at the time would have been for him to morph himself into a civilian leader. That would have been the extent of the transition. Awo’s strategy failed him woefully.BTW one of the reviews of Achebe’s book stated that Awo was vice chair of the Supreme Military Council. This is incorrect as he was only vice chair of the Federal Executive Council, an entirely different body of self-appointed and unelected potentates.

      1. Few Nigerian military leaders (except OBJ and Abdulsalam) were ever in a hurry to hand over to civilians. Even then, OBJ was bound by the promises of his predecessor, and Abdulsalam was under tremendous local and international pressure to withdraw the army from politics.

  11. Ekuson Debango | Reply

    I have not read the book myself as there is a long reserve list at my library. I will buy a copy for my personal library.I just want to understand why it is that the Yoruba decided to take up arms because Awo was rightly indicted for his diabolical role in the wicked extermination of millions of children. Benjamin Adekunle even went further by his deeds and his interview to a German magazine. This is the trademark characteristic of the Yoruba which has been known to me.I could give more examples here.Forget it anyway.

    1. Perfectly right Dr, we lost it completely there, I have always maintained that Awo shouldn’t have served in that regime, but like Max pointed there, he must have been tempted based on the political emasculation of his most virulent political opponent, Zik, Awo’s involvement in that unfortunate war was regrettable till date!!!

      1. Most annoying is the fact that the war was basically a ‘designed extermination plan’ by the Northern hegemony to wipe out an entire race, the more reason I hated Awo’s involvement. Dr if you switch to a forum called you will feel disappointed how some clowns labelled the civil war a justification for the first coup of Kaduna Nzeogwu (but they failed to address that the coup even came as a result of the gross corruption by the politicians of that time)! Indeed the British were the indirect murderers. Have you read this book? Unpeople: Britain’s Secret Human Rights Abuses – Mark Curtis, I am sure you will love it!

  12. While we are on the civl war it has just been announced that General Mohammed Shuwa who was a prominent figure in that war has been killed by the Northern supported Boko Haram. How very ironic indeed.Should the likes of Danjuma and Gowon be worried by this development? Just curious. .Be careful what you wish.

    1. May Shuwa RIP. Condolences to his family. He was a professional army officer who never took part in any coup. Described by Gowon as “a textbook commander”. A classmate of Murtala Muhammed who never liked Murtala.

      1. Ekuson Debango | Reply

        He was a professional army officer who never took part in any coup.

        >>>Maybe.I’d look into his role in the slaughter of Igbo army officers and civilians at Kano airport in 1966. Lt. Col Mohammed Mamman Shuwa was the effective battalion commander of the 5th battalion Kano at the time of this event. He was said to have had prior knowledge of the plan to carry out the Kano airport murder and kept quiet about it.It could be argued that his acquiescence may have indeed egged the those who did the killings. This is a whole different story anyway.

        1. Shuwa had nothing to do with the Kano airport massacare. During the earlier May riots, he actually sent troops out to protect Igbos. He did so again later in the year, and sent Igbo troops out of his battalion for their own safety.

          1. Ekuson Debango | Reply

            The point is that after taking over commandship of the 5th battalion from Ojukwu he knew that Igbo soldiers were heading to the Kano airport to head home. Who do you think might have alerted the mutinous Northern soldires where to find large numbers of Igbo soldiers besides Shuwa? Mind you he knew where they’d be and see what happened after the fact. He indeed he sent soldiers to protect them then tell us how come so many ended up dead!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The protection fabrication which I’ve heard before simply does not add up. It sounds as true as Danjuma claiming that he lost control of the soldiers who abjucted and murdered General Ironsi in whose entourage Danjuma was party to.Danjuma even ended up dressed in combat uniform for reasons he has yet to tell us.These stories are all tiring lies told too many times.Shuwa was in on it for all I know.

            1. What about their service weapon which supposed to accompany them for their safety as an agreement between the authorities at Enugu and Lagos? which the eastern government honored very well by allowing the nothern soldiers to leave with their service weapons for their seif defence even though they refused to dispatched those rifle back to Enugu as aggreed, while Shuwa disarmed all the Eastern soldiers and left them and their families to perished like chicken at Kano Airport. Even the ones that board train was ambushed and massacared closed to River Benue in Markurdi. If those soldiers had their service weapon with them, atleast they could had save their lives and lives of the eastern passengers on that train.
              Now Mr. Shuwa had been killed, most Nigerians started pouring unnecessary condolence message with Crockodile tears in their eye.

  13. My ppl use to say wen an elda c somtin bad and refuse to say den d elda wil die colin achebe prof and educated person who should nt mak known such to d world is meaninles gowon a general should hav known d rules of war and awolowo in his person is evil normaly d hausas hav respect 4 children and women but as God may hav it d igbos has risin again of wat use we claim to be one nigeria wen an average hausa man do nt 2 igbo as one d war is nt yet ended bt it is fallow lik a land waitin 4 cultivation.

  14. Every word is true.All the same, the war woke up in every Igboman the zest for surviva,survival against every obstacle placed in his part.You need to go to Igboland to see for yourself.

    1. It simply amazes me how it is that Professor Achebe’s restatement of known facts continues to rankle the Yorubas and in particular Nigeria’s former man-child Head of state who granted never received reasonable formal education until his overthrow in 1975. Now here was a man -child leader who signed documents even he did not understand an iota only to renege after things were explained to him differently by the likes of the moderately educated Awolowo. Ever wonder why it is that the former man-child HOS quickly ran back to school to imbibe much needed erudition? I tell you why:If you happen to be in a room full of people with reasonable erudition and you are not able to understand didly a thing being discussed then it is time to seek help. Now I do not suggest consuming anywhere as much education as one “officer TUNDE” supposedly subjected himself to while wearing an officer’s uniform of the federal republic army. That , my friends, is simply over-kill. I have waited to engage this officer in some interesting debabte to no avail.Anyway I do wish the fine officer tremendous success in whatever pursuit he may seek in life. As for me, I served mainly guard duties as a Biafran recruit at a Research and Production facility in Obizi Mbaise and then at a huge Biafran refinery in a town called EKWERRE in Orlu.I finally shipped out to battle in the final days of the civil war to Ikot Ekpene where I met some very fine Biafran army officers I would forever be grateful to have as company. I am retired from any form of combat after seeing it all.My most memorable experience was seeing Biafran engineers and scientist perform wonders in Obizi, Mbaise at a high school owned by one Dr. Ogbonna.I was rather impressed by what I saw and thence made up my mind to consume as much reasonable education as I possibly could. After working my tail off for many years my dream became reality when I finally went back to school as perhaps the oldest chap in my class.Mind you this was all self-financed without any dime from the socalled powerhouse of corruption called the Nigerian government. I sincerely do not owe the Nigerian government any debt of gratitude in any shape or form. I AM SELF MADE!!!!! I am very much on the very final leg of my foray on this forum.Come next year, I wil never be heard from, ever again.It has been quite a lot of fun conversing with some of you.Some have persistently jammed my mailbox with requests for facebook friendship(particularly people from Kano). Just to let you know, I do not do face book firendship at all.I typically delete such rquests as I deleted such requests from one professor Ozodi Thomas Osuji. So long to you all.I wish you all the best and finest things in life as I sign off.

      1. Thanks for all your comments here. Why are you leaving?

  15. […] of the national energy spent for the better part of the last two months vigorously debating Chinua Achebe’s polarising personal memoirs on the 1960s Biafran war be channelled towards some of these problems? A starting point could be […]

  16. […] of the national energy spent for the better part of the last two months vigorously debating Chinua Achebe’s polarising personal memoirs on the 1960s Biafran war be channelled towards some of these problems? A starting point could be […]

  17. Nnademere Solomon. | Reply

    The coup was seen as an Igbo coup which was an error. At no time did the Igbo as a race plotted such thing and that is why all the killings were the killings of the innocent. Ojukwu stopped their advancement at Kaduna. That Boko haram killed Igbos does not justify killing innocent Hausas. The North deceived others bcs they had always had the plan to gradually Islamize the nation.

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