Tragedy Revisited

Biafra Revisited
by Professor Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe
Publisher: African Renaissance, Berkshire, England
Pages: 175 pages
Year of Publication: 2007

Biafra Revisited, a book by Professor Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe, trained at the Universities of Ibadan and Lancaster and a leading scholar on conflict and change in contemporary Africa and a well-known literary critic, reminds the world of the large-scale killings in Nigeria that took place in 1960s calling for the perpetrators to be punished even more than forty years after they have committed their ‘forgotten’ crimes.

Biafra Revisited is as astounding as it is provocative. It is one angry book the reader can not put down the from moment he starts reading until finishing the last sentence. It is a book full of tears and pain, a tragic history retold and revisited.

Written in flowing prose with a tone that sparks of propaganda, it attempts to explain that the causes of the perennial conflicts in West Africa sub-region and other parts of Africa that characterize the last 30 years. Chiefly, blamed is the International Court of Justice’s failed to punish the soldiers, civilians, politicians and foreigners in Nigeria who perpetrated the large scale crime against humanity before, during, and after the Nigerian civil war.

Armed with statistics, facts, and figures, similar to Emma Okocha’s Blood in the Niger, the author carefully documents the wanton destruction of lives that followed the coups of 1966. He underscores the point that the perpetrators of these crimes have been rewarded with big positions in government rather than being made to account for their crimes against mankind. The professor laments that the Nigerian perpetrators ‘have remained unapologetic, unremorseful, even totally defiant.’ This, according to him, was because, ‘they have yet to be apprehended by the global court of justice to account for their crimes against humanity.’ He insists that now is the time ‘that each and every member of the Nigerian regime who participated in the murder of 3 million Africans 40 years ago, and who triggered off the chain of mass killing of 12 million others elsewhere in the continent must be made to account for their actions.’

Professor Ekwe-Ekwe concludes that the killing fields of Liberia, Sierra Leon, Congo, DCR, Uganda, Sudan, Dafour and other troubled spots of Africa would have been averted if the organizers of the pogrom of 1966, the Asaba Massacre and other religiousinduced massacres that trailed the 1980s, 1990s in Northern Nigeria and even the last decade were apprehended and made to account for their gross violation of the sanctity of human lives irrespective of the side they were fighting for and their religious affiliations.

Professor Ekwe-Ekwe unhesitatingly names the individuals that committed crimes against humanity and the foreign countries that aided the killers. In his own words: ‘Britain had essentially sentenced the Aguiyi Ironsi regime to death soon after if took office on January 16th 1966. It was not going to accept the dismantling of what it thought to be a secured architecture of power to exploit Nigeria as it deemed fit’. He alleges that the British government inspired and instigated the counter coup and the various massacres that eventually culminated into what he called the 3rd phase of the genocides. To those who systematically underdeveloped Igbo land out of sheer hatred, he points a finger at the late Awolowo and former President Olusegun Obasanjo whom he accuses of carrying out a ‘blanket freeze on worthwhile developments projects in the south east.’

The author equally blames religion for being responsible for some of the killings particularly the perennial riots in northern Nigeria that kept on resurging till date. He laments that fellow Nigerians have taken advantage of religion to visit death and destruction on their fellow country men who are adherents of other faiths for such vain excuses as beauty pageant, blasphemy, natural occurrences like eclipse, mere disputes, cartoons, etc.

He charges political leaders with responsibility for these riots with the wanton loss of lives through failure to apprehend and bring the killers to justice.

BR cover

Professor Ekwe-Ekwe sees the perennial killings as being responsible for instability in Nigeria. Biafra Revisited is a step-by-step account of the series of the killings in northern Nigeria from the earliest periods to the present cartoon riot in Maiduguri and other northern towns as recently as 2005. Biafra Revisited is, essentially, a book of complaint. The author compares some of the atrocities committed in Nigeria, particularly the pogroms preceding the civil war, to those committed by Adolph Hitler and his men in Europe.

He accuses the British government and their intelligence agencies of being a major player in the tragic saga that costs the Ibos millions of lives. Arab nations were not spared either, particularly the Egyptian pilots that were used to strafe Igbo villages and towns during the 30 months of futile struggle. He alleges that Charles Taylor, the former Liberian leader, was only prosecuted because of his alleged ties to al-Qaeda, as the west were less interested in the fate of Africa in the hands of genocidal leaders and their Arab collaborators.

He argues that the pogrom of 1966 was akin to holocaust adding that the slaughter was organized and coordinated by the Nigerian state and its leading institutions: the military, religious bodies, police, media and the academia. He insists the best way to safeguard lives, protect human rights, equality and freedom for all individuals and people is to punish those who committed the crime of mass killing.

The book is also a literary critique of the life and work of the legendary Nigerian poet, Christopher Okigbo (1932-67). One chapter, ‘Three Phases of Genocide,’ dealt extensively on the life and work of Africa’s greatest poet and how he sacrificed his life for a noble cause. In defending Okigbo’s decision to defend his people and in countering Professor Ali Mazrui’s stand on Okigbo, the author states: ‘contrary to Ali Mazrui’s assertion, no efforts could have been nobler by any Igbo person, including artists and intellectuals, than to offer their support for such defense or resistance against genocide.’ He claims that Mazrui’s accusing Okigbo of wasting his life for the Biafran cause was used as a means of attacking the Igbo people’s right to defend themselves from genocide.

This angry book calling for the prosecution of perpetrators of crimes against humanity is historically important, particularly the documentation of serious crimes that led to the civil war. Biafra Revisited is a timely warning in hopes that these crimes may never be committed again. In Professor Ekwe-Ekwe’s view, the only safe-guard is to punish the living perpetrators. He argues that appropriate punishment would serve as a deterrent to others. In his own words: ‘It is precisely because the perpetrators of the Igbo genocide appeared to have been let off the hook for their crimes, by the rest of Africa and the wider world, that that Africa did not have to wait very long before the politics of Nigerian genocide state start metamorphosing violently beyond the Nigerian frontiers’. Indeed, the content of this book is not different from the paper the author presented at the First Christopher Okigbo International Conference in Boston in September, 2007.

Biafra Revisited is brutish, harsh, forceful, didactic, tearful, hard, radical, penetrating, probing and heart-rending.

Patrick Tagbo Oguejiofor is a writer and a poet. His works includes Drums of Curfew, Cobwebs in the Sky, In the Laps of the Gods (novel) and several others books. He lives in Nigeria with his family. Crossroads, an anthology of poems in honour of Christopher Okigbo (the legendary Nigerian poet) on the 40th anniversay of his death, will be published shortly. Read other articles by Patrick, or visit Patrick's website.