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Narratives on Jan 15 Armed Forces Day

“Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt” (Matthew 23:32)


Every time I read the above Scripture, I am struck by a deep feeling that Jesus is speaking those words to Nigerians: “Woe to you, Nigerians, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of Igbos and adorn the monuments of the innocent, and say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the Igbos.’ Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt.”

Cross section of Naval officers as President Buhari attends the Wreath Laying ceremony of 2017 Armed Forces Remembrance Day at the Arcade in Abuja.

About a fortnight ago, we reviewed a book titled Rewriting the Nigerian story by a Nigerian author, Ayeni Olaniyi. The title of that book, on face value, is completely a fallacy, for what has been written has been written. Again, this is Scriptural. After the Jewish authorities had crucified Jesus on the cross, they asked Pilate, the Roman governor, to write the words “JESUS, KING OF THE JEWS” and hang it on the cross. Pilate granted them their wish. Later, they noticed that people of other nations who passed by Jesus on the cross read those words and believed he was indeed king of the Jews. So they went back to Pilate and requested him to rewrite the words to read: “He said he was the king of the Jews.” But Pilate refused. “What I have written, I have written,” he said.

In remembering the Nigerian Armed Forces, what type of images offer themselves to our minds? Why was January 15, the day Nigerian soldiers started killing themselves and civilians in military coup, chosen as Remembrance Day? Bloody coups, involvement in pogrom against Igbos in Northern Nigeria, throwing the country into a Civil War, hijacking governments, carrying out genocide against Asaba people, destruction of the country’s economy etc., are the dominant images of the Nigerian Army.

The truth therefore cannot be re-written. People can only repent from their sins. If the repentance is genuine and comes with brokenness of heart, God may forgive, even though the victims may not forgive or forget. Such repentance, if it is genuine, must be accompanied with efforts by the sinners, or their children, in rehabilitating the victims, making restitutions, and genuinely loving them. That’s the way to “fill up the guilt of your fathers.” But rewriting the story, or history is not possible. What has been written has been written.

And what is this that has been written? Well, it’s a long story, but I will try and make it short.

Emma Okocha is the most tear-evoking investigator and writer of the criminal acts of the Nigerian Army. In his explosive internationally acclaimed book, Blood on the Niger, he tells the story of the Nigerian Army and the heinous crime it committed, with huge and alarming spiritual implications, against God and humanity in Asaba Nigeria from October 5 and mainly on 7 October 1967 when Murtala Mohammed and Major Ibrahim Taiwo led-army entered the Midwest in the name of liberating Midwesterners from Biafran soldiers.

After the January 15, 1966 coup led by Kaduna Nzeogwu, more than 30,000 Igbos were murdered in Northern Nigeria as revenge, and another 1, 800, 000 driven back to the East as refugees. It is no longer secret that the northern dominated Nigerian army took part in that massacre of Igbos. Nzeogwu was Igbo only in name. His parents were from Okpanam in Asaba, but he lived all his life in the north – went to school there, spoke Hausa, and practised their culture.

“It was not a bloodless coup,” wrote Frederick Forsyth, “but it was far from a bloodbath. The Premiers of the North, the West and the Federation were dead, as was one Federal Minister. Among senior army officers, three Northerners, two Westerners and two Easterners were dead (Another Igbo major had been killed, this time by loyal troops who thought wrongly that he was among the plotters.) Apart from that, a handful of civilians including the wife of one of the officers and some houseboys from Sir Ahmadu Bello’s household, together with less than a dozen soldiers, had died. Nzeogwu maintained later that there should have been no deaths at all, but that some of his colleagues became over-enthusiastic.”

As has been said, more than 30,000 Igbo were killed in the North as revenge. Then the Nigerian Army went to Asaba with a plan to wipe out the entire people of Asaba. After all, Nzeogwu was from Asaba!

Of course, there are evidences to prove that the Asaba massacre was carefully planned. For instance, the theme-song of Radio Kaduna, government-controlled, is a chant in Hausa, which when translated reads: “Let us go and crush them. We will pillage their property, rape their womenfolk, kill off their menfolk and leave them uselessly weeping. We will complete the pogrom of 1966.”

In Blood on the Niger, we read the testimony of Mr. John Kanayo Hudson Odittah, in 2001 at the Oputa Commission of Inquiry during the two-day presentation of the Midwest Igbo case before the Oputa Panel. Odittah told of how at the Cable Point area, Asaba, hundreds of people were lined up by the river bank and ordered to walk into the river by the vandals (Nigerian soldiers). When they moved into a point where the water reached their waist, they were shot dead and their bodies carried away by the river. At Ogbeosowa Square, the vandals collected thousands of men who they ordered to dig three large graves. After they had dug the graves, they were ordered to enter into the graves, which they did and were all shot dead.”

Another testifier, Mr. Onya-Onianwah said: “Soon afterwards, 20 of our men were selected and lined up in front of us and told as follows: “Today, I be your God, me, first; God second. God give you life, me I go take am. Two minutes time, you go die.” The hopelessness of our situation was clear when two minutes afterwards, these 20 men were shot. Another 20 were picked up and the same ritual followed. When the men were separated from the women and led away, some mothers followed behind to know the fate of their children. They were executed before them. There was massive weeping and wailing. One woman gripped one of the soldiers and provoked him by biting him in order that she be killed and follow her son who just died. She was of course shot.”

The Igbo question in Nigeria is a festering wound in the body of Federal Republic of Nigeria and her army. It can also be her Achilles heel or her Waterloo. The pollution of River Niger (from where Nigeria derived her name) with the blood of thousands of innocent Asaba people gruesomely murdered by the Nigerian Army, may hold the secret reason why the country has never known peace or made progress. The only restitution available for Nigerians, therefore, is to fill up the measure of their fathers’ guilt.



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