By Ochereome Nnanna
“Kano, my Kano”.
What a rhapsodic opening to a new book by Dr. Okey Anueyiagu, a frontline intellectual, businessman and philanthropist.
These endearing words portray more than mere sentimental attachments to the author’s place of birth. Kano was a place where the Anueyiagu family enjoyed a sense of belonging and connection to the highest socio-political and cultural authorities possibly facilitated by the status of Chukwuma Anueyiagu, Okey’s father (1915-2015), as a high-flying journalist and businessman.
Imagine what a rude shock it was when, out of the blue, a bloody misadventure by a group of young Nigerian military officers brought fire and brimstone from hell on the Igbo people.
It was the bloodiest genocide in Africa which, till today, still trumps the Rwanda genocide of 1994, no disrespect to the bestial intensity of the latter.
Anueyiagu, on page 51, listed 22 names of the “Igbo coup” perpetrators, out of which only two: Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu and Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna, were Igbo.
It was conveniently so dubbed because political leaders of other ethnic groups (especially the North) were killed, while those of Igbo stock were spared and power devolved to an Igbo military general, JTU Aguiyi-Ironsi.
For those hurt by the first coup of January 15, 1966, it was just not enough to conduct a revenge coup. And rather than punish the culpable officers, the entire Igbo ethnic group was targeted for mass killings and eventually pushed into a genocidal war.
I marvel at Anueyiagu’s emotional stamina, photographic memory and tenacity of research with which he portrayed the horrors of the pogroms (which the family escaped by dint of providence), the family’s escape to the East, the war, genocides by the invading troops and mass civilian starvation (especially of children).
The rich trove of graphic photos of human miseries are not for the faint-hearted. While all these happened the world looked away. A major colonial and world power, the so-called “great” Britain, was the invisible master puppeteer orchestrating the tactical, financial, military and technical support for the extermination of the Igbo nation by the Nigerian government led by Northern Nigerian jihadists masquerading as revanchists.
While in the East, the attitude of the Northern soldiers towards the Igbo population was typical of today’s Boko Haram: there was no civilised rules of military engagement.
Ironically, the bulk of the overzealous and bloodthirsty Northern soldiers were non-Muslims or “Christians” from the Northern minority tribes of the Middle Belt and Southern Kaduna who today have become defenceless against expansionist herdsmen jihadists.
Okey, like other Biafran teenagers, served as a member of the Boy’s Company, helped in the relief effort and later was conscripted into the Biafran Army. He is one of the lucky ones who survived to tell his enthralling story.
Among the photographs displayed on pages 129 and 144 of Okey Anueyiagu’s Biafra, the Horrors of War, the Story of a Child Soldier is the burning body of Bruce Mayrock, a 20-year-old American student of Columbia University.
In protest, and to draw the world’s attention to the atrocities in Biafra, Mayrock had doused himself in petrol and set himself ablaze in front of the United Nations building in New York.
But, of course, the world only sees what it wants to see. Till today, unlike the Jewish Holocaust, the depth of the Biafran tragedy remains a generally-glossed over and unsolved chapter of world history.
Anueyiagu’s effort to dig deep and dirty is an obvious attempt to bring it all back to the front burner.
Biafra, the Horrors of War leaves me with several takeaways. Number one is the futility of the ethno-religious demons among Nigerians.
It is causing us a lot of pain and making development impossible. Neither the “victor” nor “vanquished” is happy. If anything, the “vanquished” appears happier. Yet, these demons have proved unable to disconnect the residual humanity binding us.
Okey Anueyiagu’s father would not have lived for 100 years if not for the uncommon personal sacrifices of the late Emir of Kano, Alhaji Ado Bayero, and father of Talakawa politics, Mallam Aminu Kano.
These Kano noble men had to personally escort Pa Okechukwu Anueyiagu to Makurdi, the last gate to freedom. They were the ones who saved Okey’s father from being executed by one officer “John”. After the war, the Anueyiagu’s reunited with their Kano friends. In fact, Okey is married to Hadiza, a Northerner.
A book like this must have a purpose. Okey’s purpose is to tell his story of Biafra and its miseries in as evocative and illustrative manner as possible. But more importantly, Okey seeks to show that Nigeria has proved an irredeemable case.
“There are so many unanswered questions about the Nigeria-Biafra war that beg for a clear resolution…the pogrom and massacre of Igbos…are high crimes that were not investigated” (pp.209, 210). And the ruling establishment appears hell-bent that the lid remains firmly shut.
The Igbo nation, at least on three occasions, has fought for the change that Nigeria needs to escape our 50 years of post-war quagmire: the 1994/96 Abacha Conference, the 2006 Obasanjo Conference, and the 2014 Jonathan Conference.
All were scuttled by the North. Dr. Anueyiagu was a resource person for the Igbo delegates to the Jonathan Conference. Their work is well displayed in the book.
When there is no inquest, contrition, apology, recompense, or need to turn a new leaf after millions of lives were wasted, how can Nigeria hope to move forward? Nigeria remains a killing field. Today, the North (Muslim and Christian alike) are at the receiving end of mass slaughter by fellow northerners! The North has turned the gun and sword against itself! Is this karma, or what?
It is very sad and regrettable. Despite everything, some of our best and most valued friends, brothers, and compatriots are from the North! This is not our wish for them!