Thursday, 19 April 2012

This phase of the Igbo genocide*

The concept “failed-state” carries an understandable melodramatic import! It refers to the inability or failure of a state to fulfil some of its key roles and responsibilities to its people(s) and others domiciled within its territory and consequently to its neighbours and the wider global community of states. State failure materialises at three broad spheres of the lives of the people(s): social, political and economic. The following would feature among the key empirical determinants of this failure:

1. The state’s inability to provide security to its population – crucially, a catastrophic failure as the state’s primary existence is predicated on this provision of security to its citizens. This failure may have arisen because the state no longer exercises control across part/parts or all of its territory. Several factors could account for this including, for instance, calamitous breakdowns in vital internal sociopolitical and economic relations, intra-regime fractionalism and rivalries and the unmanageability of natural disasters. As we shall note shortly, it could also be due to the state’s actively pursued violation of the human rights of the people(s) including, most gravely, a deliberate state policy to embark on the destruction of one or more of its constituent nations/peoples/religious groups, etc., etc.

2. The state’s inability to provide essential social services (communication infrastructure, health care, education, housing and recreation, development of culture) to its people(s) or the state’s deliberate policy to deny or partially offer such services to some of its constituent nations/peoples/religious groups…

There remains a lack of consensus among scholars studying the failed states of contemporary Africa on the terms of the evaluative parameters of this enterprise including the critical constitutive timeframes of assessing and therefore concluding when this or that African state ‘began to fail’ or/and when indeed it “failed”. There is a tendency by many to arbitrarily circumscribe the limit of the focus of interrogation to the so-called African post-conquest epoch (i.e., post-1 January 1956, following the presumed restoration of independence date in the Sudan) with the underlying presumption that the state, as formulated and constituted on the eve of the “restoration of independence”, has a definitive and enduring internal logic to its being. Of course what such a staggeringly ahistorical arbitrariness does to this scholarship is that it attempts to freeze layers and layers of vital record and practice off sustained scrutiny as it wishes to project this era of all-Africa external conquest and occupation as “largely unproblematic”. Undoubtedly, as has been demonstrated all too clearly since January 1956, a post-(European)conquest African Studies corpus built on such a blatantly contrived edifice is hopelessly trapped in a debilitating and eventual terminal crisis.

1945 & 1953

For Nigeria, the country at the focus of this roundtable, it is at once a failed and genocide state. It is in Jos, a city in its northcentral region, that we locate the start of the trajectory to its “failed state” status. The year is not 2000 or 2001 or any other year in this last decade nor indeed in any of the three years of the current decade but 1945, eleven years before 1956 and fifteen years before 1960 – the year of the “termination” of the British occupation of the country. In October 1945, in the wake of a very successful anti-occupation countrywide strike, Hausa-Fulani muslim north regional leaders, those much endeared clients of the occupation-regime who were not only opposed to this strike but also the ultimate goal of Nigeria’s liberation from the British conquest in which Igbo people played a vanguard role, organised and launched a pogrom against Igbo immigrants in Jos and the surrounding tin mining towns and villages on the plateau. Hundreds of Igbo were murdered during the massacre and tens of thousands of pounds sterling worth of their property looted or destroyed. No perpetrators of these murders were ever apprehended or punished by the occupation-regime. As a result, emboldened Hausa-Fulani leaders organised yet another pogrom of Igbo immigrants in the north, this time in Kano, 180 miles further north, in May 1953, which coincided with the heightened debates among Nigerian politicians on the possible date for the formal termination of the occupation and the restoration of independence. Hundreds of Igbo were murdered during this massacre and tens of thousands of pounds sterling worth of their property looted or destroyed. Once again, no perpetrators of these murders were apprehended or punished by the occupation-regime.


On the contrary, as the world would witness 13 years later, these dual pogroms became dreadful dress rehearsals for the most gruesome, most devastating, and most expansive stretch of state-organised mass murders of a people not seen in Africa since the German-organised genocide of the Herero, Nama and Berg Damara peoples of contemporary Namibia in the early 1900s. Beginning 29 May 1966 to 12 January 1970, the composite aggregation of the Nigeria state – military officers, the police, Hausa-Fulani emirs, muslim clerics and intellectuals, students, civil servants, journalists, politicians and other public figures – planned and executed the Igbo genocide, the foundational genocide of post-(European)conquest Africa. This is also Africa’s most destructive genocide of the 20th century. A total of 3.1 million Igbo people, a quarter of this nation’s population at the time, were murdered during those harrowing 44 months. Most Igbo were slaughtered in their homes, offices, businesses, schools, colleges, hospitals, markets, churches, shrines, farmlands, factories/industrial enterprises, children’s playground, town halls, refugee centres, cars, lorries, and at bus stations, railway stations, airports and on buses, trains and planes and on foot, or starved to death – the openly propagated regime-“weapon” to achieve its heinous goal more speedily. In the end, the Igbo genocide was enforced, devastatingly, by Nigeria’s simultaneously pursued land, aerial and naval blockade and bombardment of Igboland, Africa’s highest population density region outside the Nile Delta. The genocidists also sequestrated and pillaged the multibillion-dollar Biafra economy, one of the most advanced and enterprising hubs in Africa of the era.

Most of Africa and the world stood by and watched, hardly critical or condemnatory of this wanton destruction of human lives, raping, sacking and plundering of towns, villages, community after community in Biafra and elsewhere... The consequences for Africa have been catastrophic. In this genocide of the Igbo, Nigeria inaugurated the “age of pestilence” that defines contemporary Africa. Several regimes elsewhere in Africa are “convinced” of the conclusions that they have drawn from this crime by their Nigerian counterpart: “We can murder targeted constituent people(s) at will within the state we control … Haul off their prized property and livelihood … Comprehensively destroy their cities, towns, villages, communities – precisely their agelong, priceless, inheritance ... There will be no sanctions from Africa – and the world”. As a result, the Igbo genocide becomes the clearing site for the haunting killing fields that would crisscross the African geographical landscape in the subsequent 40 years with the murders of additional 12 million Africans, since January 1970, by regimes in further genocide in Rwanda, Darfur and Zaïre/Democratic Republic of Congo and other killings in Liberia, Ethiopia, Congo Republic, Somalia, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire, Chad, south Sudan, Burundi.

One would perhaps be forgiven if they thought that, after such a frenzied indulgence in indescribable depravity in mass slaughtering and a trail of destruction, capped by its occupation of Biafra, Nigeria would tire out of its appetite to continue the murder of Igbo people. No, not really. This obligatory haematophagous creature continues its murder of the Igbo unabated – almost routinely and ritualistically during the course of subsequent years, signposted here by the eerie columns that chart the contours of fresh pogrom outrages: 1980 ... 1982 ... 1985 ... 1991 ... 1993 ... 1994 ... 1999 ... 2000 ... 2001 ... 2002 ... 2004 ... 2005 ... 2006 ... 2007 ... 2008 ... 2009 ... 2010 ... 2011 ... 2012. According to the December 2011 research by the International Society for Civil Liberties & the Rule Of Law, a human rights organisation based in Onicha, 90 per cent of the 54,000 people murdered in Nigeria by the state/quasi-state operatives and agents since 1999 are Igbo people. Since last Christmas Day, the Boko Haram islamist insurgent group spearheads these murders. At least 80 per cent of people murdered by the Boko Haram across swathes of lands in north/northcentral Nigeria since then are Igbo. Hundreds of thousands of Igbo families have abandoned homes and businesses in the affected region and have returned to Igboland. Arguably, the Igbo are the world’s most brutally targeted and most viciously murdered of peoples presently. Not since 29 May 1966-12 January 1970 has Igbo life in Nigeria acquired such a gripping existential emergency…

The Boko Haram now issues its threats to murder quite habitually, at times on a daily basis, and, true to its words, executes its mission most ruthlessly, most remorselessly. After each of its outrages, Boko Haram acknowledges responsibility and does this most dispassionately… The regime in Abuja appears cruelly powerless to protect Igbo people (and others) emplaced within the jurisdiction of the supposedly sovereign state it controls with the well-known consequences in international law that this shocking relegation of responsibility entails. Regime-head Goodluck Jonathan says as much in a recent astonishing radio and television broadcast to his country and the world: “Boko Haram is everywhere in the executive arm of [my] government, in the legislative arm of [my] government and even in the judiciary. Some are also in the armed forces, the police and other security [services] … Some continue to dip their hands and eat with you and you won’t even know the person who will point a gun at you or plant a bomb behind your house”. Following from Jonathan’s proclamation, it is conceivable that right there closeted in his regime, there are operatives deeply complicit in these ongoing murders. And it doesn’t appear that the regime can halt the
murdering nor the insurgency. On the contrary, Jonathan is essentially saying in his broadcast: “I don’t know how to solve this problem; I can’t solve this problem”. The seriousness of this situation cannot be exaggerated. Presently, Nigeria is a grave danger to itself. Nigeria is a grave danger to its constituent peoples and nations, to its neighbours, to the west Africa region, to Africa and the wider world. Nigeria has indeed now run the course of its bloody trail in history. The ongoing murders have exposed, particularly, the lethal fissures in a hitherto seemingly compact genocidist monolith. This fractionalisation cannot be contained.

Referendum and successor state(s)

Whilst Jonathan’s broadcast is undoubtedly a desperate acknowledgement of helplessness if not hopelessness, it however opens up an historic opportunity to overcome this tragedy. There is undoubtedly a silver lining over this cloud. What is critically at stake here is the right of the peoples domiciled in Nigeria, each and every constituent people, to democratically decide their future. This right to self-determination for every people is inalienable and is guaranteed by the United Nations. No people is exempt from exercising this right. To proceed to the realisation of this goal, two key features are called for forthwith:

1. The requisite institutions of the world must now embark on initiating the process for an internationally organised, supervised, and binding referendum across Nigeria for the peoples, themselves, as well as nationals of these constituent peoples who live abroad, in the diaspora, to decide whether they wish to remain in Nigeria or form new state(s) of their choice.

2. To support Igbo people’s participation in this referendum, Igbo intellectuals should double their efforts to work for the restoration of Igbo sovereignty, Biafra. The Igbo genocide is one of the most comprehensively documented crimes against humanity. Nonetheless, Igbo intellectuals must contribute, robustly, to continue to inform the entire world of the nature and extent of the genocide, examining, particularly, the variegated contours of the expansive trail of this crime, the parameters and strictures of the monstrosity of denialism of the crime (especially by some clusters of the core perpetrators of the crime in Nigeria and their collaborators abroad including some in academia and media) and the debilitating and oppressive burden of 40 years of occupation.

Let it never be forgotten that, four decades ago, Igbo intellectuals, many very talented and widely accomplished men and women in their varying fields of expertise (writers, academics, artists, diplomats, military officers, scientists, physicians, lawyers, engineers), contributed most profoundly to the eventual survival of the Igbo during phases I and II of the genocide, 29 May 1966-12 January 1970, when only few in the world thought that they would accomplish such an improbable feat. We surely have an historic legacy to contend with.

*(Paper presented at “Roundtable on Nigeria’s future: The challenges to security and economic development caused by Boko Haram and the way forward”, held at E. Franklin Frazier Center for Social Work Research, Howard University Law School, Washington, DC, United States, Thursday 12 April 2012. Roundtable moderator: Robin Renee Sanders, former US ambassador to Nigeria and Republic of Congo; other roundtable panellists – Pat Utomi, professor and senior fellow, Lagos Business School, Pan-African University, Lagos, Nigeria; Augustine (Gus) Fahey, senior desk officer for Nigeria, Bureau of African Affairs, US State Department, Washington, DC; Oguchi Nkwocha, physician, Biafra Foundation, Los Angeles; Michael Maduagwu, professor and senior fellow, National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru, Nigeria and Eric Guttschuss, Nigeria researcher, Human Rights Watch, Washington, DC; roundtable coordinator: Chima Korieh, professor of history, Marquette University, Milwaukee; roundtable co-sponsors: Apollos Nwauwa, president of Igbo Studies Association and professor of history, Bowling Green State University, Ohio; Kanayo Odeluga, physician and executive director, Igbo League, Chicago and Mike Mbanaso, professor and director, E. Franklin Frazier Center for Social Work Research, Howard University, Washington, DC.)

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