By Obi Nwakanma/The Orbit/Vanguard
Reflect on this irony: a young army captain helps to organize a military coup and supervises the liquidation of his commander-in-chief and the host governor, another senior military officer, of a region to which he was paying a state visit. The facts are bare: even in a military situation under a properly trained and disciplined military officer, a General must be accorded his full compliments even in death.
He is given the choice to fall on his own daggers or he is given a dignified exit given the circumstance. But neither General Ironsi nor his host Colonel Francis Adekunle Fajuyi was given that option.
These two distinguished military officers were first beaten to a pulp; indeed severely and roundly humiliated by subalterns under the direction of this young captain before they dragged them off to some far-off location, on Iwo road, we are told, executed and buried in a shallow grave. Of course, the act does not stop there.
This horde of putschists go round all the military installations – the Army barracks – and drag their brother officers and men from their beds in the dead of night and execute them. The execution is methodical and cold. The only criterion for death was to be identified as an Eastern Nigerian officer, and particularly an Igbo officer, and you were marked.
This decimation of military officers of Eastern Nigerian origin did not end there. Perhaps if it did, there might have been some explanation that it was a purely military affair – soldiers killing off their rivals and contenders for power within the military system that had dawned upon Nigeria following another military coup, six months earlier, led by Emmanuel Ifeajuna and other mid-level officers, most of them identifiably Igbo. There might have been some validity in the later claim that the coup makers of July 29, 1966 were avenging the death of their brother officers from the north and their political leaders who had been killed in the January coup. But no, the bloodlust was not contained in the barracks.
It spilled into the streets, particularly in the northern streets, but also in the west of Nigeria, and a systematic elimination of the Easterner, particularly the Igbo was carried out to the letter from July through September, in waves that created the first massive case of internal displacement and movement in Nigeria and in West Africa in the post-colonial era. This cold, calculated killing of the Igbo –the first pogrom – was carefully planned, well-coordinated, and executed with the precision of a military plan.
It left no careful observer of the events, and subsequent historians of that era who have carefully examined the data in any doubt that the pogrom was a carefully planned and well coordinated operation – a selective annihilation or ethnic cleansing of particularly the Igbo in particularly the north of Nigeria. Internally displaced Easterners, particularly the majority Igbo population sought refuge in Eastern Nigeria. Perhaps because of the extended family system still intact in that period, a great refugee crisis was averted, and it possibly blunted the outcry and an international response to the situation.
Perhaps the “international community” simply wanted to let an armed horde settle the problem of the “uppity Igbo.” But long before the Rwandan genocide, a great wave of genocidal killings of the Igbo had taken place. The failure of the world community, led particularly by the great western powers in deference to Great Britain, the erstwhile colonial power and the United States, its ally, and in a policy of appeasement to the wider Muslim lobby led by Saudi Arabia whose connections to the Northern Nigerian Islamic community is through an old Ottoman link, to call the act by its proper name, genocide, foreclosed any consequence against the perpetrators of this act.
But the situation eventually blossomed to one of Africa’s most brutal conflicts following the secession of the Easterners when they felt the nation was no longer able to protect its citizens, thus declaring their own Republic of Biafra, resulting in the brutal civil war in which about three million died in the former Biafran enclave, mostly starved to death as a result of war policy. No one was forced to pay for these deaths. This has created a situation of impunity because no one was made to face the laws in these circumstances.
But to this day, contemporary reporters and analysts of the Nigerian crisis continually fail to connect the cyclic violence that erupts in Nigeria to a history of unpunished crimes most times financed and led by some of the most powerful figures of the community who seize the state and stay above the law. The law indeed is blind in Nigeria. Impunity pays. This cycle of violence and ethnic cleansing starting in 1945 in Jos, 1953 in Kano, in 1966, in 1978, down to the Akaluka beheading in Kano are the ancestral spirits of what has now become the Jos massacre of Christians by so-called Fulani Moslem pastoralists.
It follows the same pattern of unpunished crimes. These killings are also at the contradictory nexus of the nationality question; the indigene/settler conundrum. It is the conundrum which the Igbo have long exemplified in the Nigerian unconscious. They have been killed for daring to settle the nation called Nigeria. The perpetrators and financiers of these crimes understood that in Nigeria the crime of killing pays.
Oh yes, no one of significance has paid for killing. On the other hand people have been handsomely rewarded for acts of “heroic” murder. So, then, fast-forward to the year 2010, and that young captain who supervised the murder of his commander-in-chief, in a successful military operation also called a coup, becomes on that single account alone, a successful soldier.
He became a General before he turned forty and became Chief of the Nigerian Military. He has been lionized, and feted, and he even had a biography commissioned and farmed out to a hagiographer to tell a great heroic fib. He continues to be feted for supervising the liquidation of his commander-in-chief. His reward for that act led the nation to a civil war. And the terrible music plays on because in Nigeria the harsh law is only meted against the powerless. So will it be in this case of the massacres in Jos: there will be no justice.