Atrocities against Ethnic Minorities in Biafra
Minorities in Biafra suffered atrocities at the hands of those fighting for both sides of the conflict. The pogroms in the North in 1966 were indiscriminately directed against people from Eastern Nigeria.
Despite a seemingly natural alliance between these victims of the pogroms in the north, tensions rose as minorities, who had always harbored an interest in having their own state within the Nigerian federation, were suspected of collaborating with Federal troops to undermine Biafra.
The Federal troops were equally culpable of this crime. In the Rivers area, ethnic minorities sympathetic to Biafra were killed in the hundreds by federal troops. In Calabar, some 2000 Efiks were also killed by Federal troops. Outside of the Biafra, atrocities were recorded against the resident of Asaba in present-day Delta State by both sides of the conflict.
Most continue to argue that the Biafran war was a genocide, for which no perpetrators have been held accountable. Critics of this position suggest that Igbo leaders had some responsibility, but acknowledge that starvation policies were pursued deliberately and that accountability has not been sought for the 1966 pogroms. Biafra made a formal complaint of genocide against Igbos to the International Committee on the Investigation of Crimes of Genocide, which concluded that British colonial administrators were complicit in the process of fomenting ethnic hatred and violence, dating back to the Kano riots of 1953. With special reference to the Asaba Massacre, Emma Okocha described the killings as “the first black-on-black genocide”. Ekwe-Ekwe places significant blame on the British.
Another reference to the war’s consideration as a Genocide would be to Bruce Mayrock. In the report, Mayrock, a 20-year-old Student at Columbia University, set himself on fire in protest of the killings in Biafra and how they were being overlooked. He died as a result of the burns. While at Columbia, Mayrock worked as a photographer for the Spectator sports department. Members of the youth’s family stated Friday that he had worked’ actively to protest the war in Biafra, writing letters about the war to the President and leading government figures. However, according to one rabbi, who said he was close to the family, the student believed that “no one was listening.” “He was an idealistic young man deeply upset by the events in Biafra,” the rabbi said. “People were being killed and he felt no one was doing anything. That’s why he did what he did.”
Reconstruction, helped by the oil money, was swift; however, the old ethnic and religious tensions remained a constant feature of Nigerian politics. Accusations were made of Nigerian government officials diverting resources meant for reconstruction in the former Biafran areas to their ethnic areas. Military government continued in power in Nigeria for many years, and people in the oil-producing areas claimed they were being denied a fair share of oil revenues. Laws were passed mandating that political parties could not be ethnically or tribally based; however, it has been hard to make this work in practice.
Igbos who ran for their lives during the pogroms and war returned to find their positions had been taken over; and when the war was over the government did not feel any need to re-instate them, preferring to regard them as having resigned. This reasoning was also extended to Igbo-owned properties and houses. People from other regions were quick to take over any house owned by an Igbo, especially in the Port Harcourt area. The Nigerian Government justified this by terming such properties abandoned. This, however, has led to a feeling of an injustice as the Nigerian government policies were seen as further economically disabling the Igbos even long after the war. Further feelings of injustice were caused by Nigeria changing its currency, so that Biafran supplies of pre-war Nigerian currency were no longer honoured. At the end of the war, only N£20 was given to any easterner regardless of the amount of money he or she had had in the bank. This was applied irrespective of their banking in pre-war Nigerian currency or Biafran currency. This was seen as a deliberate policy to hold back the Igbo middle class, leaving them with little wealth to expand their business interests.
Fall of Biafra
On 29 May 2000, The Guardian reported that President Olusegun Obasanjo commuted to retirement the dismissal of all military persons who fought for the breakaway state of Biafra during the Nigerian civil war. In a national broadcast, he said that the decision was based on the principle that “justice must at all times be tempered with mercy.”
Biafra was more or less wiped off the map until its resurrection by the contemporary Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra. Chinua Achebe’s last book, There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra, has also rekindled discussion of the war.