The strength and wonders of the Igbo society had terrified the colonial masters, for they had never imagined such tireless strength and resilience of a people whose communities sat around the Niger River.
The strength and wonders of the Igbo society had terrified the colonial masters, for they had never imagined such tireless strength and resilience of a people whose communities sat around the Niger River.
Traditionally, Igbos do not perform akwamozu rites for every deceased Igbo person. For instance, we don’t perform akwamozu rites when a child dies, because we believe the soul of that child has not yet unfolded on earth like that of an adult. This means, in Igbo cultural belief system, the soul of a child is predominantly still anchored in the beyond from where it came. The soul is unfolded and anchored within our physical world only when the child reaches full maturity on earth as either a man or a woman. Unless a soul attains that unfolding and anchorage can that soul be held responsibility for his or her deeds while on earth. Only on that condition can akwamozu rites become a necessity when an Igbo person is deceased.
Akwamozu is an expensive affair in Igbo land. For that reason, careful plan is designed by the deceased’s relative in order to gather items needed for the akwamozu.
This involves sending out messages to inform friends, in-laws, associates and well-wishers of the deceased that a date slated for the performance of akwamozu rites has been chosen and fixed. Obituary posters are produced and distributed as direct invitations to friends and well-wisher and the general public, but the use of obituary posters alone are not to be seen as sufficient for inviting people for akwamozu. Word-of-mouth invitation especially among neighbours or close friends is very important.
The night preceding the date fixed for formal condolence visit to the deceased’s family is the wake keep night. A little feast is usually organized at the deceased person’s family compound. Several dance groups and masquerades are also invited to perform their acts and arts all through that night which heralds formal condolence visit.
On the day following the night of wake keep, as from around 10 am, visitor’s, in-laws, friends, well-wishers etc are all expected to come to the deceased’s family home with all manner of condolence gifts; cow, goat, local wrapper, drinks etc depending on the socio-economic status of the deceased.
Akwamozu proper is the chief traditional rite in Igbo funerals. It is a very significant rite, because it entails the making of a formal separation between the departed soul and people still leaving on earth. It is usually a small and private activity but a very spiritual and culturally important one. It is carried out on the 12th day or, 3 exact weeks (according to Igbo calendar) after the day of formal condolence visitation by friends, in-laws, and well-wishers.
kumeku, you are my father! If not for you, I would have been a miscreant
Anu a na-agba egbe, o na-eri nri. How do I translate your substance?
Unbothered by exhortations of the timid; unencumbered by scheming of the compromised. You were there when things were revealed to me. You inspired me, you encouraged me, you force-fed me the tales of days gone by. When I wavered, you egged me on. When I tired, you replenished my spirit. When I stumbled, you aided my fortitude.
Ekumeku, you are my father! If not for you, I would have been a wasteland.
Nnukwu mmanwu anaghi efe onwu. How can I explain your essence?
The children of yesterday's abomination have become the soldiers of today's misfortune. Steeped in the mania of vituperative melancholy; assaulting the bastions of decorous sobriety. You it was, who beseeched me when in doubt, who berated me when I cowered. Reinforcing the self-evident truths that my myopia had failed to register, you guaranteed my allegiance to the struggle for a revamped reality, amidst the wretchedness of my society.
Ekumeku, you are my father! If not for you, I would have been a bastard.
Nnukwu mmiri gburu Enyi. How should I transcribe your greatness?
The upheaval that has suffused our society finds expression in the misery that maligns our honor. The dregs and scum reign as plenipotentiaries, while vampires and impostors traduce our efforts. You it was, who buoyed my optimism, even when I was faced by the threats of harm to body and soul. When I was thirsty, you sated me. When I was weary, you relieved me.
Ekumeku, you are my father! If not for you, I would have been a leper.
Ikenga gburu Efi. How can I articulate your inspiration?
The nuisance, who was made an outcast, has become the truth that guides our convictions. The "demons" of our forefathers' quintessence, were cast out and consigned to obscurity. The civilization that Dr. Bekee brought to our foremothers has so far corrupted our existence. Rattled and caged in the amnesia of history, we will reclaim our history as the gospel of our redemption.
Ekumeku, you are my father! If not for you, I would have been a vagabond.
Alusi na-agba mgba. How do I recount your magnetism?
When the shrine was desecrated, when the elders were put in chains, when fully-bearded grown men were shaved bare and canned in public while naked; you it was who revived us. When the proselytizers came a' wooing, when their brethren came a' warring, when the sandal kicked our ancestors in the buttocks, when the jackboot stepped on our necks not too long after. You it was who appeased the oracle, who pacified their wrath.
Ekumeku, you are my father! If not for you, I would have been an orphan.
Ichie na-akpu uzu. How should I interpret your vision?
When we were banished from the boundaries of enlightenment, when we had been despoiled by the wicked; you it was who healed our mutilations. When the children looked up and saw their father's nakedness. When the village priestess was raped by the village idiot, and when their "love-child" became the Warrant Chief. Alu! Tufia! You maintained my sanity, implored me to plan and map-out my strategy. You admonished me to wait till I was stronger, till I was in a position to exterminate this sacrilege.
Ekumeku, you are my father! If not for you, I would have been a quisling.
Ebubedike gburu Agu. O di ofele? How do I personify your struggle?
When pestilence bestrode the land like the proverbial colossus, when a psychological famine defiled the populace, when mental castration became the mantra of the new elite. When nouveau riche became an excuse for deflowering our norms and customs, when civilization and development became euphemisms for disemboweling our society, and when societal suicide became a culture to be embraced. You dissuaded me from capitulating to inducements; you prevented me from crossing over to the aisle of mediocrities.
Ekumeku, you are my father! If not for you, I would have been an assassin.
Aka eji eje agha. How do I reclaim your life-force?
When I was courted by the emissaries of the new reality, when I was threatened with the fate that befell martyrs before me, and when debauchery had become the accepted etiquette. You reinforced my better judgments, you prevailed on me to defer to informed reasoning, and you compelled me to beware of injustice.
Ekumeku, you are my father! If not for you, I would have been a victim.
Anyanwu na-enye ndu isi. How do I deliver your sermon?
When men of timber and caliber were replaced by the minions of rascals and urchins, when night and day were preempted by rampant trials and stagnating tribulation throughout the land. When salivating hordes of mystical parasites had foreshadowed our attempts at restitution, when rascality was given free reign and impunity was given a seat at the head of the table. When incestuous transgressions were waved off as juvenile peccadilloes, when rationality was substituted by accelerated repugnancy, and when the hand of the grim reaper reached into every hamlet and every home. You it was who made me indomitable, you it was who strengthened my steel. You it is who toughened my grit. On those forgotten nights and on those lonely back roads, chased away from the avenues of expediency, you it was who cushioned my feet.
Ekumeku, you are my father! If not for you, I would have been an imbecile
Onu ora anaghi atu onwu egwu. How do I persevere in dispersing your message?
When the hounds of hell were let loose into our society; upturning, violating, vandalizing, and deracinating everything in sight, you it was who calmed our apprehensions. When my spirits and intellect were retreating under duress, maligned and vilified by the ascendance of criminality in our society; you it was who refreshed my intelligence. And now that the final countdown has begun apace, now that the charades of history have been revealed for what they are; now is the time for me to make my stand. With my back against the wall, and with the vicissitudes of fortune staring me in the face, I will stick to my charge and be slain (if need be) defending the rights of decency.
Ekumeku, you are my father! Ekumeku, you are my father! Ekumeku, you are my father! How many times have I called you? Go back to the beginning and count; 13 times over shall you smite their offspring, 13 times over shall you expunge their existence, 13 times over shall you strike them with Amadioha's thunder and lightning. 13 times over shall you do what? What did you say? Come again… 13 years shall we wait for redemption? Mba nu! No! Eziokwu bu ndu! But what can I do? If you say so, I will comply.
Ekumeku, you are my father! If not for you, I would be lost; if not for you, I would be mad; if not for you, I would be a living dead. That which the Haitians call a zombie, living yet dead, dead yet living, in a suspended state of arrested development. Mentally retarded and psychologically emaciated, intellectually maligned and philosophically stunted, morally challenged and emotionally malnourished. This, Ekumeku, this farce I cannot stand. You are my right hand and you are my left fist, with you at my side and behind me and within my soul, I will press on till I slay evil's perpetuators and ignominy's perpetrators. The man can't die in the face of tyranny. For it is ordained, he has a date with destiny. Ekumeku, you are my father!
By Chukwuemeka Uche Onuora
The Ekumeku [Ekwuna Okwu – secrecy] Movement consisted of a series of uprisings against the rising power of the Royal Niger Company of the British Empire in the Anioma communities of the Western Igboland.
The British penetration of what is now known as Nigeria met with various forms of resistance throughout the country.
In the south, the British had to fight many wars, in particular the wars against the Ijebu (a Yoruba group) in 1892, the Aro of Eastern Igboland in 1901–1902, and from 1883–1914, the Anioma.
Opposition was strong in Anioma land where a series of wars were waged against the British.
The Ekumeku, who were well organised and whose leaders were joined in secrecy oaths, effectively utilised guerrilla tactics to attack the British.
Their forces, which were drawn from thousands of Anioma youth from all parts of Anioma land, created many problems for the British, but the British used forceful tactics and heavy armaments (destroying homes, farms, and roads) to prevail.
The Ekumeku, however, became a great source of Anioma nationalism.
The Ekumeku Movement is unique in Anioma history for two reasons.
First, the length of time the movement endured, comprising Military campaigns over a period of thirty one years.
Secondly it is the outstanding example in Anioma Civilization of an attempt to unite previously disunited states to resist the colonial army.
You have seen that one crucial reason for Anioma defeat was the great discrepancy of scale between the average Anioma community and the colonial army.
The British decided on a preemptive strike, and in December 1902 sent a powerful expedition which systematically destroyed a number of towns and imprisoned their leaders.
This, it was assumed, was the end of the Ekumeku..”the Ekumeku and other secret societies have been completely broken”.
In 1904, the Ekumeku rose again. This time the changed their tactics, mistakenly, it would seem in retrospect, abandoning the united guerilla warfare of 1898 for the individual defence of each town.
The last act of the Eureka drama began in late 1909. The occasion was a succession dispute in Ogwashi-Uku.
One of the claimants, Nzekwe, the son of the last Obi, feared that the British would deprive him of his throne, and decided to fight for his inheritance.
On 2 November 1909, the British sent an expedition to Ogwashi-Uku but they failed in the expedition.
The British perceived, in the whole Asaba hinterland, a sympathy with the Ekumeku, and a disposition to throw off government authority.
In 1911, there was a final round-up of Ekumeku leaders in various towns that was followed, once more, by imprisonments.
The acting lieutenant-governor of the southern provinces sent an agitated telegram to Lagos: “Whole country is above area…is the state of rebellion.”
Reinforcements arrived from Lokoja, and the British proceeded to a confrontation at Akegbe. We quote both the contemporary British accounts of the battle at Nkwo market.
With the invasion of Ndoni in 1870 and bombardment of Onicha-Ado (Onitsha) on 2 November 1897, the stage was set for the Ekumeku war that engulfed the whole of Anioma.
The Royal Niger Company (RNC) commandered by Major Festing engaged Ibusa in 1898, and in 1904 it was the people of Owa/Ukwunzu against the British in a war that W. E. B. Crawford Coupland requested for more arms to crush the western Anioma communities.
Owa would once again engage the British in 1906 in battle that S. O. Crewe lost his own life. On 2 November 1909, it was finally the turn of Ogwashi-Ukwu who matched the British.
In this war the British sustained many casualties with the death of H. C. Chapman.
Although the Ekumeku failed in 1914, but the western Anioma treasure their memory as imperishable legacy.
Heroes included Dunkwu Isus of Onicha-Olona, Nwabuzo Iyogolo of Ogwashi-Ukwu, Awuno Ugbo, Obi of Akumazi, Agbambu Oshue of Igbuzo, Idabor of Issele-Ukwu, Ochei Aghaeze of Onicha-Olona, Abuzu of Idumuje-Unor, Idegwu Otokpoike of Ubulu-Ukwu are still remembered in Anioma land.
The Ekumeku War is one of the most vigorous campaign of opposition to the British empire and inspired later rebellions such as the Mau Mau of Kenya.
Article Word Glossary
Alu – Sacrilege or abomination
Afa otutu - Title
Alaigbo – Igbo land
Alusi n’ejere onye nwe ya ozi – The deity that does the bidding of its owner
Agbara ahuru gbuo okuko - The deity that triggers the killing of a hen (n allusion to a person’s supposed ‘great’ standing in the society)
Agbala nwanyi – An elegant and powerful woman
Ada eji eje mba – A daughter/woman that can be relied on in far and near places.
Asa mpete – A beauty
Akuluouno – Only repatriated wealth are safe.
Aku n’ata ka si – A ‘money-miss-road’ (one in possession of excess wealth)
Aka gbajiri igwe – the strong hand that bends the iron
Dike eji eje mba – A warrior that could be taken on journeys to other lands (one who is to be trusted, brave and courageous)
Dike ana agbara izu – A brave man and warrior that enemies conspire against
Ezeudo – King of peace or someone that makes/likes peace.
Ekwueme - One whose word is his bond (‘talk-and-do’ in popular parlance)
Eze Udene – The king vulture (Vultures supposedly signify bad omens in Alaigbo)
Eselu enu ego – The Literary meaning is to peel off a slice from a cash bundle or pile, but is actually an allusion to the fact that what the title bearer is spending is still ‘chicken change’ to his overall worth.
Eze ego- King of money (this title is no longer popular in Alaigbo since the death of Victor Okafor, an alleged 419 kingpin who made the name very notorious)
Ichi zu lu echi zu – You are fully initiated.
Ide ji ogwugwu – Wealthy stronghold
Ide – wealthy person
Ichie – a revered title for elderly men in the community
Ina ito – A special form of greeting in Alaigbo, requiring 3 back hand slaps and a hand shake. The uninitiated are not expected to be greeted in this manner.
Iyom – A revered society of women requiring initiation.
Omenani – Culture or tradition
Obi – A small outpost in a compound usually used in receiving visitors.
Ola edo – This means gold but is used to adulate the tile holder as being precious.
Ogbuagu - A traditional title. The literary meaning is killer of lion.
Okpata ozuo oha – A person who extends his wealth to others.
Ome mgbe oji – He who does, or helps out when he is able to
Ojiani – Overseers of community lands and traditional holders of title deeds, they have the last say in land disputes in most Igbo communities and were very powerful in the days when there were no law courts.
Odiro Ofele – It is not easy at all (no mean feat)
Oso di eme – The husband’s helper
Oche eze – The throne of royalty
Ofeke – A wayward person
Ochi agha – Battle commander
Ono n’ikpo aku – He who dwells in wealth
Mkpulu nma – Epitome of beauty
Nwanyi ma uche di ya – A loyal woman who knows and respects her husband’s heart desires and wishes
Nze na Ozo – A highly revered ancient Igbo traditional society
Ndigbo - Igbo people
Nwa Ezeoku – A child from a wealthy man/family
Nwanyi – Women
Nka ona adi – The rightful place (Things never cease to be where they belong)
Nkwuenu – Undiluted Palm wine (known as ‘Upwine’ in local popular parlance)
Nwanyi gbue efi – The literary translation means a woman that has killed a cow (or caused one to be killed), because cows are expensive in the old days, women who achieve such feat are very much revered. In modern usage, it means a woman of mean.
Nwanne di n’mba – The relative in a foreign land
Nke onye chiri, ya zaa – May each answer to his/her title
Umunna – Kindred relatives
Ugogbe – Mirror
Udu ako mmiri – The earthen pot that is always full of water
Umuada – Women born within a particular community or kindred
Anu Mkpo - Dried roasted meat
Azu Mkpo – Dried roasted fish
Umu nwanyi di ocha – (Clean women) Women who are not in their menstrual cycle
CHI IN IGBO COSMOLOGY
There are two clearly distinct meanings of the word chi in Igbo. The first is often translated as god, guardian angel, personal spirit, soul, spirit-double etc. the second meaning is day or daylight but it most commonly used for those transitional periods between day and night or night and day. Thus we speak of chi ofufo meaning daybreak and chi ojiji, nightfall. We also have the word mgbachi for that most potent hour of noon that splits the day in two, a time favoured in folklore by itinerant spirits and feared by children.
I am chiefly concerned here with the first meaning of chi, a concept so central in Igbo psychology and yet so elusive and enigmatic. The great variety of words and phrases which has been put forward at different times by different people as translations of this concept attests to its great complexity and lends additional force to the famous plea of Dr. J. B. Danquah that we pay one another’s gods the compliment of calling them by their proper name.
In a general way we may visualize a person’s chi as his other identity in spiritland – his spirit being complementing his terrestrial human being; for nothing can stand alone, there must always be another thing standing beside it.
Without an understanding of the nature of chi one could not begin to make sense of the Igbo world-view; and yet no study of it exists that could even be called preliminary. What I am attempting here is not to fill that gap but to draw attention to it in a manner appropriate to one whose primary love is literature and not religion, philosophy or linguistics. I will not even touch upon such tantalizing speculations as what happens to a person’s chi when the person dies, and its shrine is destroyed. Does it retreat completely back to it old home? And finally what happens at the man’s reincarnation?
But before we embark on a consideration of the nature and implication of this concept which is so powerful in Igbo religion and thought let us examine briefly what connection there may be between it and the other meaning of chi. For a long time I was convinced that there couldn’t possibly be any relationship between chi (spirit being) and chi (daylight) except as two words that just happened to sound alike. But one day I stumbled on the very important information that among the Igbo of Akwa a man who arrived at the point in his life when he needs to set up a shrine to his chi will invite a priest to perform a ritual of bringing down the spirit from the face of the sun at daybreak. Thereafter it is represented physically in the man’s compound until the day of his death when the shrine must be destroyed.
The implication of this is that a person’s chi normally resides with the sun, bringer of daylight, or at least passes through it to visit the world. Which itself may have an even profounder implication for it is well known in Igbo cosmology that the Supreme Deity, Chukwu Himself, is in close communion with the sun. But more on that later. Since Igbo people did not construct a rigid and closely argued system of thought to explain the universe and the place of man in it, preferring the metaphor of myth and poetry, anyone seeking an insight into their world must seek it along their own way. Some of these ways are folks-tales, proverbs, proper names, rituals and festivals. There is of course the ‘scientific’ way as well – the tape-recorded interview with old people. Unfortunately it is often more impressive than useful. The old people who have the information we seek will not often bare their hearts to any passer-by. They will give answers, and true answers too. But there is truth and there is truth. To get to the inner truth will often require more time than the recording interviewer can give – it may require a whole lifetime. In any case no one talks naturally into a strange box of tricks!
It is important to stress what I said earlier: the central place in Igbo thought of the notion of duality. Wherever Something stands, Something Else will stand beside it. Nothing is absolute. I am the truth, the way and the life would be called blasphemous or simply absurd for is it not well known that a man may worship Ogwugwu to perfection and yet be killed by Udo? The world in which we live has its double and counterpart in the realm of spirits. A man lives here and his chi there. Indeed the human being is only one half (and the weaker half at that) of a person. There is a complementary spirit being, chi. (The word spirit though useful does create serious problems of its own, however, for it is used to describe many different orders to non-human being.) Thus the abode of chi may be confused with ani mmo where the dead who encounter no obstacles in their passage go to live. But ani mmo is thought to be not above like the realm of chi, but below, inside the earth. Considerable confusion and obscurity darken the picture at this point because there is a sense in which the two supernatural worlds are both seen as parallel to the land of the living. In an early anthropogical study of the Igbo Major A. G. Leonard at the opening of this century reported the following account from one of his Igbo informants:
We Ibo look forward to the next world as being much the same as this… We picture life there to be exactly as it is in this world. The ground there is just the same as it is here, the earth is similar. There are forests and hills and valleys with rivers flowing and roads leading from one town to another . . . People in spiritland have their ordinary occupations, the farmer his farm.
This ‘spiritland’ where dead ancestors recreate a life comparable to their earthly existence is not only parallel to the human world but is also similar and physically contiguous with it for there is constant coming and going between them in the endless traffic of life, death and reincarnation. The masked spirits who often grace human rituals and ceremonies with their presence are representative visitors from this underworld and are said to emerge from their subterranean home through ant-holes. At least that is the story as told to the uninitiated. To those who know, however, the masked ‘spirits’ are only symbolic ancestors. But this knowledge does not in any way diminish their validity or the awesomeness of their presence.
These ancestral spirits which may be personified by man are, however, of a very different order from chi and so is their place of abode. There is a story of how a proud wrestler, having thrown every challenger in the world, decides to go and wrestle in the world of spirits. There he also throws challenger after challenger, including many multiple-headed ones – so great was his prowess. At last there is no one left to fight. But the wrestler refuses to leave. The spirits beg him to go; his companion praise-singer on the flute pleads with him. But it is all in vain. There must be somebody left; surely the famed land of spirits can do better than this, he said. Again everyone begs him to collect his laurels and go but again he refuses. Finally his own chi appears, reluctant, thin as a rope. The wrestler laughs at this miserable-looking contender and moves forward contemptuously to knock him down whereupon the other lifts him clear off the ground with his little finger and smashes him to death.
This cautionary tale is concerned mainly, I think, with setting a limit to man’s aspiration. The limit is not the sky; it is somewhere much closer to earth. A sensible man will turn round at the frontiers of absolutism and head for home again. There is, however, around the story as well a vague intimation that the place where chi inhabits is forbidden to man in a way that ani mmo; the abode of his dead fathers, does not appear to be. For we have, at least, a description of the landscape of ani mmo; nothing comparable exists for the territory of chi.
There is another cautionary tale about chi, this time involving the little bird, nza, who ate and drank somewhat more than was good for him and in a fit of recklessness which inebriation alone would explain taunted his chi to come and get him if he could. Whereupon a hawk swooped down from clear sky and carried him away. Which shows the foolishness of counting on chi’s remoteness, for chi need not come in person or act directly but may use one’s enemy who is close by.
The story of the headstrong wrestler in addition to all the other things it tells us makes also important point that man’s chi does have special hold over him such as no other powers can muster. This is why, for instance, it can dispense with the physical endowments and terrors of the multiple-headed spirits. This special power that chi has over its man (or the man’s special vulnerability to his chi) is further exemplified in a proverb: ‘No matter how many divinities sit together to plot a man’s ruin it will come to nothing unless his chi is there among them.’ Clearly chi has unprecedented veto powers over man’s destiny.
But power so complete, even in the hands of chi, is abhorrent to the Igbo imagination. Therefore the makers of proverb went to work again, as it were, to create others that would set a limit to its exercise. Hence the well-known Onye kwe chie ekwe. If a man agrees his chi agrees. And so the initiative, or some of it at least, is returned to man.
If you want to know how life has treated an Igbo man, a good place to look is the name his children bear. His hopes, his fears, his joys and sorrows; his grievances against his fellows, or complaints about the way he has been used by fortune; even straight historical records, are all there. And because chi is so central to Igbo thought we will also find much about it in proper names – more, I think, than from any other single source.
Chika (chi is supreme); Chibuzo (chi is in front); Nebechi (look to chi) are only a few examples of the large number of names that show the general primacy of chi over mankind. Chinwuba asserts chi’s special responsibility for increase and prosperity; Chinwendu its power over life and Chikadibia over health. A man who suffers from false accusations or calumnies heaped on him by his fellow may call his child Chiebonam (may chi not accuse me) meaning that the moral justification which chi can give is what counts in the end. It is, however, unusual to link chi in this way with moral sanction, a responsibility that belongs normally to Ani, the Earth Goddess and proper source of moral law – a fact recognized in the name Aniebonam which is analogous to Chiebonam.
The Igbo believe that a man receives his gifts or talents, his character – indeed his portion in life generally – before he comes into the world. It seems there is an element of choice available to him at that point; and that his chi presides over bargaining. Hence the saying Obu etu nya na chie si kwu, which we often hear when a man’s misfortune is somehow beyond comprehension and so can only be attributable to an agreement he himself must have entered into, at the beginning, alone with his chi, for there is a fundamental justice in the universe and nothing so terrible can happen to a person for which he is not somehow responsible. A few other names suggest this role of chi as the great dealer out of gifts: Nkechinyelu and Chijioke, for example.
As we have seen the Igbo believe that when a man says yes his chi will also agree; but not always. Sometimes a man may struggle with all his power and say yes most emphatically and yet nothing he attempts will succeed. Quite simply the Igbo say of such a man: Chie ekwero, his chi does not agree. Now, this could means one of two things: either the man has a particularly intransigent chi or else it is the man himself attempting too late to alter that primordial bargain he had willingly struck with his chi, saying yes now when his first unalterable word had been no, forgetting that ‘the first word gets to Chukwu’s house’.
But of course the idea of an intransigent chi does exist in Igbo: ajo chi, literally ‘bad chi’. We must remember, however, when we hear that a man has a bad chi that we are talking about his fortune rather than his character. A man of impeccable character may yet have a bad chi so that nothing he puts his hand to will work out right. Chi is therefore more concerned with success or failure than with righteousness and wickedness. Which is not to say that it is totally indifferent to morality. For we should know by now that nothing is totally anything in Igbo thinking; everything is a question of measure and degree. We have already seen in the name Chienonam that chi shares a little of the moral concerns of Ani, the earth goddess. But in addition there is a hint of moral attribution of chi in the way the Igbo sometimes explain differences in human character. For maximum dramatization they pick two brothers who are dissimilar in character: one good, the other bad. And they say: ofu nne n’amu, ma ofu chi adeke, a very neat and tight statement which can only be approximately interpreted as: one mother gives birth, different chi create.
This statement apart from reiterating the idea of ‘one man, one chi’ goes further to introduce the fundamental notion of chi as creator which is of the utmost importance: a man does not only have his own chi but is created by it and no two people, not even blood brothers, it seems, are created by the same chi. What we know of chi can thus be summed up as follows: every person has an individual chi who created him, its natural home is somewhere in the region of the sun but it may be induced to visit an earthly shrine; a person’s fortunes in life are controlled more or less completely by chi. (Perhaps this is a good place to point out that there are many minor – and occasionally even major- divergences of perception about chi from different parts of Igbo land so that one can at best only follow what appears to be the dominant and persistent concepts. For example, although communities exist which assert categorically that chi lives with Chukwu, in most places such closeness can only be deducted indirectly.)
There are many names and sayings in Igbo which confirm the creative role of chi. When we name a child Chiekezie we imply that chi has restored a certain balance by that particular creation, or has at last apportioned share equitably. Of a man unattractive or deficient in character we might say: chi ya kegbulu ya ekegbu. Here again there are two possible interpretations to our statement: either the man in question was created badly or else was cheated of his full share of things. Or both interpretations may even be intended; for what else is creation but the imparting of distinguishing characteristics and bestowing of gifts? Certainly the Igbo language by having the same root-word ke for create and share does encourage this notion.
The idea of individualism is sometimes traced to the Christian principle that God created all men and consequently every one of them is presumed worthy in His sight. The Igbo do better than that. They postulate the concept of every man as both a unique creation and the work of a unique creator. Which is as far as individualism and uniqueness can possibly go! And we should naturally expect such a cosmogony to have far-reaching consequences in the psychology and institutions of the people. This is not the place, however, to go into that. But we should at least notice in passing the fierce egalitarianism (less charitable people would have other names for it, of course) which was such a marked feature of Igbo political organization, and may justifiably speculate on its possible derivation from this concept of every man’s original and absolute uniqueness. An American anthropologist who studied the Igbo community of Onitsha in recent years called his book The King in Every Man.
All this might lead one to think that among the Igbo the individual would be supreme, totally free and existentially alone. But the Igbo are unlikely to concede to the individual an absolutism they deny even chi. The obvious curtailment of a man’s power to walk alone and do as he will is provided by another potent force – the will of his community. For wherever something stands, no matter what, something Else will stand beside it. No man however great can win judgment against all people.
We must now turn to the all-important relationship between chi and Chi Ukwu, one of the names by which the Supreme Deity is known in Igbo. The most obvious link is the name itself. Chi Ukwu (or simply, Chukwu) means literally Great Chi. Thus whatever chi may be it does seem to partake of the nature of the Supreme God. Another link is provided by the sun, bringer of daylight. As we saw earlier, among the Igbo of Awka a man’s chi may be invoked to descend from the solar realm. As it happens, the Igbo also see the sun as an agent of Chukwu to whom it is said to bear those rare sacrifices offered as man’s last desperate resort. It would seem then that wherever the abode of Chukwu happens to be in the heavens it cannot be distant from the place of chi.
In Yoruba cosmology the Supreme God, Olodumare (one of whose title is, incidentally, Owner of the Sun) sent the god, Obatala, on a mission of creation to make man. The Igbo are not so specific about Chukwu’s role in the creation of man, but may be suggesting a similar delegation of power by Supreme Overlord to a lesser divinity except that in their case every act of creation is the work of a separate and individual agent, chi, a personified and unique manifestation of the creative essence.
Still further west, the Akan of Ghana believe in a Moon Goddess whom they call Ngame, Mother of the World who gives a ‘soul’ to every human being at birth by shooting lunar rays into him. The Igbo, seemingly more reticent about such profound events may yet be hinting at a comparable cosmic relationship between their chi and solar rays. This would explain the invocation of chi from the face of the sun at the consecration of its shrine and account also for the second meaning of the word: daylight. And, of course, the Igbo being patrilineal (as anthropologist tell us) where the Akan are matrilineal a preference by them for the sun over the moon would be completely in character!
The significance of the sun in Igbo religion though subtle and unobtrusive is nonetheless undeniable and may even be called pervasive. If we are to believe the New Larousse Encyclopaedia of Mythology it seems that two-times-two-times-two is everywhere the sun’s mystical figure (just as three-times-three is the moon’s). Certainly the Igbo have a lot of use for fours and eights. The basic unit their calendar is the four-day ‘small’ week and an eight-day ‘great’ week; the circumcision of their male child takes place on the eight day after which it is accounted a human being; they compute largeness in units of four hundred, nnu, etc., etc.
The exact relationship between the Supreme God (Chukwu), the sun and chi in Igbo cosmology will probably never be (and perhaps was intended not to be) unraveled. But if Chukwu means literally Great chi one is almost tempted to borrow the words of Christian dogma and speak of chi as being of the same ‘substance’ as and ‘proceeding’ from Chukwu. Or is chi an infinitesimal manifestation of Chukwu’s infinite essence given to each of us separately and uniquely, a single ray from the sun’s boundless radiance? Or does Chukwu have a separate existence as ruler over a community of chi, countless as the stars and as endless in their disparate identities, holding anarchy at bay with His will?
One last word about Chineke which we have come to interpret as ‘God who creates’ and use as an alternative name for Chukwu. If our interpretation and use were supported by Igbo language and religious tradition the role of Chukwu as the creator would be established and the activity of chi in their multiplicity relegated to the status of mere figures of speech. Unfortunately the early missionaries who appropriated Chineke as the Creator-God of Christianity acted a little hastily, unaware that the Igbo language capable of treachery to hasty users on account of its tonality. (The story of the white preacher who kept saying that God had great buttocks when he meant strength may be apocryphal, but it makes an important point.)
Chineke consists of three words: chi na eke. In assigning a meaning to it the crucial word is na which itself has three possible meanings. Let us examine in turn and seen what it does to Chineke:
(a) Said with high tone na means who or which. Chineke will then mean ‘chi which creates’;
(b) Said with low tone na can mean the auxiliary verb does, in which case Chineke will mean ‘chi does create’; and finally
(c) Again said with low tone na can mean the conjunctive and.
Here something fundamental changes because eke is no longer a verb but a noun. Chineke then becomes ‘chi and eke’. The early missionaries by putting the wrong tone on that little word na escorted a two-headed, pagan god into their holy of holies!
Now what are the grounds for making such a terrible assertion? Quite simply I have looked at traditional Igbo usage. But before I give the examples that will make clear let us take a quick look eke, this mysterious second member of the duality. What is it? I do not know for certain, but it does seem to have more or less the same attributes as chi; also it is sometimes called aka.
We have already referred to the common name Chinwuba (chi has increase) earlier on. Another version of this name is Ekejiuba (Eke hold increase). We have also mentioned the name Nebechi (look to chi). Now, there is also Lemeke (Leweke) which would appear to be exactly the same name except that eke occurs instead of chi. It is interesting to note that the chi versions of these name occurs more in the northern and western parts of Igbo land while eke names tend to occur more in the southern and eastern parts.
Let us turn for a moment from proper names to other sayings in which chi and eke are yoked together. If you want to curse a man in the most thorough fashion you curse his chi and his eke (or aka). That really takes care of him!
There is also the well-known little anecdote about the hen. Someone once asked her why it was that from daybreak to sunset she was always scratching the ground for food; was she never satisfied? To which she replied: ‘You see, my dear fellow, when I wake up in the morning I begin to look for food for my chi. When I am through with that I must then find some for my eke. By the time I finish with that too it is already sunset and I haven’t catered for myself!’
From the foregoing it would appear that chi and eke are very closely related deities, perhaps the same god in a twofold manifestation, such as male or female; or the duality may have come into being for the purpose of bringing two dialectical tributaries of Igbo into liturgical union. This last is particularly attractive because there exists a small number of similar ‘double-headed’ phrases each comprising two words and the conjunctive, both words being of identical meaning but drawn from two basic dialectical areas. Used in this conjunction the words immediately introduce the element of totality into their ordinary meaning. Thus ikwu na ibe stands for the entire community of kinsmen and women; ogbo na uke for the militant and aggressive band of spirit adversaries; okwu na uka for endless wrangling; nta na imo for odds and ends, etc. If indeed chi na eke should turn out to belong to this group of phrases the idea of using it to curse a man absolutely would then make a lot of sense! Which might be bad news indeed for the Christian Church in Igbo land. But it may surely draw consolation from the fact that the book of the Old Testament itself, in all its glory and dignity, ends ‘with a curse’!
Far be it from me, however, to suggest that Chineke should be dropped at this late hour as an alternative name for Chukwu. That would be futile pedantry; for whatever doubts we may entertain about its antecedents it has certainly served generations of Christians and non-Christians in Igbo land in contemplating the nature of the all-distant Supreme Deity, whose role in the world is shrouded in mystery and metaphor. The attraction of Chineke for the early evangelists must have been its seeming lack of ambiguity on the all-important question of creation. They needed a ‘God who creates’ and Chineke stood ready at hand. But Igbo traditional thought in its own way and style did recognize Chukwu as the Supreme Creator speculating only on the modalities, on how He accomplished the work and through what agencies and intermediaries. As we have seen He appears to work through chi to create man. Similarly there are numerous suggestion in Igbo lore of Him working with man to make the world – or rather to enhance its habitability, for the work of creation was not ended in one monumental effort but goes on still, Chukwu and man talking things over at critical moments, sometimes agreeing, sometimes not. Two examples will suffice:
When Death first came into the world men sent a messenger to Chukwu to beg him to remove the terrible scourge. Although He was disposed to consider the matter the first request that actually got through to Him from mankind was the wrong one and once He had granted it there was no way it could be altered.
In a study of Igbo people published in 1913 Northcote Thomas recorded the following story about Ezenri, that fascinating priest/king whose spiritual pre-eminence was acknowledge over considerable parts of Igbo land:
Ezenri and Ezadama came from heaven and rested on an ant heap; all was water Cuku (Chukwu) asked who was sitting there and they answered ‘We are the kings of Nri and Adama’, thereupon Cuku and the kings talked. After some conversation Cuku gave them each a piece of yam; yams were at that time unknown to man, for human beings walked in the bush like animals. . . .
Later Chukwu tells Ezenri how to plant and tend the yam but Ezenri complains that the ground is too wet; and Chukwu advises him to send Awka people – workers in iron – to blow on the earth with their bellows and make it dry.
There is a very strong suggestion here and also in the story about the coming of death that at crucial cosmological moments Chukwu will discuss His universe with man. The moment of man’s first awareness of implications of death was such a time; but so also was the great turning point when man ceased wandering in the bush and became a settled agriculturist calling upon craft of the blacksmith to effect this momentous transition.
And finally, at the root of it all lies that very belief we have already seen: a belief in the fundamental worth and independence of every man and of his right to speak on matters of concern to him and, flowing from it, a rejection of any form absolutism which might endanger those values. It is not surprising that the Igbo held discussion and consensus as the highest ideals of the political process. This made them ‘argumentative’ and difficult to rule. But how could they suspend for the convenience of a ruler limitations which they impose even on their gods. For as we have seen a man may talk and bargain even with his chi at the moment of his creation. And what was more, Chukwu Himself in all His power and glory did not make the world by fiat. He held conservation with mankind; he held conversation with mankind; he talked with those archetypal men of Nri and Adama and even enlisted their good offices to make the earth firm and productive.
U.S. Classified Files Reveal Untold Story Of Ojukwu, Biafra By Americans, Others
Biafran Head of State, LT. Col. Odumegwu Ojukwu inspects guard of honour
Secret American diplomatic dispatches, spread over 21,000 pages, provide previously unknown information about the Nigerian Civil War
Early in the morning of 1 July 1967, Nigeria’s young head of state, Colonel Yakubu Gowon, was feeling uneasy in his office at the Supreme Headquarters, Dodan Barracks in Lagos. The unease was a result of his being ceaselessly pressured to authorize a military invasion of the breakaway Republic of Biafra.
Thirty officers had been recalled from courses abroad. Trains and truck convoys, bearing fuel, supplies and men, were still leaving Kano and Kaduna for the south of River Benue.
Colonel Mohammed Shuwa of the First Area Command had moved his command headquarters southwards and set it up in Makurdi. The 2nd Battalion was already headquartered in Adikpo. Schools and private homes had been commandeered for the use of Major Sule Apollo and his 4th Battalion in Oturkpo. They were itching for action. The same day, Major B.M. Usman “a member of the intimate northern group around Gowon” told the American defense attaché: “I do not know what in hell he is waiting for; the boys are all ready to go. They are only waiting on his word.”
Members of the Supreme Military Council, who had been meeting twice daily, were waiting for his word. The whole nation was waiting. Biafra, which was on high alert, was also waiting.
On 27 June 1967, Cyprian Ekwensi, famous writer and Biafra’s Director of Information Service, through the Voice of Biafra (formerly Enugu Radio), urged Biafrans to be prepared for an invasion on June 29 since “Northerners have often struck on 29th day of the month.” He was alluding to the day northern officers, led by Major T.Y. Danjuma, seized Gowon’s predecessor, Major- General Aguiyi-Ironsi, and killed him in a forest outside Ibadan.
Gowon, then 31, had been running the affairs of 57million Nigerians for 10 months. It had not been easy. Chief Obafemi Awolowo, his 58-year old trusted deputy and adviser, was with Okoi Arikpo and Philip Asiodu, permanent secretaries of the ministries of External Affairs and Trade and Industries respectively.
They were preparing to put the noose on the neck of the Anglo-Dutch oil giant, Shell-BP, which had frozen royalty payments due to the Federation Account on 1 June 1967 and had offered to pay the Biafran government £250,000.
Lieutenant Colonel Odumegwu Ojukwu, Biafran leader, had ordered all oil companies to start paying all royalties to Enugu because they were operating in a new country or risk heavy penalties.
Ojukwu: Sworn in as Head of State of Biafra
Specifically, he demanded a minimum of £2million from Shell-BP. The Federal Government had imposed an economic blockade on Biafra. It entailed barring all merchant vessels and sea tankers from sailing to and from Koko, Warri, Sapele, Escravos, Bonny, Port Harcourt, Calabar ports, which Ojukwu had declared part and parcel of Biafra.
Biafra controlled the land on which the oil installations sat; the Nigerian government controlled the coastal entrance and exit to those lands. Shell-BP was confused as to whose order should be obeyed. Sir David Hunt, the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, told his American counterpart after the meeting with the Nigerian delegation: “Awolowo is very firmly in control of Ministry of Finance and he is giving Stanley Gray, Shell’s General Manager and other experts from London a very difficult time for the past three days.” They persuaded Awolowo to accept a deal that would favour the Nigerian government and, at the same time, would predispose oil workers and the £150million investment to danger in the hands of Biafran military forces. Awolowo refused, arguing that anything short of the status quo was recognition of Biafra and concession to the rebels. As for security of investments and personnel, he argued that once royalties were paid, the Nigerian government would have the capacity to fund whatever action it would take on the rebels and Shell-BP’s investments would be safe.
Gowon paced to the large outdated map of the country by the door to his office. When he asked Awolowo to come and join his government, Awolowo said he would accept only if Gowon did something about the dominance of North over the rest of the nation. A month before, Gowon had broken up the North into six states, but the map by the door still showed the old Nigeria, with an imposing North at the top. He ran his finger around the boundaries of Biafra and asked himself: “How can I authorize an invasion of my own people?” He knew what it meant to be resented. He was not the most senior officer in the army. He was not a Muslim Hausa or Fulani from Kano, Kaduna or Sokoto. He was a Christian from one of the small minorities that dot the North and yet, events had promoted him to the position of the Head of State and Commander-in-Chief–to the chagrin of many northern officers, politicians, and emirs.
He knew the Igbo were resented in the North for succeeding where indigenes had failed. His Igbo lover, Edith Ike, told him her life was threatened twice in Lagos since she returned from the North in March.
According to the secret US document of 1 July 1967, Edith’s parents, having lived in the North for 30 years, where she too was born, had fled back to the East in October 1966 because of that year’s massacre of the Igbo. Not 30,000 but around 7,000 were killed, according to the American documents. Donald Patterson of the Political Section and Tom Smith of the Economic Section travelled from the US Embassy in Lagos to the North after the pogrom. “The Sabon-Garis were ghost towns, deserted, with the detritus of people, who had fled rapidly, left behind. Most Northerners we talked to had no apologies for what had happened to the Ibos, for the pogrom that had killed so many. There were exceptions, but in general, there was no remorse and the feeling was one of good riddance.
“One day, our Hausa gardener attacked and tried to beat up our Ibo cook. We fired the gardener, but not long afterwards, the cook left for the East,” said Patterson.
Earlier that week, Gowon called the West German Ambassador in Lagos. The Germans were eager to be in the good graces of the Gowon administration. A war loomed. And in wars, buildings, roads, bridges, and other infrastructure are destroyed. These would need rebuilding. The contract for the 2nd Mainland Bridge (later called Eko Bridge) was signed two years earlier by the Ambassador, CEO of Julius Berger Tiefbau AG and Shehu Shagari, Federal Commissioner for Works and Survey. That was Julius Berger’s first contract in Nigeria. It was due for completion in less than two years and they wanted more bilateral cooperation. The ambassador assured Gowon over the phone that he had taken care of all the details and guaranteed the safety of Edith, the nation’s “First Girlfriend”.
On the evening of 30 June, just before her departure on a commercial airline, Edith told the American Defense Attaché Standish Brooks, and his wife, Gail, that she actually wanted to go to the UK or USA, but Jack, as she affectionately called Gowon, insisted that she could be exposed to danger in either of the two countries. Germany, he reasoned, would be safer.
To Major B.M. Usman and other northern officers around Gowon, who had attributed his slow response to the secession to the fact that his girlfriend was Igbo and that her parents were resettled in the East, it was such a huge relief that at the Supreme Military Council meeting of 3 July 1967, Gowon authorized the long awaited military campaign.
Edith had safely landed in West Germany. Gowon told the gathering: “Gentlemen, we are going to crush the rebellion, but note that we are going after the rebels, not the Ibos.” The military action, which was to become the Nigerian Civil War or the Biafran War or Operation Unicord, as it was coded in military circles, officially started on 6 July 1967 at 5 a.m.
The North was minded to use the war as a tool to reassert its dominance of national affairs. Mallam Kagu, Damboa, Regional Editor of the Morning Post, told the American consul in Kaduna: “No one should kid himself that this is a fight between the East and the rest of Nigeria. It is a fight between the North and the Ibo.” He added that the rebels would be flushed out of Enugu within six weeks. Lt. Colonel Hassan Katsina went further to say with the level of enthusiasm among the soldiers; it would be a matter of “only hours before Ojukwu and his men were rounded up”.
The northern section of the Nigerian military was the best equipped in the country. To ensure the region’s continued dominance, the British assigned most of the army and air force resources to the North. It was only the Navy’s they could not transfer. All the elite military schools were there. The headquarters of the infantry and artillery corps were there. Kaduna alone was home to the headquarters of the 1st Division of the Nigerian Army, Defense Industries Corporation of Nigeria (Army Depot), Air Force Training School and, Nigerian Defence Academy.
Maitama Sule, Minister of Mines and Power in 1966, once told the story of how Muhammadu Ribadu, his counterpart in Defence Ministry, went to the Nigerian Military School, Zaria, and the British Commandant of the school told him many of the students could not continue because they failed woefully. When Ribadu thumbed through the list, Sule said, it was a Mohammed, an Ibrahim, a Yusuf or an Abdullahi. “You don’t know what you are doing and because of this you cannot continue to head the school,” an irate Ribadu was said to have told the commandant.
Shehu Musa Yar’Adua was one of the students for whom the commandant was sacked. “You can see what Yar’Adua later became in life. He became the vice president. This is the power of forward planning,” Sule declared.
Unknown to the forward planners, according to the US documents, Ojukwu had been meticulously preparing for war as early as October 1966, after the second round of massacre in the North. He had stopped the Eastern share of revenues that were supposed to accrue to the Federation Account. By 30 April 1967, he had recalled all Igbos serving in Nigeria embassies and foreign missions and those that heeded his call were placed on the payroll of the government of Eastern Region. The 77,000 square kilometres of the Republic of Biafra–a mere 8 per cent of the size of Nigeria–was already divided into 20 provinces, with leaders selected for each. They had their own judiciary, legislative councils, ministries and ambassadors. Alouette helicopters and a B26 bomber were procured from the French Air Force through a Luxemburg trading company. Hank Warton, the German-American arms dealer, had been flying in Czech and Israeli arms via Spain and Portugal since October 1966. The military hardware, they could not get, they seized. A DC3 and a Fokker F27 were seized from the Nigerian Air Force in April. NNS Ibadan, a Nigerian Navy Seaward Defence Boat (SDB) that docked in Calabar Port, was quickly made Biafran.
Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu, who was supposed to be in Enugu in prison for his role in 1966 coup, joined in training recruits in Abakaliki. Foreign mercenaries were training indoctrinated old people, young men and teenagers recruited as NCOs [Non-commissioned Officers] in jungle warfare, bomb making, mortar and other artillery firing. Ojukwu, through speeches, town hall meetings, market square performances and radio broadcasts, succeeded in convincing his people that their destiny was death or a separate state. All his performances in Ghana that culminated in the Aburi Accord of January 1967, or discussions with the Awolowo-led National Conciliation Committee five months later, turned out to be ruse.
The underground war preparations, the secret arms stockpiles openly manifested themselves as Ojukwu’s stubborn refusal to accept offers or concessions during these peace meetings.
But the Biafrans knew that their vulnerable line was along Ogoja, Ikom, Calabar, Port Harcourt, and Yenogoa. Support from the six million people making up the Eastern minorities was very much unsure. The minorities viewed their leaders in Biafra high command as traitors. And without the minorities, Biafra would be landlocked and most likely, unviable as a state. More so, their vast oil and gas resources were the reason they contemplated secession in the first place. The Biafra high command believed that if there was going to be any troop incursion from there, they are going to be transported through ship. They already had a B26 bomber to deal fire to Nigeria’s only transport ship, NNS Lokoja, anytime it approached the Biafran coastline.
The Biafrans also knew that Gowon wanted to respect the neutrality of Midwest and not invade through Niger Bridge, which would have driven the people of the Midwest into waiting Biafran hands. But if Gowon changed his mind and there was a general mobilization of the two battalions of the federal troops there, they had trustworthy men there that would alert Enugu. And if that failed, according to the US documents, the Niger Bridge had been mined using “explosives with metal covering across the roadbed at second pier out from the eastern side”.
The Biafrans also knew that the Yoruba, who were sworn enemies of the Northern hegemony, would never join the North militarily or politically against the Biafrans. When Gowon vouched to “crush the rebellion,” progressive Yoruba intellectuals deplored the language. Professor Hezekiah Oluwasanmi, Vice Chancellor of University of Ife, described the use of the word as unfortunate. Justice Kayode Eso of the Western Court of Appeal said: “Crushing the East was not the way to make Nigeria one.”
Mr. Strong, the American consul in Ibadan, whom they had been speaking to, confidentially wrote: “As intellectuals and modernizers, they see the conflict in terms of continuing determination of conservative North to dominate the more advanced South and they expressed fear that once North subdues East, it will seek to assert outright dominance over the West. The centre of trouble might then swing back to the West, where it all started.”
The Biafrans understood, therefore, that their strongest defence perimeter would be along Nsukka, Obudu, Gakem and Nyonya in Ogoja province, where they share border with the North. That was where they concentrated. On 8 July after three days of fighting, only four Biafran troops were dead and nine wounded in Obudu, while up to 100 Nigerian troops were dead, according to the Irish Embassy official, Eamon O’tuathail, who visited the Catholic Mission Hospital in Obudu. He said: “Forty five (45) of the dead had already been buried and the villagers were seen carrying the heads of the remaining around town.” In June before fighting started, Ojukwu charged on Biafra Radio: “Each Biafran soldier should bring back ten or twenty Hausa heads.”
At Nyanya, Nigerian troops attempted to seize the bridge linking Obudu and Ogoja, but were beaten back by the Biafran troops on 7 July at 1400hrs. According to the New York Times’ Lloyd Garrison’s dispatch of 8 July: “The Biafran Air Force–a lone B-26 fighter bomber–flew sorties from Enugu today, bombing and strafing enemy columns. Asked what damage it had inflicted, its European pilot replied: “Frankly, I don’t know. But we made a lot of smoke. Hundreds of Enugu pedestrians waved and cheered each time the plane returned from a mission and swooped low over the city buzzing Ogui Avenue.”
Tunde Akingbade of the Daily Times, who was returning from the frontlines, said the first Nigerian battalion in Ogoja area was “almost completely wiped out by a combination of mines and electrical devices (Ogbunigwe)”.
In the first few weeks of the war, the Biafrans were clearly on top. “Enugu is very calm,” the confidential cable of 13 July 1967 noted. “Ojukwu is dining with Field Commanders in State House tonight.”
On the federal side, confusion reigned. They had grossly underestimated Biafran capabilities. “Gowon and his immediate military advisers believe they can carry out a successful operation putting their trust in the superiority of the Hausa soldier,” the British High Commissioner, Sir David Hunt, told his American counterpart on 31 May 1967. He said further: “A northern incursion would be hastily mounted, ill-conceived and more in the nature of a foray.”
Even the Nigerian infantry, which advanced as far as Obolo on Oturkpo-Nsukka Road, was easily repelled. It ran out of ammunition. At the Supreme Headquarters in Lagos, they were accusing Shuwa, the commander, of not sending enough information about what was going on. Shuwa counter-accused that he was not getting enough and timely orders. Requests for ammunition and hardware procurement were chaotically coming to the Federal Armament Board from different units, not collectively from the central command.
Major S.A. Alao, acting commander of Nigerian Air Force (after George Kurubo defected to Biafran High Command) together with the German adviser, Lieutenant Colonel Karl Shipp, had travelled to many European cities to buy jets. They were unsuccessful. Gowon had written to the American president for arms. The State Department declined military assistance to either side. Gowon replied that he was not requesting for assistance, but a right to buy arms from the American market. That too was rejected.
The CIA had predicted a victory for Ojukwu, but American diplomatic and consular corps in Nigeria predicted victory for the Federal side and concluded that a united Nigeria served American interests better than the one without the Eastern Region. Two conflicting conclusions from an important department and a useful agency. The American government chose to be neutral. Dean Rusk, America’s Secretary of State said: “America is not in a position to take action as Nigeria is an area under British influence.”
The British on the other hand were foot-dragging. At the insistence of Awolowo, “the acting prime minister” as he was called in diplomatic circles, Gowon approached the Soviet Union.
According to a secret cable (dated 24/08/67) sent by Dr. Martin Hillenbrand, American Ambassador in East Germany, to his counterpart in Lagos, MCK Ajuluchukwu, Ojukwu’s special envoy, met Soviet Ambassador to Nigeria, Alexandr Romanov, in Moscow in June 1967. Romanov said that for USSR to recognize Biafra and supply it arms, the latter had to nationalize the oil industry. Ojukwu refused, saying that he had no money to reimburse the oil companies and that Biafrans did not have the expertise to run the oil installations.
A month later, Anthony Enahoro, the Federal Commissioner for Information and Labour, went to Moscow, signed a cultural agreement with Moscow and promised to nationalize the oil industry, including its allied industries once they got arms to recapture them from the Biafrans. Within days, 15 MiGs arrived in sections in Ikeja and Kano airports, awaiting assemblage. There was no nationalization.
Meanwhile, buoyed by the confidence from early success, the Biafrans went on the offensive. Their B26 (one of the six originally intended for use against the Nigerian Navy) was fitted with multiple canon and 50mm calibre machine gun mounts. It conducted bombing raids on Makurdi airfield, Kano and Kaduna. Luckily for Nigeria, the two transport DC3s had gone to Lagos to get more reserve mortar and 106-artillery ammo. In Kano, there were no fatalities, only a slight damage to the wing of a commercial plane.
Kaduna, however, was not that lucky. On 10 August 1967, the B26 dropped bombs on Kaduna airbase, damaging many buildings and the main hangar. The German consulate in Kaduna confirmed that a German citizen, a Dornier technician tasked with maintaining Nigerian military planes, was killed and two others injured.
A week later, the senior traffic control officer, A.O. Amaku, was arrested for sabotage. He was accused of failing to shut off the airport’s homing device, thus giving the Biafran plane navigational assistance. His British assistant, Mr. Palfrey, was similarly suspected. He resigned and immediately returned to the UK. However, Major Obada, the airbase commanding officer and an Urhobo from the Midwest, strongly defended the accused.
The daring bomb raid provoked many more Northern civilians to run to the nearest army base and enlist to fight.
According to a report by US Ambassador Elbert Matthews, cabled to Washington on 3 July 1967, unidentified men tried to bomb the police headquarters in Lagos on the night of 2 July. They attempted to drive an automobile into the compound, but the guards did not open the gate. They packed the car across the street near a small house opposite a petrol station. Leaving the car, the men fled and within seconds, an explosion took place. The house was demolished and all its occupants killed, but the petrol station was unaffected. Eleven people, including some of the guards at the police headquarters, were injured.
Two hours later, a second explosion, from explosives in a car parked by a petrol station, rocked Yaba. This time, the station caught fire. The ambassador remarked: “It is possible this is a start of campaign of terrorism…public reactions could further jeopardize safety of Ibos in Lagos.” And sure it did.
A Lagos resident, who visited the police headquarters after the attack, told the Australian ambassador “Ibos must be killed.”
There was panic all over Lagos. Anti-Igbo riots broke out. Northern soldiers at the 2nd Battalion Barracks in Ikeja used the opportunity to launch a mini-version of the previous year’s torture and massacre of the Igbo in the North. On 7 July 1967, Lagos State governor, Lieutenant Colonel Mobolaji Johnson, condemned the bombing in a radio broadcast. “A good number of Igbos in Lagos is innocent and loyal to the federal government. It is only fair that they be allowed to go about their business unmolested so long as they abide by the law and are not agents and evildoers,” Johnson said.
He called for Lagosians to join civil defence units and for Easterners to come and register with the police.
Meanwhile, the corpses of troops and soldiers wounded in Yahe, Wakande, Obudu and Gakem that arrived Kaduna by train on 11 July 1967 sparked enormous interest in enlistment and volunteering. Recruitment centres were established in Ibadan, Enugu, Lagos and Kano. But it was at the Kano centre, headquarters of the 4th Battalion of the Nigerian Regiment that generated the biggest number of recruits. According to the US confidential cable of 17 July 1967, 20,000 of these were veterans, who had been recruited to fight on the British side in Burma. The Burma veterans marched angrily to the recruitment offices to replace those that had been killed or injured. Around 7,000 were accepted. Of these, 5,000 were immediately sent to the frontline. They said they needed no training; only guns.
As they advanced, towards the outskirts of Ikem, 4km southeast of Nsukka, when mortal fires from the Biafran artillery landed close by, inexperienced recruits ducked for cover behind their transport columns out of fear and incompetence in bush warfare. Not these Burma veterans. Damboa, the Regional Editor of the Morning Post, was embedded with some of these veterans under the command of Major Shande, formerly of the 5th Battalion, Kano, which Ojukwu commanded in 1963.
One day, at about 2a.m, Biafran forces began firing from the jungle in the hope of drawing a return fire if the enemy was ahead. “But the veterans were too smart and began to creep towards the source of firing. After some time, the Biafran troops began to advance thinking that there were no federal troops ahead since there was no return of fire. They walked straight into the pointing guns of these veterans, their fingers squeezed the triggers,” said Damboa to a US Consulate officer named Arp.
These veterans were shooting at innocent Igbo civilians, too. Damboa further told Arp, when he came back from the frontlines on 17 September 1967, that “federal troops were shooting most Ibo civilians on sight, including women and children except for women with babies in their arms. Initially they observed the rules laid down by Gowon on the treatment of civilians. Then, after the takeover of the Midwest, they heard stories that Ibo soldiers had killed all the northerners they found residing in the Midwest. Since that time, Federal troops have been shooting Ibo civilians on sight,” added Damboa.
The Midwest Invasion
Something was happening to Biafran soldiers, which the Federal troops observed but could not explain. Indeed, the fortunes of the Federal troops were improving. Colonel Benjamin Adekunle’s 3rd Marine Commando had landed on 25 July 1967 at Bonny Island, establishing a heavy presence of federal forces in the creeks. Two L29 Delfins fighter jets from Czechoslovakia (NAF 401 and NAF 402) were at the Ikeja Airport and battle ready.
Five more, on board Polish vessel Krakow, were a week away from the Apapa Ports. Major Lal, an ammunition ordnance officer seconded from the Indian Army to Nigeria, had arrived from Eastern Europe, where he had gone to acquire information necessary to utilize Czech aerial ordnance. Sections of 15 Soviet MiG bombers hidden in NAF hangars were being assembled by 40 Russian technicians lodging in Central Hotel, Kano. Bruce Brent of Mobil Oil was flying jet oil to Kano to fuel these bombers. Captain N.O. Sandburg of Nigerian Airlines had flown in seven pilots, who had previously done mercenary work in South Africa and Congo, to fly the MiGs. Names, birthdates and passport numbers of 26 Russians, who were to serve as military advisors had been passed to Edwin Ogbu, Permanent Secretary, External Affairs Ministry. They were in Western Europe awaiting a direct flight to Lagos.
But George Kurubo, the Federal Air Force Chief of Staff, who had earlier joined the Biafran high command, had defected back to the fold and had been sent to Moscow as ambassador to facilitate the flow of more arms from the Soviets.
Lt. Colonel Oluwole Rotimi, Quartermaster-General of the Nigerian Army, went to western Europe with a fat chequebook.
What followed was the arrival of Norwegian ship, Hoegh Bell, bearing 2,000 cases of ammunition; and British ship, Perang, which discharged its own 2000 cases of ammunition. A German ship Suderholm also arrived. Those in charge of it claimed she was in Apapa to offload gypsum. But the US defense attaché reported that it was carrying “300 tonnes of 60mm and 90mm ammo.” The Ghanaian vessel, Sakumo Lagoon, was already in Lome, heading to Apapa to discharge its own ammo. A cache of 1,000 automatic fabriquenationale rifles had arrived Lagos by air on 8 August 1967 from the UK.
Speaking secretly to UK Defence Attaché, Lt. Colonel Ikwue said he too had gone to the German Defence Firm, Merex, to buy ammunition: 106mm US recoilless rifles at $86 per round; 84mm ammo for the Carl Gustav recoilless rifles at $72 per round; 105mm HEAT- High Explosive Anti-Tank warheads at $47 per round. Ikwue also bought three English Electra Canberra, eight Mark II Bombers at $105,000 each, 15 Sabre MK VI-T33 Jets at $100,000 each.
With all of these, Awolowo, rejected Hassan Katsina’s request for funding of 55, 000 more rifles for new recruits. However, he agreed once Gowon intervened and assured him it was not a request inspired by fraudulent intentions.
Federal troops had captured Nsukka, 56km from Enugu. Over 200 non-Igbo Biafran policemen had fled across the Mamfe border into Cameroun. In Ogoja, the Ishibori, Mbube and other non-Igbo Biafrans welcomed the federal troops after driving out the Biafran troops in a fierce battle.
The Biafrans blew up the bridge over the Ayim River at Mfume as they retreated.
The momentum was with the Federal side, but they knew their victories were not only because of their military superiority. At critical stages of battle, even when the Biafrans were clearly winning, they suddenly withdrew. An instance was on 15 July 1967, to the west of Nsukka on the route to Obolo. According to a conversation Colonel J.R. Akahan, Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff, had with British Defence Advisor, the Nigerian infantry companies of the 4th Battalion, totally unaware of the presence of the 8th Battalion of the Biafran army, were buried under a hail of bullets and mortar.
Yet, the Biafran forces began to retreat. This enabled the remnants of the federal infantry company to regroup and successfully counter-attack. Even more senior Biafran commanders that should have been aware that the area had come under federal control were driving into the arms of the federal side. Nzeogwu and Tome Bigger (Ojukwu’s half-brother) were victims of the mysterious happening. Ojukwu initially put this down to breakdown of communication in the chain of command. During a special announcement over Biafran radio on 15 July 1967, Ojukwu said: “Yesterday, a special attack, which would have completely sealed the doom of enemy troops in the Nsukka sector of the northern front, was ruthlessly sabotaged by a mysterious order from the army high command…Our valiant troops were treacherously exposed to enemy flanks.”
At 9.30p.m on 8 August 1967, Biafran forces invaded the Midwest. In the recollection of Major (Dr.) Albert Nwazu Okonkwo, military administrator of Midwest, made available in confidence through an American teacher living in Asaba to Clinton Olson, Deputy Chief of Mission in Lagos on 1 November 1967, it was known by 4 August 1967 in Asaba that the Midwest, West and Lagos would soon be invaded.
On 5 August, Ojukwu had warned the Midwest government, headed by Colonel David Ejoor, that if northern troops were allowed to stay in the Midwest, the region would become a battleground. Many Midwestern officers knew of the plans; some of them had gone to Biafra earlier to help in the preparations. Lt Col. Nwawo, Commander of the Fourth Area Command at Benin, was probably aware. Lt Col. Okwechime, according to the document, certainly knew of it. Lt Col. Nwajei did not know and was never trusted by the anti-Lagos elements in the Midwest. “After the Biafran takeover, Nwajei was sent back to his village of Ibusa, where he was said to be engaged in repainting his home until just the arrival of Nigerian troops in the area,” disclosed the document.
Major Albert Okonkwo, later appointed military administrator, did not know in advance. Lieutenant (later Major) Joseph Isichei and Lieutenant Colonel Chukwurah were not informed in advance. “Major Samuel Ogbemudia participated in the invasion, properly by prior agreement,” the document stated.
That night of 8 August, Biafran army units blazed across the Onitsha Bridge and disarmed the Asaba garrison that was then stationed at St Peter’s Teachers’ Training College. Then they went on to the Catering Rest House, where Midwest officers were living, and disarmed the officers. The only exception was Major Asama, the local commander, who escaped and drove to Agbor at about 22.30hrs.
There were no casualties except for one officer with a gunshot wound in the leg. The invading force drove to Agbor, where it split into three columns. One column drove northwards towards Auchi and Aghenebode. A second column went to Warri and Sapele.
“The main force led by Victor Banjo was supposed to drive on to Benin and capture Ijebu-Ode, reach Ibadan on 9 August, reach Ikeja near Lagos by 10 August, setting up a blockade there to seal off the capital city,” the document quoted Okonkwo as saying.
However, this main column stopped in Agbor for six hours, reaching Benin at dawn. There was no real resistance in Benin, where no civilian was killed. The main column left Benin for Ijebu-Ode early in the afternoon. It stopped at Ore, just at the Western Region’s border.
According to US Defense Attaché report, three weeks before, Ejoor informed the Supreme Headquarters that he had information that Ojukwu was planning to send soldiers in mufti to conquer the Midwest. So, the 3rd Battalion, which was heading towards the Okene – Idah route to join the 1st Division on the Nsukka frontline, was ordered to stop at Owo. The first Recce Squadron from Ibadan, which had already reached Okene, was reassigned to take care of any surprise in the Midwest. By the time Lagos heard of the invasion, this squadron was quickly upgraded from company strength to a battalion, with troops of Shuwa’s 1st Division across the river, and another battalion was stationed at Idah to hold a defensive alignment against any Biafran surprise from Auchi.
Upon receiving the telephone call from Major Asama about the Biafran invasion at Asaba, Ejoor hurriedly left his wife and children at the State House, went to his friend, Dr Albert Okonkwo at Benin Hospital to borrow his car. He then sought asylum in the home of Catholic Bishop of Benin, Patrick Kelly.
In his first radio address to the people of Midwest on 9 August 1967, Banjo said Ejoor was safe and “efforts were being made to enlist his continued service in Midwest and in Nigeria.” Ejoor stayed in the seminary next door to the bishop’s house for almost two weeks, receiving visitors including Banjo, Colonels Nwawo and Nwajei, Major (Dr.) Okonkwo, who were trying to persuade him to make a speech supporting the new administration.
Ejoor refused. He was told that he was free to go wherever he wished without molestation. Not trusting what they might do, he went back to Isoko his native area, where he remained till federal forces captured it on 22 September 1967.
Before Banjo knew the full score, he met with Mr. Bell, UK Deputy High Commissioner, the evening of Benin invasion. Bell summarized his and Banjo’s words as:
a. There were no fatal casualties though some were wounded.
b. Ejoor and two senior officers were not in Benin when Eastern troops arrived. Bell had firm impression that they had been warned about the day’s event.
c. All the Midwest is now under the control of combined East/Midwest forces.
d. East was asked to cooperate by certain Midwest officers because an invasion of the Midwest by the North was imminent.
e. That he does not agree with Ojukwu on the separate existence of Biafra. He is convinced that a united Nigeria is essential.
f. Bell said he saw only three officers at the army headquarters: one was a Midwestern medical officer (Major Okoko). All others were Easterners.
Meanwhile when Banjo made the first radio address, he announced the impending appointment of a military administrator, but there was considerable difficulty among the Biafran and Midwestern leaders in selecting a suitable man.
First choice was to be someone from the Ishan or Afemai areas. Someone from the Delta was next, preferably an Ika-Igbo. However, the stalemate continued until Ojukwu intervened and selected Albert Okonkwo. Ojukwu knew Okonkwo only by reputation.
Okonkwo had certain things that recommended him. First, he had an American wife, which cut the family/tribe relationship problem of those times in half. Second, he was considered to be politically “sterile,” having been in the US for 13 years and was not associated with any political party or faction. Third, he was commissioned a captain in the medical corps on 2 October 1965 and just made a Major on 22 June 1967. The implication was that he was not tainted by army politics. He was also very pro-Biafra.
As soon as Okonkwo became military administrator, Banjo was recalled to Enugu to explain the failure of the military campaign. During his absence, the Midwest Administration was established (an Advisory Council and an Administrative Council). Banjo succeeded in convincing Biafran leaders in Enugu that his halt at Ore had been dictated by military expediency. He then returned to the Midwest front. Banjo informed Okonkwo of the military situation through Major Isichei, Chief of Staff of the Midwest. Isichei later commented that he had noticed that Banjo’s headquarters staff never discussed plans or operations in his presence. Through Isichei, Banjo told Okonkwo that Auchi had been lost after a fierce battle when, in fact, it was not defended at all.
Suspicions began to thicken around Banjo. Okonkwo, in a confidential statement made available to the Americans, said he also noticed that Banjo obtained money by requisition from him for materials, food and officers salaries’, thus drawing on the Midwest treasury. On 19 September, when Okonkwo telephoned Enugu, he discovered from the Biafran Army HQ that Banjo was simultaneously drawing funds from Biafra for all these supplies. Okonkwo sent Major Isichei to arrest Banjo for embezzlement, but they found that he had already left Benin and had left orders for all Midwest and Biafran soldiers to fall back to Agbor.
Okonkwo ordered his Midwest government to move from Benin to Asaba, which it did that day. The seat of the government was behind the textile factory, in homes once inhabited by expatriates. In August, Okonkwo tape-recorded five broadcasts to be used when possible. Those included the Declaration of Independence and the Proclamation of the Republic of Benin, as well as a decree setting up a Benin Central Bank, a Benin University, etc. The Republic of Benin Proclamation was delayed while the consent of the Oba of Benin was sought. Finally, just when the Oba had been convinced that the Republic was “best for his people,” the actions of Banjo were discovered and the Midwest seemed about to be lost, or at least Benin was undefended. Okonkwo went ahead with the broadcast early on 20 September 1967 in order to record for history that the Midwest was separate from Biafra. It was the last act of his government in Benin.
Early afternoon on 9 August, Banjo’s main force left Benin for Ijebu-Ode. It was composed of both Biafran and Midwest units. Midwest troops, who were mostly Igbo, had joined the “liberation army”. Commanding the Midwest forces with Banjo was Major Samuel Ogbemudia, who had been nursing the idea of defection. When the troops reached Ore and halted, Ogbemudia disappeared to later rejoin the Nigerian Army. Lt. Col Bisalla, acting Chief of Army Staff, confirmed that Ogbemudia, in the morning of 9 August, telephoned him precisely at 7:20am to inform him of the “trouble in Benin.”
According to Standish Brooks, the US Defense Attaché, Ogbemudia was the first Nigerian officer to attend American Military School’s counterinsurgency course in Fort Bragg, 1961. Brooks said after his arrival in Lagos on 9 September 1967, Ogbemudia said: “He escaped with a small group of non-Ibo troops from the Benin garrison and have been waging a guerrilla warfare against Eastern units. Having run out of ammo, he made his way back to Lagos.”
Army Headquarters believed him and Brooks’ report further stated: “Ogbemudia would be sent to the headquarters of Second Division in Auchi to assist in operational planning because of his intimate knowledge of the Midwest area and his recent experience in the Midwest under Eastern control.”
From 20 September onwards, the Midwest and Biafran Army began to fall apart. The 17th Battalion in Ikom mutinied and fled. So did the 12th and 16th Battalion in the Midwest.
In the evening of 22 September, the Midwest paymaster, Col. Morah, from Eze near Onicha Olona, offered an American expatriate in Asaba £3, 000 if the American would arrange for Morah to get $5,000 upon his arrival in the United States. This would have been a profit of about $3, 400 to the American. The offer was refused. Later on September 25, Morah disappeared with £33, 000, the document said. This was the time six NAF planes went on reconnaissance and reported back to the Defence Headquarters that they had noticed “heavy movements of civilians over the bridge from Asaba to Onitsha,” but did not have the details. On 27 September, Okonkwo called a meeting of all Midwest civil servants, where he said if the Nigerian Army reached Agbor, he would close the Onitsha Bridge. He would not let the civil servants abandon the population of Asaba to the inevitable massacre when the Federal Army reached the town. The people of Asaba knew by this time of the killings of Igbos in Benin when the federal forces reached it on 20 September. Everyone assumed that it would happen in Asaba.
From 20 September, there were no Biafran soldiers stationed west of Umunede, east of Agbor.
On 1 October, Midwest commanders in Umunede and Igueben, south of Ubiaja on the Auchi-Agbor Road, fled from their positions. Their Biafran subordinates promptly retreated. Constant streams of retreating Biafran and Midwest troops filed through Asaba on 2 and 3 October. The Biafrans were usually mounted in vehicles, while the Midwesterners had to walk. The attitude of the Biafran soldiers and officers was that they would not fight for the Midwest if the Midwest Army did not want to fight. In Asaba on 2 October, the elders and chiefs met to consider sending a delegation to the approaching Nigerian Army to surrender the town and ask for protection in return for help in finding and capturing Biafran soldiers in the town. Cadet Uchei, who brought soldiers to stop the delegation with death threats, thwarted this effort. At this time, some 35 non-Igbos were rounded up and given shelter at St. Patrick’s College, Asaba.
Twice, Cadet Uchei brought soldiers to kill the refugees and arrest the Americans in charge of the school. On the first occasion, Lt. Christian Ogbulo, ADC to Okonkwo, stopped the attempt. Cadet Williams from Ogwashi-Uku brought soldiers to rescue only the Americans from Uchei’s second attempt. Also on 2 October, Col. Chukwurah, who had been the commanding officer at Agbor, came to Asaba and told the Midwest Army HQ staff that he had overthrown Okonkwo and he was now military governor of the Midwest. Chukwurah fled across the bridge to Biafra before nightfall.
Only two of the officers of the Midwest Army were known not to have fled from battle during the campaign: Major Joe Isichei (who was a Lieutenant on August 9) and Lt-Col. Joe Achuzia. Gathering a few soldiers, they attempted to shoot their way out. Okwechime was seen in Onitsha at this time; he had been wounded. By the evening of 2 October, the Midwest Army was completely dissolved.
From 6 a.m on 4 October, machine gun-and mortar fire was heard near Asaba, but the direction was uncertain. It was later discovered that the firing came from Asaba-Isele-Uku Road. At about 1p.m, as the staff members of St. Patrick’s College were leaving the dining room, the first mortar shell landed on the school football field. Mortar shelling continued until dusk. Federal troops reached the northern edge of the campus, along the Asaba-Agbor Road, at about 5p.m. By noon of 5 October, there were six battalions lining up on the road in front of the college, according to Captain Johnson, who was third in command of the 71st Battalion. By the evening of 6 October, Federal forces held the road all the way into the Catholic Mission, two miles inside Asaba. Biafran resistance west of the Niger was over.
Major Alani Akinrinade commanded the 71st Battalion. (Akinrinade in a clarification, said his command was the 6th Brigade and truly he was in Asaba at this time.
His second in command was a Tiv officer, older than Alani. The men of this battalion were mostly Yoruba and Tiv, with some Delta (Ijaw) men. “Most spoke English. They were disciplined, courageous and polite,” the American report stated.
Captain Johnson ordered the Americans to leave Asaba by the morning of 6 October. The reason was understood to be that the 71st Battalion was unable to guarantee their safety from the “second wave” of federal soldiers, known as “the Sweepers” coming behind. “The Sweepers” were only briefly observed, but they wore long hair, had “cross-hatching tribal marks on both cheeks” and apparently willing to live up to their reputation as “exterminators.” According to secret cables sent from American embassies in Niger and Chad to the Embassy and consulates in Nigeria, thousands of Nigeriens and Chadians crossed the border to enlist for the war.
Ten trucks of Nigerien soldiers were seen being transported for service in the Nigerian Army from Gusau to Kaduna and over 2,000 more waiting on Niger-Nigeria border for transportation to Kaduna. The secret document went on: “1,000 Chadian soldiers passed through Maiduguri en route Kaduna. These mercenary soldiers constituted the “Sweepers.” The captured American teachers aptly observed that there were soldiers regarded as fighting soldiers and there were other units that came behind to conduct mass exterminations.
Major Alani, it was understood, was trying to get as many civilians as possible into the bush before the sweepers could arrive.
On the 5 October, when they came, a lieutenant attempted to arrest the American teachers at St. Patrick’s College and their non-Igbo refugees, who had hidden from retreating but still vicious Biafran troops.
Captain Johnson quickly summoned Major Alani. The lieutenant claimed to be acting for a “Major Jordane,” but a check proved this as false. Alani sent the lieutenant and his men away and posted a guard to the school until the staff and refugees left Asaba. There were too many civilians to be executed that Captain Paul Ogbebor and his men were asked to get rid of a group of several hundred Asaba citizens rounded up on 7 October. Not wanting to risk insubordination, he marched the contingent into the bush, told the people to run and had his men fire harmlessly into the ground. Eyewitness accounts confirmed that he performed the same life-saving deception in Ogwashi-Uku.
However, other civilian contingents the sweepers rounded up were shot behind the Catholic Mission and their bodies thrown into the Niger River. This incident and many others were reported to Colonel Arthur Halligan, the US military attaché in Nigeria at that time, the document concluded.
At night on 19 September, Banjo was arrested in Agbor. He was court martialed in Enugu three days later. Okonkwo participated in the court-martial and Ojukwu was present too. Banjo was found guilty, together with Emmanuel Ifeajuna (“the man from Ilaah who shot Abubakar” –the Prime Minister), Phillip Alale and Sam Agbam.
Bob Barnard, American consul in Enugu, said Ojukwu told him that he ordered the killing of Banjo, Ifeajuna, Alale and Agbam because they had planned to oust him from office, oust Gowon as well and install Awolowo as Prime Minister. The American military attaché, Arthur Halligan and Brooks, the Defense Attaché who had some prior intimation of the coup cabled the Defense Intelligence Agency in Washington 3 August 1967 that “in the long run, Njoku will unseat Ojukwu.”
Ojukwu told Barnard: “The plotters intended to take Brigadier Hillary Njoku, the head of Biafran Army into custody and bring him to the State House under heavy armed guard ostensibly to demand of him that Njoku be relieved of command on the grounds of incompetence.” They had been behind the withdrawal of troops and reverses of prior Biafran victories. He continued: “Once inside the State House, Njoku’s guards would be used against him. Ifeajuna would then declare himself acting Governor and offer ceasefire on Gowon’s terms. Banjo would go to the West and replace Brigadier Yinka Adebayo, the military governor of Western Region. Next, Gowon would be removed and Awolowo declared Prime Minister of Reunited Federation…Victor Banjo, Ifeajuna and others kept in touch with co-conspirators in Lagos via British Deputy High Commission’s facilities in Benin.”
When the American consul asked Ojukwu for evidence, Ojukwu replied: “Banjo is a very meticulous man who kept records and notes of everything he did. The mistake of the plotters was they talked too much, their moves too conspicuous and they made notes. As a result, the conspirators came under surveillance from the early stages of the plot’s existence. Their plans then became known and confirmed by subsequent events.”
In a separate document, Clint Olson, American Deputy Chief of Mission wrote: “Much of the information recounted came from Major (Dr.) Okonkwo. Banjo freely admitted in his testimony that a group of Yorubas on both sides of the battle were plotting together to take over Lagos and Enugu governments and unite Nigeria under Chief Awolowo. Gowon, Ojukwu, and Okonkwo were to be eliminated; Gowon was to have been killed by Yoruba officers in the Federal Army.”
The document stated further: “When arrested on the night of 19 – 20th September, Banjo offered no resistance because he said then it was too late to stop the affair and the plot was already in motion. His role, Banjo said, was already accomplished. As far as is known, Banjo died without revealing the names of his collaborators in Lagos.”
Before Banjo got to Enugu after his arrest, Okonkwo had telephoned Gowon to warn him of a threat to his life. Okonkwo said he was afraid that the assassination of Gowon would prevent the Heads of State Mission of the Organization of African Unity from coming to Nigeria. The OAU mission held the best hope of resolving the war, Okonkwo believed.
Whether Ojukwu knew of or agreed with Okonkwo’s warning to Gowon was not known. However according to the American Olson, roadblocks appeared in many places in Lagos and were severely enforced. They were removed after about 48 hours as mysteriously as they had appeared.
Gowon, in an exclusive interview with New Nigeria after Banjo revealed himself as the head of an invading army, said he once met Banjo and Ojukwu in 1965 during the crisis that followed the 1964 parliamentary elections. They were discussing the merits of the army taking over governance.
Meanwhile on 10th August 1967, at 9:25pm NNS Lokoja, (Nigeria’s only landing craft) left Lagos again with supplies to reinforce the activities of Adekunle’s 3Marine Commandos(3MCDS). Two weeks before, she had taken two battalions – the first consignment of the 35,000 men strong Division to Bonny. The Biafran Navy comprised speedboats, tug boats, barges commandeered from the oil companies and canoes and rafts of fishermen.
NNS Ibadan a Second World War British navy Seaward Defence Boat with a 40/60mm Bofors anti-aircraft forehead that could hardly fire three rounds without jamming was the command ship of this Navy. She was proudly rechristened BNS Biafra. Commander Winifred Anuku, head of the Biafran Navy had mapped out a plan to arm an old dilapidated dredging ship with hidden artilleries and several companies in its well and deck fittings. Seeing it was old and non-military, one of the NNS enforcing the blockade would be confident to approach her and interrogate her, they reckoned. Then they would quickly open fire on the upper deck of the Nigerian ship, over power her and walk her to their Naval Dockyard in Port Harcourt as the new Biafran sea jewel. Three days in sea, no NNS approached. Lt Cdr P.J. Odu the commander of this planned piracy reported back to Anuku: “no enemy ship sighted 20miles offshore.” He then dismissed the naval blockade as “propaganda to convince friendly countries from sending shipments of arms.” When James Parker, the UK Deputy High Commissioner stationed in Enugu and Bob Barnard, his American counterpart met Ojukwu and asked him about the rumoured invasion from the sea, Ojukwu simply spread his teeth surrounded by his bushy beard. “He laughed at the thought that the Nigerian Navy could enforce a blockade of Biafran ports or mount amphibious on Biafran coasts with its winding creeks and primordial mangrove swamp running twenty miles inland,” Barnard wrote. “He said he doesn’t know where the Nigerian naval vessels go when they depart Lagos but they are not, repeat, not patrolling off the coast of Biafra.”
Unknown to the Biafrans, NNS Penelope the command ship of the Nigerian Navy had been summoned with all her sisters including the five taking turns to enforce the blockade to the Naval Dockyard in Apapa. By 1800hrs on 18th July 1967, they were all there. Also assembled were three merchant vessels from the Nigerian National Shipping Line, King Jaja, Oranyan, Bode Thomas and later Oduduwa and Warigi from Farrell Lines. They were there to rehearse a joint Army and Navy amphibious operation which was later variously described as “masterpiece in the history of warfare in Africa, ”“the first of its kind by any 3rd world country,” “the African version of Omaha Beach landings that turned the tide of the Second World War.”
By the 25th July, the invasion to stamp Federal boots on the Niger Delta and close in on Biafra from the south was launched. The three Seaward Defence Boats(SDBs) NNS Ogoja, Benin, Enugu, proceeded into Bonny river channel while NNS Nigeria, a frigate, stood on the high seas guarding NNS Lokoja with its human cargo. Because of her longer range 4 inch battery, Nigeria was still able to provide support for the operational objectives of the three SDBs ahead. NNS Ogoja the largest of the SDB spotted BNS Biafra heading downstream. She quickly sheared away from the convoy to engaged her. Once Biafra came within her range, Ogoja volleyed thunderous shots in rapid successions and Biafra replied feebly and its Bofors guns kept on jamming after three shots. Akin Aduwo commanding Ogoja and P.J. Odu commanding Biafra were colleagues and very good friends for years and the war had made them reached a point where one must destroy the other for the greater glory of his country.
While the engineers were fixing this jam, Biafra was trying to quickly manoeuvre round in a tight circle so that it won’t be in a broadsides range with Ogoja hence becoming a turkey shoot. Then she got stuck in the shallow end of the river. Adunwo depressed his guns, fired low at the stern to jam the engines and propellers. That ensured Biafra was going nowhere again. His friend and his crew quickly deserted the ship and escaped into the swamps. The tow tug boat Abdul Maliki later came to tow BNS Biafra back to Naval Dockyard in Lagos where it was rechristened NNS Ibadan. Ogoja returned to join Benin and Enugu never realising that the fight between friends, the desertion of Biafra, its rechristening in Lagos would be the metaphor for the 30 months civil war.
The heavy fire from Enugu, Benin and Ogoja so thoroughly subdued the Biafran defensive positions on Bonny Island that resistance to the NNS Lokoja’s troop landings were too scattered to make an impact. Not only was this D Company under the Biafran 8th Battalion of Port Harcourt too small to defend Bonny, they went on offensive when the ships were not within range, hence easily giving away their stations. Hence Federal SDBs didn’t have to recourse to indiscriminate shelling to subdue the island which may have affected the oil installations and refinery jetties. US Defence Attaché’s noted in his secret report of 27th July 1967, Gowon, was “overjoyed” when Adekunle reported that Bonny had been taken with “no damage to the oil installations.” All the 16 storage tanks with their 3.9 million crude oil were intact. Quickly, they consolidated their positions on both sides of the river channel and by mid-morning 5th August, Dawes Island which controls river channels leading to Okrika were in Adekunle’s hands.
On the 10th of August, Adekunle received report from Supreme Headquarters that a whole Biafran Brigade had crossed the Niger Bridge and they had split in Agbor. Some battalions were heading northwards towards Auchi and Agenebode, some were heading westwards to Benin and more pertinently to him, some were heading southwards to Warri and Sapele. So the 3MCDs made immediate plans to respond to this Biafran surprise. First Adekunle knew that this Biafran invasion may be a tactical objective whose overall mission imperative was the recapture of Bonny. Biafran Navy Headquarters in Port Harcourt cannot feel safe knowing that a Nigerian brigade was stationed 35km away at Bonny. What Adekunle did was to quickly redeploy the 7th and 32nd battalions to the Forcados and Escravos creeks 166 nautical miles away to contain any advance of Biafran troops to the creeks. The 8th battalion proceeded to hold a defensive alignment with Port Harcourt.
Major Abubakar’s 9th Battalion left to hold Bonny Island and perform rear operations. The NNS that were bringing in supplies, equipment, personnel were re-routed 166 nautical miles back to Forcados and Escravos. The Nigerian national line cargo vessel, Oranyan which on the 8th of August had departed from Lagos and arrived in Bonny with supplies, equipment and some personnel was ordered unload at the village of Sobolo-Obotobo which is northwest of Forcados. At 6:30am on the 11th of August, NNS Enugu had left Bonny River and was on recce in Escravos River in case there were militarised speedboats, tugs or barges lurking somewhere. None. At 9am, NNS Lokoja disgorged two additional rifle companies at Escravos and they quickly established defensive positions there. On the 13th of August, MV Bode Thomas added more supplies, equipment and personnel reinforcements. The build-up continued.
To the annoyance of Adekunle who arguably was the most successful war commanders in Nigeria’s military history, a new Division was created and called 2nd Division headed by Lt Col Murtala Muhammad while his own formation despite the success of his mission so far was not upgraded to a Divisional strength. With the addition of 31st and 33rd Battalion, he was upgraded to 3rd Marine Commando Division. Muhammad’s 2nd comprised three brigades 4th, 5th, 6th Brigades commanded by Lt Cols Godwin Ally, Francis Aisida, Alani Akinrinade. Their mission imperative was to rout the Biafran forces from the Midwest by invading from the West, Northwest and North.
Ally’s 4th Brigade (which was to be later commanded by Major Ibrahim Taiwo CO of the 10th Battalion because a sniper fire hit Ally in the chest in Asaba and almost killed him) was on the Ore, Ofosu, Okitipupa sector holding a defensive alignment against Banjo’s advance. Akinrinade’s 6th Brigade was tasked with Owo-Akure sector and Aisida’s 5th was the command Brigade in Okene with Auchi, Ubiaja being their strategic objectives and Benin, Agbor, and Asaba being their operational objectives. All the brigade commanders were waiting for a sign. In his report of 24th August 1967, Standish Brooks, US defence Attaché wrote: “Murtala Muhammad does not want to fight a piecemeal campaign without a series of logical and successive objectives being assigned and without reasonable capabilities to achieve the objectives at hand.” Bisalla, the Chief of Staff(Army) said of Murtala, I know him “when he starts he wants to go all the way to the River[Niger] before he even thinks of stopping.” But he needed the sign first and his brigade commanders were waiting too. Tick-tock.
Besides the military communication units, the army headquarters in Lagos, at times used the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation to transmit information to all the divisional headquarters and brigade commanders. It could be done during radio programmes, news bulletins or radio jingles. They public heard these secret codes but they thought they were part of the show. But on the 20th of September 1967, at 8 o’clock in the morning NBC broadcast the sign the field commanders had been waiting for. “The frogs are swimming; the frogs are swimming.” The CIA’s Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS)monitored and recorded key signals, statements and speech about the war from every radio station in Nigeria, Biafra and neighbouring countries. And they shared them with American Diplomatic/Consular units, CICSTRIKE (Commander In Chief STRIKE – Swift Tactical Response In Every Known Environment), ACSI (Assistant Chief of Staff, Intelligence), CINCMEAFSA(Commander in Chief Middle East/South Asia and Africa South of the Sahara) and DIA (Defence Intelligence Agency). Standish Brooks, their Attaché posted to Nigeria analysed The frogs are swimming intelligence thus: “this informed the 2nd Division and the guerrilla bands operating in various areas of the Midwest that elements of Adekunle’s 3rd Division are already ashore from the Escravos/Forcados creeks.”
Hastily marshalled Midwestern militias had been dealing fires to the Biafran occupiers. It was reported that Urhobo, Ijaw and Itsekiri swimmers were diving underwater and organising surprising attacks on Biafran units and formations along the Ethiope River. In Benin too they reminded themselves they were the city of Ovonramwen Nogbaisi and these Biafran forces were the latest version of the British expedition forces of the 19th century. And so rapidly, young men were organising themselves as into deadly underground resistance groups, old people who could not fight were contributing money and their dane guns; young women like Moremi were reported to be offering their bodies to get close to these Biafran forces and poison their food. The Midwest must be made inhospitable for Biafran agenda.
The frogs are swimming. Adekunle and his 3MCDOs left their Escravos base at 3am and they were blazing towards their objectives on speedboats. The boats held a platoon of 26 troops and the ones that carried a Land Rover each could only take 12 soldiers. With NNS Enugu providing the operational support, seven hours later, they had secured the ports of Koko and Sapele. They forked into two columns: One headed towards Warri and by 22nd of September, they had captured the Warri port and the ECN power station in Ughelli. The frogs are swimming. The other column headed northeast to Agbor on Sapele/Agbor Road. And a northern column from the 6th Brigade of the 2nd Division was heading south east to Agbor too via Ehor-Agbor Road. The following day, 26th of September 1967, Agbor fell. To keep up the momentum, Lagos send in 5000 German G3 7.62 rifles to be issued to marine commandoes. The riverine operation of the 3MCDs was billed to be defining in its ruthless efficiency because the federal government wanted to use it especially to send a message to the oil companies suspending royalty payments who their boss was: Nigeria or Biafra. The American secret cable of 3rd July stated that Shell-BP was convinced that “Biafra was here to stay and that Ojukwu would be kind to the company.”
The 2nd Division too had been moving rapidly on its objectives. The frogs are swimming. After the fall of Ubiaja, Muhammad divided the new 8th Brigade reassigned from the 5th Brigade into two columns. As of the night of 21st September 1967, a column was at the village of Ekpon 20km away from Agbor on Uromi-Agbor Road. The other column was at that time was in the village of Ebu blazing towards Asaba which was 40km away. Elements of the 6th brigade were at Okeze village heading towards Agbor after capturing Benin. In seven days, Ore, Benin, Agbor, Asaba, Kwale, Warri, Sapele fell; Ojukwu fled.
The 3MCDs were asked to pull back from Agbor and Kwale and the Ethiope River was made into the interdivisional boundary with the 2nd Division. On 29th September at 1550hrs, CIA’s Foreign Broadcast Information Service recorded Adekunle on Benin Radio warning Midwesterners: “not to take advantage of the presence of federal troops to engage in looting, murder, and other criminalities.” Addressing the people of Warri, western Ishekiri, Agbor, he warned against using soldiers to achieve “personal vendettas.” Adekunle reminded his listeners that “he has powers to impose martial law in coastal areas but does not wish to do so.” He then signed himself off as General Officer Commanding Nigerian Coastal Sector.” It wasn’t only Adekunle made Colonel after the successful Bonny Island landing that promoted himself again without the approval of Lagos. On 21st of September, Murtala Mohammed went on the same Benin Radio, as monitored by the CIA, to “officially confirm the complete liberation of the Midwestern state except Agbor and Asaba” as the GOC of the second division when he was only a lieutenant Colonel. He then announced “on behalf of the head of the Federal military government” the appointment of “Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Ogbemudia as the temporary administrator.” Gowon and the federal executive council were reported to have been “shocked” but they “regularised the appointment since Ogbemudia was the most appropriate for the job.” Another document titled Military Campaign in the Midwest recorded “Ogbemudia’s father is of mixed Benin-Ika extraction, as his home village near Agbor is inhabited by a tribally mixed people. Ogbemudia’s mother is ‘pure Ibo’ from the East.”
Later in the evening, Ogbemudia came to radio to address the people. The CIA was listening too. He asked all workers to resume work on the morning of September 22 and voided all the appointments and promotions made by the Biafran regime. He asked the people not to “pay back Ibos in their own coin” and announced the the lifting of the curfew imposed by the Biafran regime. However, he advised people to keep indoors after 10:00pm “to allow the federal troops to complete the operation of mopping few relining stragglers.” But why after 10pm in the night?
On Wednesday 20 September 1967, federal troops opened a barrage of fire on a Catholic Convent in Benin City. There was only one nun there and she managed to escape with a few injuries. The soldiers subsequently said they were told by the local people that some Igbos were hiding behind the convent and so the opened fire on anything that moved. Furthermore, while Bishop Patrick Kelly was giving spiritual comfort to one Igbo civilian who was badly wounded, some soldiers approached him, enquired whether he was yet dead. When the Bishop said he was still alive, they promptly killed him. The bishop made a report to the Irish ambassador who subsequently gave Gowon and the American ambassador too.
The cold-blooded massacres in Midwest were not monopolised by the federal troops only. In a confidential report of 15 October 1967 recorded that, “as the Biafrans retreated from Benin to Agbor, they killed all the men, women and children they could find who were not Igbos. The town of Abudu, one of the larger places between Agbor and Benin lost virtually of its population with the exception of a small proportion that fled into the bush.” The British expatriate teacher, Anthony Charles Stephens was killed there when he refused to surrender his car to the retreating Biafran forces. Father Coleman an Irish SSMA priest said before Biafran troops left Agbor “without a fight” they killed off most of “non-Ibo men, women and children.”
In general, the American confidential report stated, non-Igbo Midwesterners were very anti-Biafran throughout the occupation. Many of them hid Northerners in their houses for weeks away from the Biafran troops who set out to kill them. The document continued: “Nearly all rejoiced when federal troops came in. The only town that was an exception was Ehor where even after the federal troops arrived, the local populace was protecting the Igbo soldiers and tried to confuse the federal troops.” However in Benin, there was no intention to confuse at all; “the civilians were busy pointing out the Ibos.” So the federal troops set up “two big camps to serve as safe havens in a school for the Ibos. The women and children were taken there,” the report said. But the men? Sam Idah, the director of the Benin Cemetery on Ifon Road told the American diplomats that day (21/09/67), 24 hours after the federal troops arrived 1,258 bodies have been buried there. “Trucks from the ministry of work and transport and from Benin development council were used to haul the corpses to the open pits.” Rev Rooney a Catholic Missionary with Benin Public Service said “a total of 989 civilians had been killed that day in the city.”
Ambassador Elbert Mathews noted that “with the capture of the Midwest and the fall of the Biafran capital within days, the Federal Government senses eventual military victories and was in no mood for outside criticisms.” And so the massacres went on unchecked. Their report in the international media encouraged some diplomatic recognition for Biafra and arms shipments which prolonged the war for another 27 months. (Oblong Media)