Untold Story Of The Massacre Of Igbos At Kano Railway And The Need For Biafra -- US-Based Historian, Rudolf (A Must Read)
On 25th of November, 2000, Rudolf Okonkwo penned down this persuavive and wholisitc account of the Nigeria civil war, aptly called pogrom against the Biafrans, with a guided argument on the necessity for the existence of Biafra. It is entitled "Jabotinsky, Zionism & The Biafran Imperative."
Please, have a delightful read...
“The Federation of Nigeria is today as corrupt, as unprogressive and as oppressive and irreformable as the Ottoman Empire was in Eastern Europe over a century ago. And in contrast, the Nigerian Federation in the form it was constituted by the British cannot by any stretch of imagination be considered an African necessity. Yet we are being forced to sacrifice our very existence as a people to the integrity of that ramshackle creation that has no justification either in history or in the freely expressed wishes of the people.”...Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu,
In 1915, Hermann Cohen, a German-Jewish philosopher declared, “The Jewish people do not need a state of their own. Nor may they have one, for a state is particularistic, and in conflicts with the Jewish messianic mission, which is universal.” Twenty five years after that statement, synagogues all over Germany and Austria were being set ablaze, Jewish stores were being vandalized and hundreds of Jews were taken off in truckloads to concentration camps.
During that era, a boat named St Louis was on the Atlantic carrying German and Austrian Jews fleeing Europe. The Jewish refugees had Cuban visas but upon arriving in Cuba, many of the visas were found to be phony. Over 900 men, women and children were turned back by Cuba. All efforts to secure a safe haven for them in the continent of America failed. No country would take them. The American secretary of state would not take them neither would the Canadians. A Canadian immigration officer told leading Jews who came to plead on behalf of the 900 “to gather in the synagogue and meditate on the question of why Jews were so universally disliked.” The boat returned to Europe and some of the Jews who were not lucky to be taken by the British ended up in other European countries where the German invaders caught up with them and murdered them.
These Jews would have had a place to go if there was a Jewish state.
On September 29, 1966, Mr. T. George, a native of Idoma, a senior train officer in Kano and a member of Nasara Club, requested that an announcement be made over Kano Rediffusion Network to the effect that a passenger train would be leaving Kano for Eastern Region on October 2nd. The announcement called on all those wishing to travel to report at the railway station on October 1st. Over 700 Igbos packed all the essentials they owned and gathered at the train station. At 7:00 a.m. on Sunday, the 2nd of October 1969, a group of soldiers took Mr. Lekettey, a Ghanaian and Mr. Paul I. Okwawa (an Igbo who was pretending to be a Ghanaian just to stay alive) to the train station to show the two ‘how they have dealt with Okpara’s brothers and sisters’. In his testimony to the Atrocities Tribunal set up by the Eastern Nigerian Government to look into the pogrom of 1966, Paul I. Okwawa narrated what he saw thus:
In this present direction, there may not be a true Igbo alive anywhere in the world. The death of the Igbo language, Igbo culture, and Igbo ways of life would then be a fact accomplished. “They took us to the Railway Station in an army Landrover. And there, we saw a sight which I would never like to see again until I am dead. Over 700 men, women, and children had been mowed down - they had been killed while they were waiting for a train to take them to our region. A few of the children were still creeping over their dead mothers, shouting, ‘Mama, I am hungry; I want to drink’. Some were trying to suck their dead mothers’ breasts! I left them to suck on!”
If there were a Biafran state, these 700 would have been safely airlifted out of enemy territory.
The idea of a Jewish state was first made popular by Theodor Herzl. Born in Budapest and studied law in Vienna, Herzl dedicated his life to literature and journalism. In 1891, Herzl was sent to France by a Viennese newspaper. In France, Herzl was shocked to find out that in the land of the French Revolution, anti-Semitism was well and alive. During his days in France, Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish French officer was falsely charged for giving French military documents to German agents. A political controversy that followed led to an outburst of anti-Semitism in France. The Dreyfus affair made Herzl to believe that “as long as anti-Semitism existed, assimilation would be impossible, and the only solution for majority of Jews would be organized emigration to a state of their own.” In 1896, Herzl published The Jewish State, where he advocated the establishment of a Jewish state. His friends thought it was a mad idea but the pamphlet got favorable responses and soon turned him into a career organizer and propagandist.. In 1897, Herzl organized the first Zionist Congress in Basel. During the Congress attended by Jews from around the world, he declared that “We want to lay the foundation stone for the house, which will become the refuge of the Jewish nation. Zionism is a return to Judaism even before the return to the land of Israel.”
Herzl died of a heart ailment on July 3rd, 1904 while the Zionist Movement was still debating whether to accept the British offer to establish a Jewish settlement in Uganda after the Sultan of Turkey blocked the proposed Jewish settlement in Sinai Peninsula. But before Herzl died, he had met 24 year old Ze’eV Vladimir Jabotinsky at the Zionist Congress of 1904 in Basel.
Ze’eV Vladimir Jabotinsky was born in Odessa, Russia, on October 18, 1880. His father, a merchant who was held in high esteem by their community died when he was still a young boy. In his early years, he studied Hebrew, but his formal education was in a Russian school. His outstanding literary talent manifested itself from the very beginning. As a high school student, he translated Edgar Allen Poe’s famous work -The Raven, into Russia, and Dante’s work, into Hebrew. At the age of 18, the Russian daily, the Odesskie Novosti sent him to Switzerland as their correspondent. At the same time, he explored the inherent linguistic genius in him and acquired knowledge of English, German, French and Italian. In 1091, he returned to Russia and began to write a column for the newspaper. He soon became one of the most popular columnists in Russia. He translated into Russian poems and other classic literary works. He also wrote his own plays, novels and poetry.
In 1903, a wave of anti-Jewish pogroms in Russia converted him into an active fighter for Zionism. He devoted all his time and resources to championing the Zionist cause, in the process subordinating his other literary and journalistic activities. Famous Russian writers like Maxim Gorki complained that Zionists had stolen him from Russian literature where a great future awaited him. His devotion to Jewish and Zionist politics was seen as a loss to Russian literature. When he died in August 3, 1940, in New York, he was remembered as a Zionist leader, journalist, orator, and a man of letters who founded the militant Zionist Revisionist movement that played an important role in the establishment of the State of Israel.
When in May 30, 1967, the Military Governor of the then Eastern Nigeria, Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, abiding by the resolutions of the joint session of the Advisory Committee of Chiefs and Elders and the Consultative Assembly of the Representative of the People, declared the Republic of Biafra, he did so not just as a survivalist's maneuver but rather as an imperative. Contrary to what revisionist historians are now claiming, the pogrom of 1966 was neither an isolated incident nor was it a reaction to one particular event in history. It was rather an escalation of what had been a continuous and systematic dislike, discrimination and massacre of Igbos in Nigeria. It happened in Jos in 1945. It happened in Kano in 1953. And just like the Jews know, Hitler’s Germany did not suddenly come out of the blues. It had a great lot of precedence.
In a report compiled by a British Administrative officer after the 1953 massacre in Kano, the officer warned, “No amount of provocation, short-term or long-term, can in any way justify their behavior…the seeds of the trouble which broke out in Kano on May 16 (1953) have their counterparts still in the ground. It could happen again, and only a realization and acceptance of the underlying causes can remove the danger of recurrence.”
Of course, there was no realization by neither the Nigerian government nor the Igbos themselves. There was neither a search nor an acceptance of the underlying causes. 13 years after, when it reoccurred, it took the lives of millions.
Northern Nigeria of 1962 and 1963 was very hostile to Igbos. Ibo-must-go was a campaign many Northern political elite were encouraging. In existence was a Sardauna Brigade, a para-military organization maintained as a private army by the then Premier of Northern Nigeria but used as an instrument to intimidate Igbos especially after the controversial National Census of 1962-1963 that Igbos amongst other Nigerians contested the population figures produced by the North. In speeches after speeches at the Northern House of Assembly, antagonism against the Igbos were building up. There were calls to revoke all Certificates of Occupancy from the hands of the Igbos resident in the region. To-do-away-with-Igbos became the region's policy. In a 1964 speech in the House, Alhaji Usman Lima declared, “Mr. Chairman, the North is for Northerners, East is for Easterners, West is for Westerners and the Federation is for all.” The house applauded him. And so was Alhaji Mustafa Ismaila Zanna Dujuna who declared that “First Northerners, second expatriates and third, non-northerners”.
These outbursts, prelude to the war was not simply dissident voices. Alhaji Ibrahim Musa Gashash, O.B.E, Minister of Land and Survey, told the house the following, “I would like to assure Members that having heard their demands about Ibos holding land in Northern Nigeria, my ministry will do all it can to see that the demands of Members are met. How to do this, when to do it, all these should not be disclosed. In the course, you will all see what will happen.” During this time, NPC, the northern political party published “SALAMA: Facts must be faced” a booklet that launched a vicious and devastating attack on Igbos. At the same time, the government of Western Nigeria published UPCAISM. This booklet blamed Igbo strangers of exploiting the land and resources of the Western region. What followed was the purging of Igbos from government positions.
After the death of Herzl, Jabotinsky became the primary symbol of the Zionist movement. An outstanding orator, he employed his skills towards “ a dynamic and militant stand on behalf of maximal Zionist fulfillment.” He drew up concepts and formulated new ideas. In series of articles and lectures, he presented comprehensive Zionist programs. He visited Palestine where he perfected his Hebrew and obtained a first hand understanding of the situation on the ground. He did not limit his activities to the search for a Jewish state; he also began a campaign for the revival of Hebrew language. He translated classic books into Hebrew, and canvassed for Hebrew Day schools and community Universities for Jews in the Diaspora. He made every effort to prepare Jews in Diaspora for a return to Palestine. All along, he was bitterly opposed by Jewish assimilationists but loved by the youths. The assimilationists felt that rather than helping matters, Jabotinsky was fanning the amber of Jewish hatred. The assimilationists wanted to play it safe, be subdued, and avoid upsetting the world around them.
In 1917, Jabotinsky convinced the British to establish three Jewish battalions that fought against the Turks in Palestine. Jabotinsky enlisted as a private, took active part in the fighting under General Allenby. He was soon promoted into a Lieutenant. At the end of 1919, as the British demobilized, Jabotinsky fought to retain an armed Jewish Legion that would protect Jewish communities but was frustrated by the British. In 1920, however, Jabotinsky was stripped of his commission in Palestine for leading a Jewish Self-Defense Corps which he organized from Jewish legion soldiers. Jabctinsky’s corps had fought against Arabs who were massacring Jews in Jerusalem. For defending Jewish lives, the British sentenced him to 15 years in jail with hard labor. A worldwide outcry forced the British to free him. In 1921, he was elected to the World Zionist Executive and began to demand for mass immigration to Palestine and militant stand against the British anti-Zionist position.
In 1921 while on a visit to the United States with a delegation that included Prof. Albert Einstein, Professor Otto Warburg and Naham Sokolow, Jabotinsky heard about British plan to split that eastern part of the country known as Transjordan, from Palestine. The move caused misunderstanding amongst World Zionist Executives and Jabotinsky resigned in 1923. In 1925, in Paris, he proclaimed the creation of the World Union of Zionist Revisionists. From 1928-1929, Jabotinsky was in Palestine where he edited daily Hebrew newspaper “Doar Hayom”. Concerned about incessant Arab uprising usually instigated by the British, Jabotinsky formed an underground Jewish military force to defend Jews. When it was discovered by the British, Jabotinsky was barred from entering Palestine ever again.
Back in Europe, Jabotinsky preached Zionism. His mission, “The Jews in Palestine must not remain a minority, fed by a mere tickle of immigration, without arms for their protection, betrayed by the British Mandatory Power and ever threatened with extermination”. Jabotinsky fought against partition of Palestine and what he called “minimalism and against the whole atmosphere of constant compromise and surrender”. As pogroms continued in Palestine, he led those urging retaliation and opposed those advocating Harlage (self-restraint)
The Biafran surrender of 1970 did not bring an end to Igbo massacre. It did not because there was no realization by neither the Nigerian government nor the Igbos themselves that “the seeds of the trouble that led to the crises of the 60s have their counterparts still in the ground. There was neither a search nor an acceptance of the underlying causes.” It happened again many times in the 80s, 90s and again in the year 2000. In due course, it will happen again, until the Biafran imperative is addressed.
The Biafran surrender had not been the final. The continuous maltreatment and suspicion of Igbos had once again led to a Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra. The Igbo Herzl might have reached his twilight days but the Igbo’s Ze’eV Vladimir Jabotinsky is on his way. A Jabotinsky who would take a dynamic and militant stand on behalf of maximum Igbo fulfillment. A Jabotinsky who would oppose the current Igbo leadership comfort zone - zone where minimalism and an atmosphere of constant compromise and surrender are the order of the day.
Those who fought the first Biafran war did it for the next generation. They have placed in the heart of any Igbo born of any age, in any place on earth, that there is an option to living in fear and perpetual irrelevance. They knew that their chances were slim, but at the same time, they understood that it might be a small step for a generation but a giant step for the subsequent generation. Just like the Europeans corrupted the Igbo life, the new colonialism - the Nigerian colonialism - has continued in that pattern. Igbo self-hatred, identity crisis, assimilation and suppression all signified different forms of losses that could not have been had Biafra been actualized. The reversal of the first attempt at Biafra has been catastrophic. It will continue to get worse until a new beginning in the opposite direction is initiated and sustained.
In this present direction, there may not be a true Igbo alive anywhere in the world. The death of the Igbo language, Igbo culture, and Igbo ways of life would then be a fact accomplished.
The Biafran effort is imperative not because Nigeria failed, even though she did, but because there is no other way for Igbos to survive. Prior to the killings, the war and the intentional exclusion of Igbos in the affairs of Nigeria, one cannot speak of the Biafran imperative. This time of peace - relative peace, is not a time to relax. It is rather, a time to prepare for the worst. The worst which must come because there is no realization by neither the Nigerian government nor the Igbos themselves that “the seeds of the trouble which broke out in the past have their counterparts still in the ground. There was neither a search nor an acceptance of the underlying causes.” The Biafran effort is imperative not because other groups in Nigeria are preparing to bolt, but because there is no other way for Igbos to survive. Nigeria has refused to reform itself and Igbos must not “sacrifice their very existence as a people to the integrity of that ramshackle creation that has no justification either in history or in the freely expressed wishes of the people.” Even the eternal optimists who speed up when the traffic light is yellow are beginning to come to this sad conclusion.
Jabotinsky in 1938 warned Polish Jewry about an impending doom following the rise of Hitler. “Either you liquidate the Diaspora”, he cried, “or the Diaspora will liquidate you…whoever of you will escape from the catastrophe, he or she will live to see the exalted moment of a great Jewish wedding; the rebirth and the rise of a Jewish State. I don’t know if I will be privileged to see it; my son will. I believe in this as I am sure that tomorrow morning the sun will rise.” He formed Betar, a generation of Jews that was “bleeding itself for Jewish causes…a generation that was willing to endure anything - vilification, slander, personal attack and all disappointments, great and petty, that a man born ahead of his time must suffer.” As Jabotinsky talked about Zionism, he was implicitly talking about the Israel of the mind as Herzl noted; “Zionism is a return to Judaism even before the return to the land of Israel.” Igbos must begin the journey to Biafra, the homeland, through the road of Biafra of the mind. They must begin the search for their fast fading culture, language, norms and values. They must dig for their history, heritage and find a definition of what is home. Nigeria will not do none of these for them, rather, Nigeria, by its very nature would accelerate these losses.
Only those who believe in Santa Claus believe that we have seen the end of Igbo persecution in Nigeria. The genocide of the 60s has not been recognized for what it was. In some quarters, it has even been denied. A huge monument ought to have been built by all cities in the north where Igbos were massacred as a reminder, as a confession, and as a vow that never again… The crime against Igbos should have no statute of limitation. The real beginning of the trial and prosecution of the suspects will be that time when the state of Biafra stands on its own. There are, today, Igbo refugees and Igbo exiles. With a Biafran State, there will no longer be an Igbo refugee. The state of Biafra is an inevitable necessity for Igbos. They might as well begin to prepare for it as survivalists’ imperative while the Nigerian project continues on an irreversible wind down. They do not need to fight another war in order to get it. They need to demonstrate its imperative to them through self-determination anchored in consistency of purpose.
It is of destiny that Igbos should not only have their homeland, which they already have, but also their own state. That is divinity. The Igbo State is the invisible support that Igbos need if they have to survive in that precarious territory called Africa. To stop the degradation of Igbo life, faith and history, to return it to what it used to be, Igbos need their own state. No amount of steadfastness, submission and surrender will grant them peace and tranquility. Hermann Cohen was proved wrong about Jewish statehood by historical events. So shall those who opposed the establishment of an Igbo State. Whatever may be the universal mission of Igbo, a state will strengthen it rather than weaken it. All opposition to Igbo State will again be embarrassed as soon as one group in Nigeria reenacts a demonstration of the evil of Igbo powerlessness.
It could happen as early as tomorrow.
Addendum: For the purpose of clarity and simplicity of thought, this essay intentionally focused on the Igbos with no reference to the ethnic minorities in the former Eastern Nigeria, like the Ibibios and the Ijaws who share similar political and economic structure with Igbos. For better or for worse, their destiny will always be intertwined. And as has been proven over and over again, the tragedy of one of these ethnic groups is the tragedy of all of them.