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Igbo Losses Counted at Oputa Panel

By Emmanuel Onwubiko, The Guardian, 26 July 2001

Abuja—Dark memories of the Nigerian civil war echoed at the Justice Chukwudifu Oputa panel yesterday as Ohanaeze Ndigbo and the Arewa Consultative Forum engaged each other in a fierce dispute over the cause of the 1967-70 war.

Ohanaeze's presentation, which was articulated by Uche Chukwumerije, a former information minister, was hinged on a thesis that the North, working in concert with some other parts of the country, embarked on a deliberate programme to marginalise and exterminate the Igbo.

Ohanaeze said the 1966 coup was an expression of the anti-Igbo sentiment, explaining that the Igbo drew the ire of their persecutors because of their enterprise in all spheres human endeavour which led them to all areas of Nigeria.

But, Secretary to Arewa Forum, Col. Hammeed Ali disagreed when he hinted that the war was spurred by the 1966 coup which he said was an Igbo coup. He also tried to exonerate the North, saying Buhari's coup of December, 1983 was not a Northern coup.

Earlier, the Ohanaeze listed its major grouse as marginalisation.

According to the group, To help us understand our case on marginalisation and disempowerment, the petition defines this key concept. Marginalisation is purposeful denial of rights of some members of a given unit by some other members of the group who control the power of allocation of resources. Marginalisation must be understood as fundamentally different from marginality, which means loss of rights through self-inflicted under-development.

In all the realms of public endeavour, Ndi Ibgo have the requisite manpower and natural resources. But their rights to a fair share of Nigeria's resources have been consistently denied them by Federal authorities.

Continuing, the group stated that: It is necessary to emphasise the fundamental difference between Ndi Igbo's case of disempowerment and the new noisy national orchestra of marginalisation slogans most of which are raised to mock and trivialise our case. The distinctive difference is deliberate exclusion: ours is a case of deliberate exclusion of Ndi Igbo from common resources by a combination of ethnic groups which control the centre.

Indeed, the observed consistent pattern of discriminary and exclusionary responses of the Nigerian system to Ndi Igbo in the commanding heights of the polity suggests that our exclusion is not only deliberate but also malicious.

Ohaneze described marginalisation of the Igbo to mean the denial of right to life, right to means of livelihood, right to human dignity, right to freedom of movement, right to freedom from discrimination, right to acquire and own immovable property anywhere in Nigeria and other rights enshrined in the Constitution.

Tracing the alleged injustices against the Igbo before the civil war, he said The republican spirit of Ndi Igbo and their individual drive, expressing itself in a flair for fair competition in all spheres, encouraged them to exercise their citizenship rights all over Nigeria. The endeavours of Ndi Igbo, like those of other Nigerian citizens, were taking place in an atmosphere (so we thought) of brotherly debates and differences in our fledgling multi-ethnic democracy.

But Ndi Igbo soon began to notice sinister stains in the responses of some national leaders to their differences with Ndi Igbo. Public statements of leaders of ruling political groups in Northern and Western Nigeria began to betray a disposition to extermination or total expulsion of Ndi Igbo as their acceptable solution of what they now saw as Igbo problem. Speeches of Northern Nigeria Ministers, as recorded in Hansard of March, 1964, and the anti-Igbo incitements in a booklet, UPGAISM, published by Western Government (1965) portrayed the new mood.

The anti-Igbo mood, he further alleged, found a ready platform for explosion and used as a rallying cry to mobilise Northern Nigeria and some parts of the rest of the Federation to advance genocidal plot against Ndi Igbo. The fiction and falsehood of Igbo coup has long been admitted by some of the major actors in that episodes (example, Lt. Gen. T.Y Danjuma in Nigerian Civil War 1967-1970 edited by Major-General H.B. Momoh P.373).

According to Chukwumerije, the brewing genocidal mood served and in response to anti-Igbo incitements, Igbo citizens in Northern Nigeria were massacred in three waves of pogrom in most sadistic and inhuman methods that made Jewish holocaust appear like mercy killings. 50,000 Igbos were slaughtered. Some of the inhuman methods of slaughter were recorded in affidavits of eye witness.

He added: The massacres which evidently were well planned and co-ordinated by ruling authorities had the character of genocidal attacks on Ndi Igbo. The acquiescence of other ethnic groups in the rest of Nigeria emphasised the isolation and helplessness of Ndi Igbo. The insensitivity of the Federal Government and its failure to implement a peace agreement (the Aburi Accord) compounded the sense in security of Ndi Igbo. When the Federal Government proceeded with an economic blockage and ill-motivated balkanisation of Eastern Region, Ndi Igbo were left in no doubt that the genocidal plot had thickened. Eastern Nigeria was forced to declare the Republic of Biafra on May 29, 1967.

Ohanaeze continued: The petition offers a little, just little, glimpse into the enormity of the holocaust that forced us out of Nigeria - the masacre of Igbo women and children who were deceived into flocking to railway stations in search of passenger trains to take them home, forcible collection of Igbo female students from schools and herding of them into leper colonies, to be defiled by lepers; the slaughtering in the transit zone of Middle-Belt of Igbo refugees who managed to escape the wrath of far North; the refusal virtually all Nigerians to give protection to any Easterner; the active involvement of law-enforcement agencies in the pogroms; and the exodus of 2 million people in flight from a country that has rejected them and that has offered them nothing but a mass grave. Indeed the future of no future confronting Ndi Igbo at this time was symbolised by the fate of Igbo babies in the Kano railway holocaust.

On the atrocities during civil war (1967-1970), the Pan-Igbo group said:

A 30-month civil war ensued as a result of Nigeria's attempt to quell what she described as a civil war. The civil war..gave Nigeria a perfect excuse to cast Ndi Igbo in the role of treasonable felons and wreckers of the nation.

Nigeria's prosecution of the war violated all aspects of the Geneva Convention and all code of civilized behaviour. Indeed, the violations were carried out with so much glee and abandon that it was clear that the war was an earnest pursuit of the programme of ethnic cleansing begun in 1966.

The committee of International Jurists, foreign press and other Independent observers have also testified to this fact. Indeed, the international Committee on The Investigation of Crimes of Genocide whose investigation included interview of 1,082 people representing the two sides of the conflict concluded thus through its investigator (Dr. Mensah of Ghana); 'Finally, I am of the opinion that tin many of the cases cited to me hatred of the Biafrans (mainly Igbos) and a wish to exterminate them was a foremost motivational factor.'

Listed in the petition as methods through which the violations took place are:

the genocidal content of Nigeria's war slogans;

the use of starvation as an instrument of war;

the massacre of civilians in conquered areas;

the target of air attacks on concentrated civilian habitations;

rape, torture and dehumanization of Igbo women;

destruction of properties; animals and everything as in a scorched earth policy, and

torture and murder of war prisoners and civilians who surrendered. Over one million people, the petition added, died during the war through these atrocities.

On the atrocities and disempowerment immediately after the war (1970-1975), the apex Igbo group stated thus:

Nigeria's proclamation of a peace formula of three Rs (Reconciliation, Rehabilitation, and Reconstruction) turned out in practice to be a smokescreen behind which she continued the war against Ndi Igbo by other means. Besides the continuation of killings in the first three months after the end of the war, the new method was the strategy of disempowerment and strangulation in all areas of public endeavour.

The policy of economic disempowerment of the Igbo, alleged the group were:

federal government's vindictive enactment of the abandoned property law, and the consequent dispossession of Igbo property owners of their houses and plots in Rivers State as abandoned property, in a ploy to incite the Easterners against one another.

the impoverishment of all Ndi Igbo through payment of a flat paltry sum of 20 irrespective of individual savings at the end of the war,

the intentional timing of the enactment of the indigenisation decree at the height of total destruction of the purchasing power of Ndi Igbo;

the denial of the reconstruction of utilities, structures and infrastructure damaged during the war;

excision of oil petroleum-rich areas of Igbo land, and exclusion of other mineral deposits found in Igbo land from the benefits of operations of umbrella organisations like OMPADEC or its successor, NDDC;

mass dismissal of Igbo public servants;

continuation of starvation policy and rejection of aids from foreign aid/donors;

treatment of Igbos as social pariahs in all the states of Nigeria;

the exclusion of Ndi Igbo from the higher echelons of policy-making;

manipulation of census figures to reduce Igbo ethnic group to a minority status; and

Igbophobia as the basis of creating states. Categorising what it called atrocities and disempowerment between 1975 to date, Ohanaeze stated:

What would have been dismissed as unfortunate excesses of revengeful excitement in the flush of victory soon settled into a policy of marginalisation and disempowerment of Ndi Igbo. Successive governments maintained a disturbing continuity of a policy of strangulation of Ndi Igbo in spite of all rhetorics to the contrary. Public policy and practice since the mid-seventies to date have followed the same pattern.

In the political arena, observed pattern of appointments suggest that the Federal Government is decided that no Igbo man should be trusted with a key sensitive command position for a long while. In the public service, our share of federal employments is far below the constitutional stipulations of the constitution and the quota chart of the Federal Character Commission.

The history of the creation of states clearly suggests a policy of containment and siege, a policy designed to reduce the demographic leverage and financial strength of Ndi Igbo. Lastly, a new height in political disempowerment has been reached in the most blatant marginalisation by the present regime of President Obasanjo of South-East zone which gave it the second largest electoral support in the presidential democratic election of 1999.

In the social realm, the racial discrimination against Ndi Igbo continues to rage, unabated. The blood-chilling consistency in which Igbo citizens have always been scape goats of all bloody riots in Nigeria confirms that they enjoy less protection of the law than any other ethnic nationality in the republic.

Commending President Obasanjo, the group said there have been some positive developments since then, May 29, 1999.

Commenting on their prayers the group stated that it asked the panel to order payment of reparations and appropriate restitution as a healing balm not just to Ndi Igbo but to the nation.

Ohanaeze said the remedies sought include financial compensations for bereaved and humiliated families in respect of the murdered, the maimed, the raped and the dehumanised; financial compensation for wrong dismissals; financial compensations for the havoc of scorched earth policy; reversals of economic marginalisation policy, and restitutions where possible.

But financial and economic redresses can never adequately compensate psychological wounds. The deepest wound of Ndi Igbo is a haunting spectre of insecurity, hanging like a dark cloud over a persistent ugly objective reality that continues to feed on traditional prejudice. Periodic anti-Igbo riots continue to warn Ndi Igbo that Nigeria has learnt nothing and has forgotten nothing.

Our prayer therefore emphasises two requests as the key reliefs. One is a national apology. The other is an assurance of Ozoemena! - a national vow that violations of our human rights will never occur again. Indeed, the essence of all our prayers is summed in our relief.

Making suggestions on how to move the nation forward, the group asserted: Our Constitution must address more explicitly and unequivocally than it has done hitherto the foundation question of the character of our Federal union. Should Nigeria be a mosaic of self-reinforcing ethnic mini-sovereignties barely interacting horizontally but intensively engaged vertically in a cockpit fight for the largest loot from the centre? Or, a dynamic multi-ethnic community purposefully evolving towards the end state of healthy national integration? It is surprising that our utterances and actions have shown that this basic choice has not been made after 40 years of togetherness.

If our choice is a multi-ethnic nation, as forward-looking patriots should prefer, then the constitution should be supported with necessary institutional arrangements which should invest more energy and resources on three areas:

Besides, the group advised that Nigeria should settle for a system that encourages production, in place of consumption through a flat rule-of-the thumb approach that shares all sharable federal resources equally among the six zones only.

Ohanaeze dismissed insinuations that their petition was basically complaining of marginalisation saying: We conclude our Petition by emphasising once again the point that our case is fundamental to the growth of political democracy and civil society in Nigeria. It is deeper than 'marginalisation' as currently misused. We tender this Petition with faith and trepidation.

Earlier, Oputa had summoned a former Comptroller of Prisons in River State, E.E Nkang to appear on September 23 to tell the commission where the remains of the Ogoni nine executed alongside Ken-Saro-Wiwa on November 10, 1995 were kept. This summons was at the instance of Femi Falana who represented MOSOP.

The panel will today continue hearing the Ohanaeze petition.

A journalist with Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), Yusuf Jibo was summoned by the panel to explain why he produced and showed a programme considered unsavoury by Ohanaeze.

A spectacular scenario that was created yesterday was the physical presence of an array of the nation's choicest dignitaries like Prof. Ben Nwabueze (SAN), Alhaji Gambo Jimeta, Gen. Haruna, Alhaji Isah Funtua, Dr. Joe Nwaorgu, even as a galaxy of Senior Advocates like Chief Tony Mogbo (SAN); Joe Gadzama (SAN) and Chief O. J. J Okocha (SAN) was present.

Diverse groups that were colourfully decked also created a carnival - like atmosphere, during and after the emotionally charged session during which Colonel Ali was jeered and booed at.

Col. Ali, also a former military administrator of Kaduna State during the Abacha regime and a member of the Ogoni Special Military Tribunal which tried and convicted the Ogoni nine led by Dr. Ken Saro-Wiwa faulted the response he filed in to the commission challenging the position of the Ohanaeze because, in his words, I did not read most of the authorities cited in the written submission of the Arewa Forum.

Amid jeering, Ali stated that the military men plotted coups in the past with loyal officers from the same background.

But when the Ohanaeze legal representative, Chief Tony Mogbo (SAN) sought to know his opinion on the 1966, 1990, and 1983 coups, Ali said: my lord the 1966 coup was an Igbo coup, that of 1990 led by Orkah was a Delta coup while that of 11983 was basically a Buhari coup and not a northern coup.

A major dramatic scenario was played up when Col. Ali (rtd) admitted that; my lord, in making our submission, we cited some quotations from some authors, but we only took what we wanted from them and considered the rest of the same quotation factitious.

Some other lawyers who appeared in the session were Mr. R. F. Godwin for the River State government summoned as a witness in the Ohanaeze petition even as Mr. Yahaya Mohammed and Prof. Auwalu Yadudu appeared for Arewa Consultative Forum whose chairman M. D. Yusuf was present at yesterday's session.

Other lawyers included Mr. Sebastine Hon for the Joint Action Committee on the Middle Belt, Nuhu Ribadu, for the Commissioner of Police Kano State and Yisa A. N for General Wushishi and General I. B. Babangida.

Chukwumerije and Col. Ben Gbulie, two witnesses for Ohanaeze will also finish their cross examination session to be conducted by lawyers representing the respondents in the matter today. Chukwumerije was partly cross examined by counsel to Arewa yesterday.

Meanwhile, barring unforeseen impediments, the seemingly intractable feud between Shell Petroleum Development Company and the Ogoni would be resolved on September 12 at a tripartite meeting between the feuding parties, Federal and River State government.

This reconciliatory tone was struck at a peace parley initiated yesterday in Abuja by the Oputa panel.