From The Sunday Times

October 19, 2008
Bodies stacked in street as genocide grips Biafra
May 12, 1968: Frederick Forsyth, at this time a freelance reporter, finds the breakaway region is now a charnel house
From the archive
THE war raging between Nigeria and her breakaway eastern region of Biafra has just ended its 10th and bloodiest month. After 10 weeks in the bush with the Biafran army commandos, I have emerged sickened by the senseless violence that this war has wreaked upon a west African nation that could have been an example of harmonious progress to the whole of the continent.
The most disturbing aspect is that inside 10 months it has deteriorated steadily from a war in which the original motivation was the reincorporation of the breakaway east into Nigeria into a spectacle of racial hatred run amok.
General Yakubu Gowon, the head of the federal government, in unleashing a war that he thought could be ended within 48 hours, has let loose forces that white men do not understand and that the Nigerians cannot control.
The Lagos government, to judge from its public utterances, seems blandly unaware of just how far its own army is out of its control.
When one hears what Lagos says about the rehabilitation of the Ibos of Biafra, about non-discrimination, about equal job opportunity and so forth, and then one sees what is actually going on at the battle fronts and behind them, one must come to the conclusion that either Lagos is lying or it has lost control.
In six forays behind Nigerian lines, I was able to observe Nigerian-occupied Biafra. It is being turned into a charnel house of gutted hamlets and rotting corpses.
From the bush a timorous Ibo native emerges to explain what happened when “Hausa man come”. The descriptions tally so closely that they are almost standardised: the menfolk lined up against the wall of the biggest building and machinegunned, the women raped to the accompaniment of the all-too-ritualistic mutilations, the children spitted on machete knives.
Genocide is an ugly word and an even uglier reality. I do not use it lightly, but my judgment that it really could be the extermination of an entire race does not go unsupported.
The two papal delegates who visited both sides in the conflict submitted a report to the Pope which caused the latter to condemn the war for its “strong genocidal overtones”.
I spoke to nearly 100 Nigerian prisoners of war and, once their Ibo captors had been sent out of earshot, they spoke quite freely. All admitted that they had not volunteered but had been conscripted by no-nonsense recruiting sergeants on street corners and in market places. After a week’s training they were sent up to the front with a rifle and a pouch of ammunition. These new soldiers loot, rape, kill and torture.
At Onitsha, under siege from the federal troops, the 300-strong congregation of the Apostolic church decided to stay on while others fled and to pray for deliverance. The Second Division found them in the church, dragged them out, tied their hands behind their backs and executed them. Three hours later, entering Onitsha, I found the corpses stacked in the road.
It is the Biafrans’ firm belief, which seemed to be supported by a lot of evidence, that the great majority of the weapons in Nigerian hands are being supplied by the British. British government spokesmen, both in parliament and elsewhere, have been remarkably evasive about just what has been sent to Nigeria.
The Biafrans vigorously reject Britain’s claim that she is obliged to support Gowon’s war because he is the legal government of Nigeria. The Biafran leader, Lieutenant-Colonel Emeka Ojukwu, points out that Britain does not always feel obliged to arm military regimes, particularly when the use to which the weapons might be put is dubious in the extreme.
His attitude is, as usual, moderate compared with that of his more emotional countrymen. The hatred of Britain has steadily grown as 80,000 Biafrans, more than 65,000 of them civilians, have died. Now they believe that just about everything being thrown at them is of British origin – including bombs and rockets.
Time is running short, as the Biafrans are squeezed ever more tightly into the centre of the ring, with a vengeful Nigerian army seeking its pound of flesh for its own 35,000 casualties. Negotiation is one road; the other leads to the biggest bloodbath the Commonwealth has ever seen.
The Biafra secession was finally crushed in January 1970.


1 Comment

  1. Lawrence Umoren said,

    I am inclined to believe that the igbos have not been forgiven for the Biafran war. This reflects in the ‘igbophobia’ of our Northern brothers and the government’s response. I am of the opinion that unless an igbo man rules this country, attempt at development will suffer the risk of terminological inexactitude. The igbos are the true Nigerians. wherever they find themselves is home and they bring development to that place. governing Nigeria will simply mean translating what they do on a local scale to a larger level.
    If they can rise from the ashes of oppression and subjugation to achieve the enviable height recorded in the development of the Eastern States, I am convinced Nigeria will be better for it with an igbo president.

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