Between Rwandan genocide and Nigerian pogrom!
In 1994, 100-day genocidal bloodletting led to the death of 800000 Rwandans, mostly Tutsis. It started ‘like joke, like joke’ on 16/4/94 when presidents Habyarimana and Ntaryamira of Rwanda and Brundi, both Hutus perished after their plane was gunned down. The majority Hutus then turned on Tutsi minority tribe eliminating about 70% of them plus some modest Hutus Since then, the world, and particularly Rwanda remember this sad historical reality. The UN established the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in 1995 and Rwanda continues to celebrate the memories of its compatriots, declaring always: Never Again. It has a memorial arcade holding their names;
established the National Commission for the Fight Against Genocide, and holds an annual weekly celebration from 7-13 April, involving Walk to Remember, a night vigil and remembrance ceremony the. The 26th edition was celebrated under this coro environment in April 2020 during which Mr & Mrs Kegame laid wreaths on graves at the Kigali Genocide Memorial. where the remains of more than 250,000 genocide victims were buried.
The UN Gen-Sec remarked that "Since the genocide, Rwanda has demonstrated that it is possible to rise from the ashes, to heal and to rebuild a stronger and more sustainable society." So, it is celebrated by Rwanda, Africa and the whole world. And just the other day,
Mr Kabuda, one of the masterminds of the genocide was arrested; 26 years after the event.
In 1966 almost 30 years before the Rwandan genocidal ‘madness’, the Nigerian northern establishment organised, sponsored and coordinated the gruesome butchery of Ndi-Igbo( including some Easterners and a few Southerners initially because everybody beyond Benue was an Igbo Man) in the most cruel and macabre manner ever seen. Undertaken by known soldiers and the usual highly inflammable Hausa mobs, the most conservative estimate of the dead was about 60,000. The Igbos left for home but were not allowed to be because a week-long police action was initiated to force them back, which dovetailed into a 3 yearlong Biafran war of Independence.
This ended in January 1970, with about 3m Biafrans slaughtered, more by Kwashiorkor than my arms and ammunition. I don’t want to go into the his-story of these issues since history is written by the victors, narratives are rarely objective and since we don’t value history as we don’t even teach it in our schools. That is why somebody said that Biafrans fired the first shot in 1967. Gen Gowon who distorted and reneged on the Aburi accord, which was destroyed by a series of acts of bad faith and distortions and finally by a refusal on the part of the "Lagos Government" to implement these and other agreements notwithstanding the fact that they were freely and voluntarily entered into( Ojukwu, Declaration of Republic of Biafra, 30/5/67), went on to declare ‘no victor, no vanquished’ and launched the3Rs( Reconstruction, Reconciliation and Rehabilitation). But action spoke and still speaks louder than words because this was followed by the 20 pounds-only policy, the abandoned property and indigenisation programme
How does Nigeria remember these epochal events in its checkered history? Well, as Nigerians would say, No nothing!. No government has EVER said anything about the 1966 massacres and the killings of 1967-1970. We kept on acting as if nothing had happened while some people are sharing and enjoying the spoils of war. The Bnight of Biafra was decreed out of existence in 1975 and the FG refused to remember the victims of original sin (northern massacres) and victims of the war( and there were also some from the other side, especially from middle belt). Some Biafran officers were reabsorbed here and there into the Nigerian army and police as the spirit directed. Even when Igbos decided to stay at home and mourn, they were threatened with fire and brimstone and in 2017, we were served a quit-notice from the north for daring to stay at home! At other times, we received the egwu-eke treatment. It was only in 2017 that the FG, for the first time participated in a program on Biafra (Memory and Nation Building: Biafra, 50 years after) organized by the Shehu Musa Yaradua Center. Well, Osinbajo was on the one on throne then( as Ag President)and he delivered the keynote address. And as Nigeria does not remember, how can the world remember? But the Igbos still remember.
The issue is that while Rwanda goes out of its way to remember the past and use that remembrance to rebuild the present and plan for the future, we live in denial, as if the truth ceases to exist because it is ignored. Meanwhile ‘…memory is a critical aspect of post-war peace building. From Cambodia and Kosovo to Rwanda and South Africa, attempts at reconstruction and reconciliation that ignore the role of memory have led to COLD peace in real and metaphorical terms… The Biafran episode demonstrates vividly the enduring impact of ignoring or denying individual or collective memories and how it affects( adversely) the prospects for reconciliation and peace building (Social Science Research Council: Working Papers: Memory, Peacebuilding and Reconciliation in Post Civil War South East Nigeria: African Peace Building Working papers: June, 2018). No be me talk am!
Meanwhile, Ndigbo marked the 53rd Biafran anniversary this year, including the activities by Center for Memories, Enugu. In Igbo-Ukwu, my home town I am collaborating with Fr Emeka Nwosu on the ‘Igbo-Ukwu War Memorial Project’, with the initial objective of identifying all those who were murdered during the war and ultimately building a cenotaph for them. WE shall NOT forget!
Surprisingly this year, the Nigerian Government also remembered… in a queer way. The National Assembly approved $22.7bn foreign loans but the entire South East is excluded from the projects funded with the loans which all of us MUST repay. The earlier loan for railways also excluded the South East. I hope you remember the configuration of the Nigerian security architecture, where the meetings have a 98% probability of being conducted in Hausa! The Biafran War is still being fought by other means! Ouch; Indeed, I can’t breath!
Ik Muo, PhD. writes from Department of Business administration, OOU, Ogo-Iwoye