The Royal African Society

The Biafran Crisis and the Midwest Author(s): S. E. Orobator Reviewed work(s): Source: African Affairs, Vol. 86, No. 344 (Jul., 1987), pp. 367-383 Published by: Oxford University Press on behalf of The Royal African Society Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/722748 . Accessed: 25/10/2012 14:15
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp

.
JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

.

Oxford University Press and The Royal African Society are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to African Affairs.

http://www.jstor.org

THE BIAFRAN CRISIS AND THE MIDWEST
S. E. OROBATOR THOUGH THENIGERIAN CIVILWARhas received the attention of several scholars,l an adequate study has not yet been made of the Biafran invasion and occupation of Midwestern Nigeria. This article considers the situation in the Midwest before the invasion, the motives for the invasion and the administration of the Region by the invaders. Also discussed are the events leading to the declaration of the Region as the 'Republic of Benin' and the probable objectives of this action. The period under study spans over six weeks from 8 August to 20 September 1967.

TheMidWestbefore BiafranInvasion
The MidWest Region, which was carved out of Western Nigeria in 1963, was never prominent in the various crises that plagued Nigeria prior to the Civil War of 1967 to 1970. It was neither directly involved in the political crises in the Western Region in 1964 and 1965, nor did it play a major role in the coup that toppled the Federal Government in 1966, although the leader of the coup, Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, hailed from the Region. The fact that, of all the four regions then in Nigeria, the MidWest was the smallest in size and population and probably the most hetereogeneous ethnically in relationship to population size, made the Region less able to pose a threat to the territorial integrity of the country. On the other hand, the Region obviously was most favourably disposed to agitate for the unity of the country. Indeed, the very character of the Region qualified it for the mediatory role it tried to play during the Civil War.2 To underline this mediatory role the MidWest, up to the point of the Biafran invasion, continued to insist on 'neutrality' in the face of the hostilities that had become inevitable following the Biafran secession. For instance, on 7 August 1967, barely two days before the invasion, the Commander of the 4 Area Command of the Nigerian Army based in the MidWest, Colonel C. D. Nwanwo, announced that the Region was militarily equipped 'to repulse the enemy'. 3
Dr Orobatorteachesin the Departmentof History, Universityof Benin. He is gratefulin particular Mr P. M. Ayenifor all his assistance. to 1. See, forinstance,Z. Cervenka NigerianCivil War1967-1970(Frankfurt, The 1971);A. M. H. Kirk-Greene,CrisisandConflict Nigeria Documentary in Source BooksI e II 196S70 (London,1971); R. Baker'The Emergence Biafra: of Balkanization NationBuilding',Orbis, or 12 (1968),pp. 518-500. 2. Beforethe declaration Biafra MidWesthosteda peaceconference NifornearBenin of the in Cityto finda peacefulsolutionto the crisis. 3. Author's personal file. The author in BeninCityatthetime. The weapons was displayed weremainlyanti-aircraft guns. 367

368

AFRICANAFFAIRS

Although the Army Commanderdid not explain whether the enemy was Nigeria or Biafra,the Region's reluctanceto partakein the conflict or to provide a passagefor the Federal troops to march on Biafrathrough the border town of Asaba sufficientlyrevealedthe ambivalentnature of the Commander's warning.4 Moreover,in spite of the FederalGovernment's call for a total boycott of the secessionistenclave,variousfood items continuedto findtheirway into Biafrafromthe MidWest,particularly through the River Niger and the adjoiningcreeks.5 Additionally,it was generally believed that both Lt. Col. Odumegwu Ojukwu of the Eastern Region (Biafra) Lt. Col. David Ejoorof the MidWesternRegionmet secretlyon and severaloccasionsto discussthe crisisbeforeandevenafterthe declaration of Biafra. In a recentinterview,Ejoor(nowa retiredMajorGeneral)admitted thatalltheseactionsweretaken'topreventbattleon Beninsoil andto protect everybody'sinterest including the Igbo-speakingcitizens [of the Region] even though [he] primarilysupportedthe FederalGovernment'.6 Outsidethe Governmentcircle, the public at largeharboured ill feelno ings againstBiafraor the Ibos in general. Withoutactuallyunderstanding the essence of the secessionor its repercussions,a largeproportionof the MidWest youth and indeed the generalityof the educatedpeople were not hostileto the Ibo cause,partlybecausethey resentedthe anti-Iboriotsin the North in 1966 which they thought were thoroughlyunjustifiedand partly becausethey simplylovedto hearthe eloquent'Oxfordvoice'of the Biafran leader. It was common to see small groups discussing objectively the secessionistwar and at a time it becamefashionablefor the youth to wear T-shirts bearingOjukwu's portraitandthe inscription'on AburiWe Stand' printed on them.7 On an individual basis, relationship between the Ibo-speakingMidWesterners and the other ethnic groups remainedquite cordial. Thus, the MidWestin its 'neutrality' apparently was sympathetic to the Biafran cause. But the situation changed from 9 August 1967 followingthe Biafraninvasionof the Region. WhyBiafra Invaded The Biafran forces were led into the MidWest by Brigadier Victor Adebukunola Banjowho, in his maidenradiobroadcast 10 August 1967, on appealedto all who had fled their homes and places of work 'under the misunderstanding that MidWesternNigeria was in the process of being
4. Before the Biafran invasion, the MidWest Government consistently refused Federal Government pressures to allow the Region to be used by the Federal Army in the war against the secessionists in order not to impair the mediatory role it was playing in the conflict. 5. PressRelease MW 562 of 14 February 1968 (Military Governor's Office: Department No. of Internal Affairs and Information, 1968), p. 7: Rebel Activities Tribunal of Inquiry. 6. Interview with Major-General David Ejoor (Rtd) in Guardian February 1986), p. 13. (2 7. Author's personal file. The youth appeared fascinated more by the reported performance of Ojukwu at the Aburi Conference of F5 January 1967 than the actual implications for Nigeria of the agreements reached. The T-Shirts were brought in from Onitsha by Ibo traders.

THE BIAFRAN CRISIS AND THE MIDWEST TABLE 1 Chronologyof events

369

30 May 1967 6 June 1967 9 August 1967

Declaration the Republicof Biafra. of FederalGovernment declared full-scalewar. Biafran invasionof the MidWestRegion. InvasiontroopsreachedOreon the borderwith WesternRegion. 10 August 1967 Maidenbroadcast supportby Brigadier for VictorAdebukunola Banjo,Commander the BiafranForcesin the MidWest. of 12 August 1967 RadioBeninrechristened RadioLiberation. 17 August1967 MajorAlbertOkonkwo appointed MilitaryAdministrator the of MidWestby the Biafran leaderColonelC. O. Ojukwu. 18August 1967 The MilitaryAdministrator assumedoffice. 20 August1967 Establishment the CivilDefenceDepartment, of comprising the VigilanceCouncil,Militia,Red CrossUnit andTrafficDivisionto facilitate statesecurity. 21 August 1967 Establishment the MidWestAdministrative of Council,the political wing of the Okonkwo Administration. 25 August 1967 Maidenmeetingof the MidWestAdministrative Council; members of Councilassumedduties. 28 August 1967 MidWestBranchof the NationalCouncilof WomenSocieties summoned support; for ?100 donated. 29-30 August1967 The Biafran leaderColonelC. O. Ojukwu visitedthe MidWest. 5 September1967 Meetingheldatthe StateHouse,BeninCity,to plantheDeclaration of the Republicof Benin. 20 September1967 The MidWestdeclared Republicof Beninat Asaba. the Fall of BeninCity, the MidWestcapital,to Federaltroops. RadioLiberation reverted RadioBenin. to 20-23 September1967 Masskillingsof non-Ibo MidWesterners retreating by Biafran soldiers.

invadedby Northern troops', to returnto their respectiveplaces now that they were being protected by friendly troops. Banjo admitted that his forceswere operatingin close co-operationwith the MidWesternNigerian troops to keep the Northern troops out of the Region.8 The Biafran Commander announceda few steps to be takenby the new administration. First, the existing government was dissolved and all its legislative and executive powers were assumed by him. Second, an Administrative Councilheadedby an administrator to be established. Third, a separwas ate MidWest Army and Police Force were to be createdindependentlyof those of Nigeria and Biafra. Finally, Banjo mentioned his intention to 'handoverthe administration the MidWestRegionin orderto proceedto of the warfrontand to completethe liberationof Nigeria'.9
8. Radio Benin (19 August 1967). 9. Radio Liberation (14 August 1967). August up to 20 September 1967. Radio Benin was renamed Radio Liberation from 12

370

AFRICAN AFFAIRS

Banjo's broadcastrevealed that the Biafransinvaded the MidWest to forestallits occupationby 'Northerntroops'or Nigeriantroopsthat would havebeenless sympathetically disposedtowardsthe secessionistmovement. In otherwords,the Biafran movewasstrategic. In fact,rumours abounded at the time that the Federal Governmentwas pressurizingthe MidWest Government to grant Federal troops passage to Biafra but that Ejoor refused,as was mentionedearlier,becausehe wanted 'to preventbattle on Benin soil', although he 'primarilysupported the federal government' Moreover,the invasionandoccupation the Midwestwasonly the firststep of in the Biafrangranddesignof the total 'liberation Nigeria'. of The motives for the Biafran invasion were further explained by the BiafranleaderCol. Ojukwu,whileappointingMajorAlbertOkonkwoon 17 August to govern the MidWest under what he described as 'temporary administrativearrangements'. He confirmedthat the Biafranincursion hadbecomenecessarybecause'the Lagos Government, with the cognisance if not the actualsupportandencouragement GovernorEjoor,hadbrought of in Northerntroopsto the Regionto be deployedagainstBiafra'; declared he that 'the BiafranArmy [would]remainin the MidWest only for as long as absolutelynecessaryand in the interestof both parties'.10 There was no truth in Ojukwu'sclaim that the Northern troops had arrived in the MidWest 'to be deployed against Biafra', because there wereno Northernsoldiersin the Regionduringthe invasion. Indeed, the incursionwasrelatively withoutresistance, because,as wouldbe foundlater, the borderwasinadequately policed. It is true,as I havementionedbefore, that the idea of the 'Federaltroops' reinforcement was being considered; but no deploymenthad takenplace before the invasionbecauseof Ejoor's reluctance acceptbattlein the MidWest. In anycase,Ojukwuconfirmed to thathis actionwasto preventtheusageof the Regionin thewaragainstBiafra. This strategicaspect of the Biafranincursionwas again stressedby the new MilitaryAdministrator, MajorOkonkwo,when assumingofficeon 18 August. The invasionhad been organizedto preventthe FederalGovernment from 'forcing MidWesternersto enlist to fight against their own people',thus undermining mediatoryrolewhichthe MidWesthad been the playing. He observedthat GovernorEjoorhad been reluctantto involve the MidWestin the 'Hausa-Fulaniconspiracy'againstthe South, because, as a Southerner,he was aware of the sufferingsof his people from the 'brutalityandvandalismof the uncontrolledHausasoldiers'. 1 1 A few facts stand out from Okonkwo'sspeech. First, the invasionwas effectednot only to preventthe use of the MidWest as a passageto Biafra or the enlisting of the MidWesterners fight on the Federalside against to 10. RadioEnugu(17 August 1967) cited 1967), col. A., p. 842. 1 1. RadioLiberation August 1967). (21
in Africa Research Bulletin(ARB) (1-31 August

THE BIAFRAN CRISIS AND THE MIDWEST

371

Biafra, but also to gain the practical support of sympathisers, particularly the Ibos of the MidWest. That the Biafran leader was somehow popular amongst the MidWest youth was no doubt known to the Biafran leadership, who must have calculated on securing their practical assistance. Second, the Biafran leadership admired the apparently sympathetic neutrality of the MidWest, but were worried about the prospects of the Region falling under the control of a less friendly army. In sum, the invasion of the MidWest was designed to forestall the use of the Region by Federal troops against Biafra; to enlist the assistance of all MidWestern sympathisers to the Biafran cause; to ensure an uninterrupted supply of essential commodities needed to sustain the secessionist state; and to use the MidWest as a launching pad in their effort to ally with the Western Region against the North.12 The choice of Banjo (a Yoruba) for this asslgnment explalns telS polnt. The reactions to the invasion naturally varied. In Enugu there was excitement about the easy takeover ofthe MidWest,l3 and an announcement on the Biafran Radio claimed that the action was taken in conjunction with the MidWestern troops WilO 'had requested the assistance of the Biafran forces'. 14 In Lagos, the Ibe army officers in the MidWest were accused of having collaborated with the 'rebel forces' to make the invasion possible. 15 The 'MidWest authorities' were equally accused of not having done enough to prevent the lncurslon. The accusation that the Biafran invasion was made possible by the treachery or the nonchalant attitude of the MidWest authorities seemed viable at the time. For instance, faced by a possible invasion from Biafra, the MidWest Government neither took adequate measures to beef up its defences at Asaba and the outlying border areas nor did it seriously intervene in the army-police quarrel at Asaba over the enforcement of the blockade of the 12-mile water front separating the MidWest from Biafra. The police at Asaba had complained of a deliberate attempt by the army (also based at Asaba) to obstruct effective policing of the area. Government was aware of the disagreement but took no steps to investigate the matter.16 Second, Government took no measures to investigate the rumours of an impending Biafran invasion that circulated in most urban centres of the Region at the time. A prominent citizen and an NCNC politician, Mr. S. Momodu, was said to have summoned a meeting of the elders in his house at Irrua in July 1967 and 'told them to ignore the Begho Commission of Inquiry', which was probing the affairs of ex-politicians in the Region, 'because his soldiers
. . . . . . .

12. Press Release No. MW 562, p. 6. 13. Personalinterviewwith SylvanusOnyekwelu, formerlyof the Ministryof Health,Benin (18 August 1967). He was an officerin the 'Biafran'Red Cross, Benin, and was in Enugu duringthe Biafraninvasionof the MidWest. 14. Radio Biafra, Enugu(9 and 10 August 1967);ARB (1-31 August1967)Col. A. 842. 15. Radio Nigeria, Lagos(9 August 1967),citedin ARB ( 1-31 August1967). 16. Press Release No. MW 498 of 613/68,p. 3.

372

AFRICAN AFFAIRS

would soon come to the MidWest'.17 A little vigilanceon the part of the Governmentwould have been helpful here. Third, when eventuallythe invading forces marchedon Asaba at 3 am on 9 August, the authorities, apparentlyunconsciousof the seriousnessof the situation, described the incident simply as 'a little disturbanceat Asaba'.18 Finally, even after GovernorEjoorhadbeen informedof the invasionof Asaba,as it was taking placeat 3 am, by the militaryAreaCommander Col. Nwanwo,no adequate arrangementswere made to offer any resistance whatsoever. 9 The 1 BiafransreachedBenin City about 5.30 am and by 7 am they had occupied all the strategiclocations. The troops loyal to the Federal Government couldnot put up any resistancesincethey werenot armed;the armourywas lockedandthe keys kept by the officersin charge.20 It wouldthus appearthateitherseriousconsideration not given to the was possibilityof the Biafraninvasionor thatno deliberateeffortsweremadeto forestallthe invasion,both of which were suggestiveof either treacheryor nonchalanceon the part of the MidWest authorities. On the other hand, GovernorEjoorhadsuspectedthe activitiesof some 'seniorarmyofficers'in his cabinetin connectionwith the rumoured 'Biafran supportedconspiracy', and consequentlyhad promisedto 'set up a committeeto enquireinto the allegations',21but he was too late to prevent the invasion which was eSectedbarely24 hoursafter. Therefore,ratherthanbeingtreacherous or nonchalantin the defenceof the MidWest,Ejoorwas, rather,too slow and trusting. As he admittedin his pressconferenceof 25 September1967,his 'faulthas been too much trustand confidencein [his] colleagues'.22 A closerconsideration the situationin the MidWestat the time would of perhapshelp to explainthe implicationof Ejoor'sstatement. Of the seven seniormilitaryofficersin the Region assistingthe Governor,six were Ibos or Ibo-speakingand three of the six (namely Lt. Colonels Okwechime, Nwanjei,andNzefili) werethe Governor'sschoolfriends,all being old boys of Government College, Ughelli. The natural spirit of school alumni camaraderie promptedGovernorEjoor,at any rate, to trust his colleagues almostabsolutely. But the priorityof his colleagueswas different. They werekeeneron aidingtheirkith and kin in Biafrathancultivatingthe spirit of camaraderie. It may be arguedthat Ejoorwas not to blamefor the invasionsince there was nothing wrong in him trustinghis colleagueswith whom he had spent
17. PressRelease No. MW 202 of 31/ 1/68, p. 2. 18. PressRelease No. MW 498 of 6/3/68, p. 4. 19. Press Conference by Brigadier Ejoor on the situation in the MidWest Region (25 September 1967), cited in ARB (1-30 September 1967), col. C, p. 865. 20. Author's personal file. Biafran forces occupied the MidWest Radio Studio, the Banks, the General Post Office, the Governor's Office, and the barracksin Benin City by early hours of 9 August 1967. By mid-day they had begun patrolling the major streets of the city. 21. ARB ( 1-31 December 1967), col. B, p. 933. 22. ARB (1-30 September 1967), col. C, p. 865.

THE BIAFRAN CRISIS AND THE MIDWEST

373

most of his life. Moreover, his being married to an Ibo could have reinforced his temptation not only to trust his Ibo colleagues in Governmentbut also to nurse a soft-spot for the Ibo or Biafrancause in general. This is probablywhy he remarked recentlythat 'supportingthe federal side did not compel sacrificing the Igbo-speaking Bendel'.23 Similarly, the Ibo army officers who collaboratedwith Biafra could be said to have been justifiedin their action,particularly the blood relationif ship factorand the inter-ethnickillingsof 1966are considered. To them, the survivalof Biafratook precedenceover and above all other considerations. On the other hand, the action of the Ibo army officerscould be regarded as treacherous partly because they exploited the trust and confidencereposed in them by Governor Ejoor and partly because they collaboratedwith the secessioniststo underminethe security of Nigeria, when they were still officers of the Federal Army. Similarly, Ejoor himself was guilty of non-vigilanceif not outrightweakness,for, whether consciously or unconsciously, he allowed sentimental persuasions to prevailover him at the expense of a nationalassignmentof such premier importance. In any case, the invasionand occupationof the MidWestresultedin the following:first,it led to the upgrading the 'policeaction'initiallytakenby of the Federal Government against the secessionists to a full-scale war of hostile dimension;second, it culminatedin the breakdownof the mutual trust that had existed between the Ibos and the non-Ibos of the Region; third, the apparentsympathyfor the Ibo or Biafrancause which had prevailed largelyamongstthe MidWestyouth sufferedan irreparable dent;and lastly,it resultedin the establishment a Biafransponsoredadministration of in the Region.

TheOkonkwo Administration: Machinery Government of The Okonkwoadministrationemployed the services of 13 permanent secretaries of ministries and 41 other civilians, including two former ministers who were said to be willingly collaborated. Those who 24 collaborateddid so for various reasons. Some did so to underlinetheir blood-relationship nearnessto the Biafrans; and some becausethey sawit as an opportunityto hold governmentoffice;some simplyas a meansof livelihood, and others as a platformto settle old scores.25 Those who showed no willingness to collaborate,particularlythose occupying key positions
23. Interview with Ejoor, Guardian, 13. p. 24. ARB (1-31 December 1967), col. B, p. 933. 25. See PressRelease Nos. 484 of 4/3/68; 488 of 5/3/68; 620 of 22/3/68 and 709 of 30/3/68 for the revelations at the Rebel Activities Tribunal of Inquiry (Ministry of Information, Benin City).

374

AFFAIRS AFRICAN

and invariably establishments,were removed, replaced their detention government in of these spent for detained security reasons. A number in Biafra.26 periods of security attachedprimaryimportanceto matters Military administration The ofthe underthe control civil and defence,whichwereplaceddirectly Departmentcomprisedfour principal The Administrator. Civil Defence the Red Cross and the Traffic the Vigilance Council, the Militia, units: Departmentensuredstrict Units. In general,the Civil Defence Checking imposedon the Regionsoon afterthe to the adherence duskto dawncurfew the activities of the other The Department also co-ordinated invasion. Armed Forces. Membership agencies, including the Police and security across all the ethnic groups in the the of Civil Defence Departmentcut citizens.27 or Ibo-speaking but MidWest the majoritywere Ibos was the of the Civil Defence Department The most important unit by a General assisted Council headed by a President-General Secretary,Principal Vigilance Treasurer,Publicity Financial Secretary, Secretary, The functions of the Secretaryand Organising Secretary. Organising Osuh, 'wereprimarilyconCouncilaccordingto its Secretary,S. Vigilance servants,and to reportconfidentially with cerned spying on MidWest civil For otherwise',to the Government.28 who those wereloyaland who were the VigilanceCouncil six-weekperiodof the Okonkwoadministration, at the officeof the the PrisonClub and threetimes at the ConferenceHall, met were in Benin City. The headquarters All President-General. locations Works and Transport,Benin City.29 the of Council was the Ministry of like the PrintingPress, and all sensitivegovernmentestablishment, Every theirown branchof the Vigilance in privateorganizations the Regionhad big to those in the centralbody. with officialsholdingpositionssimilar Council like importance Benin City and In some of the urbancentresof strategic aidedby anotherbody called was oil the city of Warri,the VigilanceCouncil SecurityCouncilwere assigned The officialsof the theSecurityCouncil. was reportingon the movement of dutiesthe most important which various and casesof 'sabotage' ensuredthat ofthe Federaltroops. They dealtwith Biafra.30 fromthe MidWestto foodstuffswere evacuated was restricted the Vigilance and Security Councils cause. The Membership of in the Biafran believers to initially the verytrustedandreliable for some time closed institutions SecurityCouncilsremained and Vigilance only from the Ibos. With time in the sense that membershipwas drawn broadened becausethe authorities however,this closeddoorpolicy changed p. 3.
pp. 12-14 and 623 of 22/3/68, an Ibo friend, Stanley 26. Press Release Nos. 621 of 2113/68, this information to September personal file. I am grateful for 27. Author's the Militia Unit, Benin City, 10 Esedebe, who was a member of 1967. Chukwudum 21 September 1967. He was killed at Asaba on 15/2/68, pp. 13-15. of 28. Press Release No. MW 333 p. 14. 29. Press Release No. MW 333,of 14/3/68, pp. 5-6. 30. Press Release No. MW 562

THE BIAFRAN CRISIS AND THE MIDWEST

375

membership to include the other ethnic groups, hoping to widen their Regionaldefence base. But the membershipdrive was not easy, because most non-Ibos and even some Ibos were unwilling to co-operate. The authorities then resorted to coercion. One non-Ibo citizen affected, R. Aguebor,testifiedat the Rebel ActivitiesTribunal(probingthe afairsof in the Biafransand their collaborators the MidWest) that his 'electricfan, two goatsanda bagof rice [wereremoved]fromhis hotel becausehe failedto jointhe MidWestCouncilfor Vigilance'.31 Similarly,an Ibo citizen, Mrs B. U. Kerrywas 'warnedthatthieveswouldcome to worryher if she did not join the council'.32 In some cases membership was realized through to bribery. For instance,one witness, S. Osuh, the Secretary the Vigilance of Council,testifiedthat E. Izobo, the President-General the Council, disclosed to him that he agreedto join the VigilanceCouncilonly becausethe promisedto write off the sum of ,(;2,500he was Okonkwoadministration claimis not Board.33 Evenif this particular owingthe MidWestMarketing that the Council employed various means of a correct, there is no doubt natureto recruitits membership. coerciveor quasi-coercive The Militiaalsofeaturedprominentlyin the affairsof state. The Militia Unit performedsemi-militaryfunctions. It organizedarmedcivil guards whose duties rangedfrom enforcingthe curfewto monitoringthe activities of the citizens. In times of emergencythe Militia were draftedto the war fronts for battle and at other times they complementedthe police. They to werefrequentlyused by collaborators settleold scores.34 The membership was largelymadeup of youngmen, pensionersandex-servicemen who werefit enoughfor home guarddutiesbut would not normallybe fit for war battles. Their ages tended to cluster in the 17 to 25 and 50 to 60 age groups. Membershipof the Militia Unit was open to all; but, once again, the majoritywere Ibos. The Militia liaised with the Vigilance and Security Councils and their different. The Vigilance werenevertheless duties,thoughcomplementary, the andSecurityCouncilsperformed spyingandespionagedutiesand,where necessary,reportedto the Militia Unit for action. It was the Militia Unit that carriedout further investigationif required,arrestedmiscreantsand meted out specified punishments. Cases of a more serious nature were Army,who decidedwhetherthe culpritwouldbe handedoverto the Biafran sent to the warfront or not, imprisonedin the MidWestor Biafraor live or die. Becauseof the multi-purposenatureof their duties, the Militia interacted more with the populationthan the other units of the Civil Defence Department.
destroyed No. Release MW681of 28/3/68,pp.6-8. Someothershadtheirproperty 31. Press andtheirlives threatened. No. 32. PressRelease MW 427 of 26/2/68, p. 7. Nos. MW 434 of 27/2/68,p. 3; 514 of 7/3/68, p.23 and458 of 29/2/68, p.12. 33. PressRelease 34. Author'spersonalfile. This factwasderivedfrommy discussionwith Esedebe.

376

AFRICANAFFAIRS

The other two units, the Red Cross and the Traffic Units, were also heavilycomposedof Ibos. AlmosteveryIbo doctorandnursein the MidWest servedin the healthdeliveryand the Red Crossunits of the Okonkwo administration. Becauseof the humanitarian natureof the job, doctorsand nurses from the other ethnic groupsin the Region also servedin these two units althoughsome did so only from fear of being accusedof sabotage.35 The TrafficUnit mountedthe numerousroadblocks and its membership was drawn mainly from the armed forces, particularly the Militia. Members were also drafted from all the other security agencies because the Traffic Unit never actually had a standing membershipof its own. Civilianswere subjectedto intensivesearchesand all suspectedcases were handedoverto thearmyforfurtherinvestigation possiblydisciplining. 6 and 3 It wasthe TrafficUnit thatconfiscated foodstuffsfromtradersat roadblocks and,wherescarcityprevailed,they raidedthe villagesforfood items,including cattle, goats, sheep and chickens. The confiscateditems ended up in the armybarracks the MidWestand Biafra.37 in The Okonkwo administrationalso used an AdministrativeCouncil, whose membershipcut acrossall the ethnic groupsin the MidWest. The membership the Councilwasmadeup of one delegatefromeachdivision of of the Region and most of them were recruitedfrom the defunct National Conventionof NigerianCitizens(NCNC). One witness, G. O. Omesiete, testifiedat the Tribunal that overnight'the bannedNCNC reappeared in Asaba, Ika and Agbor', and the old party supportersresumed political meetings.38 At the maidenmeeting held on 25 August 1967 membersof the Administrative Council were assigned duties. They toured their respectivedivisionsandreadOkonkwo's lettersof appealfor co-operation to their people. They called for and helped to collect donationsin cash and kind in aid of the secessionistcause. The Administrative Councilwas the political wing of the Okonkwo regime and it functioned as the bridge betweenthe militaryandthe ruralpopulation. Membershipof all the above organizations carriedsome responsibilities and prestige. In the midst of the severe restrictionsaccompanyingthe dusk to dawn curfew, they moved freely irrespective of the hour. Moreover, they hardly were affectedby the shortagesof food and other essential commodities caused partly by the Federal embargoand partly by the constant exportationof foodstuffs from the Region. They also had priority access to confiscatedfood items. Additionally,membersof the AdministrativeCouncil were more than adequately paid, receiving
35. Interview with Onyekwelu. 36. Author's personal file. The searching of suspected persons was sometimes extended to their homes and places of work. 37. Interview with Claudius Nzefili, a former employee of the Government Press and an active member of the then Biafran Vigilance Council in the MidWest, Benin City, on 22 February 1981. See also Press Release No. MW 239 of 5/2/68, p. 14. 38. Press Release No. MW 330 of 1512/68, p. 7.

BIAFRAN CRISIS AND THE MIDWEST THE

377

?130 above 39 month.

the time was ?60 per monthly when the graduatesalary at

and Government theGoverned The betweenthe Governmentand Itis importantto considerthe relationship Governmentdependedin the final governedbecausethe survivalof the the At the outset the Governmentand the on analysis the will of the people. relationship with one another. were governed rather cautious in their at the situation,the non-Ibo Midthe While Ibos were, in general,excited and, since they were not armed,they were Westerners surprisedand upset tactic, hoping to be redeemedby the to appearedresortto a watch-and-see Government. Federal period,the Government During the firsthalf of the six-weekoccupation MidWesterners. The mass to the hard tried to present the Biafranstory riots in the with the storiesand resultsof the anLi-Ibo was media saturated distributed amongst the widely North.Pamphlets and handbills were and Posters adornedmost public buildings and rural urban population. It was not long before cities. some privatehomes in the villagesand even becameawareof the horribleresultsof MidWesterners generalityof the the anti-Ibo events in the North.40 the was pathetic, but non-Ibo MidThere was no doubt that the situation that the non-Ibo were hardly moved. This did not suggest Ibos who had Westerners plight of the were unconcernedabout the MidWesterners a passive protest against from the Northern riots; it was simply suffered The initial sympathythe Biafraninvasionand the Okonkworegime. the was quickly erodedby a feeling had MidWesterners for the Biafrancause the Okonkwogovernmentto by ofhumiliation,and all the efforts made the improve situationfailed. in its efforts. To solicit the The Government,however,never relented Councilwhoseduties, an ofthe people,it established Administrative support to the Okonkwoadministration the asmentioned earlier,included selling in its favour,butalsoby appealing positively not people, onlyby campaigning The Governsupportagainstthe Federal Government. rulers. Here forthe people's the traditional ment also tried to reach the people throughthe Ibo-speakingareasof the mainly in againits successeswere registered rulersplayeda prominentrolein the Ika-Ibo Region,wheresometraditional rulers had sought to have their merger organization. These traditional RiverNiger and activelysupthe domainsmergedwith the Ibo land across would maketheir dreamscome hoping that it portedthe Okonkworegime,
39. 40. 4. 1966). Press Release No. 137 of 19/1168, p. Vol. 3 (Enugu: Ministry of Information, See Pogrom: Nigerian Crisis 1966

378

AFRICANAFFAIRS

true.41 The traditionalrulers who were less willing to collaboratewere apparently forcedto makerecordedbroadcasts theirpeople appealingto to themto supportthe newadministration.42 Additionally theywerepressurized to donateto the Governmentandto callon theirpeopleto do the same. Otherchannelsemployedby the Government reachthe peopleincluded to the women's societies. The Government pressurized the president of the MidWest branchof the National Council of Women's Societies, Mrs Osagie,to summona meetingof the associationfor 28 August 1967, during whichmembersappealedto all womento co-operatefully with the administration. The womenwerealsoaskedto comfortBiafran soldiers'byattending to them in all wayspossible'.43 Moreover,the womendonated?100 to the Biafranwin-the-warfund. The attemptto win women to the Biafran side was no more successful than the Administration's attempts to build supportamongothergroupsin spite ofthe ,C100 donated. In what appearedto be the Biafranlast effortto strengthensupportfor the Okonkwo administration,the secessionist leader himself visited the MidWest to make his own attempt. Odumegwu Ojukwu visited Irrua where he was well received by some leaders of the banned NCNC, who saw the visit as an opportunityto resuscitatethe old intra- and inter-party discord. Moreover,the ex-NCNC politicianssaw the Biafraninvasionas an end to the BeghoCommissionof Inquirywhichwasprobingthe affairsof ex-politicians in the Region. As one of them put it 'there is no more Begho Commissionof Inquiry. We are glad the governmentwe want has come'.44 It is obviousthat Ojukwu'svisit to Irruahelpedto re-awaken NCNC the based pro-Biafranagitation of some ex-politicians, but they were few. Moreover,the visit generatedinter-party discord,andin this casethe members of the bannedMidWestDemocraticFront in the areawerepersecuted by formersupportersof the NCNC. In sum, while Ojukwuregainedthe supportof the pro-NCNC citizensof Irrua,his comingfurtherantagonized the membersof the opposingpoliticalparties,a situationthatwas not in the overallinterestof the Okonkworegime. Thus, the Biafranscould not get the supportof the generalityof the non-Ibo MidWesterners,becausethe invasionantagonized latterbeyondthe point of easyforgiveness. the The relationship betweenthe two sides deteriorated progressively the and Biafran efforts to secure the people's support failed. The battle front reports were equally unfavourableto the Biafranswho then resorted to extensivewitch-huntingagainstsuspectedsaboteurs. The Biafranforces, who were relatively calm during the first one month of the occupation
41. 42.

PressRelease MW 334 of 15/2/68, pp. 15-17. No. PressRelease MW 621 of 21/3/68, p. 13. No. 43. PressRelease MW 151 of 23/ 1/68, pp. 2-3. No. 44. PressReleaseNo. MW 201 of 30/1/68, p. 10. This statement was credited to Mr S.

Momodu.

THE BIAFRAN CRISIS AND THE MIDWEST

379

period, became progressivelyedgy, tightening the various governmental gadgets of societal control. As the Biafranhostility developed to crisis proportions,the dusk to dawn curfew was furtherenforced,the Vigilance and SecurityCouncilsgiven additionalpowers,and the BiafranArmy and Militia became more ruthless in their dealings with the civilians. The civiliancollaborators doubledtheirspyingactivitiesto callousdimensions.45 The situationdriftedfor the worse. Takingthe MidWesternrefusalto supportthe secessionistmovementas a demonstration an anti-Iboandpro-Hausastance,the Biafrans of intensified theirsearchfor suspectedsaboteursas everyset-backon the battlefrontwas invariablyblamed on sabotage. Heavier reprisalsfollowed. At Abudu, over 300 bodies, including those of children, were found in the Ossiomo riveras the Biafranswithdrew.46 Similarly,on 20 September1967, 'there wasa masskillingof non-Ibo MidWesterners Boji-BojiAgbor',andon 23 at September,'non-Ibo speakingMidWesterners were apprehended rebel by soliders at Asaba, Ibusa and Agbor and taken [in two lorries]to a rubber plantationalong Uromi-Agborroad and massacred'.47 The more minor cases of rape, extortion, seizure of properties, and other punishments featuredabundantly. For instance, a Warri-basedlawyer, E. K. Iseru, testified at the Tribunal that he was stripped naked and detained for three days without food for agitatingfor the Rivers State, and, when he complainedof hunger, he was promptlytold: 'there is no food for Hausa
friends'.48

Nevertheless,the tide had begun to turn againstthe occupationgovernment. Their effortsto solicit the supportof the peoplehad failedandtheir attemptsto alterthe situationby enforcingthe law againstsuspectedsaboteurswerehardlymore successful. The Biafranreactioninsteadhardened the non-Ibo MidWesterners only againstthe Biafrans,but also against not all the Ibo-speaking MidWesterners. In otherwords,the seedsof the antiIbo hostilities which developed following the collapse of the Okonkwo administrationin the MidWest were sown not so much by the Biafran invasion of the Region, but by the activities of the occupation forces thereafter.49 Meanwhile, the Biafrans put in one last effort in what appeared be one finaldesperateattemptto get the supportof the non-Ibo to MidWesterners simplyto implicatethembeforethe FederalGovernment: or the declaration the 'Republicof Benin'. of
45. Author's personal file. Also see Press Release No. MW 215 of 1/2/68, p. 5. 46. This disclosure was made at the Tribunal by Chief D. N. Oronsaye, formerly Principal of the Provincial Teacher Training College, Abudu. See also Press Release No. MW 157 24/1 /68, p. 4. 47. Press Release No. MW 410 23/2/68, pp. 6-7. 48. Press Release No. MW 157 of 24/1/68, pp. 2-3. 49. Author's personal file. There was a general anti-Ibo feeling in the MidWest following its liberation from Biafran control but it did not generate riots of the degree that happened in the North.

380

AFRICAN AFFAIRS

The 'Republicof Benin'

The declaration the 'Republicof Benin'on 20 September1967 repreof sentedperhapsone of the most intriguingmeasurestakenby the Okonkwo administration. There are several possible motives behind the action. Couldit havebeen, as mentionedbefore,the last effortto attractthe support of the non-Ibo MidWesterners, simplyto causea disagreement or between the Federal Government and the MidWest? Was the 'Republic' the makingof Biafraor entirelythe idea of Okonkwoand his associatesin the MidWest? Finally, could it have been part of the war strategyto present Biafrato the outside world not only as a state capableof sustainingits own independencebut also able to create new republicsout of the territories takenfromthe FederalGovernment? The 'Republicof Benin', declaredover Benin Radio on 20 September 1967,was expectedto 'collaborate with the Republicof Biafrain all military matters'. The new 'Republic'wasalsoexpectedto honourall international treaties, support the OAU and apply for membership of the British Commonwealth. Major Okonkwo explained that the creation of the 'Republic'had becomenecessarybecauseall 'reasonable proposals'by the MidWest in the past for the enhancementof Nigerian unity had failed. Furthermore, said,representatives the MidWesterners voted for a he of had confederalsystemof governmentfor Nigeria,the MidWesthad lost 10,000 of its citizens, slaughtered maimedin the Northernriots, the North had or neitherapologizedfor those crimesnor compensatedthose affectedby the disturbances, 'governments LagosandNorthernNigeria'wereunwillthe in ing to honour the Aburi Agreements,the 'Lagos and NorthernNigerian governments' had employed force to impose an 'unacceptabletype of governmenton our people', the 'Lagos and Northern governments'had declaredwaron the Republicof Biafraand the peopleof the MidWestand, finally,weaponsof waranddestruction beenunleashedon 'ourinnocent had citizens'.50 To give credibilityto his action,or at leastto demonstrate that his actionhad the backingof a sizeablepartof the non-Ibo speakingMidWesterners,Okonkwoclaimedto have had discussionswith 'His Highness the Obaof Beninaboutthese mattersandhe gavehis unequivocalsupport'. It is true that the MidWestbeforethe Biafraninvasionhad tried unsuccessfully to play a mediatory role in the crisis, but the representative assemblyof the Regionneverat any time formallyvoted for a confecleration for Nigeria,althoughits delegationto the AburiConference gone along had with the generalagreementsreached,which recommended confederation a for the country. In any case,declaringthe MidWesta republicwasnot the answerto the problem,since a confederation not exactlyequivalentof a is total secession which the declarationof the 'Republicof Benin' implied. Second, it is true that a number of MidWesternersdied in the Northern
50. RadioBenin(20 September 1967) cited in ARB (1-30 September 1967), col. A, p. 865.

THE BIAFRAN CRISIS AND THE MIDWEST

riots,but the 10,000quotedcanhardlybe describedas authenticparticularly when not all of the MidWesterners the North fell victims of, or were the in targets of attackby, the Northerners. Third, it is true that the Federal Governmentdid not implementthe Aburi Agreementsexactly but it was most unlikely that the MidWesternerswould ever have contemplated declaring a republic of their own on these grounds, because of the size and hetereogeneityof the population. Even at subsequentmeetings after Aburi,the MidWestdelegationwasalwaysadvisedspecifically maintaina to neutralistposition at all costs, in order not to encourageany threatto the territorialsurvivalof Nigeria.51 It will be recalledthat the MidWest was reluctantto involve its troops or allow its territoryto be used in the war againstthe secessionists,andthe Regionin its neutrality displayeda prohad Ibo sentimentpartlyto avertthe secessionof the East fromthe Federation. Fourth,the unleashingof hostilityon the 'innocentcitizens'of the MidWest was necessitatedby the incursionof the Biafransinto the Region. Finally, therewas no evidenceto show that the Obaof Benin assentedvoluntarilyto the creationof the 'Republicof Benin'. The point being madeis that the non-Ibo Midwesterners could not have been attractedby a republic they had not planned for. Similarly, the Federal Government,knowing the propagandacontent of the Okonkwo broadcast knowingthat the broadcast pre-recorded Asabaas the and was at Biafranforces were on the run, realizedthat the conspiracyto declarethe 'Republicof Benin' was mainlythe responsibilityof the Biafransand their collaborators. Thus, Okonkwofailed to realizehis objectiveif that objective wasto attractthe supportof the majority MidWesterners to causea of or disagreement betweenthem andthe Federalauthorities. The idea of the 'Republic of Benin' was first mooted overtly on 5 September1967duringa meetingheld at the StateHouse in Beninin which were presentthe MilitaryAdministrator, MajorOkonkwo,Commander of the Biafranforcesin the MidWest,Brigadier Banjo,cheActing Secretary to the MilitaryGovernment,O. I. Afe, and the Secretaryof Okonkwo,F. C. Esedebe. Reportshad it that the two militaryofficersdisagreedover the issue. Banjowasnot in favourwhileOkonkwo'insistedthatthe declaration was of primenecessity'.52 The declaration neithercommendednor condemnedby the Biafran was leader,who insteadshowedmoreconcernaboutthe poorperformance his of troopsin the MidWest, blamingthe situationthere on sabotage. Ojukwu complained that his troops performed badly because they were being commandedby 'a non-Biafranwho had professedhis belief in the cause of freeing Southern Nigeria from Hausa-Fulanidomination.... We have
51. Press Release No. MW 620of 21/3/68,p. 11. This wasata meetingof delegates finance of andlegalexpertsof Nigeriasummoned Lt. GeneralAnkrah Ghanaon 28 March1967,to by of settlethe financial disputebetweenthe EasternRegionandthe restof the Federation. 52. Press Release No. MW 658 of 26/3/68, p. 1.

381

382

AFFAIRS AFRICAN

He learned to our regret. . . that our confidence was misplaced'. now 'forces in Benin were ordered treacherybecause the Biafran suspected If Ojukwu's leave the city when the enemy was still 33 miles away'. to of Banjo's commandof the Biafran implied a condemnation statements for moving his the forces, Biafranleaderspecificallyalso blamedOkonkwo Agborwithoutreferenceto him as the capitalfromBenin to administrative of Commander-in-Chiefthe Biafranforces.53 of Benin'but by of Ojukwuwasupsetnot by the declaration the 'Republic MidWest. It appears,therefore,that of performance his forces in the the Biafranleadercreationof the 'Republic'was in the grandplan of the the wasits timing;the republicwasdeclared ship. Whatwasperhapsupsetting lost most of the a at time when the Biafranforces were on the run, having and on the very day Benin City fell to the to MidWest the FederalArmy Biafran Government. However,the lackof consultationwith the Federal reflectedhis looseningcontrolover of leadership whichOjukwucomplained assoclates. .rllS win for Biafra of The declaration the 'Republicof Benin' did not help to externalrecognitionBiafragot came in externalhonours. Whatever any to the Federal 1968well after the territoryof the 'Republic'had reverted of Benin' died the hour it was born, Government. Indeed, the 'Republic proclaimedfrom forthe Federalforces reachedBenin City as it was being was. Asaba. The 'Republicof Benin'was a republicthatnever
. .

Conclusion

the secessionof Fromthe beginningof the Nigeriancrisis,and even after a policy of neutrality EasternNigeria (Biafra),the MidWest maintained policy was made which in many ways reflecteda pro-Ibo stance. This influencein the Region, possiblebecauseof the sizeableIbo populationand The invasion, but it was severely underminedby the Biafraninvasion. reasons,took most which occurredessentiallyfor strategicand economic and unawares arouseda feelingof humiliation,particularly MidWesterners by a the non Ibo-speakingpopulation,who werefurtheralienated amongst whichincluded government numberof actionsandpoliciesof the occupation and administration betweenthe Biafran physicalassaults. The relationship hopelesslyas every Biafran soon degenerated the non-Ibo MidWesterners reprisals attracted and failurein battlewasblamedon sabotage consequently on the localpopulation. involvementin the MidWestwasat best a In the finalanalysis,the Biafran the anticipated it disaster. Strategically, failedbecauseit neitherprovided for the sessionistsnor did it actuallyslow down necessarybreathingspace conflict was the tempo of the Federal offensive. Instead, the national the active with upgradedfrom a mere 'police-action'to a full-scale war,
53. ARB col. A, p. 865. Radio Biafra, Enugu(21 September1967)citedin

THE BIAFRAN CRISIS AND THE MIDWEST

383

participationof the once neutral MidWest. Socially, it underminedthe harmonybetweenthe Ibos and non-Ibos of the Region and economicallyit encouragedthe Region to become more committed to Federal economic sanctionsagainstBiafra. On the part of the Biafran command, the invasion also caused more problemsthanit solved. First, the wranglingovercommandof the Biafran occupation forces between Banjo and the senior Ibo officers adversely affectedthe planned surprisedattackon the Western Region and Lagos, whichmight well haveled to a turningpoint in the wholewar. There wasa realpossibilityof BiafrancolumnsreachingLagosunchallengedif they had continued with the speed with which they occupied the MidWesti the Federal Governmentthen appearedunpreparedfor any surpriseattack,a judgementbuttressedby the fact that it took the Federalauthoritiessome time to organize a force to liberate the Region. Yet the ability of the Biafransto occupy the West and Lagos effectivelyas they did the MidWest remainsdoubtful because of the problemsof militaryefficiency,logistics, manpower weaponsandthe unpredictable and reaction the predominantly of Yorubapopulation. Second,the MidWestepisodefurtherunderlinedthe essentially Ibo dimensionof the Biafranmovement. Banjo'sinability to overrunthe West and Lagos successfullyor to hold on to the MidWestwas blamed not on logistical, manpoweror administrativeproblems, but on sabotage which, according to Ojukwu, arose from Banjo being a 'nonBiafran'. Banjo's execution along with Emmanuel Ifeajuna,John Alale and Sam Agbamwho had been accusedof collaborating with 'Communist agents to overrunBiafraby means of tenaciouspropaganda having no relevanceto militaryreality'54 barelya week afterthe collapseof the Biafran government the Midwest,cannotbe unconnected in with his performance as the commander the invasionforce. of In sum, Biafrawould have benefitedmore from the Midwest had she maintainedthe existing relationship,instead of embarkingon an invasion which eventuallymilitated against her over-all interests. The lesson to learnfrom the Biafranepisode in the MidWest is the need to cultivateand uphold a mutual regard for one another. The Biafransknew that most MidWesterners sympathizedwith their secession,but they went wrongby expectingthe sympathyto be transformed an activeinvolvementin the into conflict. Their determinationto realize this objective even by coercion simplyculminatedin the collapseof the existing'accord',muchto the detrimentof the secessionistenclave. The Biafran invasionof the MidWestwill go down on recordnot only as a sad chapterin Nigerianhistorybut also as one of the most severestrategicblundersin contemporary warsof secession.

54

ForthcomingS E Orobator)TheC?.mt"Ulng87)Wprl43