From Magnus Eze, Enugu
During the Nigeria-Biafra civil war, Ihesinachi Ewa, a pastor and historian, was a little boy in the sleepy town of Afikpo in present day Ebonyi State, which shares coastal boundary with Cross River State.
While historians have accounted for the first genocide which occurred in the course of the war now referred to as the “Asaba massacre”, Ewa is pained that nothing is said about the killings by the federal forces in his home town, Afikpo.
His claim that more heinous crimes were committed in Afikpo than even in Asaba was recently captured in a book entitled: “The last genocide”.
He spoke to Sunday Sun about his book, detailing eye witness account of the invasion of Afikpo and other issues. Excerpts:
Your book is entitled “The last genocide,” what is it all about?
During the Nigeria-Biafra war, the first community destruction in Igboland happened in Asaba, in the present Delta State. The carnage that took place there happened for two days and it was the first black to black genocide. That took place in October, 1967. In the last genocide, Afikpo fell in April, 1968. And while Afikpo was devastated and by the time the men that survived the war were being assembled, every man and male children were being killed. That was the last mass killing that the Nigerian military conducted in Igbo community when the war ended. It is a big pain that 50 years after, there are no literary or historical works that covered what happened in Afikpo. I being a victim of all the horrendous occurrences that happened in Afikpo at the time, I felt by all the things I’ve seen in archives in universities, it is imperative for me to write an eyewitness account and what I experienced. And since it has not been written, that is why I want to make Ndigbo and the world in general to understand what happened in Afikpo. It is coming now because it is the time I am ready. This is the time that God gave me the opportunity to write the event that took place in my place between 1968 to 7th of January, 1970. Part of the pains that I have is that while I go through the archives, I have not seen where it is written, granted the fact that the first medical doctor in Igboland, Dr Akanu Ibiam, who was also an officer in Biafra government hailed from there. No such thing was written anywhere and it is nowhere in the international media where the thing that occurred in Afikpo was written. That is why I had to take the pain because I was an eyewitness and there are so many men and women that suffered and survived that event and are still alive today, that is why I want to let the entire world and Ndigbo anywhere in the world to know that Afikpo suffered more than any other community in Igboland during the war. In that genocide, there were communities who were largely affected on the 7th of January, 1970 incident. Kpogrikpo, my community, was affected and the names of those who were killed have been collated, it is there in “The last genocide.” Enohia Nkalu was another community that was seriously affected. The names of the people that were killed at that time are still being collated. Ibii, another community in Ozizza was also devastated and we have collated the names of those who were destroyed. Now in Akpoha; in Amasiri, there were also such destructions, but in the Last Genocide, because the people who were supposed to collate the names had not yet done that by the time I was going to the press, it wasn’t captured. But in the second edition, the names of those who were killed in Akpoha and Amasiri will be there. At St Anthony School, in the present Amaizu Amamgbala, about 500 men were assembled, including those who had come to sell their wares. They were all killed en masse. In kpogripko, in Ibii, in Enohia Nkalu, those places where they assembled the men, their names have been collated. As at 1970, there was genocide in Afikpo; that is why the book is called the Last Genocide because it’s the last genocide that the Nigerian military carried out in Igboland when the war had ended. What happened was that there were rumours that the war had ended by September. Because people didn’t have access to media, what was happening then was that people who were coming from different places will hear and send spies to check and be sure if really the war had ended. So, people that returned to Afikpo, although there were about seven military barracks in Afikpo; they told us that the war had ended and we were having serious relationship with them. We had identified that we were one Nigeria. Everybody felt that the war had ended not knowing that they (Nigerian soldiers) were taking count of people that had returned from the war. Sometimes they will enter the village and we wouldn’t know they had come to take count of people who had returned. At times they would ask the people to find leaves in the trees for their cooking and they can find people like that. We were trying to please them. Note that there is this closeness between Afikpo and Cross River State. That time, after the war, at the river there, the fish had so much grown because fishermen were not going to fish again because of the war. That time whether by hook or net, you cast into the river, you will catch big fish. So, within 1967 and 1969, the fish had grown so much. They buy the fishing nets from Cross River. So, whether you put a hook or a net, you make a big catch and so some of these fishermen take the big fishes from their catch to soldiers. So, it was happening every day. That was the relationship. We were trying to appease all the officers. Some officers will come that they want to take some boys of 10 years or nine years to live with them and some parents will object. My own father objected to taking my 10-year-old brother. Eventually that was the relationship that existed between the Nigerian military and those who had returned from the war. So, we didn’t know that it was a process to know the number of people that had returned from the war. That was why those incidents happened.
So, generally, how would you describe the civil war experience in Afkpo?
The Nigeria-Biafra war experience in the entire Afikpo community is a very painful one in the sense that there’s no household that was not affected badly. By the time Afikpo fell in April 1968; there were only two houses that were not burnt because there was massive air raid. After the air raid, there was invasion. The military had to be ferried from the Bahumono community in Upper Cross River from where they invaded and burnt down the entire community. So, old men who were above 60 to 70 years old could not escape and were burnt in the houses. Children who could not locate their parents had to stay for some days before they could find where their parents were. For instance, we spent four days in the bush before my father could locate us. In those days, there were only track roads and some people who were pregnant had to be in the bush for three to five days before they can locate their spouses. Now, coming to what I experienced, the Nigeria-Biafra war was a big disaster in the entire Afikpo community. It is a very big pain to me to start reflecting on. The war affected aging Afikpo men who today could have been among those ruling Nigeria. But those calibres of men were wiped out. If you go to other parts of Igboland, they will say that Afikpo is backward in education but Afikpo was at the forefront of education after independence because, Dr Akanu Ibiam was the first Governor of Eastern Region. He established Government College Afikpo and it was an institution where several Igbo intellectual attended. You had McGregor Teachers’ Training College, Women Training College and Sir Francis Ibiam Grammer School. So, Afikpo was a place where people from other Igbo communities came to study. It becomes a very big pain when someone says that people from Ebonyi State are backward in education. I make bold to say it was because of the effect of the war. After the war, many of our people could no longer go back to school. For instance, all the people that were the first victims of the carnage that took place, when I conducted the research, I found out that I am the only one to go to school. The rest are artisans, some are fishermen; some of them did not even have the opportunity to go to even primary school. So, you can imagine analysing Afikpo after the war; to feed was a problem because bread winners had been killed. Polygamy, though had been in existence was legalized in a way that men who survived where forced to marry two or three or four wives. Some men married seven wives because they did not want these women to be committing adultery or roaming around. So, the impact of the civil war on Afikpo cannot be overstated.
Looking back, would you justify the war?
I believe that from 1967 to 1970; that the Biafra war was a war of survival. The Igbo was being pushed in such a way that they had to defend themselves. Be that as it may, it is also the Nigerian-Biafra war that made the world know about the Igbo. It made the world to know that there is a tribe known as the Igbo; that they are a resilient people. That wherever an Igbo man goes, he will know he is a Biafran. When I was in Portugal, a man met me when he heard my name. He asked if I was Igbo. He said he fought on the Biafran side; that NATO had to send soldiers to fight on the Nigerian side. Igbo people stood against injustice and oppression. Today, the injustices that made the Igbo go to war are still there. Injustice is still ravaging the country and the Igbo said they stand for fairness and justice. Let there be fair-play for every Nigerian. So, when there is no fair-play, when there is no justice, you could still see that some of these children who did not see the war are saying that while they score 70 per cent in an examination, they do not get admission while someone who got four per cent gets admitted. That is injustice; that is why the boys and the girls are clamouring for their own country. They say if this is the case, then we are not the same. We are not supposed to be in the same country. In those days, we were pursuing to go to Europe; some bursary was given to some people. Those Europeans will ask us, are you not in the same country, why is it that they give some people and they don’t give you? This is because we come from a different region. You find out that people are still clamouring for a different country while some are clamouring for restructuring. They want to have a balance in a country where they are stakeholders, where they have a right. But when your rights are taken away to that extent that you are pushed to the wall, you’ll be forced to react. Why people are clamouring is because they are not seeing themselves as having the same rights in a country where they feel they belong.