It is hard and perhaps impossible to convey to people in this country the extent of the disasters which have happened, are happening, and are impending in Nigeria. The indifference to the tragedy is in part a racial one. The magazine, Jet, last July headlined a story about the Nigeria-Biafra war with the words: “The War Between Blacks Nobody Cares About.” A struggle between black and white stirs emotions and humanitarian rhetoric and even action—as in the case of the famous Mercy Mission to Stanleyville in 1964. When white people hear of blacks killing blacks, however, there descends a curtain not so much of apathy as of coziness on the conscience: “You can’t blame us this time….”
Last year in northern Nigeria, in the Moslem towns of Kano and Kaduna and elsewhere, about 30,000 strangers—that is to say, persons originating from another region of Nigeria, the East, mainly belonging to the Ibo people—were massacred in a series of pogroms. As a result the surviving Easterners abandoned their jobs and their goods and fled back to their own region. In the chaotic conditions in which this movement of population took place no one knows exactly how many people fled. Eastern estimates put the figure at about two million. There can be no doubt that it was an exodus on a great scale and that had this movement occurred across an international frontier, it would already be classified among the great refugee problems of the twentieth century. It did not take place across an international frontier however, but from one region to another in what was still nominally one country. It was therefore “a domestic problem,” and despite its enormity it aroused far less interest and attention in this country than the fate of a few hundred people, in another African country, had done two years earlier. Those people became the object of intense international concern culminating in the Mercy Mission to Stanleyville in 1964. They were white.
In Nigeria the killing still continues. After the Northern massacres, the Ibos, a people of about eight million who form the majority of the population of the Eastern region, felt that they no longer had a place in Nigeria outside their region. This had been made grimly clear as far as the North was concerned, but even as regards the rest of the country, Ibos felt that there was no security for them in any place where there are Northern officers and Northern troops, as there are throughout the Western region and in the federal capital of Lagos. It was in these conditions that the Eastern region—perhaps unwisely but very understandably—attempted to break away from a Nigeria that most of its people could no longer regard as their country. The Military Governor of the Eastern region, Lt.-Col. Odumegwu Ojukwu, an Ibo, failed in his efforts to persuade the officers from other regions who controlled the rest of the country to agree to a looser form of association between the regions. Last May he declared…
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.