“All is fair in war and starvation is only an instrument of war” – Obafemi Awolowo (defending his starvation policy on the Biafran civil population against the Geneva international codes of war).
Four years ago in 2016, a young student of History at the UNN (by name Okoh, L.I) submitted an important thesis to earn a bachelor of arts degree from the University. That thesis was titled “Impact Assessment of the Nigeria-Biafra Conflict on the Uzo-Uwani Farm Settlement, Enugu State, 1967–1970”. This young person’s scholarly intervention is, by my estimation, the most updated account of the starvation strategy used by the Nigerian government (as spearheaded by Obafemi Awolowo) to execute a long-planned and well-thought genocide by other means on the Igbo populace—not just for the wartime but for all times.
As our elderly Igbo population who fought and survived the war thins down drastically through deaths, the fuller picture of the 1967–1970 genocide by starvation fades, coupled with poor reading culture and interests in mundane Nigerian social issues of no value among the younger Igbo. But thanks to rare Igbo youths like Okoh who undertook to add up the other part of the puzzle to give us one of the clearer pictures we can sustain for memory.
Let me attempt a brief summary of Okoh’s work as well as augment it with my own knowledge.
- For any Igbo who have no geographical idea of the place called Uzo-Uwani, the Google map may be of help. However, note briefly that Uzo-Uwani is a large expanse of area in today’s Enugwu State mediating Nsukka areas and the West of Anambra State. It is actually the very area where the Fulani herdsmen have widely camped and have terrorized and are still terrorizing the surrounding communities (remember the 2016 Nimbo Massacre), farmers and travelers till now. The area is about the greatest agricultural area in Igboland as it has entirely every agricultural potential in it—forestry, fishing, etc.
- Long ago when M I Okpara was a Minister of Agriculture in the Eastern Regional Government, he had already known the vast potential lying in that area. And so, when he became Premier, he swiftly deployed resources to build one of the greatest farm settlements in Africa at that time in this Uzo-Uwani. The settlement, with other smaller farm settlements scattered in the region, were opened in 1961 and was formally known as “Uzo-Uwani Farm Settlement”. According to Okoh, the infrastructures in the Settlement included: “buildings for settlers, health center, primary school, stores, shops, market, processing mills, prototype cultivator, prototype disc harrow, ploughing machines, churches, police station, post office, machinery pool, workshops, poultry and distributing center, sports field and playground.” It was one of the most important government properties as agriculture was like the oil industry of the time. Those who worked there were some of the highest-paid govt. workers as they lived there with their families in the settlement quarters. The Settlement fed the entire Eastern region, exported food and stored lots of food too. There were no Fulani herdsmen there milling around with their cows and it was unthinkable they would ever be. The only cows there were those of the settlement and the area was devoid of any terror at the time.
- As soon as the war ensued, Nigerian government—even after it had blockaded Biafra from receiving any food support from the outside world—immediately went after the Settlement in 1968 to destroy it completely. Having known about the Farm Settlement back in the days and the food sufficiency it could afford the Igbo, Gowon’s advisers (chief among them, Awolowo) insisted on having it attacked. Jet bombers were used to raze it down and make sure that no food comes from there at the time and even till now. Then the Nigerian soldiers entered and looted the remaining properties. This move was totally against the Geneva international war engagement codes which they falsely argued against with the excuse that Ojukwu was hiding arms in the silos of grains and other foods in the settlement. With that destruction, starvation and hunger in Biafra shot up astronomically and children began to die from Kwashioko.
- Contrary to the popular opinion that the starvation policy of Awolowo executed by Nigeria was more about the total blockade of Biafra by Nigeria, the destruction of the Uzo-Uwani Farm Settlement was one of its principal moves but very many of us are unaware of this and many other Igbo authors on the war narratives hardly highlight it. The enormous impact of this destruction, as researched by Okoh, continues till this day in multiple ways.
A keen Igbo mind who knows these things would quickly see a link in the conspiracy of the Caliphate Nigerian government in allowing the Fulani herdsmen to perpetually colonize this very nature-rich area, use their cows to destroy the farms set up by individuals and diminish food production, terrorize surrounding communities with their sophisticated arms and kidnap road users going to Onicha or Nsuka from that axis. Gradually, the area is getting more deserted by the native population as the young ones go out in droves in search of greener pastures and hardly come back home. The population there is also dwindling, by my rough estimation. And the herdsmen keep expanding their occupation of the territory. I have a feeling that if we do not note these things and their roots (imagined and real) and take actions to repossess our own thing, it would be the first part of Igboland, apart from some parts of Ebonyi State, where the Jihadists would comfortably use to launch their long-planned attacks in future. Do not ever expect Enugwu State government under Ugwuanyi to do this or Dave Umahi and his fellow governors. It is us who are under no obligation to the Caliphate that would do it.
By Chijioke Ngobili
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