Every once, in a cycle of similar events, Nigeria’s history appears to rotate full circle, cascading through some demonic teetotum, to repeat itself.
On the 30th of May, 1967, the massacres of the Igbo and other Easterners around the country and their mass exodus to the Eastern Region, for safety, culminated in the declaration of the Republic of Biafra by the then governor of the region, Lt.-Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu..
Earlier, according to reports, the Nigerian military intelligence, under the command of Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, had uncovered a plot by some people to carry out a jihad and islamise Nigeria. A bloody coup followed and several political leaders and top military officers of Northern extraction and some, of the Western Region, fell victims.
Instantly, the aftermath of the coup reversed what was initially seen across ethnic or religious lines, as an exercise to purge Nigeria of corruption, nepotism and other divisive tendencies, as indicated by Nzeogwu’s broadcast. The coup was suddenly dubbed an “Igbo coup” and was to set the pace for what happened in the country, in the subsequent months, following a counter-coup, this time, led by Northern military officers.
The following is one example, an account of how Lieutenant-Colonel James Yakubu Pam, a Northern officer from what is, today, Plateau State, was taken away from his wife and children by one of the coup-makers, his trusted friend and deputy, Major Humphrey Chukwuka and was never seen alive again, by his family. This was one of the events that provoked a devastating backlash that was to follow, months later, on July 29, 1966, claiming, down the line, the lives of millions of Igbo civilians, including children, who had nothing to do with a coup organised and executed by some members of the Nigerian military:
The Abduction And Execution Of Colonel Pam
Just before dawn on a Saturday morning, about 2:10 am, January 15, 1966, the Adjutant-General of the Nigerian Army, Lieutenant-Colonel James Pam, his wife Elizabeth and all other members of his family in their Nigerian Army residence at 8, Ikoyi Crescent, Ikoyi, Lagos, awoke to the sight of soldiers crouching decidedly towards their house.
Eventually, the fully-armed soldiers continued to make their way to Lt.-Col. Pam’s home. Those approaching the kitchen chose to make their entrance by shooting through the door. A quick run up the stairs and the soldiers took over the bedrooms.
By this time, Elizabeth was no longer in doubt that something had badly gone wrong. As she ran to the children’s rooms in her distress and confusion, she screamed for her oldest child and daughter who was eight years old.
“Kaneng ! Kaneng! Help me! Help me!” she called out.
However, the invading soldiers had come face-to-face with her husband, James Pam, led by a man very close to him and a family-friend, Major Humphrey Chukwuka, who was also his second-in-command and Deputy Adjutant-General.
“Sir, we have come to take you with us,” Chukwuka said.
“Why? What is the meaning of this?” Pam questioned.
“Sir, please come with us,” Chukwuka responded.
“Ok. Allow me to dress,” Pam said, as he gave in, especially to the sight of guns blaring at him.
At this point, Pam was joined by his heartbroken wife, Elizabeth, as he retreated into the bedroom and changed swiftly into a pair of trousers, a vest and shirt and he put on his watch.
He returned to the waiting soldiers as Elizabeth pleaded with Major Chukwuka who she knew well as her husband’s deputy and friend, to spare her husband’s life.
“Please don’t kill him, please don’t kill my husband,” Elizabeth pleaded.
“No. We won’t Madam. Don’t worry. I will bring him back to you,” Chukwuka assured.
Major Chukwuka, who had rather become impatient, began to march Lieutenant-Colonel James Yakubu Pam out of his home but not without first advising him to put on a coat because it was cold outside due to the harmattan season.
As Pam was led out, Kaneng, his daughter, aware of the present danger, ran to her father and hugged him. Pam promptly turned to Elizabeth his wife and said in Hausa: “Liz, ki lura da yara,” which means “Liz, look after the children.”
Those were his last words to his wife. It was also the last time he would have a glimpse of his family that comprised his wife Elizabeth, Kaneng, eight years; Jummai, six years; Yusufu, four years; identical twins Ishaku and Ishaya, one year and nine months and Ibrahim (Gambo), four months and two weeks.
James Pam was led out and eventually killed within the hour after he was allowed to say his last prayers. His last thoughts were obviously for his devoted wife Elizabeth and their children. “Lord save them. Lord bless them and Lord keep them.”
Those were his last words as thirteen bullets were rained on him hitting his chest and jaw. He was 32. Murdered in cold blood on a cold morning by people he had trusted.
[Source: ‘A Carnage Before Dawn’, Courtesy, Bisikay Ayedun Library].
The Backlash And The Killing Fields
Its backlash was swift, brutal and merciless, just as the January 15th coup had visited upon some of its victims, like Lieutenant-Colonel Pam. The civilian population had joined the armed forces in tracking down and executing the Igbo, any and everywhere they could be found. Nigeria became a killing field and the country was slowly disintegrating into its original component parts.
The following is an account, quoting a “Times Magazine, London, 7 October, 1966”, titled, ‘The Industry Called Killing Of Ibos In Nigeria’:
“The massacre began at the airport near the Fifth Battalion’s home city of Kano. A Lagos-bound jet had just arrived from London, and as the Kano passengers were escorted into the customs shed a wild-eyed soldier stormed in, brandishing a rifle and demanding, ‘Ina Nyamiri?’ – the Hausa for ‘Where are the damned Ibos?’. There were Ibos among the customs officers, and they dropped their chalk and fled, only to be shot down in the main terminal by other soldiers. Screaming the blood curses of a Moslem Holy War, the Hausa troops turned the airport into a shambles, bayonetting Ibo workers in the bar, gunning them down in the corridors, and hauling Ibo passengers off the plane to be lined up and shot.
From the airport the troops fanned out through downtown Kano, hunting down Ibos in bars, hotels, and on the streets. One contingent drove their Land Rovers to the railroad station where more than 100 Ibos were waiting for a train, and cut them down with automatic weapon fire.
The soldiers did not have to do all the killing. They were soon joined by thousands of Hausa civilians, who rampaged through the city armed with stones, cutlasses, matchets, and home-made weapons of metal and broken glass. Crying, ‘Heathen’ and ‘Allah’, the mobs and troops invaded the Sabon Gari, (strangers’ quarter) ransacking, looting and burning Ibo homes and stores and murdering their owners.
All night long and into the morning the massacre went on. Then, tired but fulfilled, the Hausas drifted back to their homes and barracks to get some breakfast and sleep. Municipal garbage trucks were sent out to collect the dead and dump them into mass graves outside the city. The death toll will never be known, but it was at least a thousand.
Somehow several thousand Ibos survived the orgy, and all had the same thought: to get out of the North.”
Thirty-three years after, the rather mystical month of MAY, the month Colonel Ojukwu declared the Republic of Biafra, Nigeria has again rotated full circle and somehow, the month popped up, once again, this second time, as the month Nigeria chose as its ‘Democracy Day’ – May the 29th, precisely, a day shy of the day Ojukwu declared Biafra.
This year, 2019, 20 years after the return to democratic rule, month of May has become an issue, once again. As President Mohammadu Buhari prepares to be sworn in for a second term in office, there is so much tension in the land, completely reminiscent of the events of 1966 that led directly to the civil war.
Far worse than even the days preceding the Majors Ifeajuna/Nzeogwu coup, there is a very high level of insecurity in the land; killings occur almost daily, all over the country and worse, there is, once again, talk of Islamisation of Nigeria, the same rat, Major Nzeogwu smelt in Kaduna over five decades ago, leading to the coup of January 15, 1966.
Today, it is on record that Nzeogwu’s best known friend, former president, General Olusegun Obasanjo, among several other prominent Nigerians, has spoken out, publicly, pointing to what he thinks is President Buhari’s intention to Islamise Nigeria. Indeed, Nigeria has come full circle, once again!