For a century before the advent of British administration in Nigeria. the Fulani provided the ruling class of most Northern Nigeria. The notable exception is the Bornu Emirate to the northeast which is inhabited by the Kanuri. What we now know as the provinces of Sokoto, Gwandu. Katsina. Kano. Zaria. Bauchi. Adamawa. Plateau and Niger fell under varying degrees to the influence of the Fulani aristocracy. Northern Nigeria was by no means a void nor was it without history. We do not propose to delve into ancient history. This is hardly a useful exercise here. Suffice it to say that British expansion met established Hausa states at varying levels of development and prosperity. There were in all at this stage 14 Hausa states which comprised. Daura, Kano, Zaria, Gobir, Katsina, Rono and Biram (the Hausa Bakwai or legitimate 7 states); Zamfara. Kebbi, Nupe, Gwari, Gauri, lIorin (Yoruba) and Kwararafa (the banza Bakwai or upstart seven which developed to the south and west of the original group). Each state had its own traditions and legends of origin and at varying degrees had embraced or come under the influence of Islam. It has been said that it would be strictly incorrect :0 refer to these Hausa states as if they belonged to the same ethnic group. They were people who spoke the Hausa language and adopted the Hausa mode of dress and life generally.
When the 19th Century opened, the Fulani appeared to be the predominant race in the Sudan. Fulani is the Hausa name for the people who call themselves Fulbe. They themselves made a distinction between the Cattle Fulani and the Town Fulani; the latter included the aristocratic families such as the Torobe. The origin of these people is less than clear. What is more certain, however, is that by the 16th century, there was a steady movement of those Fulani people from the region now known as Senegal towards the East through Messina and the Hausa states toward Chad and Adamawa and beyond.
From the rank of the Fulani the great religious leaders of the 18th and 19th centuries came in the Sudan to launch a series of religious movements which, as often happened in Islam, passed into political wars. We are here concerned with the religious movement that affected Northern Nigeria.
Usman Dan Fodio who was subsequently known as Shehu or Sheikh was born a Fulani in the Hausa state of Gobir about 1750. He was brought up with his brother Abdullahi as a strict Muslim and after studying for some years in Agades he felt the call to dedicate his life to teaching the faith. On his return from Agades, Dan Fodio acted as tutor to the Sarkin Gobir's two sons in Alkaluwa. One of these was Yunfa who was later to succeed to the throne. In the interval before his accession Dan Fodio felt obliged to withdraw from Alkaluwa giving as his reason the reversion to pagan practices by the court and the hostility shown toward the Muslim faith. When Yunfa finally became King, he sought out his old tutor and encouraged him to resume his itinerant preaching. Dan Fodio soon fell out with the new king and in 1804 was driven to flight. A party rallied to him, defeated the king, and proclaimed Dan Fodio, (now their leader) Sarkin Musulmi, Commander of the Faithful, a title which is still held by his successor, the Sultan of Sokoto. A general movement broke out all over the area which later became Northern Nigeria.
The line of cleavage did not run clear between the Fulanis and the Hausas but the Fulani who provided the energy and ambition to the apparent religious cause. Everywhere followers of the Shehu, appointed or self-appointed, received flags from his hands. They called upon the faithful to drive out the old Hausa or as they were called the Habe dynasties and then set themselves up in turn as rulers subject to Sokoto which had become the seat of the Fulani authority in 1810. Not only was this change accomplished in the old Hausa kingdoms but in the impetus of the movement, Fulani leaders pushed the boundaries of Islam south, incorporating in varying degrees many pagan tribes.
As indicated earlier, the movement for religious revival degenerated into a political war of conquest. Consequently, the son of the Shehu. Bello, who succeeded him became more interested in the military and political results of the religious revival than in spreading the faith.
The record of Fulani success had some important exceptions. The ancient Kanuri kingdom of Bornu with its capital near Lake Chad and itself Moslem. threw back the Fulani invaders. The holy man of Bomu. EI-Kanemi, taunted Shehu Usman Dan Fodio with having turned a war of religion into one of conquest and with attacking his co-religionists. EI-Kanemi frankly admitted that some of his chiefs had relapsed into heathenism, that the Alkalis or Moslem judges sometimes took bribes and that women went unveiled; but he argued that this was not sufficient excuse for war. This opposition from Bornu, as we shall see when we come to consider the pattern and the spread of the atrocities in the 1966 pogrom, seems to rear its head once again in 1966. Bello in his defence of his father's action justified it mainly on the ground of proselytism. Said he:
And the second reason for our jihad was that they were heathens, the people of Hausa. A further reason for the war was that we sought to aid truth against falsehood and to strengthen Islam. For to make war on the heathen from the beginning, if one has the power is declared a duty. So also is it a duty to make war on those heathen who have converted to Islam and later have reverted to heathenism, if one has the power. In truth we stated at the beginning of this book that the Hausa chiefs, their people and their mallams were evildoers.
At the beginning of the present century, the British administration emerged in Northern Nigeria. They based their title on conquest. Sir Fredrick Lugard, the first British Governor of Northern Nigeria asserted in one of his early reports as follows: - "The Fulani hold their suzerainty by right of conquest. I can myself see no injustice in the transfer of the suzerainty thus acquired to the British by the same right of conquest."
The Fulani caste seemed to have accepted their masters without much resistance. The explanation of this, it is said, was due in part to the insecurity of the Fulani position in relation to their subjects who had shown little loyalty to the Fulani during the period of their confrontation with the British.
The British, by force of arms, broke the Fulani ascendancy in the North, but by a twist of irony, restored that supremacy under the system of indirect rule. Once the suzerainty of the British was accepted by the Fulani, the British were content to allow and even to support and consolidate the authority of the Fulani Emirs in their various Emirates. The Fulani Emir was left as the head of the native administration, the head of the native judiciary, the religious head, and practically the head of everything in his emirate. Offices in the native administration, in the native administration police, in the native judiciary, were filled by appointees of the emirs. These appointees were invariably the relations of the Emir or his courtiers. Moslem religion permeated every aspect of life in the Emirates. The society became a 'closed shop'. Strangers especially non-Moslems, had no place in the society.
It is generally accepted that in 1966 there were over 2 million Easterners in Northern Nigeria. Their presence in the North was all connected with the amalgamation of Northern and Southern Nigeria in 1914 by the British. Unfortunately, although they were there in such large numbers and for so long and filled a very important position in the economic and political development of Northern Nigeria, they were never fully integrated into the mainstream of life in society. They became what sociologists call a privileged pariah class - 'privileged' because participating in and benefiting from the modernising sectors of the economy to which the Northern moslems had been induced to turn their back. Their standard of living was higher than the normal run of life of most Northerners. They were ‘pariah’ because they were kept outside the rank system of society. Because of the attitude of the Northern Moslems to modern education, the administrators of the day were compelled to employ these Easterners though they disliked having them. It cut across the policy of the day of separating the North from the South. 'Divide and rule’ is a cliché which has grown odious by being frequently used for all situations whether appropriate or not: but it really enshrined an important gem of British colonial policy. The North and South were amalgamated in 1914 ostensibly under one government yet the 'writ' of the Legislative Council in Lagos did not run into Northern Nigeria. The British colonial administrator reserved the right to legislate alone for the North until the Richard's Constitution of 1946. Easterners and in fact other non-Northerners were restricted in most of the towns to strangers’ quarters called Saban Gari. In these circumstances the Easterners and Northerners grew up as separate communities. Dissimilarities were accentuated and old prejudices hardened. Since 1950 attempts, especially by Southerners, were made to bridge the gap but such attempts were regarded by the Northern aristocracy as an imposition from the South and were smashed.
The emergence of political parties in Nigeria did not improve matters in the North either. As far as the North was concerned it did not succeed in breaking down the old barriers. The dominant political party in the North (the Northern People's Congress) started off as a party of native administration functionaries and appointees of the Emirs and never really went beyond that. It is our view that the foundation of Nigeria contained the seeds of her own destruction.
Planning and Organisation of the Pogrom
Before the Army takeover of January, 1966 the position of Easterners and Northerners was insecure. As far back as 1953 the Eastern community in Kano, capital of Kano Emirate and a famous trade centre, was subjected to ruthless attack by the Northerners. This incident was later to be known as the Kano riots of 1953. It was so violent and bloody that the then British administration set up an official inquiry. The principal organiser of this attack was Mallam Inua Wada, then Secretary of the Kano branch of the Northern People's Congress and later the Federal Minister of Works in the Federal Government of the late Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. The ostensible reason for this planned attack on an unsuspecting Eastern community was that it was a retaliation for the booing and jeering experienced by the Northern members of Parliament at the hands of Lagos crowds in Lagos.
Lagos, be it noted, was and still is the capital of Nigeria whose population has always been mainly Yorubas. The official report disclosed that it was not the proposed visit to Kano of an Easterner that sparked off the trouble but that of a Western (Yoruba) politician, Chief S.L. Akintola a member of the Action Group party. The Action Group was then a bitter opponent of the N.P.C. the dominant party in Northern Nigeria. According to the report, Mallam Inua Wada convened a meeting of the Native Authority sectional heads at the Works Depot in Kano and treated them to a most provocative speech. He said, inter alia:
“Having abused us in the South these very Southerners have decided to come over to the North to abuse us, but we are determined to retaliate treatment given us in the South. We have therefore organised about 1000 men ready in the city to meet force with force.
We are determined to show Akintola and his Group what we can do in our land when they come.... The Northern Peoples Congress has declared a strike in all Native Administration offices for Saturday, 16 May 1953.... We shall post sufficient number of men at the entrance of every office and business place.... We are prepared to face anything that comes out of this business.”
On Saturday 11th May 1953, these organised crowds swooped down in bloody massacre on innocent citizens in spite of the fact that the visit of Chief Akintola's team had been previously banned. Chief Akintola did not turn up in Kano. The irony in the whole incident was that the Northern rioters switched the attack from Westerners (Yorubas) whom they scarcely touched to Easterners whom they butchered with a "universally unexpected degree of violence."
In its conclusions the Commission of Inquiry condemned the riots in these terms: "No amount of provocation, short term or long term, can in any sense justify their behaviour.” And it warned that the "Seeds of the trouble which broke out in Kano on May 16 (1953) have their counterparts still in the ground. It could happen again and only a realization and acceptance of the underlying causes can remove the danger of reccurance."
We take note of the fact that in the Kano riots much use was made of Native Administration agencies both in the planning and execution of the riots. When one recalls the important position which the Native Administration occupies in the scheme of government in Northern Nigeria under the system of indirect rule and even after independence, the extreme danger inherent in the deployment of governmental agencies for riotous attacks on innocent citizens becomes disturbingly apparent. Yet this practice reached its peak in the pogrom of 1966.
The evidence disclosed that although there was no incident of violence comparable with the 1953 Kano riots that took place until 1966, yet the position of the Easterners was gravely threatened in other directions. This was especially so in economic fields, as it was a known fact that Easterners had huge investments in the North. The dispossession of the Easterners’ market stalls and other sources of livelihood were not an isolated act of a spiteful few but an expression of a deliberate Government policy. But what was the reasons this hostilities to Easterners and especially to the Igbos?
Evidence showed that the late Sir Ahmadu Bello, Sarduana of Sokoto built up, trained and maintained a para-military organisation known as the ‘Sarduana Brigade’ as his private army. This group turned out to be an instrument used for eliminating Easterners from the North. Apart from the Census trouble, the 1964 general election saw the members of Sarduana Brigade going round telling people that there would be trouble in the whole country if the NPC should lose the election. Many NEPU men and women were killed because they were in alliance with the NCNC. Hundreds of them were imprisoned in the North. What saved the situation and a mass killing of Igbos in 1964 was the boycott of the 1964 election by the U.P.G.A. In fact during one of the meetings of the U.P.GA for North campaign, Dr. Okpara was called upon informing him that the elections should be boycotted or postponed because of the threat given to the Easterners by the Sarduana Brigade and some Northern parliamentarians at that time. Of course between 1962 and 1964 whenever there was any local election or regional election, people were chased up and down especially people who were living in Sabon Gari. They had some trouble with the Igbos because of the alliance with the N.E.P.U"
Before the Army takeover of January 1966, there were many events that unfolded in other parts of the country especially in Western Nigeria. As people watch events as they unfold, it was clear to every Dick and Harry that the Federation was papably sick. The Western Nigeria elections of October 1965 brought the Federation to the brink of disintegration.
The 1965 Western elections were openly rigged. The blatant electoral irregularities plunged the Region into serious violence as the citizens were driven to take the law into their own hands.
Chaos reigned supreme. Even the Chairman of the Electoral Commission of Western Nigeria after listing the shortcomings of the election publicly confessed his doubt about "the future of free and fair elections in the whole-of Nigeria." Writing in the same vein a correspondent of the African World, a London monthly commented in the issue of March 1966: "The ruling party in the Western Region, by alliance with its opposite number in the North has practically ended all hopes of effecting constitutional changes in the country by democratic means."
The word "pogrom" has been used in this write-up to describe what took place in Nigeria in 1966 because it is the most appropriate term to use. In that sense it means a violent riot aimed at massacre or persecution of an ethnic or religious group. It should be noted that the anti-Igbo of 1966 as a series of massacres were directed at Igbo and other southern Nigerian residents throughout Nigeria before and after the overthrow (and assassination) of the Aguiyi-Ironsi junta by Murtala Mohammed.
What were the forces responsible for this great tragedy? Evidence disclosed that it was not a case of popular rebellion by an oppressed people or a case of protest getting out of hand or of a spontaneous outburst of communal strife sparked off by some sudden provocation which resulted in the loss of lives, destruction and looting of property in one or two towns. Rather, it was a planned exercise which involved various "interests" and personalities. The pogrom was planned on a wide scale.
The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)
The January Army takeover was hailed throughout the whole Federation. The disturbances in the Western Region and in the Tiv areas of the North which marked the last days of first Republic came to an immediate halt. There was a marked sense of relief throughout the whole country. The mood of the country was amply portrayed by the national press. The Daily Times accused the politicians for the way things had gone wrong with the country and "praised the New Regime for a manner in which it had effected the changeover without causing much public panic". The West African Pilot said that January 16 would "go down in history as a great day for Nigeria because it was the day Nigeria took a new lease of life". The Nigerian Morning Post (the official organ of the Federal Government) after accusing the politicians in Nigeria of thinking they had a divine right to lord it over the ordinary people declared "we, of this newspaper join millions of fellow countrymen in welcoming the dawn of this era in the history of our country." The New Nigerian of the North observed that "regionalism and tribalism have been the major factors that have precipitated the present crisis. If we have learnt that much, then some good may come out of what has happened".
The only discordant note was struck by the B.B.C. in London. Within 48 hours of the Army takeover the B.B.C. correspondent dubbed the whole episode as an Igbo coup. The B.B.C. was to stick to this note to the end.