Chapter 2

Terms of Reference

The tribunal was charged with the following terms or reference:-

“To inquire into the atrocities and other inhuman acts committed against persons of Eastern Nigeria origin in Northern Nigeria and other parts of the Federal Republic of Nigeria during the month of May, 1966 and thereafter;
and in particular to:-

(i)                 collect and compile evidence relating to the atrocities;
(ii)               ascertain the extent of loss of life and personal injuries;
(iii)             examine, interprete, and record medical cases brought to the notice of the tribunal;
(iv)              ascertain the extent of loss of property and assess the value.”

The leading counsel to the tribunal in his opening address made the point that the terms of reference were wide enough to admit every relevant evidence relating to the planning and organisation of the pogrom even prior to May, 1966. He therefore led evidence relating to the preceding period in so far as it revealed the background to the atrocities which reached their high points in May, July, September and October 1966. We accepted this approach.

To us the planning and organisation of the pogrom constituted the worst aspect of the atrocities. The evidence disclosed that what happened was not the spontaneous outburst of riotous mobs acting under any sudden provocation. The pogrom was the result of much planning and organisation. As the main drama was enacted in Northern Nigeria, it will make for a clearer understanding to have a sketchy historical background of the socio-political complex that is Northern Nigeria.

Chapter 3

Historical Background of Northern Nigeria

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 north/east 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, Ilorin (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 to 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 his reason the reversion to pagan practices by the court and 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 Bornu, El-Kanemi, taunted Shehu Usman Dan Fodio with having turned a war of religion into one of conquest and with attacking his co-religionists. El-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 evil doers.

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 castle 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 accsendancy 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 Sabon 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. 

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