A United States-based Nigerian-American singer Kal Afrorock says over five million Biafrans (Nigerians from the defunct Republic of Biafra) died in the nearly three-year Nigerian Civil war which ended in 1970. ROBERT EGBE reports that available evidence suggests that the singer exaggerated the Southeast war casualty by possibly up to three million deaths.
The post features his picture and that of a former Nigerian Head of State, Yakubu Gowon, with the caption “His name is Yakubu Gowon. He’s one of the main key figure (sic) responsible for the genoside (sic) of over 5 million Biafran People in 1967. – KAL AFROROCK BIAFRAN PEOPLE NEW CENTURY”
Kal Afrorock, who had 121,000 followers as of the time of the post, repeated the statement in an accompanying post beside the picture and added: “My wish is for him to still be alive to see the Freedom of #Biafra”.
Who is Kal Afrorock?
According to his bio on his website kalafrorock.com, Chukwuka Nwaneri, known professionally as Kal Afrorock, is an Igbo Biafran American singer, songwriter, and record producer.
The singer also says he has worked closely with Hollywood actor Will Smith and musical artist Omarr Rambert on producing music for K. Smith, Will Smith’s nephew.
Kal Afrorock also states that in 2007, he linked up with Grammy Award Winning American singer-songwriter Mya. He says he collaborated, produced and wrote several songs for Mya.
Who is Gowon?
As Head of State of Nigeria, General Yakubu Gowon presided over a controversial Nigerian Civil War and delivered the famous “no victor, no vanquished” speech at the war’s end in an effort to promote healing and reconciliation.
The Nigerian Civil War is listed as one of the deadliest in modern history, with some accusing Gowon of crimes against humanity and genocide.
However, Gowon maintains that he committed no wrongdoing during the war and that his leadership saved the country.
Nigerian Civil War
The Nigerian Civil War (6 July 1967 – 15 January 1970; also known as the Nigerian-Biafran War or the Biafran War) was a civil war fought between the government of Nigeria and the Republic of Biafra, a secessionist state which had declared its independence from Nigeria in 1967. Nigeria was led by Gowon, while Biafra was led by Lt. Colonel Odumegwu Ojukwu.
The conflict resulted from political, economic, ethnic, cultural and religious tensions which preceded Britain’s formal decolonization of Nigeria from 1960 to 1963.
Immediate causes of the war in 1966 included ethno-religious violence and anti-Igbo pogroms in Northern Nigeria, a military coup, a counter-coup and persecution of Igbo living in Northern Nigeria. Control over the lucrative oil production in the Niger Delta also played a vital strategic role.
Within a year, the Federal Government troops surrounded Biafra, captured coastal oil facilities and the city of Port Harcourt. A blockade was imposed as a deliberate policy during the ensuing stalemate which led to mass starvation.
Legal scholar Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe and other academics argued that the Biafran war was a genocide, for which no perpetrators have been held accountable.
Critics of this position acknowledge that starvation policies were pursued deliberately and that accountability has not been sought for the 1966 pogroms, but suggest that claims of genocide are incongruous with the fact that the Igbo were not exterminated after the war ended, alongside other arguments such as a lack of clarity surrounding Nigerian intentions and that Nigeria was fighting to retain control of Biafra and its people rather than to expel or exterminate them.
Biafra made a formal complaint of genocide against Igbos to the International Committee on the Investigation of Crimes of Genocide, which concluded that the actions undertaken by the Nigerian government against the Igbo amounted to a genocide.
With special reference to the Asaba Massacre, jurist Emma Okocha described the killings as “the first black-on-black genocide”.
How many people died during the war?
Historians accept as a fact that a huge number of people were killed in the Southeast, either by violence or starvation.
However, there does not seem to be evidence for Kal Afrorock’s claim of five million Biafran deaths by genocide during the civil war.
A former Head of Department, International Studies and Diplomacy, at Benson Idahosa University, Benin, Mr. Mike Okemi reasoned that Kal Afrorock exaggerated the deaths by up to about three million.
Okemi said: “That (five million) figure is ambiguous. It is not true. The widely accepted figure is between one million and two million. Note that when the war ended, as of that time statistics and data in Nigeria were not too accurate. I don’t think there is an exact figure. So the figure is an approximation. We are approximating, but the figure cannot be more than two million.
“One cannot be talking of three million, let alone five million. Especially if we ask the question, what was the population of the entire South East region at that time?”
Much of the data sourced from publications saved on internet archive Wayback Machine back Okemi’s argument.
For instance, The BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Reuters, etc all did live reports during the war. These reports and several scholarly articles on the war found on the Wayback Machine (archive.org), addressed the issue of how many people died.
The evidence from these organisations as well as Nigerian government data suggest that fewer than two million people died in the then Southeast region.
One of such articles is “The Nigeria-Biafra War: Genocide and the Politics of Memory” by Igbo author, Chima Korieh and published in May 2012.
Korieh, then an associate professor of history at Marquette University, wrote: “The thirty-month-long war led to the death of over one million ethnic Igbos and other Easterners. Described as the first black-on-black genocide in postcolonial Africa, the war had a terrible impact on the Igbo people with its massive civilian death toll.”
Another is “ICE Case Studies: The Biafran War” published by the American University in 1997. It states that during the two and half years of the war, there were about 100,000 overall military casualties, while between 500,000 and two million Biafran civilians died of starvation.
On Thursday, 13 January, 2000, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) published a report by its Nigeria correspondent Barnaby Philips titled ‘Biafra: Thirty years on’.
“Up to 30,000 Ibos (sic) were killed in fighting with Hausas, and around 1 million refugees fled to their Ibo homeland in the east.
“On 30 May, 1967, the head of the Eastern Region, Colonel Emeka Ojukwu, unilaterally declared the independent Republic of Biafra.
“After initial military gains, the Biafran forces were pushed back.
“Over two-and-a-half years later, 1 million civilians had died in fighting and from famine.
“Photographs of starving children with huge distended stomachs from protein deficiency horrified people around the world,” Phillips said in the report which can be found at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/
However, the Encyclopedia Britannica and the New World Encyclopedia have a higher casualty figure than the other sources.
In ‘Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Biafra”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 8 Nov. 2021, https://www.britannica.com/
It says: “By 1968 it had lost its seaports and become landlocked; supplies could be brought in only by air. Starvation and disease followed; estimates of mortality during the war generally range from 500,000 to 3,000,000.”
The New World Encyclopedia also quotes a maximum 3 million figure.
“The war cost Nigeria a great deal in terms of lives, money, and its image in the world. During the war, there were 100,000 military casualties and between 500,000 and two million civilians’ deaths from starvation. It has been estimated that up to three million people may have died due to the conflict, most from hunger and disease” – https://www.
While the exact Nigerian Civil War casualty figure cannot be ascertained, based on the above findings, the claim that over five million Biafrans died in the Nigerian Civil war appears to be an exaggeration and is misleading.
The Nation could not find any evidence to support the claim.