Monday, June 25, 2012

Birth of a Nation




If you've been around here a while you'll know that I have a major obsession with the 1967-70 war in Nigeria, when the Eastern Region of that country left to establish the independent nation of Biafra. It was a valiant struggle, but the nascent Republic went down to defeat on January 15, 1970. I suspect not everyone shares my interest, but some do, and for them I'm posting another entry in Likembe's Biafra archive - the hard-to-find LP Biafra: Birth of a Nation (Lyntone LYN 1684), issued by the Biafra Choral Society in London in 1968. This was kindly provided by Craig Taylor, and I thank him for it.

Birth of a Nation is propaganda, and I don't mean this in a pejorative sense. It was issued by the Biafran government in an effort to influence public opinion in the outside world, especially the United Kingdom, main supporter of the Federal Government in Lagos against the secessionists. In 1968, when it was released, the Biafran cause had already for all intents and purposes been lost, although this wouldn't be apparent for some time. Still, it's of considerable interest not only to historians but musically, as it contains some nice highlife tunes. Listened to in sequence the album sounds like something recorded off a shortwave radio broadcast in the wee hours of the morning, history in the making.

On January 15, 1966, Nigeria's First Republic came to an end when Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Northern Premier Amadou Bello and Western Premier Samuel Akintola were overthrown and executed in a military coup. A counter-coup led by Major-General Aguiye-Ironsi, an Igbo from the Eastern Region, managed to re-establish order, but his military government lacked legitimacy in the eyes of many Northerners, who saw it as Igbo-dominated. On July 29 a coup led by Northern officers led to the deaths of hundreds of Eastern officers as well as Ironsi himself, sparking a series of bloody events. In September and October of 1966 Northern Nigeria was swept by a series of pogroms targeting Easterners, leading to the panicky exodus of more than a million people to their ancestral homes.

In a last-ditch effort to save Nigerian unity, a meeting was held in Aburi, Ghana January 4-5, 1967 between leaders of the Federal government in Lagos and a delegation from the Eastern Region led by Lt. Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu. The resulting Accord provided for restructuring Nigeria on a looser confederal basis, but soon became a dead letter as there was no unanimity regarding its interpretation:

The Aburi Declaration

An Efik song:

The Canaan Brothers - Ukaridem (Independence)

The Eastern Region of Nigeria declared its independence as the sovereign state of Biafra on May 30, 1967. It  was recognized diplomatically by only five countries: Gabon, Ivory Coast, Tanzania, Zambia and Haiti. In addition it received varying levels of support from Portugal, France, China, South Africa and Israel. Britain and the Soviet Union were solidly on the Federal side, while the U.S. was officially "neutral" but tacitly supported Nigeria:

The Rev. Edmund Ilogu - Declaration of Independence

Biafra's national anthem, "Land of the Rising Sun," is based on the "Finlandia" hymn by Sibelius. The first verse is as follows:

Land of the rising sun, we love and cherish,
Beloved homeland of our brave heroes;
We must defend our lives or we shall perish,
We shall protect our hearts from all our foes;
But if the price is death for all we hold dear,
Then let us die without a shred of fear.
Land of the Rising Sun (Biafra National Anthem)

The Rev. G.E. Igwe - Prayer

Rex Lawsons's Kalabari-language "Ojukwu Imiete, Biafra Bolate" was the subject of several previous posts and some speculation. Uchenna Ikonne has unearthed a copy of this subversive song as a 45 (Nigerphone NX 412, left), ostensibly pressed in Nigeria, of all places! It has also been released under the titles "Odumegwu Ojukwu (Hail Biafra)" and "God Bless Colonel Ojukwu":

Cardinal Rex Jim Lawson and his Biafra Republicans Band - Ojukwu Imiete, Biafra Bolate (Ojukwu Thank You, Biafra has Come to Stay)

In this speech Ojukwu levels a number of accusations against Nigerian head of state Yakubu Gowon, most of which are exaggerated or untrue. Gowon apparently played no role in the July 1966 coup that overthrew Ironsi, nor did he "plot" the pogroms of September and October 1966. There is no doubt that the war against Biafra led to a horrendous loss of lives (over a million by conservative estimates) but as to whether it constituted genocide I refer interested parties to this Wikipedia article:

H.E. Lt. Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu - The War of Genocide

British Attitude to Nigeria/Biafra War

An Igbo song:

Abraham Onyenobia - Chukwu Zoba Anyi (God Save Us)

At Independence, approximately 40% of the population of Biafra was composed of non-Igbo "Eastern Minorites," Ijaws, Efiks and others. Fearing "Igbo domination," many of these were ambivalent about secession or even actively supported the Federal cause. However, members of minority groups were represented in the Biafran government throughout the war:

Ika Bassey - The Case of the Minorities in Biafra

H.E. Lt. Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu - Launching of the Biafran Currency and Postage Stamps


I.S. Kogbara - Excerpt from H.E.'s Address to Special Consultative Assembly, Addis Ababa


Download Biafra: Birth of a Nation as a zipped file, including liner notes, here.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi,

In a comment on an earlier Biafra post, someone mentioned the "Freedom Fighters" album (most or all percussion & voice, as I recall, and I still remember a "Pontius Pilate" chant-song, for example)...

Santa Fe Public Library had a not-bad-sounding copy which i dubbed onto a cassette tape back in the mid-1990's. I have the tape & can rip it if anyone is curious, or if a better-sounding rip is not available anywhere else. (I'd like to hear the album again without taking the trouble to rip my own tape, mess with reducing the noise, etc. So if anyone already has a link we'd all appreciate it.)

While we're at it, Folkways released an album of MPLA songs by the Angolan Freedom Fighters (I believe Paredon prolly was the original label, before the purchase by FE and take-over by Smithsonoian). That one is achingly beautiful, and once again, I can provide a sample unless someone already has a handy link?

But I can't neglect to thank you for the Biafran discs! This is indeed a fascinating topic and very nice music.

Anonymous said...

wow--thank you for this historical treasure!!

Anonymous said...

This is absolutely phenomenal. Thank you so much.

Anonymous said...

the Biafran money is pretty cool... So sad b/c they never really had a chance...

Anonymous said...

Great post! The actual dat eof the first coup was January 15th tho

David said...

Painful listening even at this distance. And in the wake of the Arab Spring (if it IS the wake, given Syria's situation) we know the West has perhaps learned a little in dealing with change - not much, but a little... Thanks for opening my eyes & ears to this sorry episode in this really 'documentary' recording.

John B. said...

Anon July 12: Thanks for that! It's been corrected.

Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing.

Tammy Foreman said...

Great post! The actual dat eof the first coup was January 15th tho