How Nigerian Federal Government Killed Two Soldiers For Murdering FOUR Innocent Biafrans In 1968
The Federal Republic of Nigeria became an independent nation on the 1st of October 1960 and since then, it has witnessed the highest and the lowest of history. Thursday, the 27th of June, 1968 will forever remain indelible in the minds of those who witnessed a gory spectacle involving the Nigerian military. The setting was ominous and the plot was like that of a macabre scene right out of a horror movie. Two Nigerian army officers were stripped of all human dignity and were to face the last dramas of their lives. They had murdered four Igbo civilians in cold blood. The Nigerian federal military government was totally ashamed of these officers who went against the orders that federal troops should face only the Biafran combatants and not attack any innocent civilians. So the day came and the soldiers were to be executed.
The government was determined to make a scapegoat of these two officers and 24 hours before they were to be executed, the radios were blaring with constant announcements that two officers (names withheld) of the Nigerian Army were going to be executed by a firing squad at the King’s Square in Benin City in what Mid West State of Nigeria (later known as Bendel State before splitting into Edo and Delta States). Their offence? Conspiracy and unlawful killing.
What happened was that a court martial established by the military authorities pronounced the two officers guilty of murdering for innocent Biafrans (Igbo civilians) at a place called Ogwashi-Uku near Asaba in what is now Delta State (but then it was called Mid West State). (Ogwashi Uku is the hometown of many prominent Nigerians like Austin JayJay Okocha and Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala). That was not the end. The military tribunal also chose a peculiar spot for their execution. They chose a spot that had a history of killings, bloodshed, executions and death. The army officers were to be killed at a spot that was just a few hundred yards from the area where some chiefs of the Benin kingdom were executed by the British colonial government back in 1897. The British had declared the Benin chiefs guilty after accusing them of rising in armed opposition against the British Benin Expedition where thousands of precious Benin artifacts were stolen and have not been returned till this moment. The military council chose that these condemned soldiers be executed in the same ground.
The time for the execution that Thursday was 5 p.m but anxious Nigerians in the city and even those from the neighboring cities did not want to miss a part of the bloody action. So as early as 11 o’clock in the morning, they had started trooping into the King’s Square. From traders to farmers to market women to school children to artisans, all feet rushed to the King’s Square to get the best view of the killing.
At 4:30 pm, the lousy crowd turned to the direction of a vehicle approaching. It was an army truck and everyone melted into a graveyard silence. In seconds, frowning soldiers brought one light-complexioned man on a stretcher and tied him to the stake close to drums filled with sand. His leg, which was heavy with bandages, was hanging as he was tied next to the drums of doom. The explanation for the bandage was that he sustained gunshot injuries when he made attempts to escape the day before his execution. Next was another man, dark and tall, he was in his army uniform. They marched him to the stake and promptly tied him up. The armed squad then broke into two groups, took positions in front of the two condemned men and aimed their cocked guns. But it was not time to fire yet.
At that moment, the Brigade Commander, Major S Adeniun, came out and read the charges to the hearing of everyone. He reminded the condemned that they had been found guilty of murder and announced the penalty to them under the traditions of the military. Then the bugle sounded ‘The Last Call’ and with horror on the faces of the spectators, the shots were fired. Some of the spectators could not withstand the agony and covered their faces while some others huddled together as if they were in a cold storm searching for warmth.
As the bullets flew and tore into their flesh, one of the condemned solders shook his head left and right and then he smiled. Present at the event was the chief of staff of the Nigerian Army (now called Chief of Army Staff) who himself had ordered the trial and execution. He made it very clear that anyone who kills any Igbo civilian, war or no war, would not be allowed to go scot free. It was a bloody day and may our nation not witness anything of such again but that if we learn from history and get our acts together as a people.
Thanks for your time.
- Drum, October 1968.