If the enemies of Christ had known that his crucifixion would subvert their evil plans against him and put the crown of glory upon his head, they would not have killed him. The greatest mistake made by those who conceived, hatched, and executed the 1966 pogrom against Igbos and followed it up with a war of attrition, was the framing and imprisonment of Wole Soyinka.
He was arrested for denouncing the war in Nigerian newspapers, visiting Eastern Nigeria and attempting to get the world to stop supplying arms to both sides in order to "end the secession of Biafra, and the genocide-consolidated dictatorship of the (Nigerian) Army which made both the secession and the war inevitable."
While he was in prison, he wrote and smuggled out a letter which proved (based on what and whom he coincidentally met in the prison) that Gowon's government delibrately ran a policy of genocide. When they got to know about the letter, they framed him and tried to murder him.
Repudiation of complacency
This book has several themes. The most compelling of all was Soyinka's repudiation of, and hatred for complacency, which informed the title of the book: The Man Died - the man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny, a title which came to him through the real life tragedy of one Mr. Segun Sowemimo, a journalist who lost one of his legs as a result of beating he and his colleagues received from Nigerian soldiers. Soyinka followed Sowemimo's case, even when he was out of the country, he sent cables requesting to know what had become of Sowemimo, until his cable was replied: the man died.
Before Sowemimo, there was Gozo Nzeribe, arrested for an undisclosed offence by Gowon and his Gestapo, and cast into Dodan Barracks prison. Nzeribe was brought out everyday for flogging. One day, he fought back. They locked him up in a solitary cell and starved him to death. Both Sowemimo and Nzeribe died. The question Soyinka did not explicitly ask here is: between Sowemimo and Nzeribe, in whom did the man die?
But the author is bothered about something else - the criminal complicity of Nzeribe's peers, through silence... "
Demand for justice
Another compelling theme in this book is justice. It begins from the page where Soyinka dedicated The Man Died 'to 'Laide who rejected compromise and demanded JUSTICE.' The demand for justice criss-crosses the entire length and breadth of this book, and at a time when many Nigerians are compelled, either by fear or subservience, to sing the chorus of 'peace and unity' without even daring to whisper 'justice', one can equally ask whether the men in us are dead.
We may not be, but Soyinka is certain that someone must pay, not only for the design to destroy him, but also for all the attrocities committed by Gowon and his people "who do not only feel justified, but also believe that they have a duty to destroy others... for me justice is the first condition of humanity," Soyinka wrote.
The Biafra phenomenon
From cover to cover, The Man Died blazes the familiar images of Biafra - blood, pogrom, genocide, but also of courage, bravery, and the refusal to die without throwing a punch or spitting saliva in the face of one's executioners. One can also argue that without the pogroms against Igbos and the resulting attempt to establish an independent state of Biafra, this book might not have been written.
Of his personal experiences, both in prison and flashbacks to the time he visited Kaduna and Jos in the middle of the pogrom, Soyinka wrote:
"Man-hunts, publicized by machine-gun, took place around Ikoyi where Gowon lived, and the execution and torture games that went on in his official residence, Dodan Barracks, on civilians who were simply arrested on the public road - Ikorodu checkpoint was the favourite kidnap point - were common daylight occurences known to Yakubu Gowon.
"As for the events in the North - let us simply sum it up and say that ATROCITIES did take place on a scale so vast and so thorough, and so well-organised that it was variously referred to as the Major Massacre (as distinct from the May rehearsals)... "
Soyinka also met in Shaki (Ibadan) an eyewitness-account, a young school-leaver, a Federal soldier who saw "wanton execution of civilians. The young soldier protested. Then, feeling that his life was in danger, he deserted and fled to Lagos. He was arrested and incarcerated a week later. The daily executions and torture were still in place when he left. He saw entire family wiped out in cold blood."
Before Soyinka travelled to East
The most chilling account of Soyinka's experience , however, was in May 1966, at Barkin Ladi, about 30 minutes from Jos, where he and his friend, Francis, enccountered the killers. "The Mafia of the North were already at work, aided by their Southern allies, many of whom had moved into the North loaded with money for the dirty work at hand," Soyinka wrote.
"A wiff of the violence was already in the air between Jos and Barkin Ladi. At Barkin Ladi, it had expanded into a prospective scent of blood. The men were gathered in groups, milling round and round like sand spiral towards the vortex of violence. No effort was made to hide the sword and knives, the bows and the iron-barbed arrows. No effort was made to disguise the long, calculating slit of death in the eyes which surveyed us, the strangers. Leaflets, cyclostyled, were circulated openly. I picked one up; it was written in Hausa so I put it aside for later translation."
When Soyinka got to the home of his friend, Francis, he "remembered the cyclostyled leaflet and asked (Francis'uncle), a fluent Hausa speaker, to translate it for me. It was an open, inflammatory call for a Jihad against the yaminrin (Igbos). It called teachers to keep their schools closed, parents to keep their children at home and all true natives of the soil to stay within doors until 'we have wreaked our will on the southern infidels.'"
Wole Soyinka's imprisonment surely opened several cans of worms which gave birth to the prison notes which resulted in this book. On page 12, he reveals to us that he split his notes into two parts, "one to be kept in suspension, a kind of Sword of Damocles waiting for the precisly just moment of political retribution."
With this book, Soyinka has fought the greatest battle for humanity, and for all the oppressed peoples in Nigeria. The Man Died is a landslide victory for the people against those who have worked so hard to obliterate the truth and inflict on our mind a general amnesia.
The 309-page The Man Died was first published in Great Britain in 1972 by Rex Collings.