Monday, Feb. 02, 1970 Time Magazine
Relief, Reconciliation, Reconstruction
Building Up Jerusalem. That was all too evident in the area of what had been Biafra, where 12 million people had sought to establish a state independent of Nigeria and its 45 million other inhabitants. Nigerian Leader Yakubu Gowon had pledged his victorious government to a program of reconciliation rather than recrimination toward the secessionists. Because of ineptitude and the war's unexpectedly sudden end, which caught relief agencies unprepared, Gowon's peace program flicked on only at half strength. Feeding programs broke down, medical supplies went undelivered and there were countless incidents of rape and looting.
No evidence could be seen of the deliberate genocide against which Biafra's General Odumegwu Ojukwu had warned before he hastily departed from his collapsing nation three weeks ago. Nigerian leaders, for the most part, made genuine efforts to see that Biafra's Ibo tribesmen were cared for. Nigerian money was rushed in to replace worthless Biafran currency, Ibo civil servants were rehired and their 30-month defection listed as "leave of absence without pay." Gowon, wearing a flowing blue African robe instead of a general's uniform, led a thanksgiving service at Lagos' Anglican cathedral. He selected and read the lesson of the service from the second chapter of Nehemiah: "Then I said unto them, ye see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lieth waste, and the gates thereof are burned with fire. Come and let us build up the wall of Jerusalem that we be no more a reproach."
Foreign observers, after cursory checks of Gowon's Jerusalem, returned to Lagos with airily optimistic progress reports. United Nations Secretary-General U Thant, after two days in Lagos and none in Biafra, said unqualifiedly that "there is no hint, even the remotest evidence of violence by the Nigerian Federal forces." Henrik Beer, secretary general of the League of Red Cross Societies in Geneva, doubted that there had ever been wholesale starvation in Biafra. But hunger remained a very real threat. Gowon adamantly refused to let relief groups use Uli airstrip, a symbol of Biafran resistance. One result of his decision was that many of the 3,500,000 people in Biafra were going hun gry. According to some estimates by churchmen and physicians, as many as 1,000,000 Biafrans were on the verge of starvation. Ignoring pleas to stay put, perhaps 1,000,000 refugees choked the enclave's wreckage-strewn roads.