Exactly seventy years ago today, November 18, 1949, a dark cloud enveloped on the Nigerian firmament. The atmosphere was cloudy, dull and hazy. It looked impenetrable. While some people thought it to be a harmattan haze, being the month of November, others saw it as an appropriate sign of a heavy down pour, a heavy rain. They were both mistaken. It was the sign of a great catastrophe that was about to happen, the rain of human blood.

Earlier, there had been altercations, exchange of words, between the workers of the Nigerian Coal Corporation and the management of the Enugu Colliery over the exact amount of wage increase approved for the coalminers by government. While the coalminers had insisted on a certain amount of wage increase, the government argued a different interpretation.

The disagreement dragged on for some pretty long time, with none of the two sides willing to shift ground. They had reached a dead end. There was stalemate. As a result, the coal workers decided to go on strike. But the Colliery management did not take kindly to it.

On November 18, 1949, about 1,500 coalminers had assembled at the Obwetti Coal Mine in Iva Valley, Enugu, and were milling around the premises. At the same time, the British colonial administration, perhaps, sensing some dangers ahead, mobilized their killer squad, the Colonial Police, armed to the teeth, to the coalmine.

Without any provocation, the about 150 heavily armed policemen under the command of two British police officers, Senior Superintendent of Police, R.S. Phillps, and another Senior Superintendent of Police, E.J.R. Orministon, opened fire on the defenceless coalminers, gunned down twenty-one of them, and left forty-seven others severely wounded.

The ugly incident reverberated across the length and breadth of Nigeria, and even outside the shores of the country. There were demonstrations in Lagos, Kano, Onitsha, Aba, Port Harcourt, etc. They all rose in total condemnation of what happened at Iva Valley, the cowardly act by the British police, gunning down unarmed and defenceless coalminers.

The battle cry among the demonstrators was: “Independence for Nigeria NOW”. A National Emergency Committee (NEC), was put together to coordinate various activities arising from these demonstrations on the Iva Valley shooting.

In the meantime, the Colonial Government was forced to set up the Fitzgerald Commission of Inquiry to investigate the Iva Valley killing. The National Emergency Committee, hired two prominent Nigerian lawyers, H.O. Davis, and Rotimi Williams, to represent it before the Fitzgerald Commission.

After about three months’ sitting, the Fitzgerald Commission, in its report, while blaming the two police officers who ordered the shooting of the coalminers for their “error of judgment” at the same time, agreed with the Nigerian nationalists that “self-government for Nigeria NOW is both opportune and imperative”. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and what forced the British colonialists to hurriedly begin to dismantle their political hegemony in the country, knowing that their time was now up.

From then on, Enugu, and Iva Valley, in particular, became the centre of nationalist agitations, which eventually led to Nigerian independence in 1960. In other words, it was the killing of the 21 coalminers at Iva Valley by the colonial police that hastened Nigerian independence. The slain Iva Valley coalminers were therefore “the blood of martyrs” that watered Nigerian independence.

But how far do we remember these heroic Nigerians? Who were these unmourned heroes? No identity. No wreath. No flowers. No remembrance. Pray, let they not be the reason for the many curses and woes that have been befalling Nigeria ever since!

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