Iva Valley Massacre: How 21 striking miners were gunned down by British colonialists in Enugu

The Iva Valley Coal Mine in Enugu is remembered for the death of 21 miners and a bystander who was killed by colonial police during a strike action. The miners had occupied the site to protest the non-payment of their allowances, poor welfare and terrible working conditions when the British managers of the mines had ordered the removal of the dynamites in the colliery.

Advised by local managers to avoid riot that they will be paid, they were told to assist remove the dynamites. But the workers refused, reasoning that it was not their job and also because the colliery might be closed after the dynamites have been removed. Instead, they began to protest, singing inimical songs and dancing. 

As the number of protesters increased, the police, led by Captain F.S Phillip, a British Superintendent became afraid of an imminent attack. And in an unthinkable move, he pointed his gun and shot one of the protesters Sunday Anyasodo in the face and ordered his men to shoot.

When the dust settled, 21 miners and a bystander were dead and 51 others were injured. The horror and heartbreak as the lives of breadwinners, fathers, husbands, sons, and brothers were cruelly ended was too unbearable that today, the story has become an urban legend. Sunday Anyasodo, the first to be killed, was recently married and his wife was heavily pregnant. Livinus Okechukwuma, Okafor Ageni, Emmanuel Okafor, and others are recorded as the victims of the incident and are remembered every year.

The event which took place on November 18, 1949, was despicable and helped as a rallying cry for the nationalist movement led by Nnamdi Azikiwe. The call for independence that was gaining momentum during that period became more intense.

"The grievance was severe because the men who were wasted were responsible for bringing development to their communities through their earnings from the Colliery. They supported maternity clinics, road projects and drilling of boreholes in their villages. A lot of them were responsible for sending children of many relatives to school," Dr. Daniel Udenze, a historian from Udi recounted.

"To see them murdered like flies was too much to handle. At that point, the people were fed up and determined to see the British go in order to bring an end to their callousness."

Iva Mine was built in 1917 after Udi Mine was closed. The management of the mines was preoccupied with maximum productivity to help fill the shortfalls in British coalfields. Coal was needed during and after World War II for rebuilding and payment of debts. Consequently, cuts were made –  casual work was scrapped and those who had already gone through the casualization period were refused their pay, there were no promotions even when many workers were long overdue, and all allowances were suspended including housing allowance. Cases of physical abuse had also been reported when the workers employed the go-slow tactics to delay work and register their grievances. And as the situation worsened, the workers embarked on a strike which led to the sacking of 50 workers, because striking was deemed illegal, despite an earlier adoption of the Trade Union Ordinance in 1938 which made unionism legal.

Bowing to pressure and criticisms from the tragic massacre, the Fitzgerald Commission was set up by the British to investigate the incident, but nothing much came out of it in the end. Captain F.S Phillip who hurriedly left Nigeria on leave after ordering the massacre was never allowed back to the country. Some accounts claim that the families of the victim were paid GBP400 each.

There are claims that Iva Valley is now haunted by the ghosts of these murdered miners.

The post Iva Valley Massacre: How 21 striking miners were gunned down by British colonialists in Enugu appeared first on Neusroom.