The cries of the 21 miners who were unfairly killed in the mines can still be heard till today.
The coal mines in Enugu have been known to be extremely haunted now for over 60 years because wailings and cries of the massacred souls that haunt Iva Valley can still be heard.
Nearly 70 years ago, the lives of 21 miners — fathers, husbands, sons, breadwinners — came to an abrupt end when they fell to a hail of bullets at the hands of the colonial police while protesting harsh working conditions. This was one of the many motivations for the Zikist movement (Nnamdi Azikwe) for Independence.
How the legend goes
In 1917, the Iva Valley mines were built to replace the Udi coal mines which had been closed. Subsequently, the working conditions became deplorable — cases of racism and physical abuse — under the management of British managers. In one case, Mister T. Yates, who is a British national slapped a worker who goes by the name Mr. Okwudili Ojiyi on September 2, 1945, after he brought up an assault case and Mr. T. Yates was prosecuted and penalized.
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It all escalated on November 1, 1949, when the workers’ demands for the payment of rostering, the upgrading of the mine hewers to artisans, and the payment of housing and traveling allowances were rejected by the management. Hence, the workers began a strike which led the British managers to sack over 50 miners. This led the management to move to remove all the explosives from the mines on November 18th, as they feared the strike was as a result of the growing agitations for Independence.
After easily removing the Obwetti mines with ease, the explosives at Iva Valley seemed more difficult, especially as the workers refused to lend the management a helping hand. The miners also feared that if they removed the explosives, nothing would stand in the way of the management’s shutting down the mine.
As everything was about to descend into chaos, a Briton and Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), Captain F.S. Philip, was called to the mine along with two other British officers and 75 armed local policemen to assist in the removal of the explosives. Soon, the workers began protesting, singing, and fraternizing.
Phillip and his fellow Britons, seeing only threatening African workers and primitive natives, became jumpy as all his racial stereotypes seemed to manifest before his eyes.
More miners began pouring out in their hundreds, protesting, with red pieces of cloth to their miners’ helmets, wrists, or knees, as a mark of solidarity.
Around 1:30 pm, the police party became antsy about the numbers and songs of solidarity. According to the investigations, the Captain only heard a “tremendous howling and screeching noise going on” to which several men danced in a “dangerous” way.
He ordered his men to shoot at a miner, Sunday Anyasado, in front of him and shot the hewer in the mouth. Anyasado, a young native of Mbieri, Owerri, who was only recently married and had come to Enugu to earn a living, was the first to fall dead, instantly killed by a bullet from the Captain. Phillip then shot Livinus Okechukwuma, a machine operator from Ohi, Owerri, killing him as well. As chaos descended, Okafor Ageni, a Udi tub man, came out of the mine and asked “Anything wrong?” but was killed by a bullet on the spot.
At the end of the mayhem, 51 men had been injured and 21 men had been shot dead.
These men, who have been tagged martyrs, have simply been reduced to just urban legends of Iva Valley miners’ Camps One and Two and November 18 has never been officially mourned in the history of Nigeria.
Though the bullets and bodies are long gone, the chilling howls of the slain miners still haunt the mines to this day.