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, a British national, on September 2, 1945 slapped a worker, Mr Okwudili Ojiyi, who took courage and brought up an assault case and Mr T. Yates was prosecuted and penalized.
Still, many of the harsh conditions remained. 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 travelling allowances were rejected by the management. Hence, the workers began a strike which led the Bristish 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 removing that of Obwetti mines (sister mine) easily, the explosives at Iva Valley proved difficult, especially with the workers refusing to assist the management. The miners also feared that if they removed the explosives, nothing would stand in the way of the management's shutting down the mine (this was discovered by The Fitzgerald Commission, which the colonialists were forced to set up to investigate the massacre).
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 Bristish officers and 75 armed local policemen to assist in the removal of the explosives. Soon, the workers began protesting, singing and fraternising.
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. According to The Nation: "To Captain Phillip, these were not industrial men conducting a protest but savage, hysterical natives, doing dangerous dances, screeching unintelligible noises, poised to attack."
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 and aimed his revolver immediately 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, an 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 — Sunday Anyasodo, the hewer from Obazu Mbezi; Livinus Okechukwuma, the machine operator from Ohi, Owerri; Okafor Ageni, an Udi tub man; Moses, the machine operator from Umuohoho; Simeon, the machine operator from Mbutu; Nnaji, the hewer from Ndibara Amaimo; Nwahu, the engine driver from Amuzi Bende and 15 others.
These men, who have been tagged matyrs, 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.