Fifty years after:
Memories of a teenage girl caught up in the cross fire of the
Nigeria-Biafra War 1967-1970
Ada Agbasimalo, Ph.D
“No nation can escape from its past. And if we really want to have a meaningful understanding of that past as a key to the mastery of the present, it logically follows that we must write and speak about Biafra” – (Oyeweso, 1992: vii). This quote from a Nigerian writer underscores quite aptly, the timeliness of this conference and the appropriateness of its theme.
This paper is based on the experiences of a teenage girl caught up in the cross fire of the Nigeria-Biafra war between 1967 and 1970 and made to hide in the forest for almost one year. It is also based on the vivid remembrances from the valley of difficult circumstances, and the tortuous movement from the valley depth of misery to the mountain top of determined advancement. A philosopher once said, and this writer agrees, that mountain tops are meaningless without the valleys. And as Dr. Charles P Bird put it in his essay, “No mountains without valleys,” ‘the saying is meant to express something more akin to “the valley of the shadow of death,” implying darkness and difficulty.’ This paper is a deliberate attempt to throw up history and the memory of dark valleys, and the legacy of lit mountain tops; already documented in books, particularly, “The Forest Dames: A true life account of the Nigeria-Biafra war” by Ada Agbasimalo; and “In Biafra Africa died: The Diplomatic Plot” by Emefiena Ezeani. The other books include, “Why we struck: The Story of the First Nigerian Coup ” by Adewale Ademoyega and “Corporal Nwafor: A true black African story”, by Nwoke & Ibe. The author of this paper regrets that fifty years after the war, drumbeats of war are still sounding as loud as they sounded over fifty years ago, in the same country; and screams out “This must not be allowed!” This paper, through a survey expressed below, captured memories, thoughts and experiences of the war, from a cross section of both pre and post war Nigerians.
Memory of the Evolution
Fifty years ago on July 7 1967, the first gunshots were fired at the Eastern towns of Obolo -Afor near Nsukka and Gakem, near Ogoja, signaling the onset of the war, and the beginning of another level of carnage; after an earlier genocidal pogrom had taken place. By 1970, the landscape had been totally blood-soaked, propelled by an erroneous ethnicity based hype which held that the first Nigerian coup d’état was masterminded by Igbo (Eastern) soldiers and targeted at Northern leaders, tagged ‘our fathers’. Recently a former Nigerian federal minister Fani Kayode was quite vocal on Social Media (YouTube video May 18th 2017), where he said that a highly placed Northern leader and presidential candidate, over 70 year-old Muhammadu Buhari had in 2015 or so, said to him in a tête-à-tête, concerning the Igbo: “You see, they killed our leaders and we will never forget.” (And perhaps did not kill theirs.) That was the sentiment which had unleashed in 1966, when the so called killing of leaders took place, what Cohen (1968:4) referred to as folk wisdom, which translated to the decision that ‘one million Ibos must die to avenge the killing of the Sadauna’. Needless to say, more than one million Igbo fathers, mothers, children and other Easterners died, ostensibly because, the shot that killed the Sadauna was fired by ONE Igbo man; and that no Igbo leader was killed. But Ademoyega “(1981:60) in “Why We Struck” clarifies this issue: “Contrary to the load of wicked propaganda that had since been heaped upon us, there was no decision at our meeting, to single out any particular ethnic group for elimination or destruction. Our intentions were honorable, our views were national and our goals were idealistic.” Ademoyega was one of the coup plotters. He was not Igbo. In fact he was Yoruba, from western Nigeria. It would strongly appear that Ademoyega’s assertion received no heed if a highly placed Northern leader could in 2015, whip up such a hate sentiment, which the Northern soldiers/youth had internalized and gone to the streets with, in the 1966 reprisal coup. The Nigerian society had been under the direct foreign political control of Britain, becoming independent only on October 1, 1960. But shortly after, the new sovereign state began to show signs of the fragility of a nation bound to crumble. According to Nwoke & Ibe (2012:7), “After just five and a half years of independence from Britain, five brilliant majors from the Nigerian Army struck to change the course of Nigeria’s history.” A bloody coup d’état took place in 1966 as a result, followed closely by the reprisal counter coup cited above. Both were quite devastating. Unfortunately the motive of the first coup was not only misunderstood, it was also misinterpreted along the lines of falsehood, defying all remedies. And then “The Tragedy of Biafra,” as the American Jewish Congress memorandum of 1968, captioned the carnage that followed, in a bid to draw attention to the more than a year, on-going, ‘little noticed but nonetheless savage and tragic war’ in Biafra land. (Korieh 2012:1).
Millions of lives had been cut short, innumerable women raped and countless number of properties destroyed, all pertaining to the Igbo and other easterners. The hard to believe reason (perhaps last straw) for the take-off of the war, was that the aggrieved people had decided to retreat to a place they felt they could be safe from the killings. But right under the Eastern soil lay immense fortune, which must be fought for, even with the blood of the people. And so the aggressors went along with foreign powers to further subdue the aggrieved. Was it wrong for the aggrieved to have decided to retreat? Ransome Kuti (1999, in Ezeani 2013) remarks: “Our collective experience since 1960 leaves no one in any doubt that the decision to secede by the Igbo was proper and correct. You cannot kill tens of thousands of people, take over the government with arms and expect them to stay around like sitting ducks, especially after unilaterally abrogating a negotiated settlement (The News 20/12/99, 14).” The abrogated settlement was to be a desired panacea. But it was abrogated anyway. Within that period, schooling was disrupted, famine and starvation were intentionally introduced by the invading group, creating a brand new look of kwashiorkor in children and, an easy way to drop dead, aside the on-going death through imperialist-aided superior gun power. Fifty years gone, many have gone. Many are still around and yet many continue to spring up and carry on, as History never happens in a vacuum; and nature helps Memory to absorb and retain. And, from whatever Legacy that emerges, knowledge and development are advanced.
Long before colonialism, the transatlantic slave trade took place from the 15th through the 19th centuries; and focused on western and central parts of Africa. Nigeria was hard-hit as large numbers suffered in the hands of ‘human cargo’ traders, who transported them to the Americas and western European countries in exchange for cash or barter. Slave Trade, Colonialism, and War form part of the checkered history of today’s Nigeria, where shortly after political independence in 1960, two proverbial elephants fought from 1967 to 1970, and aphoristically, the grass suffered. Fifty years earlier, Nigeria could be said to have been peaceful, albeit unsteady. There appeared to be subdued but glaring instability and apprehension. The Nigerian state naturally takes its place in history within the milieu of the developing world and also shares its history and memory in socio-cultural, religious, economic and political terms, as expounded in Agbasimalo’s ‘Bow You Must’ (1999 and 2017: 6) :
“… Every other thing had already had a faulty take-off. The home economy took off on a zero base; political power was acquired without economic power, … minimal infrastructural development… Explosion in population growth…Facilities and services could no longer go round, causing ‘stampede and rush’ … The fittest surviving and grabbing, to the detriment of the weak and powerless. The rich got richer and the poor, poorer… Hunger, poverty, sickness, illiteracy, disease and injustice became companions of the people…Disillusionment, disappointments, wars and killings, sorrow and hardship…Any direction you look, you see citizens in confusion, leaders without direction, armies without forts; all wallowing in gross underdevelopment.”
Within fifty years after the Nigeria-Biafra war, Nigeria has unfortunately grown into:
“A place where people live in fear as gunshots and bomb blasts are heard from around corners… – fear of both the known and the unknown… This is where brothers are at daggers drawn and absolute power lies in the barrel of the gun. It is where politics means killing to grab power and ethnic rivalry and fierce hatred are allowable.” – (Agbasimalo 1999,2017:7).
Memory of the war
Whilst war is said to be a state of armed conflict between societies, characterized by extreme aggression, destruction and mortality, total war is warfare that is not restricted to purely legitimate military targets, and can result in massive civilian or other non-combatant casualties. Without recourse to any form of research or inquest, any eye witness survivor from the Nigeria- Biafra war can rightly assert that, it could be categorized as Total War. It was a war with indiscriminate and illegitimate targets, resulting in heavy civilian casualties. Jacobs, (1987:5 ), described the atrocious activities thus: “killing them by every other means they could, such as bombing market places.” The account of one Rev. Fr. Raymond Mahar (quoted in Ezeani 2013), reports: “When I got to the market, every square yard was covered by a body or a part of a body. In all, there were more than 200 bodies, not more than four or five of them were men.” As Okocha (1994 in Ezeani 2013) has also stated: “Some bodies strewn on the pathways were the remains of babies hacked to death from the clutches of their helpless nursing mothers.” With such reports, it is hard to differentiate between a Total War and Genocide. Yet some argue that genocide did not take place during the Nigeria-Biafra War. From whichever way it is viewed however, war portends evil. To some scholars, it is a universal and ancestral aspect of human nature. Others hold that war arises from specific socio-cultural or ecological circumstances, whereas many others argue that war is an active ingredient of international politics. While yet others maintain that war settles scores and brings about renewed peace, a war theorist Margaret Mead dismissed the notion that war is the inevitable consequence of our ‘basic, competitive, aggressive, warring human nature,’ and proposed that, ‘Warfare Is Only an Invention and not a Biological Necessity‘. Mead’s theory seems to hypothesize that the Nigeria-Biafra war of 1967 to1970 was an Invention with large looming effects, otherwise why was the external influence of Britain, Russia and other world powers, required to support one side against another, to the extent that Britain dashed the Aburi Accord hope of mending fences just before the outset of the war? Why did Russia say that a country that was not yet two months old that could manufacture ogbunigwe (deadly mass killer land mines) and rockets must be feared? Why did that fear lead to Britain’s passing of a legislation putting a ban to the exportation of arms to Biafra? (Ezeani, 2013). Mead is clearly insinuating that war is more of a political expression than biological. The Nigeria-Biafra war was perhaps quite intentional.
It has been mentioned earlier that in Nigeria, after political independence in 1960, two proverbial elephants fought from 1967 to 1970; and aphoristically, the grass suffered. Could Biafra be said to be one of the two elephants when according to Ezeani (2013), it had gone to war with only 128 rifles and no standing army, against the federal troops plus international super powers? How relevant therefore can this mind boggling question be? “With two super powers – Britain and Russia on the side of the Nigerian government, with a well-organized army and abundance of military hardware, why did the war against such a tiny state of Biafra drag on for about three years?” Ezeani (2013), one could also ask.
The suffering grass was domiciled in Biafra, with unimaginable damage to life and property. Many people have written about the aggression and wanton destruction that went with the war, including those inflicted by self but not many have talked about some of its intrinsic, foundational and value-based issues, that took a toll on the people and their environment, which continue to affect them till date. It is on this premise that, this writer calls up deep seated memories and highlights several eye witness experiences that shook the foundational make up of Biafra/Igbo land; and how the resilience of the Igbo stock and their Eastern brothers and sisters, has, fifty years after, made them the centre of focus. With hind sight, this ‘teenage girl’ caught up in the cross fire of the Nigeria-Biafra war and now a mature adult survivor, standing before you, remembers with nostalgia, sees and likens the following qualities to Biafra: Self esteem, Strong structure, Resilience and Drive. For instance, they were rendered homeless in their homeland and left only with a war-shocked foundation and a failed Reconstruction promise. But their resilience got them out of that situation before long, as cited on page 269 of “The Forest Dames“. Quote:
“Everyone now had shelter, albeit in mud houses with thatched roofs… Amazingly, two years after the war, most, if not all parts of Igbo land, had been rebuilt with cement blocks and corrugated iron sheets. Five years later, big architectural designs sprawled the Eastern landscape. Deze thought that was resilience and the strength of self-worth”
And to firmly corroborate this stance, a former Vice President of Nigeria was reported in the social media as having said, and I quote:
“Today, the three Northern zones are the most backward. Instead of us to blame ourselves, we are blaming the South. We fought civil war about fifty years ago. But when you fly today from the North to the East, they have rebuilt their own East. We have not even rebuilt a hut in the North. We are still living in such huts but they have rebuilt the East and then, we blame and punish them for rebuilding their own homes.” – Atiku Abubakar, Turaki Adamawa:
Scannews April 30, 2017 (www.scannewsnigeria.com)
The people were harassed and traumatized, as captured in a poetry piece on page 17 of “The Forest Dames” :
“They stripped us and savored our nakedness.
Went in and out of our women.
Like needle work.
Threatened our male descent seed.
Defecated in the backyard on our sacred places. Urinated over our kitchen furnace.
Like inebriated bulldogs.
Virgin places are denuded.
There are no more secrets.
There is no more privacy.
The glory is gone.
For they had the gun.
We had only our pride to ride.
And our ruse and trap!”
Rape was the order of the day as girls and older females were routinely abducted by the invading soldiers. But to debunk and repudiate the popular cliché that ‘all is fair in war’, some resolute mothers literarily banished their precious daughters to the wild forests. I was one of them. Publisher Author House wrote:
“When Nigeria, a former peaceful British colony erupts in a Civil War, tagged the Biafran War, one girl’s parents will do whatever it takes to save her LIFE and HONOR. Discover the resilience of the human spirit in this incredible true story, The Forest Dames, as Agbasimalo recounts her refusal to give up in the face of adversary.”
– Author House UK.
And the forest dame herself, having literarily died several times, wrote on the first page of her book, ‘The Forest Dames‘ :
“Besides, at the rate people were dying, one thanked the Almighty if one saw the next day. ‘After all,’ they asked themselves, ‘between being devoured by beasts and being shattered into pieces by mortar bombs, which is
preferable? Either way the result is death,’ they consoled themselves, ‘and, it is inevitable.’ Brave stance! But the dames were still scared stiff, never
failing to imagine the likelihood of a famished beast leaping towards them, and the muffled last prayers that would follow.”
Women suffered from economic, psychological and physical trauma:
The enemies had blocked the channels through which assistance came in. Women picked up their baskets and combed the hinterland, the distant markets, in search of food, walking along serpentine pathways through bushes and villages, wading across shallow streams. By a bush corner, under the shade of a tree, in abandoned homes or uncompleted buildings, they found a place to lay their heads…
They had barely covered two kilometers when the sound of jet bombers rent the air… One fast plane had dropped a string of lethal bombs as it whistled past the helpless traders who had already dropped their goods and were lying flat on the ground…
The harassed women got up slowly, dusting the sand and dirt from their bodies and looking out for one another. “Wait a minute,” one of them shouted, “It looks like Liliana has been hit by the ‘death parcel’. There’s blood all over her, oh my God!” Bits of Gonma’s mother’s flesh were strewn all over the ground. It was heartbreaking…
– They were all women, left with one female corpse to contend with.
Children were perhaps the hardest hit. The teenage girl recorded all in her memory and now laments in the pages of “The Forest Dames”:
“Poor children robbed of fun! How can any child possibly play with such a protruded stomach?”
‘Reuben tried to lift the skinny boy but it looked like the boy would be better off in a sack…’
‘Orjay’s wife sensed that the baby strapped to her back was now lifeless. She did not feel her daughter’s
heartbeat anymore. She had felt the baby slump… The five-year-old girl’s body had stiffened…’
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Ejema, we did our best for Sunday but he just did not make it,” Dr. Harrison said softly to Julie, who flung herself on the ground and fainted.”
There are strong memories of the fate of the elderly:
We returned from our place of refuge to find that our house had been razed by fire… We found my grandmother burnt to death… Charred… We, her children and grandchildren, felt pain tinged with guilt, the guilt of leaving our dear and loving grandma behind when we fled… There was just nothing we could do. Nne could not walk and no one could carry her. We had neither stretcher nor wheelchair.”
The pathetic memory of men at the battle field, with limited arms and ammunition but with point blank devotion to their Eldorado, is quite vivid. There was however a human limit to their spirit of determination and resistance in the face of the aggressor’s overwhelming power. (Ezeani 2013) exposes the secret of how the emerging ‘Japan of Africa’ was killed in its infancy:
`”The recent arrival of the first batch of Czech jet training aircraft may be followed by Russian arms and technicians” (British policy towards Nigeria 1967:3). The British government records also have it: ‘It is now known the Russian transport aircrafts which arrived at Kano on 18th August, were carrying dismantled aircraft… One hundred and sixty Russians are reported to have arrived with the aircrafts and have started to assemble the jets.”
The two powers had abandoned the Cold War and focused on a new ideology: Kill Biafra! With the super powers vigorously putting into practice this ideology, Biafra could no longer battle on. So in January 1970, it gave up the struggle.
Survey on the Nigeria-Biafra war 1967-70, fifty years after
In order to add some life to pure paper work, it became expedient to get live responses and reactions on the war, through a survey, from humans who survived the war and those who were told about what happened. Today, the heavy burden of the after taste of the war is borne by them and several others. A sample survey size of 50 resulted only in 37 returned questionnaire. This is attributable to apathy, tight schedules and irritability. A cursory analysis of the responses indicates that fifty years after, remembrance of pain and misfortune is still vivid. Every respondent had a throwback of horror, regret and trauma. Not one respondent desired a repeat performance. Almost all maintained that history should be made of the war, and its memories documented. An original attempt to record respondents’ reaction via graphs gave the impression of attempting to drown the voice of pain, hence the use of tables.
Fifty years ago, Nigeria fought a war with seceded nascent Biafra. Against all expectations, the war which was scheduled to last for about 72 hours, or (to make room for lapses), a couple of weeks; lasted for 30 months. Biafra was defeated and forced back to Nigeria. It is now fifty years since the end of that war and we request you to kindly share with us, your views on some aspects of the Nigeria-Biafra war. We will appreciate your frank and unbiased responses, please.
- Name (optional) ———————————————————————–
- Sex: Male / Female. Tribe: Hausa / Ethnicity / Yoruba / Minorities?
- Have you, before now, heard about the Nigeria-Biafra war? Yes / No (If No, please stop here. If Yes, please continue).
- How old were you during the war? —————– (If post war, indicate not born and move to the next question).
- Do you have memories of the war? Yes / No. Good / Bad? Circle answer
- State your most vivid memories of the Nigeria – Biafra war (please take your time to reflect on your thoughts).
- Was it hard for you to remember what happened? Yes / No. Please explain
- Do you think it is better to forget that war and not make history of it? Yes / No/ Don’t know / Not sure. Why?
- What did that war leave behind for you as a reminder? Good / Bad?
- What Lessons have you learnt from the war? What legacy?
Age during the war: 15 and above
|S/N||Age||Sex||Most vivid memory of the war.
Hard to remember?
|Forget that war! Make no history of it.
What Reminders. Lessons? Legacy?
|1||35 yrs||F||“”Eating without salt, burying people alive, taking your belongings by force, loss of dear relations, air raids, constant relocation. Most vivid memory was going to the forest to give food to my daughter, the writer of The Forest Dames, for almost one year. At the end of the war, all my Biafran money was reduced to only twenty pounds. Punishment.”||Never. It is good to tell the new generation about the war so that they will not start to think about war again. War is bad. If I am eating and happy and I remember the war, the happiness stops. I don’t want war anymore. War is evil.|
|2||18 yrs||M||“Many people starved to death. Economic blockade. Destruction of homes and businesses. Development standstill. Not hard to remember, bitter experience.”‘||Biafra war will continue to be history which cannot be easily erased from our memory. Destruction of lives and property, disunity are reminders. War should not be solution to disputes. Discussion, dialogue. Reconciliation is the best option..|
|3||23 yrs||M||“Makeshift refugee camps. Long queues of displaced persons moving along walkways with loads on their heads. Fighter jets raining bullets and bombs on townships and market places leaving trails of unsightly casualties. Having played active role in Biafra Army Engineering Corps and visited war fronts and location, memory not hard.”||With the benefit of hindsight, the future can be articulated. History must be made of this. Discretion can be thrown to the winds if people are pushed to the wall. War should be avoided or nipped in the bud through dialogue and unbiased conflict resolution mechanisms.|
|4||25 yrs||M||“Return of casualties from war front”||Not sure if or not to forget the war. Bad reminders. The inhumanity of man to man..|
|5||15 yrs||F||“During an air raid in Umuahia, in 1968, one of our students’ head was cut off. The headless body walked for a minute before falling down.”||I can’t forget my horrible 1968 air raid experience. The headless body that walked for a minute before falling down. Legacy of horror. Cannot forget.|
|6||19 yrs||M||“I fought as a soldier during the war. The reflection is a sad one.”||History is a lesson for the future. Very bad memory. Respect for one another, restructuring of Nigeria is the way to go|
|7||20 yrs||F||“Reports and pictures I saw/heard in Germany. Outrage and demonstrations in Berlin. Public burning of a dog in protest against atrocities committed in Biafra. Will never forget those images”-70 year old German lady||The Jews also warn to NEVER FORGET the Holocaust because such a thing must never happen again. People suffered too much. We were watching helplessly. Never again. It is better to live together peacefully or if that is not feasible, NEGOTIATE exit like Brexit\EU. War is destructive. It takes a long time to recover. But recovery is possible and people can come out even stronger and more resilient..|
|8||16 yrs||M||“Lost a senior and intelligent brother who was killed as a soldier. Lived under fear. Not hard to remember”||The memories and experience are lessons not to be forgotten. Wasted years and lost resources and relations. To be prepared for any downturn of fortunes..|
|9||17||M||“Starving Biafran children suffering from malnutrition, kwashiorkor and marasmus. Nigerian planes bombing schools and market places. Not hard to remember. I participated actively in the war. I saw it all, lost friends as well as three years of my education.” – Medical Doctor.||Forget? No! We should make history of it to teach upcoming generations, the futility and pains of war. A reminder that the genocide and discrimination for which we fought are still prevalent, if not worse. Lessons: War is bad. Innocent lives are lost. Women are raped. Children die of malnutrition. Peace is not achieved through war. Nigeria is in great trouble due to over lording of the Muslims/Hausa/Fulani.|
|10||17 yrs||M||“Both internal and external genocide. As a veteran, I saw it all. Incessant bombing of civilian targets.”||“Not sure. It is not good to expect another round of it. Carefulness for the Igbo in their future. Be your brother’s keeper.”|
|11||23 yrs||M||“Working with the Red Cross and treating children” – white American, who kept journals and still has vivid memories.”||We must remember and teach those too young to have been there. at condition of children. Sadness. Those who were most unable to help themselves, suffer the most: the children. War is so often futile.|
|12||17 yrs||M||“The incessant bombing of civilian targets.”||If we forget the experience, we lose lessons from the war. Bad reminders. The Igbo should think home and make our place attractive, to stem the tide of migration.|
|13||15||M||“Fear, trauma, anxiety, starvation, death. Not hard to remember at 15”||Better to write history of the war and widely study it in order not to repeat the mistakes that led to the war. Good reminder – it revealed the ingenuity of the Nigerian person in the period of need. Bad because the loss of men and material was needless. Better to douse tension before it overflows and commit to ‘never again must it happen’|
|14||20 yrs||F||Loss of relations, constant relocation, air raids, hunger.”||The war should not be forgotten. Necessary for succeeding generations to know what happened. Reminds me of the loss of my brother and other relations. War profits no one – both winners and losers..|
|15||15||F||Made to live in the forest to escape abduction by randy federal troops. Helplessly watching children die slowly and painfully. Hearing and watching the lamentation of parents when all their monetary wealth was wickedly reduced to 20 pounds only. Chaos everywhere.||There was a plan to kill all Igbo from 5years and above and bring up the under fives in Hausa language and Islam so that Christianity and the Igbo mother tongue would be eradicated; but that did not materialize.
Olive branch. No more wars. Peace instead!
Age during the war 1 – 14
|S/N||Age||Sex||Most vivid memory of the war.
Hard to remember?
|Forget that war! Make no history of it. What Reminders. Lessons? Legacy?
|1||3+ yrs||F||Sleeping in the bush. It was hard to remember||Yes, just reference purposes and to discourage wars. Bad reminders. I lost many people/relations. War is a weapon that should not be used for defense but dialogue.|
|M||The killing of people and raping of women by Nigerian soldiers. The memories of what I was told are still fresh – Anglican priest.||The history will make the unborn children at that time to know what happened and make their future peaceful. The ugly memories as I was told, were not desirable. War is not good. Dialogue can solve a million problems instead of war that will never bring peace|
|3||8||F||Jet fighter planes throwing bombs all over while we ran into bunkers. Shelling from Owerri town to my village, Nekede. Eating rats, lizards, grasshoppers. No salt. I remember the events, how I used to follow my mother to carry food to my elder sister in the forest.||Remembering the war and making history of it will help the people who were not yet born during that time, to know what really happened. Though I was not matured during the war time, definitely doesn’t bring any good to anybody. The war brought hatred to the Igbo; and marginalization.|
|4||12 yrs||M||There was fear all over the place. Trauma. All schools were closed down.||War can never be forgettable. Bad reminders. For it not to happen again.|
|5||7 yrs||M||Uncertainty. Fear every hour of the day. Continuous gunshots very disturbing. We were on our toes. No food. Kwashiorkor. Not a good experience.||It is not possible to forget.
Fear and uncertainty. It should not be allowed to happen again..
|6||5 yrs||M||My LGA (Ikeduru) did not run during the war but were overwhelmed by refugees from other parts of the East. Hunger was a major problem. We ate what we saw and not what we wanted. We ate lizards. There was no salt. I remember some and not all.||By the remembrance, we will better our future as Igbo and as Nigerians. Hard work and perseverance/longsuffering. To always remember my identity as an Igbo
(Roman Catholic priest)
|7||10 yrs||F||Being forced into the cargo section of a Port station. Seeing my cousin for the last time at the train station. He was later murdered in the pogrom. No food. Hunger. Being very ill. Sleeping in the forest, highways and by-ways. Can just cry now!||We should make history of the war, especially what led to it. The memories should not be forgotten. Memories of lost opportunities. Three wasted years. War is evil and should avoided at all cost. – Rev Sister.|
|8||10 yrs||F||A bombing incident that killed our neighbor and all her children. We were playing outside when the sound of the bomber plane was heard. The woman called her children into the house and suddenly there was a loud sound and the house collapsed. Not hard to remember.||We should make history of the war, especially what led to it. The memories should not be forgotten. Memories of lost opportunities. Three wasted years. War is evil and should avoided at all cost.|
|9||A child||F||Refugee and camp life away from home. Ahia Attack. Capturing young women by soldiers. Not hard to remember.||History important to avoid mistake of the past. One of my aunts lost her only son in that war. War is bad as it turns many into refugees, childless and other deaths and abuse of women.|
|10||1yr||M||As a little boy I was often moved about at odd times and forced to eat at irregular times. I feel bad when I remember the stories told by my parents about threats to their lives at that time.||It is very important that it must be discussed as the issues that led to it are not yet resolved. It brings some bad feelings to families that lost their benefactors and properties. To always think home and remember the possibility of betrayals|
|11||5yrs||F||Running from our village to another village, with a few valuables. The sight of the air planes that I saw as birds. I equally saw bombs as balls falling out from the sky. I have a vivid knowledge and remember my older sister carrying me into a trench that my father dug at the back of our house.||Memories of the war should not be thrown away. They should be pulled together and produced (documented) for the upcoming generation. Most of my childhood friends were never seen again. War is not good.|
|12||2 yrs||F||Can’t remember anything. Only what we were to ld that happened during the war.||War is not good. Children and women are mostly affected.|
|13||10yrs||F||Hunger, fear, education halted, parental care denied. No freedom of movement, sickness, bombshell, confusion, molestation, high death toll, adoption of young girls. Father remained in Lagos. The war rendered many useless and helpless. Not hard to remember.||Let’s do what will move us forward. If history of the war will spark off more trouble for us. stop it. Bad reminders. War is not good. Should not start up again|
|14||2yrs||M||Always running into the bunker to hide whenever we heard the enemy fighter jets coming over our home. Not hard to remember.||There is need for us to talk about the war. It is part of the history and the wrongs that led to the war have not yet been corrected. The Igbo race was marked out for extinction. O dighi nma i nara nwa mbe nwunye ya na-ihi na “ihe o jiri buru nwoke” di ntakiri (injustice is bad)|
|15||6yrs||F||Frightful nightmares of gun shots and fire balls. Hard to remember, because of my age then.||Memories of horror and nightmares. Lessons, legacy, none.|
|16||7||M||During the pogrom, our neighbour in Kaduna, Mr. Nwafor left the North for their hometown in the East. After the war in 1970, he returned without his family. They had all died. Mr. Nwafor had lost all his family members. My father gave him all monies that accrued from rent paid by his tenants and he had to start afresh. – A Muslim Northerner.||That war should not be forgotten because, if we do we would be able to learn lessons from it. And if we do not know what happened yesterday, how do we know how to avert future occurrence of similar situations. Bad reminders. Bitterness and not more|
|17||8 yrs||M||Hunger, fear, insecurity, bitterness, wickedness. Not hard to remember||The memoirs of it should be documented for future generations. Injustice and discrimination and hatred. The value of truth, justice, fairness, accommodation and tolerance.|
|18||M||. The sudden influx of refugees into our serene village Umuofor Amaimo. Some of them especially the children and elderly died, and were buried in portions of our primary school farm. Compassion shown by the Relief Organizations such as the Caritas, and WCC. Provision of Relief materials in form of corn meal, corned beef, stock fish, and salt. I easily remember what happened.||Better and wise to document important aspects of the war and make history of it than to forget it, for posterity sake. As it is said “my people perish for lack of knowledge”. Peaceful coexistence, dialogue, tolerance, and forgiveness. Educated and promising young men died, parents lost so much, children dropped out of school in armed robbery, use of illicit drugs, prostitution, and other nefarious activities.|
|19||10||F||The smell of the damp earth of the underground bunkers. The piercing sound of air raid sirens and quaking bombs exploding . The taste of powdered milk and powdered egg yolk. Escaping on a Red Cross plane from Uli airstrip.||Everything should be done to avoid war. Never again should any man , woman , boy or girl experience war. Restitution and compensation should not be ignored.
|Born After the War|
|20||M||I was told my people were killed in their thousands. Hunger, sickness, malnutrition, fear, and other agonies. With documentaries, I remember what happened and what I was told.||History is the best teacher. That will enable the Igbo know what happened in the past, how they should live at present and also plan for future.|
|21||M||As a little boy and from the things I read, I feel very bad with the economic hardship and starvation of little children. I was told that a policy of economic blockade was introduced by the Nigerian government to suffer the Biafrans.||Nigeria is not united and needs to be restructured. A lot of atrocities committed. Millions of people die untimely. War is a terrible thing that is better imagined. Economic blockade and other heinous crimes – war against humanity|
|22||M||No memories. Not applicable.||Understanding history is critical to taking better decisions in the future. So the Biafran war should be thoroughly studied. Not applicable. War is evil, It should therefore be the very last option in conflict resolution.|
The period 1967-70 has become a turning point in my life because that was the period during which I spent nine months, with three other girls, in the perilous African forest of Owerri, in the eastern part of Nigeria, trying to keep safe. We heard the roars of wild animals but thankfully did not see any. Some of the people who can testify to this assertion are still alive today; but in today’s world, people seem not to be bothered, so incredible, compelling, true live stories that would have made headlines, are left to fritter away. Some scholars think that this ostensibly is because it is all about Biafra.
At the end of the Nigeria-Biafra war, there was a “No Victor, No vanquished” cliché, which the people received with a pinch of salt. There was a promise of Reconciliation, Reconstruction and Rehabilitation which, whether kept or not, remained in the people’s heart , as they watched a lot of development going on in places other than in the defeated Biafra land, especially in Lagos, where huge monumental buildings sprang up; and much later, Abuja. Fifty years after, the Igbo, left on their own, have to a considerable extent, tried to rebuild their destroyed nation, amidst marginalization , discrimination and humiliation, which have naturally led to agitations and recent calls for Biafra; and the Federal Government agents gunning down of the agitators.
Fifty years is enough time for any well meaning nation to learn from its past, for as Spanish-American philosopher, George Santayana (1863-1952) put it, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. It is however, not clear if Nigeria has really brought back the study of History into its educational curriculum. Whether or not it has, this quote remains relevant: “What became of the Black People of Sumer?” The traveler asked the old man, “for ancient records show that the people of Sumer were black. What happened to them?” “Ah!” The old man sighed. They lost their history, and so they died.” (In Williams, Chancellor 1987.) According to Anyanwu: “No race, nation, ethnic group, or country can survive, much less thrive, if it abandons the shared customs, values, beliefs and worldviews that unite its members in a collective consciousness.” (2017 ISA write up.)
In retrospect, many see the Nigeria-Biafra war as a terrible mistake, and some of the countries which aided the defeat of the nascent Biafra now seem to regret their actions. As stated by Ezeani (2013), “Recent developments in Nigeria in which Boko Haram Islamic terrorists have bombed the United Nations building in Abuja and subsequently threatened to assassinate the US ambassador to Nigeria, Terence McCulley, has resulted in the US and major European authorities secretly regretting siding with the Federal Government of Nigeria against Biafra in a war ‘that killed 3.5 million Biafrans’. Because of the fast – spreading fundamentalism in Nigeria and elsewhere, ‘secret internal communication between EU and UN diplomats demonstrate that the United States is apprehensive of past actions against Biafra, which it now regrets… Credible source knowledgeable with US – internal memos states that US now regrets its support for Nigerian Federal troops in its face out in the 60s’. If these feelings of regret had been nursed in the 1960s by Europe and America, it would have been a different story today for Biafra, Africa and the rest of the world.” These feelings of regret by some Western powers should not be allowed to be fruitless.
It is hereby recommended that:
- Any well meaning government should realize that it is unforgivable for one country to fight a civil war twice in its history. The loud sounding drumbeats of war in Nigeria must not be allowed to materialize. All lopsidedness, killings and marginalization must stop forthwith and the option of peace explored.
- The academia should join forces with the international community, engage the true veterans of that war and go ahead to make more scholarly noises about the Nigeria-Biafra war, to forestall any attempt to consign it to oblivion.
- Movies, inquests, world media interviews, written and oral literature that highlight the truth about the Nigeria-Biafra war, its history, memory and legacy will be great ways to protect one of the most potent and fertile history of Nigeria and Africa, after Slave Trade and Colonialism.
- It should be recognized that:
- The truth about the Nigeria-Biafra war is begging to be told, retold and absorbed into the national psyche.
- In plain terms, the first 1966 coup d’État was not targeted at Northern leaders by the Igbo people as erroneously propagated.
- It was mere happen stance, aided by poor logistics, that some of the earmarked leaders who were not killed before the coup was aborted, were Igbo.
- The 1966 coup d’État was purely military and should have been left at that. The ethnic connotation being pumped into it, is quite infantile and unfortunate.
- The arbitrary killing of the Igbo people, under any guise therefore, must stop forthwith and perpetrators brought to book.
- It is recommended and perhaps suggested that Reparation brings about healing and true reconciliation. The UN is hereby called upon to note this. Already the aggrieved are waiting to be appeased.
Ademoyega, Adewale (1981): ‘Why we struck: The story of the first Nigerian coup’. Evans Brothers Limited, Ibadan, Nigeria.
Agbasimalo, Ada (2012 & 2017): “The Forest Dames: a true life account of the Nigeria -Biafra war”, AuthorHouse UK.
Agbasimalo, Ada (1999, 2017): “Bow You Must” Pan African Publishers Enugu. AuthorHouse UK.
Anyanwu, Emmanuel (2017): The 15th Annual International conference of the Igbo Studies Association – write up.
Bird, Charles. (2010): Creating the future – Adventures in the second half of life. WorldPress…
Ezeani, Emefiena (2013): “In Biafra Africa died. The Diplomatic Plot.” Veritas Lumen Publishers, London.
Jacobs, Dan (1987) The Brutality of Nations, New York: Alfred A Kpnof.
Korieh Chima 2012: “The Nigeria-Biafra War: Genocide and the Politics of Memory“, Cambria press.
Nwoke/Ibe (2008, 2012) “Corporal Nwafor:A True Black African Story” Skill Publishing, Nigeria.
Oyeweso, Siyan, (1992) Perspectives on the Nigerian Civil War, Lagos: OAP Publications
Santayana George (1863-1952): Santayana is remembered in large part for his aphorisms, many of which have been so frequently used as to have become clichéd – Wikipedia.
Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia – Atlantic Slave Trade. Colonialism Sociology
Williams, Chancellor (1987) The Destruction of Black Civilization – Great issues of a Race from 4500 B.C to 2000 A.D. Chicago: Third World Press.