People were eating rats

Theresa Nsionu remembers the Nigerian-Biafran War. Photo by Chika Oduah


My name is Theresa Nwakaego Nsionu. I was born in 1941. What I remember is that war was so severe. People suffer it well.

Well, we were in Jos, when they started killing. And then we ran to the south here to Awkuzu. All the Igbos in Jos, that is Plateau State, all the Igbos, many of us came down here to Anambara, in the eastern region. We stayed in Awkuzu. The war was going on. And then the war, it reached our hometown, Awkuzu.

During that time in Jos, some people, they killed Murtala Muhammed, or something like that. One Hausa man they killed. Or was it Tafawa Balewa? They were killing and killing. So Hausa people, they didn’t like to see Igbos. So everybody was just rushing to go to their home towns.

Theresa Nsionu’s hands. Photo by Chika Oduah


When the killings started in Jos, my husband said I should go with my children, go to the east. The later, the war started. They started killing Igbos in Jos again,  then my husband just rush, run.He just rush and enter train, by that time. Then start coming down to Anambra that time.

We suffer a lot. We suffer a lot. I say that let God not let this type of war come again because we suffer a lot. Children suffer a lot. We started running from one town to another town. We run from Awkuzu here to a town called Nteje [a nearby town in Anambra State]. From Nteje, we run to Ogbunike [a town in Anambra State]. Then from Ogbunike, by that time, I was put to bed. I gave birth to my son, my last son Augustine Nsionu.

When he was seven days old, I carry him on my back, carry load. The rest of my children, they carry load. We take leg, walk. No moto.  You can’t see moto. All the travelers, for all the traveling, we use leg. Then from Nteje to Ogbunike then from Ogbunike.

We suffer a lot. We suffer a lot.

My husband came to hear that the Hausa people came down to our hometown, Awkuzu here and then from Awkuzu, when we stayed in Ogbunike. The Hausa people [Nigerian soldiers] came down with their shelling, bombing, coming from Awka, Enugu, along the old road. The old road. They follow the old road. I and my children, we carry our load, take leg, cross the whole road. We enter a village. It was night time.

Theresa Nsionu. Photo by Chika Oduah

Then when it was morning, we start our journey again. We carry our load, carry my baby, my new baby, boy Augustine. Then we start the journey again, going to Nnewi. We trek with our load, pots and a small box to put cloth.

We couldn’t stay with my husband in Nnewi beccause there was no place to stay. He carry us to Awka-Etiti to stay in the school there, where the refugee are staying so that we will be receiving food. All these food that they are carrying, they used to carry to come to give the refugee. So we start our journey again with leg to Awka-Etiti. There, we stay there everybody with his children. All these Caritas people, all these foreign people that bringing us food.

When they bring us, all of us will share the food. Then my husband, when he receive salary, he will come and give us some money. We cook there, we eat, so we stay there till the war is ended. When they announce on radio the war don end, everybody was just rejoicing, rejoicing. Then we find moto, one lorry. Everybody was just packing the load into the lorry. Then we came down at our town and return back to Awkuzu.

I used to pray, and everywhere we go, I used to go to church with my children, praying, praying for ourselves say God to save us in this world. To save my children, to save my husband. No Sunday that we did not go to church. I say God we leave everything into your hand. I am just thanking God that time that no my children die in that during the war or sick. Because that time so many children was dying. Kwashiorkor. Many sickness. But my children, no one suffer all this. No one suffer all this. So I thank God for that and all of us came back safely.

The kwashiorkor. It’s when you didn’t eat well. When you don’t feed well, kwashiorkor will come. No fish, no meat, nothing. So that’s what I know about kwashiorkor. It look like swelling in the arm and the feet and stomach.

Wee used to hear noise, all this thing. All this plane that is going in the air. Carry gogogogogoogo, bombing, shelling. Bombing. We used to hear all those things. All of us will just go and take cover somewhere. We dig a bunker. All of us will just run, enter the bunker. We leave all our house. We leave, enter our bunker. We go there and hide until when the shelling and everything stop, we come out.

Don’t let this type of war come again in Nigeria.

Many people die. In my husband’s family, one many die. Though he was getting old.  Then, one young boy I knew who went to army, he didn’t come back. He died in the war. We didn’t lose anybody in my father’s house. Ah, many Ibo people died. Died. Sometimes, I think about the war. I pray, and say God. Don’t let this type of war come again in Nigeria.


Theresa Nsionu. Photo by Chika Oduah

I can’t say what caused the war. But it seems like the Hausa people didn’t like the us, the Igbos. Because I don’t see the reason why they should carry war against Igbo people, killing Igbos.

I remember the train to the south from Jos. People rush in the train. Many people rush. When we are going down, when it was in the night, we stopped in Makurdi. The train just stand still for many hours. I say, ah! What is going on? Everybody was shaking. They said why. They said that it was because of River Makurdi. But later we learnt that it was all this army and all this thing. Whether they don’t want us to go to our home, but later they release the train. So everybody was happy about it.

The refugee camp at the school. It was these Caritas, Catholic people helping us. They save us well well. They gave us stock fish, cow milk, rice. Many things they carry for us. And when they carry things all come, like I and my children, then they count how many children you have. Everybody would get his or her own share, including myself. When we gather these things it will stay at least three weeks or one month, for us to eat. Later, another people will carry again, come. So, it saved us well, well. It saved us very well.

People were eating rats.

I heard that people were eating human meat. But I didn’t see with my eyes oh! Because there was no food. We were eating so many funny things. People suffer. All these lizard, all those things are meat then. And rats. People were eating rats.


*This interview was conducted by Chika Oduah in Theresa Nsionu’s home in Anambra State, Nigeria


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s