My name is Bala Mohammed. I was born here in Kaduna, 1947 on the ninth of May.
I attended my elementary here in Kaduna. Later in the year 1967, when there was a crisis, between the soldiers and our leaders, there was a killing all over, here in Kaduna by then. Our leaders were killed, most especially Sardauna of Sokoto, Tafawa Balewa, Brigadier Mai Malari, Ade Malogun, and so many others were killed. Then, when after all these people were killed, there was molestation from the Igbo soldiers who were in Kaduna then. Molesting people anyhow.
…there was molestation from the Igbo soldiers
Most especially the most annoying thing they did to us was to show a picture of Chukwuma, Army Major Chukwuma, who then killed the Sardauna of Sokoto [Ahmadu Bello], showing the picture, telling us, we the northerners, this is the man that killed our God. Which is a very big insult. Because of that, not knowing that these people were planning to cut off from the country, cut off from Nigeria, and make their own, will I call it country? That is, Biafra. By then they had prepared a way. Nobody knew. They prepared to fight us, enslave us, Northerners.
They prepared to fight us, enslave us, Northerners
So, very unfortunate problems started, then I joined the army. We youths, by then now, we were just about 19 years. I had to join the army. After my training, I was taken to Lagos. From Lagos to Port Harcourt. From Port Harcourt to kai , so many places where we fought. We fought in so many places.
On the first of April 1969, if I haven’t forgotten, that was the day I was shot down. Late Musa Ba Mai Yi, who died as a general, just three or four years ago, he was the one that first of all carried me and ordered the rest to assist me. We ran to the vehicle, then I was taken by the rear. The hospital was at Azumuni, that was where the battalion headquarters was. From that, when they checked from that Azumuni and saw that wound can not be treated in that place, I was transferred to Port Harcourt. When they saw they could not treat me in Port Harcourt, they sent me to Lagos. Armed Forces Medical Service, Yaba, Lagos. Then after that, when I got treated, after nine months, when I got treated, I was sent to Oshodi. That is the habilitation center. From there they sent me to Abati barracks. I was there in Abati and one certain night in the evening, we saw people running helter skelter. I said what is happening? They said the war is over. That is what I can remember. When the war is over, they said okay, those that fought war should go back to their mother unit. That is RTU. Return to your unit.
Then they sent me back to Port Harcourt and from PH I was sent back to Aba where 12 Brigade 37 Batallion was. That is where I was. Later, I was sent to Port Harcourt. From PH we were sent to Rainbow Town in PH then we were sent to Ogoni. From Ogoni we were sent to Sarti, that is in Gongola state, where we built up a barrack for ourselves. Then I was sent to Numan. From Numan to Jalingo. Jalingo to Maiduguri. From there until I retired from there.
But back to Biafra. The problem started after the Igbos killed all the leaders. We didn’t know that they were advancing to come into the North to come and capture everywhere so that they will be the leaders. While they were planning to see that they enslave the Northerners. We become, then all the offices and the rules of the country should go back to their hand. That they want to see that anywhere they will be ruling in this country, they will be ruling over us. The Igbos.
By then it was Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe, Tafawa Balewa, and the rest. When you go to the east, Okpara was there, when you come to the north, Sardauna was there. When you go to the west, Akintola [Samuel Akintola] was there. So all their plan was at that time was to make sure they are the people there ruling. That is why when they started the killing, they killed the westerners who are the Yorubas. They killed the Northern leaders. But no one from the east was touched.
Okpara was there. Okotie was killed. He was then a minister of finance if I am not mistaken. He’s from Bendel. Midwest. Now they call it Bendel. He was killed but no Igbo leader was even scratched. Then that made people think why? If they say they see that something wrong is going on in the country why not go round generally touch all the regions? You only touch two regions and leave the and if you look at it, the leaders of that coup are all Igbos. All are Igbos. He who killed Sardauna is Igbo. He who killed Tafawa Balewa was Igbo. Ifeajuna [Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna], if I am not mistaken. Many of them, all of them [who executed the January 1966 coup] are Igbos.
The Igbos were molesting us
The Igbos were molesting us. They treated us like we were lepers. You cannot even go and touch a government tap. They will tell you ‘gerrout’ and they wash the taps before they fetch water. You see, that annoyed people.
People were badly annoyed. So from there now, they say we no ‘gree. They started here in Kontagora road, if I am not mistaken, they started saying, “We don’t agree, we don’t agree. We don’t agree.” Already, people were annoyed. That word “We don’t agree.” They started killing the Igbo traders, but those Igbo traders, some of them were innocent. They don’t know what is happening. They built houses here, they were living comfortably. We even attended many schools with them. We were in the same elementary. And we lived together. We were living very friendly, but some of them, some bad element among them, showing that picture, annoying people, not knowing say they are planning a war.
We don’t know. It was later, when they say Igbos were advancing to come to the North. They are in now Benue, they are now reach Benue, coming in to capture the North. While in the Lagos area, they reached Ore. From Benin they have already passed Benin, they’ve come to Ore. That was where the government realized these people mean what they are doing.
But the war, nobody can tell exactly the number of people that died because there was killing here and there. If you say you want to go and capture a place, when Nigerian troops are going to go and capture a place, fire is exchanged between the Biafrans and the soldiers. By then now the people the innocent civilians living in the area will be running helter skelter. Bomb will go off, there is shelling. As we are here now, a bomb will come and land here. The man that sent in the bomb doesn’t know who and who he kills. So nobody can tell exactly the number of the people that died. People died. But so many people died. That is true story. Not only Igbos. We, the Nigerian soldiers died. Many of us died. Themselves, many of them died. Nobody can tell.
…nobody can tell exactly the number of people that died
I learned how to use so many machines. I started with a G3, Bareta, SMG, machine gun, then later, 105, 106, 555. I know how to operate all those machines.
I sometimes feel too bad about the war because innocent people died! Innocent people died. Like you running for your life. Eh? Maybe you will meet your death on the road when running. You are not carrying arms. You are running for your life, then you meet your death on the going. Or when the jet is shelling, jet bomber is shelling, then the shell doesn’t know if this is soldier, this is civilian. It was too bad. Too bad, that’s what I’m saying.
How can I be shame? How can I feel about it [fighting in the war]? Because we went there to make sure say we arrest the situation. Arrest those rebels because we call them rebels. Arrest them. Then, when it was time to arrest them, they fire us. You cannot just say because I want to arrest this man then he start firing me then I will leave him. He is an enemy. He called me an enemy, I called him an enemy. We go there to fight each other and make sure say we arrest the situation. Then who was the commander in chief of the armed forces? General Yakubu Gowon. Whenever any of the Biafrans surrender and carry his arms up, don’t shoot him. If you shoot him, you face a firing corps. Because he has already surrendered. All we need for them to say surrender, we don’t need fight. And they order that if any one surrenders carries his hand up, if you Nigerian soldier fires him, you are asked to go for firing squad, because you killed an innocent somebody. He already surrendered. He become one with you.
During when the war become hot, the Biafrans youths used to come out and carry their arms up, then we hold them like friends. We become friends, then we take them back to the rear, then they send them to Lagos, then.
…beans, beans, rotten beans
Like those of us in the bush, in the war front, the feeding was too bad. Because the normal feeding is beans, beans, rotten beans. Sometimes you stay two days without food, because when you are exchanging fire, no way to bring in the food to you. We drink water from the hole. Like if rain falls, where if water gather on the street, if it the water that we use to put in our water bottle to drink. It was so terrible then. Very, very terrible.
The day the war ended, I was oh, so jovial, very happy. We were so happy, very jovial, running helter skelter, shouting, praying to God, kneeling down and praying to God, saying thank God the war is over, especially those of us that survived with a wound. We thank God. Because he who have never go and witness that, he doesn’t know what is happening. He cannot tell. But we who went and witnessed what was happening we knelt down and said thank god to our God almighty.
Ah yes. Like those days where you hear Biafra will be saying “Biafra, we war. Biafra we war.” We kuma we’ll be telling them say “Mu ne we are Nigerians. Mu yan Nigerians, mun zo mu kama Ojukwu mu kais hi wajen Gowon ba tare da jin tsoron kowa ba.” You understand me?
It means, we are going to capture Ojukwu and send him to Yakubu Gowon. General Yakubu Gowon, without the fear of nobody.
Ojukwu ya mutu ya kare, ba zai iya koma Biafra ba. Eh? It’s part of it. When we say Ojukwu yam utu yak are, say Ojukwu don die, e don finish, e no go go back to Biafra again.
The Biafrans, those who carry arms, they deserved that punishment of the war. But like those innocent ones running helter skelter, running from here to there, without food. They didn’t deserve the war, because they were just in their town, while the soldier are in the bush waiting. Then later when if we are coming to capture in this place, he is firing everywhere. When if you are firing, bullet will go and meet a woman, a child, some innocent people. Innocent children. You see?
The Nigerian soldiers captured plenty towns together with me. They captured Azumuni, Okrika 1, Okrika 2, we captured Okrika 3, we captured Abala. Then, that Igbo bomb, Ogbunigwe, would me.
When we go to a town to capture it, we don’t even meet an ant. Everybody run, they don already run away. Then when we capture a town, what we normally do we, now, one, there is a law by the army. After capturing a place, if you see an old man, don’t touch him. If you meet a woman, don’t touch her. Take her to refugee camp. If you meet a child, don’t touch him. Take him to refugee camp. Don’t burn any house. We will not set fire to any house. After capturing any town, then we go to the end of the town, we dig our trench and remain there for another movement. Then here our battalion headquarters will move to where it was, then it will come to where we capture. By the time we advance, the battalion headquarter will be following us. When we capture another town, they will shift to that place.
I feel very good to be in the war because it made my mind strong. My mind remained strong up to date that no small thing used to fear me. Like if they say there is a small problem now in Kaduna, when people are running helter skelter, it doesn’t even touches me because I know its minor. I don’t call it something. I call it minor.
My duty as a good Nigerian is to make sure say our country is not scattered. War. When they say these people want to break out, the duty of a great Nigerian is to make sure nobody break out from this great country. That remaining one, as a great country Nigeria, that is why everywhere in the world, you hear Nigeria, Nigeria, Nigeria. Because we are it is a very big country with very intelligent people. We want to remain very great.
*This interview was conducted in Bala Mohammed’s home in Kaduna State, Nigeria