When dawn broke

Sulei Usman remembers the Nigerian-Biafran War. Photo by Chika Oduah

My name is Sulei Usman. I was born in Bauchi. We moved here to Maiduguri [Borno State] in 1966. Our father brought us. I was thirteen at the time.

We were here in Maiduguri when the [Nigerian Biafran] war started. They [the Igbos] started killing our people, so in Bauchi, Kano, Jos and the whole North basically, we [Northerners] had killed Igbos. Some of them ran away. The ruler at the time here in Maiduguri [the Shehu of Borno] forbade it [the killing of Igbos in Borno], and said we shouldn’t kill anyone in his town. He said we should let them go back to their towns untouched. The Shehu’s announcement was heard all over the town. You know our time is different from this time. If there’s an announcement from the palace, the [Shehu’s people] go around town with cars and speakers, distributing the news.

“Suddenly one day, at night around midnight…”

Suddenly one day, at night around midnight, some drunkards came in and started chaos in Maiduguri. They started it at the house near the front of the market. There were Igbos there, Igbos lived there, and that’s how the drunks went in and started beating them, the Igbos. They hit them with guns. They would shoot and then run. Then the Igbos, they had their guns, the breaking type, they’d shoot too then hide. They chased each other.

Before dawn, many people had died. They kept killing. [Some kind-hearted Maiduguri residents had] taken some Igbos to the Shehu’s palace. They hid them. They gathered them and hid them, so that people in the street wouldn’t kill them, [the Igbos]. They then took them [the Igbos] to the railway and put them in trains that would take them to their homeland [in southeastern Nigeria], so they wouldn’t be killed [in the North].

Sulei Usman’s hands. Photo by Chika Oduah

But when the Igbos left Maiduguri on the train, they were stopped on the road somewhere and killed. That’s it. But some other Igbo people stayed behind here in Maiduguri. When the war ended they were still here. They waited till the war ended and opened their shops like they had before. They grew up here, some Igbos.

“…they were stopped on the road somewhere and killed”

But I remember the night the killings started with the drunkards. It was close to my community and that very night nobody slept. Everyone was awake. The time they started fighting at midnight, we were scared. No one slept. We kept hearing people fighting. It was when dawn broke that we went there. We saw so many corpses.

It wasn’t guns that were used to kill. They used sticks. They used sticks to [kill the Igbos.] Not everyone had sticks though. I was watching. Not everyone had guns. They used sticks to kill each other. You know how they use sticks to kill rats. They’d chase each other, hit them with sticks and that’s it.

“You know how they use sticks to kill rats”

They don’t kill women. It’s men, and they used sticks to do that. Of course someone who has been killed will have blood on them. But it wasn’t gory. There was just some blood.

Sulei Usman’s hands. Photo by Chika Oduah


*This interview was conducted in Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria


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