My name is Hamsatu Allamin. In fact, I was born in 1958 in Nguru. Then, my father was a civil servant working there. Nguru is in Yobe state bordering Niger Republic. My father was then transferred to Maiduguri when I was just about 2 years old. We left Nguru, a place I had never visited up til today. So that is my life for now. In fact, I came and then enrolled into primary school in Maiduguri and completed all my education from primary school to the Masters level, all in the city of Maiduguri, and then I read BA English and then did my masters so by profession I am an educator.
Precisely when did the Nigerian Civil War begin? You know at that time I was about eight or so years old, but then even before the commencement of the civil war, I had seen a lot. In fact, at that time I was in, around Primary two or three. I can’t remember well, but before then also, I had seen the Sardauna [Sardauna of Sokoto, Ahmadu Bello] and all these northern pioneer politicians. I have seen them physically when they visited Maiduguri. As children, we go round and then cluster around, clapping at them, and then eventually I also can remember something about the coup- you know, one of the northern governors then, Sir Kashim Ibrahim was a childhood friend of my uncle, but my uncle died at a very early age, so Sir Kashim has been taking care of my grandfather and grandmother. I remember every year he sends them gifts during periods like this Ramadan fasting and others so I am very familiar with the politicians.
…the rest of them were dead
One day, I remember my father coming to tell my grandmother that all northern politicians had been killed. They don’t even know the fate of her son, that’s Governor Sir Kashim Ibrahim. I don’t know what it is but all of us, in fact the whole family wept, and eventually around midday we were told Sir Kashim is alive, but then the rest of them were dead.
But then I remember as a child, all the speculations and stories going round is that these northern politicians were killed by Igbos who are not Muslims, hence they were killing the Muslim leaders. This much I can remember, and then when the military took over- I have seen General Gowon too. I have seen Ironsi [Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi] too. All of them have visited Maiduguri. As a child I can vividly remember looking at them in their open motorcade when they come to visit the Shehu’s palace. Our house is just near the Shehu’s palace.
We are a peace-loving people
Then eventually we started hearing stories since the killing of the prominent politicians. I can remember the kind of- although as a child I didn’t attach much importance to them, but then, I know these are the kinds of talks or stories going round all over that yes, all Igbos should go back to their own land. This is our land. Eventually, I came to learn that this call is across all the northern states. But at that time, you know, in Maidguri, I think there was an assertion that the Igbos could not leave at that period because of the intervention of the paramount traditional ruler then, who in fact guaranteed them safety and security, that nothing is happening. We are a peace-loving people. In fact, even in history, Borno has never experienced any of this chaos or bloodshed.
In fact, some of us don’t know who an Igbo is, as a child
So eventually many of the Igbos were able to stay, but we are in downtown Maiduguri. In our area, there are no Igbo residents, but all the Igbos and all other non Kanuri, including the Hausas themselves, they have separate quarters which we call Hausari, that is, a place for Hausas. And the Igbos also are living in that vicinity and then few of them around “custom area,” too. So they are all secluded. They don’t mix and then live with us. In fact, some of us don’t know who an Igbo is, as a child.
And then I started hearing some stories that the northern people, especially the young ones and then the military or so kind of taking- you know as a child this is all child’s story. I’m not telling you politics or something that a politician can tell you, but the kind of thing I hear anyway that I am able to remember to date.
So eventually somehow, along the line, we started witnessing few of them started leaving one by one but it was not a mass exodus. So I think one evening, around five to six pm, when we were playing outside. We used to play in the streets. There were no tarred roads. There weren’t any vehicles except bicycles so we really played with our mates. So they were saying today there is going to be a mass action of something, like maybe an attack. It’s like an attack going to take place and then everybody should not come out after specific hours.
I don’t know what it is. We don’t even know what happened. We went to our houses, slept, and then in the morning we dressed to school as usual.
On our way to school, that is Gamboru Primary School. I lived near the Shehu’s palace. When we reached Gamboru, the school was somehow deserted. Only very few of us and very few teachers. We were told that today is not safe for anybody to come out. We should go back to our homes but instead of going to our homes, I saw some children who are my seniors. They said they had seen some people who were kind of attacking certain group of people. They want to go and see, so I had to follow them too. We went and crossed the Gamboru bridge to the “custom area.”
…that was the first time in fact I saw a corpse
As we reached there, I physically witnessed one guy whom they called a Nyamuri, and then the guy was just hit. I don’t know who killed him, but he hadn’t died finally. He was about to die, and then somebody came and pulled his trousers. He was just left there. And then as we moved, we saw another one. That one- blood all over his body, already dead. And then that was the first time in fact I saw a corpse. We said no, and my house we very, very far away, so we said no, it is almost closing time because when I stay late, my father will question me, so we have to return.
They said women should not be killed in Maiduguri
We returned, and then on our way, we had to branch to Babban Layi and they said “Ah, a lot of scenes there.” So when we went to the Babban Layi area. It was there we saw the chaos, how these scattered, doors were smashed, doors broken, some bakery, the bread there were littered because Igbos were the only ones who were baking bread at that period, so some of us who were picking the loaves of bread, looking at it. But it is not something edible, it was just like mold. At that time, I think rescue workers or something were picking those who were dead. They said women should not be killed in Maiduguri.
And then even the men, their neighbors started saving them. So in all, I don’t think I have seen up to eight bodies that day. The killing in Maiduguri wasn’t much. So I think that is the beginning of the crisis, so eventually the remaining Igbos had to leave and then we now started hearing mass recruitment, or is it conscription- announcements going on, calling all able-bodied young men for military service to the fatherland. The Igbos who were not Muslims are fighting the Muslim Northerners and unless people volunteered to fight, all of us would be exterminated. If you hear any plane or the sound of something, there was even speculation that you may be go dig some hole in your homes and then go under and then lie down. And then we saw some pamphlets being thrown by a small aircraft. I don’t even know what was written there. I could not read properly at that time, so in fact many young men were recruited and all those young men who are recruited or conscripted were all illiterate men from the villages taken. I am sure most of them did not come back.
And then eventually I remember also once they said all animals should be bought because they are killing northerners en masse therefore the animals would be transported in trailers to the south so that they will now be used as shield, maybe put in front so that when the Igbos attack, advance into the North, they will kill the animals first and then the foot soldiers will now attack them.
So I think in a nutshell that is all I can remember, and then eventually I came to know as a child that the leader of the Igbos is Ojukwu.
We used to sing a song in his name. Later, when I grew older, I know the Igbos also sang the song. They said Ojukwu enyimba enyi, but in our own context, we sang in Hausa. It was a negative this thing but it rhymes like the enyimba enyi. And then I knew that the northern leader was Yakubu Gowon, I didn’t even know at that time that Yakubu isn’t a Muslim, but anyway the fight was between North and South because that idea that we have Christians amongst us even amongst the Northerners was not pronounced honestly. Even as a child I didn’t know that there are Christians in our midst. All of us just look at each other as the same except maybe the Igbos and some Yorubas during Christmas when they do their masquerade, and others, and then we were deterred from going out because the masquerade looked scary. As children we called it dodo, that is maybe it can catch you and then eat you up so whenever we see the masquerade season comes out, we are not even allowed to go near that area.
So I think that’s all I remember.
I can also remember the celebration of victory that the northerners have won the war; the Igbos have surrendered. As a child I didn’t attach much importance to all of them but I can vividly remember clearly what I know as a child.
[The song] yeah, you know the Igbos say “Ojukwu, enyimba enyi,” but say “Ojukwu, kyawa wembe wuma, Ojukwu.” I am the husband of your mother, yes, I am. So kind of like this. Ojukwu, kyawa wembe wuma, Ojukwu.
Maybe as children, you know, it is that enyimba but we didn’t know it. It’s not an abuse quite okay, but it’s not good. It’s negative.
We clapped and went around, dancing and singing.
The Ibos are called [nyamuri]. I know that nyamuri are the Igbos. Even I, when did I know that nyamuri have another name called Igbo except maybe at a much later age when I went to the college, that is in the early seventies. It is only then that our social studies teachers were telling us nyamuri is not their tribe. They are called Igbos. Up to date, we don’t call Igbos Ibo but nyamuri, so I don’t know whether it has a name.
*This interview was conducted in Hamsatu Allamin’s home in Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria