They allowed children to be decimated

His Royal Highness Igwe Christopher Chukwumeka Ejiofor, the traditional ruler of Oyofo Kingdom in Ezeagu Local Government Area in Enugu State Nigeria, remembers the Nigerian-Biafran War. Photo by Chika Oduah

My name is His Royal Highness Igwe Christopher Chukwumeka Ejiofor. I am the traditional ruler of Oyofo Kingdom in Ezeagu Local Government Area in Enugu State. My title is Ezekwesili One and I am the Ngamekwo the fourth of this town of Oyofo Kingdom, which started from ancient times.

Biafra, the Nigerian Civil war was a period of sorrow because I personally was in the Nigerian army. I joined the Nigerian army in 1960 with the hope of being among the new Nigerians that would take over and make Nigeria a better place. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen the way we expected it to. The world that we knew, that was created by the Western civilization, who are the British, the colonial masters, did not live up to our expectations because the Muslims of the north of Nigeria who were mainly living in the feudal system, had a different agenda to that which we thought of in Nigeria.

Now the problem of Biafra began a long time ago in the sense that when Britain colonized Nigeria, there were three major tribes: the Northerners in the north, mainly Hausas, the Westerners, Yorubas, in the west and the Igbos in the east of Nigeria. When the British came they brought their religion and education which the western Nigerians and the eastern Nigerians embraced and therefore were able to get into the positions of authority in industrial developments when British people brought railway, brought seaport and, and naval system and also the air, the railways- yes, aviation as well, then they brought aviation.

So in short, you find that the, the Igbo people and Yorubas were more of the people who were recruited by the British because they embraced western civilization and by the time we became independent in 1960, most of the top jobs in the industry were actually Igbos and Yorubas and that meant that the Northerners who had embraced the Arabic system, who were not really fully engaged with what the British had brought in found, themselves at a disadvantage and they didn’t like it because the Northerners were not heading most of the industries and rather than finding a gentle solution to it, the political system created a rapid removal of the Igbos from the North, from the posts they held and replaced them with Northerners and in order to equalize the system.

So that’s where the crisis started and this was in 1963 when Chief Obafemi Awolowo who was the premier of the West and he had resigned to converse for elections within the federal system, was imprisoned for what they call treasonable felony.

That really tore them apart and their crisis began in the western Nigeria

And all these things were the, the spring balls that created what you call Biafra, because the arrest of and imprisonment of Awolowo meant that the people of the West who had seen their icon, a man who fought for independence for western Nigeria, being imprisoned. That really tore them apart and their crisis began in the western Nigeria.

Now I came back from United Kingdom in 1965 and I happened to be privileged to be a lecturer in Apapa under the military system and Major Murtala Muhammed who later became the president of Nigeria was actually my commanding officer at the time. So I lived in the suburb of western Nigeria called Ajegunle and from there I could witness a lot of killings and mass murders of people who were very unhappy about the imprisonment of Awolowo. So there was a divide between the NNDP party and the former Action Group Party which have become APGA and really that was the crisis.

Now the Igbos were not actually involved but they were in sympathy with what had happened in western Nigeria because they were also victims of being removed from their top positions. So what happened was that a situation arose where, when the western Nigerians needed sympathy, the Igbos who were brought up in the West, like in Ibadan and everything, some of whom were military officers supported the Yoruba officers and so that coup of January, 1966 which took place was as a result of what was planned in the west of Nigeria. A lot of people who have written historical books are not aware that it was not an Igbo coup but unfortunately, it was labelled to be an Igbo coup because the leaders who emerged to speak up like Nzeogwu and a few other people happened to be Igbos but the proper leaders- who were the Yorubas who asked for the Igbos to assist and corner the crew- all disappeared and that meant that the Igbos were tarnished with killing the leaders of Nigeria who were Tafawa Balewa and a few other people, which was totally unfair. Now if you wish for me to go further, I can do.

For me it was very personal in the sense that I was a military officer. I was a young office lecturer in the army in 1967. But I was involved in escaping, one of the people who had escaped from Lagos because there was mass murder. There was an organized mass murder of people from the East. Now I happened to be in Lagos at the time, and my mentor, staff service Sylvanus Ezeagu, was among the people who were ambushed and killed by the northern soldiers. So I was disorientated and I just needed guidance and, and I had to escape from Lagos.

…they had already started the coup in, in Ikeja

To give you the background, I am a spiritual person and I think what happened was that, because I was working in the Sigma regiment of Apapa, I actually went to the transmission center the night before the military coup took place just to see what was going on. And while I was there, the phone rang. And when the phone rang there was a military officer and a Hausa boy who was on duty, Hausa man who was on duty, but I happened to be senior in rank to him, so he allowed me to pick the phone so I answered the phone and the phone was a message from Ikeja airport, from the containment second battalion telling them to stand in Apapa. That they had already started the coup in, in Ikeja.

…they’re killing our people and I think we should not go to work…

Now, he didn’t know that the person who received the call happened to be a different person to whom the message was sent and it was me. So I spoke Hausa fluently and I answered him, believing that he has spoken to the right person. Now after that experience I said wow, I’m gonna go now and disperse this message to the Igbos I know which I, I knew there and my mentor who happened to be staff serving Sylvanus Ezeagwu, was the first person I went to tell him look, this is what I heard. There’s a military coup that has started; they’re killing our people and I think we should not go to work the next day and I’m not going to go.

He never came back alive

Now he told me that he knew Gowon who later became the president and Gowon, Colonel Gowon was the staff sergeant at, I mean was the, what they call the staff officer in charge of all the staff in Nigeria, at the time, ah Chief of Staff, that is what they call him. And he was a good man, he told me, and he said when he gets to office in headquarters tomorrow, he will speak to Gowon and see if this is true or not and I said to him “I’m not going!” But he decided to go.

Unfortunately, that was the last. He never came back alive. So he was ambushed and killed by the Northern soldiers. So that’s really what happened to me. So I was helpless, I, I had to get spiritual help and God helped me, revealed to me through parish priests that these Northerners who were killing were coming on a certain date to arrest the rest of us who are Igbos in Apapa, and that information gave me opportunity to escape from Lagos before they came to arrest us. And so I came back to the east of Nigeria and all of my siblings who were in the North, Kaduna and, and Zaria had also escaped from their colleges and came back to the South.

I was a witness to the first coup that took place…

[I felt] very devastated. What angered me to be honest with you is that I was a witness to the first coup that took place. Now, under Murtala Muhammed who was Commander, he ordered us to arrest all the people involved in that first coup, which we did. Now, they were all imprisoned. What really upset us is that, those of us who were loyal troops, were loyal to Nigeria, were then attacked by Northerners who were also loyal, just because we are from Igbo tribe. It had no connection with anything, and they killed, just killing Igbos at random, and that to me was what caused crisis in Nigeria.

Now, they even went as far as going to the prisons and killing those who were locked up and in prison, who took part in the first coup. So for me, I think that was when Nigeria lost its way, and, and the western dispensation what we call, we thought that the Westerners ah, carried Christian civilization with them. We thought they would react and come to our help but they never did and that was really a big disappointment for us because the massacres continued and continued and continued.

After we escaped from Lagos, there was a re-organization of former soldiers of Nigeria who had escaped. It was a mutual agreement that everybody should go back to their home of origin. If you’re a Northerner, you go back to the North, Easterner to the East and Westerner to the, to the West. So when we came back here, I was, in the Sigma Corps regiment and it so happened that at the time I was serving in Umahia under lectureship. His excellency Ojukwu [Chukwuemeka Ojukwu], had to replace one of his Aide-de-camps because of something he did wrong, and the army air force, army ADC was sacked. So they needed somebody else to replace him.

Some high ranking officers who had actually been to a base in Olokoro [Abia State] and I was the messing of serve the day when they came for interviews. They felt that I was capable of doing that job. So they came back when Ojukwu asked them to recruit for somebody who they felt was capable and to our barracks, and I was asked to, summoned to go to the state house and report. I didn’t know what it was about until I got there and then, the next morning I had to write my CVs for the Head of State and he read it and then next I was told from now onwards you’re the Army ADC to the head of state. It just came by surprise.

For me I, I’m spiritually motivated from childhood and I kind of had some encounters in Biafra where I challenged God and I said to God; if you are God really, why are we dying? What is all this happening? Why should I be killed? Why do you let me escape from Biafra and if you’re there why, what’s happening to me, what’s gonna happen to us and, I was just asking so much questions. And I asked this question, I said if I wake up tomorrow morning, help me like Solomon, give me wisdom and I said to God.

…this man happened to be… an angel

And the next morning, this was twenty-second of October, 1967, I went to mass at one Catholic church in uh, Ogu and after the mass everybody left, and I don’t know what kept me. I was looking at a candle and this man came from the sentry and said can I speak to you in Igbo and I said sure. And this man happened to be, at the morning days we call him an angel. He started answering everything I was asking God the day before. I was shocked and I said who are you. He wouldn’t tell me who he was and he gave me every detail of what’s gonna happen to Biafra, how we gonna pray, do repentance and everything and he said we should take this message to the people and ask the people to pray and ask God to forgive us and help us to gain Biafra.

So really after this encounter I became a changed person.

…who is this person talking about God in the middle of crisis?

You, you read these things in the Bible but I, for me, was real. I remember making a wish one day I said, “I wish I was near to the head of state and I will talk to him about this event.” Maybe he will do what God has sent me to, to tell him. And it wasn’t up to a month, then I was recruited to be his ADC so I thought oh God, so you actually put me now to tell him the message you gave me and I tried to actually arrange a meeting with Ojukwu to give him this message and made an introductory letter to him.

But after he read it, he laughed and he said “is this man from seminary?” He felt it was, who is this person talking about God in the middle of crisis? So, he didn’t actually call me to know what the message was and even though he was speaking in the name of God we shall conquer but he never really had faith in God so he never got that message.

…Nigeria had totally been turned upside down

That was when I became ADC to Ojukwu in June 1968. The spiritual revelation was October 1967, and by June 1968 I was ADC.

Biafra was a resuscitation of hope for the Igbos. It was a pathway where freedom could be restored to the people who had lost their freedom in Nigeria [which they had] believed in. And, Biafra would’ve been a world that turned the upside down world that we knew in Nigeria back to what it should be, because Nigeria had totally been turned upside down. It was no longer the nation it should have been and Biafra was like a hope, a surge of hope for the people who were devastated, destroyed, killed, damaged, personally, and with so much sacrifice they made, they expected something good out of it.

…my father had a stroke out of desperation

Unfortunately, my father who was living in the north of Nigeria, out of the crisis that happened the years before the Biafra War, sold everything he had and came back to live in the South and sat with the crisis of the war. There were no jobs, there was no business enterprises for him. He was just totally stranded and he was frustrated. Unfortunately, my father had a stroke out of desperation in February, 1967 and died. So my father died before the war started. My mother was trading and my father had two wives and the other one, the same. So really everything fell on me as the eldest son. And my eldest sister, fortunately for her, had got married to somebody in the United States so she was abroad in the United States so that was good for her but the rest of the family were under me. More or less, I had to be in the war and was thinking of them so I had to take them with me. I took my sister with me, took my brother with me, all the people who were strong enough to come with me were with me in Biafra. But my mother, eventually I sent her back because the starvation was too bad.

Well, as you know Biafra, we went from town to town. First we lost Enugu, then we went to Ogu, then Okigwe, then different cities, you know, Umuahia, Owerri and all that, so anywhere I went, they went with me. It was like, you know, they had to be safe wherever I was.

…I witnessed the worst tragedy of this whole earth, to see children dying of starvation

As the ADC to the head of state, I was in a position to monitor what was happening in the world, because His Royal- His Excellency put me in charge of the airport at Uli airstrip. All the diplomats who came in and out of Biafra had to come through me and all negotiations that were taking place, I knew of every one of them. And I was also part of the delegations who went to Ethiopia for the OAU Conference which tried to look into settling Biafran issue. Now, British delegates, American people, all sort of politicians who were coming to find out how could, they could help. The church, Caritas, World Council of Churches, and all the people who came into Biafra, after the starvation took hold of Biafra, you know I was in a position to record everything that happened.

And I, for me, I witnessed the worst tragedy of this whole earth, to see children dying of starvation. The greatest tragedy for me is that the world powers, the so-called western civilizations and all that, were part of the destruction of Biafra. And for me, I witnessed how they allowed innocent children to be totally decimated with hunger, and their mothers and many other people, victims of terrible starvation where the sea ports were blockaded and everything. So I had a first hand information about the political maneuvers and everything that happened, diplomats who came in and what they were trying to talk about to see whether they could help Biafra at the end of the day, the amounts of arms coming in, who was helping Biafra, who was not helping Biafra, all the gimmicks of hypocrisy that I saw during the war were all recorded through my time as ADC.

…they allowed innocent children to be totally decimated with hunger…

I was the army ADC to the head of state so basically, at the airport I received all the arms that came in for Biafra and sent them to the state house and I discovered that none of the countries that were helping Biafra were actually sending them heavy armaments like tankers, artilleries, anything that will make you win a war. It was all rifles and small handguns and all this sort of thing that. Biafra was a setup, I think, for me. I was angry. Biafra was a setup where, I don’t know what it is we did to the people of the world, the western civilization also Britain in particular because Britain was the Godfather of Nigeria and Ojukwu happened to be educated in England and the Prime Minister of England at the time was Harold Wilson who also was aware of basically the history of what has happened between Muslims and the Igbos in Nigeria. But they took sides with the Northerners and in other words they took sides with the side that they felt they would get advantage from.

And the worst part of it was that not only the British who are ally to America, also the Russians! Russians for goodness sake who are the Soviet Union sided with Nigerians as well. And what that meant for me was to make you understand that, the Western disposition, you have two religions: Christianity and the Muslim rulership. The Muslim rulership has more influence in the world than Western civilization for me was rubbish, from my experience, from, I’m talking from hindsight now, because we had all these promises that we’re all brothers and sisters in Christ and all that and that and that, but when the practicalities came and the Muslims were killing the Igbos and the Southerners, all the Western people were interested in how they get their oil from the port of Port Harcourt.

I think at the time of the war, Martin Luther King was fighting for freedom for the black man in America…

They were not interested in the human lives that were lost. Whereas the Muslims, we always underestimate the Muslims, they rallied round their Muslim brothers. The Egyptian pilots were flying MiG fighters for Nigeria. The western- the Arab countries introduced Nigeria to Russia and Russia then sided Nigeria, Britain sided Nigeria. Now who is there when our Godfather is not siding us? So the Igbos were put to the slaughter and we were hoping that we as a Christian people and we have Britain on our side and they will come and help us.

…just everywhere there was a repression of any black person who rose up

But when the crunch came, all they were interested in was where they would make the most profit. And I think at the time of the war, Martin Luther King was fighting for freedom for the black man in America, Nelson Mandela was in prison. A lot of black people who spoke up were arrested and you know, just everywhere there was a repression of any black person who rose up. Ojukwu was similarly looked upon as another person who was trying to lead the Igbos, as you know the Igbos were very enterprising. Enterprising in the sense that, when the refineries were left by the British in 1967, it was still running. The Igbos kept everything going. There was no industry that stopped. The railways were still running everything was working. The Igbos were in control, command, the Air Force, everything. The Igbos were in charge. So that wasn’t pleasant to them.

They wanted to be part of a people who will suppress us and then who will then be subjugated to them, whereas the Muslim people don’t look at it that way, they just say “these are Muslim brothers, we will help them to get where they wanted to get to.” And I think the Muslim dispensation won against the Christian dispensation so far as that war was concerned. And the mess that we’re in today in Nigeria is as a result of that.

First of all, I was born in the north of Nigeria. I grew up in the north of Nigeria. The people who looked after us were Muslims. I had every respect for the Muslims and I knew that there were good people among them. But politicians hijacked religion. So it wasn’t about, it’s not a matter of my belief of what religion or there about. What I discovered was that politicians hijacked religion and used it to their advantage. So for me for example, I have no problem with any Muslim, because I have loved them from my childhood days, when they looked after me and cared for me.

I have no problem in trying to accept a Christian because that’s what my own religion brought me about and gave me. But what I saw during the war was not about that you’re Muslim or you’re a Christian, its simply that if you belong to one and you are a threat to the business of the other person on the other side, whether you’re a Muslim or a Christian, they will not come on your side as long as you’re a threat to them.

…Biafra was not equipped militarily to fight a war…

So basically what I’m saying to you was that the Igbos, with the enterprising nature for our people, were a threat to the Western world because we were in competition with what they were gaining. But my belief is that they could have carefully not allowed bloodshed to take place during that period, first off Biafra was not equipped militarily to fight a war, secondly Biafra was not in a position as a country to be able to effectively rule itself. So what Britain should have done was to broker peace. Knowing that we had suffered so much damage and injury from the lost people who were massacred, thousands of people who were massacred. Hold the peace and tell the government of Nigeria don’t fight until this matter is gradually resolved. I think it would have taken at least two or three years before anybody can talk about fighting but unfortunately that never happened.

So you can see I am embittered within my heart because I had high hopes that when I joined the army in 1960. I was actually selected to go to England to study and I studied in England from ’62 to ’65. So my classmates and all that were white. White people. So I knew how much they respected our people and how much they loved the Igbo people and the rest of it.

…I am embittered within my heart…

But I did not know that they would now take sides based on political trading rather than saying “right, these people have been massacred, these people are dying” and that’s where my stand is.

What I did during the war was obviously to write letters, which obviously had to get the approval from the Head of State, which were sent to these countries, just explaining our position, what, how we had been systematically massacred and everything, and made them understand that we didn’t want to start this war, and that this was a war of genocide against our people and that if they didn’t come to help us they may end up seeing our people wiped off.

…Nyerere was the first African leader who spoke up and said yes, he believed that Biafra…

So I was pleading to their consciences to try and help us, I wrote this, including the Prime Minister of England, Harold Wilson. I sent him a letter expressing my anger to the President de Gaulle, Charles de Gaulle of France, the Prime Minister of Israel, that time a lady, can’t remember her name now, is it Moshadeh- no no, anyway to the Prime Minister of England, and to all the other people we wrote to who could help to come to our aid. Fortunately, as well, many other Biafran delegates who were also living in some of the countries had already approached people like Nyerere from Tanzania and Nyerere was the first African leader who spoke up and said yes, he believed that Biafra had a right to exist, and he recognized Biafra immediately.

And remember in East Africa, a lot of the Igbos were exported railway to East Africa. We were the engine drivers and people through the British colonial system that will help to train their drivers and everything.

…there was so much racism in America they wouldn’t understand us

So in east Africa, Tanzania did first, Zambia followed suit, then in West Africa you had Houphouët-Boigny of Ivory Coast and then Albert-Bernard Bongo [Later changed his name to Omar Bongo Ondimba] of Gabon, you know. But for me, I was still writing to the others and trying to get them. For, I didn’t know much about Haiti and the rest of it but I also wrote some letters to United States of America. At the time obviously I was not too happy that the letter would get anywhere because of the crisis of killing Martin Luther King and I thought there was so much racism in America they wouldn’t understand us.

Igwe Christopher Chukwumeka Ejiofor. Photo by Chika Oduah

Today the people of east of Nigeria are so many years backwards, sent back as a result of what happened from 1967 to 1970. We lost so much kith and kin. Now, if I say to you, genocide. What are you talking about genocide? Do you know that relatives of mine, like my sister, her fiancé was killed. My mentor was killed. There’s no family who will mention their names who never lost somebody in the north of Nigeria. Now, I, myself, as ADC to the Head of state, in charge of the airport and everything, thousands of children who were dying of malnutrition came through me. Now I used to passionately go to the refugee camps to take the sick ones to the hospital every morning and I witnessed disasters upon disasters upon disasters. I must say to you, I wrote a book on Biafra. It’s called “Biafra’s Struggle for Survival.”

Now if you go through that book, you’ll see the pictures. Horrific pictures which I was able to get at the time through missionaries who were with us in Biafra and the number of people who died who were not even recorded are [inaudible]. So the genocide was genuine and to be honest with you, the world have camouflaged an evil that I would say by today’s modern world they say Amnesty International is saying this and that– nobody spoke about when our sea ports were blockaded. There was no arrangement made to make sure that there was a safe port to take children out to maybe a neighboring country: Ghana, or Sierra Leone, anywhere. Nothing. Total blockade from the north, from the south.

…I can’t count the number of people I picked who were in the point of starvation and death

How can [anyone] say that was not genocide? Total genocide because even during the world war of Britain, they had a safe haven for children to be escorted by sea to Australia, to parts of other world. But in our case, nothing whatsoever was ever done to bring relief to our people.

A starving child, first of all, the first thing you notice is the stomach bloated

All they did in the end was to fly foodstuff by air to one single airport, Uli air strip. How was that supposed to help? My journey every day, I can’t count the number of people I picked who were in the point of starvation and death. And every time I took them to the hospital they died and I came back the next day. Whoever is talking about this has no knowledge of what happened. And that’s why ’til tomorrow the passion will remain in the heart of every Igbo person. That the sacrifice that we have given for that thing cannot be wasted and be in vain. And I think that people should recognize that and there is no exaggeration that the massacre and genocide took place.

A starving child, first of all, the first thing you notice is the stomach bloated. The arms to the bones, the legs to the bones, the thigh to the bones, the head, skull. Can you imagine that? That is a starving child. And that is what happened everywhere in Biafra. And these children were given a name, kwashiorkor. That name was started in Biafra: kwashiorkor, because of the state they were in. If not for people like Gabon, Ivory Coast, Zambia, and Tanzania who allowed us to ship some of these children out, it would be far more. I rescued one or two children myself from the camp where I used to visit. I always took them to the hospital, Queen Elizabeth Hospital at Umuahia.

And one of the children I picked, the mother was reluctant to give this child to me but eventually she allowed me. The name of the child was Peter. Now this child, I took him to the hospital in Umuahia and when I came back the next time, he was no longer there. I didn’t know what happened to him and they did not record him as dead. He was vomiting, diarrhea-ing, was not able to eat. That was the state of this boy when I picked him up. Eventually I had to ask some Reverend fathers and sisters who were going to the border and back and they introduced me to a young Canadian nurse called Helen. She later traced this young boy to a place in Gabon and told me that he had now recovered.  They sent me the picture of this young boy, [and] I was so happy. I took the picture to the mother, now you can see the joy in the heart.

So that is telling you that, a lot of them- if not for the work—and I must praise a lot of the spiritual churches who came to Biafra. They really did excellent work to take a lot of these children out of Biafra. So if you are talking about genocide, just looking at the children alone, that’s genocide on its own. And thousands are lost or missing. And up ’til today, many Biafran children have been adopted all over the world. They don’t even know where they came from as a result of that. Starvation and that war was something that lingers in our memory. Whenever I see the child, I’m embittered that that sort of thing was allowed to take place.

Today’s politics in Nigeria, Nigeria is a country where the truth is very difficult to be practicalized. It’s all hypocrisy. We have a system of governance whereby we integrated people from different parts of the state, now we’re in states, isn’t it? But the main issue that is hanging right now is what is the status of the Igbos who were the most sufferers of that war in Nigeria? Where do we stand? Where are we today? I am giving you an example for myself. When I went to study in England under the Nigerian army, I was awarded the best student prize of my college and the best all-round student and a request was put to Nigeria to say to them that this chap needs to be promoted to high ranking officer before he comes back and they said to me to wait until I get that promotion.

They looked at the name and it wasn’t a name favorable?. It was an Igbo name and they said to me, “come back.” I never got my promotion. Now, this is a place where I went and I was best of the best, if you understand what I’m saying. Now coming to Nigeria, they would not even promote me. I had to go to the commanding officer, Barrister Mohammed, and say, “why have I not been promoted? Even the least rank?”

“Oh you are reminding me of my duty. Alright. I will promote you next stage.”

That’s the sort of Nigeria we have today. So the Biafra started, we lost every right that we had. The promotion that we should have had, we lost all of them. Yeah? We lost everything you accumulated, from your childhood to the year 1970 was lost because all the Biafran currency was rubbished. That meant that people had to start year zero from then. You understand what I’m saying. From that year zero, tell me, how long would it take people to come back to where they were?

The educational system had been scrapped. People were not able to finish their education. A lot of people were no longer in job. The one thing you forget is that when Biafra happened, when we declared secession, the Igbos were in charge of the airways, navy, railways, and as soon we declared that thing, all those jobs vanished and were taken over by the rest of the people. After the war, the Igbos didn’t have a place. They had no jobs, they had nothing. A lot of people became traders. Unfortunately, the system was such that since the education was no longer valid, it wasn’t a valued item, people decided to live by fake way of life, you know. You have 419, expo, everything. The whole thing was a result of that war.

So Nigeria today is in a total mess because the system we inherited from the British people which rewarded you for progress and achievement was abolished and I think that unless you go back to the civil war again, you find that that is one of the things that made them kill Aguyi-Ironsi because he made a Decree 34 which he said that people would be promoted in the army by their achievement qualifications and most people from the north didn’t like it and that was part of the coup that they wiped him off, they killed him for that.

Now, you have a Nigeria in which if you know somebody you can go and be a commander without qualification. Today Nigeria is a mess. Total mess and I am saying it to you. I think the Igbos have a place in Nigeria. Because without the Igbos Nigeria is finished because Igbos are like the spirits, if you know what I’m saying. The spirit of Nigeria. In the north all the hotels are being built by them, the businesses are being run by them. They’re enterprising people. If you go to Lagos the Igbos are there. If you go to Abuja the Igbos are there. They need the Igbos in Nigeria.

Biafra is a place of heart. I think that we can create a Biafra but that Biafra would not be a physical place. It would be a place where we allow the values of our forefathers to come back into existence. To create that very ideal level of country that practices justice, truth and equity. Then we can still be part of Nigeria, if it’s a confederation or whatever you call it, still doing what was doing with them because we need to trade, be part of Nigeria trading because that’s where our energy is.

But to be a Biafra cut-off from the rest of Nigeria is not really ideal situation for Nigeria today. I think that the Igbos will learn and know that the politicians would value to have a place which is like what Ojukwu aspired for them. A confederation where everybody would call yourself a little name but you’re still part of one group rather than a name and then break off totally. You see what I mean? But they’re still Nigerian.

Because, I started as a Nigerian. I joined the army as a Nigerian. I also knew that Biafra came out of what I call distress. Distress call. You are actually forced into declaring Biafra because it wasn’t what we planned in the first place. Because of the suffering we had, with our backs against the wall, we had no choice but to declare Biafra.

…bodies were sent back to the east with headless bodies…

[Ojukwu] didn’t have a choice. He had no choice because he had actually encouraged the Igbos to go back to the north under one Nigeria so that we can— having spoken to the emirs, they had reassured him the massacres would stop and the urged the Igbos to go back. The Igbos went back, unfortunately they were massacred. So when bodies were sent back to the east with headless bodies and everything and people started crying and say to him, “There you are, Ojuwku, you told us to go back. We have gone back. That’s the result of what you told us to do.”

He was very upset. He tried to create a system with the other governors. A confederation system which would see autonomous regions with a loose federation that would able to work together as a people. Now that was agreed at the conference [in Aburi, Ghana] but was not implemented. You understand what I’m saying?

I wasn’t [at the conference in Aburi] because I wasn’t his [Ojukwu’s] ADC at the time. Some of us, as a result of that conference, were promoted. I got another promotion in Nigeria but I haven’t received that promotion because I was, after the war nobody could find, I’ve written to them saying to them, “Where is my promotion?” nobody is– up ’til now has even looked at that.

So there’s so many things that the Igbos are crying about, you know, because they have been expelled, pushed to the background and relegated but we are not crying. We are a people who are self-enterprising. You know what I mean. We will never starve. But it’s nice to see that justice is done. If somebody can go back and say that the political setup now, we must make provision so that an Igbo man can become president of Nigeria tomorrow. Enough is enough. The punishment you’ve given to the Igbos is enough. After all, it wasn’t the Igbos who started that January ’66 coup. It was started from the west of Nigeria and they so happen to be part of it. And it was junior officers, it wasn’t planned by the Igbo people. Why now blame the Igbos for that?

So basically they should now rethink that we have suffered enough and that we should be given the opportunity and Igbos themselves have got to say “All right, let us now make it go and work with everybody else and be part of the system together.” I think once they do that and give us a place in Nigeria, everything would come back to normal. That spiritual [Biafra] one I’m advocating is really what should happen.

When I first came to the state house to be interviewed by Ojukwu, what came to my mind was this tall gigantic fellow with all personality that is great and what, I’m a spiritual person and said, “This looks like King Saul of Israel which Prophet Samuel anointed,” you know, he was like, for me that sort of person. He had charisma, well spoken. His English was excellent and he could make conversation with everybody. He had this social ability to converse. He was a charming man in every sense and when you have power, women fall for you. A lot of women liked Ojukwu as well. He had that part of him which female species were much under his command, if you wished.

Ojukwu was a man of integrity. He was not corrupt in any sense of the word. He would use his own father’s wealth and his own as well to do things for the nation but he would not encourage a corrupt politician to sit on any position in Nigeria. He wasn’t the sort of person who would recruit a politician who brings bribe to him, no. Ojukwu was honest in that endeavour. Ojukwu was a man of vision in the sense of what he wanted the Igbo people to achieve. The Igbos lost everything but we did not lose everything. Why? Because Ojukwu encouraged scientists to go into research and production. How we make our own weapons. I was in Enugu seeing Biafrans producing their own tank and they rolled out from railway workshop. Looking at this, what, I was watching them doing their scientific experimental research of creating flying rockets and things like that.

Biafra harnessed, through Ojukwu, the best of the best in Biafra. He then, anybody brought a good idea to Ojukwu he immediately puts into practices. That is the sort of man he was. But he was a disciplinarian. If he gave order and command and says dadadadaa, you better keep it. If you disobey, you’re sacked. He has sacked many of his ADCs. In fact, I was the only one left among the rest of them. He was that sort of person. Very strict but also generous. He was generous. During the Christmas time, he would give presents to all his staff and everybody through his own personal acquisitions and things like that. I think for me Ojukwu was that elegant, well respected man. Keep away from him when he’s angry because his anger can demolish the whole building. That’s the sort of person he was.


It’s easy to criticize when you’re not in the act because the games of war are such that there are things the inside players know that the outsiders do not know. Like when Biafra surrendered, we were in negotiation with the French. We had some French advisers who were with us negotiating certain things. And there were things that he was trying to do to achieve the goal of Biafra. His pride is such that he said he would lead us to the end of the struggle and you said because of the ego, where would the ego stop? Is it after we’ve lost three-quarters of Biafra and there was one small element left? If he surrendered at that time, is it not the same as capitulation? Do you understand what I’m saying?

Wars are not like a textbook…

Because his agenda was to fight to the finish and yes, you have to defend your pride in everything but I have not seen a record of any high-ranking prime minister or president inviting Ojukwu to come let’s talk this over. If Ojukwu had received an invitation from the likes of Harold Wilson or Lyndon Johnson, the President of America and they said to him, “Ojukwu, call it off.” He would have done. He knows that that was something put in place that would make it work but when you don’t have something to be put in place and you expect somebody to relinquish what he had and you called that ego, it’s not. He wants something that would be given to the people for when he surrenders.

Wars are not like a textbook literature academic study that people go and say it starts here and ends there. There are ripples in the middle, there are things that are happening. When you’re wounded to the extent that your wound is devastating. You’re still looking for a way out. Ojukwu never surrendered. They said he went through the back door. But was it through the back door? No. I was there when they had a high ranking meeting and the generals and everybody told him that he had to leave. What they told him at the time was that his leaving would diminish the bloodshed. If he stays, the bloodshed and the suffering will be too much that it would not make sense having already lost most of the territory and then you end catastrophe, destroy everything. But if you left, there’s still hope that you will come back as a hero because you did not declare with your mouth that you have surrendered.

We were there sitting as targets…

Are you going to surrender a Biafra where you’re telling the world that you were wrong in the first place for starting a war of justice and you’re fighting against evil? When he died, I was being called by the press for interview. Everybody then realized that Ojukwu was a hero because he stood for what was right till the end. He did not say because I’m maroon.

Do you know that the space that was left in Biafra was so tiny that they bombed us, you know, they were aiming at us, targeting us, they dropped bomb on us and we were there sitting targets. The Russians were doing it, the British were doing it and at the last minute British hired some excellent pilots that their target was so accurate. We were there sitting as targets when we didn’t have any heavy weapons from Russia, we didn’t have heavy weapons from France, and we didn’t have heavy anything from anybody. Not even a MiG fighter from anybody but we sat as sitting targets and Ojukwu would have been killed. And you’re saying to me that he was a coward? No, he wasn’t. He was a hero to all.

It’s not just because I was his ADC. I am saying this because he believed in what he believed till the end. He was forced to leave because the counsel of the high ranking officers who met for the last [time] gave him the options of what he had to and he had no choice but do to it. So I would say that he was a man who played the game to the end. And when eventually people found out in his later years when he came back they all recognized him and knew that he was a real hero that he was.

President de Gaulle had recognized Biafra…

[France was playing both Nigeria and Biafra], absolutely, because its political diplomacy, isn’t it? France had interest in the oil of Nigeria and in case Biafra was able to win some sort of recognition from the bigger part. At the end, President de Gaulle morally supported Biafra and wanted to recognize Biafra but died before that could happen. Do you understand what I’m saying? If President de Gaulle had recognized Biafra, there would been a change in the western civilization who would have persuaded Nigeria to give us a chance and give us a break and renegotiate the whole thing. At the end of the day, you can understand that if you’re a big country you must have your eyes on both sides because if you put all your eggs in one basket, and you lose, then you’ve had it.


So what is 20 pounds compared to three years of total loss?

There is no victor, no vanquished, which is what [Yakubu] Gowon said. But when I came back in the 80s, there was no running water in my hometown. There used to be one that was constructed before that had dilapidated, everything dead. All the primary schools, the secondary schools, the structures, and the infrastructures that were here before the war, so where do we start? How do you say that you have not given, that you gave people 20 pounds, what is 20 pounds? Do you know that people sacrificed their cars? Before the war, if you had a car that would be part of what you gave to Biafra. Your son would be taken to join the army.

Many died and never came back with the hope that at the end of the war your car would be given back to you. I had savings. I was in the Nigerian Army and I saved money through one or two banks. Every money I had perished. I never recovered a penny from it. So what is 20 pounds compared to three years of total loss? No food. No meat. Nothing. Not even—I think it’s diabolic. I think it’s a disgrace, that’s all I can say to you.

Why do I say it’s a disgrace? Because go and look at it. The very man who advocated this was the man for whose sake the first coup was fought. Awolowo was the man who was the Minister of Finance I believe at the time, wasn’t he? And it was for his sake that those military officers, the Igbos, joined the western boys, the military Yoruba boys to do the first coup. Is that his saying thank you to the Igbos who now took the blame for what the western boys started and then we lost everything. Lost money. Lost schools. Lost everything that you can think of. We had to start from scratch. From zero. So I am saying to you that basically money of 20 pounds was like throwing a bone to the dog. Yeah? If you throw a bone to the dog, he will lick it but it won’t do anything with it. I think it was disgraceful.

…I call the year 1970 year zero for the Igbo people

And there was no proper provision put in place to bring back education system and if money was to be injected what effort was made to invite people who had fled the country, that was the professors, to come back. What effort was put to reinstate people whose jobs have been taken? The federal, and regional level, and the company levels that was privatized and everything to get back had lost. You lost your whole livelihood. You’re starting life from zero that’s why I call the year 1970 year zero for the Igbo people.

I wouldn’t have said—Yes, Gowon tried and I must say this, when you say a few words “no victor, no vanquish,” that would help reduce the vindication or what people might take for years.

I’ve never heard of [Biafran females being raped during the war by Biafran soldiers]. No, not while I was ADC. His Excellency has never ever mentioned anything and nobody ever reported this and Biafra was a place where nothing was actually left unturned. But are you sure they were not talking of Nigerian soldiers?

The Nigerians when they overtake a town, Biafrans flee from that place. So the Nigerian cannot rape your daughter and then the Biafran rape your daughter, because they are both not in the same area. So that on its own doesn’t make sense. Our Biafrans also were such that our problem was to deal with starvation. We’re trying to actually be alive. When you rape somebody that means you’re strong. You’re eating well. You’re a man. Biafrans would not do that at all. If they did, they were doing it in the territories which have been overrun by the Nigerians and not getting to the knowledge of the authorities. I’ve never heard of it.


*This interview was conducted in Igwe Ejiofor’s home in Ezeagu, Enugu State, Nigeria

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