They forced people to join

Sunday Ezenwa remembers the Nigerian-Biafran War. Photo by Chika Oduah

My name is Sunday Ezenwa. I am 50, eh, I am 55 years or thereabouts. Actually, what I remember about the [Nigerian-Biafran Civil War] was as at then I was about eight or nine years old so I cannot fully tell you that I participated in the war fully, but I have a little experience of how the people suffered and one thing I want to say is that war is not a good thing somebody can pray for.

I was in Awka, from Awka, the capital of Anambra State. At the time it was in Anambra, but it wasn’t the capital during the war.

I was eight years old with my parents. We were about seven in number [with my siblings] when the war broke out, so the only thing I just remember is that people started shouting, crying.

It was in the daytime. This thing happened around 3 and 4 [o’clock].

What happened, as I told you, I was very little then. We were playing, so suddenly we saw people running, people shouting. Plane all over the air, so what I just noticed is that my younger ones, the senior ones, my mother, my father, my family, we pick up little little things. Like I remember when they folded mats and gave to me. That’s what I remember, that I hold the mats in my hand.

…you will see somebody becoming so tiny

And then we started moving from village to village, you understand. We moved from Awka to Agu [a locality in Anambra state]. Agu to so many other villages. They eventually were, there is a camp, a refugee camp. This camp is not even a, it is in a primary school field, you understand. That is where some soldiers rented tents for people to sit.

This refugee camp, just as I told you, I can’t fully remember the name of the town, for now. The condition is so miserable. It is not something somebody should remember of. The suffering was so, it was on the high side. People suffered. People died of hunger. During the war, people died of hungry. There is one sickness people call kwashiorkor. You will see a child with swollen legs, swollen tummy, you understand me? Gradually, gradually, you will see somebody becoming so tiny. Before you know what is happening, the person will just die off.

There are a lot of sicknesses. I sick. I sick of kwashiorkor as a result of lack of salt. As at that time there was no salt to cook.

No salt. We cook food tasteless, you understand me? Because of hunger, we are bound to eat it.

You know, without salt in food, I don’t know how will it look like.

We eating at the camp, you understand me? The soldiers, they bring food from their own camp, to come and feed the people. There is one I could remember, there is one food they call from Gabon. Is it Gabon peas or something like that. One beans, it was so fat. I think after the war I have not seen that type of beans. The beans was so, it was rich.

We were in the camp with my parents.  So when I got sick, there was one soldier, a Biafran soldier, one captain. They call him Captain Udidi. He saw my condition and decided to take me out of my family. So he took me. There is nothing my parents can do. All we were after was the survival of the children.

Sunday Ezenwa. Photo by Chika Oduah

It was the captain that took me, eh, 1968 to 1970, I was with the captain. This very captain was moving from place to place, you understand me. He took me out of the camp and I was traveling with the soldiers with his family also.

I was with his family. So anywhere they posted him to, you understand, I move with him.

I was with him for two years. No, for three years. The war ended 1970, so after the war, I was still with him till the end of ’71 before my family relocate where we are. He took me to help me to survive.

I have brothers and sisters, you understand me, but when the captain saw my condition as at that time, so sick. I was too young. I was so fair and handsome to look upon, you understand, so he now said instead of him to leave my family [for me] to die, he now decided to take me so that I can be able to survive my parents.

As far as you are the age of 18, you are bound to become a soldier

No school during the war. That is why I say earlier on that war is not a good thing. It’s not a good thing somebody should remember, should think of in life.

During the war, I was hearing about [Chukwuemeka] Ojukwu. I asked my parents who he is.

Ojukwu, as I can say, you understand, is the man who wanted to, he is the man who separated the Easterners from, who start to his own country called Biafra. He is a hero. He is a hero.

My parents, they supported the Biafra. Because they cannot run away, you understand? But they cannot run away and say I am not in support or something like that. They forced people to join the Biafran soldiers. As far as you are the age of 18, you are bound to become a soldier. Forced you.

Except the aged ones. When you are 50 years or above, they can’t force you to join to go and fight in the war front.

War is not good. It affect so many people. Now, it affect my education. Even after the war, you understand me, my parents cannot raise fund to train us. After the war, we suffer. Even after the war that we cannot be able to eat a square meal in a day. After the war, we suffered. We carried basin on the head, fetching water for restaurant people. Those who can, we fetch up to three, four drums of water so that we can be able to eat, so it is a bad side of it.

Sunday Ezenwa. Photo by Chika Oduah

[Before the war] our family house in Awka is okay. Our family house was good because Awka as at then is a capital of Njikoka. That is the headquarter of Njikoka local government, Awka. So Awka, from onset, you understand me, have been a developed place. Our family house was, whether it was mud or it was block then, I cannot be able to remember. It was like a bungalow.

Before you know what is happening, the person will just die off

My direct senior brother, his English name is Joseph. His Igbo name is Nwanne. My junior sister is Ifeyinwa. Then, Ifeyinwa senior Ejiofor. The senior Ekene, Ebele, Charlie. Charles was the last born.

During the war we didn’t lose anybody. It was after the war then the one that senior me died, that was after the war ’73, ’74. I think it was because of the war.

It’s like when a child is sick, you’ll not be able to afford money to buy drug for the child. You cannot be able to raise money to take him to the hospital. What do you expect? The next thing you’ll be looking your child dying and there is nothing you can do. The only thing you will do is try the little you can, you understand, and leave the rest for God to decide. She died as a result of the war, as a result of high poverty.

Before the war my dad is a blacksmith, those that do ironwork. They can produce hoe. They can produce cutlass, even all these necklaces. My mother is a housewife.

All I know is that war broke for three years, and within that period of three years, the condition was unbearable to every Biafran man. Nobody can say that they found it so easy or funny like that.


*This interview was conducted in Abuja, Nigeria by Chika Oduah.

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