We understood at that time, the Igbos were being killed or chased out of town

 

Musa Paul-Gindiri remembers the Nigerian Biafran War. Photo by Chika Oduah

My name is Evangelist Musa Paul-Gindiri. I was born here in the city of Jos in 1962 and I have ever been here except for the few times I needed to be out of the country for studies.

I am a Pyem man from Plateau State in Mangu local government. We are quite a minority tribe even on the plateau because you see Plateau State has quite a few tribes. We have I think close to about 200 dialects on the plateau and mine is one of the very minorities in the plateau so I am from Plateau State, Mangu Local Government.

What I remember about the Nigerian Civil War is that we were young at that time. I was about five years old and there was this day that we woke up in the morning and we wanted to go out to play and our parents told us not to and they were at home at that time also, which is very unusual also, but we didn’t understand it when we were young but it’s like every day they go to work, but that day, they did not go to work and they told us not to get out of the house because there is trouble in town.

So we remained indoors.

It’s an African compound, even though it’s a modern building and even though it is a typical building of the ’60s that you have a house and then there’s a compound inside with access doors into them. So we couldn’t come out to the streets to play as usual. So we were just hearing commotion in the neighboring streets. There were shouts. You could hear occasional shouts and you could hear beatings taking place.

…some Igbos who ran away from other places and came and took refuge in our house

It was more of commotions and bangs. You would hear bangs like doors being smashed. In fact, I saw when our parents were arguing with some of these people outside, I saw somebody holding a pestle. Not a gun, this pestle and mortar. He had it in his hand, that’s like a club. So there were just crude weapons, but I saw that particular scene. I saw somebody holding that when they were arguing with our parents.

But we remained indoors and then it came this moment that it came to our street, the street where we were living. There were some Igbos who were staying in that street and at one particular point, there was a commotion in front of our house and our parents went out and there were arguments going on that we must enter into this house because we saw some Igbos enter into it, but our parents stood their ground and said nobody is going to enter into this house.

Whoever is in this house is a member of the house and later on we found out that there were some Igbos who ran away from other places and came and took refuge in our house. This I can tell you I saw with my eyes.

Oh, I can see the pictures as I tell you this. I can just see the pictures [in my memory].

A typical African at that time, we were not meant to ask questions as young children. Five-year-olds don’t ask questions, but we were hearing the conversations, the arguments that were going on between our parents, because it is like about three or four families staying in that-it’s a large compound. It’s a duplex house so there were families on the ground floor. There were families on the upper floor and then there were detachments where other families were staying, so they were discussing among themselves and what they were talking about was ana maganan kashe Igbos and that’s – I said it in Hausa – but it was like, there was crisis and Igbos were being killed. They were being chased out of town and most of them were losing their shops. Their shops were being looted and so on. We didn’t see that particular one but that was the discussion that our parents were having and of course that particular incident that I told you which we saw as children. We were in the compound when these Igbos came in and took refuge. They stayed there for the whole day and I think for the night also until when it was a bit clear and they were let out and I think they found a safe way of getting out of the town.

We didn’t understand all this but it was odd. What we were hearing were odd things that we weren’t used to because Plateau state is a very quiet peaceful state it had ever been so. Plateau state and the city of Jos, especially, you could leave your house for a whole week and be away from the house for a whole week and nobody would enter. That was the kind of atmosphere Jos had, and we were interacting with everybody. In fact, the school I started going to in nursery school was largely an Igbo school. I would put it this way. It is an Assemblies of God Church nursery school, and most of the members of the Assemblies of God were Igbos, so amazingly, I knew how to speak Igbo when I was a small child, when I was going to that nursery school. My parents told me that when I am playing with them, there was no difference nobody would know I am not an Igbo boy because I could speak it very well.

So that was the atmosphere we had, and of course there were other people who are from the other parts of the Middle Belt who have their other dialects that we can only communicate through Hausa, which is a general language here, so we could speak that language. So we interact with people from other parts of the Middle Belt, Bauchi, Gombe, Adamawa. There are minority tribes from those places who were living in Jos. We are church members together so these people we interact with.

It was a peaceful atmosphere that we were growing up in, but then there was this strange day that came and we couldn’t go out of the house and there were commotions and you could hear shouts and banging and so on. It was distressing you know. We couldn’t ask questions but we knew something was wrong and it was not a pleasant thing that was happening.

Actually what happened after the first day, the second day there were lots of looting going on. Even on our street. The name of the street where we used to live in is Emenike Street. By the name, you know that it is an Igbo name, and there were lots of Igbos who were staying in that street, so by the next day, there were lots of activities that were going on that street and you would see some man go to another house and just bring out a cupboard or chair, or table, or some type of furniture, taking it to other parts of, where they stay.

…we went and saw dead bodies

So it was looting going and this was what our parents were discussing among themselves. That nobody should touch a pin from any house that obviously used to belong to Igbos that were no longer there, either having fled or were killed. So our parents who are from the Middle Belt- all of them were from Plateau- none of them touched a pin and it was the staunch warning given to everyone in the house. That none should touch anything from any house and bring into this house. But others were looting and mostly those who were doing the looting were of the Hausa stalk. The Hausa people who were staying in the city of Jos were the ones looting houses. Now, thereafter, when we were now able to go out of the house and we were seeing these things- I saw this happening- and later on some of the senior boys in the house, those who were 12 and 15-year-olds went about to see the things that were happening in other parts and they came back and the news began to spread that lots of corpses are being dumped in a mortuary not too far away from our house and we were curious and we wanted to also go and see and you know we did. That place was just about a kilometer away from our house and we went and saw dead bodies, strewn on the ground and more were being brought in. I saw that with my eyes.

In fact, there was one particular thing that happened that when the bodies were being dumped and we just stood there, watching, then I thought I saw somebody moving and I told the other guys. I said, ‘look somebody is moving’ and they said ‘no he’s already dead,’ but I thought I saw somebody moving, and of course you could have a situation where somebody was beaten unconscious and tied together with other corpses and just dumped there. I saw that with my eyes. That was the next day.

There was an understanding of “these were Igbos” but the nation was categorizing to the various regions of the south west region, the south east region and the northern region and we were part of the northern region, so by that automatically it is like we are from the North and we are not part of what was happening, but there was the understanding that these were Igbo people but not to the point of knowing why this thing is happening because we were living with them. I was going to school with them, we were on the same street with some of them, but all of a sudden, there were these killings going on, but our parents were not involved in it.

But they wouldn’t allow anybody to touch any Igbo or any Igbo that is within their domain who had come under their refuge. These things we came to understand later when we grew up, but at that time, it could have been that we would have been killed alongside with the Igbos and that would have just been it, but we were not touched. We were just told to stay at home, and that nobody should go out, and that is how we experienced, or I personally experienced the situation.

There were kids [Igbo kids] I used to play with and after that I didn’t see them again.

Emeka. There was an Emeka. That name, I remember that one. He was light complexioned, a guy, and I always remember there was a time three or four of us in a circle playing with mud and just playing by the streets.

We understood at that time, the Igbos were being killed or chased out of town. They were being told to go back to their place and of course we saw those that were killed and nobody needed to tell us that because we saw it.

It was sad.

It was sad when we went and stood, you know, seeing those corpses. It was- I just didn’t understand the whole thing. It was sad.

It is not as if anybody was happy about it, but I guess as a child I just didn’t understand the issue, but it was strange seeing corpses. Seeing human beings strewn on the ground and the killings taking place, but I was not killed, so I thought maybe as a child, that was something that was to be done at the time. I don’t know. But it was sad. It was sad.

[That trip I took to the mortuary] it was in the day time. I think it was perhaps about 11. The sun was up and it was clear. The day was clear and it was not in the morning or in the night. It was really in the day time.

There were quite a lot of children in the household I was telling you about. We were probably up to ten or more children from about four families, you know. And then there were cousins of ours who were staying with us also. These were the older ones who came from the villages who were staying with their uncles in town so they were the ones we followed, went back, and saw what – they went and saw and told us what was happening.

I think after about a week or so, things just went back to normal but then many were absent. I think we went back to school and life just resumed even though there were some people that you no longer are seeing. Some people you used to play with were no longer there, but the impression is the Igbos were chased to go back to their own place and of course some were killed in the course of this whole thing and so you wouldn’t know whether others were killed and some just got away and went back to where they came from.

One of my uncles, the most junior in my father’s family, enrolled in the army. And there is another nephew of my father who enrolled in the army at that time. Now these things were things that were following up. There were recruitments going on and some of the people I knew went into the army.

“…there was a plan to annihilate the entire Igbo race”

Yeah. The two of them made it alive. They’re back. They are still alive today, and how I remember the end of the war or while the war was going on, there was something else that I was able to recall. One of the streets- it is so amazing that these things were happening and I was experiencing firsthand some of the things that happened- one of the streets, I’ve forgotten the name of the street but if you know Tafawa Balewa Street, and you move up to the stadium, there is a street between Tafawa Balewa and the stadium. Now that’s the street the school I later went on to is located. It is a Baptist school. It became like a barrack street. Military men were staying in those houses. That street used to be, in fact, till today you would know that it is predominantly Igbo. So definitely what is obvious is that the Igbos who had left or were probably killed, left their properties and the property now became the property of the government. So the armies that were being recruited or came back, I think it is when they came back because they were doing exercises every morning with their white T-Shirts and their fatigues or their white shorts. They would be singing war songs and be marching around the streets. I saw that the very street where my school is located became a barrack street and so the military men were living in houses previously belonging to Igbos or it was maybe a recruitment center where some would go and some would- but it was a bit later from when the whole fracas started.

Birgadier, bar kuka, ga gudu ma uwanka na zuwa yan maza su zo. Birgadier bar kuka, ga gudu ma uwanka na zuwa yan maza su zo, mu je, mu je, Nigeria, mu je mu neme su mu kwace makaminsu, mu bar su suna kukan banza. Yes, [that’s one of the Nigerian army war songs that I remember]. It’s clear in my memory.

[The translation is] Brigadier General, stop crying. Your reinforcement is coming. The men are coming. Let’s go, let’s go look for them, look for them, take their arms and leave them crying. That’s it.

I know about the pogrom, of course like I said before, we saw how it all started. There was this move to deal with the Igbos who were staying in the North and they were driven out. Many were killed. Like I told you, some of my uncles went into the war as military men and one of the high ranking officers in the Nigerian army was my uncle. He was a colonel at the time Cl. Iliya Bisalla. He later on became the defense minister. He was a first cousin with my father. They were engaged in discussions and my father knows quite much of what happened during the time of war and one of the things my father would later on share with us some of the things he knew about what happened during the time of the war, because his cousin was a general in the army, and one of the things he told us was that there was a plan to annihilate the entire Igbo race, or just kill as many as possible in order to break their population and their strength in the country, but the officers from the Middle Belt, my uncle included, and General Gowon who was the head of state, who fought the war as head of state, insisted that such a thing should not happen, but most of the officers from the core North extraction, the Hausa-Fulani core north Muslim extraction wanted to carry out a pogrom against the Igbos. Save for the officers from the middle belt, it would have been a terrible thing. That much I know of what my dad told me that he also received from his brother who was a general in the army.

We need to deal with this. You could just imagine how the entire North was mobilized to fight this war. It was an understanding that this was a North thing the Southeast and so, as the war progresses, it is like okay, why don’t we just deal with these people once and for all so we don’t have this situation coming up again. And of course it begins to become a conversation between the officers and then of course others would say no, such a thing cannot happen because we are trained military officers and this is not part of our training. The war has been fought, Biafra has been defeated as far as military confrontation is concerned, the civilians cannot be touched, and that is how they were spared.

 

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