My name is Roselyn Ukerele. I was born in Amizi, Umuahia in 1944. August.
When the war started I was in Amizi, Umuahia with my mother and my two brethen, Samuel and Elijah. My sisters had married as at then.
Many people ran home from North. When they ran home from North, after some time too in 1966, they returned from north. Northern Nigeria as at then. And after I think 1966, in 1967 the war broke at Umuahia. The war broke and many of them went to Enugu with their machetes when it was said that there is war between Biafrans and Nigerians.
Even my own husband was a young man as at then. He ran from Sokoto down to Kano and down to Umuahia.
My husband’s name is Jacob Junior Ukerele. I was not married as at then.
…and pregnant women ran out from the window
He told me.They were at Sokoto in their church, Assemblies of God church conducting their revival and it happened on that Sunday that when they were conducting Sunday school, he was holding his class. It came to a time that they were hearing ihu ihu ihu ihu. What is happening? And when they looked around, the Hausas were rushing to that corner of their church. After running, they wanted to swim him in the church. As they were many, they pushed the door because when they were coming, they, when they wanted to come in, they closed the door and they pushed in. And my husband being a boy as at then was controlling their…their…their…six. Because they were only six. Coming inside because those powers supercede [sic] their own power.
When they got in, they were beating many people and some people were rushing out from the windows and he was defending the church and himself. He was defending. On the defense, they met the pastor and beat him on his head, on his face and blood started rushing out. And pregnant women ran out from the window. Many fell down.
After about 15 minutes, those people attacking them in the church saw that others their fellow members were looting. Seeing the looting the left them in the church and ran from looting. That one take them out to how they are going to run away from the church and everybody has come down from Kano to Sokoto. Then he went inside his car with the pastor. He pull his shirt and gave to the pastor. The pastor went back. They ran back to Sokoto. On their way, they saw many people coming to Sokoto because there was a feast there. There was a feast at Sokoto as at then because an Easterner was coronating [sic] a feast with he cannot. When they saw the easterners rushing to that feast. They told them to go back that there was war there. All of them who were coming, by then they meet back. On their way going back, they saw many corpse which they have killed and they ran with, they drive with force when they reached there the war, people have been, they have killed many people. And they went–when they came back, it happened that killing had started. They, for few days, they gathered there things and went and back to east. When they are coming back, they saw many corpse. Because it was a time of danger.
My husband told me that they caught many, they cut their hands, and their wrists, that man. That pastor. He had, he came to the church with that wound showing us that there danger in North and we were praying.
When we saw the wound as he was not killed, the church was happy. And we were praying, thanking God for not killing him and other people and they are waiting for those who they have killed. As it went on, many people came back home from Hausa. [That was 1966.]
I went to church and saw an evangelist who was beaten. I was happy.
I was happy and I prayed, thanked God and prayed to God that he will save the Biafrans from such incidents and it continued. People were coming from Hausa, from West, from North, coming back to the East. Our people. And we saw that when people—I saw that when people left to their communities there at Hausa. When they came home, I saw that for months many became sick because as they came back they were not, those who came with children they couldn’t be having much money to maintain their families. Families began to suffer. As time went on, the war broke and many people went to war. And pregnant women suffered.
…they were informed by the saboteurs…
We have suffered much now. We suffered kwashiorkor. Even when we were weeding the farm, when the Nigerian explains that is an open place, they will come and fight us with their jet fighter, they will be throwing rockets. That meant we had to use palm leaves on our roofs to hide from the aircrafts. Even seeing the forest because when they come to rocket, we will run inside the forest knowing that because they were informed by the saboteurs how things were going on.
Even they do bomb in the forest because they knew that people are running inside the forest.
When they were in the church, they came with their bomb knowing that people had run inside the forest, they went to the forest and bombed there very close to the church. Because that thing as in went nearer, as it went there, near, it passed the church and went down up and bombed it at Amangwu Olokoro while were at Amuzu church.
We were at Amuzu [sic] Assemblies of God Church when the plane came. They went after Amangwu. As they passed, as they passed Amuzu [sic] Assemblies of God church, they went down to Amangwu and bombed the forest there because they knew that people used to run inside the forest.
I was there in the church.
The pastor was teaching because when he was teaching and we heard the plane coming we left. We scattered. Everybody just find…[sic].
As it passed us, we gathered again and everybody went because it had bombed and went away.
I ran home. We went home after the incident. I went home. No one died.
When the bomb went into the bush, the trees were, those big trees were cut and they bush was set on fire when they bombed, that forest Amangwu.
[I stayed in Amizi during the whole war.]
Well, the one brother who senior me went to war. He was a soldier during the Biafran War. He was a soldier and when he came back, there was bullet on his neck.
Samuel, my eldest brother, he went to Chukwunaeze at Obowo [Imo State]. He was a driver.
My father had died in 1965. My mother suffered kwashiorkor and suffered a lot at that time. When my mother was suffering, I was the only girl left at home.
She survived. After the war she was just, she was, it was that kwashiorkor that killed her. During that war, during that war. I can say 1967 she developed that kwashiorkor. We were managing. Even I nearly got kwashiorkor.
During the war, because of the besiege, they besieged Biafrans or the Biafra . We were not having salt at Oron and Calabar, they besieged us. We couldn’t get crayfish or fish. At Port Harcourt they besieged us even, when they went they were at Rivers, even people from Ogoni people came to Umuahia and squat with us. Yes, these Ogoni people and they were eating the leave of cocoa yam, going to bush to hunt snail. We were suffering together.
We suffered. I suffered it.
But it was by the help of the Red Cross people we had relief. They bring relief to Ihiala [sic] and they were distributing it and it couldn’t sustain much people because people were many. They were supplying reliefs, the Red Cross. Even people from my place were going to Ihiala [sic] but to carry relief on their heads to Umuahia to distribute to people.
I remained at home because I was at Olokoro the war had not, that is the soldiers have not entered Olokoro at then; the Hausas or the Nigerians.
I myself I felt sick because I was going to farm to my farm and it was cassava and after preparing it, we take it as food. But without salt, without ingredients. We suffered. I suffered it. Suffered it.
I was helping my mom to Queen Elizabeth Hospital at Umuahia. And around four o’clock we woke. We will be there around five o’clock at Elizabeth. That was how I helped her. We trek. I, too.
A man was called to come and take care of her, to cure him and to give her medication. And the man was giving her medication. He gave her the medicine called Lasix, which caused her to be urinating much because she had kwashiorkor. Her faced swolled [sic]. Her belly swolled [sic]. His legs swolled [sic] and his face. That day she had this Lasix.
Another time when she was, when she was very sick my elder sister at her husband’s house they thought that she was about to die. They bought mats. They bought mats. They bought wrapper which they will use to bury her.
They said that they are going to farm to get cassava. As they were thinking that she is going to, she was about to die. I think a day or three days, I told him as she start the dying as we thought it, let us take her to Queen Elizabeth Hospital. As she has not died now, let us treat her at hospital. They agreed to. We took her to hospital. She was admitted. After some days, they discharge her and she come back alive and she started doing some domestic work. I was so happy. All those things bought for her burial were used when she was alive.
After some time she fell that to that kwashiorkor again because kwashiorkor is a very bad, if care is not taken, because I can say that it touches the bones. It touches the bones. If you take care of someone who is suffering kwashiorkor you will know that things are, that kwashiorkor is very bad.
When she had kwashiorkor she swolled after leaning. Before somebody come to swoll, the person must lean [lose weight] after that process of leaning, the person will start to develop kwashiorkor. Even men suffered from kwashiorkor. Cats suffered from kwashiorkor. Little children suffered from kwashiorkor. Pregnant women. Many died during the war. And then when you told that you will marry, they will say marriage gbakwa oku [let marriage burn] let marriage be to fire.
Because those marry when they got pregnant they will suffer from kwashiorkor because their husbands and there was no food. Even if your husband is there, there will be no food. Because they can’t get cassava and chew cassava just like that. And if you cook you will cook with salt. There is no salt. There is no fish. There is no crayfish. And during the war, people used to go to the stream to hunt this frog because the frog used to land on palm wine tree in the night. It was during the war that we knew it.
Hmmmm. I ran out of my house the day the Hausas come in, though it wasn’t the hottest time for me. When my mother was suffering kwashiorkor, hmm. When I heard boom boom my heart will just go out, my brother is in, and this my husband being a young man, he was still in the bush in the war front and our members went, our members, our young men in the church. So when I heard the boom boom boom my heart will say that they have killed as I heard boom my heart will say they have killed my brother. They have killed this man.
I have finished my Standard 6 before the war, before the war. I am not from a rich family. My education had just stopped before the war. As a young girl, I was going. The war I can say it ended or the day that Hausas took me at my own village in 1969 December. From that 1969 December, people started coming from the war front. 1970 November, I married.
The Hausas said that they will bring their guns, every gun in our land Olokoro. They said that the war has stopped.
Refugees were harbored in the schools or halls and if you have a friend that, any friend of those refugees, they can sleep and go back to their hall, because that hall is where they are harbored and where they are being fed and the little have from the Red Cross people, they were being fed.
…they killed us without mercy…
The war, 1969 December twenty-five we heard gboom gboom gboom, gboom gboom gboom from Ngwa side to Umuahia. Gboom. Gboom. Gboom.They said that the Hausas have entered, that the war have ended because they first came to Ngwa. They came to Ngwa before Umuahia.
When they came to our place Umuajata Mutere [sic] they said that the Hausas have come. The soldiers when they come, we should raisme our hands up and say “one Nigeria’ ‘one Nigeria.” As they were coming, I wasn’t comfortable in myself that day because that day we killed goats. We killed goats. The goat was on the fire and when they were coming, when we were hearing one noise from the neighboring village Mutere [sic] Umuajata then I took one leg and put, I wrapped it, put in my box and carried my box inside. I ran to the bush. I ran to the bush with my fellow friend. When I was running, I don’t know when that my friend [Ada Nwankwo] went back because I was running without looking back. That my friend went back. I ran to Alauro.
And they killed us, they killed us without mercy. They used their stick to put from a woman’s private to and get the other stick from her mouth. My husband explained this to me.
That twenty-fifth December, 1969 I had to, that was the running that slept in the bush. I was in the bush that twenty-fifth night. And when they trooped in, they were catching girls, catching young women.
A soldier threatened me, not even once, coming to catch me by force. My brother came and stood on the door. “Where are you going?”
Even my husband that time they, many girls, he hid them under his bed and said where are you going? Who are you seeking? Get back. And they were reported. They disgraced our members. Girls. Roaming from old woman to our own village. When they were running, they caught them on the way and disgraced them. They came crying and we were lamenting. It was a disgrace.
They used their gun the time they say that the war has ended. It was the OAU, came to separate. As they told the soldiers to bring out their guns and the villagers any type of gun you have, bring it out. There is nothing like shooting. Even this my husband, he went out because they said that they are going to issue them work.
Many people threw away their children
When they came to Umuajata we gathered all the guns at Olokoro and the soldiers came out for them to be given work. They carried all of them down to Aba. They came here at Aba; offloaded them. Took their guns, took them to Port Harcourt prison yard and prison them there. They were there. They suffered them. Beat them. Did them many things. Many people took shit, excreta. My husband was there. He has married me by then. Many of our people died there. They disable them. Maltreat them. Many people ate shit. Many died.
Many people threw away their children. One of our church member left her child when they were coming back from Port Harcourt by foot because the child was heavy for her to carry and was crying and they were running for their life, carrying a child. The child didn’t want to stop crying. What could she do? She said that she was tired. She dropped the child. Fortunately, when they were going they came down to Egbu. Egbu, Owerri. My husband said that a vehicle was coming announcing if you have a child that you left on the way, come down to Egbu and take the child. They were coming. And that is how that child was returned by her parents.
We didn’t expose ourselves much. As at then, we kept our heads wearing old mama’s clothes but in all, it’s the glory of God that protected me and my friend because we were never neighbors as at then. Yes.
That day I was staying in my friend’s house and they peeped us through the window. They came that boy, the [Nigerian] soldier came. They went and it was a soldier. He came. That my friend’s brother. He just went to the door on the door.
We were in the house. Just as we have windows, that soldier peeped. He was outside and seeing girls, because I was there with my friend and coming to the gate, that my friend’s brother asked where are you going?
The soldier wasn’t outspoken He went back.
Even Umuahia market, I didn’t go Umuahia market for three months because of the Hausas. They were chasing girls.
I was dressed like an old woman and I cut off all my hair bald so they would not know I am a young woman.
I was wearing my mother’s clothes for them not to, in order to look like a tattered old woman. [laughs]
In order not to look beautiful like a girl I was wearing old shirts old pants of my mother and wearing wrapper in order for me to go and fetch water for my mother because they were dividing into their groups. These people will stay near the water will just, on our way to the stream, the soldiers were there. We were passing them because it’s only the glory of God that covered me with my friend.
I used a razor blade to cut my hair in order not to look beautiful like a young girl. I scraped my hair at home in my mother’s room. I didn’t use a mirror. My friend scraped my hair. I was not crying.
I suffered a lot even when my brother came back. His sweat was bitter. His sweat was bitter. You known when you sweat sometimes it gush.
There was a time I went barefooted from Olokoro to Owerri to give my brother food [at the barracks]. Elijah, my immediate senior.
I gave him food, garri and other either plantains or ji (yam).
[On the road,] there wasn’t much. I saw Biafran armies.
They greeted me. I greeted them. They knew that I was taking food to their fellow soldiers. [When I saw my brother] I was glad because I saw him.
That bullet in his neck made them to [remove him]. Another battalion called him, those people, are they signalers? They brought him to that battalion.
He was not looking very weak because he came back from the war front and stayed at home for some time. After staying for some time he went and was posted.
I stayed and gave him food and the next day I went back.
*This interview was conducted by Chika Oduah in Abia State, Nigeria