They planned to destroy us

My name is Hajiya Hauwa Muhammad. I should be almost 50, 60 [years old]. [I don’t know the year I was born]. You know this age thing and how complex it is.  My husband was a retired colonel who served in the Nigerian Army. I was born in Bida [a locality in Niger State in the northern part of Nigeria].

Hauwa Muhammad remembers the Nigerian-Biafran War. Photo by Chika Oduah

Ojukwu’s war? We were in Lagos at the time. My husband was a soldier.

Well, we were in Lagos when we heard that they had killed the premier [the premier of northern Nigeria, Ahmadu Bello, Sardauna of Sokoto]. We heard about the death of the premier on a Friday. Well, that’s how we continued to hear the news that he was killed. A little while later, we had a lot of people visiting, and we kept hearing it was a rumor until the time that it became a reality. It was the time that [my husband] wasn’t around at the time.

Honestly, at the time, we were not happy. We were so angry, because at the time our [my co-wife and I] husband was not in town.

He didn’t come back to Lagos for another three weeks. The the roads were blocked so no one could pass through. He was here [in Kaduna]. He took his annual leave.

When the news broke in Lagos, there was a lot of violence.

It upset us. There was chaos all over the city. At the time, the head of state was Gowon [Yakubu]. He was the one in charge. While all that happened, we stayed put, but soon we were instructed to move close to the Ikeja airport. All Northerners were instructed to relocate to Ikeja. Gowon [gave that order].

[My husband] was a lieutenant colonel [at the time]. He wasn’t around [in Lagos] the whole time all that happened.

At the time, no one was allowed to move anywhere, but my husband insisted that he had to come back to Lagos because he had left his family in Lagos. He had no choice but to come back to Lagos. Well, when he was on his way, he kept getting stopped at checkpoints. At every point he had to show his ID card, which was his passport. When he presented the ID card, he was allowed to pass through.

At the time they were fighting in their area [in Biafra], these people were trooping into Lagos and we were here in Ikeja in that, uh that place. It seems I don’t really remember. Well at the time they also- Ghana. Ghana. Ghana. At the time they had sent Nigerians in Ghana back to Nigeria so there was confusion everywhere. We were in the same place [with those who came from Ghana]. We lived in the same barracks in Ikeja.

Well, you know at the time everything [the killing of the Northern leaders] ended before the Biafran war started, right? We witnessed so many things, considering people were just being killed. We would cry when we saw people being murdered, but our husbands would pacify us and tell us not to cry as it wasn’t going to solve anything. If they [Igbo people and other southeastern Nigerians] were the ones that had met us, we would also receive the same treatment [from them].


Hauwa Muhammad. Photo by Chika Oduah

…some man would shoot them and then push them in the trench

[I saw a lot of people get killed.] They wrote letters, many of them, and they would line them up before a trench. They’d tell the men “Take this and give it to the premier, give it to the prime minister [Tafawa Balewa]. When you get there, give them.” They would give the men the letter. The men had no clothes on but for blue striped underwear. When they wear it, some man would shoot them and then push them in the trench.

It happened outside. It happened outside. Each compound’s yard had trenches. The trenches were made by the Igbos way before the war happened.  When they dug out the trenches, they surrounded it with tent poles, pretending to make soakaways for us. Apparently they were planning to kill our men and dump them in the trenches. The Igbos [civilians] were killing our people [civilians] because they had planned to do that to us.

Were they [the Igbo people and other southeastern Nigerians] even able to escape? They weren’t able to escape. The Northerners [the Igbo people and other southeastern Nigerians] were able to go thanks to God, but I don’t think they were able to return to their states because they were killed.

Even their [the Igbo people and other southeastern Nigerians] children in school [were killed]. They [the Igbo people and other southeastern Nigerians] planned to destroy us but it didn’t come to fruition.

I had two children.

They were two in number. I can’t remember his age at the time, except for Baba’s. He was three years.

I went everywhere with them. My co-wife, she is the first wife, she held onto Kaduna [my daughter] while I held unto Baba. Ahmadu was also with me. Let’s see. They were three in number. Ahmadu is the oldest.

We were in Lagos throughout. I can’t remember when it happened [the secession of Biafran was declared]. It was that time Ojukwu, gosh, I can’t remember.

The Igbos were killing our people because they had planned to do that to us

I remember when the Northerners were being sent back home. The time where they wanted to secede and everyone had to go back to their state right? Gowon [asked the Northerners to go back to the North after the war started]. You know my brother is in Sokoto, so when the declaration was made, he went back to Niger state. That’s how I knew about it.

My husband went back to Lagos. We were here, we were here. Then he got transferred to Gwandi  [a locality in Zamfara state]. I’m not even sure how old he was. [Laughs].

Honestly, we came back to Kaduna after a while and then my husband was transferred to, finally. Here it is. Bakuba [a locality in Plateau State]. We didn’t travel during the war. It wasn’t during the war.

We pondered our death. We were worried and scared, you know, but as God would have it, nothing happened. We survived.

Of course we were scared during the war. I didn’t think that I was going to survive it. We survived it and [my husband] was later transferred from Port Harcourt to Jos…We didn’t suffer much because our husbands were superior officers. [They didn’t let us suffer at all. They made work easy for us.

We didn’t suffer at all so we weren’t worried. We had all the food and the supplies. They used to supply us with things for the soldiers and for their wives. There were soldiers protecting us, too. If anything is happening, we used to peep upstairs from the balcony to see what was happening. Well, my husband didn’t tell me much [about what was going on]. He was a superior so he was never really on the field where all the gore was. What happened was the incidents were reported to him in the office. He used to tell us a few of the stories and not all.

I never really saw any killing but we did see trenches where bodies were dumped. We would see people’s bones in the trenches, blood, or something of the sort. We saw them in the house we lived in, in the bunkers. They made bunkers and people were killed in there. That’s where we saw the dead bodies.

What I understood about the war, what I understood is what I saw and what I [am saying to you.]

I remember that we were in Lagos when they were throwing bombs all over. Of course we were scared! We used to lie down flat. Once we heard it, we were advised to lie down flat….

Well, when anything happened, our husband would tell us when he returned home from work. We would panic and ask our husband to take us back home so we could see our parents. We didn’t want to be killed without seeing our parents.

But he would advice us to stay indoors and he would tell us not to be scared. He said even if we were scared, we would still meet death in the future.

We supported Nigeria. We, the Northerners.

Hauwa Muhammad. Photo by Chika Oduah





*This interview was conducted by Chika Oduah in Kaduna State, Nigeria


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