We saw corpses in pits

My name is Hajiya Hauwa Muhammad. I am around 60 years. My husband was a colonel who served in the Nigerian Army. I was born in Bida, Niger State.

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

We were in Lagos during [Chukwuemeka] Ojukwu’s war. I was together with my husband who was a soldier. We were in Lagos when we heard the news that the premier of northern Nigeria, Sir Ahmadu Bello Sardauna was killed on a Friday. The news about his death spread. After some time, you know there was tension and my husband was not around then.

That time we were not happy.

We were disturbed because our husband was not in town [Lagos]. He did not return until after three weeks because there were restrictions on the road. He came for an annual leave to Kaduna from Lagos.

There was pandemonium almost everywhere in Lagos. The chaos was annoying. Gowon was the Chief of Staff then, other top officers were not on ground.

At that time we were staying in Oshodi but we left the area. We moved close to the airport in Ikeja. There was an announcement by Yakubu Gowon that all Northerners should relocate to Ikeja.

My husband was a lieutenant colonel. He wasn’t around when all this happened. When he heard about restriction on traveling, he insisted that he had to enter Lagos because he left his family there. On his way to Lagos, he showed his ID card at every road check point and he was allowed to pass. Yes, there was a feeling of segregation. You know it was the time of crisis in that country, Ghana. Then Nigerians residing there in Ghana were repatriated and they met us in Ikeja.

At that time, people returned from Ghana. We were kept together in the barrack. You know Biafran war came later, it did not happen until after [Johnson Aguiyi] Ironsi.

We saw terrible things.

Hauwa Muhammad. Photo by Chika Oduah

People were killed in our presence

Our husbands would threaten to punish us. They told us that the victims [civilian Igbo people] would treat us the same way if they had succeeded with their plans. I saw a lot of people being killed most of them were lined up they would given a paper in a form of   letter, it was a mockery. They will tell them take this message to so-so person. They lined them up, shot them. After shooting, there was a big trench where they pushed the body.

Yes of course, people are lined up and given a written note and they would be told to deliver the note to the premier who was already killed, [Festus] Okotie-Eboh and the prime minister [Tafawa Balewa], then they would be shot and pushed in to a pit. The victims wore only a blue striped underwear. This was happening in Lagos, just outside.

Before the war, it was the Igbos that dug the pits, like soakaway. They covered the pits with tarpaulin. They had a plan to kill our husbands and dump their bodies in the pits

Our people killed the Igbos and pushed them in to the pits they had dug purposely to bury people.

I have friends among them [the Igbos]. We lived together. We did not suspect them. I was friendly with them.

The Easterners were not able to escape. It was we, Northerners, who were able to come out. They were killed alongside their children because what they plotted against the Northerners had failed.

I had only two children at that time. Boys. The eldest is three years, then the second is two years. Baba and Kaduna [are their names.] We moved around with the children, my husband’s elder wife took care of them while I took Baba.  We were in Lagos from start to finish.

I cannot remember exactly when the secession was announced. But I can remember when people were asked to return to their regions, Northerners to the North and Easterners to the East. It was Gowon, then he was the Chief of Staff and de facto president, that made the announcement for people to move to their regions.

That time my brother-in-law was in Sokoto but he returned to Niger after the secession. That was how I knew, from the announcements on the radio.

After the leave, he returned to Lagos when the war started. He was in charge of supplies and logistics.

During the war he was transferred to Kaduna, he was in charge of supplies. Then from Kaduna he was transferred to Jos, Plateau State. There was a military formation in Plateau. Then, from Plateau he was transferred to Port Harcourt

It was during the dying period of the war that my husband was transferred to Port Harcourt. He left us here until he got a house, then he sent for us to join him in Port Harcourt.

We saw corpse in pits

All of us were scared, so worried so disturbed we had a lot of psychological trauma, because none of us ever thought we were going to survive. As God will have it all of us survived the period. Nothing bad happened. Yes, we were scared…

We did not suffer much because the soldiers really took care of us. They did not let us suffer. We were not in hardship because there was food supply for officers and men.

We were living upstairs, during such incidents, residents used to come out and watch. Some watched it while others would get upset and turn away. We can peep through the balcony and see what is happening.

You know, our husbands were superiors, they could not participate in such things. He often did not tell us about the war. It was in Lagos that we saw killings.

We saw corpse of people in the house we lived in in Port Harcourt. We saw corpse in pits. We also saw blood stains.

Hauwa Muhammad. Photo by Chika Oduah

In Port Harcourt, we stayed at home, unless we had an officers’ wives association meeting or handball. We played football until a wife of an officer fainted after she was hit by a ball. It took a long time to revive the woman, so football was banned and handball was introduced. I don’t remember the name but we had an association for officers’ wives.

All our needs were provided

They, [Igbos], were called ‘inya miri’ because that was their name. [It means, “give me water.”]. I used to call them Igbos (before the war).

They were called as such because inya miri and Igbo have the same meaning. And you know, what started the crisis. Was it not Chukwuma [Nzeogwu] that killed the premier?

I heard (the bombing), The bombing occurred when we were in Lagos and at times when the soldiers are practicing, we used to hears sounds of bombs.

There was fear and we lay down on our bellies.

A lot of them, women and children were starved to death as at that time, because there was no food, nobody to take care of them and they could not get supply anywhere.

Our husband used to tell us stories of what was happening. We were disturbed and wanted to return home to our parents because we were afraid we could be killed there. He would tell us to remain calm, saying “ If you are scared here, do you know what may happen to you out there?”

Of course, we were supporting Nigerians, we, the Northerners.

Hauwa Muhammad. Photo by Chika Oduah

 

 

 

 

*This interview was conducted in Kaduna State, Nigeria

 

 

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