Just run and never look back

My name is Theresa Igbenagwo. What I know is that I am 87 years old. I was born in Awkuzu [Anambra State, Nigeria].

I was in Onitsha [in 1967 when the war started]. I was trading. I was staying with my husband and my children. We were trading before the war started.

Theresa Igbenagwo remembers the Nigerian-Biafran War. Photo by Chika Oduah

We were just there and people were saying that there was war. They were also announcing it on radio. Before they started, I came and called my children. They were ten, then. I chartered a car and brought them home. But me and my husband remained in Onitsha for some time.

We ran home [to Awkuzu] from Onitsha.

Those that used their legs [walked to make the journey to their hometowns] were much. Shelling was falling and people were just running.

…we should just run and never look back

I was afraid because I was running and then shelling was falling. People were dying as a result. Some people were running and at some point, they were falling. They were announcing on radio that we should just run and never look back.

There was nobody from our house that came back from Lagos or the North.

We were cooking. When we came back to Awkuzu, we joined in cooking the food for the Biafran army and buying other things for them, including those that suffered from kwashiorkor. We were using our hands to prepare garri. After grinding it, we fry it and take it to them. Everybody in our house was doing it then.

If they [Biafran soldiers] come, you give them garri, even other kinds of food. Sometimes, we take it to the market and give to children because they were very hungry. We even go to the camp [relief/refugee camps] and give them food.

One of their camps was in CMS [Church Mission Society] church. But they had not finished camping before Awkuzu ran [they did not stay long in the camp before Nigerian soldiers entered Awkuzu].

We ran to the bush ourselves and were always looking for what our children will eat. We were staying in a bush somewhere in Nteje [a nearby town in Anambra State]. We stayed there a long time. We cleared the bush and built a small house.

…they just fell down

It was in Awkuzu that we had bunker. The day the war started, we entered inside the bunker. But we later discovered that people had already left and we came out of the bunker, brought out our things and ran to Nteje.

At that place we ran to, we were selling our cloths and bought what our children will eat. People that died while we were running were too much. Some people that were running got tired and they just fell down.

Theresa Igbenagwo. Photo by Chika Oduah

My mother and my father were around. But we did not run together. My mother ran to a different direction. And we took a different direction. They [my parents] ran to Iyede Nando [another town in Anambra State].

The way we were managing ourselves was that we were trading. If I come out, I will go and buy cassava, after buying it, I grind it, after grinding, I sell and give my children food to eat. We were using our hands to grind it.

They [relief workers from Caritas] use to bring it [relief materials] those days in Awkuzu. But because we were inside the bush, nobody knew where the other person was. But before, they were bringing relief for us. They were giving it to those that were suffering from kwashiorkor and those that were really dying of hunger.

We stayed inside the bush for one year before the war ended. It was in the house that we built inside the bush where we were sleeping. Ones you get there, you clear a place and make a small house for yourself.

What happened was that I had the mind of God. I was not in support of Biafra. I said we should not go to war because I was going to loose my children. I used my leg to run. I used my hand to prepare garri so that my children can eat during the war.

We were in Otuocha [a town in Anambra State] when shelling [from an air raid] killed somebody. The day it came in Otuocha, we were around. We had just returned from buying food that we will give to those suffering from kwashiorkor when it came. We never thought that we would survive that But God saved us. It really killed many people that day.

We went and stayed near a house that was there in Otuocha. We did not go anywhere again until the air raid finished and then we left with our belongings.

I was taking care of my seven children throughout the war. They were all okay. The oldest, he was 15 years old. They were still small children. They were not having the mind to join the Biafran Army.

[The men, including my husband, were not doing anything at that time during the war because they didn’t want to be caught by soldiers. They were usually in hiding.]

It was us women who were making money [to support our families]. I never heard about people eating dead human bodies out of hunger. We never had to eat lizards. I never saw corpses. Even in the market, the day of the air raid, we were running on our own. It was when we got back that people told us about those that died. [But I never saw the bodies].

When I go and get the garri and come back, those of my children who are strong enough to prepare it with me will do that. Not all of them could do that. There were some who we were still carrying on our backs. My husband was helping me.

It was mostly through [word-of-mouth] people [not by listening to the radio] that we got to know about what was happening.

Immediately when the war ended, the soldiers started coming home and were telling us that the war had ended and that was how we knew that the war had truly ended.

What happened was that when the war ended, we were a little happy because we still had people who were still alive. We did not know that there would still be people [alive] here in Awkuzu.

What was so bad was the fact that people were just killing themselves, including those that were stealing people’s property. If they see people’s chicken, they steal in the name of hunger.

I suffered very well. It was God who helped us.

Theresa Igbenagwo. Photo by Chika Oduah

It was for three years that the war was fought. I was In Awkuzu at that time before I ran. I later came back, though. But I was in Onitsha when they were fighting in the beginning and I was hearing it.

Two of my brothers that were already grown up went to join the Biafran army. They were all grown up. They were all married and even had kids. But they all came back. It was only my dad that died when we were running. He did not come back.

I was taking food to him from where I was staying. I went the last time and saw how sick he was. I came back home and the next day, they came and told me that he had died. Nothing killed him. He died because he was old already.

I told you that my brothers all entered the army. One of them was teaching before he entered the army. The other one was into building houses. I don’t know where they served during the war. But I just know that they all went to the places where they were sent to fight. When they came back from the war, I did not ask them where they had served.

 

 

 

 

*This interview was conducted by Chika Oduah in Theresa Igbenagwo’s home in Anambra State, Nigeria.

 

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