Give us gun, we are all angry

I am called Dr., my surname, Nwakire. My first name, Onuzuruike. My father’s, Nwagwu. I was born fifth of November 1950. I studied at Government College, Umuahia.

Dr. Onuzurike Nwakire remembers the Nigerian-Biafran War. Photo by Chika Oduah

 

I was in Class 3 when the war broke out.

I had interest in reading and so the popular newspaper then was Nigerian Outlook. I took time to read the Nigerian Outlook. Incidentally in 1960, I was in Standard 2 and received the flag of independence and cup of independence. My educational background allowed for interaction with people throughout the whole country. I studied in my primary school with Hausas, Yorubas, people from Cross River and other places. Even Rivers State. So, there was a sort of view I must express that is, we never thought about ourselves as different individuals. So, when I developed a critical thinking ability, if you made a positive statement, I usually question it by putting it in a negative to understand it.

Parties were developed along tribal lines from the inception of Nigerian democracy

So, when I read the national anthem, I came to appreciate one expression: “though tribe and tongue may differ, in brotherhood we stand.” That was the philosophy I personally had developed and saw that it was right. Unfortunately, that philosophy was shattered by the experience, especially what the political class had started to do. Parties were developed along tribal lines from the inception of Nigerian democracy.

So, I had that education up to Class 3.

You may equate [Standard 2] with Elementary 3 now. Of course, the standard of education then was very high. I was able to write a letter in 1959 when I was in Standard 1 and I doubt that any scholar now [could] do that. So, at that time, education system was well, let me try and put it 5 for secondary school, 6 for primary school. We also had pre-primary ABC but mine was Infant 1, Infant 2, Standard 1 and so, I started school 1957 and at that time, we were under the British colonial rule and sang the British national anthem and so, when I was admitted into, that is Infant 1, I took pains to ensure that my hand reached my ear before I was admitted. So, 1957, I started primary school in Local Authority Primary School.

 

God save the glorious Queen

Long live our glorious Queen

Gracious Queen

Long live our glorious Queen

God save the Queen

Long life and glorious

Long may she reign over us

God save the Queen

 

That was it and so, nevertheless in 1960, Nigeria introduced a version of an anthem. “Nigeria We Hail Thee.” So, we try to single out all those things. Then, I understand it was mere lip service. The words did not sink down into the heart of even those who formulated it…because of the political debacle, it became clear to me that there was a hypocrisy in the song. However, in secondary school too, the boundaries of my educational classmates expanded. They included South Africans, Cameroonians, of course, again Yorubas were there and my classmates were also from Efik, Calabar area. So, we all continued to blend as individuals. Nobody considered the other tribe to be superior at the time.

[Between 1957, 1960] I was in my house located at- I’m from Umuahia [the capital city of Abia State in southeastern Nigeria] and I attended Government College, Umuahia for my secondary school. I was a foundation member of that primary school, Local Authority School, LA School, Umuahia. So, aaah, Umuohu-Azueke, LA School, Umuohu-Azueke [a locality in Abia State]. I was a foundation member. What happened at that time, in fact when I started to read community development I observed that that school was a sort of partnership with the local government between the community and the local government because I remember my people going to clear the bush, the donated the land, cleared the bush, used initially palm fronds to make the thatch where we started to study.

So, the local government sent teachers. So, it was a partnership and that is what I love about community development. If the community can partner with the government, in fact I wrote a paper indicating that for education to function well now, since virtually all communities have graduates, they should partner with the government. Let them produce their own teachers who are graduates and let them take over these schools. But, then, the state could broker what is happening by sending supervisors who are their own teachers to these local community schools. So that it would be possible for them to be able to monitor what is going on. The community is also there to ensure their children are well educated and also you have the infrastructure really in place, the Igwe-in-council. All these could function to help monitor what is happening.

1966. Yeah. My brother was at Makurdi [the capital of modern-day Benue state] then and in 1963, I took my Primary 6 exams but what happened that year was that they brought Class 5, eh, Standard 5 and Standard 6 and merged them together. That was 1963. Those of us who were in Standard 5 and those in Standard 6 took the First School Leaving Certificate examination. After that, those who were previously in Standard 4 now went into Primary 6. That was a change in the educational curriculum. Then, I went to Primary 6. Those in Primary 3 just along that line so that the streams were completed. But, meanwhile, 1964 I didn’t go to school. I lived with my brother. It was [in] ’65 that I went into the secondary school. So, perhaps, I need to address the question you, asked.

My brother was in Makurdi and barely escaped [the violence that broke out in northern Nigeria before war]. In fact, wasn’t easy for him. By then, of course, I was with him in 1963 at Makurdi, 1964 he was still at Makurdi before he was posted to Lagos and it was from Lagos that he came down. Many of his items were carried away from him. Let me just put it that way. He lost them as they came to River Niger.

The crisis was looming and very strong. So, as far as first information because my brother was involved. Even some of the monies he was given to give to those people at home were taken away from him as he came to- in fact, en route.

The Lagos area, there were much slaughter in that area

He retired [in Makurdi]. He is retired now as a railway driver. Nigeria Railway Corporation was very functional and he was first of all a driver. He started as a coal man and progressed to becoming a driver. Train driver. He retired as a driver and was retained even, for several years at Lagos. Driving trains.

[He came to the East from Lagos] and remained there until the end of the war. He was re-engaged.

…dagger to cut their heads, their mouths

Many people, of course, sorry, I have read many books about the war. If you read Wole Soyinka’s The Man Died, you will see that some individuals were brutally, in fact, they were dehumanized. The Lagos area, there were much slaughter in that area, anyway.

Dr. Onuzurike Nwakire. Photo by Chika Oduah

But, then, up North, people were slaughtered. Some came back, of course, there were pictures of individuals who even were, they used sword, or rather, dagger to cut their heads, their mouths up to this level and well [his voice trails off].

Igbos were beheaded

I told you there were documents. There was this particular document that I read – “Pogrom” – and it exposed everything that happened…

In any case, that is not even the issue. The issue was that the ground had been laid for that civil war and all the problems associated with it. It was entirely political and then, the attempt by the military to intervene cost a whole thing. So, I know that was restricted to that area, one wouldn’t have an overview of what was happening. But, then, because of the literacy level I have attained, I was always reading the newspapers. When I saw some of the things happening, I could validate them.

Some people were brought even by planes to Umuahia, down to Enugu and from Enugu, they picked vehicles and were able to come home. So, some of us…knew what was happening and of course, it became, you know, the mass media were there, you know, television was not that popular. So, from the mass media we were able to capture the scenes happening also.

…we were part of the demonstrations to declare the Republic of Biafra

The Nigerian Red Cross chartered planes and brought many people back, safe, and prevented many of them from being killed. But, then, by that 1966, all of us in the secondary school were curious about the things happening and wanted to know why, of course, may be just to tell you that we were part of the demonstrations to declare the Republic of Biafra. I remember when we marched from Government College Umuahia to the town, the main town, asking that Eastern region should secede from Nigeria. Our secondary school had [a] cadet unit where they received pure military training. You know, cadet indicating they are still young. So, these individuals were drafted into Biafran army early and many perished in this sector.

[That march that happened before May thirtieth before the declaration of the secession]

Of course, yes, it happened. In fact, you eh, I remember the cadet unit marching in military uniform going to the town, going to Bende, coming back same day, tired and then, still agile. Umuahia was under Bende division. Under the colonial rule.

Some went to the warfront with ordinary dagger

Oh well, [at the march I was wearing my] school uniform, the school uniform but those of the cadet unit put on pure military uniform…[it was] ash and brown. Ash color and brown. We had pink before but, then, it was ash at that time.

[At the march we were saying], what did we say? We wanted Ojukwu nye anyi egbe, inwe di anyi na-obi. That is [Chukwuemeka] Ojukwu give us gun, we are all angry.

So, pressures were put on the governor, Ojukwu, to declare Biafra. He consulted leaders of course, I know my father was also invited. Market women went on demonstration. Several other people, groups went on demonstration to have Biafra declared.

Ojukwu himself, as we heard, warned that war wouldn’t be easy

Virtually everybody [among the Igbo people of the southeast] wanted [Biafra]. There were no dissenters because of the experience in terms of the atmosphere then, so everybody wanted the secession but some educated individuals really were not very much for it. Ojukwu himself, as we heard, warned that war wouldn’t be easy. Meanwhile, they were totally ill-equipped. Biafra was ill-equipped militarily to confront the federal might. They virtually had all the arsenal at their disposal: war planes, automatic rifles. So, to confront their military machine was not easy for Biafra.

…I even tried to paint a picture of what the Biafran flag should look like

Meanwhile, their [Biafran soldiers] bullets could not go round. Some [Biafran soldiers] went to the warfront with ordinary dagger, machete…of course, the war had started then. I remember first when Nigerian soldiers struck in the sector 1967 July. We then were in school. By that July 67, the school was closed down and all of us retired to our homes because an emergency situation had developed.

You may be interested that I even tried to paint a picture of what the Biafran flag should look like: black, red and what other color? I think green and that was the color that was used. The only difference in what I painted and what was presented was the Biafran sun. That will tell you the favor. That is the enthusiasm generated in us to have our own state.

It was a personal [painting] and of course, I wanted to forward it for them to use it as Biafran flag. So, all of us were totally for Biafra at that time.

[On the day of the secession] of course I was in my house. I was in my house and I listened to the military music, the anthem, though the words were not there but later, I discovered they have adapted a particular song in the Methodist hymn book to be the Biafran national anthem. So, not long after, they used those words, the lyrics as in that book, that is the Methodist hymn book. But, then, the government warned that they had not come up with the lyrics of the Biafran anthem. They did develop one but it was not very popular before the war ended.

[We heard about the secession from the radio]. We had our radio in our house and of course, all of us too, since we have been clamoring for that, it was very welcomed then. Everybody started to dance that we now had our own state, Biafra.

…what if you go and they kill you?

Hmmm, that’s another problem [how I endured the three years of the following war]. I had always tried to think about how to assist. So, immediately the war started and the schools were closed, I joined the Nigerian Red Cross Society, eventually called the Biafran Red Cross Society. We usually go to the town. Of course, we were educated. That was volunteerism. We went to town and we were educated on how to administer treatment in cases of emergency. Then, at a point, I was drafted to Queen Elizabeth Hospital which is presently Federal Medical Centre. So, in that place, I had the privilege of treating soldiers and there was a white woman who took interest in me and perhaps, would have taken me overseas.

…a French mercenary was wounded very much with bullets

We were there. The environment [was] congenial enough. By December I was drafted to the Calabar sector of the war. So, I was there also in a military hospital and we started to treat soldiers, too. Well, there was a push by the federal troops in January 1968 which made us withdraw. In fact, what happened was that I had a brother who was in the army. My mother resisted his going to the army but, he insisted on going. My mother said what if you go and they kill you? I remember him telling her if I join the army today and I am killed tomorrow, I’ll still go to the army and he joined. He fought in this sector, fought at Enugu before his deployment to Calabar sector. So, immediately I got to that place, somehow, both of us were, we met ourselves and he usually visited. On one particular day, I can fix the day, January, eh, was that twenty-second 1968? Both of us drank together because we had a family routine. Any time my father received salary, we met together and drank and celebrated the day. So, he visited and we drank our normal ogogoro [a local alcohol brew distilled from the fermented sap of palm trees]. That is hot, hot drink. Saturday evening and I was to visit him in his location on Monday. That’s two days after. By around, in fact, I was to go by one o’clock.

Dr. Onuzurike Nwakire. Photo by Chika Oduah

By around 12, they started sending down Biafran casualties including a French mercenary. So, we kept treating them. Each one that was treated was transported out and then a French mercenary was wounded very much with bullets. His body was riddled with bullets. [Of course I saw the body]. But, he didn’t die, anyway.

When he was brought to the military hospital, he was speaking French. I had little knowledge of French. Où est ma fusée? Où est ma fusée?” [Where is my rocket? Where is my rocket?] That’s ‘my gun, my gun.’ He was calmed down, treated and then taken away.

Not long after, another casualty was brought. This person had a bullet wound. The thing just – mbrmp! – brushed his head. He was the one that alerted us that it was through – it was behind us that the federal troops cut off Biafrans and so we immediately packed. Even when I was asking them, my brother said I should come, they said why are you talking about your brother when we have many cases to treat. So, we all packed and moved. Along the way, we were seeing many Biafran soldiers who were wounded in pains. But, we pulled about 56 miles, crossed the Cross River and came to Arochukwu. It was then that I had the first sad experience of what it was to be engaged in war. I slept on ordinary spring till the next day. Curious to get to my brother to ascertain whether he was alive or not, I joined the soldiers and went back to the Cross River to see if he came across. Well, I didn’t see him but, one of the soldiers told me that he saw him. Happily, I now joined them to go to Umuahia to buy some items. I joined them in their Peugeot 404 pickup. So, we got to Umuahia.

…I saw a fresh grave…it must be my dad

At arriving at our compound, I saw bicycles. I asked a friend who came to welcome me. What’s wrong? Are they holding a meeting there? He said they’re holding a meeting and when I got to that place, I saw a fresh grave. According to my imagination, it must be my dad. That was what I thought. I never knew my brother had been killed and as one of the officers, he was, his body was brought, retrieved and brought home for burial. He was buried right in our compound with full military honors.

You will see blood splashed against the wall

So, I didn’t have the opportunity again to go back to Arochukwu to join the Red Cross but, I tried again to realign myself with the local Red Cross Society. So, we were also going to the town until Nigeria intensified their efforts with the air raids. On one occasion, we had a feeding centre, Red Cross feeding centre, I was to go to that feeding centre. In Umuahia. The location was ST Stephen School. So, when I wanted to go, somehow, I didn’t have the strong feeling to go to the town. I told my mother. She said if you do not want to go now, you remain.

This thing happened on the Thursday. The previous Thursday, a particular plane had fly from this end to the other, freely, nobody interrupted it. That Thursday, one pm, as I was coming outside there was this big bang. In fact, bangs.

Gbugbugbugbu!

Ahhh!

I shook my head because as at that time our home was located at about three miles from the town. So, it shook where I was. I shouted that Umuahia has finished. As was my custom, around 4:30, I now rode with my bicycle to Umuahia town, only to discover that it was that Red Cross center that was burned. You will see blood splashed against the wall, heads of individuals that have been dismembered by the bomb. You know, naturally, when we lost our brother, we had this urge to go for vengeance but, somehow we were dissuaded because we have started studying the Bible earnestly and the Jehovah’s Witness were teaching us, indicating that we needed to be neutral. And so, we saw the sense in being neutral. Prior to this, we have been singing lyrics. The Methodist church because I was a chorister. I was in the youth fellowship. [We were singing pro-Biafran songs] of course, even those ones that were supposed to be spiritual, eh, were changed, the lyrics were changed to reflect the sentiments of the war.

During the war, yes, 1969, I was baptized as a Jehovah’s Witness and I saw the sense in being neutral. It gives us the leverage to talk to anybody. Even now, I know that despite my educational background, it is wrong for me to assess any individual as inferior. Whether educated or not, I feel free to discuss with people. If we go to people, and they don’t accept us, we keep calm, we are only errands people. So, we don’t have a right to judge anybody. Ultimately, judgement belongs to God and somebody may be opposed to the truth today, some experience, some knowledge of the Bible may come and he will change. So, we leave it open. We have open mind. That is what I have developed as a Jehovah’s Witness. Today, there is no amount of coercion that will make me lift a gun against anybody. In fact, I think it was 2003 armed robbers came to my house, it was around, eh, they came very early, 7:30 because my neighbor then, the experience I had. The neutrality had been very helpful. I don’t think in terms of violence.

I was conscripted up to four times

I became very conscious [after becoming a Jehovah’s Witness]. Why? The Biafrans started to conscript young men and if they conscripted a Red Cross member or he claims to be a Red Cross member, they usually told him no, this is more urgent than that your Red Cross. I was conscripted up to four times. The first time I was conscripted, I managed and escaped to my home after training for three days. I escaped from the camp, [it was in] part of Umuahia. Then, I was again conscripted at Ngwa, Mbawsi. It was this Nsulu training depot. There was a training depot located in that, one TTC [Teachers Training College] school at Mbawsi, Nsulu. So, it was converted to a training depot.

All along, I was looking for a way to escape. But, this time, I developed a tact.

So, as I was conscripted in Mbawsi, en route to that training depot, I refused to take enough food. I only had 10 shillings but, I only managed and took 5 shillings food which was nothing. That was September 1969.

….broken bottle was used to shave us

Dr. Onuzurike Nwakire. Photo by Chika Oduah

We were using using British currency and the British pound became Biafran pound. Nigeria was using British pound. So, we still used Biafran pound, Biafran 10 shillings, Biafran 5 shillings. If I could locate it, I’ll show you a specimen. Though we have disposed of them.

I was about 18 [when I was first conscripted].

They usually say “come on, join the line.”

…you look like death

They will be in convoy and say “join the line.” If you protest, they’ll say “come on!” Of course, they have a gun. You would have no choice. If one tries to escape, they will shoot the person and the best was to comply with it. And so, eh, during that conscription, we were twenty-two [others]. One person escaped from the line and then, a soldier said this one has escaped. He mounted the bicycle and rushed after him. And then, they became violent with us, marched us to the camp and now started asking us to have our hairs cut. Broken bottle was used to shave us. I didn’t go until the twenty first person, when that fellow they had shaved his box [hair] then commander of the camp came and asked us to line up. We lined up. I made sure I took the front seat because he needed to see how I looked. So, eh, he isolated four persons who were old. Personally, I had a pass from Uyo strike force.

So, when he wanted to close up the release of people, I shifted my stomach inside, frowned my face somehow that attracted him. He said, “ah, now you look like death, what is wrong?” I told him I was serving with Uyo strike force that I was a civilian helper but I came to this place for appendicitis operation and so, he said, “aaah, one lieutenant said that thing kills within forty-eight hours.”

He motioned that I should join those already in line for release. Craftily and slowly I moved.

The other person whose box [hair] has been cleared and then, presented a pass indicating that he has eye problem. They said we wouldn’t want this person. We were six that were released. So, we left the camp. That was how I escaped that one.

[Uyo strike force] It was a military. It was totally military but, then, it was commando. Sometimes, we were invited to assist in frying garri [carbohydrate based food processed from cassava] for them. How we operated was that in the night, they will go to the war front, attack and withdraw and then, the infantry would hold the ground. Sometimes, they called it harassing attack because when Nigerian soldiers came into Umuahia they dug trenches, built bunkers. So, during the strikes, they could use grenade, hand grenade and throw to those bunkers. So, the harassing attack destabilised Nigerian forces. I learnt later that that sort of military strategy was [Major Chukwuma] Nzeogwu recommended that they should adopt initially. The same man who led the [1966] military coup, Nzeogwu.

So, after that, ah, conscription, I came home now and lived in the forest. I joined the family and lived in the forest.

Sometimes, in the daytime, we will harvest wide palm trees, prepare, harvest the oil. We would give to a girl who would sell and bought for us salt and some other condiments with which we prepared soup. In the night, we could go into the stream to kill fish which we would use. So, that was it. That was the life we continued to lead until the war ended.

[We lived in the forest from] September to December, January. We came back January. So, from September, after that conscription, then, Mbawsi, by December, the war ended. The war ended then. In our place, it ended around December twenty-fifth when we left the bush around twenty-eighth.

[It was Christmas period].

My father didn’t take kindly to our becoming Jehovah’s Witnesses. So, we were severely persecuted. He stopped feeding us and we didn’t dare leave the house. If we dare, conscription. Then, the war ended. I visited home from the bush. Then, I remember he offered us something to eat because for two weeks he had stopped feeding us. I said no. I wouldn’t eat. I withdrew again into the forest until the whole thing ended. Government College, Umuahia was now turned into a camp for the individuals who had been conquered. We left the forest and came into the camp.

Did we call them refugees? Well, it was more or less, a refugee camp. But, they made sure all the civilians were all together so that they wouldn’t be harassing them since some had been trained as soldiers. So, everyone was put in a camp until they made sure everything had ended and we went back to our home.

They engaged in raping of women

See eh, in the forest we harvested wild yams for sustenance. I remember eating crab raw. I ate it raw. Iin fact in that forest you usually find quite a number [of crabs]. You have streams in the forest. Sometimes, I left home around seven pm and I would get to our location that is in the forest about two hours later. And I’ll wave through the course of a stream that is up to 15 to 20 minutes before meeting the ground again. And this was a forest at a time that was tiger- infested [he is actually refers to leopards] but I used my knife. I didn’t know, may be, because of the war I had developed such courage that I felt that even if it attacked me, I would kill it.

[I didn’t see any] but it was popular then that leopards filled the place. So, I was always ready to fight whatever that came. A good thing none came because I don’t know what the experience would have been like.

We usually slept at night. We had built a thatched house and we slept there. My mother was at home with my father. I joined a family that took me in because one of their sons was my friend and Christian brother. So, both of us lived together in the forest.

Was it ideal [to not be with my family]? When they have started to starve us. My elder brother, my younger brother and my sister who was the eldest of us four. So, they [my parents] stopped feeding us [because we have become Jehovah’s Witness].

In early ’69, ’68, ’69, I was part of a group in charge of a feeding center and if you see the picture of the Yemenis children that was exactly the situation then in Biafra. Children suffered with their bloated heads and legs. Their hairs turned pale. We tried to feed them. We continued until the relief wasn’t coming again. So, we ourselves, while living in the bush, well, of course, you know, what we were eating wasn’t the best. So, the thing reported on our physical appearances. So, eh, that experience really made us hate the war and eventually when the federal troops overran Biafra, especially the part of Biafra where we were located, Umuahia. They engaged in raping of women.

And if they saw any little girl with small breasts, they took that one as a wife. The Nigerian soldiers.

Reports of such [Biafran soldiers raping women] were going on around some of the minority areas was also reported but there were also venereal diseases that were reported, took place then. There was one they call Bonny Special and some other venereal diseases that were reported. That was before Port Harcourt fell. That was popular then. There were others I can’t remember them now.

You know, that thing [soldiers raping females] usually took place at night. Of course, even though there was no morality, it wasn’t usually done in the open. But, there were instances of married women who were raped. They came back reporting their ordeal.

This my wife just escaped. When they swooped on them, because a man from their village had invited them and they told the community come to the market, they are going to bring relief, not knowing that they have arranged for the soldiers to come and take as many women as they wanted. She went out first and came home and felt it was a ploy to bring them out where they were hiding. She reported this to me. Then, on another occasion, they came.

They came specifically for her. She held her mother and her mother held her. And the soldier cocked his gun and say shoot. I won’t go with you. Then, the mother held her firmly. Some other soldier told that other one, leave that girl. That’s how she escaped.

I remember on several occasions not only air raids on the place where I was, in fact, I had from time to time, they shelved the area from the town with 106, 105 millimeter artilleries. So, anytime, we dug our bunker with stem of palm trees and protected it. Of course, no bomb fell on such bunkers. Who knows what could have happened.

Whenever we heard kpuuuuum!

Dr. Onuzurike Nwakire’s hands. Photo by Chika Oduah

It was a warning shot indicating that enemy plane was in the air. So, we took cover. But, usually, I never at anytime ran into the bunker. My preoccupation was to identity the plane first before taking cover. Maybe, you could say it was intuitive, not deliberate. I just decided to identify the plane because sometimes, you could see the bomb falling and so, you could only do what you could to protect yourself.

Well, there were Russian MiG fighters and there were also British-made war planes. So, the MiG fighters, you know, they usually lined up, kpokpokpo! Then, the bombers will follow but their target is usually the town, not the local, rural communities. But, the shells of course penetrated the rural communities.

…why was it that the world kept quiet when children were suffering?

The planes of course, you could look at the planes and know the make. For instance, sometimes, when the planes were shot down, you could identify the make. So, you could see the pieces. Of course, there were some element of eh, you know first of all, don’t forget we were seeing the planes. We also saw broken parts of the planes whenever they were shot down and also we got reports of the makers and of course, there were no denials. I made a conclusion after that that some of these super powers, make their money from selling all those military wares. Well, it is a fact they can verify. Let me say counter. It was very much obvious then.

But sometimes this time I start to ask why was it that the world kept quiet when children were suffering?

…people became beasts in war

I don’t know. Maybe, they decided to be feeding us. The World Council of Churches was there bringing food. Caritas International were there bringing their own food because the war strategy that Nigeria adopted was biting hard on Biafra.

They blockaded Biafra. Ships could not deliver goods to Biafra.

 

[The most memorable] day [during the war] has continued to linger in my memory. There is a reason. The bloodshed I saw of individuals whom I thought innocent and I would have been a victim myself. I wouldn’t have escaped the air raids if I had made a mistake of going to the town. We wouldn’t be sitting down to discuss today.

So that day has continued to linger on my mind….at the Red Cross feeding center. That’s the one, where I saw heads and blood splashed against the wall. Anytime I remember it, I have this feeling that war is bad and of course too, if I recall the way mothers and children were famished.

The kwashiorkor.

All these.

I’ll even say to some extent, people became beasts in war. Just as ferocious as a lion in a would be, that’s exactly. I started to think why it was that humans could turn to beasts. I discovered that sometime, before they went to war, they were given something to smoke. Cigarette was there. It was that my brother who made me stop smoking. We were socialized into that system and started to smoke. It wasn’t that I was so interested in smoking. The day I asked him because he was an officer, did they give you a packet of cigar? Please, give to me. He warned me seriously. Then, I recalled the film we were shown in 1966 in the secondary school of a man who always smokes and the effect on his kidney. So, the last stick I was holding, I just pressed on it and that was it. I never smoked again.

It is beasts that fight.

So, none is accepted [exempted].

The two parties [Biafran soldiers and Nigerian soldiers], I foresee beastly behavior to people who ordinarily should be sane and move together turn to killing one another. That is beastly behavior. So, no part of the two would be exempted from the beastly behavior. Of course, too, when you think about some of the incidences which I wouldn’t want to mention. Some of my mates said they were going to particular locations on combing. The combing was looting people’s property.

So, no one was accepted [exempted] please. Anyone who saw an opportunity used it to acquire something. Some women were paraded as thieves because of going to people’s farms to harvest. When then, if you planted yams, during the war, three months, when it was just a thin fingerling with bare hands, they will harvest the yam. So, there was hunger. And if they wanted to harvest this, eh, pumpkin, they could even uproot it. So, normal life was no longer being led during that war. Farming ceased. Hunger became the order of the day. And of course, if anybody refuse to be drafted into the army, he’ll risk being killed. So, it [the beastly behavior] cuts across the two groups. Biafra-Nigeria or if you like Nigeria-Biafra.

Dr. Onuzurike Nwakire. Photo by Chika Oduah

There was uncertainty. Would we be left alive? So, that uncertainty trailed us as we marched into the camp. We left the bush. On arriving the camp by 5:30 am, before then, I have not seen any Nigerian soldier. But, see them with their rifles at the gate.

My sister who was fairly young, though, older than me, had to camouflage herself as an old woman and marched pass them to the place where my parents were located in the camp. Well, I was still curious. Could be it be that the war had really ended? Until I saw it has ended.

[My sister had to disguise herself because] hmm, if you saw her as a young girl sometimes, the statement was that I’ll marry you for one night. I’ll marry you for one day. You know what that means or what it meant for them. If she had to disguise herself as an old woman to avoid being used for whatever purpose they wanted. So, we went in, joined the rest until when they were sure no person would attack them that they had totally defeated this people, they let us go to our homes.

[Many people starved. We didn’t because we were harvesting in the bush]. Yes, that helped us but, it wasn’t the ideal menu but you see the mindset is also very important. I took the situation as it was and didn’t bother so much. But, then, whatever we got as food, we were satisfied. Remember I said, sometime we harvested wild yams.

 

 

* Dr. Onuzurike Nwakire granted this interview to Chika Oduah from his home in Enugu State, Nigeria.

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