By IKEDDY ISIGUZO
MY people in Umuahia, where I grew up, attended school, and still have deep roots, report village conversations to me as if I am one of them. Am I not? When my story is told, Umuahia will fill a big space for so many reasons. Among them is the Civil War.
Let me move us years, decades back: Umuahia was the final capital of Biafra. The under-advertised architectural mystery that is drably called Ojukwu’s Bunker, is only a tip of the Biafra ingenuous iceberg, a final testimonial to the place of Umuahia in the war, and the unforgettable gatherable memorabilia of the war that have formed the more inconspicuous War Museum, also in Umuahia.
In the midst of the war, shut out from most of the world, starved, buffeted by global conspiracies, we trudged on. It is not for nothing that we are the Land of the Rising Sun. The sun has not ceased to rise in the East – the sun will never cease to rise in the East.
Nnamdi Kanu was not born when soldiers from the 12th Div (Division) of the Peoples Army would commandeer us to take water from our local stream to feed the need of soldiers at its base in Umuaro, just by the old Umuahia-Aba Road. I considered that one of my greatest war contributions, small as I was, in addition to the after-school hours we spent scavenging refuse dumps for disused batteries that we were told were key ingredients in producing ogbunigwe, the Biafran missile that would have been a Nigerian arsenal, if Nigeria’s post-war policies were not invested in insisting that Biafra was nothing.
Monday Onwuatuegwu, brave soldier, great commander of men (I dare add) and women, was at 12th Div. Umuaro was the buffer that kept the vandals, as we were taught to call Nigerian soldiers (we learnt from the greatest propaganda newscaster in Nigerian history Etubom Okoko Ndem) never knew how close they were to Umuahia, whether from the Owerri flank or Aba.
The legendary bravery of the Peoples Army was a factor in keeping Nigeria at bay. Some say that most of the vandals knew they were fighting an unjust war against their colleagues in Nigeria. Guilt flagged their enthusiasm.
Nnamdi Kanu did not know when what is called Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Umuahia, was Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital, then Ramat Hospital after the notorious Murtala Mohammed, whom the Peoples Army reduced to nothing during his futile attempts to cross the Niger Bridge. He descended on defenceless civilians in Asaba, lined them up and shot them.
My elder brother and professional colleague, Emma Okocha, documented that genocide in Blood On The Niger. Mohammed is one of the heroes of the war, according to Nigeria. It is little wonder that we do not have heroes, since our heroes come through entitlement.
A great uncle of mine, Lawrence Omeonu, my mentor, sports man, handsome, a ladies man, died at Queen Elizabeth. He epitomised the bravery of the members of the Peoples Army. While sitting out one evening in Awka, a sniper’s bullet shattered his jaw and re-ordered his dental formation.
He was granted sick leave. After some visits that resulted in the extension of his sick leave, he grabbed a scissors and asked me to hold the mirror for him as he dismantled the brace that kept his teeth in place. Did I so play a part in his death?
The next we heard about him was that he was mortally wounded at Ngwa High School as he defended Aba from the surge of the vandals. A piece of shelling tore his stomach; his intestines were being stuffed as they fought with gravity in their race to hit the soil.
His men bore his extinguishing body through Omoba, and my village Umuokegwu, refusing his pleas that he should be allowed to have his final moment in his family house. He did not wake up after the surgery at Queen Elizabeth’s. Months earlier, his elder brother was returning to his base in Calabar, on the same day that the vandals invaded Calabar. Nothing has been heard about him since October 1968.
A further chill descended on my homestead when Mike Onwueyi, a village poster boy, fell in Ikot Ekpene. He was an only son, and his parents passed on in quick succession, unable to bear the loss, which the village shared in even proportions. More uncles, brothers, friends died directly from enemy bullets or to the blockades against Biafra. One of the deaths was more memorable.
Patrick Alozie–Pantom, as he was more known–was a much loved village rascal. He appropriated everyone’s fight. Nobody could bully anyone from our parts, for it was known that if the matter came to Pantom’s attention, it would be his fight.
He joined the Peoples Army. Nothing was heard about him till and at the end of the war. His mother was inconsolable. We lied to her that Pantom was among the few who went on exile with the General of the Peoples Army. It was 12 years after the war, when General returned from exile and there was no Pantom, that the old woman began her mourning. She was at it until she passed on in 2011.
The wounds of the civil war are deep. They have not healed–it is doubtful if they would with Nigeria’s decisions to continue the war by other means.
Most of Nigeria was shielded from the war, which was related as a distant issue. The theatres of war, the destructions of people and property meant little to them. The disinterest in the war and its outcome, except the privileges that it conferred on sections of Nigeria, have made understanding the agitation from the East a non-issue for many Nigerians.
If the East is a non-issue, Kanu has become the issue. It is simple, if we respect the truth, which is that injustice as a national policy, cannot be a substitute for justice and that we cannot build a nation, or sustain meaningful conversations among our peoples.
Kanu is a national conversation that would not go away, not easily. Biafra is the platform for that conversation. Whether it is a geographical entity, or a philosophical alterity to the sufferings of the peoples of the East, because they waged a war against Nigeria to protest layers of injustices, Biafra is inspiring other protests.
My receding memories of the war come alive when I pass queen Elizabeth’s, Ngwa High School (mostly an army encampment), and most recently Uli, where an Uli Airport Hotel means little to most. Uli hosted Biafra’s international airport. It made a great impact on the dynamics of the war.
Kanu could create better memories of the war. His Afaraukwu Umuahia family house gives him unobstructed views of Ojukwu’s Bunker and the War Museum. He could be lost in wondering contemplation about what these mean.
Nigeria is suddenly all about Kanu. He is a young in more than a search for the meaning of things. He wants justice. You visit further injustices on the East when you slap its peoples and insist on dictating how they react to their plight.
If these issues had been addressed, maybe, a Kanu would have been unnecessary. We may not like him. We may not like his message. We may query what and whom he represents. The fact remains that Nnamdi Kanu is raising more questions than Nigeria wants to provide answers to.
You cannot blame Kanu for pointing out the ways Nigeria has rejected and or neglected different opportunities to be a better place for its peoples. Biafra fills me with dreams of what a better Nigeria should be.