Story Four: Chideraa in Post-Independence Era
Boom, boom, firings from Nigerian Forces’ armoured tankers rattled the skies. If you only heard the sound from a distance or saw the impact blow off your roof, you were lucky. Those that felt the impact crash on their bodies did not tell the story of what or how they felt. It had been two long years of fighting and the “Police action” the Head of State of the Federal Military Government of Nigeria, Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon had declared on the Federal Republic of Biafra in May 1967, after Major General Chukwuemeka Ojukwu declared the Independence of the Republic of Biafra, had become a full blown Civil war. Chideraa and his mother hid and lived in the thick forest with their people. The Nigerian soldiers raided their villages and displaced most of the Umuagwo community dwellers. A lot of them had been taken as female attendants by the soldiers and many others had been ruthlessly murdered. Schooling, farming and every other productive activity were halted and so Umuagwo and so many other Eastern communities were brought to a standstill. Food became a major problem and ill health soon set in. Kwashiorkor disease made children’s belly protrude as though they had over eaten. Chideraa held a roasted lizard in his hand and ten other children quickly surrounded him. His mother tried to shoo them away so Chideraa could eat to his full, but Chideraa had already began to cut the lizard into eleven pieces, took one and shared the rest. His mother watched him and tears rolled down her cheeks.
When it was twilight and they prepared to sleep, he tapped his mother, “Mama, would Papa and my brothers ever come back?” He asked with deep sorrow in his heart.
“Your father is a brave man and so are your elder brothers. They will come back someday.” She spoke to her son with confidence, but she cried in great pain and doubt inside her heart. Many men, husbands, fathers and children had been confirmed dead. They heard stories of how many Biafran soldiers were killed in battle in several places and Urenma wondered if Obierika and her children had just been one of those unlucky soldiers.
“But Mama, why did the war ever have to start?” He asked tears rolling down his cheeks. “Did they not know it was going to be like this Mama? See how we are suffering Mama. It wasn’t like this before.” He sobbed.
She sighed and hissed so that she wouldn’t cry. “Men and their pride and their folly. The Igbos and Easterners wanted to secede from Nigeria and form Biafra, because of the numerous killings that happened in the north, but the Nigerian government would not let them go and now we all suffer.”
“But Mama, why did they not let us go?” He asked.
“They say a lot of reasons my son. But according to your father, the oil that was discovered in the Eastern region is the major reason they wouldn’t let us go.” She replied. Chideraa felt so bad that people had to pay with their lives for the careless and selfish decisions of their leaders. As far as little Chideraa was concerned, the two parties to the war acted foolishly. His father had always told him that two wrongs never made a right, and there he was on the battle field contributing his own quota of the wrong. Was he even still alive? That thought cut short his every other thinking and he slept off forcefully.
The death toll on the Biafran side had become unbearable. On the battle field, the sophisticated weaponry of the Nigerian forces made the battle far from balanced, while the hunger and ill health at the homelands claimed more souls than ammunition. Although the Nigerian forces had been heavily equipped in weaponry, receiving support from big countries like Britain and United States of America, Biafra had put up a commendable fight against them with little or no foreign support. Only Israel had openly extended their hands to Biafra. The many civilians that volunteered to join the Biafran army, the forcefully conscripted men, youth and children and the imported war mercenaries had not been sufficient to hold out the large and well equipped Nigerian forces. Defeat was imminent as Biafran territories were continually captured and starvation and diseases claimed more and more lives.
The joy that lighted up Umuagwo and the rest of the Igbo communities in the Eastern region when Ojukwu Odumegwu had announced the independence of the Republic of Biafra on May 30, 1967 had by 1969 turned to deep deep sorrow. The usual festivities that marked the end of the year didn’t hold that year. There was nothing to celebrate in Umuagwo. Every single person in Umuagwo either mourned someone or had someone missing. For Chideraa and his mother, they had Papa still missing. It was he that had a cheerful heart that celebrated.
It had happened like a dream. In the first two weeks of the New Year, 1970, the Nigerian forces were leaving their community and they could hear the seizure of gunshots and explosions. Some community elders came into the forest to inform them that the war was over, but Chideraa noticed they weren’t happy even though they broke what seemed to be good news.
Chideraa approached one of the elders, greeted him and asked “Nna anyi, why are we not celebrating since the war has finally ended?” The elder looked at him and loved him. “Son, we lost the war. Our leaders surrendered to the Nigerian government few days ago, on January 12.” He sighed and made to leave, but the boy asked again. “Nna anyi, so they finally killed our Ojukwu?” The elder shut his eyes in disappointment “Ojukwu fled the country for his safety.”
Chideraa’s shoulders slumped. He bowed his head and dragged his feet as he moved towards his mother who was crying bitterly now. Two men had approached her and whispered some words calmly to her and were taking their leave as Chideraa returned.
“Mama, why are you crying?” He asked looking worried. She rushed and hugged him tightly.
“Chideraa, you are all I have left in this world now. Papa and your brothers all died in the war” She replied in tears. Chideraa screamed till the whole Umuagwo heard his voice, but one thing remained on his mind. His father and brother had died fighting for Biafra and the leader of Biafra ran away to spare his own life. Was one person’s life worth more than another or than so many others? A man only died for what he believed, he concluded. His father had believed in Biafra and had died for it. Maybe Ojukwu never truly believed in Biafra, he thought. After all, it was the Igbo people that pushed him to secede from the country. He sighed and wiped his tears.
Major General Chukwuemeka Dim Ojukwu remains a hero of the Igbo people, and an idol of courage, braveness and strength even until this day and earned the title Odumegwu. Chideraa went on to become a civil right activist and was killed during the dictatorial military regime of General Sani Abacha years later.