In keeping with “Biàfrá at 50”, I have decided to share my Parents’ War stories.
I’ll start with Dad’s story…
On the 30th of May 1967, when Ojukwu declared the Sovereign State of Biafra (A declaration which was an off-shoot of the Ibo Pogrom, the pogrom too was a spin-off of the alleged “Ibo coup” of 1966), Dad was just a wide-eyed teenager of about 16years who was overly excited about the war and the prospects of fighting on the Biafran side ofcourse. My Grandpa had just died and was buried, leaving behind a retinue of wives and a few dozen children. My Grandma was his last. He was wealthy though, at least by the standard in those days and could afford to maintain all of them (So I heard). His name “Idigonweluego” is at least testament to the fact. But he wasn’t there to provide any sort of guidance for his family at the outbreak of the war.
So on the 4th of July 1967 when Enugu, Awka and towns along that axis fell to the hands of the Nigerian Army ( My hometown Ogidi inclusive, as it is a town situated along the Onitsha-Enugu Expressway), my Grandma took her children and deserted Ogidi for Umuoji because the hinterlands were more shielded from the war than roadside towns which had now become soft-targets for soldiers from the Nigerian side who pillaged villages, raping women and girls, taking hostages, brutally maiming those useless to them and leaving behind a bloodied trail of horror.
Relatively safe in Umuoji, Dad’s family was housed by a relation of my Grandma. Dad never gave up his dream of fighting the war. Severally, he voluntarily requested to enlist in the Biafran Army but was turned down as he was underaged.
Months went by and as the hunger and fighting became more intense, so did the body count rise. The Biafran Army needed more soldiers and with a shortage of eligible volunteers, underaged fighters became very attractive. Finally, Dad was allowed to join the Biafran Army in 1968 at Nnewi, although he was still not of age, he was however not conscripted like many boys of his age were at the time. Training commenced almost immediately at the S of I (school of Infantry Ihiagwa Orlu) and lasted for only two weeks. Commisioning followed and he proudly donned his “Uganda-donated” Biafran Uniform. Courtesy of President Milton Obote of Uganda. Dad was deployed to Nwaniba Beach, where he got his first war exposure. He fought gallantly in 20 battalion, 58brigade, 12 division of the Biafran Army.
As the war progressed the Biafran side lost grounds from Nwaniba to Uyo to Ikot-Ekpene. Ojukwu put his best fight in Ikot-Ekpene providing surplus ammunition, food etc to the Biafran soldiers fighting there as he desperately didnt want to lose Ikot-Ekpene to the Nigerian side, which happened unfortunately. Subsequently, Aba too fell on the 26th of August 1968. On that day, Dad sustained minor injuries but suffered from shell-shock popularly known as “Artillery” or “Arti-mgbo” at the time. Lol.
A condition associated with temporary deafness. He was taken to the MDS hospital for a complete Psychiatric evaluation and while in recovery he got news through his Uncle, Dr Izuora (who coincidentally was in charge of the psychariatric department where Dad was at MDS) that his older brother Lawrence Echezona had died at the warfront in Aba.
Dejected but not deterred at the news of his brother’s demise, Dad’s resolve grew stronger. He couldnt wait to get better and quickly return to the war front. The war had to be won at any cost and being active at the warfront was for him his own “win the war” effort.
Shortly after he got back into action, in early 1969, 12Division was disbanded for failing to prevent Aba from falling into the hands of the enemy. At the time he was a 2nd/sub lieutenant and was transferred to 15Division Umuahia from where he continued to contribute his “win the war” quota in the special and more vibrant 15Division force. Umuahia unfortunately fell on the 28th of April 1969 and 15Div force was moved to Umudike. Fr