Recently, I have been drawn to the Nigerian-Biafra war stories. I’ll say a lil' bit obsessed. I’ve been reading everything I can about the events that surrounded the war. I’m sure Femi is sick and tired of my impromptu and unsolicited history lessons. “Do you know that Azikwe would have been the first premier of the Western Region instead of Awolowo?”. “If the British High Commissioner in Lagos had not advised Gowon otherwise, the North would have seceded” Boring.
I’ve always been fascinated by the 1960s. In my opinion, it’s the most interesting decade of the 20th century. It represents political intrigues and melodramas at its best. JFK, MLK II, Malcolm X, Patrice Lumumba, Dag Hammarskjold, Che Guevara…..the list is on and on.
Nigeria was no exception to the happenings in the sixties. It was the decade of independence, the military coups and the war. Reading Chimamanda’s ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ drew my attention especially to the war. To the people and events we try to forget. The Nzeogwus, the Ironsis, the Ifeajunas, the Banjos, and Okigbos.
These words accredited to Christopher Okigbo touched me deeply. “You know, I learnt to use a gun right in the field. I had never fired even an air-rifle in my life. But this thing [Biafra War], I am going to stay with till the end.” ( To Wole Soyinka in The Man Died, 1972) And till the end he stayed.
People had to defend themselves, their dignity and what is left of their pride. Lecturers had to fight alongside their students to fight in a war they wished did not happen. Mothers, who before the war wouldn’t allow their children to engage in village wrestling, willingly gave them up for the cause. And we dare to forget them, because they lost. Chimamanda claimed they were cheated but not defeated. I couldn’t agree more.
The war could have been avoided, yet it happened. Now that it did, why can’t we remember those that fought and died valiantly on both sides? Why can’t every major towns and villages that lost their sons and daughters in the war have a memoriam with the names of these heroes? What about remembering the battles of Nnewi and Ore, the Asaba massacre, the air raids in Umuahia? Must we forget, because they were cheated?
While I may not totally agree with everything Ojukwu says, especially during the war. Yet, I would have proudly worn the shirt bearing ‘On Aburi We Stand’ if I was alive in the sixties.