Nchighata Biafra - Coming back from Biafra
My father told me that going to war at 19 was challenging but he sort of wanted to go as they were rarely any young men in the village and even the ones that remained were forcibly enrolled into the Biafran Army.
After getting married early and before the war broke out, my mother had moved to our family home to stay with my grandfather while my father later moved to Lagos in search of better life by learning to be a trader under apprenticeship. When the war finally broke out and there was a massive return of Igbo people back to Eastern Nigeria, their historical root, he also returned to the village almost penniless but also helped his master to bring back some goods from the store. A lot of Ndigbo had left their possessions, houses and goods in cities like Lagos - the then Federal territory and other states in northern Nigeria due to growing hatred and genoicide against the Igbo race and their lives were no longer guaranteed within the Nigerian republic.
Going to war was sweet but as they went further into the war front, there was a growing number of casualties and people were just dying that it seemed as if they were all doomed to die.
There was rarely anyone surviving so it came to a point when all they wanted to do was to just run away from the Biafran army.
He recalled a colleague of his who died while he was carrying him back on his head for treatment. He died as a result of gunshot wounds. My father later escaped carrying the dead body back. My grandfather did not go to war as he sort of escaped by running into the bush when the army routinely comes to villages to seek for recruits. My other uncles were too young to be taken to war and some children were also dying as a result of malnourishment from the disease called kwashiokor.
Rich men had a way to protect their children from being drafted to the Biafran army as they could buy their way through by donations of cash and recruits from among the poor and young. When the war finally ended after a sign up agreement at a nearby village in Amichi close to our home in Osumenyi, the Biafran survivors started coming back and it wasn't easy settling down. These were men who have seen death with their eyes, a lot of deaths, hunger and some of them even became cannibals during the war just to survive the hunger caused by the Nigerian army.
Yes, cannibalism existed then and even animals like rats, lizards, snakes and others were so scarce during those days. When they finally came back, there was really a lot of arms held by people and at times they went on raids on farms and rich people who had livestock and took them by force. People were also killed during those times and it wasn't easy for the warriors to settle down with civilians and other people who stayed behind during the war.
Fighting and surviving a civil was like the Biafran-Nigerian(1967 - 1970) was which lasted for about 2.5 years probably helped a generation like my Father's to have a longer life span and strong-willed approach to life. He never gets discouraged easily and is able to succeed in anything he puts his hands on.
Losses after the war
After the war, a lot of Igbo people who ran away from their homes from places like Lagos to the Eastern land returned only to find out that some of their lands, homes had been taken over unjustly, their bank accounts had been liquidated and a lot of streets formerly bearing Igbo names had been renamed and all these were seen as the losses Ndigbo had to endure as a result of the war.
Also, the former Biafrans were given only 20 pounds in exchange for whatever money they had in Nigeria banks before the war and this further impoverished the Igbos who found it harder to reintegrate into the Nigerian society or take part in investment opportunities such as the indigenisation policy which allows the Yorubas and Hausas to gain more control of foreign companies in Nigeria.
It was not easy for the Igbo people resettling down after the war and their economy had been totally crippled. Some people still died after the war as a result of poverty, depression and the minority status Ndigbo had to endure for a while.
A stronger Igbo race
The good thing is that the Igbo spirit was more united than ever and the will to survive was even much stronger and that's why today, the Igbo race in Nigeria seems to be one of the most industrious and enlightened tribe in Nigeria and they now have many success stories in areas like education, banking, manufacturing, small scale industries and trading. Igbo population which suffered a decline during the war has also multiplied as the survivors had a lot of children during and after those Biafran years. Seeing a single family having up to ten kids was not a surprise!