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My Biafran Story

My Biafran Story .org website is a collection of eye witness accounts of the Nigerian-Biafran civil war.


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                                                                             Another Biafra Story

                                                                                    Allan Hall

                                                                              Abakaliki 1966/67


Dear Editor,

            It seems that the FON letters to the editor are becoming an archive repository for Biafra War stories so I will put my two cents worth in for future researchers.

I was part of Nigeria 24 (Ag/Rd) which trained at U.C. San Diego and flew to Nigeria in 1966. I was stationed in Abakaliki which was located near the Northern border. I partnered with Keith Hill and our job was to assist the Ministry of Works in constructing reservoirs using heavy earth moving equipment. The reservoirs contained water that was filtered so that villagers would have access to clean drinking and cooking water. We continued working on projects that were started by Dale Lamski whom we were replacing. He taught us a lot about the realities of Peace Corps life. We were housed in little tin shacks that we moved from project to project. One such location was in the same compound that former FON president Mike Goodkind lived.

            Soon after we arrived Biafra seceded the war broke out. Periodically while sitting around a rest house drinking beer and munching on ground nuts an ex-pat would come over and recommend that we should go to Enugu because things were about to get hot militarily speaking. Except for getting there it was great fun for us to stay at the Presidential Hotel, eat well and socialize all on the Peace Corps tab. But getting to Enugu was a challenge. In most of Biafra there were three types of roadblocks; Police, Army and Civil Defense. The Police roadblocks were the easiest as they were manned be police who were reasonably well educated, trained and fairly well informed. The army checkpoints were challenging and time consuming as they were suspicious, lower rank and well-armed. The Civil Defense roadblocks were the scariest as they were usually manned by uneducated elders (all the younger men having gone to the army) who were armed with Dane guns and who were full of rumored “information” about white mercenaries (or was it missionaries).

            Eventually the Biafran army came and commandeered the earth movers, tractors, dump trucks and anything else they could use in their war effort. The Peace Corp. took the stand that it was going to tough it out in this “police action” and not be seen as an organization that would cut and run at first sight of violence. After five or six trips back and forth between Enugu and Abakaliki we were finally advised that the total blockade around Biafra would be lifted temporarily so that we could evacuate. A Greek freighter was to sail into Port Harcourt in two or three weeks and all volunteers were to be transported out of the country and harm’s way.

            The Peace Corp staff had mapped out every volunteer’s location and drafted pick-up assignments. I was in charge of one of the three or four van convoys. We were to drive from Enugu to Port Harcourt picking up volunteers on the way. The hardest part was coming into a village or small town, finding the PCV and informing them that they had about 20 minutes to pack 44 pounds of luggage say good bye to their friends, neighbors, chiefs, Headmasters and students they had lived with for months or years and leave. 

            Every convoy had a personal letter of passage signed by Col. Odumegwu  Ojukwu himself.  So we should have been able to breeze down the road through the roadblocks. Unfortunately, the ones manning them who could read did not believe that such a god like figure would write such a letter for mere mortals, so it was useless. My first passenger was not a volunteer but the director, Del Lewis, which was an asset except when, early on, we happened on a civil defense roadblock. Because Del, an African American, didn’t speak Igbo the locals were convinced that they had discovered a Hausa or Fulani. Seeing them put a Dane gun to his head was one scary sight. I didn’t realize that I could speak Igbo so fast to calm the situation but we got out of their by the skin of our teeth. What was both humorous and frustrating was coming upon three roadblocks in a row each within sight of the other (police, army and CD). Each one searching the suitcases or backpacks or purses. Mostly they were curious about what these Europeans hid in their boxes.

            After picking up our assigned volunteers we arrived in Port Harcourt in time to board the Greek Freighter. They had made rectangular markings on the floor of the ship’s hold and each evacuee was assigned a space for the trip to Accra, Ghana. I don’t recall much about the trip except that we drank a lot of wine and were fed peanut butter sandwiches and got sea sick. Once in Accra we were transported to University of Ghana in Legon. I remember a Peace Corps official, C Payne Lucas, giving us various choices of going home or to another country. He was especially convincing in the Peace Corps way of selling my group on going to Somalia (“they hate Americans, they spit on you and throw sand in your face”). So most of my group went there and I understand that that is pretty much what happened to them.

Four of us, Bob Claflin, Jon Seale, Jim Hammons and myself made our way to Malawi (where they didn’t throw sand in our face) to finish our Peace Corps careers.


(This account was first published in the Fall 2013 issue (Vol.18, No 1, page 12) of the Friends of Nigeria newsletter. It was sent to me via e-mail) 


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