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As a kid, I had a privileged life. We had a fleet of cars in our garage – Cortina, Beetle and others. My mother drove me to school every day and by the age of four I was already answering phone calls. But the war shattered it all.

When the tensions started to build up in 1966, I was almost twelve years old and because we could read the papers, we were fairly engaged in national issues and knew what was happening in the country. The first and second coups had happened and it was exciting as young people like us looked forward to more action. We were reading about Major Nzeogwu, the counter coup, and how Ironsi was abducted, this Major General JT Ironsi, who could fight in the Congo without getting a scratch on his body as long as he held that insignia of a crocodile. It was all very exciting.

By 1967, I was in Class One when we heard Ironsi’s body had been found. Even as children we could feel the clouds gathering. In May, it became inevitable that there’d be war. Eventually, we were asked to go home because Biafra had been declared. Our parents could pretend that everything was okay but if you were a little discerning you could feel the mood of uncertainty. The story continued to evolve aided by the propaganda machinery. In the newspapers we’d see mutilated bodies and read headlines that said, ‘2,000 corpses dumped in the train that came from Markurdi and kano.’

As a Boy’s Scout, I was among those drafted into the Rehabilitation Commission to help in documenting the displaced – those who had escaped the genocide in the north. They needed to be put in IDPs and rehabilitated, and the government of Eastern Nigeria was overstretched. Even as a child, I could discern a spirit of unity and self-help among the people who were involved. They were trying to solve problems and not looking at what they could gain. I didn’t see the walls we now have where a particular person will occupy a position and become a law unto himself.

Eventually, when the first shot was fired at Gakem, people rejoiced. The mood was like, let this thing come, let us fight it and get it over with. We thought it was an event or a contest that would last a few days. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.

I didn’t join the army but my brother, *KK, did. He was about twenty two years old at the time. He was our hero, everybody’s darling. He was precocious both in education and by the force of his character. If he told you, “Stay here,” you’ll have no choice but to stay. He was a John F.K. Kennedy Essay winner and at twenty years old had passed his A-levels with A’s in all the subjects and was to study medicine. He was always the champion during the television program, Telequiz or Telechance, which is similar to ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’ that we have today. His brilliance was remarkable.

My father didn’t want to lose such an exceptional son, so he went to get him out. On seeing him, *KK shouted, “Why should you come here and throw your weight around? What about these other people? Don’t they have fathers?” My father was a sad man when he left. *KK eventually trained with the First Officer Cadet. He fought with the courage of a lion, believing that if he died for the cause the Biafran dream would still be realised. He wrote me every few days from the war front and in one of his letters, he said, “Dearest Emmy, you know where I am? I’m teaching these people some lessons.”

We knew my brother had died because Christmas was by the corner and we hadn’t received the money he used to send every month to relatives and widows in our village. Some of them would get as much as two pounds. By the 28th of December, my mum knew that something had happened to him, especially because she had had premonitions of his death. In a dream, she had seen somebody who looked like my father lying in state. She hit the person and said, “Stand up, it’s not your turn. Let me lie down.” She had another dream where *KK was riding a silver Raleigh bicycle and holding a cock. Symbolically, it is a farewell. *KK had also had his own premonitions. In one of his letters to me, he’d written, “Dearest Emmy, I have played my role. Two kings cannot stay in the same kingdom.” He said he was leaving the stage for me and was sure I’d step into his shoes if he didn’t come back. At the time, those words were like fairy tales to me.

Immediately, my parents started pressing buttons and, after three days, received news that he was in Awgwu, wounded. They left for Awgwu accompanied by one of my sisters who would donate blood to him if he needed it. It was a tortuous journey and when they arrived, the commander wasn’t forthcoming with the truth. Finally he said, “Your worst fear is confirmed. Your son was killed on the 26th of December 1967.” When his death was announced mid-January 1968, my village was like a carnival. He was honoured as a Biafran hero. A small contingent of soldiers stayed with us for one week and every day they’d have a parade in his honour. But after about a week my mother sent them away so we could grieve in peace.

I later asked his friends how he died. They told me the previous day, after smashing their ferret and blocking their progress, he got intoxicated and told his men, “Let’s go and finish it up.” They regrouped to take the airport, which was strategic, but the fire power was overwhelming. His boys abandoned him and he didn’t have any backup. My worst fear was that the Nigerians captured him. But Biafra said they recaptured his corpse. However, when they were leaving, the fight was still heavy so they dug a grave and buried him.

My brother’s death broke everybody and my parents never recovered from it. To make our pain worse, my family was accused of being saboteurs and my parents were taken away. I became separated from my siblings and was detained in several places. In the first [detention] centre, one Sergeant Major was always threatening to kill me. But luck smiled on me when one Captain *Nwogu came to see the people detained. He said I looked familiar and asked if I was *KK’s brother. When I said I was, he was overcome with emotion and pleaded with the Commanding Officer to release me because of the sacrifices my brother had made for the cause. I was taken away to another center where I also found favour with the Commanding Officer. He said he would have made me his Batsman if I wasn’t so young. From there, I was taken to the place where I’d be court – marshaled. I was thrown into an underground bunker but my former French teacher, Dr. *Abel, who was by this time a captain and administrative officer, discovered me there. There was another man, one Captain *Nduka, who was being very overzealous but unknown to him, his wife had been our neighbour at Enugu. When he found out I knew his wife, he softened towards me and after my trial they put me in a hostel.

From there, a staff of the Research and Production Unit took me to my uncle at Umuahia, from where I went to Uzuakoli. I returned to Umuahia to stay with my cousin, *Nancy, who had just got married. When Umuahia fell, I was bundled away to stay with some family friends, the *Onyemas. Some of my mother’s relations, the *Okwuchis, were living with the *Onyemas at the time and they showed me much kindness. But my ordeals were far from over. I had to eat foods I didn’t like and was not allowed to go to school. Instead, I was forced to go to the farm every morning, something I had never done before. Eventually, another of my cousins, *Nma, traced me to the *Onyemas and took me back to her house where she gave me the treat of my life. Mrs. *Onyema wasn’t happy about this and complained that I was being spoiled. So, to avoid friction, *Nma asked me to return to them. I took my bag and trekked in the bush paths back to the *Onyemas, 14 km away. My hosts were still determined to make me proficient in farm work, so they sent me back to the farm. There, I saw a python and, overcome with fear, I ran home, packed my clothes in a raffia bag and sneaked away at about 5.00 am.

During this time I had become wealthy selling cigarettes. *Nma had a friend called *Buster, who was a big boy in Ahia Attack. He sold cigarettes, salt, canned foods, milk and other scarce commodities and would often give me cigarettes to sell for him. But I became envious of his relationship with *Nma who was my world. I stopped speaking to her and *Buster assumed I was missing my parents. I insisted on returning to Owerri which had just been liberated, so *Nma found people who were going there. We all set off, walking from Umuaku through Umunze to Ekwulobia and finally, to Orlu, where my sister was. Immediately she saw me she declared the war would soon end.

One of my uncles was less than pleased to see me but when I offered to give him money, he was curious about the source. I told him I was selling cigarettes and he would always ask me to give him some. Other times, he’d say I should lend him fifty pounds or such amounts. I would give him and his attitude towards me started changing. So did the dynamics of our relationship because we started discussing issues and taking decisions about the family. He would even lavish praise on me. But I saw through him and never failed to remind him of his debts.

I became wealthy again at the end of the war when people broke into the Central Bank of Biafra. I had so much money on me – from sales of cigarettes and the one carted from the Central Bank. We bought fuel from the black market and headed to Enugu where many houses had ‘OCUPID’ wrongly spelt on them. People hadn’t returned fully so we found an empty house and moved in for the night. With the money in my hands, my sisters cooked the next day and we ate like we hadn’t done in a long while. Overstuffed, we fell asleep. There was electricity but there was no water. I then remembered a stream at Agbani and went to search for it. It eventually became the source of water for us and other returnees.

We were happy to be together – me, my sisters and uncle. We started to settle in. But one day, I left again. I went to look for my parents.


(The contributor of this story wishes to remain anonymous)


Immune to horror.
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Sunday, 22 May 2022

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