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'AFIA ATTACK' - A Soldier's Account

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The thing about Afia Attack is that hunger led people to take all sorts of risks. 

I joined the battle to prevent Awka from falling into the hands of the Nigerian Soldiers. My unit joined the battle in Amansea community but the Nigerian Soldiers kept having the upper hand. I remained in that sector between Awka and Onitsha until we settled at the Ogidi-Nkpor axis where we were responsible for opening up the Biafra One and Biafra Two routes to allow traders from Biafra Two to cross to Biafra One. The hunger was in Biafra Two – the present Anambra South and part of Anambra Central, while the food basket was in Biafra One – present day Anambra North which includes Ogbaru, Anambra West, Anambra East and Ayamelum. Stationed there, from time to time we would strike and dislodge the Nigerian army, and recover places like Iyienu and Nkpor Agu. We would then open up Nkpor road and once we did that the traders waiting on the Biafra One side would rush across with their goods. 

Each time we opened a thoroughfare, we wept. We saw what hunger did to people. It was a terrible experience. I remember the day I saw a cousin of mine, who is a Medical Doctor today, all bloated up, extremely pale in colour, his hair was just white and curly. He was just a little boy of about nine or ten years. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I wept. I said to myself, “Is this my family?” Well, that put the fire in me to fight more. 

Many of those traders were women, and they helped to keep families alive.  They were in two categories. Some of them were there to buy looted property from civilians and even soldiers, because many people left their houses without taking a pin. When soldiers entered those deserted houses there was always this temptation to pick property and sell in other to raise money for food, cigarettes, hot drinks, and other needs of theirs. It was this group of women and some men who usually bought such looted property off the soldiers. They bought from both Nigerian and Biafran soldiers. But the real ‘Afia Attack’ women were those who earned a living by going across boundaries, buying and selling, especially in foodstuff. They supplied soldiers with cigarettes, goof [marijuana] and hot drinks. This endeared them to the soldiers who reciprocated by granting them easy passage to whichever side of Biafra they were going as soon as the passage was secured.  Sometimes these women bribed people to take them across the front line because no matter how vast the area was, the soldiers knew the paths through which they could pass without being detected. They would escort them to a certain point and advise them to lie low until it was safe to cross. If the women were unlucky and the road closed after they had crossed, then they stayed back till the road opened again. And where did they stay? They stayed at the war front. They lived with the soldiers in the bunkers. Women with children. For us young men we jumped at those opportunities. We were happy. What we couldn’t get normally, we got on a platter of gold.

Some Biafran women even offered themselves to Nigerian soldiers in exchange for items like tinned foods and cigarettes. Some were used as spies. They would tell the women, “We will keep you alive but don’t give us away. Just give us information.” So it was give and take. Sometimes when we wanted to attack, we would filter the information the day before and the women would come close. Some would sleep with us in the night and in the morning, before we knew it, they would have crossed. And when they returned they came with all sorts of gifts for us. 

Markets developed around these boundaries. People would wait for the women to return because they were always in a hurry to dispose of their goods. And when they were going back they slept in the bunkers with the soldiers for as long as it took for the road to be opened again. 

But I don’t call them loose women. These were women who were so hard up that they used what they had to get what they needed. They saw their children and everybody around them dying, so they went out determined to help their families. Not only families, the soldiers at the war front were kept alive by those women. These women can never tell you what they did but they sacrificed a lot. They did things that were against the culture of the Igbo people just to survive. Sometimes they were caught by Nigerian soldiers and raped mercilessly. Sometimes they lost their money and other belongings. It was ‘Afia Attack’ that led to the phrase of ‘Di gba kwa oku.’ [To hell with the husband.] That was the origin of that phrase. What husband are you talking about when lives had to be saved? What are you husbanding when your children are dying before you? They made a lot of sacrifices for Biafra, their children, their families. I wish we can single them out and honour them. 

Something else happened during that war. Some Igbos were bold enough to join the Nigerian soldiers when they were driving Biafrans away, following them from place to place as they conquered and penetrated more areas. Some were acting as interpreters. Some, particularly women, were even living with them and giving them information. When they conquered a place they did not always kill people. What they really needed was information such as, “Who and who was here? Which route did they follow? Which way shall we pass?” Information gathering is very important in any war. So these people gave the Nigerian soldiers information. And any area they conquered they just went there and looted. 

That must have been what happened to my father’s house, because he was a wealthy man by the standards of those days. It was a beautiful six-bedroom bungalow, and when they were running away I visited them from the war front and we dug a big pit at the back yard. We carried all our valuables and buried in that pit hoping that whenever we came back we would just dig them up. But when we came back at the end of the war our house was leveled to the ground. Nothing was standing. Not only was the building gone, the place where we buried the property was completely excavated. Nothing was left in that pit. 

War is a horrible thing. It brings out the worst in human beings. The things you won’t ordinarily do, you will find yourself doing them.

--- Igwe (Dr.) Chukwuemeka Ilo 

'AFIA ATTACK' - A Young Girl's Account

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Sunday, 22 May 2022

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