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Before the fall of Port Harcourt in 1968, there was a long-distance shelling from the high seas. The shell was falling so rapidly on Port Harcourt and became a threat to life. Prior to this time my younger ones and my mum had been evacuated to Nkwerre. I was working with Directorate of Petroleum at the time, so I stayed back in Port Harcourt with my father.

When we decided to evacuate PH, we carried a few items that were valuable, such as our Television, to a neighbour’s house. He was Mr. Graham-Douglas, a lawyer at the time, and he kept those things for us until the end of the war. We then loaded as much property as we could into my father’s car. I had a parrot I was very fond of but there was no room for it in the car so we simply opened its cage and let it out. We set off and the parrot also took off. It kept flying over us and when there was a hold-up it would hover close to the vehicle. It tracked our vehicle until we passed Elele and lost it and carried on.

It was around here that we saw my cousin, Mmagwu. She had her luggage on her back and was carrying her baby in her arms. There was no place for her to sit in the vehicle so I said to her, “Mmagwu, let me have the baby and when you come home you can take her from me.” But she said, “No, no, no! I won’t. Ebe m nwuru ka nwa m’ g’anwu - wherever I die, that’s where my child will die.” She made it to Nkwerre on foot and I was glad to see her a few days later.

I moved to Umuahia and joined the DMI. One day there was an air raid by what I thought was a very vicious Egyptian pilot. It was as though he was targeting me. I ran out from the Peugeot 404 I was driving and ran under a tree just as bullets started raining on the tree. One of them came towards my forehead but instead it hit a branch, cut the branch, fell on my shoulder and burnt me my right shoulder blade. I was shouting, “Oh my God, is my time up?” At that moment of my dismay, a petrol station exploded close by - kpoooo! People had their hands amputated. Many died. Later, I picked up the bullet and gave it to my friend who was going on a mission to buy weapons for Biafra. I asked him to show it to my sister in London. I wanted her to see the bullet that almost killed me. Many years later, I found out who flew that plane. It wasn’t an Egyptian pilot as I had thought. It was a retired Air Commodore and we are members of Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship. The day I gave the testimony, he got up and apologised and said he was the one who flew that plane. He said that every description I gave was correct, and that they were targeting the fuel station as part of actions to stifle the Biafran nation.

After this incident I joined the Biafran Navy and was sent to the School of Infantry at Bishop Shanahan College, Orlu. I passed out sometime in 1969 and was posted to Defence Head Quarters which was Head Quartered at St Catherine’s Secondary School, Nkwerre. I became a liaison between the School of Infantry, the Navy and the Defence Head Quarters, so I was communicating to Captain Anuku, the Commander of the Biafran Navy, and Lt. Col. Timothy Onwuatuegwu, the commander of the School of Infantry.

For some reason, which I attribute to God’s design, Nkwerre was the only place in Biafra that could not be hit during air raids. The Nigerian Air Force could hit Orlu and Atta but couldn’t hit Amaifeke, Abba, and the areas around Nkwerre. After the war I asked a pilot friend of mine, the late Ibikari Brown, the reason for this. He said from the air Nkwerre is in a valley, which is like a curvature, and when you are trying to hit a target inside that curvature the wind drifts it to one end of the curvature and that’s where it’s going to fall. You invariably miss the valley itself. Whereas if you use a missile, which the Nigerian Air Force wasn’t using then, it will pierce through the condition of the wind and go straight down to the target. So the wind shifts the movement of the bombs and drifts them from meeting the target. That is one of the reasons why the banks, hospitals, training schools, etc, were located at Nkwerre.

As a matter of fact, how I knew the war was about to end was that, on the 11th of January 1970, I had instructions to go and tell the late Colonel Timothy Onwuatuegwu, who was the Commandant at the School of Infantry in Orlu, and late Captain Anuku, the Commander of the Biafran Navy, to proceed to Uga Airport for evacuation out of Biafra. The Biafran government attempted to evacuate prominent people who could either be killed or arrested by the Nigerian soldiers after the surrender. I searched everywhere for Colonel Onwuatuegwu but I couldn’t find him. I was so distraught when I was returning from Ihioma but, all of a sudden, I saw a command vehicle parked on the road. It was Colonel Timothy Onwuatuegwu. I came out of my Q-movement vehicle, saluted him and said, “Sir, I have been looking for you.” He said, “What are you searching for me for?” I said, “I have a message from the DHQ that you should report at Uga Airport for evacuation.” He got very angry and said to me, “Don’t you bring me this kind of message again. A na-eme evacuate for what? Where are we going? All these children that we deceived, what will be their fate? I will die here. Go and tell H.E. [His Excellency] that I’m not going anywhere. I will die in this country. I have already signed my death warrant. Umuaka n’ine anyi deceive ru, ma ndi nwuru anwu, ma ndi di ndu, why are we running away – All these children we deceived, the ones who died, the ones who are alive, why are we running away? We should stay here and die with them.” He refused to come with me. By the way, at the end when General Effiong handed over and Colonel Onwuatuegwu knew he was being sought for, he tried to escape through Cameroon but they caught him at Calabar and killed him. That’s how he died – a very brilliant, nice human being. Anyway, I proceeded to Oguta and informed Captain Anuku to proceed to Uga. He agreed. I then called my younger brother, Reginald, who was a Major and said to him, “There’s a movement tonight. Ojukwu is leaving Biafra tomorrow night. Let’s go to the airport for that evacuation.”

We took one Major Asuquo and a couple of others with us to the airport. We went in a Quarter Master Movement Vehicle, which was in charge of all supplies from Defense Head Quarters. There was chaos at the airport. The check point was manned by the Commander of the Biafran Air Force, and when he was searching our vehicle, he flashed his torch on my face. I squinted and his orderly cocked his gun, demanding to know why I was frowning at his master. Angered, my brother cocked his own Kalashnikov and insisted the Commander should stop flashing the light on my face. Tensions were high and at that point we all knew it was no longer child’s play. Major Asuquo ran out of the vehicle and placated everybody, saying that any shots fired would result in a blood bath, an extra-ordinary implosion, as every uniformed person at the airport was armed to the teeth. They lowered their guns.

We went inside where Ojukwu was addressing people to keep the faith. Then he walked into the flight. I started searching for my brother and somebody said, “He’s in the trench over there.” He was actually there, aiming his gun at the fuel tank of Ojukwu’s plane. It was a Kalashnikov and it had tracer bullets. I ran to him and grabbed him. I said, “Reggie, Reggie. Why, why?” He said to me, “How can this man tell us we will fight to the last man and if we all die the grass will fight on our behalf, and now he wants to be the first to leave? Lambo, do you know the number of people who have died? No, I’m not going to allow him and if you touch me I will shoot you because I know I’m going to die here today.” I let go of him but I said, “You and I don’t really care whether we die here today or not, but the fact is that if you gun down this plane they will go and kill papa and mama, and all our brothers and sisters.” I started naming all our siblings one after the other, and he broke down and started crying. That is how I disarmed him in the trench.

--- Achiugo Lambert Agugua


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Sunday, 22 May 2022

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