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mybiafranstory.org Photo Credit - A. Ketebu

I was working at Textile Mills Aba when they came and conscripted us. They just took us to Aba Sports Stadium, near Ngwa Road. The whole stadium was filled with people.

We had group pictures. The one I took with my group I can’t find it. I kept it all this time.

The military people used to come and train us. We did it for about three months. Male and female o. They didn’t train the girls separately o. There’s nothing like you are a girl. Your commander, whatever he says, that’s what you will do.  No going back. Whether you like it or not. When it’s time for us to take cover, everybody will lie down. They showed us how to handle a gun, how to lie down, how to... when they say... erh...what’s that their slang again? ‘Preseeeeent arm!’ You present your arm. ‘Preseeent arm!’ You raise it like this. [She lifts her arms]. When they ask you to shoot, you know that thing is not a real gun, then they’ll show you what to do. [She makes the sound of gun shots with her mouth] Kpa-kpa-kpa-kpa-kpa-kpa. They will shout, “Order!” You bring out your leg. So all that training is what they were doing. But, no, they didn’t allow us to use a real gun. I’m not sure they had it in mind.

We’ll go in the morning and come back in the evening. They gave us uniform. They didn’t camp us. We were coming from our houses.  Even then, my father and mum won’t allow me. They were so scared that we should...arh! [She claps her hands].

They just wanted the first batch to go and assist the real soldiers. We were not the real soldiers. They didn’t train us to that level. The real army was in the war front. This militia was just to go and support them. They sent some to Abagana, Port Harcourt, wherever they know the fight was fierce they sent them there. They were there, helping the casualties, like Red Cross. The women, they were using them in the refugee camps, but my parents refused. They say I won’t go, they won’t allow me to follow them out again. That was the end of my militia training.

In our own case it was this stick they gave us. But the people they were training to go to war front they gave them real gun and showed them what to do, how to use the trigger, how to do this and how to do that, take cover, lie down.

We were excited, yes, especially in the morning when our commander will start chanting ‘Hep! Hep! Hep! Hep!’ [She starts to march.] All of us, we were so excited carrying our guns. But we were scared o. They said all the people that went to the front didn’t come back. So when they conscript some people they will be pretending they are sick or something is wrong with them. They will say they have been in the psychiatric ward, yes. War is not something you wish to experience a second time. Very bad.

The war was not easy o. Not easy. Hei. The air raid will come in the morning from 10.00 o’clock to 12.00 o’clock. It will come again by 4.00 pm in the evening till around 5.00 pm. My mother dug a big bunker, so when the air raid starts all of us will go there and stay. In the morning my mother will disguise herself, paint her face with this black uri, then she will bring a basket with food to us. When she drops it she will quietly go back to the house. Throughout that day we’ll be there. Inside that bunker. Lying down. The little food she’ll bring to us that’s what we’ll eat until evening. After that second air raid all of us will then go back to the house. 

There was one air raid at Aba. Look at me. You see this thing here. [She touches a scar on her leg.] It was some of the bullets from that air raid. One afternoon like this the air raid came. It killed so many people near our house. Some of it fell inside one of the rooms in our house. Number 3A Asa Road Aba.  That is where we were living. It shook the whole house. It was then Ojukwu came to our house. That was the first time we saw Ojukwu.  He came with his people. They came and removed the bomb. Big something like this. Come and see dead corpses everywhere. [She touches a scar on her hand]. A piece of that bullet was in me for more than one year before it came out. [She touches her hand again] See the marks. This one, this one. It was moving round my body before they brought it out.

After that air raid we started running. From Aba we ran to Umuahia. From Umuahia we ran to Mbano. From Mbano to Nkwerre. From Nkwerrre, myself, my sister and her husband, and the last born of my mother went to Umuchu. We were at Umuchu when the war ended. We came back to Nkwerre. My parents were at Nkwerre. From Nkwerre we all started coming back to Port Harcourt.

Our parrot from the war followed us till after the war. Pretty boy, that’s what we called the parrot. It followed us till after the war. It was very intelligent. Even when they bombed our house in Aba, the parrot was there. We were hearing they were forcing women into marriage so our mother used to rub uri on our faces. If you see how our faces looked. Pretty Boy will give us sign that the soldiers are coming. When they come close to the house he will start asking them questions, “What are you doing here? What are you doing here?” [She laughs.] Then my mother will start crying and speaking Hausa to the soldiers. My mother, she’s a linguist. If it is Hausa, she will speak. If it is Yoruba, she will speak. Many languages. The parrot knew all our names. Pretty Boy. Yees! If you put sugar in his water he will drink. If you do something wrong he will gossip about you, unless you give him that sugar then he won’t talk. If not, when mama comes he will tell her everything you did.

--- A. Ketebu

[Cover Photo shows a younger Miss Ketebu during the war. It was taken by Gorgeous Studios, 42 St. Micheal's Road, Aba.]



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Sunday, 22 May 2022

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