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The Republic of Biafra: Once Upon A Time In NigeriaMy Story of the Biafra-Nigerian Civil War — A Struggle For Survival (1967-1970)
By Onyema Nkwocha
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 Dr. Onyema Nkwocha
All right reserved.
Chapter OneGrowing up in Igboland (1965-1966)
I was born and raised in Umuochamoko, Amuzi, Ahiara Mbaise in Imo State of Nigeria, in the middle 50's. I was born some ten years before the divisive and deadly fracas and mayhem of 1966 that erupted on the Nigerian political landscape with a roaring-like and fiery volcanic speed. I was fortunate enough to be born into a God-fearing and loving family of Mama Juliana Adaure and Papa Nweze Nkwocha-Emele popularly known as "Ezenwa" Nkwocha-Emele where my father, Papa Ezenwa Vitalis, ruled with iron hand and towered like a Giant, I mean, like a Colossus, but amidst that colossal image, lies beneath a very velvet-hand-like, tender-hearted, loving, protective, caring and industrious rich and God-fearing man! Papa Ezenwa and Mama Julie, I love you both for the kind of parenting you showered me and my siblings with! And I will forever love you both!
Growing up in Igboland prior to, and during 1965-1966 was like being in paradise! It was like being in the Garden of Eden! I was a ten-year-old lad then, jovial, not worrying about anything, not lacking anything, having my parents and siblings around, surrounded with and by great uncles, aunts, nieces, friends and country men and women and attending early formative school days. Life was great; life was fun, enjoyable, vivacious, and rambunctious.
It was heavily punctuated by stern cultural disciplinary actions and consequences when once one missteps out of the cultural boundary line of norm and expectations. Igboland was the best place for one to be born and grow up! There was no other place on earth better and greater than Amuzi in Mbaise, Imo State in Igboland, at least from the views and perspectives of a village ten-year-old boy. But this idealized, idolized dream and fairylike, but actualized life experience will suddenly be brought to an abrupt and screeching halt one certain day on July 6, 1967 when the Biafra-Nigerian civil war first broke out at a place called Gakem in former Cross-River State in South-Eastern Nigeria.
My family, the Nkwochas lived in a big Compound (a common name for each family in Igbo land.) In 1965, I lived in Nkwocha-Emele's Compound in my father's big European style 9-bedroom Brick House, the first brick corrugated aluminum-zinked house ever built in my home town, Umuochamoko Amuzi and certainly among the few built around Amuzi at that time (if any other!) My Father's brick house was built in 1960, having been started in January 1960 and completed, ten months thereafter in October 1960. This singular accomplishment of my father's in 1960 with only Bicycle Repairing as his occupation, was so spectacular and startling that when the Irish Amuzi Parish Reverend Priest, Fr. Carter who was invited to do the House-Blessing was overcome with disbelief that an uneducated man such as my father, Ezenwa, could build such an edifice that he was unabashedly prompted to ask my father through an interpreter who was the Church Catechist, thus: "What is your occupation?, Are you a civil servant?" Father Carter was not in the least prepared for what answer he was to receive from my father following his questions. To his utter dismay, amazement and disbelief, Father Carter's jaws dropped as he heard and observed my father as he (my father) robbed his two hands together and said through the interpreter: "I am a Bicycle Repairer!" The Irish priest was in disbelief. He was dumb-founded, to say the least. He could not believe that there in Umuochamoko and Amuzi as a whole, where there were lots of civil servants who were educated and have gone to, and work in big cities like Aba, Onitsha, Port-Harcourt, Enugu, Ibadan, Lagos, Jos, Kaduna, Kano, Zaria etc., as civil servants and blue collar workers were not able first to build such a magnificent house, but only to be built by non-other than Papa Ezenwa, an ordinary uneducated bicycle Repairer!! Amazing and emulatory!
The truth and revelation that Father Carter discovered in Papa Ezenwa's independent struggle and accomplishments that Saturday in 1960, prompted the Rev. father to use Papa Ezenwa's accomplishment as the following Sunday's Sermon. I was elated and proud of my father. I was even more proud that he was the topic of the Sunday's sermon in which Father Carter continued to express wonder and thus encouraged the entire Amuzi people to emulate Ezenwa of Umuochamoko to start thinking and accomplishing big as Papa Ezenwa had led the way with his European-style modern 9-bedroom-one story brick house- the big house of the Nkwocha Compound! On the day Papa informed us his family that he was going to build a house, my mother, senior sister Rev Cecil Nweze, my junior brother Sabinus and of course myself, were all happy at the news. Edwin would be born in the same month of October when the house was completed.
The building of our family house created all kinds of temporary employment for both the local Umuochamoko adults and children as well. Prior to the ground breaking of the foundation, Papa had already contracted with the local contractor builders who included Da Joachim Odu, the head brick layer, Da Alozie, also a brick layer, Da Ndulo, the carpenter who would organize the roofers and a whole host of other laborers and assistants. It also created contract jobs to outside contractors who supplied the Gwongworo, or trucks and tippers used to transport the building materials such as gravels, sea-sand, pebbles, cements, wire gauze, rods, planks (woods), doors and frames, nails, hinges, corrugated aluminum or Zink pans, paint cans etc. It was electric and I was most excited during this time!
One of the family overseers who assisted Papa whenever he was at the Afor-Ajala market square where his business store was was my Uncle Mercellinus. Da Mercilly (for short) was responsible for measuring and from the Umuochamoko village boys and girls by head- pans, all the locally supplied rain-produced sand and buy earth sand (for building the house and as a supplement to the contracted sea-sand delivered by contractors). Local rain produced sand was usually gathered by using brooms to sweep them together and gathered in heaps or mounds over a period of days or weeks - especially when the rain falls and pile lots of sand on the roads and streets. An announcement of the day Da Mercilly will be measuring and buying the sands will be made. In 1960, each head pan of sand cost about 3 pence (3 pennies) of the British denomination, and so, three head pans of sand were sure to fetch about 9 pennies for a little girl or boy which was a lot of money then. I made some money from selling head pans of sand to papa and used the money to buy sweets, candy in the form of hacks and got into lots of trouble from my mother. I got into trouble because, not only did I not inform my mother first that I earned about 9 pennies for selling three head pans of sand to Papa, but also for spending it on no other thing than "sweet" a delicacy of which any child known to indulge in at the time along with the eating of sardine fish or cooked egg was regarded as one who would grow to be a burglar, or a criminal of some sort! From that punishment, I learned my lessons and a great one indeed which would guide me into my adult years in life. Looking back, today I thank my mother for parental redirections, punishment or what is commonly now called time-out!
It was on a Monday when the building contractors came to break the ground for the building of the house. I was there that day and as usual, Papa went to his business work at Afor-Ajala. As the ground was broken and the shapes of the rooms marked and the foundation started, I remember pointing to one of the outermost rooms near my mother's kitchen as my own room, the room on the right hand corner of the house as one seats at the porch and faces the Nkwocha Obiri-Ama. Obiri-Ama is, the common family hall for gathering, receiving visitors, sharing evening stories and for hosting all sorts of occasions and events. Unknown to me at the time, I did not realize that Da Joachim, the head brick-layer, observed and heard when I pointed to that particular room as my room. Papa usually leaves home at 6.00 AM sharp for work and comes back between 6 and 7:00 PM, or a little bit earlier or later depending on the nature of his work on that day. As Papa returned home from work that day, two things happened. First was that Da Joachim informed Papa that I, his Opara, (first male child), said that the room at the right hand corner is my room. And just like I said it, that room belonged to me to this day. As I grew up, Papa gave me that room saying, "you were the first to make a choice of that room during its foundation. I will give it to you. It belongs to you!"
The second thing that happened that evening as Papa returned from work was that after seeing the many number of rooms in the foundation, he counted and in all there were twelve rooms, each measuring about 15' x 19', he was shocked and said there were too many rooms and thus proceeded to instruct the head brick-layer, Da Joachim, to go ahead and close three of the potential rooms and leave it at 9 rooms. That's how we got a smaller "big" house, otherwise, our BIG House would really have been a very great BIG house of 12 rooms! Today, I think Papa made a mistake here because in latter years, the need for more room would arise given the size of Papa's family. And after its construction of only a period of nine months (January to September 1960), Papa Ezenwa nicknamed the house "Cathedral" and to this day, Papa refers the Big house as my Cathedral!
We moved into this house in October 1960 and it was in this big house that my brother Edwin became the first to be born into it.
It was in this Big house that my siblings and I were raised, beginning at my 5th year. It was this Big house that provided us with the sense of comfort and security that we had as the trouble in Northern and Western Nigeria kept brewing and rumors of war kept filtering in some six to seven years after we moved into the house. Also, in this Big house were my sister Janevive, my brothers Fabian, Charles, late Anthony and late Michael were later born. This Big house created and built in me, a perspective of bigness in life and big world out there - as Papa imperceptibly injected in us as a whole. It was in this Big house that together, Papa and Mama built and cultivated in us, a sense of importance, ability to struggle and work hard to accomplish our goals and whatever we set our hearts and minds at. It was in this Big house that we were molded, all sense of fear and negativism stripped from us, especially as Papa roared like a lion when it came time to instruct us, the children not to fear anything out there in life and in the future, but always to work hard and trust in God Almighty- as Papa always addressed GOD! And I admired these things whenever I hear such admonishing, yet instructive and constructive coachings from Papa and Mama. With moist eyes and tears in my eyes, I dare say and share with the reader that, during the course of writing this book, on April 23, 2009, the colossus, lion and Iroko of a man, my father, Papa Vitalis Nweze Nkwocha, passed away at a ripe and more than accomplished age of 83. Adios Papa, until we meet again. It was my pleasure being your child! Papa, thank you for being my father and for showing me the light!!
In fact, Mama and Papa brought us and knew us very well that they were able to anticipate, predict and understand our different demeanors, moods and anticipations, questions, answers, action and reactions, etc., that could not have come from anywhere else other than through good parental up-bringing. In general, our parents instilled in us the values of absolute trust in God Almighty, hard-work, honesty, commitment, loyalty, good parental and sibling values, ability to dream and think big and accomplish and enjoy big, law abiding, to love our neighbors, respect one another and fellow human beings and all the golden rules of life. In the end, as we the children "graduated" from our parents' Big house, and home and then, ventured into the world of work and life in general, we discovered and realized that there was no other greatest gift that our parents could have given us than the confidence we have that that they believed in us. In fact successfully passing through the rigors and crucibles of Mama and Papa's family education and total up bringing of us, we knew we earned their confidence. I mean, we the children, earned that confidence! As I was growing up, it was from this Big house, the "Cathedral" that I first stepped my feet into formal elementary school. That basic educational journey of my life, punctuated by mirth and sometimes frustrations of growing up, day dreaming and childlike-euphoria of all kinds will be shared with the reader in chapter 3. But first, a look at my maternal home at Umuoda Nguru as that is part of my root that helped shape my life to this day.
Chapter TwoMy Maternal Home Umuoda Nguru: My Grand Mother and Uncle Innocent Ahiazunwa
December and the pomp and pageantry of Christmas always finds me at Umuoda Nguru, my maternal home -the second best home of my life!! Prior to the Biafra-Nigeria civil war, my brothers, sisters and I were known for frequenting Umuoda, our maternal home. There were obvious reasons for that. Umuoda is in Nguru Mbaise. From Umuochamoko, our own village to Umuoda is about a distance of 4 -5 miles, some 30 to 45 minutes walk, less than 15 minutes by bicycle and definitely less than 5 minutes by car. At first, growing up as kids, my father always took us by bicycle to our maternal home and we walked with our mother anytime we went to visit our Grand Mother, now late Monica Nwannedi-ya Oguledo. As we grew up and learned the art and skill of bicycle riding, we naturally relieved our parents that obligation of taking us to our Grand Mother's home.
Growing up in Nigeria in the 1960's was not so close to growing up here in America, but similar, nonetheless. Here in America, at toddler age, children begin to and are taught the art and skill of bicycle ridding. Not so in Nigeria, nor in Biafra then for obvious reasons. There were not enough resources designed for children to grow up with such as myriads of toys as we have them here in America, let alone children's bicycles. What was available in Nigeria then were mostly adult bicycles and one has to reach a certain age before one can have the height and ability to mount adult bicycles in order to learn to ride. Between the ages of 7 and 8, my father personally taught my sister and I how to ride a bicycle. Later on my sister and I began to teach our other siblings beginning with Sabinus who walked on foot for two days and two nights to Port Harcourt, a journey and road distance of about 58-65 miles where he played a significant role during the war (discussed later in the book). By 1965, I was experienced in bicycle riding and I began to relieve my father quite a bit in and from mundane domestic chores such as running local errands, transporting my mother to the market, to the church, our maternal home and fetching water from the local stream at Ekeonummiri, Amakaohia, Ikeduru or going from one house or the other to Papa's debtor to collect monies they owed to my father from repairing their bicycles or bicycle parts bought and installed for them.
Excerpted from The Republic of Biafra: Once Upon A Time In Nigeria by Onyema Nkwocha Copyright © 2010 by Dr. Onyema Nkwocha. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Author's Statement: Why Did I Write The Book?....................5
1. Growing up in Igboland (1965-1966)....................33
2. My Maternal Home Umuoda Nguru: My Grand Mother and Uncle Innocent Ahiazunwa....................39
3. Going to School before the Civil War....................47
4. The Genesis of the Republic of Biafra....................62
5. The Events of January 15, 1966: The First Igbo Led-Military Coup D'etat....................68
6. His Excellency, Major General J.T.U. Aguiyi Ironsi....................73
7. His Excellency, General Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, another Savior!....................81
8. General Yakubu Gowon....................93
9. Hausa-Fulani Led Counter Coup D'etat. July 29. 1966:....................100
10. The Pogrom: The Massacre of the Igbos and Ethnic Cleansing in Northern and Western Nigeria and Mass Exodus of the Igbos....................104
11. My Sister Cecilia Goes to Secondary School (January 1967)....................111
12. Awolowo Tricks Ojukwu into Declaring the Sovereign State of Biafra....................117
13. "On Aburi We Stand": The Aburi Accord And Other Peace Talks (Jan 4-7, 1967)....................128
14. The Birth of Biafra Ojukwu Declares the Independence of the Republic and Sovereign State of Biafra, May 30, 1967....................136
15. Neighboring African Countries Recognize Biafra....................147
16. Civil War Brokeout at Gakem, July 6, 1967....................152
17. Uncle Mercellinus Enlists and Joins the Biafran Army, and Sabinus Goes to Port Harcourt on Foot....................159
18. Military Conscription into The Biafran Army and Intensive Civil Defense (Middle 1968-1969)....................170
19. "Win-the-War-School": Going to School during the War in Make-Shift School Houses....................181
20. I Joined the Local Amuzi Boys Brigade – Para Military Training Activities:....................186
21. Captain Celestine Udo-oma Kaduru & His Wedding....................197
22. The Ahiara-Declaration, 1969 "The Principles of the Biafran Revolution"....................204
23. Amuzi St. Jude's Catholic Church Stampede....................213
24. Surviving the Biafra War: Life of the Igbos during the War - Land Army, and "Combing" Activities in Biafra....................218
25. War Myths, Rumors and Fears, Galore: "They Say, They Say"....................225
26. KEEPING MORALE HIGH: THE POWER OF WAR SONGS, VOICE OF BIAFRA PROPAGANDA AND OKOKON NDEM....................230
27. Papa Ezenwa Gets Poisoned with Nsi-Agba (Discoloration of the Skin Poison Disease)....................243
28. Mama Juliana Learns the Soap-Making Business and Trade....................249
29. Papa Ezenwa Takes me to Afor-Aja-Ala....................257
30. Research and Produce (R.A.P) War Weapons Facilities and the Biafran Ogbunigwe Bomb....................265
31. Nigeria's Fighter and Bomber Jets Bomb Neighboring Villages....................275
32. Judge Nwazota Takes Residence At Umuoda, in My Uncle Innocent's House....................282
33. Papa Camouflages our House with Palmfronds....................288
34. The war Rages on - War Casualties, Biafra losses so many cities and recaptures so many....................293
35. Nigerian Government Blockades Biafra, Starvation, the Kwashiorkor Epidemic/Deaths, CARITAS & Other Relief Organizations....................300
36. The Weary and Receding Days of the War....................320
37. Ojukwu's Self-Imposed Exile to Ivory Coast - January 9, 1970....................326
38. The War Ends: "No Victor No Vanquished!" Lt.-Col. Effiong Announces Surrender of Biafra, January 12, 1970....................333
39. Re-integration of Biafrans into One-Nigeria and Life in Igboland after the Civil War, 1970 and Beyond!....................353
40. Ojukwu Returns to Nigeria from Self-Exile, 1982....................365
41. Why I Think Biafra Lost the War, an Opinion....................373
42. But Unless the Lord Builds The House!....................385