• Friday, July 19, 2024
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Biafran war songs and Femi Oyewole’s testimonies


wept bitterly this afternoon after listening to the songs of war (recently released online); the songs we sang those days in the land of the rising sun. I knew and still know most of those songs; I sang them then and even though I was not among the fighters due to my age (not even old enough to join BOFF), I still recollect the impact of those songs of those days. Incidentally, I had my own collection of those songs but which I misplaced along the line. The content of those songs are not necessary now and may not even be relevant but I wept. I wept because those songs relieved painful, sorrowful and mournful memories of what transpired when the entire country chased us (Biafrans, not Igbos) away from anywhere and everywhere and yet refused to let us be! As our people would say, they beat up a child and still would not allow the child to cry. As those songs came on with some picture and video footage, I had no choice than to remember. I remembered because I saw it all! I remembered the indiscriminate bombing of schools, churches, markets, playgrounds and even refugee camps. Indeed, the famous Nkwo-Igboukwu was relocated to a very thick forest (Udochioso, probably our own Sambisa forest) and businesses lasted from around 5-7 am.

I remembered the refugees at the St Anthony’s Catholic School, Osumenyi camp: the hunger, sickness and regular deaths. The dead could not be mourned because people were too hungry to cry and in any case, death had become too common and lost its rareness; it was a regular occurrence. I remembered the refugees, men and women of means in their own rights who suddenly became nobodies, economic parasites and social nonentities because there was no means of living whole lives again. I remembered those who died of kwashiokor, especially their helpless and hopeless visages as they were about to give up the ghosts. I remembered the total dehumanization, pauperization and destruction of Biafran peoples, their land, their economy and their everything. And yet, it was termed a “police action” between brothers who stood in brotherhood even though tribes and tongues differed. I remember the schooling years most of us lost (though I lost only a year) and the misorientation of an entire generation of Igbos whose only concern was how to survive after the war. I remember all the survival theatricals of those days including eating cassava and cocoyam leaves, rats and lizards. I remember how we used to reinvent batteries to last almost forever so as to hear the authoritative voices of Onwuzurigbo Umezurike and Oko Okoo Ndem.

I remember the struggle for relief and especially the day when one young man used a piece of stockfish to scatter the dental architecture of an elder-just because of the battle for survival. I remember how our young girls sold their pride and womanhood in the infamous ‘ahia-attack’ (trade behind enemy lines). I remember how our hopes were raised by the Aburi Accord and how our traducers callously discarded the freely signed agreement. I remember how initially, people volunteered in large numbers to join the war efforts and how eventually people were conscripted forcefully for the same war. I remember how we used to cover one of my uncles in the farm with palm fronds so as to avoid conscription. I remember my uncle, Eric Umeweni, who died probably in the last days of the war and how we expected him every day from January 1970 until he was burred ‘in absentia’ years later. These are the realities which I witnessed in those days and these Biafran war songs reloaded these pains and anguish and I wept profusely and bitterly. I wept about what would have been that was not and is not.

Incidentally, a day earlier (11/1/16) I had read the testaments of General (I have elevated him to a general) Femi Oyewole on how and why he fought on the Biafran side. I recall that I read his book, The Reluctant Rebel, about 40 years ago (when the thirst for the truth about Biafra consumed me and I read everything and anything about Biafra). The interview is a must-read on its own but five issues touched me deeply. These are how the Ifeajuna coup could not have been targeted at particular tribes; how Asiodu (the same Asiodu who runs his mouth about what to do to and with Igbos) and his cohorts led us to where we were and possibly where we still are by treating the Aburi Accord with callous levity; the lie that Biafran soldiers seized the food meant for civilians as the author(s) of hunger as legitimate instrument of war had propounded and how easy it was to refine oil in Biafra; the same refining process and politics that has been an albatross on the neck of Nigerians and a sure route to outlandish wealth by the well-connected – Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba, Efik and what-have-you; and the fact that the variables that created the road to Biafra are still with us. And of course, he was a core Yoruba man who stood with Biafra to the end!

When I recall all these things and add them to some of the happenings and comments around us, I am sad. Our president, a self-acclaimed repentant democrat, appointed about 40 members of his inner caucus and they were almost all from his village or zone and reminded us that he has Ngige and Onu in his cabinet. Somebody like Itse Sagay saw nothing wrong in that because he was appointed to head a committee that was dead on arrival. Out of the six key national positions (president, vice, senate president, speaker, CJN and SGF), the South-East zone got none and our various rights activists suddenly became speechless. The other day, Oshodi market was callously demolished together with the traders’ wares so as to make Lagos world-class. It need not be targeted at Igbos but wherever anything happens at any market in Nigeria, Igbos go into mourning. And our brother Joe Igbokwe says it is alright and that Igbos should learn to behave. Even for those not affected, a slave who sees another buried alive should know that his turn would soon come.

The realities and dynamics of 1966 are different from those of 2016. But we must tell the truth about Biafra and there must be equity for all in Nigeria. Nigeria must be for all Nigerians and this is not just about Igbos; it is about the Tangles in Bauchi; the non-Moslem communities in Adamawa State; Bishop Kukah’s kinsmen in so-called Southern Kaduna and all those who are treated as if they are being tolerated in this country. The Kanuists and IPOBians may be young, idealist, living in fantasy-land and may not understand what they seek. But as the loquacious Sarkin-Kano declared once, those who did not witness the war may not tolerate what those who saw the war would tolerate. I have stopped weeping and that is why I was able to pen this. Forgiving is quite different from forgetting, especially when the wound is just skin-deep and there are no efforts at genuine healing. I will still comment more fully on the national question which is mischievously and unfortunately being treated as just an Igbo Question but for now, I have spoken.

Ik Muo