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F.N.N: My Biafran Story

 


As Told to Vivian U. Ogbonna

 


Wednesday, 21 June 2017.



“One day, directly opposite our house at Number 62 St. Michael’s Road, Aba, there was an attack. One woman was walking past with a child on her back. The blast cut off her head but she kept moving and walked for a short distance, then fell face down. When the smoke cleared, we saw her child. He was crying, saying, “Mama, kunie k’anyi na.” [“Mama, get up, let us go home.”] – F.N.N.

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The experience of the war was terrible. I doubt if there’s any emotional clinic one can go to wipe away those effects. No. I think we’ll live with it for the rest of our lives. We can’t escape it. As I’m sitting down here what are you going to tell me to erase that experience from my mind?


One day, directly opposite our house at Number 62 St. Michael’s Road, Aba, there was an attack. One woman was walking past with a child on her back. The blast cut off her head but she kept moving and walked for a short distance, then fell face down. When the smoke cleared, we saw the child. He was crying, saying, “Mama kunie k’anyi na.” [“Mama, get up, let us go.”]


It was just opposite our house. I saw it life. I can still visualize it. We were by the door watching everything. You know, once the air craft dives in and bombs, it takes off. There was smoke. Very thick black smoke took over the entire place. The woman was a passer-by. Her son could have been five or six but he may have been looking smaller than his actual age due to malnutrition. We ran inside when the attack started. Normally, you run under the bed, the spring bed, so that even if blocks start falling they will fall on the mattress and cushion the effect.


Another day we were playing outside, far away from the house, when an aircraft started attacking. We took off and ran behind the Iroko tree. The bunker where we normally run into was far off from where we were, so we were now revolving round the Iroko tree. If the aircraft is coming from the right we go to the opposite side of the tree and hold onto ourselves till it zooms past.  If it’s coming from the left we run to the other side. We didn’t lie flat or go into the bunker because if it’s a bomber, dropping bombs and moving, it will bury the person alive so it was a nightmare. It was a nightmare.


At that age my mind was not fully developed so I was not really scared because we’ve been seeing a lot. I had seen soldiers, naval people, they pass through the front of our house in Orlu. So many will pass but few will return. Those that come back will have a lot of injuries. But with the bombings of buildings, smoke, people running helter-skelter, when you see people hysterical, running as if they want to disappear into thin air, then the fear started coming and it’s not good for a child.


The images I saw as a child during that war, I still have them. Anything that can affect the psyche of a child is something very serious. Now if I hear the sound of a serious gun I feel uncomfortable. If I hear the sound of a machine gun now I know it’s a machine gun and my mind goes back. During one of my visits abroad, they were celebrating their Air Force day and I didn’t know. If you saw the way fighters and bombers were moving, I think my heart stopped beating for some time until I got myself back. My friend said, “No cause for alarm. It is Air Force day.” The sounds brought back memories of what I knew.


At Orlu and Aba, myself and my cousins were just living in the open. That was when I learned how to tap wine. It was not because I wanted something to eat. It’s just that we were not busy. Before we started having lessons, everybody was free. There was confusion and idleness. But I used to see palm wine tappers up there so I went up like them and, using iron and hammer, I drill a hole towards the top of the palm tree and fluid will start coming out and I will use calabash and hold the liquid. I will tie it the way palm wine tappers will tie it and leave it there. By watching people climb I got expertise in climbing. Even after the war, if I’m climbing I can move from one tree to another tree expertly and very high up.


In Aba, there were no trees to climb but the house where we were living in has a decking so I will climb to the decking and jump from there into a trip of sand. It was a very rough life. To jump over a fence was nothing for me. I was obviously reacting to the trauma I experienced. Before the war I was riding tricycles and such things but one became hardened during the war and you begin to see things you’re not supposed to see as a child. You see soldiers marching to war carrying guns but when they’re returning you’ll see real injuries. Some can no longer walk. They’ll be carried, then you’ll understand the seriousness of it.


After that Aba incident I became withdrawn. Even with my rough nature, once my father was not at home I don’t step outside. My natural self that lives outside and feels very free became withdrawn. I am always by the edge, my ears always very sharp, listening for the sound of air craft. So if an air craft is far away I will pick the sound and inform people and they will begin to take position. To the extent that if I’m inside here blindfolded, if a fighter passes, I will know the sound. I also know the sound of a bomber. I could tell the difference even with the eyes of a child. Those fighters that shoot are not very massive. They’re small and very swift. They manoeuvre easily.


The bombers are slow and as they’re passing, they’re dropping [bombs] and they’ll continue on their way. By the time you turn around again everywhere is in darkness, dust, everything. If there was a tree there you won’t see that tree anymore. The tree would have been uprooted and buried.


People were short of medication, so once you fall sick and drugs are not available, you’ll just die. One of my cousins who was a sickler died in Azia because his father who donates blood for transfusion was killed in the Asaba massacre He just died. A brilliant young boy. My relations in Asaba died. The ones that ran away survived. Families were separated. In those days it is mostly the men who work while the women are house wives. During the holidays, the women travel with the children and after the holidays they will take the children back to their base but the war came and separated everybody. Some of my cousins found themselves in a refugee camp.


Everybody was sharing a common toilet and a common bathroom. People use wrapper to demarcate their rooms. Those mothers suffered. That war was something else. You can imagine where there is an attack and a child is separated from the parents permanently, for ever. That child becomes anybody’s child. For people who are still living, if they start searching for their children some of them will find them provided they are still alive.


After the war, we went back to Asaba because there was nowhere else for us to go. We were not living in our own house but in my father’s uncle’s house. That was the only house in the family not affected by the war so the whole extended family was there. Everywhere was jam packed. We sleep in the parlour and everybody has a corner. At night you just go to your corner and sleep. It was terrible - that war.

My dad went back to Enugu and was visiting us from Enugu. He registered us in a public school in Asaba but when we went back to Enugu we continued with Santa Maria where we were schooling before the war. But it was no longer the Santa Maria we knew. All the missionaries were gone.


Later on when I went to Asaba for my secondary school, we used to see skeletons when we’re digging the ground. You can imagine seeing skeletons. We just cover them and move on. Now I know what a skeleton is. But seeing it then during the war you may not fully understand that this was a human being.


The suffering was much. That’s why when I see people agitating, making noise, trying to demonstrate, Pro-Biafra this and that, I know those people did not see the war. Anybody who saw the war will not attempt anything that will bring back the memories not to talk about the real thing.


War is bad.

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The contributor of this story wishes to remain anonymous.

 

F.N.N: My Biafran Story

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