ByÂ Chidi Nkwopara
The 30-month old Nigeria/Biafra war ended on January 1970,Â with thousands of people dying on both sides of the internecine conflict. But 40 years after the war ended, death continued to stalk the land and indeed several individuals lost their lives simply because they ignorantly and innocently handled or came in contact with explosives and other weapons of mass destruction left uncleared and unexploded in South East communities since the end of the war.
Most of these weapons were developed by Biafran scientists as a matter of necessity following the blockade of Biafra which consequently could not import needed armament to prosecute the war.Â They included fountain pen grenade, Ojukwu bucket, varying models of rocket, shore battery and the famous Ogbunigwe, among other very effective explosives. All these have become history as the Federal Government was not interested in harnessing the potentials of these scientists after the war.
The theatres of the war covered the present day Imo, Abia, Anambra, Rivers, Cros River, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Enugu, Benue and Ebonyi states. However, the position of Imo State in the Nigerian civil war was very unique. Before the eventual surrender that marked the end of the war, Owerri changed hands a couple of times between Nigerian and Biafran troops.
The Madonna Etiti angle housed Emeka Ojukwuâ€™s Tactical Command Headquarters, infantry training and other specialist institutions like the Biafran Refinery, logistic bases and hospitals. The Biafran armament manufacturing depot was located at Aquinas Secondary School, Osu.
A lot of these explosives were either abandoned at several points when the soldiers retreated or those manning the landmines hadnâ€™t the guts to fire the explosives when enemy forces advanced. The result was that a number of people were either killed or maimed by these unexploded ordinances (UXO). Those who live far from the war affected zones would not really appreciate the dangers inherent in living with UXO or the serious damage they have done to the citizens and their land.
Apparently disturbed by reports of deaths occasioned by UXOs, the Federal Government, in fulfillment of its obligation as one of the 183 signatories to the Ottawa Convention, directed the Federal Ministry of Defence to remove landmines from the soil of the war affected areas.
Governor Ikedi Ohakim jumped at the development. He told Vanguard Metro that the removal of the UXOs would not only fulfill a world obligation but would ultimately save lives of Imo people who have been living with these explosive devices in the past 40 years.
In a message delivered on his behalf by his Deputy, Dr. Ada Okwuonu, during the destruction of recovered explosive remnants of war and unexploded ordinances in Imo State, Governor Ohakim said the event called for sober reflection.
â€œAlthough the Nigeria/Biafra war ended 40 years ago, there are still vestiges of the war as exemplified by the landmines, unexploded ordinances and explosive remnants being destroyed today,â€Â Ohakim said.
It was his considered opinion that these explosives constitute serious danger to Imo people, pointing out that the war which was fought in the entire Eastern Nigeria ended in the state, thereby leaving many dangerous unexploded ordinances.
He further reasoned that â€œthe removal of these ordinances from the ground gives us more room for industrial and agricultural development, as well as accords with the Clean and Green Initiative of the state governmentâ€.
While commending the Federal Ministry of Defence for saving the lives of Imo people, Ohakim however pleaded with the Ministry that â€œthere are a few more places to be cleared and some war equipment left behind should be cleared and sent to the War Museumâ€.
Earlier in his welcome address, the Chief Consultant of Humanitarian De-Mining Services, Dr. Bala Yakubu, told a stunned audience that Imo State turned out the highest number of anti-personnel landmines and anti-tank mines and a very large number UXO, compared to other states within the core Eastern region.
â€œWe also found the largest stockpile of locally manufactured weapons. If Nigeria could manyfacture those weapons in the late sixties, then we would have been competing favourably with some countries we buy our defence needs from,â€ Yakubu said.
Continuing, Dr. Yakubu disclosed that they cleared 327 landmines and over 6,000 unexploded ordinances across the state where the civil war was fought, since July 2009, adding that â€œwe have 122 landmines and other explosive devices to be destroyed in Imo Stateâ€.
In his words: â€œWe have enumerated over 735 war victims across the stakeholder states and have 100 landmine victims. Of this number, Imo State has 11 war victims, four of them are landmine victimsâ€.
He called on the Ministry of Defence to work closely with the Imo State government so that the manufacturers of these weapons could be traced and given the enabling environment to continue their researches in conjunction with the Defence Industries Corporation and other such industries in the country. Whether this appeal will be heeded is any personâ€™s guess.