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We picked bullets after Biafra

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By Emeka Obasi

January 15, 1970 marked the formal end of the Nigerian Civil War. In my family compound, hostilities continued as federal troops descended on everyone, yes, everything including fowls of the air.

There were bullets everywhere. I was a kid and all through the war stories filled my infant ears. Many of my cousins went to war, four did not survive. Young promising souls, we still do not know where and how they perished.

Then they said the war was over. Live bullets littered the environment and kids played with them like toys. I saw so many and was proud to display them. I thought they could only hurt if fired from a gun.

We knew better when my younger brother, Nonye, got shot. No, no one pulled the trigger. A cousin had put one of the bullets in burning fire and asked him to watch. The next thing was a shot that hit Nonye’s leg. The bullet exploded.

Nonye, was damn lucky it was his leg. That could have been the end. We were also lucky. He was rushed upstairs to our uncle, Dr. Nathaniel Obasi, a Dental surgeon. The bullet was extracted immediately. The same kid later joined the Nigerian military as a teenager.

Dr. Obasi removed the bullet all alone. My brother was not flown to any foreign hospital for surgery. Biafra did not even have the best of medical equipment, life was saved.

It was a nasty experience with the Nigerian soldiers. I am not sure they obeyed their Commander-in-Chief, General Yakubu Gowon, who said: “No victor, no vanquished.”

The day they marched past my compound, we all came out shouting ‘one Nigeria,’ as instructed. The soldiers went after girls and women, abducted children and fired at domestic animals.

Dr. Obasi’s first son, Chiedu, had joined to welcome Federal troops. One of them handed over his bag to the boy and took him away. The dad rushed to the Army garrison and got his child back.

I guess he must have met a Yoruba speaking officer because he worked in Ibadan in the 1950s. Dr. Obasi also wore the rank of an Army captain during the war treating wounded soldiers.

Every morning, some soldiers would invade my family compound to kill our chicken. It was from them I picked the Hausa word for fowl-‘kaza.’ They did not bother to boil them. Roasting was all I saw.

They sang obscene and abusive songs. ‘Ajukwu, Gawan soldier langalanga’ [this could mean ‘Ojukwu, Gowon’s soldiers were tall’]. ‘Nyamiri yamutu, uwanka shege’[ this could mean Igbo are dead… bla bla bla].

One day, my ancestors got really angry. Right in front of my compound, is the tomb of an uncle, Benson Obasi, who died in 1935. One cock stood proudly on it. A soldier released a shot to kill the bird. His pistol just disappeared.

No one could explain it. I think, a few days later someone found the pistol in the undergrowth at the back of the compound. That particular soldier did not bother to come back.

New faces kept coming. An officer was interested in one of my cousins. Her father, a Second World War veteran, who fought in Tobruk, Libya would not let her go.

One morning, a truck load of soldiers invaded and seized all grown up male they could lay their rifles on. Pa Gabriel Uzoka, a retired police officer, was not spared.

Pa Uzoka’s son was also a retired Nigerian Police officer who lived in London with his Idoma, Benue State wife. This old man had two sons who were Biafran Army officers.

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Every morning, the soldiers gave each abductee 12 strokes of the cane. One captive, Ebere Obasi, received 24 lashes simply because he wore Biafran Army shorts. It was a price he paid.

Yes, Ebere fought for Biafra and was brave. We did not know our man survived the war until the day Nigerian troops marched past our compound. The combatant was in their midst and on getting to his ancestral home, he just walked in.

I never saw such act of bravery. Nigerian officers shouted at Ebere, he continued to walk towards the house. One soldier cocked his rifle, Ebere did not look back. No shot was released and nothing happened.

There was the day another batch of soldiers visited. They alleged we looted Gen. Emeka Ojukwu’s caravan. The Biafran leader had abandoned his caravan in my village before his flight to Cote D’Ivoire.

Those soldiers turned out to be crooks. They used that to loot homes. We had a radiogram which my father bought before the war. They wanted to carry it, in my dad’s absence. An elderly uncle challenged them. They left it.

Another group came in a white Peugeot 404 car. They were hanging like junkies. One of them fell off the car as they headed to the Sectional Head, Chief Ogamba Obasi’s house.

The old man could not be threatened. His first son, Meshack, fought in the Second World War and stayed back in Sierra Leone. One of his grandsons, Chimezie, had been killed as Biafran soldier.

At 76, the sectional head had seen it all. So he told the Nigerian soldiers off, reminding them that he was conscripted by the Biafran Army and so should not be treated as a bloody civilian.

Chimezie’s younger brother, Christian Nwosu, later rose to the position of Managing Director, Universal Trust Bank, a business owned by Lt. Gen. Yakubu Danjuma.

Their parents and six younger siblings were in Ghana while the war lasted. Their maternal grandfather, having lost Chimezie, did everything to stop Chris from going to war.

The civil war exposed me to bullets and guns. Biafran soldiers had names for rifles. Cetme was called, ‘Adamu’ or ‘Shetima’. Anytime Mark IV sounded, troops responded, ‘Igbo kwenu.’ There was Madison and AK -47 turned ‘Guitar Boy.’

And that experience made me stand firm when Maj. Olaosebikan Akpata stormed my office at Ademulegun Street, Isolo, Lagos in 1993, armed with a rifle. He said he was a Marine Commando, I told him I saw Biafra. We became friends. He was the father of Teni, the entertainer.


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