As a kid during the Biafra War, I did not know the major actors of the battle, which claimed more than two million Igbo. At that time, I never knew Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, Yakubu Gowon, Emmanuel Ifeajuna, Philip Effiong, Olusegun Obasanjo, Joe Achuzia and others, who played one role or another in the internecine war. This was expected. Little kids, in their innocence, do not know about wars.
However, I will never forget the day my parents took my siblings and I into the bush, as we fled from the federal troops, who entered our community in Item, Bende Local Government Area of the present-day Abia State. That faithful early morning, we started hearing the sound of explosive artillery or shelling from a distance into the Item area. The sound of “Kpo, kpo, kpo, kpo” rent the air. Another shooting sound that always followed was “dum.”
Perhaps, to make light of the bad situation, maybe as a consolation, the Item villagers interpreted the sound of the artillery and shelling to be: Kwapu, kwapu, kwapu (kpo, kpo, kpo), unu dum (dum). Literarily interpreted to mean: Vacate, vacate, vacate (Kwapu, kwapu, kwapu), all of you (unu dum). Of course, we vacated our homes and fled for our dear lives into the bush, where we were, like other Igbo families, till the end of the war in 1970.
The Kwapu, kwapu, kwapu (vacate, vacate, vacate), unu dum (all of you) coinage stuck with me since then. Even as I could not really tell the story of the Civil War at that time, I could not forget that early morning of Kwapu, kwapu, kwapu, unu dum. And I cannot forget the incident till death. However, it was as a teenager that I was told, and I also read, about the Biafra War, about the protagonists and antagonists: The Ojukwus, Nzeogwus, Ifeajunas, Effiongs, Achuzias and the rest. That was how I learnt about Colonel Joe Achuzia, who died on Tuesday at the age of 90. Nicknamed “Air Raid” or “Hannibal,” Achuzia commanded the Biafran 11th Division, 11th Battalion and temporarily the Biafra S Division. He fought many battles during the war and nearly lost his life. He retired from the army, after being released from detention, when the war ended. Interestingly, Hannibal Barca, whose name Achuzia bore as nickname, was “a Carthaginian general, considered as one of the greatest military commanders in history.”
One interesting thing about Achuzia was that even after the war, till he died this week, he stuck with Biafra and the Igbo cause. He dreamt Biafra. He talked Biafra. He slept Biafra. And he figuratively ate Biafra. This former gallant and tough soldier identified with anything Biafra and befriended the prime movers of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), who, by their age, are his children. And he never gave a damn what anybody said. He was never afraid of the repercussions of his Biafra belief. And he died a “Biafran.”
I admire Achuzia greatly. I salute his Igboness. Despite the fact that he was an Igbo from the South South, he never denied his identity. This is even at a time when some of his kinsmen would rather say they are “Aniomas” or simply “Deltans,” and not Igbo. Apart from his fraternity with the IPOB clan, he was a staunch Ohanaeze Ndigbo associate. To be sure, the Achuzia story should serve as a lesson to some other Igbo who are of Delta, Rivers or any other state outside South East. No matter their place of birth or habitation, they are Igbo by tribe. Therefore, I find it funny actually that some Igbo in South South would say they are not Igbo, simply because they were not born within the South East, where we have the largest number of Igbo ethnic Nigerians. Such people, who deny their identity, would certainly be lost in a country where tongue and tribe still count.
There may be a reason these Igbo South-southerners do so. It could be as a result of maltreatment or discrimination by the Igbo of the South East. It could be because of denial. It could be as a result of the non-appreciation of their sacrifices by the larger Igbo nation. It could be as a result of politics of division, which the Federal Government played during the war to split South-eastern Igbo and their South-southern brothers. However, whatever is the case, a time has come when there should be no barriers or dichotomy between the Igbo in South East and Igbo in South South. They are one, by language, culture and affinity. Yes, as long as Ifeanyi, Amaechi, Nduka, Emeka, Isioma, Uba, Odili, Ngozi, Orji and other names in South East, for instance, mean the same thing in Igbo South South, they are same people.
During the Biafra War, the Igbo in Delta fought on the side of Biafra. Nzeogwu, Achuzia and others, who stood for Biafra, were Igbo from South South. They fought for what could pass for an Igbo cause. They believed in it. They identified with it. The Asaba people, in South South Delta State, suffered genocide because of Biafra. Who will forget the cold-blooded Asaba massacre of October 7, 1967, by the federal troops, which lined up women and children and sprayed them with bullets because of their support for Biafra? The blood of these Asaba indigenes, in my thinking, sealed the bond between the Igbo Deltans and Igbo Abians, Anambrarians, Ebonyians, Imolites and Enuguans.
I salute such Igbo Deltans as Chief Sonny Odogwu, Ide Ahaba; the late Ambassador Ralph Uwachue, former president-general of Ohanaeze Ndigbo; the erudite Emma Okocha, Amuma Ndigbo and the author of Blood on the Niger, Prof. Pat Utomi and many others, who have affirmed their Igbo nationalism. Their identification with the larger Igbo in South East have shown that they are not deterred by the accident of their birth or politics. They are behaving like the Ijaw, for example, who, whether in Ondo, Lagos, in South West; Bayelsa, Delta, Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Edo, in South South, stick together.
The majority Igbo from South East should continue to reach out and identify with their brothers in South South. The fact that Ambassador Uwachue was once elected president-general of Ohanaeze Ndigbo was one of such feats to show that Igbo, whether of South East or South South, are one. It is an indication that the Igbo Deltans were and are embraced by Igbo in South East. The fact also that Ohanaeze Ndigbo participated in the burial of Uwachue shows no discrimination. The demand for “Anioma State,” to comprise the Igbo-speaking part of Delta State, with headquarters in Asaba, which such great Igbo minds like the late Chuba Okadigbo and others fought for, is a sure proof of the larger Igbo acceptance of their Delta kith and kin.
With the death of Achuzia, another opportunity beckons for South-easterners to prove that the larger Igbo not only love this warrior but also their Delta and Rivers brothers, by giving him a befitting burial. I, therefore, support Emma Okocha’s position thus: “I will advise the Ohanaeze to quickly organise a burial committee and make sure that the ‘Air Raid’ is given a befitting funeral. Ohanaeze, because of the reality on the ground in Asaba, should go ahead and celebrate the Biafran war hero in Enugu, Onitsha and Owerri.”
The Igbo, no matter where they are born, should have a natural liking and understanding of themselves. Whether in South East or South South, they should live above the division that the creation of 12 states during the Civil War brought about. They should affirm their Igbo Kwenu mantra and disappoint those who are gaining from the South East and South South Igbo dichotomy. Dialect may vary, just as Item, Ohafia, Igbere, Ngwa, Umuahia (Abia), Owerri (Imo), Ehigbo (Afikpo in Ebonyi), Wawa (Enugu and Ebonyi) languages differ, but Igbo, in South East and South South, still understand each other. They are the same.