By Okwe Obi
The Nigerian civil war, which took place over 50 years ago (1967-1970), may have come and gone but for those who witnessed the bombings, sounds of grenades, starvation and killing, the memories are still fresh, as they were captured in a book, titled, ‘Through the Eyes of the Children: Anthology of the Nigerian Civil War.”
The 435-page book was edited by John Mozie, Charles Spiropoulos and Edozie Eziefe, with 22 contributors. It was launched recently in Abuja. The event had in attendance the Senate Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe; Brig-Gen. Saleh Bala; Roz Amechi; and Amaka Efobi-Oguejiofo. It was moderated by Dike Chukwumerije, among others.
While dissecting the book and some of the socio-political hiccups that orchestrated the war, Sen. Abaribe restated that the people of the South East still grapple with the issue of marginalisation and gross injustice despite General Yakubu Gowon’s post-war “Reintegration, Reconstruction and Reconciliation” mantra.
Sen. Abaribe argued that present administration misconstrues anybody who criticises its unfair handling of the governance structure of the country as a Biafran, without recourse to the issues raised.
The former Abia State deputy governor wondered why President Muhammadu Buhari, who was a military commander and assisted some of the victims of the war as portrayed in page 155 of the book, suddenly displayed a high level of disdain for the Igbo.
He maintained that the demands of Biafrans should be met to douse the perennial secessionist agitation in the South East region.
He said: “Biafra has turned into a synonyms for injustice, unfairness, discrimination, marginalisation and any kind of unjust treatment. And so, when you feel angry, you are a Biafran.
“That is just what is meant. So, we have found ourselves here today to talk about the civil war and the children of Biafra.
“One thing that this book has done is to tell us one thing: no child starts a war; it is the adults, the leaders, who, through their idiosyncrasy and personal feelings and egotistic interaction with each other, will decide that they have to dig it with themselves and drag the children through incomprehensible suffering.
“Fifty years later from that time, we are back to the same thing that was written in the war because we run from one place to another and we are called refugees. But in Nigeria today, people are also running from one place to another and they are called internally displaced persons. There are no differences between them and the children in all these camps depicted in the book.
“And, so, this book is a wake-up call for the Nigerian elite who just have to put aside the grievances they have against each other and look at what is called national interest, because, if we do not do that, most likely, what Mrs. Okafor said when she saw Ojukwu after the war, the war will never be fought like it was done before.
“The Eastern Region was like a country. You had a country, civil service and you had everything. So, there were some order. If anything happens today, there would be no order.
“What you are just going to have is that there would be cows and warlords taking over just like we are seeing in Libya.
“I am not the book reviewer but I took time to read the book and some things struck me.”
He continued: “When you get the book, look at page 155. It talks about a battalion commander in 1965 and he was in charge when Awka was captured.
“And Muhammadu Buhari was so empathetic in that story by Arthur Harris Eze. He took care of all the people around and paid them some stipends so that they could start life.
“And so, when you see that story and compare it with the Buhari of today, you would want to ask what happened.
“Somebody must find out what happened, because the man we see today is not the same person that is being depicted in 1969. All the researchers must just have to look at it.”
On the issue of war, he said: “Once you start, you will never know how it is going to end. Those who are talking about war today and do not care and claiming to own this country, they know that you were not sure that the other man may also feel that he has a chance and that inevitably will bring us to where we do not want to go.
“To make us see how we can go away from the present trajectory, because the trajectory we are today will take us to those places where these children of Biafra have stated their stories.
“This book asks a simple question: When will we as a nation resolve in all the things that are happening today, attend to the issue of that word called ‘Biafra’?”
For Brig.-Gen. Bala, he warned that proponents of war should be careful of the consequences, adding that the elite would vamoose to different countries for safety, while children of the poor would bear the brunt of the crisis.
Bala contented that every region “is a product of marginalisation,” contrary to the perception of the South East region that claimed to be solely marginalised.
He said: “Who is not marginalised in Nigeria? There is one question about Nigeria, which is, who is to be President?
“In the elite mentality, everybody wants to be central in power only because there is a corrupt culture and a perspective of having your own person there so that your ethnicity, your crowd, will have access to the spoils of the country.
“How many citizens in the various states are questioning their governors and chairmen of their local governments? When you talk about marginalisation, everybody is marginalised and that is what is growing strife.” He added: “Even if you take the list of contributors, you will see that they were privileged. They were privileged during the war, their parents were educated.
“They were middle class. Some who spoke, their families were even at strategic positions of leadership at the various levels.
“So, that is essentially the prongs that even now the restlessness we are having are elitist issues because they want more of the unfair share of the national wealth.
“And they want to consistently be in visibility in the national strength. Otherwise, for God’s sake, there is more than enough for Nigerians to go round.
“But the elite of the society do not care if they will mar or make the society and garner the benefit of the society to themselves.”
He advised that the book should not be made accessable to infants who may take everything hook, line and sinker without hearing from the ‘other side.’
“Do not give this book to children that are not of adult age because there isn’t another part of the story. The other part of the story is very important.”
Amechi resolved that, regardless of the situation, war should not be included as a solution because of its consequences on women and children.
“There should never be war. There must be different ways we can consider to resolve our issues without (going to) war. For me, war is not an option.
“The way forward is peace, discussing and bringing issues out. I think that we should not even hide behind the scene some of these things that have happened. We should not try to sweep them under the carpet. We should bring them out and talk about them and bring our emotions under control and learn from them. Because, if we learn from them, we will become stronger and more united as citizens of the country.”
She noted that the launch of the book was to capture the feelings of victims, adding that people never had a better platform to reel out their experiences.
“There were a lot of harrowing stories. And it just reminds you that many people have had a lot of experiences during that war. And probably not during the war, but in other aspects of their lives.
“When Brig-Gen. Saleh Bala was talking, by the time you heard his experience of the war and his memories, you will realise that the trauma was not just on one side, it was on both sides.
“And that is something important that the event brought out, so that people can get to hear and feel what everybody is feeling, and understand what everybody is understanding,” she said.
Speaking on the turnout for the event, the lawyer said: “I feel very good. I think it went well. People had opportunities to say their minds and discuss things about the war that a lot of people had kept bottled up. Even though being a bit emotive, we were not bitter. We heard from both sides.
“It was very important we invited people who were not Igbo to speak about the other side to give it a nice balance. So, I think it went very well.”