Jude Chinedu, Enugu
As prominent Nigerians marked the 50th anniversary of the end of the bloody 30-month civil war which almost ended the corporate existence of Nigeria from 1967 to 1970, some soldiers who fought on the side of the defunct Republic of Biafra are still reeling in deprivation, hunger and abandonment.
Daily Sun which visited to the Disabled Biafran War Veterans’ Camp, located inside the Leprosy Settlement Centre in Oji River Local Government Area of Enugu State, captured the level of abandonment faced by this set of Nigerians.
The dusty road leading to the dilapidated two block building with leaky roofs, damaged toilets, non-functional tap and no electricity, which is home to the war veterans, typifies the level of neglect the gallant men are forced to face.
Unfortunately, out of 85 disabled war veterans relocated to the camp in the 70s, only five of them are still alive today due to poor living conditions which had exposed them to disease, starvation and death.
Daily Sun spoke with one of the veterans, Mr Gideon Njoku, a native of Umudararo, Umuonyukwu in Ikeduru Local Government Area of Abia State, who is still recovering from a recent motorcycle accident which left him with a broken leg – the same leg he sustained a life threatening injury during the 30-month war. The other occupants of the camp had left early in the morning to seek their daily bread through roadside begging.
Expectedly, the 71 year old Njoku, who narrated his war experience, insisted that though he would love Biafra to be actualised, he would never support another war. He said he was yet to recover from the effects of the war and would readily advise any war proponent to tow the path of peace.
“This Biafra we are talking about, if there is anything that can be done so that it will come in peace, then we will welcome it but to tell us to fight again will be unacceptable. It may be more deadly than it was before. So, if our people who are speaking with the world powers can find a way to bring Biafra through a peaceful means, I will be very happy. Even if we fight and get it, there will still be difficulty because it will consume more lives than it did in the past.
“When we were conscripted into the army, we joined the war and were fighting but hunger was a huge issue for us. The hunger was too much. Both adults and children were suffering from Kwashiokor. That is why when people are clamouring for Biafra, I’m not saying that Biafra should not come, in fact, let it come today or tomorrow but I don’t want it to come through the barrel of the gun”.
Njoku also revealed the circumstances that made him join the war and how he almost died at the front.
“I didn’t join the war for pleasure. It was what was happening to Ndigbo at the time that forced me to join. I said that instead of staying back while my people are slaughtered, I should better join the army to help save myself and save my Igbo people. We also heard that they will kill every male child from the age of five. So, all these made me join the army.
“I was in Ohaji-Egbema in the present Imo State. I was a member of 48 Battalion. I sustained this injury in 1948 at Ohaji. Our location was shelled. That faithful day, we were confronted by the enemy. The firing was so much for us so we decided to retreat. It was in the process that they shelled at us and fragments of the explosive hit my leg and my hip. It was after the battle that my colleagues came and rescued me. Those of us who were injured were taken to Awo-Omamma for medical treatment. There was a community hospital in the area that was converted to a military hospital during the war.
Asked if the factors that led to the war had been taken care of by government, he said, “No, those things that led to the war are still there. The war came as a result of maltreatment. The only thing that can stop the maltreatment of Igbo in Nigeria is this Biafra we are talking about here.
“Just look at us now, nobody is asking about us both, federal and state government, and we are dying of hunger. Our children are jobless. We cannot even feed our families. Look at the Igbo nation, there’s no road. From Onitsha to Port Harcourt is impassable. Is it water or light that we have? Nothing is moving forward in Igbo land,” he said.
He narrated the harrowing experience of how veterans in the camp were abandoned and left to foot their medical bills by successive governments till date.
“I was going from here to Enugu to receive treatment on the injury I got during the war. That was the time when the government was taking care of us. They were giving us free treatment but after some years, we started paying hospital bills.
“We are not doing any other thing. Our only means of survival is through people’s financial assistance. The people who are touched come to our aid at times. Most other times, we go to the road to beg for alms. Whatever we get at the end of the day, we use it to feed our family.
“I started poultry business in the 80s. It was going well until a time when all my birds died. I couldn’t source money to start again. What we do now is go to the road and beg. We live on whatever we get there. We even go to places like Awka or Onitsha. The government has not considered our plight at all. It was under Jim Nwobodo that we saw little help from government but when the military took over, we became abandoned since then.”
To make an already bad situation worse, “EEDC came to cut our light, we told them that we don’t have money to pay electricity bill. We told them that we are bonafide Igbo sons and we don’t have money. They came and cut the light. They requested that we bring the paper with which we were given a waiver. We told them that we did not have any. One day they came and connected the light. After two months, they came back again and cut the light. This happened in June last year. We had water in the past, but it was not up to three years we lived here before the tap stopped rushing. We don’t have water here.
With a smile on his face, Njoku revealed that his marriage of 25 years is now blessed with seven children, three of whom were already learning trade after completing their secondary school education.