Biafra War Memories: No Victor, No Vanquished…?
Lyrics to Republic of Biafra National Anthem
Land of the rising sun, we love and cherish,
Beloved homeland of our brave heroes;
We must defend our lives or we shall perish,
We shall protect our hearts from all our foes;
But if the price is death for all we hold dear,
Then let us die without a shred of fear.
Today, I received word that Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, the revered former Head of State of The Republic of Biafra during the Nigeria-Biafra war, had passed away, and with the news came a flood of memories of that terrible war. I was a child during that tragic time in Nigeria’s history, but even children are not spared the horrific memories of the carnage, the strife and starvation, the endless waiting in fear, and the sense of dislocation that is the lot of all who live under siege in a war zone. I remember my first air raid and diving for a bunker in our backyard. I remember learning the national anthem ( tune adopted from Sibelius‘ “Finlandia”) and singing it with pride and a tinge of worry about the war outcome. I remember seeing suffering, starving refugees fleeing their towns and ending up in ours; a remote village and ultimately the final stop for the war.
“In war, there are no unwounded soldiers.” José Narosky
Hail to Biafra, consecrated nation,
Oh fatherland, this be our solemn pledge:
Defending thee shall be a dedication,
Spilling our blood we’ll count a privilege;
The waving standard which emboldens the free
Shall always be our flag of liberty.
During the war, a period of about three years, what some called the Nigerian Civil war or the Nigeria-Biafra war, Ojukwu was larger than life and all Igbos rallied to support his vision and the war effort. Igbos/Biafrans were eager to secede from Nigeria and create an independent nation. They had felt under-served under the former Nigerian regime and wanted their own country in the oil rich southeastern region of the country. The opportunity arose after a military coup d’etat that overthrew the elected civilian government and eventually led to the civilian war. Philip Effiong became Chief of General Staff of Biafra under Head of State, Colonel Odumegwu Ojukwu during the Nigeria-Biafra war and Yakubu Gowon led the Nigerian contingent determined to end the secession. I remember losing three years of education because it was not safe to be in a school setting/gathering as we were being bombed constantly. I remember the nightmares and horror stories of bombings and lives lost. I remember learning the language of war; names of ammunition, conscription, mercenaries, hatred for “the enemy and saboteurs,” war chants/songs, preparations on how to flee when “the enemy invades our territory,” and the rations and scarcity caused by the war. Yet daily, and as often as possible, we kept hope alive by singing the national anthem and imagining a free land of equality, a land of milk and honey.
“There was never a good war or a bad peace.” Benjamin Franklin
We shall emerge triumphant from this ordeal,
And through the crucible unscathed we’ll pass;
When we are poised the wounds of battle to heal,
We shall remember those who died in mass;
Then shall our trumpets peal the glorious song
Of victory we scored o’er might and wrong.
In a 2003 lecture, Nobel Laureate Richard E. Smalley identified war as the sixth biggest problem facing mankind for the next fifty years. As a war survivor, I pay attention to global conflicts and the sad memories always return. The way I see it, war and the potential for war has moved up as a problem facing mankind. With all the fractional conflicts, the skirmishes, the demands for change and the abuse of demonstrators, we are nowhere near the idea that any conflict will result in “no victor, no vanquished.” When Yakubu Gowon made that comment after the war in 1970, his vision was to create a united Nigeria; a country eager to set aside wartime hatreds and rebuild a fragmented populace… It is still Nigeria’s vision to end ethnic and religious conflict, and it is my wish that the passing of Ojukwu would remind us all that unity is imperative at all costs… I remember the hungry children and those suffering from kwashiokor. I remember the dead and dying children… they are the vanquished. Ikemba Mazi Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, Dikedioramma, R.I.P. My condolences go to his family. More below
“Don’t talk to me about atrocities in war; all war is an atrocity.” Lord Kitchener
Oh God, protect us from the hidden pitfall,
Guide all our movements lest we go astray;
Give us the strength to heed the humanist call:
“To give and not to count the cost” each day;
Bless those who rule to serve with resoluteness,
To make this clime a land of righteousness.
For those who have never lived through war or in a war zone, creating currency in thin air, living in terror and buying short-lived time, I urge you to abhor war and the idea that war is a necessary solution to problems between nations or people. Even if we think that we will never live to see war, our children and grandchildren might not be spared that perceived immunity. All life is precious and we must seek peaceful solutions to conflict. I have expressed my concerns over the vestiges and violence of war in previous posts, remembrance & reflections, war & peace, and lemons to lemonade. While those who engage in conflict might enjoy a period of euphoria, all of war is ultimately destructive for the victor and the vanquished. What are your thoughts? Are you a war survivor? What views do you have on war and peace? Do share! Thank you. :-)
Positive Motivation Tip: War destroys all of us; the innocent and the guilty, the sacred and the profane… Let’s seek Peace.
- Leader of Biafra breakaway republic dies (cnn.com)
- Odumegwu Ojukwu, Breakaway Biafra Leader, Dies at 78 (nytimes.com)
- Nigeria: Breakaway Biafra leader Ojukwu dies at 78 (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Ojukwu – A Hero Is Gone (vanguardngr.com)
- Nigeria’s ex-Biafra leader dies (bbc.co.uk)
- Ohaneze, Ayogu Eze, others mourn Ojukwu (vanguardngr.com)
- Nigeria: Breakaway Biafra leader Ojukwu dies at 78 (sfgate.com)
- Nigeria’s former Biafra leader Colonel Ojukwu dies at 78 (erasmodelavega.wordpress.com)