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Biafra War Memories: No Victor, No Vanquished…?

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“The world is full enough of hurts and mischance without wars to multiply them.” J.R.R. Tolkien

War Memories: No Victor, No Vanquished...? Biafran war image the world remembers...

Biafra War Memories: No Victor, No Vanquished...? Map of Biafra during the secessionist war...

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

War Memories: No Victor, No Vanquished...? The Flag of Biafra showing the rising sun...

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

War Memories: No Victor, No Vanquished...? Biafran Leader Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu

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

War Memories: No Victor, No Vanquished...? The currency that gave us a sense of legitimacy...

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.[1]

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.

PHOTO CREDITS/ATTRIBUTIONS: All Photos Starved girl, Biafra map, Biafra Flag, Biafran currency, C.O. Ojukwu via Wikipedia

Until Next Time…
Ask. Believe. Receive. ©
Elizabeth Obih-Frank
Mirth and Motivation
Positive Kismet

32 Comments leave one →
  1. 26/11/2011 9:59 pm

    I am 77 and I am a WW II survivor. There have been many wars since the end of WW II, too many. I guess mankind has always had the problem of escalating conflicts that resulted in outright war. However modern warfare has the potential to lead to insurmountable problems for all of mankind.
    We should strife for a better understanding amongst people, Everybody deserves a peaceful environment.

    • 26/11/2011 10:23 pm

      I agree with you… War is not the answer, it extends the hatreds and destroys communities and lives. 🙁

  2. 26/11/2011 10:38 pm

    Fighting anytime be it a war or siblings fighting or friends/family fighting or street fighting or professional fighting (boxing etc,) makes me wither inside. Sometimes it is necessary perhaps, if it’s to defend innocent ones but still messes with the energy flow. My parents survived the bombing of Pearl Harbor so I just know their stories. The air raids must have been scary to experience. Thank you for sharing your history.

  3. 26/11/2011 11:00 pm

    I could hardly finish… Those photos of malnourished children are so sad. War does not do anything good. It only cause pain and trauma particarly on the helpless. Great post . Thanks for sharing.

  4. 26/11/2011 11:29 pm

    I remember the reports of the Biafran war and the plight of the refugees. I am so, so sorry you had to live through that. When I was seven, we lived in S. Korea about three years after the end of the conflict. I still vividly remember the sights, sounds, and smells of a country trying to recover from a devastating war. While we never endured bombings and the like, on more than one occasion, we readied ourselves for evacuation because we were under the guns of N. Korea. No one who has been touched by war, even as indirectly as my family and I were, can hear mention of it without remembering the cost. I am with you–we must, must seek peace.

  5. 27/11/2011 12:22 am

    War is never the solution. I still remember images on the TV and newspapers of the children with swollen bellies dying of starvation; images forever imprinted in my memory.
    When youngsters in the UK say their family is starving yet they have a pedigree dog and a host of other pets to feed and are asking for handouts I wnat to scream at them you have not the faintest idea what starvation is!

  6. 27/11/2011 5:21 am

    you wrote: “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…”

  7. 27/11/2011 5:27 am

    War violence and hatred hangs darkly over our world. It’s the sad condition of the human race to make war, not peace. Bless you for singing the song of hope and sharing with us your dreams of radical reconciliation and cooperative discussion as an alternative to the madness.

  8. 27/11/2011 5:36 am

    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.
    My thoughts are that I wish you’d never experienced this, but that I am glad to have read the post and understood better a little of your past.

    The words quoted just above are ones I so relate to. I would not be glad to escape a tragic thing myself, only to learn that Li’l D had to endure it. There is no satisfaction in that for me–or in anyone’s child or grandchild suffering, over things that are so incremental in value compared to the value of life.

  9. 27/11/2011 6:06 am

    I loved your post. Very evocative.
    remember the war and famine in Biafra – like you, I was a child but unlike you I didn’t live there and have to suffer the detailed pain of the reality of that episode. I lived (and live) in Ireland though and at that time we were caught up in a ‘war’ of our own. I grew up in the Republic of Ireland – in the mid-west – and so was quite far away from what was euphemistically known as ‘the Troubles’. But we were plagued with bombs and bomb scares and murders and kidnappings and robberies all associated with this ‘war’ throughout part of my childhood and all of my adolescence so I totally understand living your life with a background of war – even if my experience is so much less frightening than yours it is somewhere on the same continuum.

    The awful famine you experienced is another type of ‘war’ that is destructive in even more ways than just physically and I didn’t grow up with that in my background, though the Irish Famine which wiped out millions of people is still a presence in the national psyche – but even I’m not old enough to have been alive in the 1840s (!) so it wasn’t a lived through experience for me as it was for you.

    War is a waste of time. End of story. I remember as a kid in school thinking that all of these people who fought all of these wars knew that eventually they’d have to sit down and come to some kind of an agreement. As a young teenager I could never understand why they didn’t sit down and talk before the war instead of after it – I still hold that same opinion.

    The only positive thing I can say about growing up with a background of war concerns an incident that happened to me in the mid 90s. I was in Israel – having dinner in a restaurant with a group of others (mostly not Irish), when there was a bomb scare in a shopping centre beside our restaurant. We watched as the police came and cordoned off the building, evacuated it etc and the Irish people (including me) continued to eat as we watched , while the others were very freaked out!

    The Irish diners held the attitude that it was all fine, it was not that dangerous a situation as it was ‘known’ and being dealt with. We had all learned in our childhoods that the bombs that are really dangerous don’t – generally – announce themselves in advance. The very thought of the proximity of a bomb freaked the life out of all the others who had grown up without having to legislate for war.

    The Irish were right in this instance and we convinced everyone to finish their dinner – so we at least got to enjoy our dinner out of our experience! Small pay-off but better than nothing, I guess!

  10. Rose Casanova permalink
    27/11/2011 6:31 am

    I think people who live first hand through war see the world differently and it makes sense that you pay attention to news coverage of current wars in our time. It’s the same as any other trauma; it makes you more sensitive. My Grandma lived through 2 wars in Germany and After coming to the states after the second world war, she still had insecurities surrounding food and water until her death. My grandfather was a POW and never recovered from his last imprisonment; He eventually went out of his mind and drank himself to death. I remember him telling the same horrible stories over and over about prison.

  11. 27/11/2011 8:00 am

    What an incredible childhood you had. I think you are a stronger person for it–to have turned out to be so wonderful, sending us daily motivations and inspiration must have grown out of your experience. War is never necessary–never. I saw firsthand what the Hiroshima bomb did to people and those scars never go away. Touching post, Eliz.

  12. 27/11/2011 8:28 am

    Elizabeth, so many thoughts come to mind as I read your post. I’m grateful that you survived – war is hell, on everyone but especially on children.
    I’ve never been in a war and hope I don’t have to live through one. Because of that, I have demonstrated against our involvement in all these modern wars. As far as I’m concerned the only people who benefit are the companies that manufacture weapons.
    I remember the Biafran war. I was young but I couldn’t get the images of the children, who looked like me and children I knew, out of my head….. Parents threatening their picky eaters that if they didn’t eat up, they’d begin to look like the children in Biafra…. A friend who was to go to Nigeria to see her fiance had to wait until it was safe…
    To us, Biafra is a word that’s loaded with all kinds of images, emotions and meanings. For you, it’s way much more. I can only imagine the sense of pride you must have all felt at the birth of your new country – the anthem, the currency, the sense of something that was yours. Even with a war going on, it must have been an incredible feeling.
    Incidentally, I just finished reading Half of a Yellow Sun and was shocked to see the receipt with the date of purchase still in the book – Feb 28, 2007. She portrayed really effectively the ravages of war, how it tore families apart, how alliances shifted, ideals shattered. But through it all, there was a palpable sense of hope, hope in the new country.
    (Seems like I’m going thru my Nigerian authors phase. Before that, I read Say You’re One of Them.)

  13. Bree permalink
    27/11/2011 8:34 am

    This is such a powerful and touching piece and I agree with what the others said above. What makes me sad is that those who hunger for war, who buy into petty hatreds, and who need to read this, would probably pretend they didn’t see the post.
    We live in a world that is becoming increasingly divisive; with the powerful vanquishing others, and our leaders must set a better example by not always resorting to war.
    I have never seen good come from it; even years after all claim to have moved on. Yes, it is your experience that has given you a particular sensitivity and gratitude for life. God bless you!

  14. 27/11/2011 8:38 am

    Oh, I forgot to say that looking at the map, reading the names of places like Port Harcourt, Enugu, Calabar brought back the images I had created on my mind of what these places looked like. Images that came to me as I said the names to myself – Calabar (we have a school in Ja with the same name), Enugu rolls so easily over the tongue. Funny, the things that are imprinted on the mind.

  15. 27/11/2011 9:13 am

    How tragic that time must have been for you and your family Elizabeth. It’s always the innocent that suffer needlessly for the oversized egos who start wars. Your memories have contributed greatly to the loving and compassionate woman you are today. For that we are grateful.
    Thanks for sharing this.

  16. 27/11/2011 12:21 pm

    Remembering your post, I had to return to share this story that Imported Chocolate reblogged. Hope you can check out this project -

  17. 27/11/2011 7:47 pm

    Well, Elizabeth, now I know a little bit more about you and where your wisdom and deep sense of truth comes from! No, I don’t have any experience with war…none! I almost feel a little strange even commenting in light of the depth of your personal sharing. But I can say that my heart always hurts when I hear of what others all over the world suffer in war and its ugly aftermath. You are doing so much good by continuing to put out a positive message of light and gratitude, and now I am even in greater of awe of your commitment. Blessings, Debra

  18. 27/11/2011 10:45 pm

    I don’t have any experiences related to war but my mom’s grandpa was a war veteran. Though I was still young then, I would always remember how drawn to him I was. And he always seemed to have a soft spot for me.

    You are simply one amazing woman! Your strength and wisdom is such a beacon of light for people like me who are young and inexperienced in life.

    You are such an inspiration!

  19. 28/11/2011 2:38 am

    My husband was born during that war.

    All wars are so very, very sad and we have so many still raging today. When will we learn, I wonder?

  20. 28/11/2011 6:44 am

    I don’t know anyone who would disagree that war is abhorrent. To have lived through the war as you described is sad and atrocious and barbaric. I just read yesterday about the amount of land throughout the world that is unusable due to the presence of land-mines and I know land-mines were used in the Biafra war. They are left behind after the conflict ends and it is likely that children who know no better can be attracted to them as toys. Why is the world so full of stupidity and barbaric ways? Does it really come down to power and money? Apparently. Did you know that the United States has not even signed the anti-land mine treaty? It is shameful.

    Thank you for sharing your personal story, Elizabeth. I can see how people can be easily convinced that fighting for freedom can be essential to make the world a better place. But when will the world learn that fighting can be with words and sanctions and not with weapons?

  21. 29/11/2011 6:13 am

    The Biafran war was a significant part of my growing up. It was on the news and discussed in my home. My Mom would chide us kids to clean our plates at mealtime by reminding us “there are starving children in Biafra”. I believe that was the time when I first began to appreciate that where I lived and how I lived was not “a given”.

  22. chi chi permalink
    29/11/2011 1:21 pm

    It is almost 2012 and we still have not learned.I remember giving my pocket money to Oxfam for the children of Biafra,asking my parents so many questions,wondering why little children were suffering,in this land so far away,not knowing that some of the kindest most generous people I would ever meet as an adult would hail from this far away place.what is the future of this world with out peace!


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