Friday, October 02, 2009


I just finished reading Chimamanda Adichie's Half of a Yellow Sun that I should have read a while back.
And suddenly realised that I had no idea of my parents experience during the Biafran war.
So, I paid a visit to my parents and pointedly asked them to tell me their experiences.

Had to drop out of Onitsha Girl's Secondary school because the school was converted to a refugee camp. She then became an associate nurse at Iyi-Enu Hospital very close to Onitsha which had relocated from it's current location to a nearby village - Oraukwu due to incessant bombardments.
She refused to tell me anything further about this part of her life.
I'm not sure why.
Except that I know she lost her big brother to this war.

Finished his diploma from Institute of Management and Technology - IMT Enugu and got employed by Shell in Port Harcourt.
After the war started and just as Port Harcourt was retaken by the Nigerians, Shell closed down its oil producing facilities and rendered him jobless.
He moved to Aba, where he was involved with the Biafran government's local/bush hut refineries that were converting crude oil into gasoline.
Aba was no longer safe and he had to move to Orlu where he worked with a parastatal called Research and Development. Their speciality was to remove the explosives from unexploded Nigerian bombs and use them to build local bombs. They had to cut open the bombs manually.
He told of an incident where they were cutting up one bomb in the workshop and he had to go out for a minute. The bomb exploded within that minute and killed everyone in the workshop.
Work did not stop.
Instead, they dug a pit and created an automated cutter to cut open these bombs inside the pits.
He had to go to identify his closest friend he had just left barely minutes before and he could only recognise the clothes he was wearing. There was no face.
It was blown to bits.
That could have been him.

And I, Tobenna would never have been born.
Would never have loved my J.
And would not be looking forward to my bairn (Parakeet's lingo)

The war ended shortly after and he moved to Lagos almost immediately with nothing.
Except the name and address of a fellow from his village who housed him and countless others until he found a job.

I am 33.
And I am just discovering this about my parents. My Nigerian heritage.
A line in Chimamanda's book says "May we never forget"
Chimamanda in Igbo, literally means, My God will not fall.

Nigeria is 49.
And lost over 200,000 of her people during the war.
Biafra is long dead. 39 years dead.
Along with over 1 million of her people.

Nigeria is 49.
We will learn from our mistakes.
We will learn from our diversity.
I stand tall as a proud Nigerian.
I am the Nigerian government.
The government can not change until I change.
Can you?

Happy Independence, Nigeria.

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