It was early evening and I sat in the backyard trying to get some cool breeze. I was not succeeding in any way. Even though it had rained heavily from 3 until about 5 in the morning, something I thought should have prevented the hot weather during the day, I could still feel the perspiration gathering in my underarms. I wiped them off occasionally with the backs of my palms. I was not ready to go indoors; there is no light, I had bought fuel for 230 naira per litre yesterday to power the generator until 11pm and I was not about to put it back on anytime before 6pm. Sadly, twelve litres could hardly last more than is expected.
As I sat idly, ruminating over nothing in particular, a silly song I recalled as a child when we were home for Christmas came to my mind. “Nama, shege, onye Awusa gettaway okporoko di na Aba” which means, “Cattle, shege, Hausa man, get away, there is stock fish in Aba.” Now I am not a very political person. Not in the workplace and not in my dealings with my fellow man and so my next thoughts were simply as plain as I saw it.
That song got me thinking of the snatches of stories I recalled from my dad’s numerous recants of the Nigerian Civil War. The war that they had no choice but to fight as young men. I am struck by the fact that most of us today have no real information about the lives and times of our parents or grandparents living in the eastern parts of Nigeria at the time. Or of the established businessmen and women who had to leave behind their hard earned wealth and escape to their father’s land for fear of being caught up in all of the carnage and helplessness. We know very little of how they fled in the dead of the night or very early in the morning trying to escape shells that fell repeatedly with no warning or the hunger and starvation that caused a new mother’s milk to dry up so she is unable to feed her infant or the scrambling for rations of milk, salt and if they were lucky, okporoko (stockfish). We can only see these in pictures… malnourished children with bellies the size of clay pots, hair the colour of copper and bodies so emaciated you could see their little hearts pump through the thin flesh.
We have no real-time experience of war. The closest we have come can only be seen in pictures- malnourished children with bellies the size of clay pots, hair the colour of copper and bodies so emaciated you could see their little hearts pump through thin flesh.
I imagine all of this and I shudder at the imaginations of such horror having to repeat itself in my lifetime. There is no doubt that the proponents had good intentions and a wonderful vision. But every time I hear the stories retold, I feel my toes curl and my stomach churn. A couple of years ago, if anyone recalls, there was the scare that there might be some trouble and the Easterners in Lagos at the time began to panic. A friend told of how her eldest brother who experienced the civil war as a child went into a frenzy…he arranged a makeshift bunker of some sort began hoarding bags of salt, crayfish, beans and gallons of water. I did not find it funny like she did, I just wondered what he had seen and been through and how I had no clue how he felt.
Every time I try to encourage my dad to document all he remembers. I have also asked some friends to encourage their fathers to do the same because I think we are all just clueless in this generation to a very large extent. Someone ought to compile these stories and make it into a motion picture. One that will strike a cord in some of us who are hot-blooded warriors, so that we can channel our energy, intelligence, and resources right and take pride in our heritage, our perseverance and in our God-given talent of making something from what we already have as living beings.
It would do us and our generations to come a whole lot of good to learn from our fathers, accounts of why we must never go to war.
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