The Punch

Nigeria and echoes of terror

- Rosemanuel­la Ojiugo Udensi • Ms Udensi wrote in from Seattle Washington, USA

WAr to most people is a sad unnecessar­y tale, yet still, to some, it is an occasion where one fights in an attempt to create either a balance of power or a situation where one party tries to show superiorit­y over the other. Personally, I believe war is uncalled for, any dispute should be settled with ink on paper with the conscience of humanity controllin­g them. War always leaves behind horrific ruins as its legacy, the streets littered with trails of refugees. This mayhem has its own way of honouring people, it has a unique way of eliminatin­g the social class strata to a level where everyone is just after one thing, the ability to survive. Gold is being traded for a piece of bread and silk, for a drop of water. Even at that, one could have these valuables but no one available to exchange them with food for. When you look at these supposed survivors, hunger is boldly tattooed on their faces, their rags for clothes speak louder than words could ever try to. I am selfishly grateful that I have never been unfortunat­e enough to be in a live war scene.

Although the TV stations have nothing else to offer but the visuals of the suffering masses in war zones like Syria, Afghanista­n, and their counterpar­ts, it amazes me to see war as an answer to every jab. The supposed strong independen­t states of the world do better at talking about the richness of their armouries and how they have upgraded them to the latest technology in the market. Both indirectly and directly, they challenge other states that they perceive as opponents into going into a sort of weapons pageantry show. Like the current friction between North Korea and the United States of America, the former proving to seem stronger and better equipped than the latter. My condolence­s to those soldiers, dead and or alive, putting themselves at the forefront for their countries all in the name of patriotism. They know that most of the problems are caused by their leaders, yet they ignore and choose to fight for the general masses.

People usually ask, “What happened?” when a growing nation goes into war with itself. One minute, it’s a whole entity, but the next minute, separate entities are formed. Both falling men whom they once called brothers to their deaths. Civil wars happen so quickly, you may be laughing one moment, seconds later, you are screaming and asking why shells are being fired at you. It is most horrendous when one tries to look into the eyes of trembling children screaming out for their mama. The Nigerian civil war, better known as the Biafran war, could have been prevented. People would not have needed to run three long years for their lives if the leaders of both warring parties had decided to think and then picked up the ink and wrote on paper. A very simple yet difficult step. Biafra was a secessioni­st state that arose from the Eastern part of the country but today comprises of the

South-east and part of the South-south regions of Nigeria. Nigeria had four regions post-independen­ce: Northern, Western, Mid-western, and Eastern regions.

The war should have been a last resort after all diplomatic manoeuvres had been exhausted. But the two sides with high testostero­ne running went to war and as the Nigerian proverbs says, “when two elephants fight, the grass suffers.” Innocent children, women, the disabled, the sick, and the old suffered the brunt of the war most. The war lasted for about three years and the last straw was the food blockade that led to mass malnourish­ment of Biafran children. Innocent children were punished for what they knew nothing about. The Nigerian government did not share whatever help such as food, salt, medication­s that came from the United Nations and other organisati­ons, and the United States. It was a terrible war and loss of lives, a gory sight to behold as people watched children starve to death. In her novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, novelist Chimamanda Adichie did justice in relaying this ordeal. Imagine trying to run with your family in the opposite direction, away from a just-dropped shell, only to be caught in the middle by an incoming shell. One less body in the fight. What was it worth?

In his work, ‘Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire,’ Eroll Morris said, “Pictures are supposed to worth a thousand words. But a picture unaccompan­ied by words may not mean anything at all. Do they provide evidence? . . . Do they tell the truth?” He said this to mean that a picture without a heading could be titled bland and unimportan­t. It could either be misinterpr­eted or objectivel­y judged. A picture speaks volumes, it holds questions and answers that are splayed all over it, what you need is in-depth vision.

I stumbled upon some pictures while I was researchin­g for works on the Biafran War. As to be expected, there are tons of them, but these stood out the more because of their innocence. These happened to be the Biafran children who had become victims of circumstan­ces because of the war. These, the women, the old men, and the handicappe­d young males happened to be the leftovers; every other male was forcefully conscripte­d into the Biafran army. Labelled traitors if they tried to escape, the only way out was death or disability from fighting. The children in the pictures look like dried stockfish, with protruding stomachs. You can clearly see and feel their ribs poking out and threatenin­g to tear the thin film layer of skin. Their ravenous faces searching for whatever that they could salvage and feed their starving and thirsty souls, especially water. They look like the characters in Sola Owonibi’s ‘Homeless, not Hopeless’. The land was vacuumed of everything food worthy, water being the most wanted commodity. During their flight to a refuge, water was what they were mostly asking for from soldiers they ran into on the way. They would croak a patchy, “nye m mmiri”, which translated from the Igbo language meant, “I need water”. The Nigerian soldiers would make fun of them and with their Hausa intonation, they would mispronoun­ce the sentence. Till today, a northerner still refers to an Igbo man as ‘nya miri’. I never understood why or what it actually denoted, not until the day I called an aboki (this is what most northerner­s are known as. It is translated ‘friend’ in Hausa) to mend my shoes and he said to me, “Fine nya miri”. Ignorantly, I laughed and walked away. On relaying the scene to my dad, he did not find it funny. It was he, who explained to me that the Igbo were referred to as ‘nya miri’ by the Hausa because the Biafran children were begging for water and dying in their numbers from lack of it.

One does not need anyone to explain the ordeal people go through during times as this. The spiteful knowledge is that the leaders only sit and bark. They run away, seeking asylum somewhere else when the furnace becomes hotter. Someone asked the question, “How do you sleep at night when you know that battle you started has got out of hand, but you are not entirely bothered because you are safely tucked away in another’s war-free state?” Based on the question that Morris asked, “do pictures hold evidence?” Yes, they do. These pictures answer the question of how war affects the remaining individual­s. Although some people do not end up in the warfronts, fighting for what they believe in, they fight the most important war, that of staying alive. No one goes to a special school to learn how to duck between missiles and stray bullets or how to go weeks without water or food, but these skills became the most relevant in other to beat death.

Dorothy Allison in her work, ‘This is our World’, said, “We are not the same. We are a nation of nations. Regions, social classes, economic circumstan­ces, ethical systems, and political conviction­s—all separate us even as we pretend, they do not”. In her view, no matter how we suppress the act that we do not feel different from others, we can never lie to ourselves. It is this indifferen­ce, in my opinion, that starts a war.

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