The Biafran story is closely woven into the history of my family. Without that war, there might probably not be a thing like me or my siblings; probably not be a thing like my family.
Let me explain.
My parents met inside a refugee camp in Gborokiri, Rivers state Nigeria. It was the Summer of 1968 and the war was raging on both sides. My mother was an orphan, a refugee left under the care of a Baptist missionary called Miss Harris. It was this white lady who had picked her off the streets of Aba after her father was shot by the Nigerian soldiers.
|Image source: Ruth Bourne/ Etim Eyo|
My father, on the other hand, was a remarkable young man who had left a flourishing career as a Sargent Major in the Nigerian police to enlist in the Biafran army. He came regularly into the camp to inspect the condition of things and to report back. It was during one of these visits that he chanced upon my mother and (not minding that my mother was still a naive prepubescent girl), a very piquant romance that would later blossom into an unhappy marriage began. And, that was how I and my five siblings came into a household replete with ghosts and shadows from a bloody past .
The Nigerian/ Biafran war had a terrible impact on the lives of my parents – most especially my mother. She was in primary four the year the war broke out. 1967.
They were living at Aba, just her and the father. She was the only child. Her mother had left shortly after giving birth to her because she thought my mother would die the same way her previous babies had done. They were believed to be ogbanje babies. Locked in the mischievous circle of coming and going.
Hence she called my mother An’anihu. Tantalizer. Something beautiful but ephemeral. A mirage.
She was sure my mother wouldn’t survive. Most especially because my grandfather refused to take her- my mother – to the shrine of Kamanu, the village deity, to seek the protection of the gods like he had done with the other babies.
She said if the other babies who had the protection of the gods could died, this one, my mother, undedicated and vulnerable would be a soft prey.
A year and six months later, after weaning my mother, she left and got married to another man. She would later give birth to three male children who all survived both the war and the aftermath of living in a country that merely accepted them back without necessarily forgiving them.
So my mother grew up in the shadow of an absentee mother who left her in order to secure a life elsewhere.
And, finally the civil war came and robbed her of the only security left: her father.
One sad afternoon, she watched as a soldier pumped bullets into the body of her father. She watched as the last stronghold to survival crumbled into the mud.
Alone and defiant, she has held on tightly to the thin threads of hope all these years.
She unlike any other woman I’ve ever seen and known has walked through the valley and shadow of death and has emerged scathed but still strong and alive.
Here is to her spirit. To her courage. Here is to her health and happiness.
May we always remember