Thursday, 12 November 2015

Untold Hardship Nsukka People Suffered during Biafran/Nigerian Civil War



News48hrs.com in this report recountered the untold story of DEFUNCT Nigerian/Biafran civil war which ended with ‘no victor, no vanquished’. In this report, we shall unravel to you the scars of the civil war still hanging on communities that were devastated by the ravages of the war. One of such communities is Agu-Echara, a suburb of the university town where the then Biafran army camped before it collapsed into the hands of  federal troops. The area in question which is over 500 hectares comprising of three communities is popularly known, addressed and called Army Barracks, Nsukka.

Soon after the war, there was a long-drawn-out battle for ownership of the large expanse of land between the indigenes and Nigerian Army. However, after Nigerian soldiers that occupied there were withdrawn, the communities laying claim to ownership of the land tried to reclaim it but met stiff resistance from military authorities who clung tenaciously to it, precipitating a long drawn legal tussle that lingered for over eight years.
While the dispute lasted, there was a delicate balance as frantic developers still poached on the land but with fear of the unknown. Luckily, the issue came to rest recently after the communities scored a major victory against the military in the law court and their land was handed over to them.
The man that spearheaded the legal tussle, Chief John Alumona, Chairman, Echara land committee spoke with Vanguard on a wide range of issues concerning the acquisition and usurpation of the land and ended up unearthing volatile and vexatious issues concerning the ill-fated Biafran war.
What is your role in this story?
I am the Chairman, Echara land committee and spear-headed the legal tussle between Echara land and the military authorities. Echara is made up of six villages namely; Umuagbene, Amaeze-Enu,Amaogbo, Orba-Echara, Umuacha and Amaeze-Ani villages. I am a builder by profession, who set up job market (Ogbo nmanu) where men assemble to look for jobs on Ogurugu Road, Nsukka.
I was formerly of the Nigerian police, joined the police in 1978, served at different states in the country mostly in Enugu, Abakiliki, Bauchi and Lagos. Ibadan was where I served last before pulling out of the service. I quit the police out of my volition when my life was in danger.
I was the chief crime buster of Ibadan then in 1986. I was a constable as at that time but occupied vantage positions in the police force because of my intelligence. In Nigeria police, what matters is the experience and not ranks. I pulled out of the police because hoodlums were after my life on daily bases.
I reported myself to Lagos police command, then Enugu and Nsukka police divisions under Aderibigbe as the then Divisional Police Officer. I am happy I left the Police joyfully. When I came back happily, I started my job as a builder and that was what motivated me to come home.
How did this problem start?
Army barracks came into being through the then Lt. Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, the then Governor of Easthern region who pulled away from the Nigerian army in 1967 to declare the defunct Biafran Republic. He formed his own army to secure the republic known as the Biafra.
The Biafran army came down to Nsukka and told our people, the elders that Nsukka is the boundary axis of Nigeria, also that Nsukka extraction were more or less northerners and the boundary that linked different states of the country. Immediately Ojukwu declared the Biafran Republic, he made himself a General but while in the Nigerian army, he was a Lieutenant Colonel. Soon after speaking to Nsukka people, he acquired Agu-Echara now known and called army barracks purely for the Biafra army.

Biafra protesters
After the acquisition, nothing was paid because everybody was afraid of army then. The barracks was for the rank and file, officer’s quarters and the shooting range.
Within the side of Echara axis is where there was a field and the rank and file quarters. Then, Amenu, Edem axis bounded by Echara community lands was where the Biafra army has the officers quarters while the shooting range was at the axis of Ozzi Edem.
The training and recruitment of the Biafran army was going on there normally in preparation for the onslaught of the civil war. Ojukwu was massively supported when he declared Biafran republic which has to go with military base in Nsukka. As the Biafran army settled in Nsukka, Major General Yakubu Gown countered the move by stating unequivocally that Nigeria must be one nation and that he never believed in the Republic of Biafra.
Gowon galvanised the federal troops and engaged the secessionists. Ojukwu on his part, prepared for the war assuring that nothing will happen stating that the East will fight till the last man and battle raged. Nsukka people suffered an untold hardship during the civil war. They were providing food for the Biafran soldiers with one common spirit; united we stand (Ndi nke anyi) in Igbo parlance.
Nsukka did everything possible to see that Biafran soldiers were not starved. The army barracks was built voluntarily, people were happy and each person contributed whatever he can afford in terms of manpower to see that the barracks was built. The barracks was ready and occupied by the Biafran army, three months before the war finally broke out.
How did the war affect your people?
When our people took food to the barracks unknown that Nigerian army has taken over, they were arrested. The Nigerian army came into Nsukka through Okpuje, Okutu and Odoru- Igalla neighbouring communities. It was Ifeajuna who asked the Nigerian army to follow that route which is the shortest entry point to Nsukka from the northern part of the country.
The only resistance was from the civilian populace at Okutu that dug gutters and trenches to prevent the men with machine gun. The federal troops came and fell into ditches; they mobilised and swept the defenceless civilians at Okutu which were the first casualties recorded at Nsukka. At Okutu community then, the elderly ones were wiped out completely. The few surviving ones at Okutu scampered to neighbouring Okpuje, Anuka etc.
Ojukwu gnashed his teeth in disgust of total disappointment and said that the Nsukka people brought the Nigerian army, branded every Nsukka man a saboteur. He wickedly accused Nsukka people of not doing anything to repel the advancing force of the Nigerian army.
He did not look inwards to know what was happening with the military he set up, and then branded every Nsukka man, a saboteur. Nsukka suffered immensely during the war. Ojukwu did not think well when he engaged in the war. It was when the war got to Onitsha, that it dawned on him to set a probe to know exactly what was wrong with his men. It was at that probe that Ifeajuna was indicted, arrested, court marshalled but it was too late for the Biafran army.
Even Ifeajuna told the people that his plans worked out and that he has no regrets for his action before he was shot. Nsukka suffered because they did not know that the Nigerian army had surrounded the whole town. People thought that the federal troops will pass away for them to settle down but ended up scampering to farmlands without food and water, then kwashiokor set in killing people in droves.
Some of the Nsukka men that braved to come and take some food stuff were shot by soldiers who dug trenches at major entry points yet, Ojukwu and other Biafrans kept on maltreating our people even in battle fields, calling them saboteurs. Many of our promising young men died as a result of this unwarranted stigma and not necessarily in the hands of the advancing Nigerian troops. Till date, the stigma still lingers as the Nsukka man is still branded contemptuously as Northern Igbos. But, we don’t care because truth is constant.
How Nzeogwu died
Ojukwu thought he prepared for the war but it was very unfortunate that Chukwuma Nzeogwu died. Nzeogwu told Ojukwu inter alia; that the war was not mature but he could not listen and embarked on full scale war empty handed. As an infantry man, Nzeogwu told Ojukwu that war does not go by propaganda but Ojukwu believed that iroko trees, grasses and buildings will fight which was a pigmentation of the civil war. There was no weapon to engage in a full war but Ojukwu never agreed.
Massacre of UNN students
Immediately the war was declared without weapons, students of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, trooped en masse and joined the Biafran army bare-handed and were swept out at Opi junction. One scenario played out that time, they say Abiriba people will fight with matchetes which never flowed as people were shot at the first move in an attempt to fight with machetes. It was a disaster, Igbo were deceived to go into that war.
The Aburi Accord was when the entire nation was in flames, not that the war was rooted on the failure of the accord. Both Gowon and Ojukwu interpreted the Aburi Accord differently to suit their desires. Both men were fighting over superiority. Ojukwu acquired Agu-Echara Nsukka, Amenu Edem and Ozzi Edem lands for his military purposes which the Nigerian army subjugated and Gowon requisitioned and took over the whole land.
He stayed there and promulgated decree number 720 of 1973. As Gowon requisitioned the land, Nigerian army occupied the place till 1976. Gowon said since the war ended no victor no vanquished, every other thing returns to its status quo. The Nigerian army were asked to go back to their former barracks. If the army had continued to stay at Agu-Echara, it would amount to illegality.
When the army left, the land remained unoccupied till when I became the chairman, Echara land committee in 2003. Then, I told my people that we have to go into dialogue with the Nigerian army and the government. The Nigerian army left after several years of occupation of the lands at Agu-Echara. My people appointed me chairman of the land committee. A state cannot acquire barracks mostly when it is contentious.
The land was contentious in the sense that federal government did not acquire the land, it was acquired illegally by an illegal government, and then we queried the Nigerian army to have handed over the land to Enugu state government since it was not acquired by the federal government. We instituted an action, sued the Nigerian army to court, first at the federal high court and later to Nsukka high court because they were agitating on jurisdiction.
After going through our statements of claims and amended statements, the army came up with verdict that there was no need pursuing the matter. The army is an army of record. They agreed that they made mistake inter alia; by handing over the land to the state government, then decided that that the land should go back to Echara, Amenu-Edem and Ozzi-Edem communities.
The army asked our lawyers to go back to court and formalise the necessary papers and bring out the case in court. That is the position of the land now. We thank the Nigerian army for understanding and a straight record of the place. Just as we dialogued with the army and reclaimed the land, some disgruntled elements jumped out from nowhere to foment agitations that we sold out the land to enrich ourselves.
Echara community upon appointing the land committee, issued power of attorney to the committee and upon that we presently stand. It is pertinent to state here that those clamouring for the land now are the greedy ones in our area who wants to reap where they did not sow. This victory is a major landmark for a lot of developers who had thought that they would loose their properties if we had lost but the army graciously checked their records and gave us victory.


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