by Patrick Egwu Ejike
Gideon Njoku, 68, remembers and forgets. He is suffering from memory loss – a result of the psychological and emotional trauma he passed through during the war.
“Sometimes I lose my mind. I look around sheepishly like someone who is lost, I don’t know what to say,” he said, removing the T-shirt he was wearing and hung it on the wall. “We might be discussing something very important now and the next second I am blank. I won’t know what to say again. You will think I was just joking but it’s not,” he said scratching his head.
“I might call you that I would like to discuss something important with you but if you come, that is the end. I won’t remember what to say again until after some time.”
Gideon remembers and forgets his past after the war. He suffers PTSD
Gideon is suffering from what medical experts call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a mental disorder that can develop after a person is exposed to traumatic events such as wars, violence or accidents. Medical experts believe that 67 percent of people exposed to mass violence have been shown to develop PTSD, a higher rate than those exposed to natural disasters or any other type of traumatic events.
“The thoughts of my brothers and family members who died during the war give me shock. I feel like I see them all the time, sometimes I don’t,” he said.
“It is known as combative post-traumatic stress disorder especially when you see deaths of your colleagues in the battlefield,” Dr Valentine Eze, an expert in experimental psychology, department of psychology, University of Nigeria, Nsukka told YNaija. “Psychosomatic illnesses may develop and victims often lose interest in living and can sometimes lead to suicide. Intense ones lead to the disorientation of mental and psycho-physiological aspects of an individual. The individual may require some psychotherapies and social support to heal,” he said.
At 18, Gideon joined the Biafran militia before joining the regular army. “I joined through the militia before I joined the regular army. I joined voluntarily,” he recalls. “My mother was pained and disturbed then but my father consoled her that I will be fine before she accepted,” narrating how his mother turned down his interest to join the army.
It was 4:30 pm in May 1969 during the second day of a three-day ceasefire which was brokered by an international mission. Gideon and his battalion were resting when suddenly – mortars, shelling and grenade explosions rocked their camp. He was badly injured in the attacks.
“After we had launched an attack, we had a cease-fire for three days. On the second day, they (federal troops) attacked us. The particles of the shelling rained on me. I was down. My sergeant died in the attack,” he recalled.
He was taken to the International Red Cross Center in Ohaji, Imo where he remained until the war ended in 1970. He now uses crutches to aid his movement.
“Sometimes I walk aimlessly talking to myself,” said Adolphus Chukwuneke, 67, who is still suffering from PTSD. “Sometimes I will be discussing with my colleagues and all of a sudden I will keep quiet without knowing what to say,” he said.
Adolphus who suffers PTSD, was one of the “Brave 7” during the war
During the war, Adolphus was known as “Adolph Don’t Be Dull”, a sobriquet his friends gave him at the battlefield. Like Gideon, he joined the war when he was just 17. “When I heard about the mass killing of the Igbos, my brothers in the north, I was angry and decided to join the army,” he said.
Adolphus was part of the “Brave 7” during the war, a group of specially trained militia commandos who responded to any call, offensive, rescue or reinforcement mission anytime.
“I didn’t tell my parents because I thought they would discourage me. They got to know when I was injured in the battle in Agwu, Enugu in 1969,” he said.