by Patrick Egwu Ejike
Seventy-year-old Francis Njoku tries to rest one of his legs atop his neatly dressed bedspread in a one-room apartment where he lives at the Oji-River resettlement camp for disabled war veterans. Above his bed is a white mosquito net which he brings down at night to escape from the rampaging mosquitoes. On the wall are his clothes which he hung on a nail perfectly fixed on the wall. Close to the window is a Kchibo FM radio he listens to in order to know what’s happening in the country or around the world. It keeps him company whenever he is bored. Sitting on the floor is a bucket of water and a small plastic plate with some grains of uncooked rice. He puffs a stick of Benson cigarette sandwiched between his index and middle fingers.
“Hope you don’t mind about this,” showing me the stick of cigarette. “I do this sometimes to ease off tension. It calms me down whenever I am tensed,” he said.
Francis was in his 20s and living with his parents in Imo state when the war started in 1967. He recalls how he joined the army one year into the war. “I got tired of the killings and decided to defend my people”, he said adjusting one of the pillows on the bed to place his head. “I joined voluntarily in 1968. I was just 20 years old. My parents said nothing, they only prayed for me and I bade them farewell,” he said.
Francis feels the government and people have abandoned them
Francis is one of the soldiers that saw fierce battle at the Abagana sector. The same place he was injured when they launched a night offensive against the federal troops. “It was during a night assault in 1968. We were using inferior weapons and after the assault, when I wanted to move, I slumped. That was when I knew I had been hit,” he pulled up his trouser to show me the bullet wound.
“Since we came to this place, they (government) abandoned us. Nobody came to see us. They only treated us for free after the war and that was all. I feel bad,” he said getting up from the bed to sit down.
“My brother, we are suffering. I have six children and they are all apprentices. I just want to eat before I die,” he said.
In the evening, Francis and his fellow Biafra veterans sit to gist and talk about the war memories
Despite the pitiable conditions of the veterans, their disability, they still believe that their dream — Republic of Biafra – will one day come. They have not given up on their dreams to see the rising sun.
“I poured out my blood in the battlefield for Biafra and because of that I believe that it will come. Nobody can oppose it, it will surely come,” said Patrick Adiole, a war veteran who lost his younger brother in the war. “I cry whenever I remember Alex, my younger brother who was also killed in the war. Do you think that his blood and that of thousands of others innocently killed is at rest?” he asked bending down his head.
The death of Patrick’s younger brother Alex during the war still haunts him
Patrick hadn’t joined the army when his brother joined. It was when he got news that his younger brother was already in the Biafran army before he was moved to join. Six months after his brother joined, he was killed in a battle that Patrick is yet to forget. He believes that the blood of his brother is crying for vengeance and will only rest in peace when Biafra comes. “He talks to me every day, he wants to see Biafra come,” he said.
Patrick shows me his hand which was shattered by shelling during a battle
“We have faith that Biafra will come so that we will be free from marginalization. We (Igbos) are being discriminated and neglected in this country. Then, we fought to set ourselves free. But now, we will get it through dialogue and wisdom,” said Francis. “We fought naked for our land without uniforms. Biafra will come but we don’t pray for another war to come again,” he said.