Biafra’s Forgotten Soldiers III: I’m waiting for the day I will die

by Patrick Egwu Ejike

Forty-seven-year-old Cecilia Ozorji is now a widow.

She is currently suffering from High Blood Pressure and malaria. Her body is weak and she gestures when she wants to speak – in a low voice that you can barely hear her. Her husband, Anthony, one of the disabled Biafran veterans has died. He died in 2012 after series of surgeries from injuries he got during the war.

“This is him sitting in a wheelchair during the (church) dedication of our last child,” she said pointing to show me her husband in a group picture taken inside a church in 2011. “I cry whenever I remember that he is no more,” she said still looking at the photograph while sitting on the ground. “Now I am sick, I am waiting for the day I will join him too,” she said.

Cecilia Ozorji becomes inconsolable whenever she remembers her husband

Since 1975, more than 400 wounded Biafran soldiers have died in their resettlement camps in Oji-River, Enugu state and Okwe, Onuimo in Imo state out of neglect, starvation and diseases by the government and more painfully, their own people. They were once the heroes who hoisted their victory flags and clutched their guns and fought under the rain and in the sun to save their land, families and restore their hope of freedom and survival for their unborn children.

“Look at them, they are all dead,” Mr Israel Nwagbara said while bringing out an old black-and-white picture from a red cover diary he was holding in his hands. “They all died of hunger, poverty and neglect by our people. I’m waiting for the day I will die,” he said.

Israel Nwagbara displaying a group photograph of his deceased colleagues

Only last year, four of the veterans died, leaving their children and fellow war comrades. This year, one has died already and others are waiting for when they will die.

“When I pass here each day I see their doors are locked and I feel bad. They left the world with nothing,” he said while nodding his head.

“I know I will die soon but I want to eat before I die.”

Shiny padlocks are fastened to the doors of sick and deceased veterans

In 1982, Mr Nwagbara was given a wheelchair by a woman he identified as Judith, a foreign missionary. Before then, he sits or rolls on the ground whenever he wants to move from one point to the other.

Thirty-year-old Israel was working at a refinery in the oil hub of Port Harcourt in 1967 when the war started. He luckily escaped to Enugu, the capital of the east-central state at that time. “I was working in the refinery in Port Harcourt then. I came back to Enugu when everything was shut down and then I joined the army,” he said recalling how the war events happened before joining the Biafran army.

One year after joining the army and seeing some fierce battles, he was hit with shelling and mortar bomb during an assault in Enugu. From then, he never moved again.  He was paralysed.

“I was injured in Achi, Oji river during an attack in 1968. I was hit with shelling. I was taken to the hospital in Amachala in Umuahia. I was there until the war ended. It was very painful experience,” he said sighing. “We are dying of sickness; my colleagues are dying one after the other. I don’t know when my turn will be. We need help.”

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