by Patrick Egwu Ejike
In commemorating the 50th anniversary of the declaration of Biafra on May 30, 1967, I traveled to Ezeagu, Oji-River in Enugu state and Okigwe, in Imo state where the disabled war veterans of Biafra are staying in resettlement camps to write about the harrowing, heart-wrenching, sole-surviving stories of Biafra’s Forgotten Soldiers – from those who were amputated from bullet injuries, shelling, mortar bombs, grenade, those suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), psychological, emotional trauma and memory loss, to those who die day by day as a result of neglect by the government and abandoned by their own people, the very people they fought for with their lives, under the sun and in the rain.
My visit to the community was not just to open old wounds, but to bring healing by telling their stories. Time they say heals wounds but to them, their wound is still fresh and lives with them.
When YNaija commissioned me to do these series, I felt honoured because it is a project that has always been at the very core of my practice as a community-centric journalist – telling untold or oft-neglected stories of a people whose dignity has been broken, stories of survival in the midst of daunting challenges and more importantly, stories of a people left in the middle of an ocean to drown – no saviour in sight.
After a three-hour journey from Enugu to Okigwe, in Imo state, I took a public bus to Umunna from where I entered a motorcycle to Okwe in Onuimo LGA, a remote-partially undeveloped village. When I finally landed at the resettlement camp of the disabled Biafran veterans where they live with their wives, children, I was moved to tears. Even when I got back to my hotel room in the city at night, I still had a mental picture of their agonising faces that I had met during the day.
Their story is that of agony, pain, frustration, sorrow and grief. They had lost everything to the war – families, friends, comrades, livelihood and hope. Since the war ended fifty years ago, they haven’t gotten the little things of life that they require – recognition, sense of belonging and hope to smile again. The little things that matter but we tend to ignore.
The plight of the disabled war veterans is pathetic – the sight of their children moving them on their rickety wheelchairs, those who pee on themselves because they have no one to care for them, those who die of thirst because they have no one to give them a glass of water from their wheelchairs, to those who held crutches at both hands, walking awkwardly because of the excruciating injuries they had suffered many years ago during the war.
My heart bled for them.
I recall vaguely, as a kid, the agonising stories my father (of blessed memory) who was also a Biafran war veteran, had told me of the war – decomposing dead bodies littered everywhere, children dying of starvation while holding their toys to young mothers who find it difficult to produce milk to breastfeed their dying children because of malnutrition. They watched their babies die. They were helpless.
After spending two days with them, they showed the sign of a people who don’t want to be seen as war heroes nor victors in a war that was declared “No victor, No vanquished” but as fellow humans – needing care, love, compassion and brotherliness. They just want to smile again before they die. This ten-part series titled “Biafra’s Forgotten Soldiers”, tells the story of a broken people – they feel the human race has abandoned them. But the scars of the war continue to live with them forever.