Biafra: A People Betrayed

THIS GENERATION MUST BE FREE FROM THIS CONTRAPTION CALLED NIGERIA. IT'S BIAFRA OR DEATH. THIS GENERATION OF BIAFRA MUST KNOW THEIR TRUE HISTORY. THEY MUST LEARN ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED IN THE PAST WHICH NIGERIAN GOVERNMENT SWEPT UNDER THE CARPET. RADIO BIAFRA HAS COME TO LIBERATE THE PEOPLE OF THE RISING SUN AND UNCOVER EVERY ATROCITIES COMMITTED AGAINST THE GREAT INDIGENOUS PEOPLE OF BIAFRA 1967/70.

THERE is a "Kingdom of Biafra" on some old maps which were made by early white explorers of the west coast of Africa. Nobody is now sure what that kingdom was, what its laws and arts and tools were like. No tales survive of the kings and queens.

As for the "Republic of Biafra" we know a great deal. It was a nation with more citizens than Ireland and Norway combined. It proclaimed itself an independent republic on May 30, 1967. On January 17 of 1970, it surrendered unconditionally to Nigeria, the nation from which it had tried to secede. It had few friends in this world, and among its active enemies were Russia and Great Britain. Its enemies were pleased to call it a "tribe."

Some tribe.

The Biafrans were mainly Christians and they spoke English melodiously, and their economy was this one: small-town free enterprise. The worthless Biafran currency was gravely honoured to the end. The tune of Biafra's national anthem was Finlandia, by Jan Sibelius. The equatorial Biafrans admired the arctic Finns because the Finns won and kept their freedom in spite of ghastly odds.

Biafra lost its freedom, of course, and I was in the middle of it as all its fronts were collapsing. I flew in from Gabon on the night of January 3, with bags of corn, beans, and powdered milk, aboard a blacked out DC6 chartered by Caritas, the Roman Catholic relief organization. I flew out six nights later on an empty DC4 chartered by the French Red Cross. It was the last plane to leave Biafra that was not fired upon.

While in Biafra, I saw a play which expressed the spiritual condition of the Biafrans at the end. It was set in ancient times, in the home of a medicine man. The moon had not been seen for many months, and the crops had failed. There was nothing to eat anymore. A sacrifice was made to a goddess of fertility, and the sacrifice was refused. The goddess gave the reason: The people were not sufficiently unselfish and brave.

Before the drama began, the national anthem was played on an ancient marimba. It seems likely that similar marimbas were heard in the court of the Kingdom of Biafra. The black man who played the marimba was naked to the waist. He squatted on the stage. He was a composer. He also held a doctor's degree from the London School of Economics.

I asked a Biafran how long his nation had existed so far, and he replied, "Three Christmases, and a little bit more." He wasn't a hungry baby. He was a hungry man. He was a living skeleton, but he walked like a man.

We flew over water, there were Russian trawlers below. They were monitoring every plane that came into Biafra. The Russians were helpful in a lot of ways: They gave the Nigerians Ilyushin bombers and MIGs and heavy artillery. And the British gave the Nigerians artillery too and advisers, and tanks and armoured cars, and machine guns and mortars and all that, and endless ammunition.

America was neutral.

When we got close to the one remaining Biafran airport, which was a stretch of highway, its lights came on. It was a secret. Its lights resembled two rows of glowworms. The moment our wheels touched the runway, the runway lights went out and our plane's headlights came on. Our plane slowed down, pulled off the runway, killed its lights, and then everything was pitch black again. There were only two white faces in the crowd around our plane. One was a Holy Ghost Father. The other was a doctor from the French Red Cross. The doctor ran a hospital for the children who were suffering from kwashiorkor, the pitiful children who had no protein.

As I write, Nigeria has arrested all the Holy Ghost Fathers, who stayed to the end with their people in Biafra.

The priests were mostly Irishmen. They were beloved. Whenever they built a church, they also built a school. Children and simple men and women thought all white men were priests, so they would often beam at Vance or me and say, "Hello, Father." The Fathers are now being deported forever. Their crime: compassion in time of war. We were taken to the Frenchman's hospital the next morning, in a chauffeur-driven Peugeot. The name of the village itself sounded like the wail of a child: AwoOmama.

I said to an educated Biafran, "Americans may not know much about Biafra, but they know about the children."' We're grateful," he replied, "but I wish they knew more than that. They think we're a dying nation. We aren't. We're an energetic, modern nation that is being born! We have doctors. We have hospitals. We have public-health programs. If we have so much sickness, it is because our enemies have designed every diplomatic and military move with one end in mind — that we starve to death."

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Biafra: A People Betrayed

Biafra - A People Betrayed

About kwashiorkor: It is a rare disease, caused by a lack of protein. Its cure has been easy, until the blockading of Biafra.

The worst sufferers there were the children of refugees, driven from their homes, then driven off the roads and into the bush by MIGs and armoured columns. The Biafrans weren't jungle people. They were village people—farmers and professionals and clerks and businessmen. They had no weapons to hunt with. Back in the bush, they fed their children whatever roots and fruit they were lucky enough to find. At the end, a very common diet was water and thin air. So, the children came down with kwashiorkor, no longer a rare disease. The child's hair turned red. His skin split like the skin of a ripe tomato. His rectum protruded. His arms and legs were like lollipop sticks.

Vance and Miriam and I waded through shoals of children like those at Awo-Omama. We discovered that if we let our hands dangle down among the children, a child would grasp each finger or thumb—five children to a hand. A finger from a stranger, miraculously, would allow a child to stop crying for a while. A MIG came over, fired a few rounds, didn't hit anything this time, though the hospital had been hit often before. Our guide guessed that the pilot was an Egyptian or an East German. I asked a Biafran nurse what sort of supplies the hospital was most in need of.

Her answer: "Food."

Biafra had a George Washington — for three Christmases and a little bit more. He was and is Odumegwu Ojukwu. Like George Washington, General Ojukwu was one of the most prosperous men of his place and time. He was a graduate of Sandhurst, Britain's West Point. The three of us spent an hour with him. He shook our hands at the end. He thanked us for coming. "If we go forward, we die," he said. "If we go backward, we die. So, we go forward." He was ten years younger than Vance and me. I found him perfectly enchanting. Many people mock him now. They think he should have died with his troops.

Maybe so.

Biafra - Britain's Shame

If he had died, he would have been one more corpse in millions.

He was a calm, heavy man when we met him. He chain-smoked. Cigarettes were worth a blue million in Biafra. He wore a camouflage jacket, though he was sitting in a cool living room in a velveteen easy chair. "I should warn you," he said, "we are in range of their artillery." His humour was gallows humour, since everything was falling apart around his charisma and air of quiet confidence. His humour was superb. Later, when we met his second-in-command, General Philip Effiong, he, too, turned out to be a gallows humourist. Vance said this: "Effiong should be the Number two man. He's the second funniest man in Biafra."

Jokes.

Miriam was annoyed by my conversation at one point, and she said scornfully, "You won't open your mouth unless you can make a joke." It was true. Joking was my response to misery I couldn't do anything about. The jokes of Ojukwu and Effiong had to do with the crime for which the Biafrans were being punished so hideously by so many nations. The crime: They were attempting to become a nation themselves. "They call us a dot on the map," said General Ojukwu, "and nobody's sure quite where." Inside that dot were 700 lawyers, 500 physicians, 300 engineers, 8 million poets, 2 novelists of the first rank, and God only knows what else -- about one-third of all the black intellectuals in Africa. Some dot. Those intellectuals had once fanned out all over Nigeria, where they had been envied and lynched and massacred. So, they retreated to their homeland, to the dot. The dot has now vanished. Hey, presto.

When we met General Ojukwu, his soldiers were going into battle with thirty-five rounds of rifle ammunition. There was no more where that came from. For weeks before that, they had been living on one cup of gari a day. The recipe for gari is this: Add water to pulverized cassava root. Now the soldiers didn't even have gari anymore. General Ojukwu described a typical Nigerian attack for us: "They pound a position with artillery for twenty-four hours, then they send forward one armoured car. If anybody shoots at it, it retreats, and another twenty-four hours of bombardment begins. When the infantry moves forward, they drive a screen of refugees before them.

Written by:
Kurt Vonnegut
(White Journalist Observer)
26th October 2018

 

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