To save your world you asked this man to die:
Would this man, could he see you now, ask why?
Epitaph for the Unknown Soldier, written by W. H. Auden
AKAEZE(ABIA STATE) SEPTEMBER 1968
IGBO TRIBE SECCESION WILL FAIL, FINAL OFFENSIVE LAUNCHED!-says Gowon
NO BIAFRA FOR THE IGBOS!
FEDERAL TROOPS DRIVE BACK TRAITORS!
FEDERAL TROOPS OCCUPY IGBO VILLAGES!
These were the headlines in all the newspapers in nigeria.
Nneka had heard that the war would soon be over.
She had heard over the radio that the nigerian federal troops had advanced into the igbo villages, looting, killing and sometimes burning whole hamlets and villages to the ground.
She had been expecting the Federal troops in her village for weeks and when they finally came she hoped they wouldn’t hurt her or her family.
On september 27th they arrived.
She watched as Nigerian troops matched past the houses. Two by two. Arms held stiffly by their sides, clutching rifles, barrels pointing skywards.
The village children; kwashiorkor ridden, snot pouring ,ran to their mothers. Bleary eyed youths looked on with hate. The village was almost devoid of men. The war had taken most of them out of the village fighting for the Biafran cause.
Nneka held baby isaac in her arms while telling her 4 year old daughter cordelia to be quiet.
She looked on in terror.
Her husband Ibekwe was one of the few men left in town. He had been excluded from the war to help the red cross take care of the sick villagers and wounded igbo soldiers.
Ibekwe was the most educated man in the village. He had been lucky to have parents who saw education as a good thing. He had attended the teachers training college and soon after he became a school teacher
Since the civil war started over a year ago, he had been asked to stay behind instead of fighting with the biafran troops.
He was to act as an intermediary between the foreign countries supporting the biafran cause and the igbo people in akaeze. He worked with the medical and food supply team.
It was no secret that Ibekwe was the most enlightened man in town. He was respected by most and envied by some.
Her husband came back late the night the soldiers arrived. He was very tired and suffering from a headache. She asked if the men in the village were in any danger from the soldiers and he reassured her that no-one would not be harmed.
That happened two weeks ago.
This week, the soldiers had settled down and had started harassing the villagers. They forced teenage girls into their living quarters and made the young boys go on outrageous, back breaking errands for them.
It was whispered, that they had secretly recruited some of the men left in the village.
These men were paid to betray their kinsmen…to sell information to the soldiers. It was a rumour but the villagers had managed to point out 4 men who were among the recruits.
Nneka spat in disgust. She could never imagine her husband selling his kinsmen.
She stood up from the mud stool where she had sat thinking outside and turned to go into the house. The sound of running feet and raised voices calling her name made her turn.
Uju, her gossipy neighbour and two other women who lived nearby, ran into her compound. Nneka looked at them as she struggled to understand what they were saying.
” Your husband!, he is being led to the village square, they are going to kill him”, Uju shouted as she tried to catch her breath.
Nneka did not care to hear the rest of the story. She tightened her wrapper and ran all the way to the village square. People had started gathering in the square and they looked at her in pity.
Uju soon ran into the square holding cordelia who had ran after her mother. She went to Nneka and proceeded to tell her what had happened.
Some of Ibekwe’s colleagues in school had told the soldiers that he was working with the rebels(biafrian soldiers). They had said that ibekwe was supplying the forces with ammunition and news on the federal troop in akaeze. This information was to be used to plan an attack on the troop.
They had fabricated some evidence against him and the soldiers had believed them. They had gone to where ibekwe worked at the make-shift clinic and took him to the commanding officer for questioning. The questioning was just a protocol, he had been tortured and sentenced to death for treason.
As uju finished her story, Ibekwe and a battalion of soldiers arrived at the village square. They led the condemned man chained and bruised to the northern side of the square were the trees where located.
Nneka watched as he was tied to a tree.
The soldiers took their positions as the village catechist said a mass for him.
Time seemed to stop for her as the cathecist finished praying.
She watched as her husband looked round the village square.
Finally his eyes settled on nneka, he smiled at her and started to say something.
The first bullet tore through his body as his lips struggled to form words.
Ibekwe kept on smiling, looking at her as his body jerked from the bullets tearing through him.
As the gunshots subsided and the smoke cleared, she was startled to see that Ibekwe had died with a smile on his face. Falling to the ground, she heard her daughter screaming and sobbing pitifully…
She looked up to see cordelia’s face twisted in horror as she stared at her father’s lifeless body sagging against the ropes with which he was bound.
Cordelia let out a loud wail as she ran towards the corpse. Restrained by soldiers who dragged her back, she screamed uncontrollably. She would never be the same again…….
Note from the author
Each day I live with the pain of how the civil war ruined so many families.
Cordelia is grown and has her own family now.
She is my mother and I see how that day changed her.