#It Happened To Me: My Experience In Lagos During The Nigerian Civil War

There is so much in the news today about Biafra seceding from Nigeria.There are some who argue that it would be the best thing for the country, while others are wary because of the millions of lives who were lost in the Civil War, when Biafra tried to secede in the 1960’s.

The woman who shares her story today belongs in the second camp. She lived in Lagos during the Civil war, and she shares her experience, hoping that she will never have to go through war again in her lifetime…

I am in my 50s and a grandmother now, and as I hear the drumbeats of war being sounded in different corners of our country today, I find that I still tremble at the thought of experiencing another war in my lifetime!

As a 4 year old my family lived in Lagos during then civil war and we were largely sheltered from the horrors of the time. It is on record that, the Biafra war, which lasted for about 30 months, claimed over 1 million lives, mostly through hunger, famine and bloody massacres. Yet for us in Lagos, what I remember most was this catch phrase jingle that was played on radio:

“Go ‘won’ with one Nigeria, to keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done”

It was all I knew until two incidences occurred that showed me that even if you are not in the war front, you are still exposed to danger during any war.

One evening on our way to visit family friends, we had a near death experience. We had been driving around Ademola street SW Ikoyi, in Lagos, a supposed high brow area, that housed many government and military officials, when there was a loud explosion that shook our car, causing it to swerve off the road. The whole area was enveloped in smoke, but my mum managed to get all her four children out of the car ushering us to a nearby building. I still remember the screams and panic as people ran helter skelter in panic, as they tried to shield themselves from the flying debris, and seek out a place of shelter.  It was a shock to find that a place that was supposed to be one of the safest places since most government and military officials lived around was not so safe after all! We were so frightened we thought the war had gotten to Lagos. However, later that night we found out it was a mecenary plane that had crashed, claiming a few lives and numerous injuries. We just thanked God we were at the far end of the street when it happened.

It seemed things deteriorated shortly after, because alert levels escalated and we were all told to build trenches in our homes in case of a bombing. We lived in fear and our days were often truncated whenever there was a loud sound, and my mother would hurry us all into the bunker where we would stay for hours. Almost choking from heat and dust! We even heard of people who died in these trenches mainly out of fear and panic.  A few months later soldiers appeared everywhere in Lagos. You couldn’t go anywhere without being checked or inspected and sometimes the officials even got aggressive.

By far the scariest thing happened one day on our way back home from church. Mum had stopped by a supermarket to buy us some treats after picking up fuel at a nearby petrol station.  On our way towards the store, mum walking on ahead of us; out of nowhere a military officer yanked 2 of my siblings off our trail and began to drag them away. I tugged my mum to show her what was happening and she had to run to beg the officer to let my brothers go. The military man was vehement and rough as he accused my mum of holding 2 Igbo children, but she explained to him that it wasn’t so, saying they were her sons and that we were from Rivers State. The officer insisted and my mum kept begging, explaining each time that we were all her children. After a long time the soldier shoved them back to my mum and we were allowed to go. That’s one experience I can never forget.

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For almost 3 years we lived in fear hoping that the war would end and even though I was very young I could feel the tension at home. My father was a reporter at the time and he was always on duty so my mum would worry whenever he was away, anxious for his safety. There was even a time we saw him reporting in the news and bomb debris landed on his boat. We all thought he would not make it home because of all the mayhem it caused; the boat toppled over and we saw it live before the camera went off.  Of course my mum panicked and cried till my dad came home unharmed. It was not easy watching all this. Imagine how confused I would have been at that age.

However, compared to what people on the Biafran side suffered, my experience may seem lame, but the point in sharing this is to let people know that war pays no one except mercenaries.

You will be moved to tears if you see the disturbing pictures of lives lost and the poor state of starving children. After such a tragic event that has been buried for over 50 years, why would anyone want to relive this national torture again?

I tell my children the story often so that their generation can preach unity and not war, nothing good can come out of it.

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