Uzokwe's Searchlight

Once the explosions started, instinct took over and we did exactly what we had been taught; we all rushed out into the adjacent farmland and lay as motionless as possible on the ground…
Sunday, February 9, 2003

Alfred Obiora Uzokwe


The book, Surviving in Biafra


he book ''Surviving in Biafra'' has been published and this writer owes a debt of gratitude to readers who continued to send encouraging words while the manuscript was in the making. Those words of encouragement helped motivate this author and led to the timely completion of the book. I was pleasantly surprised by the nature of the feedback I got as I was writing the book; even those who were on the opposite side of things during the Biafran war, still believed that this story needed to be told from the civilian perspective. They agreed that all Nigerians needed to fully understand the nature of the agony, deprivation, suffering, heartbreak and trauma that civilians and innocent children in Biafra went through. The story of the war told from the perspective I did, they felt, could actually make well-meaning Nigerians resolve to start stamping out the problems that precipitated the conflict and turn a new leaf where religious and ethnic intolerance have no place.

Many opined that the story would begin to put a human face on the suffering that civilians went through, thereby eliciting the proper level of action that would prevent Nigeria from ever experiencing such destruction of lives and property again. The issue of putting a human face on the destruction is particularly important; for example, many have heard and read about the Asaba massacre, but for the first time, they will see in the book, the pictures of some of the family members that this author lost during the massacre. They will then understand that the carnage was real, that real people were massacred and that real families suffered the losses.

Many readers pointed out to me, during the uprising in the north occasioned by journalist Isioma Daniel's writing, that intolerance, which is part of what precipitated the war, was still very much alive and well in Nigeria. They hoped that the accounts in the book would continually remind Nigeria and indeed other nations, of the grave dangers of intolerance.

I am especially grateful to the publisher, Mr. Chuck Odili, who provided the forum in which the book project was born in the first place. has become the voice of the erstwhile voiceless in Nigeria and it is my fervent belief that when the history of Nigeria's eventual greatness is chronicled in future, this forum would be listed as one of the avenues that catalyzed positive change that led to a bigger and better Nigeria.

When this book project began in the beginning months of the year 2001, I promised Nigeriaworld readers that they would be the first to know about the completion as well as read the first formal excerpts of the book. In keeping with that promise, I am releasing a two-part excerpt from the book. The first is from Chapter 9 - Nnewi is bombed. Please read on.

Chapter 9 - Nnewi Is Bombed

Starvation was not the only means that Nigeria used to attempt to break the spirit of Biafra and cow her into submission. When the war started, it was believed that the rules of conventional warfare would apply and hence, air raids and military assaults would only be targeted at army formations. As things progressed, it became clear that Nigeria was determined to break all the rules of conventional warfare; they bombed civilians with reckless abandon and the havoc they were causing in civilian enclaves was utterly gruesome! The testament to the carnage they left in their wake could be seen all over Biafra - maimed children, men and women with missing body parts, destroyed residential buildings, cratered highways with skeletal remains littered all over them and the constant smell of death in the air.

A man's life was literally turned upside down in the town of Aba. On that day, the town was being bombed and strafed by Nigerian jet fighters and bombers and civilians were running all over the place for cover. A bomb, which was dropped by one of the aircrafts, landed very close to the man's house; it first drilled into the ground before exploding. The explosion unearthed a large quantity of soil and so the man, who was running for cover at the time, was buried alive with only parts of his body showing! After the air raid, other survivors discovered what had happened and subsequently rescued him. Half of his body was burnt and his skin had literally peeled off from his waist to his head, giving him a pinkish look on the upper half of his body. He was later brought back to Nnewi and, as anyone would imagine, was a sorrowful sight to behold. As if conscious of his physical appearance, which was sometimes very frightening to children, he used a hat to cover his head. Every time he went by our house, I could not help but wonder how horrible the experience must have been for him, yet those were some of the harsh realities of the war. Many Biafran civilians lost their lives during air raids; it was not clear at first whether the civilians were being purposely targeted, but as the mayhem continued unabated, it became clear that it was a deliberate policy by Nigeria aimed at exterminating Biafra. Air raid survivors were all over Biafra; they were willing to tell anyone the story of the atrocities they witnessed and endured. The trauma was so severe that some of them suffered panic attacks any time they heard sounds that remotely resembled that of an aircraft. It was disappointing that the world community allowed the destruction of lives of such a magnitude to continue without serious intervention. We continued to suffer in Biafra, wondering what the world was doing about it, not knowing that international politics was precluding even those who sympathized with us from coming to our aid.

I am not sure how this story got to Biafra, or who the source was, but it was said that since Nigeria did not have enough qualified pilots, but were bent on bombing civilian targets, they naturally went looking for mercenary pilots, who would have no problems with targeting civilians. Eventually, they found accomplices in Egyptian pilots. The ruthless and heartless pilots started doing the bidding of their Nigerian employers, bombing everything in sight, dispossessing mothers of their children and robbing children of their parents through deadly air assaults.

While we were hearing about the atrocities the Egyptian pilots were visiting on civilians all over Biafra, Nnewi was yet to witness an air raid. Some said that Nnewi was not bombed because the enemy planes could not locate the town; others said that Edo, or the deity, in Nnewi, protected the town from air raids. Some even suggested that all the native doctors in Nnewi came together and put a powerful protective charm over the town and that every time the warplanes went by Nnewi all they saw was a body of water. I do not know about the adults, but the kids believed all these stories completely and so felt somewhat safe and immune from Nigeria's air assaults. We had no reason to dispute the stories because the airplanes still had not shown up in Nnewi, but that was about to change.

One day, late in the morning, just after market women had left for the market and the rest of us were going about our business, we suddenly heard the sound of an aircraft in the distance. The sound would sometimes get louder, as though the aircraft was coming towards our direction, and then start receding gradually into the distance. We could tell that it was not the usual aircraft that brought food to Biafra, because the relief flights were conducted at night. They also flew at a very high altitude and had a peculiar lazy, drone-like sort of sound. The menacing sound we were hearing this time was definitely coming from a fast aircraft, flying at a lower altitude. As we huddled around to ponder what all that meant, some of the refugees amongst us who had witnessed air raids elsewhere in Biafra confirmed that what they were hearing was reminiscent of the war planes that harassed, bombed and strafed their locations elsewhere in Biafra. Not sure what to make of all this, we just stood around listening intently as the sound of the plane continued to increase and ebb interchangeably. Then the unthinkable happened; a loud sound of what seemed like an explosion could be heard in the distance; this was followed by secondary but more subdued sounds of exploding ordnance. The secondary explosions seemed to be coming in succession and the whole thing sounded like a choreographed sound display. Before this time, even though we had not experienced an air raid in my town, we had learnt all the necessary steps to take in case one materialized. We were supposed to dive for cover on the ground or run into the bush and take cover. If caught unawares, while walking along a road, we were to stand still and the planes would mistake us for "inanimate objects."

Once the explosions started, instinct took over and we did exactly what we had been taught; we all rushed out into the adjacent farmland and lay as motionless as possible on the ground…(chapter 9 continues in the book)

Next week, excerpt from Chapter 10- Voice of Biafra Revolution

Book Now Available at: Barnes and Noble. com
Coming soon at

Title: Surviving In Biafra: The Story of the Nigerian Civil War
ISBN: 0-595-26366-6
Publication date: January 2003
247 pages- illustrated with maps and family pictures.
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