Uzokwe's Searchlight

Ladies and gentlemen, the Nigerian civil war ended more than thirty years ago, and I wish I could say to you tonight, that all of the problems that led to that unfortunate episode have been solved.
Monday, April 21, 2003

Alfred Obiora Uzokwe


Welcome address by Alfred Obiora Uzokwe at the signing ceremony of the book- Surviving in Biafra - April 12, 2003 at the Harrisburg Holiday Inn, East.

hairman, the keynote speaker, the Secretary of Transportation for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, venerable ministers, the president of the Nigerian society of south central Pennsylvania, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen

It is with great pleasure, that I welcome you all here tonight, on the occasion of the signing ceremony of the book, Surviving in Biafra. As I look around and see the number of people, who have come tonight to grace this occasion, I cannot help but be filled with a deep sense of elation, gratitude to you all and thankfulness to almighty God, who made this day possible.

To paraphrase Winston Churchill, this has indeed become my finest hour; but make no mistake about it, my family and I owe it to you all, for coming out in great numbers to support us and for buying the book. We thank you immensely from the bottom of our hearts.

Some have wondered what gives me the impetus or the locus standi (as they say in Latin), to write about the Nigeria/Biafra war. Well, as a little boy living in the Biafran enclave, during the 30-months of the war, I witnessed the devastation. I guess you can say that the book is an eyewitness account.

Some have also asked how this book project came about in the first place? They wonder if I have always known that I would write a book? Frankly, I would have liked to say that I have always known that I would write a book and it was just a question of time. But if I said that, it would NOT be true. Writing of the book, Surviving in Biafra, is purely an accident of history and here is why:

This book project was born on the World Wide Web, precisely, on the pages of the Internet News Magazine called, which is read by thousands all over the world.

On this web site, I write weekly news commentaries about the socio-economic and political situation in Nigeria, under a column called Uzokwe's Searchlight.

Sometime in December of 2001, I wrote an article called "Sack Dupe Adelaja, but Ndigbo must do more". It was in response to a statement credited to Nigeria's sub minister for defense, Mrs. Dupe Adelaja. She was quoted as saying that soldiers who fought on the side of Biafra, during the war, were traitors. These were soldiers who fought to prevent the annihilation of the Igbo tribe, of which I am one. I and many others, were deeply offended by what she said because, Biafrans fought a war of survival not aggression. Also, considering the extent of lives lost in that conflict, I felt that her statement was exceedingly insensitive. In my article, which was addressed to Nigeria's president, I called for the resignation of the sub minister.

In the article, I promised my readers that I would write a three-part essay, about civilian suffering and death in Biafra, during the war. I wanted to show my readers why I was very incensed by what the sub minister said. I did not realize that my readers paid much attention to a promise I made without thinking too much about. But when my next article was published the next week, on, and it was not the story of Biafra, I was inundated with emails from my readers. They wanted to know why I broke my promise to write the story of suffering and death in Biafra. As a result, I started writing the three-part story of Biafra. The first part of the series was published in January of 2002. After the release of the 2nd part, and while I was preparing for the last part of the essay, my readers started emailing again. This time, they wanted me to put the story in a book form. They reasoned that in a book form, I would be able to tell the whole story in one fell swoop. They felt that it would not be possible to tell the whole story of the war in a three-part essay. After some initial trepidation, I started writing and the book Surviving in Biafra, was born. The rest, as they say, is history.

Some people have argued that 33 years after the war, writing a book like this is tantamount to reopening old wounds. My answer has always been that those who shy away from history are bound to repeat it. Several volumes have been written about the World wars and the Vietnam war. More are still being written. Those documents preserve history and help prevent more conflicts.

Previous books about the Biafran war were written by field commanders who talked more about their heroic deeds. My account of the Biafran war looks at what the ordinary people like children, women and the elderly endured. The book is in essence, the story of Survival in Biafra.

My story is written from the perspective of a little boy, who witnessed the deadly effects of malnutrition on innocent children; a boy who saw families bury their loved ones in utmost anguish;
a boy who had his own share of the tragic losses of loved ones. That little boy is standing before you tonight by the grace of God, but I must confess that the nightmare has not completely dissipated.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Nigerian civil war ended more than thirty years ago, and I wish I could say to you tonight, that all of the problems that led to that unfortunate episode have been solved. Unfortunately, they still linger. Nigeria has failed to adhere to the admonition, as entrenched in her national anthem, which read in part - "the labors of our heroes past shall never be in vain, to serve with heart and might, one nation bound in freedom, peace and unity". Of course unity is the prerequisite for stability and peace. That unity is still not in Nigeria and so peace and stability are always threatened.

As we speak, Nigeria is holding another round of elections under a democratic system of government. In my mind, that is a good first step, but there is a Latin saying that goes thus- cuculus non facit monarchum, meaning - the hood does not make the monk. Inotherwords, just because someone is wearing a hood, does not make him a monk or righteous. What I am trying to say here is that there is more to democracy than just adopting a democratic system of government. Nigeria must adopt those universally accepted tenets by which true democracy is measured. She must accept the fact "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

Surviving in Biafra is not an attempt to shame Nigeria because she has many good things and millions of good people. The book is an attempt to get Nigeria to confront her unfortunate past in other to embrace the dawn of a new era. An era where life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness would be accorded the utmost respect.

It is the hope of this author, that by chronicling Nigeria's unfortunate past in the book, Surviving in Biafra, it would help bring about an egalitarian society in Nigeria, where people would learn to co-exist side by side, without bitterness or rancor, and without the cankerworm of inter-ethnic animosity or religious intolerance. I envision a nation, where in the final analysis, peace and unity will reign supreme.

In conclusion, I would like to thank you all, once again, for making out the time to be with us tonight. Some came from far and some came from near. Some are my fellow columnists and my colleagues at work. Others are my siblings, my relatives and my pastor.

Many are my friends in the Nigerian Society of South Central Pennsylvania while several are simply well-wishers. I especially thank the Secretary of Transportation for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Mr. Al Biehler and his wife, for taking out the time to be with us in spite of their hectic schedule. I thank you all for coming. God Bless Nigeria. God Bless the United States of America.

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Be on the lookout for my thoughts on Nigeria's elections on