Just like veterans around the globe, Biafra veterans are the last men standing. Stood for the old Eastern regions, fought at the Front lines , braved the odds and elements today they are old, tired, weak but the spirit is strong. This is the story of Biafran veterans.
I arrived at midmorning. I had followed a pathway overgrown by weeds.The place looked deserted. Three long buildings looking pale in faded yellow.
As I brought out my phone to take pictures of the desolation that stared me in the face, I heard a voice ask, who are you? Then I noticed a man spotting long dreadlocks, sitted in the verandah. Beside him sat a man who appeared to be struggling with something.
My name is James Eze. I came here to confirm that there are still veterans of the Biafran War who live here. When I was younger, I used to see some men in makeshift shelters along Enugu-Onitsha Expressway. And when I asked questions, I was told that they were the wounded soldiers who sacrificed their lives to ensure that people like me had a chance to be born at all. Recently, a Facebook friend of mine, a black American who traced his roots to Igboland, asked questions about Biafran War veterans. He wondered if some of them were still alive and if we could organize ourselves and reach out and touch them in a special way. His name is Akachukwu Okeke. He is an American soldier who currently serves in Afghanistan. During the exchanges on Facebook, I had assured Akachukwu that I’d visit Oji River and find out whether the veterans were still there. That’s why I’m here.
You’re welcome, said the man struggling with something. You have seen us. There are five of us left here. Others are either dead or relocated to Okwe in Okigwe. (Okwe is the hometown of MASSOB leader, Chief Ralph Uwazuruike). Please call Egbuna, he told his dreadlocks-wearing friend. Soon, an old man hobbled out from one of the houses on crutches. He had lost his right leg to the war. Sit down here, Pagan, the man instructed. Pagan is his nickname. He had not only lost a limb, it was clear that he had also lost a great deal of his hearing to the thunderous blasts of bombs and heavy artillery fire.
You have seen us, resumed the man. We have no story to tell you, he said in reply to my request for a little interview. We have told our stories countless times and nothing came out of that. Once again I brought out my phone to take pictures. Don’t do that! He thundered, his eyes popping out wide from their sockets, spitting fire. Don’t take my pictures! Since you mentioned Facebook, I don’t want the world to see my face and my condition. I silently tucked my phone away. I managed to coax him into telling me that his name was Lawrence Njoku before I walked away.
As I wandered my way back to the car, my heart glowed in a silent admiration of this proud man who did not want the world to see his face. He does not want to become anyone’s object of pity. For although he is struggling with a poorly done surgery in his right knee that had laid him waste for 49 years, Lawrence Njoku prefers a life of dignity even if lived in absolute pain and penury!