How time flies! It is now some fifty years since the Nigerian civil war ended. I recall those days in mid-January 1970 when the war ended. I was a form four student in Government College, Keffi, and we had just reported back to school after the end of the year holidays. I came back to school with a small transistor radio which became of high value to me and my roommates, to follow reports aired by BBC and other international radio outlets. There were hardly any newspapers in remote Keffi, then. And television was still some years ahead. The radio was the most dependable source of news. It was from the radio that we started having an inkling that the war was ending. By the time the official announcement came it wasn’t much of a surprise. In any case it was also confirmed by the Principal of the college at the morning assembly session.
There was immense sigh of relief at the announcement, especially for those of us who were midway into secondary schools. We had known nothing else but the war since we came into the form one. The first shot heralding the civil war was launched in the mid-1967 when my set was just settling into form one. Since then it was one trauma or the other as the war escalated. We had imagined that the war was far away in the eastern part of the country, but when bombs were detonated in Lagos and Kaduna it registered that one was vulnerable anywhere. There was a general fear of the unknown all around. We even had bomb drills in schools to train school children on what to do in case of bomb attacks.
One could remember a general slowdown in everything. Obviously government had no money to do anything else but prosecute the war. Everything that needed government funds was affected. The roads were dilapidated, and journeys took days rather than the hours we spend now. The road I follow to college from Maiduguri, my home, was the single lane highway through Bauchi, Jos, Akwanga, Gudi and it was only tarred in parts. In fact, the portion from Bauchi would be some of the most terrifying roads one had ever travelled on. There were frightening deep gorges on the sides of the roads leading up the hills to Jos and after. There were no buses nor taxis, we could only travel on rickety, open, bolekajas. Trains were a luxury but available. At least one could take a train from Maiduguri all the way to Gudi.
Nevertheless, the depravations we suffered as school children during the civil war on my side of the divide cannot by any stretch of imagination be compared to what our mates went through in the other side of the divide. Many of them were uprooted from where they considered home and driven under frightening conditions to a life of terrifying depravations. They suffered cramped family lives, deaths, bombs, hunger, diseases, in whatever order. In wars, and times of troubles, children suffered most and the civil war literature is full of such testimonies.
After the war, secondary school over, we all converged in the universities as from 1972 onwards with the other kids from the war-torn areas who survived the war. Through various levels of interactions and sharing of experiences, we came to appreciate what hell they went through in those traumatic years. Much later I would come face to face with the horrors that the civil war visited on the affected areas when in 1975 we went as delegates from ABU Zaria to Benin to attend the convention of the now defunct National Union of Nigerian Students (NUNS). We went through Onitsha and it was the first time I crossed the River Niger into the East. Even though it was some four years after the war the tell-tale scars were visible all the way to Benin. The roads were bumpy and full of pot holes. And in all the towns and villages we passed through, the buildings bore plenty of marks from bullets and or shells. Poverty was written all over the place. It was truly horrifying to see.
During the national service year, I lived in Lagos but I took time off occasionally to visit fellow corpers living in the East. I would spend a day or two with Bello Abdullahi who served in Ogidi – Chinua Achebe’s home village, a short run from Onitsha. I would then hop off to Owerri where Tijjani El-Miskeen was teaching. My last port of call would be Port Harcourt where Zakar Isah Chawai was serving along with his new bride. In all these journeys the pattern I saw was the same: dilapidated infrastructure, destroyed buildings in towns and villages, and poverty written all over. That was 1976, six years after the war, yet the conditions were just as bad as the war had just ended.
Wars are horrors. We should talk about them so as to avoid them. Not to repeat them.
SUNNY SIDE OF THE SOCIAL MEDIA
Wonders never end! At a time when the social media was under intense scrutiny with negative labels such as fake news being bandied about, it is heart-warming to follow what good the social media has generated to the life of blind singer living in a village in Makoda local government of Kano State. The singer, Magajiya Dambatta was a heroine of the 1970s, a great popular singer who had produced songs extolling the virtues of sound education and moral values. In the early 1970s many would recall the sonorous voice of Magajiya Dambatta, dishing out song after song, over the radios in Kano, encouraging citizens to bring out their wards to school.
Unfortunately, the old maestro went blind and subsequently fell on real hard times. She was forced to go out begging to sustain herself until words reached Jaafar Jaafar, Editor-in Chief and publisher of the Daily Nigerian, an online medium. Jaafar went out to the village and sought out the singer to assess her situation and the environment as well. He immediately put her condition to the public on his Facebook account to raise awareness on the plight of the unfortunate blind singer as a means for mobilising funds from the public towards her rehabilitation. The response was overwhelming. Over 500 responded to Jaafar’s entreaties and within a week an amount of over N5m had been raised.
After this wholesome collection, Jaafar went back to the village to brief Magajiya. I followed their encounter as it was reported in many international Hausa language radio stations. Their meeting, as readers would expect, was ecstatic as Magajiya was briefed on the goodies lined up to cater for her livelihood. She even belted out a thankyou song, in a strong and vibrant voice, that belied her 82 years. This is expected because I understand that a substantial part of the proceeds will be used to build or rent a modest dwelling for her. They have also planned a 3-year payment of allowances to cater for her food, shelter, health care and other daily needs on monthly quarterly or as the need arises. She would also be taken to the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital for detailed medical examination, particularly her eyes condition.
Obviously things are looking up for Magajiya Dambatta. Thanks to the positive power of the social media and large-heartedness of Jaafar Jaafar and his friends. We shall be following the developments.