odumchi’s account

This is my own story…

Before the war, my maternal grandfather and his family lived happily in Calabar. They were teachers and they lived in one of the many of the autonomous communities founded by Igbo settlers. At the out break of war, he was forced to relocate his family all the way from Calabar to their hometown, Arochukwu, via bicycle because some of the Efik were using it as an opportunity to drive out the Igbo (who lived in their land in large numbers). By this time, people had formed a small refugee camp on the east bank of the Cross River and were waiting anxiously for river boats to shuttle them across. They waited there for a few days and some of the desperate ones attempted to swim across the river.

Then after a few days, a lone canoe made its way across the river and informed everyone that there was a man who was insisiting that anyone who wanted to cross should pay. After he told us this, my grandfather and a few other men decided to go along with him so as to “pay” the man (they weren’t really going to pay). When they crossed the river, instead of going to th eman as usual, they went to another generous man who owned many canoes. The man granted them the permission to use the canoes to shuttle accross their families. By this time, my grandmother (on the other bank of the river) was growing worried because she feared that her husband might not be alive. All this while, she, her two babies, and her elderly mother had been surviving on plantain skins which she made sure to keep out of the eyes of the other people so as to avoid being robbed.

Some time later, my grandfather and many other men (along with their improvised canoe fleet) made their way back across the river and transported their families across. When his family had crossed, he decided to go back and help others cross while they would go to Arochukwu. By this time, Arochukwu had bloated in population since all of the Aro, who could find their way back, had returned to their ancestral home. My grandmother, her mother, and their relatives were soon joined by my grandfather and all of them lived in Arochukwu for some time. When the war intensified, and Nigerian troops came close to Arochukwu, they fled to another town called Ihechiowa and lived there for the duration of the war.

Luckily, no one was lost to the war.



My paternal side…

Prior to 1967, my paternal grandparents were also living in Calabar. At the outbreak of war, they too fled back home to Arochukwu where they lived for some time. It was there that one of my uncles (even though a youth) volunteered for service in the Biafran army. Some time after he was sent into battle, we recieved word that he had been killed while fighting.

My paternal grandparents had a difficult time during the war. In the daytime, they had to flee into the bushes so as to avoid being spotted by the Nigerian bombers. At night, they would come back into their home and cook (making sure to conceal the fire and the smoke) and do whatever else they needed to do. When the fighting came near Arochukwu, they fled from Arochukwu and lived in their family-owned plantation in Ibibioland (somewhere near Ikot Ekpene). They were assisted by friendly neighbors who pitied them.

When the Nigerian soldiers came into their area, they disguised themselves as an Ibibio family: making sure to speak Igbo only to themsleves and to speal Ibibio to others. They remained in Ibibioland for the remainder of the war, constantly moving whenever Nigerian troops came into their area. When the war ended, they went back to Arochukwu and started from scratch.