Civil War Artifacts

Posted on: January 9, 2020, by :

Nigeria gradually losing them all

January 15, 2019 marked the 49th anniversary of the end of the Nigerian civil war. The generation that took active parts in the war, particularly in the South East, then part of the defunct Biafra Republic, is gradually dying out.

To many young men in the South East, the civil war is simply a distant echo of a harrowing past. Ordinarily, what would have served as a poignant reminder of this critical period of Nigerian history are the relics of the war in form of historical places, buildings, war appurtenances and other landmarks of the war.

It generally acknowledged that the Nigerian civil war was a watershed in the history of the country; an important milestone in the nation’s political evolution. All over the world, relics and other materials of such a significant event in the history of a country are carefully preserved for research, tourism and also as a reminder to every one of the foolhardiness of resorting to war as a means of settling disagreements. That, however, does not seem to be the case in Nigeria.

The Kigali Genocide Memorial in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, and the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa, are examples of such preservation of difficult periods in the countries’ history. While not necessarily celebrating the dark period of their history, they are diligently preserving their experience as a people.

 A visit to some of the places that should be hosting the nation’s civil war relics revealed that the survival of such relic is due more to some half-hearted efforts than any conscientious bid aimed at appreciating the place of the civil war in the history of the country.

Most people in Aba, Abia State, would swear that there was nothing in this famous commercial city to remind them of the ugly experience. Had the relics there been preserved properly, the city would have become a greater attraction for tourists. For instance, the civil war bunker used by the then Biafran leader, Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, and his army is located a few meters from the old post office, at the beginning of Ikot Ikpene Road, just before descending into the Waterside Valley on Sir Alex Onyeador Close. Rather than being preserved for tourism, the place has been taken over by refuse, water and rodents. Some mechanics whose workshops are located beside the bunker have turned the place into a toilet. It does not say well of government that such an important relic of the civil war is in such a sorry state.

Neglected and eventually abandoned, the civil war bunker in Aba has become unrecognisable. Worse still, the place is being encroached upon by individuals who do not appreciate what the bunker stands for. There is the possibility that an individual or group could one day lay claim to the place and destroy the bunker as it is presently under the control of neither the federal nor the state government.

Moving to Umuahia, the capital of Abia State, it is still the same sad story of neglect. In the Abia State capital, there is the National War Museum where obsolete hardware used in prosecuting the war are kept. The museum was established in 1985 with the aim of putting the saga of the war behind and speeding up the process of national reconciliation and healing.

While the civil war lasted, various sophisticated weapons were used. Some of these deadly weapons were fabricated on account of the exigencies of the war. Outside the appurtenances of war, civilians were also involved in not just fighting, but psyching up the minds of the people to forge ahead in spite of the deprivations that came with the war. Different media of mass communication were used.

The war was a watershed in the history of Nigeria as a country. The experience, many agree, is such that makes the resort to arms and war as a means of conflict resolution no longer an attractive option. It is in this spirit that the Nigerian War Museum, Umuahia, was established.

The museum’s location was chosen because it was where the bunker housing the famous shortwave radio, ‘Voice of Biafra’, the mouth-piece for Biafra during the war, transmitted from. The National War Museum has the highest collection of the Nigerian civil war weapons which are no longer in use. The weapons are from both the Nigerian military and the defunct Republic of Biafra.

The place has become a tourist site that attracts hundreds of people daily. They come from within and outside the country to see the war artefacts on display. For some, it is to relive the war period by watching the items on display. For others, it is simply for study purposes. There are yet others who come simply out of curiosity.

The museum is located at Ebite Amafor in Isingwu Autonomous Community in the Umuahia North Local Government Area. It is off Umuahia-Uzuakoli Road. The war museum is very popular, so locating it would pose no problem as any cab operator or commercial tricycle rider could take one to the museum. There are no longer commercial motorcyclists in Umuahia.

 The museum was commissioned in 1985 on a large expanse of land. It has three galleries that cover traditional warfare, the armed forces and the Nigerian civil war weapons. War relics housed in the museum include weapons used during the pre-colonial civil disturbances, warfare materials used during communal and inter-tribal wars and those of the Nigerian civil war.

 After paying the entry fee, a tour of the museum kicks off from the prehistoric war section where some of the weapons that were used for war are on display. On display are spears, shields, bows and arrows. Metal war vests which warriors wore to protect themselves are also on display. From this section, one then walks to the gate of the bunker that houses the Radio Biafra of the defunct Biafran Republic. Just at the entrance is the Biafran flag: red, black and green with the rising sun in the middle. There are also black and white pictures of the Nigerian leaders who were victims of the war, starting with the January 15, 1966 coup, led by Major Kaduna Nzeogwu.

 The bunker is about 30 feet deep. On both sides of the staircase are pictures of the protagonists of the war from both the Nigerian and the Biafran sides of the divide.

 Inside the bunker are the transmission studio and the huge transmitter of Radio Biafra. The bunker was a perfect decoy that would be very difficult for an enemy aircraft to locate without any prior information, especially with the undulating hills in the area.

 The bunker has two stairways for entrance and exit. The tour of this section of the museum is arranged in a way that the tourist would enter through the main entrance to the bunker and exit through the back.

 Scattered on the expansive premises of the war museum are different obsolete military weapons. Looking at them in their obsolete state, one wonders how many lives some of these weapons must have terminated.

 Umuahia was also the second capital of Biafra after the fall of Enugu. Relics of this period are the biggest tourist attractions in the city. They are the War Museum and Ojukwu Bunker. When The Nationvisited the museum, some renovation activities to protect the artefacts were going on. One could see, however, that the place was not well funded. The indoor gallery was not well lit as there was no light. It was just a small generator that was supplying light.

 Tourists’ traffic to both the National War Museum Umuahia and the Ojukwu Bunker is light. And that is not surprising as the two sites are in bad shape. The attendants are not professional in their handling of visitors. When The Nation visited the National War Museum, it was poorly lit, hence one could not see most of the artefacts on display. The attendants were reluctant to explain the exhibits on display and the quality of the artefacts has deteriorated due to neglect.

 Apart from these civil war sites, there are also other places in Ulli and Oguta. In Ulli, there is the famous airstrip where most of the relief materials were brought in and children, the sick and injured Biafran soldiers were evacuated from the airstrip.

8 thoughts on “Civil War Artifacts

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