The atmosphere was tense with people running towards the freedom square in the University of Nigeria Nsukka campus. The chants of solidarity forever filled the air. Men, women, kids, students all went towards the square. Just then Professor Orjinta came out of his office, tapped me on the shoulder, we are now free he said. Ojukwu the military governor has declared us independent with the name Biafra. I went to the square with him. It was filled with the chant long live Biafra. A man filled with energy addressed us with vigor and great aspiration for what we would be as a nation.
I came to the campus to discuss the possibility of getting an appointment. Since I was a lecturer at the University of Ibadan before the pogrom. I lost my husband Eze.
I met Eze in London. I was a student at the University of London while he was a young army officer studying at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. He had come to visit a friend on campus who happened to be a friend of mine too. Our ethnicity helped us get along so well. We were both Igbos. He was from Nsukka and I from Awka. Within weeks of meeting we exchanged letters and visits. He returned to Nigeria one year after that while I came the following year.
Archbishop Job Alaba officiated our wedding at St. Therese cathedral Oke-Ado Ibadan, Prof. Keneth Dike, and his wife Ona were our sponsors. The choice of Prof. Dike as our sponsors came naturally. We are from the same town Awka, we both worked at the department of history even though he was the Vice-chancellor of the University of Ibadan.
We lived on the Odogbo military barracks Ojo and I worked at the University. Our lives were so colorful. We attended convocation ceremonies, military and academic promotion ceremonies and on Sundays we visited our friends mostly Igbos who lived in Ibadan.
When the first coup happened it wasn’t a surprise to many of us in the barracks and the academia in fact it was overdue. The level of corruption was at its peak fueled by political unrest. Most Nigerians saw the coup as a good sign but it wasn’t long before the news started making the rounds that it was an Igbo coup.
The newspapers were filled with news of people being murdered in an organized fashion in the north. Mostly Igbos. In the University tension was beginning to mount on Professor Kenneth Dike to resign saying that he should go to the East and become a Vice-chancellor there. Professor Eni Njoku had been forced out of this office as the Vice-chancellor of the University of Lagos for the same reason. It seemed like the whole country was turned against us.
The military parade was the best I had seen before that day. Eze wore his ceremonial dress and we went to welcome the Supreme Commander Aguiyi Ironsi who was visiting regional headquarters to calm the tension that was mounting throughout the country due to the unrest in the North. We attended the town hall meeting he had with traditional rulers and government officials at the Mapo hall. We later attended the dinner organized by the military governor in his honor. It was at the dinner that I started feeling on easy and Eze asked the driver to take me to the University College Hospital to see Dr.Ezeokafor since I was pregnant. I was placed on admission and I slept over at the hospital.
I got the news of what had happened the previous night while still at the hospital. The Supreme Commander had been arrested alongside the military governor. Igbo officers in the barracks were rounded up and shot. No one told me that my husband was among them but I knew there was no way he would escape. He was a popular soldier in the army.
Dr. Ezeokafor gave me some money. I left the hospital and headed to the East the same day with the sense of a survivor. The journey was a perilous one. There were a lot of military checkpoints with a lot of northern soldiers who harassed Igbos. I was not sure I would make it to Nsukka alive until my eyes got a glimpse of the Niger bridge. Crossing the River Niger means safety for us Igbos, it means acceptance, it means home.
The following weeks saw a mass exodus from different parts of the country into the East and Igbo land. Some with one part of the body missing others two. Stories of what happened in the North became known.
People recounted what they lost to the killings. Some lost a father, a mother, others, a son, an aunty but no one talked about material things they lost, to be alive was enough.
There was a story of a man who’s northern tenants forced into the septic tank with all his family, it was only his son who had gone on errands before the incident that survived. Those who ran into army barracks were killed by the soldiers.
As I left the University campus . Nsukka was in a festive mood. Bus drivers charged no fee to convey people to their destination, market women sold at a discounted rate. Everyone was filled with happiness that we are free at last.
We would be great, we hand both the will power and the human resources to develop this nation. We would be greater than we were in Nigeria.