Charles Ajunwa visited the National War Museum in Umuahia, Abia State, and reports that the relics of the Nigerian civil war at the museum still leave a lasting impression on visitors who throng the place
Ifeanyi Onwumereobi, 16, a student of Great Brains Academy was in tears. At first, she managed to force it back with the green bandanna she tied around her head, but as she continued her journey inside the museum, the images of war she saw forced the tears down her cheek. Her friends were in a similar mood, so there was no one to comfort her.
Last month, Onwumereobi was one of the students on excursion to the National War Museum located on the outskirt of Umuahia, the capital city of Abia State. She arrived at the museum with the enthusiasm of an explorer, but what she saw moved her to tears.
“We came on an excursion to see certain things that we were taught in the classroom about the Nigerian-Biafran war and I have seen through the images here what happened in the past and how the war was fought. I have heard about the Biafran war, but the closest I have come to the history that appeared so real is what I found here at the museum and I cannot but cry looking at the pictures and reading those words that described them. They just appeared so real and I can imagine what people experienced during the war,” she explained.
After going round the indoor and outdoor galleries of the National War Museum and seeing the relics of the Nigerian-Biafran war, Onwumereobi added: “Now I fully appreciate the destructive nature of war. In war, nobody is spared; women, men, children and even the aged are killed while those who manage to escape death are known to live in perpetual fear as the memories refuse to go away. War is destructive. It practically leaves everything in ruins and it shatters dreams. At all times we should learn to employ dialogue to resolve disagreements. I want a peaceful and united Nigeria not war anymore.”
Another student of Great Brains Academy, Jude Ndukwe said the excursion exposed him to the equipment and ammunition used during the war. “I am satisfied with what I have seen here because I can now tell people about the Biafran war and the people who were in the lead during the war on the side of Nigeria and Biafra,” he said.
Adaora Umunna, a student of Abia State University, Uturu, who visited the museum in company with her course mates from sociology department of the school on the same day as the students of Great Brains Academy said that the historical importance of the National War Museum, cannot be overemphasised.
According to her, the war museum makes it imperative for students to embark on academic exercise of unequal magnitude which has continued to enrich students with knowledge beyond the book on how Biafran war started, those who fought it and how it ended.
“We are all going away from here enlightened on why the war was fought and above all, we learnt that dialogue plays a key role in resolving conflicts. Those calling for war in Nigeria should know that war serves no good to humanity; it only inflicts open wounds on our hearts. They should take time to visit the war museum. From today onwards I have become an advocate of peace more than I have ever done in my lifetime,” Umunna said.
The relics of war are preserved and maintained by the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM).
The Nigerian-Biafran war, also known as Nigerian civil war, was a political conflict caused by the attempted secession of the Southeastern provinces of Nigeria as the self-proclaimed Republic of Biafra. The war, which started on July 6, 1967, came to an end on January 15, 1970.
The Chief Technical Officer, National War Museum, Mr. Julius Ogar, told THISDAY that the museum is one of the few war museums in existence in Africa. “You have a similar structure in South Africa but National War Museum is the only one in West Africa. The museum was set up just to keep the memory of the Biafran war and to let our children know the effects of war, its implication and the cost. The war museum was set up in Umuahia because of the two monuments that still exist here- the Voice of Biafra bunker and the Ojukwu bunker. We have the outdoor and indoor galleries. In the indoor gallery we have the war equipment, military uniforms and the civil war gallery and the remains of the Voice of Biafra in the bunker. The bunker was built in a space of 90 days by Ojukwu towards the end of the war in 1969. In the outdoor gallery we have the hardware. We have the naval war ship, which is the centre of attraction of the museum and people like coming to see a ship on the dry dock.
Asked how the museum is maintained, Ogar said that the National Commission for Museum and Monuments holds it in trust for the Ministry of Defence. “The museum was set up by the military and the military ran it for some years before handing it over to NCMM, as it is the only agency that is supposed to be responsible for museums and monuments in the country. So we are holding it in trust for them, it’s a kind of partnership,” he clarified.
Another staff of the museum said: “After seen the victims of war and children that suffered during the war as a human being you will never wish for war. You see a woman that was suffering from kwashiorkor, yet feeding a baby also afflicted with kwashiorkor. After going round you ask yourself is it really good to go for war? Or is better to go into dialogue?
“The museum educates the youths that war is not the best thing for this country. The best for us in this country is to enter into dialogue and make sure all our differences are resolved because when you look at wars all over the world today it has not done any country any good. It ends up in the destruction of lives and property.”
Mr. Orji Orji Udo, a graduate of Sociology and is also the curator of the museum, who conducted this reporter round the indoor gallery and Biafra radio bunker, said the museum was the idea of Lt. General Theophilus Danjuma (rtd).
He said: “It was when Lt. General Theophilus Dajuma visited Yugoslovia and he saw their war museum that got so interested in it and decided to come to Nigeria start what they called a war museum. So you can see in 1985, the late Brigadier General Tunde Idiagbon launched the war museum here and in September 14, 1989 this place was formally commissioned to the public by Lt. General Domkat Bali (rtd).”
The museum is divided it into two parts with one as the open-air museum where the relics of the last civil war between Nigeria and Biafra can be seen by the visitors as they enter into the premises. The galleries in the museum are also sub-divided into three that include the traditional warfare gallery, armed forces gallery and the civil war gallery.
The gallery on traditional warfare describes the great historical battles over time while allowing for comparison of the weapons development between Africa and Europe. From the illustrations, though both continents almost started at the same time, the Europeans have moved faster. There is also the part of the museum that describes some of the weapons that were used before the advent of the white men. And the armed forces gallery, describes the evolution of the Nigerian army, its major transition – from 1922 when it was established by the British. Staring from Lord Lugard to the current army formation, the list is etched on the wall.
In the next room there are prominent protagonist and antagonist of the civil war. From the details of how the first coup on February 15, 1966 came to be, to imposing photo frame of the five military officers who plotted the coup led by the later Majot Kaduna Nzeogwu .
At the end of the tour of the museum, the curator said: “The succession struggle between Yakubu Gowon and Odumegwu Ojukwu after the death of Aguiyi Ironsi was the last straw that broke the camel’s back in the lead up to the Biafran war. Ogundipe was supposed to take over if Aguiyi Ironsi was not there and before anybody could knew it on 30th May 1967 Ojukwu declared Republic of Biafra as a sovereign state and in order to keep Nigeria together the war broke out and Enugu was made the headquarters of Biafra. When Enugu was over ran by the federal troop Ojukwu and his men ran to Umuahia. They dug a bunker where they hid a radio transmitter where they were telling the whole world how the war was going on.
Inside a hole that looks like a bunker, some prominent men whose pictures hang on the wall were the antagonists and protagonists of war. Other pictures depict some of the victims of war. The announcer’s room where Ojukwu talked to the world about how the war was progressing has a small doorway beside it that was the exit from the bunker.