Evoking the Emotions of the Biafran War Experiences
Nwokedi’s ‘Shred of Fear’ masterfully captures a phenomenological account of a three-year hellish journey towards the unfulfilled dream of a promising nation, Biafra. Anthony Ogbo writes
The mechanisms underlying childhood memories are still a mystery, with socialisation, neurological maturation, and other factors frequently influencing an individual’s memory of significant childhood experiences. Uche Nwokedi writes a chronicle of his experiences during the Biafran War, also known as the Nigerian Civil War, in his book Shred of Fear. His memory is unrivalled and includes many significant events that the younger generation is not familiar with.
According to Nwokedi, “Childhood memories of that time remain indelibly etched into my psyche. Now and then, I see them in my mind’s eye, in shades of sepia, like old photographs from a family album.”
The author is confident about his memories of the war and explains their significance: “I treasure these memories and hold fast to them, as they are the watershed years of my journey in life so far. I fully embrace the emotions they evoke, with no apologies for what the child remembers.”
The story of the Biafran War is not new. Yet, a lot of the events surrounding this bloody mayhem have not been told, and unfortunately, the advent of social media and technological innovation has not made telling the story of the great Biafran journey any easier. For instance, several analyses, books, and publications have pervaded the internet with Google-generated unsubstantiated content. Even some authors who fought in the war have rendered subjective accounts to appease specific social and political interests. Some activists equally went astray, creating Biafran war content to pursue their “We the People” agitation crusades.
Shred of Fear, on the other hand, is far from those. Shred is not a political written handout. It is not a children’s bedtime storybook. It is a masterful rendition of the Biafran War, devoid of Google speculations. The author, a child at the time, creatively captures a phenomenological account of a three-year hellish journey toward the unfulfilled dream of a promising nation. Indeed, from beginning to end, Shred unloads, from a unique perspective, the very interesting and relatively unknown events that marked this horrific season.
But the most exciting and credible endorsement of this book comes from Chief Arthur Mbanefo, a commissioner and roving ambassador in Biafra (1967–1970). According to Chief Mbanefo, “As one who participated fully in the Biafra War, Shred of Fear is a powerful and vivid factual recollection of events that defined the war for the author. Written with such brilliant simplicity, one is taken on a journey of the changes in life in a time of war by the author. A must-read. Highly recommended!”
One remarkable aspect of this book is the author’s representation of Aba, the great Enyimba city, which he describes as “one of those quintessentially colonial Nigerian towns with all the hallmarks of a place with plenty of growth potential.” From Aba’s City Life to The Pound Road Bombing to the “Fall of Aba,” the author paints a realistic picture of what happened inside Biafra during the early stages of the war. Again, here is the author: “I saw pictures of mutilated bodies and they gave me the chills. To crown it all, there were constant mobs of angry young men running through the streets of Aba carrying leaves, crying for vengeance, and chanting in the Igbo language, ‘Ojukwu gives us a gun to defend ourselves.’”
In addition to music, which became a therapeutic part of the culture in the Biafran land, the author recounts how air raids became the hallmark of this war. Killer fighter jets preyed on innocent masses at will. In his own words, Nwokedi writes, “We would see the MIGs [jet fighters] suddenly swoop down from the sun like hawks, fly low past the GRA [Government Reserved Area], bomb the town center and markets, climb back up into the sky and then leave as quickly as they had come.”
Another interesting aspect of this book is the author’s recollection of the Aburi Accord. On January 4 and 5, 1967, delegates and representatives from both the Federal Government of Nigeria and the Eastern Region, led by Lieutenant Colonel Emeka Ojukwu, met in Aburi, Ghana, to agree on what is now known as the Aburi Accord. This meeting at Aburi was supposed to be the last opportunity for both parties to resolve any conflict to prevent civil war.
Nwokedi approaches the Aburi Accord from a different perspective. He remembers how the phrase “On Aburi we stand” was widely chanted and adopted by everyone. “We heard older people say it often, and so we repeated it all the time as well. We loved the sound of it,” he narrates.
The author’s account subtitled “The Line in the Sand” rightly indicates how the collapse of the Aburi Accord created a playing field for two warring combatants ready to terminate each other. Yet his final reflection on the collapse of this accord remains intelligible. He writes:“Quite clearly, these two young soldiers escalated a war of words into an internecine war. With those conflicting clarion calls, the line in the sand was drawn, and the war began in earnest.”
The book explores the genuineness of Biafra’s failed struggle. Consequently, its contents emit unprecedented historical relevance to a people, their strength, and a vision that was never accomplished. As the author says, “The flickering light of Biafra had been unceremoniously snuffed out, but the darkness of defeat had not yet enveloped it. The sun was sinking, and we were drifting fast into the gloaming of defeat.”
In 14 chapters loaded with his candid recollection, the author does not ignore the political implications of the war, the lessons learned from the uncertainties that triggered the destructive duel, and where Nigeria currently stands. According to Nwokedi, “The Biafran War is long over, but the peace it won remains fragile and full of anxiety.” He continues, “We continue to live in anticipation of the promises of Nigeria.”
Shred of Fear is a superb memoir of a man who lived through the horrendous Biafran civil war as a child. Currently, Uche Nwokedi is an accomplished Nigerian author and lawyer, and Shred is not his first endeavour. He is also the writer and creative producer of the award-winning musical production Kakadu the Musical, which has toured Nigeria, Switzerland, and South Africa to great critical acclaim.
•Ogbo, Ph.D. is on the Editorial Board of the West African Pilot News. He is also the Publisher of the Guardian News, Journalism and RTF Professor