Chief Mbazulike Amechi is a native of Ukpor in Nnewi South local government area of Anambra state. Dara Akunwafor, as he is popularly called, is 90 years old and the only federal minister of the First Republic that is still around in Nigeria today. In this interview with MOKWUGWO SOLOMON, he shares his experiences during the 30-month Nigeria/Biafra war, among other salient issues.
What was your level of involvement in the 30-month Nigeria/Biafra war?
I was not directly involved in the civil war. I was only a victim of war problems and difficulties. I was not a soldier, commissioner, adviser or assistant under Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu. I was only a private man working in my farm.
How old were you when the war broke out?
Before the war, I had already served as minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and returned home before the military took over power in 1966.
What are your recollections of war experiences?
In 1963, I set up an agro-based industry, the first and biggest in the Eastern Nigeria. The company bred pigs, poultry and some commodities. We had meat processing factory called Niger Pork Products Company Ltd. This company processed meats and pork. Before the war started and disrupted things, my company had many contracts. We supplied all the airlines in Lagos the meat for their in-flight meals. We had cold room in Port Harcourt where we stored our meat, beef, poultry, pork, sausages, among other things; and from there, we shifted the products to Fernando Po, the area called Equatorial Guinea today. We had a contract with the government of the country at that time that, every Friday, we should shift seven tons of beef products to that country. Again, we also had agreement with the Nigerian Airways that, every Friday, they would help us shift seven tons of meat to Equatorial Guinea.
When the war started, it did not mount any pressure on me, because, we had everything, in terms of food, with which we faced the war. At the time people were suffering from Kwashiorkor, at a time people had no meat and food in Biafra, my company was the only source of meat supply in the war-torn Biafra and that was why the Nigerian Air Force massively bombed my factory during the war. But we still survived. I had a large area of land where we planted rice, onions, vegetables and maize. I also had a large stock of groundnut from which we produced groundnut oil and groundnut cake which we used to feed our animals. So, as a matter of fact, as at the time the war ended, I had, in my farm, at least, some 5,000 pigs. But, eventually, the post-war effects and difficulties, which the Gowon/Awolowo regime imposed on the Igbo forced the company to close because we lacked the money to go ahead. Gowon and Awolowo tried their best to make sure that the Igbo did not come back to economic prominence.
During the war, I did not suffer personally. I was rather swimming in abundance. That was why I had some refugees in my house. Zixton Grammar School, Ozubulu, very close to my village, was converted to a refugee camp. One of the primary schools in my village was also converted to a home for helpless children because I founded an NGO which I called Ndumka Home for Helpless Children’s Foundation. The motto was to create new hope for the hopeless. So, this foundation collected children who were abandoned, maybe, their parents were killed or those who could not have any trace of their parents. The Home collected children from Nsukka, Awka, Owerri, Asaba, Onitsha, Abakaliki and some other parts of the then Eastern Nigeria. I employed a nurse who took care of them and a cook who prepared their food.
There were a number of friends, who were in my house throughout the war. For example, people like Dr. Mbanugo, who was the chairman of the Eastern Working Committee of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroon, NCNC. He was also the chairman of the Eastern Nigeria Development Corporation. He was posted into detention at Warri by Ojukwu but was released during the war. By the time Enugu was overrun, he abandoned his hospital and ran back to Obosi. But Obosi was under siege and attack and, so, he took refuge in my house with his two wives, children and very old blind father. The family stayed with me for three years. There were many others. Those were the effects of the war on me, but I managed to survive.
Many people engaged in the deadly trade known as Afia attack during the war; did you or any member of your family engage in it?
Afia attack means people who crossed the battle line to the Nigeria side to buy things and return to Biafra. We, here, did not do it. It was only those who lived at the border lines and border towns that did such trading. People from Aguleri, Otuocha, Anambra West, Ayamelum and parts of Delta engaged in the business.
What was it like living through the days and nights filled with constant aerial bombardment, and gun fire and people dying?
It was, indeed, very horrible experience. Many people I knew, especially young people, were slaughtered and properties destroyed. When they bombarded my factories on many occasions, some people were wounded and so many things were destroyed.
Could you recall some of your friends and relations that died in the course of the war?
Many young men, who went to war died. Some were related to me; some were not.
There were allegations that Nigerian and Biafran soldiers were brutal to civilians at the height of the war. Did you witness any such incidences of torture, rape and so on?
Soldiers are trained to do bad things. Soldiers are trained at wartime to fight, to destroy, to spoil, to loot, to steal, to rape and to do everything bad. So, it is not news to say that soldiers are raping women, or have raped women. That is what they do as their hubby. Doing bad things is their trade mark.
How did you feel looking at the destructions at home after the war?
It was a terrible experience. The environment was filled with air of desertion, looting and destruction.
What was your most memorable experience during or immediately after the war?
After the war, I had one terrible experience of a particular Major in the Nigerian army, who took my car to Onitsha. One of my younger brothers went out with the car to buy something, and he took the car from my brother. He was called Major Dimka of the Nigerian army. Dimka took my car forcefully and left for Onitsha. He removed the number plate of the car and put new number, NA 0008; that is Nigerian Army, 0008. He put it on the car and was using it. So, I wrote to their commander at Enugu that they should release my car. When the information got to Dimka, he arranged that I should be arrested. I was arrested and detained at the army camp at Nnewi. After a week, Dimka ordered soldiers at Nnewi to march me to Onitsha. When they marched me to Onitsha, they took me Major Dimka. When Dimka saw me, he pulled out a gun from his locker and said, “Tell me why I should not shoot and kill you now? I am trained to kill; I can kill you now and nobody will ask me any question. Don’t you know I am connected to Gowon by marriage; so, I can do whatever I like. Who told you to write to my commander about your car? You will never have that car again; and if I hear that you write any other petition about the car or talk about it again, I will kill you and all your family members. Anyway, it is Gowon, who is talking about this general amnesty, left for me, all of you Igbo people should be killed and wasted.”
He rattled and rattled, and, eventually, he said, “Now, you should forget about that car.”
When he finished talking, I said to him, “Young man, could I talk to you?” he said, “Yes, what do you want to say?” I told him, “Young man, you don’t know me, and I don’t know you; but you must have heard my name. If you have not heard my name before, then, you are not fit to be wearing this army uniform. My name is Chief Mbazulike Amaechi. That car you took was bought with my honest-earned money. Even if you kill me because of this car, you can only kill this flesh; you cannot kill that thing, which makes up Mbazulike Amechi. And, even if you killed me as you said, my children will recover that car from you or from your children. Young Major, I wish you knew what you were doing when you pointed a gun at me. Good morning.”
After saying that, I left his office; then, they took me back to my cell at Nnewi. Two days later, Dimka ordered that I should be released. One week after, Col. Anthony Ochefu, who was then a Provost Marshal of the military at Enugu, came to me and told me to send somebody with him to collect my car at Onitsha. So, I sent my driver with him and he brought my car back. I also heard that the army authorities took Major Dimka into custody for coveting my car. I did not see Dimka again until after six months or thereabout. That fateful day, I was waiting to board aircraft at Ikeja Airport, when somebody came to me and said, “Good evening, Sir.” I looked at him, and he asked me whether I could recognise him. I told him he looked familiar; so, he told me he was Major Dimka. With surprise, I asked him, “Ah, Major Dimka, the man, who wanted to steal my car. I tapped him on the shoulder and said to him, “Well, it is all over now; but one thing remains – that gun you pointed at me. It was a very grave thing; I wish you knew what you were doing when you took that action. Then, we parted ways.
After sometime, the news came that Dimka killed Murtala Mohammed in an unsuccessful coup. He ran away and the military government was looking for him all over the country. So, one evening, one Catholic priest, Monsignor Vincent Maduike, came to my house in Ukpor, and told me that P.E Chukwurah, the owner of African College, sent him to me so that I would advise him. He told me that Dimka, who was declared wanted by the military government, was in his house at Abatete, in Idemili local government area. So, I told him to leave for Lagos the next morning, and that when he got to Lagos, he should go to the police headquarters and ask of the deputy inspector general of police, Ezekwem. I told him specifically to meet Ezekwem so that Ezekwem would advise him on what to do. The police made a mistake; because, they detained Chukwurah in Lagos for two days in order to obtain his statement. Based on that development, Dimka became fidgety at Abatete, and so, Monsignor Maduike contacted me and told me that Chukwurah was not yet back. I decided to go to Abatete myself to Chukwurah’s house. I met Chukwurah’s wife and told her not to worry that nothing would happen to her and her husband.
As I was speaking to Chukwurah’s wife, I noticed that Dimka was coming down the staircase; and when he heard my voice, he stopped half way. I called him, “Major, come down. Don’t worry, it’s your old friend – that man you seized his car.”
Dimka came down, and I said to him, “Look, you are a soldier; a soldier has a bond and an oath. When you make a coup, if the coup succeeds, it becomes a revolution; but when it fails, it becomes a rebellion. Your coup failed; it is a rebellion. Face it, you are a soldier. You have no alternative. Have the courage and give yourself up.
“Remember what I told you, that I wished you knew what you were doing when you pointed a gun at me. That gun is now returned to you. Good morning.”
He never said a word and I left. I later heard that he left Abatete that same day and went to Enugu, from Enugu to Abakaliki and from Abakiliki to Afikpo, where he was arrested. While he was moving round, he picked a girl without knowing that the girl he took was an agent of the state security services. It was through her that the SSS monitored Dimka and got him arrested. My encounter with Dimka is one post war experience that remains evergreen in my mind.
It is almost 50 years after the end of the civil war; do you think that the Nigerian government has been able to address the issues that led to the war?
No; not at all. Nigerian government, up till today, has not been able to address the issues that led to the civil war; and we are approaching a precipice of another civil war. Maybe, the course of the impending war may not be the same as the course of the previous one. But Nigeria is moving dangerously into a stage where if government does not take care, the country will break into war and probably, break up. That is the situation where we are now. The present government is using Fulani herdsmen to Islamise the country and to make the Fulani the permanent rulers of this country, slowly but steadily. The Fulani have formed their own police and army and they are well armed to the teeth. They are bearing sophisticated weapons, including AK47. They kill people and the government of the day can neither question them nor charge them to court. When the former head of state, Abdulsalam Abubakar, convoked a meeting of national reconciliation, he invited the Miyetti Allah, a terrorist group, to take part in the meeting; but they isolated IPOB, which is a peaceful youth organisation demanding for justice. They isolated IPOB and, with the collusion of governors of the South East, declared them a terrorist organisation with the real terrorist organisation exonerated. Nigeria is drifting towards a destructive precipice. And, if they don’t take time, no one knows what will happen next.
Apart from issues bordering on terrorism, do you have any other cause to say that government has not addressed the issues that led to the civil war?
The problem with Nigeria now is that, apart from the 1962 Constitution, which was made by Nigerians for Nigerians, the country has never had any other constitution it could call its own. Nigeria has never had the people’s constitution. In 1979, there was constitutional conference, which was presided over by Rotimi Williams. They produced a draft constitution, but the military took it, edited it, removed what they did not want and inserted what the northern military wanted. They brought the country to a seemingly unitary constitution, instead of a federation. They also went ahead to create more states, not as stated in the constitution but by decree. So, that was where the imbalance started. They took all powers to the central government. This central government was manned by the northern military. Apart from two or three years Obasanjo held sway as military head of state, the 38 years of military rule in Nigeria was a period of Nigeria being ruled by the northern military and that hatred against the Igbo that led to the civil war continued.
In 1999, there was another constitutional conference. Again, the product of that constitutional conference was edited and corrected by the military. So, the problem that causes imbalance and war is that Nigeria has never had a constitution. Nigeria is being ruled as an illegal entity because it is ruled with a constitution imposed on it by the northern military. That is the reason people are calling that the entire basis of our nationhood should be renegotiated and a true federal constitution brought back. This is so that if we generate revenue here, we would have a say in our revenue. But today, South South and South East are the areas that produce the wealth of this country but they have no control over the wealth they create. The whole wealth is taken to the north and, then, they give whatever they like to those that produce the wealth. So, the people are calling for a new constitution that will be the people’s constitution. (Former President) Goodluck Jonathan started it. He wanted to do it but he lost his election. Now, Buhari has a different agenda altogether and it would appear that his agenda is for the Fulani to dominate Nigeria to help them institute their own brand of Islam. That is a very dangerous thing that will lead to a serious situation for the country.
Looking at the situation of the country now and how it is ruled, do you subscribe to the clamour for secession as canvassed by IPOB and MASSOB?
I helped in founding this country and I am one of those who want this country to remain a united entity. However, it is certainly, not a united country where Igboland, my own part of the country, or any part of the country, will be a slave to the rest.
“I helped in founding this country and I want it to remain a united entity; but not a united country where Igboland, or any part of the country, will be a slave to the rest.”