Dancing to the drumbeats of war.2

 

In 1993, the war drums were rolled out for rehearsals. The staccato rhythms beat across the land in the wake of the June 12 riots. And the people fled from their homes across the country in search of a safety that had become elusive. And they died in large numbers. Very few, if any died from gunshot wounds though. Most died from motor accidents, highway robberies and in some cases, from stampede.

There is a pathetic story of a family who hid their wad of cash in their baby’s diapers as they ran away from the Northern part of the country. When they got to the Lokoja bridge, they ran into highway robbers who demanded for their money. They insisted they had no money and the robbers began a meticulous search. Unfortunately, they found the money in the child’s diapers; they took the money, and threw the innocent baby over the bridge into River Niger. Father and mother turned back to where they were running away from, distraught, inconsolable. They had danced to the drumbeats of war, and it was not pleasant. This is just one out of the many horrible experiences that people went through in 1993 and 1994.

There was no actual war but the drummers drummed and the people danced. Rumours led to more rumors and panic bred pandemonium across the land as we all danced to the drumbeats of a war that existed in the hearts and imaginations of warmongers. Because you see, a war is not just a fight between two armies; a war is an attempt at destruction of everything your enemy represents. When a war happens, the lines are often blurred and the enemy becomes faceless. Fear and insecurity are the twin commodities that go on sale, and everyone is forced to buy. The reason I felt safe in 1970 was not because I was a child; it was more because the theatre of war too was far away for the drumbeats to be heard in my neighbourhood. But not anymore. This time, the sound is loud enough for the deaf to hear and the crippled to dance to its ugly beat.

 

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Dancing to the drumbeats of war. 1

There was a song they used to sing in those days; it goes something like this:

Ojukwu wanted to scatter Nigeria!

Gowoni say Nigeria must be one!

We are fighting together with Gowon!

To keep Nigeria one!

It was a song about the Nigerian civil war and kids marched to it during and immediately after the war. But I don’t remember singing it, or any other song during the war. Because I was a baby. I didn’t know what war was, nor what it meant for people to fight and kill one another.

But I do have a clear memory of the war. At least, I recall one period that had a direct, lasting impact on me. The memory is of us-my Mum and siblings- in my maternal village; everyone seemed to be there, although I don’t quite recall seeing my father. He may have been in his own village, a few kilometres up the road, or maybe he had remained in town, working in his office, where he had some strange machines, including one that made squawking noises all day, with people shouting, “something, something over!” which I would later realize was the equivalent of a telephone system.

Anyway, I don’t know if my Dad was there or not, but I know my numerous uncles were there, as well as a lot of other people. Baba was there, as was Nene, the matriarch of the Ojo clan. And though it was wartime, the emotions I recall clearly were happiness and a deep sense of peace and security. Strange that I would feel a sense of peace and security in the midst of war, right? But honestly, that was what I felt.

And I remember a day during that period that I cannot forget. It was the day Apapa was bombed. Apapa was the name of a neighbourhood in my hometown where Mobil, the oil company, had its Tank Farm, or whatever name it was known by. They had these huge silo-like things that were used for storing petroleum products, and till this day, I do not know who did the bombing, Biafra or Nigeria. But I remember seeing a huge column of black smoke rising into the sky from the relative safety of my village, several kilometres away. I remember the shouts of “abombu Apapa, abombu Apapa!” (meaning: “Apapa has been bombed” we like to repeat things for emphasis where I come from!)

I don’t know why that incident stands out of all the wartime experiences, but somewhow I remember it clearly. When I recounted it to my Mum many years later, she was surprised at my ability to remember, but I honestly don’t think it has anything to do with my memory; it’s just one of those things that the brain of a child holds on to. So I remember that one incident, clearly. But there was no fear. And I think I know why.

You see, fear and insecurity are twin brothers. Siamese twins to be precise. One does not go without the other. No matter how much we deny it, our deepest fears are fueled by a sense of insecurity. And that period of my life was as secure as could be. I knew I was loved, deeply and totally, by the people around me. There was my Mum, first child of a doting father and a fierce but equally loving mother. There was my grandmother, who was a lioness, a tigress and a mother hen rolled into one. And there was my grandfather: tall, light-skinned, handsome, with a deep baritone and a confident gait. He was ruler of all he surveyed and there was such an aura of peace around him that it spread to all and sundry. The food was plentiful, play was undisturbed, school was an unknown in the future and I had never been flogged or severely scolded. I was safe. And I knew it. So I didn’t care that whether or not Apapa was bombed. War held no meaning for me. I was safe as could be.

to be continued…