22 January 2004

To Keep Nigeria One Is a Task That Must Be Done

On August 16 [1966], my father's birthday, the Biafrans reached the Ofusu River Bridge which marks the border with the Western region, our region. On my birthday, August 19, the Biafrans were continuing to advance. All around, the savannahs were quiet; there was a lull in the rains. The air was as dry as a stone. Around that beautiful dining room table, I had a birthday party with our little compound clan. I was thirteen and my mother made a white cake with yellow icing and on it she placed a ceramic Siamese cat as a decoration. I wore a dress pink as a carnation. My birthday gift appeared in a small box, a birthstone ring--peridot--in an oval setting, rather plain really, like my face. I didn't like it. I was disappointed. My mother explained that we were in a war and it was not a good time to buy record players when we were so uncertain of our immediate future. She said this to me in our living room after the party and I stared at the philodendron as she spoke, determined not to look at her or signal the least agreement. She could speak if she liked; I would not listen.

The Yoruba had finally got off the fence and appeared to be aligned with the North in its mission to keep Nigeria unified. This was a blow to the Igbos. On the radio you could hear the refrain, To Keep Nigeria One Is a Task That Must Be Done.

The next day, August 20, the Biafrans attacked Ore, putting them within 130 miles of Lagos and about 90 miles from Oshogbo where I was unhappily viewing my new ring in its box, for I would not wear it. If they reached either Ibadan or Lagos, the Federation of Nigeria would fall like a bulleted elephant. But just as Gowon was about to flee, the British and Americans intervened. Who knows what happened in Ore. We never knew. But the war turned around. Perhaps today there is an old woman in Ore who was there that day, who saw what happened when the Biafrans stopped and then backtracked. Her eyes may hold the secret.
SOURCE: Gods of Noonday: A White Girl's African Life, by Elaine Neil Orr (U. Virginia Press, 2003), pp. 238-239.

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