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Horrors of Civil War from a child soldier’s eyes

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Okey Anueyiagu’s book, Biafra: The Horrors of War, The Story of a Child – Soldier

Title: Biafra: The Horrors Of War,
The Story Of A Child Soldier

Author: Okey Anueyiagu
Publishers: Brown Brommel
Pages: 277
Reviewer: Obi Igbokwe

The title of Okey Anueyiagu’s book, Biafra: The Horrors of War, The Story of a Child – Soldier, may be unprepossessing, but it belies what to anticipate: a polemical story from a brilliant and an unpretentious writer who has refused to pull his punches.

Anueyiagu begins with his childhood days in the hotbed of the pogrom in Kano, Northern Nigeria. He becomes from this point, very engaging and extremely persuasive, weaving through many and almost incomparable ideas and images and ultimately creating interlinks between them.

The author’s thrill junkie life and his ability to render the tales in effortless ways, embraces every tempest of human nature and behaviour. In this book, it is most unlikely that anything close to the author’s exuberance was witnessed or heard in his 1960s Kano experiences when and where most of the devastating sordid killings of thousands of people took place. The colossus of these flagitious and villainous upheavals are at the centre of Anueyiagu’s account and recollection of the crisis that lasted for three years and consumed three million souls.

Anueyiagu’s depiction of that period in his life is as vivid as it is splendid. It is clearly reminiscent of a well-told story that is drenched in absolute thrilling mystery with enigmatic flavour. He proves himself a master storyteller, an old hand in the way he approaches and dissects his story.

In his stringing of his countless narratives, he clearly attempts to escape the pains and agonies of the past, finding solitary peace with the present, while looking at the future with suspicious optimism. The reader is left with many openings and choices in navigating the many hills, rivers and valleys in this very fascinating book.

In this book, the author, using himself as a child, portrays the dictum of humans on earth in displaying his feeling of the presence of harsh things that are unseen, his hearing the whimpers and the whispers of spirits and ghost and fearing nothing. As a child, he knew then, and perhaps now, that life and death are intertwined, and that the dying and the dead are a part of his life — his past, his present and future. Throughout this book, this injunction and proclamation become a guiding light in the mind of the reader.

A good friend sent me a copy of this book urging me to read it, but because I was in the midst of so many activities demanding and commanding 100 per cent of my time, I put it away. After an exhausting and tiring week, I was in a desperate need for sleep when the friend called to inquire if I had read this book, and hearing that I was yet to get to it, gently scolded me. Feeling guilty and a bit inquisitive, I picked up this book and began to read it.

At 5:00am in the morning, I was still up slowly devouring: Biafra: The Horrors of War, not wanting to put it down with sleep disappearing from my eyes.

From the beginning, this book gains its lush elegance with enamoured wordplay by
Anueyiagu. Consider the romantic and funny love letter to his childhood sweetheart, his elegiac and almost fatalistic description of his joyride with his father’s car. In these and in many other verses in his book, he reveals his devotion to his recollective genius and savage pleasure.

In reading through this book, it challenges me, and perhaps, it will to other readers, to back away from our pre-conceived assumptions of the happenings in our country’s past, allowing us to think differently by applying ourselves again to the situations and to the circumstances of our senses and consciences.

Looking through the affectionate exegesis of the author’s emotional and passionate recollections and accounts of the events of the war, takes the reader to an era of the highest highs and the lowest lows; or emotional and turbulent roller coaster of some sort.

This book asks us to read the world carefully and to dissect our past critically, knowing that not everything we heard, read or have been revealed to, may be as presented. The book shows us that the world can be cruel and is made up of complex pluralities with dominant perspectives and views.

In describing how his father escaped the massacre in the North and certain death in the hands of killer-soldiers, the author brings the readers to rapt capitulation, giving us a perspicacious insight into the religious dichotomy within tribes in Nigeria.

One begins to wonder what made the alliance of Muslims and Christians of the North flourish, to the point that they joined hands as one unit in the prosecution of the war against the Christians of the East.

The author, in this book, wisely and adroitly captures this contradiction, but never explains it clearly, except to point to the wealth and economic fortunes lodged in the East as unifying factors for their enemies. Religion did not matter.

As the author’s up-and-down life proceeds in the war, it is hard for the reader not to see and sympathise with the grit that underlines the difficult times and the sufferings of the people — the killings, the hunger and starvation, the heartlessness, the viciousness, the wickedness and the deaths. It is hard not to be moved by the author’s narrations of the event of this war.

Anueyiagu has written a classic, a book that presents a hall of mirrors through which man’s inhumanity to man; man’s barbarism to children is portrayed.

When he is not belaboring his struggle to figure out the subjects and their characters, the author is finding and exploring agonizing ways in connecting the stories with selfless reinventions. In reading this book, I find myself wondering, though, how intentional or deliberate the writer’s critique of Nigeria’s solipsism or narcissism, if you may, really is in the conduct of that atrocious war against Biafra.

In this engrossing and compelling story of the Biafran war as told by a direct participant, I find a metaphor of parallel universes pervading the book from the epigraph to the final line. I find the prevalence of human breath and tears colliding with translucent vividity of purpose. Imagine the story of the author’s fellow soldier, Ikechukwu and his hair-raising description of how his father was buried alive by killers in the North.

As Ikechukwu narrates this disturbing, sordid and chilling story in breathless horror, the riveting and momentous writing of Anueyiagu jumps into frenzy.

He captures in a dramatic way the tears that gushed from Ikechukwu’s eyes, in the story, translating it to a pictorial river of grief. It is as if the great weeping makes the river to flow from Ikechukwu’s eyes, creating a tensed spellbinding and transpiration of the event in the mind of the reader.

In reading this book, I laughed, I cried and I was emotionally drained. It brought me back to life. Many things startling and powerful happen through this book.

Anueyiagu’s writing sharpens and widens our gazes into a boggling life in a country, called Nigeria.


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