We got to the Museum quite early, before 9am, and the galleries don't even open until 9.30am.
In Umuahia, we see the Biafra of Ojukwu and of Nnamdi Kanu
Every Tricycle in Umuahia knows how to get to the National Museum.
But the best part is that half of the Museum is outside the gallery.
Enter, Stephen; this really nice Curator at the museum.
So while he was also waiting for the Museum to open, he took us on an outdoor tour. The first thing we learned about the Museum is that it was the first home of Radio Biafra. The original Radio Biafra.
Necessity is the Mother of Invention.
When the war began, the Biafran Army used mostly vehicles seized from the Nigerian Army.
But over time, they started to run out of tanks, and so the Biafran army started building theirs.
They called them the Biafran Red Devils.
It's incredible and ironic, but war tends to bring out the best in us, as it brings out the worst.
We kill, but it pushes our genius and we invent. And this is not just about the Biafran Civil War.
The necessity of war, in Word War II for example, somehow led to the invention of stuff like the ballpoint pen, radars, and even the precursor to today's computers.
War pushed the Biafran Army to invent, but this even leads to a bigger question;
If necessity pushes people to get better, why isn't Nigeria getting better, considering things are falling apart faster than the center can hold?
But, moving on.
We also saw some vehicles used by the Nigerian Army, like this Armoured Personnel Carrier.
From the inside, you start to wonder how many people it carried. How many of them killed, how many of them were killed. How many of them hated to be at war so much.
Fellowship of the Curators.
Now, the day we chose to visit the Museum was a special day for staff. And so before getting started at work, they held a fellowship of prayer and worship, which according to the curator, would finish around 15 minutes, just in time for a 9.30am opening.
The Museum didn't open for another hour. So in that time, we took ourselves on a tour of the only ship in the Museum, the NNS Bonny.
On the inside, the ship looked like it would still sail if given the right makeover.
Aha. Finally, the Museum opened.
The Museum tour starts with a history of war and weaponry. And it just shows you the elaborate measures our species has taken to make sure that every time, we can destroy our enemies.
Travel Lesson: Most Nigerian Museums won't let you take photos inside the Museum. Except in a few cases, though.
We headed to the part of the Museum that brought us there, the old bunker area. The first thing you see as you descend down the stairs, is photos of all the major players during the war.
The only person on both sides of the aisle is Nnamdi Azikiwe.
“He understood and acknowledged the plight of the Igbos,” our guide, Stephen said. “But he also believed in One Nigeria.”
I wonder how tough it must have felt for him. When you descend down these stairs, you see one of the most important offices during the war; the Propaganda Office, as our guide called it. Radio Biafra.
“When Biafran forces lost,” Stephen said, “Ojukwu was ready and willing to die fighting, as a soldier. It was his lieutenants that insisted he go into exile instead. If you die, you don't die a hero, they had told him.”
And so it was that Ojukwu went into exile in Cote d'Ivoire and only returned during the Shagari era.
“Where were you during the war?” I asked.
He laughed. And then he was silent for a moment. And then he began to speak:
“I was a young boy during the war. Lizards were a delicacy during the war. You kill it, boil and eat. In fact, it got to a point where even lizards were scarce in Biafra. There was nothing to eat.”
“The worst thing about war,” he said, “is the constant state of uncertainty. Bombs would drop, and I'd run in one direction, my mother would run in another direction. My father, another. Then we'd regroup after a few days apart.”
He didn't lose anyone in his immediate family during the war, but he lost countless people he knew personally.
We told him we were headed to see Nnamdi Kanu, the new face of the Biafran struggle.
Stephen laughed, and said “we need to find a way to make it this country work, as one. War is dangerous. We need to make peace work.”
Every old person we've spoken to so far who saw the war, chooses peace and restructuring.
Ojukwu started a fire in the hearts of Igbo people. Nigeria thought she quenched it, she was wrong, as we'd soon learn.
Nnamdi Kanu's Biafra.
About 5 minutes from the Abia State government house is the home of Nnamdi Kanu, where he lives.
About 50 metres to his house is the first sign Nnamdi lives here. The sign is a security guy, in black shirt, chinos pants, and walkie-talkie in hand. He passed us on, me and Chris, when we told him we were press.
Right in front of the gate is a man selling IPOB merchandise, from hats to mufflers.
There's also another table with two men, a register in between them. It's a visitor's register.
Right in front of the gate is also a canopy with chairs for visitors to wait.
The first thing you notice is that everyone part of the security detail looks smart. Real smart. They are dressed in black, tucked in shirts. With Chinos and Aba-made military boots.
They are also very polite, with no weapons in sight. Not even a baton. They apologised in advance before brisking you and did so gently.
“You people are from Pulse,” someone said, walking up to us. You can tell from his face that he's a member of the Kanu Family. We learned later that he's Nnamdi’s brother. Around here, he's called Fine Boy.
“Let them come in.”
Inside compound is buzzing with so much activity. Some women are seated together, all dressed in IPOB colours.
Many other people, mostly men, are talking in small groups.
“Everyone here is a Biafran,” Fine Boy said. “So feel free to ask anyone anything.”
All of them were there to see Nnamdi, so we had to wait too.
A small group stood up and went in about an hour later. One of them wore a Muslim skull cap and the red checkered, Arab desert rag on his neck.
Shortly after, someone came calling for us.
We were ushered in through a door that had to guys manning it. They looked like they were in the early twenties.
In the first room were about 20 people, all men, waiting to see Nnamdi.
Then we were ushered into the next room, the living room. The group with the skull cap guy were all here, hunched forward in their chairs, listening attentively to Nnamdi speak.
“Pulse TV people,” Nnamdi said when he turned around.
“These are the Izon people, or Ijaw as you know them.”
He said this the way a father would show off a child with whom he's pleased.
Many people and groups in the South-south states have said they won't be a part of Nnamdi’s Biafra. This, for him, most likely felt like a victory.
“These are my people. They are the ones who asked me to do this,” he was grinning.
He asked us to please excuse him.
“We'll still talk later.”
So we stepped out. And it was right there I knew it. We were there because he wanted us there. He wanted us to witness his victory, albeit a small one.
And then I knew that Nnamdi knows tact, he just chooses whether or not to use. Everything he says, he says because he expects some reaction.
Less than an hour later, the Ijaw men stepped out and stood in front of the door.
Photo time. Nnamdi came out last.
Snap. Snap. Snap. And they were done.
Before he returned inside, some other group didn't want a meeting, they just wanted him to receive their gifts; a ram and about two bags of rice.
Their faces said, “It's small but it's sincere.”
And they asked him to bless it. And he laid his hand on the ram. Then they asked for a photo, the way you'd ask, not your favourite rapper, but your priest.
As he was heading back inside to meet with another group, one of his lieutenants told him about the women in Biafra colours. So he walked over to them, and acknowledged them. Their faces lit up, and one of the women began to sing in Igbo what sounded like church music and Biafra songs.
The way their faces lit up reminded me of the IPOB members we met at Onitsha. When I called him Kanu, one of them cut me short, saying:
“When you call him Kanu, you make it sound like the Hausa Kano. He's our Supreme Leader Nnamdi Kanu.”
Sitted not too far from him was his father, the Eze of the community.
Then he spoke to another small group. They came all the way from Anambra to pledge their loyalty. They also came to assure Nnamdi that there will be no votes in Anambra State. He smiled every time they repeated it.
Governorship Elections are scheduled to hold on the 18th of November in Anambra, a state with a tumultuous political history at the Governorship level.
In between all of these, from before the Izon meeting, over four hours already passed, and why we had questions we'd love him answer, we grew impatient.
We had to be in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, about two hours away.
6pm was coming fast, and we needed to make a decision even faster.
Nnamdi’s man asked if we could spend the night, and talk properly in the morning. That sounded like a good offer, but we had an itinerary to stick to.
Then 6pm struck. Someone, somewhere in the compound shouted a command.
And everyone in the compound stood up, at attention.
Then two people marched up to the flag at stopped, one of them, a woman, stepped forward and lowered the Biafran flag ceremoniously.
This is a standard procedure of keeping a flag raised only from sunrise till sunset.
There was no Nigerian flag anywhere in sight. The only other flag was the flag of Israel.
When all of this was over, we had to leave and one of the two guys manning the house door volunteered to see us off.
He was the younger one.
“What's your name,” I asked as we walked down the road, putting the house behind us quickly.
Clearly, that's the name Nnamdi gave him because he guards the door.
“What's the name your father gave you?”
He laughed now.
“Prince, what do you think about Nnamdi’s methods and approach?”
“He's our President, and I believe in him. When he says something, it's like he can see the future because he's always right.”
“Do you ever worry that something might go wrong? Do you worry that maybe dangerous things might happen in the future?”
There have been cases of violence against IPOB members by Nigerian forces in the past. One of the people we met in Onitsha had a fresh bandage on his leg and had to walk with a stick.
He laughed a soft laugh again.
“Everybody here is willing to die for this.”
He looked so young, that I started to wish I could spend more time with him and learn about other things he's passionate about. Maybe know what football team he supports or if he prefers Garri to Akpu.
But, we move.
It was pretty interesting and revealing, seeing two Biafras in one day.
Ojukwu’s Biafra on one hand was a rescue mission. For many people, it was like Moses saving the Israelites from tyranny in Egypt.
It's different with Nnamdi’s Biafra. It is fuelled by religious fervour, struggle for identity and a heavy dose of nostalgia. Nnamdi’s Biafra for them, is how they get to the Promised Land.
After the war, Biafra became a memory. Now, it is no longer just an idea, a longing. It is now a lifestyle, a movement, a state of mind.
Night settled in quickly as we coursed through Umuahia.
For the ones we left behind, tomorrow is a new day in the struggle. For us, it's a new state, a new way of life, a new story.
*All photos were shot on the Samsung Galaxy S8+.
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