The Nigerian Civil War through the Lens of a Medic

Now that General Muhammadu Buhari has eased fears of a Muslim-Muslim APC ticket inflaming next years’ presidential election by picking Professor Yemi Osinbajo, as his running mate on the All Progressives Congress (APC) platform, Nigerians have one less issue to worry about the nation sliding into anarchy on the basis of ethnic and religious divisions, like it did more than 40 years ago.

No matter what one thinks of each candidate, now both the PDP and the APC have presidential and vice presidential candidates that are truly representative of the ethnic and religious balance of the country.

It was Martin Luther King, jr. who said that “Wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows.” And for many Nigerians who witnessed the angst and tragedy of a four-year civil war that ended in 1970, these facts hold true.

2As a child growing up in Benin, I experienced the war up close during a brief incursion by Biafran troops into the city, as well as through the tales my mother shared with us of how the frontline medical corps (which she belonged to) helped troops recover from their war injuries. My mother was a nurse at the Specialist Hospital (now Central Hospital) in Benin City, which along with the Military Hospital in town, were the closest major triage point to the war zone for treating soldiers with wounds ranging from shattered limbs to shrapnel wounds.

It’s been more than 40 years since the end of the civil war which claimed the lives of more than 1 million Nigerians, but I still see a lot of factors that led to that senseless war still prevalent in the country. Nigerians always put self before country, and are always scheming to set each other up. No doubt the poor state of the economy and self-centered politicking is a big factor in the way people rationalize things and act toward each other.

But for how long will the Nigerian people keep on thinking along tribal and ethnic lines; a mindset that is beginning to manifest itself as another crucial elections approaches and the violence ratchets up.

Look at the state of the country after 54 years of independence! I am sure some of those who labored hard for the nation’s independence would be flabbergasted with what is transpiring in the country right now.

So as a reminder of the senselessness of wars and violence (often triggered by mistakes which everyone regrets afterwards) I share these photos of the Nigerian Civil War through the eyes of a nurse who rose to the height of Chief Matron of the hospital, best mother in the world and a patriot.
After being gone from the country for 25 years, I think there is a lot of work to be done to circumvent mistakes of the past .

And lest we forgot, it is time for everyone concerned about the survival of Nigeria to hearken back to the speech of General Yakubu Gowon at the end of the civil war, when he said “The tragic chapter of violence is just ended. We are at the dawn of national reconciliation. Once again we have an opportunity to build a new nation. My dear compatriots, we must pay homage to the fallen, to the heroes who have made the supreme sacrifice that we may be able to build a nation, great in justice, fair trade, and industry.”

Let us not forget the true meaning of those words.

The attached photos shows the late Mrs. E. Edokpayi who retired as Matron of the Specialist Hospital in Benin City, as well as other hospital staff who helped to treat injured Nigerian and Biafran soldiers during the civil war.

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Ben Edokpayi

Ben Edokpayi is a strategic communications consultant with more than 25 years experience in the USA and Nigeria. His most recent corporate assignment was as Media Relations Officer with the California State Compensation Insurance Fund.

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