By Ugochukwu Alaribe, UMUAHIA
A retired school principal, Elder Godwin Onuoha, said that he shouted ‘happy survival’ at the end of the Nigerian – Biafra war in 1970 because the war affected his education and career as a teacher.
The retired principal who hails from Umuguru Nvosi, in Isiala Ngwa South LGA, of Abia State, explained that he was 30 during the final year of his English and French studies at the Advanced Teachers’ Training College, ATTC, now Alvan Ikoku Federal College of Education, Owerri, Imo State, when the war broke in 1967.
He disclosed that the teachers’ training program offered at the then Federal Advanced Teachers’ Training Colleges at Yaba, Zaria and Owerri, was then funded by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, to meet the needs of shortage of well-qualified teachers in Nigeria.
Onuoha, who stated this at the launch of his book; ‘My Life and Times in Retrospect, an autobiography by Godwin Onuoha, in Aba, Abia State, said he started well on his studies until the January 1966 military coup when the mood of the nation took a different turn as he was lost in despair and frustration with his NCE programme yet to be completed and university ambition, no longer feasible.
His words; “A few months later, there was a counter-coup which resulted in the change of guards. Yakubu Gowon became the Head of State while Emeka Ojukwu was the administrator of Eastern Nigeria. The military altercation between Ojukwu and Gowon was gathering momentum. There were claims and counterclaims and finally on 6th July 167, the year I was to graduate from ATTC, war broke out. Students were forced home. The foreign and Nigerian lecturers took to their heels. I was thirty then, I returned to my village in Umuguru, Isiala Ngwa South LGA and started counting my woes. The NCE course, not completed, the fifty pounds a month I would be paid by UNESCO on the completion of the course, no longer feasible; going to the university which was my ambition, was not foreseeable. Despair and frustration took hold of me. The major option was to join the Army but my father would not hear me contemplate such a suicidal bid.
He continued; “The Nigerian civil war years were replete with experiences of warplanes flying too low and bombing civilians. Roofs were covered with palm fronds for protection. Markets went into session very early in the morning. Naked lights would not be seen at night in order not to attract warplanes.
“Civilians had to contend with hunger as food started running short. The village population rose by leaps from those who returned from their homes from all nooks and crannies of Nigeria. Kwashiorkor came. War vocabulary became the order of the day, you will hear of tanks, air raids, annihilate, rout and refuge camp. People whose villages had been touched escaped for their lives and were quartered in refugee camps on school premises. The World council of Churches distributed food items to refugee camps. Lives were lost in the theatres of war and in the villages. While people prided themselves as soldiers, the time came when the hunger and raggedness of the soldiers told the story. Conscription into the Army became the order of the day. At a point, nobody contemplated opening educational centres. We knew that the situation had got out of control when the war engulfed us in Aba, Mbawsi, Owerri-Nta and other areas of Ngwa land.”
He stated that at the end of the war in 1970, he returned to ATTC, Owerri and took his final year examinations which were aborted by the war.
Thank God that when the war ended in January 1970, we all returned to the ATTC, Owerri. The greeting was happy survival, a warm embrace and hugging of one another. The popular greeting was happy survival. The final year examinations which we could have put behind us in December 1967 were taken and examination results released with the confirmation of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.”
Describing the war as a tale of woes which must not be experienced again, Onuoha lamented that nobody thought that the war would last as long as the 30 months it took and urged people to live in peace with each other.
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