Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

Biafra Fifty Years Ago and Nigeria Today

Did Biafra Teach Us Anything?

Flag of Biafra - The Rising Sun

Flag of Biafra – The Rising Sun

The Nigerian army entered Biafra on July 6th, 1967. This was just two weeks after our daughter Beth was born in Enugu, Biafra’s capital.

Two months later the Nigerians were bombing Enugu. We ran to our improvised bomb shelter.

When we emerged later, my baby Beth was covered in dirt. That was a deciding point for me. It was time to flee Enugu and go to Clem’s village where I stayed for another year, leaving halfway through the war with our two children.

Has the Country Learned?

Now on the anniversary of the civil war’s beginning, there are two articles. The first is from the Washington Post.

Political map of Nigeria showing all the states

Political map of Nigeria showing all the states

Eromo Egbejule, a Nigerian writer, stresses the need for education about the war.

“We in Nigeria learn nothing because we have refused to address the past squarely and learn from it,” he says. “Consequently, Nigeria is frequently repeating its mistakes, with tragic consequences for its people.”

He also calls on Nigerians to consider the federal nature of the country. Should the country even remain as a single unit with so many states? he asks. He does not recommend dissolving it, simply talking about it.

The government seems afraid to examine the issues of minorities, whether one group of Muslims or one tribe, he says. The agitation today about Biafra needs to be confronted, not ignored.

He writes, “50 years after the civil war, the case of renewed Biafran agitation is still being treated with kid gloves by Nigeria’s government.”

More Encouragement to Learning About Biafra

You have read about the Igbo Conferences – I’ve now been to two. The most recent was to celebrate fifty years since the beginning of the Biafran War.

Two women are the organizers of the conference. Louisa Egbunike is one. She made a 7-minute prize-winning video about her family’s relationship to Biafra. It’s a lovely story.

She was a winner of “New Generation Thinkers, an annual competition run by BBC Radio 3 and the Arts and Humanities Research Council to select researchers at the start of their careers who can turn their fascinating research into stimulating television and radio programmes.”

Nigerian Writers Oppose Ethnic Hate Speech

This statement of concern by Nigerian writers came from Ainehi Edoro’s blog.

Ethnic Hate Speech: Statement from Concerned Nigerian Writers

Boko Haram and Brexit?

New book about Boko Haram by Andrew Walker

New book about Boko Haram by Andrew Walker

Another article from the Washington Post is by Laura Seay.

She writes about a new book by Andrew Walker, called  Eat the Heart of the Infidel: The Harrowing of Nigeria and the Rise of Boko Haram. She calls it “one of the most innovative and readable accounts of Boko Haram’s rise that I’ve come across.”

She interviews the author. Why the history, she asks him.

He tells her, “Boko Haram began in a form of rebellion and state creation that predates colonialism in Nigeria.” He then describes a Fulani Muslim cleric that I talk about in my classes on Nigerian history.

Usman dan Fodio, Fulani Muslim cleric

Usman dan Fodio, Fulani Muslim cleric

Usman dan Fodio was a charismatic preacher in the early 1800’s in what is today Northern Nigeria. He and his followers believed the rulers had become too much in love with worldly things. They overthrew the Hausa leaders and established their own caliphate.

In my class, I remark on the similarity between his story and Boko Haram.

The author found the same. As he researched his book, he says, “I found Boko Haram’s language and violence, their impulses and strategies, which seemed so arcane to observers today, had deep and powerful roots.”

Boko Haram Attracts People With Grievances

How does the author see a connection between Boko Haram and Brexit?

He says that with the financial crisis in 2008 Western governments have provided less for their citizens. And both governments and individuals have begun to believe the problems are intractable. So people begin to question institutions and the bonds between individuals.

“As the intangible and often unspoken or unwritten assumptions that hold our polity together are questioned, ignored or dropped, satisfactory reform may become more difficult,” he told the author.

He concludes that, “One’s approach to Brexit, for example, is not conditioned by facts, but ideas about who you are and what you deserve from the national cake; that’s the basis of just about every conflict in places like Nigeria today.”

Sam with daughter Teya who is 8, and son Bruche, who is 6.

Sam with daughter Teya who is 8, and son Bruche, who is 6.

He suggests we should not assume we have all passed the “post-colonial” stage that affects countries like Nigeria. Maybe we are all in that stage, he says, thinking about our ethnic identity and what is owed to us, rather than how to advance the common good.

4th of July Celebrations and Family

Our younger son Sam was with us for a week that included the 4th of July. Before that he was with his family in California where Onome is completing a Master’s Degree in Human Resources Management.

We went to Philadelphia to celebrate the holiday.

Birthday cake for the Garners

Birthday cake for the Garners

We also celebrated all five birthdays in our daughter’s family. They run from June 3 to July 29!

Grandson Kenechi’s is the 4th. But he was not even home. As my daughter says, he’s flown from the nest. He moved to New York! We called to wish him a happy birthday.

In Philadelphia with son-in-law Kelvin, husband Clem, son Sam, and daughter Beth

In Philadelphia with son-in-law Kelvin, husband Clem, son Sam, and daughter Beth

Did you watch fireworks?Grill ribs like Kelvin did for us?

Celebrate the 4th in another way?

Author: Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, blogger, speaker. Born in New York, grew up in mid west United States, lived in Nigeria for 24 years, back in U.S. since 1986. Advocate for racial justice.


  1. Catherine Onyemelukwe is a daring writer. In her book, Nigeria Revisited, she captures her journey to discovery in Nigeria, her marriage and her experiences in a way that only she can. I enjoyed reading her book and I am looking forward to reading her forthcoming books. Congratulations madam.
    Uzodinma Okpechi

  2. I wonder, if we researched instances of countries learning from mistakes and instances of them not learning, which occurs more often? One thing for sure, if Nigeria is repeating mistakes, they are not alone in the world. I also wish we could expand and learn from other countries’ mistakes and successes, but that’s even harder. Sometimes it feels so discouraging, but I try to keep on keeping on.

    • Yes, Margaret. What else can we do but keep on! I would guess that lots of writing is about that topic, whether it is countries or individuals learning from, or not learning from, their mistakes!