Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

Combating Boko Haram

Can Boko Haram Be Defeated?

My friend Laura sent me this excellent 2 and 1/2 minute video from the Carter Center. The speaker, Dr. Fatima Akilu, “is a university educator and an advocate for marginalized groups working in the area of psychology and health for more than two decades,” according to Jason Parker at the Carver Center. She speaks about combating Boko Haram.

She has worked with Nigerian government. I read that she uses, “a multi-pronged approach to countering violent extremism (CVE).” There is work in prisons to ‘deradicalize’ prisoners, efforts to build community resilience, and a strategic communications. She designed Nigeria’s CVE program.

My friend Laura with Senator Murphy

My friend Laura with Senator Murphy

The video clip from 2016 relates her conversation with Connecticut Senator Christopher Murphy. He serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Dr. Akilu was at the Carver Center as part of the Forum on Women Religion, Violence and Power.

She says the U.S. continues to place an emphasis on the military approach to combating terrorism. But it is not succeeding. Combating Boko Haram, she says, requires engagement on the ground. She says ideological engagement can help young people understand that Boko Haram is anti-Islam.

Educational opportunities, a change for a livelihood, and psycho-social support are all part of her solution.  Her organization has helped 100’s of women and girls. She says, with greater “peace-building efforts, we would save a whole generation.”

Another Powerful African Woman

Yesterday’s Google Doodle also featured an African woman. Esther Afua Ocloo  started “Ghana’s first food processing factory in 1942.” She needed money and began making jam to sell.

NPR has a story about her life and her impact.

From her desire to help other women get into business as she had done, she began making small loans.

“That’s how Women’s World Banking was born,” NPR says. She cofounded the organization in 1976. The loans maybe as small as $50.

You can watch a really quick video here. The video also explains the Google Doodle. Do you look at them?

Legacies of Biafra2017 Legacies of Biafra

I leave very early Thursday morning for London. I’m attending the Legacies of Biafra Conference. There is a film tomorrow evening but I won’t arrive in time. So I’ll go on Friday morning. The panel I’m on Real Life Accounts of the Nigeria-Biafra War is Friday morning at 11 am.

The paper about Clem is ready. It’s long, too long to read all, so on the flight tomorrow I’ll draft a shorter version.

It will be hard to decide what to leave out. But I’ll have to make choices. I’d like to have between 1500 and 1800 words; right now it’s over 3000!

Here are my first few paragraphs.

An Unsung Hero

The dream of Biafra was built on the hard work of many individuals. The war heroes and political leaders are known; their stories have been written. The technical people who worked behind the scenes are not known. Their stories haven’t been told. One of those key actors was my husband, Clement Onyemelukwe. This is his story.

Flag of Biafra - The Rising Sun

Flag of Biafra – The Rising Sun

Like so many people in Biafra, he and I were both changed by the experience. For me, my year of immersion in his village brought me closer to his extended family, improved my Igbo-speaking ability, and gave me deep knowledge of his people’s customs. For him, the two and a half years of struggle to maintain the dream of independence deepened his resiliency and brought him to the belief that determined people could accomplish feats that seemed impossible. He also became convinced of the importance of relying on local resources and local people to achieve success.

When we married in 1964 Clement Onyemelukwe or Clem as I call him, was Chief Electrical Engineer of the Electricity Corporation of Nigeria, ECN. He had returned to Nigeria from the United Kingdom in 1961 as Deputy and advanced to the Chief Electrical Engineer position in 1962, at the age of 30.

At the beginning of 1967 we knew the political situation was fraught. And we knew that a few Igbo people, colleagues and acquaintances, no longer felt safe in Lagos.  But like many other Igbos comfortable in their positions in the capital we had not thought seriously about going to the East. We soothed his worried parents in Onitsha each time they called.

But in May 1967 two events changed the situation. First my friend Carol’s husband fled to the East while she took their children to Ghana. Her departure made me begin to seriously question the wisdom of remaining in Lagos. Second, Pius Okigbo, retired Economic Adviser to the Federal Government, had returned to the East to be Ojukwu’s right-hand man.

He called Clem to tell him he was needed urgently in the Eastern Region. Though secession wasn’t directly mentioned, it was clear this was part of the preparation for an independent country.

Departure for Enugu

Clem still hesitated, but I insisted. We left for Enugu a week later. The Eastern Region government had already established the Statutory Bodies Council to monitor and control all public corporations in the region. Clem was made the Chairman of the Fuel and Energy Committee of that Council, responsible for the Electricity and Coal Corporations.

Clem had his B.Sc. degree in Electrical Engineering from Leeds University. Mechanical engineering was part of his degree course. He had memberships in The British Institute of Fuel and The British Institute of Management, both achieved through training and examinations. He had experience in power stations in UK’s Central Electricity Generating Board, CEGB. He was probably the best qualified engineer in Nigeria, not only in the East.

As Chairman of the Fuel and Energy Committee he dove immediately into the management of the two Corporations even before Biafra declared its independence.

Next time I’ll tell you more. I’ll probably next post on April 27, skipping one Afo week. On April 23 I’ll be flying home from London.

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 – wishing you a wonderful trip to London and being able to share your remarkable first hand story of the earliest days and dreams of Biafra! Good luck with editing your story about Clem. One of my favorite books for writers is Stephen King’s memoir On Writing. In it he talks about the words of authors as being their ‘children’ and that a very good editor’s job is ‘killing off your children’. That’s always how I feel when I give a draft of a sermon or other piece to Paul to read and he takes a vicious red pen to my children! Break a leg!!!

    • Thanks, Lynda. I got it to appropriate length while on the plane! A relief. The audience enjoyed hearing his story. And as you can imagine in a conference full of people interested in Biafra, there were lots of connections! I’ll write about a couple in next blog post.

  2. Thanks for sharing two more good examples of why more women leaders helps entire societies. And thanks for telling Clem’s story.