Biafra: When I Turned 30

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When I turned 30 my father began telling me stories about the Biafran war. At first his stories were sporadic and short, but soon they became more routine and detailed.

I never understood why he waited till I was 30 before telling me stories of the war, maybe he wanted me to be a bit mature. To be honest that would not have been a surprise because many of the stories he told were heart-wrenching and cringe worthy. Such as the stories of the pogrom where people were slaughtered en-masse and their dead bodies loaded onto trains and sent into villages in the East or the time when a Young Doctor arrived home from work only to be sprayed to death by the random bullets of the Russian MIG planes. I always wondered how he remembered the exact type of air-craft that was attacking them, but as more stories unfolded, I began to realize that airplanes and sporadic shooting had begun a daily part of life in the East. Much like NEPA taking light is routine, aircraft’s spraying villages and cities with bullets was normal.

So normal was the occurrence that it led to some funny stories. I remember the story about a church marriage. The couple had just made their wedding vows and topped it off with the classic phrase “for better for worse” when a Russian MIG airplane probably sent by God to test their faith…began spraying church. By the time the commotion had subsided, the church was in tatters. And the newly wedded couple? The groom had completely disappeared, leaving his wife behind in the church. I guess for better or worse did not include 100’s of bullets falling from the sky.

Now it was agreed that in the advent of an attack on Port-Harcourt, that all the refinery engineers and technicians would meet up in the Imo city of Owerrinta (which means small Owerri). These arrangements were made because engineers and technicians were prized assets in the war. So their movement and security was paid special attention. At Owerrinta they met with the local Nigerian engineers from the Shell production companies. These were the people responsible for providing the oil that the refinery processed. All of them were eventually moved to Uzoakoli secondary school, where a quasi-research team from Shell Nigeria and BP Nigeria had already began building a refinery.
(Now at this point I interrupt my Dad, to ensure that he knows what he is saying…cause I did not believe it was possible to build a refinery under those circumstances, it was a war, and they had only been taught about how a refinery worked but not to build it!)

But my Dad insisted that they did actually build a refinery, they were able to build it from salvaged parts from the old refinery and scrap metals that were welded together.

The first refinery had already been built before my Dad’s team had got there, but still they had a chance to influence the design of the refinery as they had first hand knowledge on how a refinery was operated. The new refinery was eventually completed and they were able to independently get it functioning and refining oil…

Excerpt from my latest book “Our Dangerous Addiction To Intelligence” coming sooon…I swear…real soon…definitely will be out before NEPA stops taking light in your House =D



Words by Okechukwu Ofili of
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39 comments on “Biafra: When I Turned 30

  1. Red on said:

    Its sad how little we know about the Biafran war compared to how much we yak about it.
    I think someone other than Achebe should tell their own story too. And its great that you’re doing your part by sharing your father’s story.
    Oh and you should complete your book already! (˘̯˘ ) ( ˘˘̯) .

  2. My dad also tells me biafran interesting stories. Amazing how every one who witnessed the war have a unique twist of their own exclusive story. But sir, how can you put a Chicken Lap in my mouth and pull it out when I just began enjoying it. O di mma? #GodisWatchingYouIn6D

  3. KENE on said:

    I have scarcely taken a position in my noiseless-fully-air-conditioned room to enjoy this your story when you suddenly brought it to ab abrupt halt. Are we expecting another Things Fall Apart remix from you soon? Nice way to keep your readers in suspense. Nice one Ofili.

  4. adeshina okunubi on said:

    Now, Okey you got to give me an exclusive. i cant wait till the book comes out o. what about a meet somewhere where i pay the bills of food and drink ah ah ah. cheers.

  5. It’s amazing that more is not written about this war in world history books. My first knowledge of it was through Chimamanda Adichie and then Chinua Achebe. In my opinion, it is more than the history of Biafra or even Africa. In my limited knowledge, this appears to be part of a universal story, stuck on repeat, in world history. Thank you for sharing a little bit about your family’s connection.
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  6. Chukwuma Nkeonye on said:

    The organised genocide by Nigeria & the Western world against the Igbos & Easterners has not really been brought to light, this is just a tip of the iceberg, however thumb up Ofili for the courage.

  7. Adegbenga Adedayo on said:

    Ofili well done
    I can’t wait to lay my hands on the book…More so u just inspired me to want to read more about the war.

  8. I must admit. This is one area I know absolutely nothing. I won’t blame it on not having being taught at schools and what not. After all, the internet exists and surely, if I had sought books I would have found something. I was never told any stories about it by my folks even though I’m Ibo through and through. Hmmmmm I’ll be sure to get your book when it comes out.
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    • But Ogechi I still do believe that we need to teach it in our schools. Nigeria for the most part acts like we never fought a civil war, its like we are trying to run away from History. It is inexcusable that I learned more about Biafra from Rick Ross than I did in my Secondary School!
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  9. peju on said:

    here is where i am much envious of you, i would love to just be there listening to your Dad’s stories, true oral history. i don’t say this lightly or in jest, i just appreciate that your Dad seems so intentional with his storytelling carrying around such a narrative for such a time as he deems necessary to share it with his son. i am really sorry my fellow country men suffered such grotesque evil. i pray some day we reconcile this all too important Nigerian history. thanks for sharing Okey.

  10. emeka ohuche on said:

    I believe that we owe the generations that experienced the Biafra war in any form, a duty to keep telling the stories of the pains and gains they went through. Their experiences were genuine and, those of us,younger generations especially from Eastern Nigeria and who have been exposed to the stories, orally narrated to us with pains, must keep re-echoing it even into eternity. The stories of the Holocaust are still being told and remembered till this day by grand/great grand-children of victims. Those stories were told to us for a reason and we must keep talking and analysing it so we learn as much as we can in other to prevent a reoccurrence of a war that would have been avoided.

      • Aibee on said:

        Haaaa, that Mr. Biggs’s donut that the jam in it is inversely proportional to the health/strength of the Nigerian Economy? We no want! Biko when will this new book be out because if we have to wait for NEPA to stop taking the light, your book won’t get published till I’m telling my 30 year old grandchildren of when GEJ battled Boo Haram. By the way, I’m not 30 yet and I don’t have children yet.

  11. There are many things I love about this piece. How lucky you are to be able to discuss with your father. You should record it (like NPRs oral history). You will want to preserve the cadence of his voice and the tapestry of his story telling. You are a good story teller but I am sure your father is better, LOL. I love the sketch…we really should institute a Cane Awards. I will help you plan it. Finally, is that a real life biafran flag you got from your dad?

  12. Ayomipo on said:

    It’s really sad how we get to talk so much about foreign history, yet, we know so little of ours. You should hear my Mum talk about the World Wars, but all she has ever mentioned about the Biafran War is how she lost so many neighbors growing up and how her Father had pleaded with many of their Igbo friends not to go to the East to participate in the war only for them to come back to Lagos barely alive. We need a comprehensive write-up on this historical event, something the Nigerian people of the next century will have, linking them to the past otherwise, it’ll all be forgotten…all too soon. The innocent blood of our Igbo brothers and sisters must not be allowed to flow in vain, we must tell the story no matter how painful it is to our understanding!

  13. nonz on said:

    Nice write up Ofili. My mum also tells stores about how life was then, some funny and some downright terrifying! Its probably a sad reason why Nigerians would rather endure bad governance that have any revolt.
    But on a much lighter note about the 60’s and Biafran war, there is a musical play called Kakadu about social life in the 60’s just before the war. I think it would be a great watch. Their website is

  14. Daniel mamot on said:

    Please i can’t wait to read the rest of your story on biafra war, particularly what further transpired.

  15. Nice post! Your imaginative depth is unparralled, giving your background as an Engineer. As a newbie in the blogging world ,I guess I can draw inspiration from this. Big up!

  16. chidinma on said:

    not fair at all ohhh. new 2 ur site & just startd enjoyin the story only 2 hv it cut abruptly. believ d war history should b taught in schls. cos i was lucky my parents told biafra war stories from my primary schl days bt was really disappointd as i grew up 2 find out many people dnt kno the stories: the cause of d war, the war incidences & wot hapend 2 d survivors if the war. & most importantly how it has shapd d country & esp d easteners

  17. nkeonyeluba on said:

    dear ofili plz am interested in dat book. beco am a history student i want 2 write my project on civil war

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