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National War Museum: Reminder of human, economic loss

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National War Museum: Reminder of human, economic loss

Untapped opportunity for technological development

The National War Museum, located in Umuahia, Abia State, has failed to ginger Nigeria’s technological development in military hardware, but becomes a mere centre of tourist attraction, reports IGBEAKU ORJI

 

It is almost impossible for any adult to visit the War Museum in Umuahia, Abia State and keep his/her emotions in check, depending on which side of the divide ones sympathy lies. The War Museum Umuahia, a relic of the Nigerian-Biafran Civil War, is the only one of its kind in the country.

 

It has come to symbolise different things to different people. To the agitators of a sovereign state of Biafra, it evokes a sense of another paradise lost but hopefully to be regained. That, in essence, could explain the reason the agitators visited the Museum in droves before they were disbanded.

 

What they saw there fired their zeal to intensify agitation for Biafra’s sovereignty. To them, the War Museum is as inspiring as it is a source of hope, that the nation of Biafra would eventually become a reality.

 

To the military, it relives bitter experiences of a needless bloodshed. It evokes reminiscences of an expedition that marked the beginning of retrogression for the country which painfully it is yet to recover from. To others, the pain is in the huge loss to the country not only in terms of human resources but also the opportunity of becoming a great nation, tapping from the experience of the war.

 

The end of the war, many thought, would have been the beginning of Nigeria’s renaissance and greatness in science and technology given the great feats of the Biafran scientists which made it possible for the war to be sustained for 30 months. In Biafra, many still believe that Nigeria lost the opportunity of becoming a continental and world power in technology and military strength.

 

 

The National War Museum is the biggest tourist centre in the Abia State capital. It is located at Amafor Isingwu Ohuhu in Umuahia North Local Government Area on a serene vast land of about 3,778 hectares; away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

 

The present location was preferred to host the museum because it has two of the well-preserved bunkers used by the Biafran Head of State, General Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu as his subterranean office or Biafran administrative headquarters, the Ojukwu Bunker, and the Radio Biafra and Voice of Biafra (VOB external service) bunker. Also, Umuahia, as a city, had been an old railway town used for the distribution of cattle and palm produce between the Southern and Northern parts of the country.

 

It also served as the second capital of Biafra after the fall of Enugu from where the Head of State, Ojukwu, fled to Côte d’Ivoire via Uli air strip on exile.

 

The complex was launched in 1985 by the late Major General Babatunde Idiagbon, then Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters, under the military government of General Muhammadu Buhari and inaugurated four years later by the then Minister of Defence and Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Lt. Gen. Domkat Bali, under the government of military President Ibrahim Babangida.

 

According to “Ogbunigwe,” a publication of the National War Museum, Umuahia, the idea of having a war museum for the country to preserve Nigerian war relics was proposed by Lt. Gen. T. Y. Danjuma, then Chief of Army Staff “after his official visit to former Yugoslavia in 1977”. The proposal was approved by the Supreme Military Council and the National Council of States the same year.

 

Consequently, a National War Museum Committee was set up to work out the modalities with the National Commission for Museums and Monuments to realise the goal. Notwithstanding, the different interpretations that different people give the museum, “Ogbunigwe” sees “the National War Museum as a national memorabilia that reminds us that some people paid the supreme sacrifice to keep the unity of this country and we must guard this unity religiously”.

 

The scope of the museum is not limited to the Nigerian Civil War but includes the traditional warfare and weaponry in Nigeria, showcasing the evolution of the Nigerian Armed Forces, the colonial and imperial wars in which Nigeria participated. The complex has three sections – the open museum, the gallery and the offices.

 

 

The open museum is further divided into three sections – the Army, the Air Force and the Navy. On the Army section are displayed the armoured tanks in three rows marked A, B and C. Those on the A row, according to the Museum Education Officer, Peace Otumbadi, are five in number and are the Biafran Amoured Tanks otherwise known as the Biafran Red Devils, built by the Biafran scientists and technicians under the Research and Production (RAP) unit.

 

“Those on the B and C rows were used by the Nigerian side. But while the Nigerians were fighting with imported military hardware the Biafran soldiers either used locally-made or copied captured weapons which were fabricated by RAP. The Biafrans dismantled any captured hardware and adapted it to suit their purpose.

 

For instance, the Nigerian Saladin with revolving roof, shooting at 360 degrees, were captured and copied by the Biafran scientists who instead made holes on the Armoured Tanks so that soldiers could shoot through those holes round about giving the impression that it revolved.”

 

Also on display, next to the armoured tanks are the remains of the Radio Biafra transmitter, which the Curator, Mrs. Mercy Aduaka, said was used before the war in the location as booster station for the Eastern Nigeria Radio/East Central State Broadcasting Service.

 

Next to it is the huge capsular contraption on the far end of the transmitter carcass. Otumbadi explained that the item was the “Biafra Oil Cooking Pot (mini refinery)”.

 

With it the  Biafrans were able to refine crude oil to get fuel to meet the extenuating circumstances of the war. It was also conceived and fabricated by RAP. In front of the Biafran Red Devils are metal objects which the guide explained were the different types of Ogbunigwe (the mass destroyer/ killer bomb/explosives) which mowed down anything on its way, another invention of RAP. Aduaka said its action was like dynamite that blew off any object on its way.

 

The Chief Curator, Mr. Ibenye Martins Ejikeme, explained that the “idea, conception and fabrication of Ogbunigwe was by RAP.

 

They fabricated the launching/ standing Ogbunigwe, the Bobby trap, Ojukwu Bucket, Biafra grenade, rocket, Biafra mines, enemy sure battery, which ignited fire when it hits its target, among others.”

 

Ejikeme said RAP was born out of the necessity to develop military hardware to prosecute the war in the cash-strapped young republic. He said: “Ojukwu assembled the scientists, engineers, technicians and artisans, having little or nothing to fight with, and challenged them to take the initiative to conceive and fabricate at the shortest possible demand all that was needed to defend Biafra and defeat the enemy.”

 

Away from the Army section as one turns left, is the huge shade covering the Air Force planes used during the war on both sides. Of particular interest is the wreckage of the small mini-coin, also known as the Biafran Baby, but to the Nigerian side as the Biafran Mosquito. In the identification tag it is MFI- 9B Small Bomber Aircraft BA NO BB 90. “It is a small, two sitter propeller sport plane produced by the Swedish company called Malomo Flying Industry (MFI).

 

 

The aircraft was converted into a fighter plane, fitted with rocker pods and armed with 18 deadly rockers. It was brought to secessionist enclave by Van Rosel, a Swedish pilot in 1969.

 

They were five mini-coins in all.” The plane is said to carry only two crew members, a pilot and a bomber. It flies at low altitude and therefore could not be easily hit by Radio Detecting and Ranging (RADAR).

 

The Mini-coin made its first raid on Port Harcourt on May 22, 1969, damaging two parked MIG and “Ilyushin” (probable pronouncement of the fighter plane – “The Illusion”). Benin and Enugu were subsequently struck thus damaging some other “Ilyushins.” These sport planes were converted into military aircraft by the French Air Force so that each became capable of loading six French 76mm rockets.

 

After their conversion, Von Rosel named them mini-coins, meaning mini-counterinsurgency operations. Towering over the remains of the Mini-coin is the wrecked two jet turbine engine Russian aircraft donated to the Nigerian side in 1967 by the Egyptian government.

 

 

“The action of the fighter aircraft on all points of the war earned it the name ‘Genocide’ because the  Egyptian pilot who did not know the enemy terrain bombed at random without hitting proper military targets.”

 

Standing in front of the fighter planes and the two Nigerian Air Force planes, as if ready to shoot, is the RAP fabricated anti-aircraft launcher, “BOFOR,” which was used by the Biafran Air Force to guard strategic military locations. The Navy section hosts the NNS BONNY and gunboats.

 

The imposing warship helped the Nigerian forces to capture the coastal cities of Bonny, Port Harcourt and Calabar. It was used in the Museum as a restaurant before it was recovered from the proprietor, who the curator said misused it.

 

The gallery is a world on its own. It houses the four sections of the exhibition including the great historic wars, the traditional war implements and their development, the Armed Forces gallery and the Civil War gallery.

 

From the Queens Regiment, the Armed Forces gallery introduces the Nigerian Army and its evolution. It is interesting to find that contrary to the widely held notion that J. T. U. Aguiyi Ironsi was the first commissioned officer of the Nigerian Army, it was Lt. W. U. Bassey.

 

Ironsi was the second. Here, one would also find the uniforms and ranks of the Armed Forces, the portraits of the heads of state, the chiefs of the Army, Navy and Air Staff of the different military administrations. In another section of the gallery is the Radio Biafra Bunker which housed the ubiquitous radio Biafra.

 

It is located at the end of the Civil War gallery. A flight of stairs leads in and out of the bunker. At the base of the bunker is the Voice of Biafra (VOB) transmitter and the announcers cubicle adorned with the Declaration of Independence photograph of Ojukwu and the prolific wartime radio voice, broadcaster/announcer, Okokon Ndem, as well as the Biafran coat of arms.

 

 

On both sides of the concrete cast walls of the bunker’s staircase are the photographs of individuals who played key roles on both sides of the divide, Nigeria and Biafra.

 

 

Before one enters the long civil war corridor, there are the photographs of the casualties of the 1966 coup that precipitated the war hung on the wall. To the left of this little space, is the large portrait of Ojukwu and the Biafran flag over it. Outside, through the exit door of the bunker is a wide deep trench, wide and deep enough for an adult to run in without being detected, that connected the Radio Biafra bunker with the Ojukwu Bunker.

 

 

The trench was not only the escape route when there was danger but a means of bearing messages to or from the Head of State for airing. Though the outline of the trench is still visible, the management of the museum has not preserved the entire original stretch from the museum to the bunker. Otumbadi said the wonder and mystery of the Radio Biafra was its mobility.

 

“It could be carried in a Land Rover and while it broadcast from the Bunker in Umuahia it announced that it was in Enugu Ukwu in the present Anambra State. That was the reason when Biafran cities fell the Radio Biafra and Voice of Biafra kept broadcasting without being located,” he said. The Ojukwu Bunker or War Museum Annex has been well preserved.

 

 

It is located in Afaraukwu Ibeku, close to the Abia State Government House and the home of the IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu. It is an extension of the museum, though a little distance from it. It is a 29ft or 200 metres architectural marvel built under the earth in 90 days. It has a conference room, sleeping room, toilet, kitchen, store and cell for high profile war prisoners and an escape ladder made of iron stuck to the concert cast wall of the bunker.

 

This was where the Biafran Head of State, Ojukwu, used as the last headquarters of his government when Enugu, the original capital fell. It is on record that it was from here he flew to exile in Côte d’Ivoire through the Uli airport built by the Biafran engineers where even international cargo   and passenger aircraft landed.

 

 

It is said to be the route through which relief materials and aids came to Biafra, landing even at night without light and navigational aids. It was also through the airport that some of the Biafran children ravaged by kwashiorkor and disease were evacuated to Gabon and other neighbouring countries. Like the war museum, the Ojukwu Bunker is open to public.

 

The location was originally the private residence of the former Premier of the Eastern Region, Dr. Michael Okpara, who donated it the Biafran Government in the heat of the war, which is the reason the street is called Okpara Avenue. The main building is a one-storey edifice with its own bunker. Behind the building is a field under which the Ojukwu Bunker is built.

 

The bunker’d entrance is detached from the main building but connected to it by a surface corridor. It is built of cast concrete and ventilated with iron pipes.

 

 

 

There is an iron ladder for escape in the face of danger without coming through the main entrance. Today, as a tourist site, the complex has lodging, a conference hall and large open space for outdoor events. The war museum and the Ojukwu Bunker are the only two of their kinds in Umuahia in terms of relaxation and recreation. It is a preferred destination for conferences, workshops and meetings.

 

And the fee, according to the curator, is a token. Over the years, some innovations have been made in the War Museum and Ojukwu Bunker, which in turn have boosted public awareness and patronage.

 

For instance, the place now has, in addition to the large open field, a children recreation park, a restaurant and fatigue breakers for visitors. Aduaka, who became curator of the National War Museum in 2015, said the complex had increased public patronage until the months of the operation Python Dance of 2017.

 

“Because of the problem in Umuahia last year, we lost patronage. Visitors were not forthcoming. For three months after the Python Dance we recorded zero visitors, yet we still had over 21,000 visitors at the War Museum and the Ojukwu Bunker combined.

 

The place is a beehive of activities and more on weekends. We receive visitors everyday especially from the schools, primary, secondary and tertiary. “We also have the Army and other arms of the Armed Forces. In fact, the Army renovated the Army Wing of the open museum where we   display the Armoured tanks. The Navy and the Air Force have promised to do something,” she said. Apart from the website, the children recreational facilities, the Africana kitchen for local cuisines, the management also reconstructed and repainted the museum fence. The management of the museum has been able to surmount some of its challenges through the commitment of the staff but more still needs to be done. The complex needs constant supply of electricity.

 

The museum and the bunker use generator or torch to provide light especially for the galleries and bunker which are always dark, for the numerous visitors. The museum also has the challenge of assembling all the items used for the war, especially all the items the Biafran and Nigerian soldiers developed and manufactured on their own during the war. “Efforts have not been made to develop further on these discoveries. No proper documentation of the engineers that were involved in the indigenous technology

 

. The research aspect of the War Museum is also at its lowest ebb,” the curator said. She added that the museum was still expecting the gunboat from Oguta Lake in Imo State which platform has been built in the museum. During the International Museum Day, May 18, 2017, the museum recorded over 500 visitors toll free. Aduaka said the awareness campaigns in the media, especially the local radio stations, had yielded positive results. The complex now also has online platforms and these have reflected in the increased patronage.

 

 

Before now, the museum was like abandoned and deserted part of town. It was mainly the staff who had to go there as a matter duty. From available statistics covering a period of four years, 2014 to 2017, the Museum and the Ojukwu Bunker have recorded progressive increase in patronage/visitors. While they posted a little over 17,000 visitors in 2014 combined, the figure for 2015 was a little over 20,000.

 

The two complexes recorded over 22,000 visitors in 2016 and about 21,000 in 2017 despite the security situation in the state last year. Aduaka also explained that from the inception of the museum the objective had been “to highlight the futility of war as a means of settling dispute.

 

People should rather embrace peace, reconciliation and dialogue in resolving conflicts.” According to the curator, the aim is also to showcase the technological ingenuity of the period. She lamented the loss in human and material resources in the prosecution of the war, which Nigeria, regrettably, did not learn from. She said: “As a country, we only verbalise issues and policies without taking action to implement them. We have not been able to adapt the technology used during the war.

 

Nigeria is suffering because of leadership problem. We need right minded leadership and when it comes you will see that God blesses this country, a land of milk and honey. Leadership that will impress God and the masses is what we need.” Aduaka said the management intended to have a craft village and skill acquisition centre for blacksmith, mat weaving, bead making, among others.

 

“I have written to the governor of Abia State to partner with us like the governor of Katsina State where I came from, who built many projects for us at the Katsina Museum, including a seven-room exhibition gallery. We also partner Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), individuals and organisations.

 

“For instance, the International Museum Day was sponsored by royal fathers and notable individuals from within and outside Abia State. One of the pilots who flew the Illusion and the Chief Pilot of Biafra, Captain August Okpe, author of the 585-page hardcover,

 

The Last Flight, was also here during the International Museum Day.” As part of efforts to reach out, the management of the museum also last year organised exhibitions “It is a sad commentary, however, that 47 years after the war, Nigeria is still unable to use local technology to build its refineries or maintain and run to optimal capacity, foreign built ones.

 

Again, one may ask, how many of the military hardware can we produce locally today when Biafra 50 years ago fabricated its weapons locally? Is it not shameful that after over half a century of independence and over four decades after the Civil War Nigeria is still battling with basic infrastructure? How then will the country take its proper place in the comity of progressive nations?

 

“Unfortunately, our leaders did not learn any lesson form the war. The issues that led to the conflict are still very much with us. Though there has not been another outright war, there are constant separatist agitations. Internal crisis across the nation most of which hinge on self-determination has rocked the nation to its very foundation and the contentious issues are far from being resolved.

 

Many have expressed concern that the issues of domination of one section of the country over others, oppression, marginalisation, injustice and disregard to the rule of law tend to strangulate the country. It will be misleading to imagine that because no section of the country has taken up arms against the motherland then there is peace. As some ask, what of Boko Haram, Niger Delta agitators, IPOB, etc?

 

Are these not manifestations of bottled up grievance against the state?” Aduaka said she was invited to attend the celebration of peace and freedom from war last year by Iran. But Nigeria has never thought of that. She believes the War Museum should be a constant reminder to every one of the futility of war as a means of conflict resolution. “War is an ill wind that does no one any good. We must learn to live together in peace and avoid issues that escalate the fragile unity. And the leaders should show the example,” she added.

 

 

 

 

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