May 1966 and January 1970, millions of Ndigbo were made to
become refugees in their fatherland. The first wave of refugees
came to the East from all parts of the Nigerian Federation
in the wake of massacres that were unleashed on Ndigbo who
resided outside the then Eastern Region. Most hurriedly abandoned
places where they had resided all their lives without even
any clothes on their backs. Some fled in panic without being
able to locate the rest of their families.
The next wave of refugees fled from their ancestral hometowns
inside Biafra to stay out of the range of the artillery guns
of the federal troops that were advancing from the north,
west and south. Again, many people fled their homes leaving
all their possessions behind except for what they could carry
on their heads. Millions had to trek for days, without food
and clean water, to makeshift refugee camps which were mostly
village primary school buildings. Without food and money,
these internal refugees had to eke out a living by any means
they could. To avert severe malnutrition, cassava leaves and
grass featured prominently in many refugees’ diets.
Exposure to the elements of weather and lack of sanitary facilities
resulted in rampant epidemics which brought about the untimely
deaths of several hundreds of thousands, especially children
and the very old.
As the war intensified, savage and indiscriminate aerial bombing
campaigns were unleashed by federal troops who utilized the
services of Egyptian and Russian mercenary pilots to terrorize
civilian populations inside Biafra. Urban centers like Aba,
Umuahia and Owerri were bombarded daily from the air. The
only air link to the outside world for Biafra, the Uli Airport,
was daily attacked by Nigerian war planes to ensure that relief
flights were totally disrupted.
Of all the indignations of the Biafra War, being made to be
refugees in one’s own fatherland was the most humiliating
to Ndigbo. Igbos were stripped bare and left to die like flies
as they fought for survival for more than 30 months while
the world looked on.