Title: Last Train to Biafra: Memoirs of a Biafran Child
Author: Diliorah Chukwurah, MD
Year of Publication: 2015
Publisher: Constellation Books, Ibadan, Nigeria
Book Reviewer: Patrick Oguejiofor
Last Train to Biafra is yet another memoir on the Nigeria-Biafran war. The book however is exceptional in the sense that it ranks among the finest memoirs to be written on the Nigerian-Biafran fratricidal conflict, a must-read for every human being on earth. In the words of Dr Onyebuchi Ileh, Head, Department of English and Literature, Nigerian Turkish Nile University, Abuja, the book ‘is the most touching account of the pogrom against the Igbos after the 1966 counter coup.’
The author, Diliorah Chukwurah, now a London-based practicing medical doctor was born of Igbo parents in Jos in the former Northern region of Nigeria was a 10 year old primary school pupil at Our Lady of Fatima Primary School, Jos when violence against the Igbos broke out. More than forty years after it was all over, the author was able to graphically recount how Igbos were haunted and hounded like animals and murdered in Jos by Hausa rioters. He did not however forget to pay tribute to the angels in the midst of the demons. He recounted and paid tributes to the late Rwang Pam, the then traditional ruler of Jos and the Berom people (Gbong Gwom Jos). This great saint openly did not shy away from protecting Igbos living in his domain and effectively delayed the atrocities to enable them (Igbos) flee to the east to the extent that Jos became a temporary haven for easterners and Igbos fleeing other parts of the north where traditional rulers and the police looked the other way while hapless men, women and children were massacred in their thousands. The late Mr. & Mrs. Audu were also showered with garlands of honor by the author for sheltering his mother successfully from the sword of the rioters. The author recollected the Igbos feeble attempt to mobilize and fight back.
This thriller-like memoir also detailed how the author’s father, like many Igbos stubbornly- if not naively – refused to leave the north hoping that the killings will stop and how the parents of the author narrowly boarded what was to become the last train that carried fleeing Igbos to what was to become Biafra, hence the title Last Train to Biafra. Last Train to Biafra is sordid, menacing, provoking and replete with the unforgettable atrocities against the Igbos: raping, beheading, and plundering of properties and so on. Dr. Chukwurah recounted how Hausa/Fulani rioters slaughtered without mercy the Igbos in their homes, offices, markets, schools, hospitals, railway stations, etc. with no police or soldiers to save them. Dr. Chukwurah lamented the pain of seeing the insurrectionists moving freely, mowing down every Igbo they found, unchecked by the government that was in position to protect them from the rioters because they approve of the killings. It was therefore not surprising that the Nigerian government never apprehended or prosecuted anyone for these atrocities. The consequences for Africa have been indeed very catastrophic as Professor Herbert Ekwekwe noted in Biafra Revisited.
But Last Train to Biafra is not all about the pogrom that consumed an estimated 100,000 Igbos. The pogrom was only Part One of the story if not the prelude to the tragic story ahead. The story of the civil war that followed the pogrom and the family’s sufferings leading to the death of one of them was perhaps the main story of the book. Reading Last Train to Biafra is like watching the Nigerian civil war on a screen. It is un-put-down-able in spite of the gory bombings, starvation, and man’s mercilessness to his fellow human being. It is simply the story of a clearly avoidable war that consumed an estimated 3 million lives through deliberate starvation, cold-blooded bombings and acts of inhumanity of the highest order.
Former Speaker of the Imo State House of Assembly, Right Hon. Noel Agwuocha Chukwukadibia effectively summarized the book thus: ‘Last Train to Biafra seems to me the only unadulterated story of the Biafran war told with passionate rigours of the voice of innocence which impinges on our collective guilt in that avoidable war…’ Dauda Abubakar of the Booksellers Limited also followed suit in the blurb with the view that the book is: ‘A very brilliant and gripping account of the Nigerian-Biafra war perfectly rendered without politics or prejudice.’
There is therefore no questioning the fact that reading through this painful book easily opens deep wounds that has not healed. Yet Last Train to Biafra is a book every Nigeria and indeed every black man must possess and read. Last Train to Biafra to some extent lends support to Professor Herbert Ekwekwe an expert on genocide who for several years had fought for the perpetrators of the pogrom of 1966 to be brought to justice for their atrocities if not for anything else but to ensure that history never repeats itself. Finally, Dr. Chukwurah, by telling his story forty-five years after it was all over is also telling Nigerians to emulate the Rwandan example by getting our youths to know the story of 1966 pogrom and the genocidal war that followed it. As the saying goes, those who reckon without history are doomed to repeat it. To quote journalist Chuks Ohai of the Punch Newspaper, ‘The narrative of the book is quite distinct from other literatures of the Nigerian Civil War I have ever read, especially as it is a tale of a war told through the eyes of a child’. Last Train to Biafra is unquestionably a major addition to the ever growing body of literatures on the Nigerian-Biafran war. It is a book every Nigerian must read.
Patrick Tagbo Oguejiofor is the Executive Secretary of the Christopher Okigbo Foundation Nigeria. He can be reached at: [email protected]
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.