The Republic of Rising Sun
By Nonso Uzozie (Nigeria)
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REPUBLIC OF RISING SUN
Aguiyi sat in his parlor, in the village with an old copy of Lion magazine, gazing pitifully at the horrible pictures: Uncountable strewn of dead bodies. He wept as he turned each page. With number of dead bodies he concluded the war was wicked; the war was not right, it was not kind on the masses, like the uniform men who engineered it. He remembered that few days ago Gowon had his wedding in Lagos. He did not know what was happening in Biafra or in the fronts. He did not know the number of lives lost in the Niger Bridge while he prepared for his wedding. Perhaps, he did not know the number of Biafran Prisoners of War shot dead in Asaba because of the annoying number of casualties in Nigeria side on the combat of the Niger Bridge. Perhaps, he knew; armless men, shot dead in cold blood. But surely, he knew people were dying in Biafra. He did. But it was all war.
All these placed a heavy, choking, burden and pain on Aguiyi’s neck, so, he wept to unleash them; to be free, to mourn the dead in the Lion Magazine, to mourn Biafra’s collapsing efforts.
He could not believe how far the war had triggered. It was over two years, two years of blood shed and killing, two years of hunger and diseases in Biafra. Yet, it seemed the war would end with every single Igbo dead, or Biafra wiped out. Perhaps, it was the end of the Igbos, or end of their world. He was tired of hoping for the return of his sons who were conscripted into Biafran Army. To give six sons to Biafra, or rather, to the deadly, heartless war, was more than over-bearing. It was like personally losing the war.
Now he dropped the Lion magazine on the table, and did not want to wipe the tears on his face. He placed his head on the wooden handle of cushion and journeyed to the beginning: How it all started from Nzeogwu, with the picture of Saint George and the dragon on the label of the new bread in the north, which the northerners assumed was the mock picture of Sarduana of Sokoto, and then to Ironsi, and the ‘counter coup’ by the northern officers, and to Aburi delegation in Ghana, and the misinterpretation of the Aburi Accord, and then September riot in north which was against the lives of the Igbos – a huge massacre which shocked the lives of the Igbos. It was how it all started.
Aguiyi had constantly dreamt of the coming of the war since the first time the Igbo’s were massacred in the north. And he had begun to lain with fear when the agreement in Aburi was not respected. He was not surprised that day of September when the news in the radio came; ‘they are killing our people again in the north’. And he was not surprised when Nkoli, his sister, arrived from Kano with her husband, Ugoeze, and their four children. They had arrived on the “lucky train,” the very last train that brought home the surviving Igbos – both wounded and sick. It was over-crowded and was floating with helpless and fear-possessed passengers: Those who anger, shock and forlorn were written visibly on their faces.
‘We are lucky’ was in the lips of every returnee.
‘It would have been better we knew they were coming to kill us.’ Ugoeze had said after the lunch of egusi soup and garri in the parlor.
Aguiyi did not want to come into the details of the rumor that the new bread in the north was the caused of killing of the Igbos, and that the Igbo business men in the north, had forced their customers to buy the photograph of Nzeogwu, standing with one foot on top of Sarduana’s dead body, before they could some sell goods to them. He thought there was no need for that. He heard it was not true. He knew the truth. He knew that the northerners had had it in mind, for long, to even the dead of their spiritual leader.
The remaining Igbo’s were back and others were missing. That was enough to stop talking too much. He disliked Ugoeze’s talkative nature. He knew there was no need to console him on the death of his younger brother, Agba, because he spoke less of it. All he kept lamenting throughout the lunch was the dead of his growing business in the north and his newly built houses, which he hoped would still be standing when things normalized.
Aguiyi had a strong feeling that the third return of the Igbo’s would be preceded by war. But he did not know how long it last or how terrible it would be. He could perceive the breath of enmity, anger and hatred, and zeal and call for vengeance on every returnee. He understood their feeling, their plight: He understood that almost all of them, if not all, had lost one thing or the other in the north - some lost their shops, their children, their wives, their husbands or relatives and property. He understood it when Ugoeze muttered in complaint about the high cost of rice and beans in Enugu. He knew it was an indirect way of showing appreciation to him for keeping a family of six in his house with his three sets of twins and Adadi, his maid. He wanted them to be calm, though.
It was becoming a hard time, because the market women at Ogbete preferred giving their items to the recruiting soldiers to selling them. It was hard on Aguiyi. But he would not show it. He could not complain, because he did not have to complain. It was his dully duty to take care of his in-law who wicked crisis had displaced. But it would have been better if Chibuzor, his wife, was alive. She had always made him to know that not everybody would be satisfied taking a cup of tea and some piece of biscuit like him, and had it for the whole day.
‘Not everybody is a gentleman. Not everybody wants to live English life’, Chibuzor would say.
Aguiyi was one of those Nigerians who had returned from England after their scholarship studies. His solitary life in Swansea had changed him to a complete quite and gentleman. A man was called a gentleman in Enugu if he spoke little and did not raise his voice on his neighbor: A man who spoke and smiled when necessary. Such was the life of Aguiyi; calm, quite, refined, sophisticated and simple.
He became more quiet and equable when he lost the wife, Chibuzor, a university lecturer in the University of Nigeria, now University of Biafra. It was like a dream to Aguyi that morning when Chibuzor slumped in the parlor while putting on her shoes. She was rushed to Saviour’s Hospital in Ogui Road and was confirmed dead few minutes later. It was from that day that Aguiyi became a patient of silence and hypertension.
It was with the help of their diligent house girl, Adadi that the last twins were brought up – fourteen years old boys, now in class four. There was always a discerning thought about the strange death of Chibuzor that kept Aguiyi in silent mode, more isolated and mean. That was why, that afternoon, when Nkoli and his family came to Enugu on Nsukka taxi, they could not explain the brusqueness of his face. They could not tell if his mean face had an inner anger about the killing of the Igbo’s in the North, or the anger on the inconveniencies they would cause him. But the tension was cleared when Nkoli told him they would be going to the village to tell their people they had returned safety, and to tell them how Hausa mob killed Agba. They were all in the church when the burning and killing started. It was with help of a seminarian that they escaped. They came back with nothing.
‘All we need is little money to take the children to the village’. Ugoeze had said.
‘You will leave the children here. You don’t have to take them with you, they will be fine,’ Aguiyi said.
He knew they intended to confirm his consent of their stay. And inside Aguiyi, there was a gaping feeling that they would not go back to Kano again. There was, however, inside him, a strong feeling that the war already at the door step of the Igbos. He had confirmed this, in Nsukka when His Excellency addressed the lecturers, and the students and triggered in them the zeal and hunger for freedom or to fight for the vengeance of the innocent Igbo blood shed heartlessly in the north. On the radio, that day, as he drove home, there were strong agitations. And as he kept glancing at the black, red and green flag, he wondered if the rising sun on it would someday illuminate. He could not control his fear; the fear that every Igbo man and woman wanted freedom or vengeance. But this freedom, he thought, would not come easily. There was no way Nigeria would fold her hands and watch the Igbo be declared the independent state of Biafra. For the fact that the Northern had more contact and intimacy with the colonial masters, there must be stronghold plan to bring the Igbos to order. Besides, no reasonable government would let the Igbos go with the richness of oil discoveries, especially the booming one in Port-Harcourt.
He was not surprised that morning when the voice of Ernest O. of City Radio announced that Nigeria was taking a peaceful police action to keep Igbos from dividing the country. He was not also surprised that the Igbos was now referred to as the ‘rebels.’ But he knew why their secession annoyed Nigeria: The ‘Oil.’ That was why new states were created; to separate the Igbo speaking of the Eastern Region from the non-Igbo speaking ones. He thought how outrageous the silence of Nigerian leaders had been since the killing of the Igbos like common fowls in the north, and even, later, in Lagos.
‘It is very annoying that Nigeria took the pogrom as nothing. It is so obnoxious’; Mike, Aguiyi’s colleague in Half Sun Telegram had told him that morning.
Aguiyi disliked Mike’s extravagant passion for Biafra. It was magnanimous. It was this passion that made him twisted stories in his column and made them confusing. He also made his readers engrossed more hatred to the Hausas, (which was not what His Excellency wanted, or he wouldn’t have sent the Hausas in the East back home) and praised the brave efforts of the young Biafrans who had willingly joined the army, especially the students. The Army was for Biafra to be combatant. Aguiyi was afraid of the coming war, although he wanted freedom. He wanted the killing the Igbos to stop!
‘Does it occur to you that war is coming?’ Aguiyi asked Mike one day.
‘If the war comes, we will win. God is strongly with us. The blood of our brothers will fight with us. Did you not hear his Excellency? They will never win us!’ Mike retorted. They killed our civilians as if they knew anything about the coup. It is evil!’
Aguiyi remembered the number of Hausa men killed around Mgberekeke Avenue in Onitsha and shook his head. He thought it was enough to appease Mike.
The day Nkoli and Ugoeze returned from the village was the day it was confirmed that the Federal Police was close to Nsukka. Aguiyi told them to take his four children along with theirs to the village. His first twins had joined the Biafra Army. Adadi refused to go back to her people in Izza. She had this attachment to Aguiyi since he was confirmed hypertensive. She always watched him like a child, especially these days that he returned home with glooming face and muttered about the general gearing the people into war.
Nsukka town was evacuating. Enugu was not shaking, although the Biafra Solider had waited patiently for arms to push than Nigerian side back. The said police action by the Nigerian threatened people with loud gunshots, and even molested people. There was nothing ‘peaceful’ about their coming, but heightening of tension. Aguiyi prayed that the continuous pounding in his head did not result into something drastic.
In Half Sun Telegram Aguiyi was tired of editing and publishing fake news that he was ordered by the manager to publish. His conscience bathed him with poking shame whenever he saw how many lies was in-front of other newspapers; he knew how the Biafran Young Army managed carved guns for their training, but had enough weapons and arms to match the Nigeria side in the pages papers and radios. Although, it was true that the Biafran soldiers were now in Edo and they were even moving forward, they were doing gallantly well.
The second time he spoke to Mike about the rumors that the Biafran soldiers were molesting innocent people and raping women in Benin City, Mike called him the enemy of the new state; a man who saw nothing wrong with killing of the Igbo’s in the north, and the marginalization they had faced in Nigeria, for a long time. From that day Aguiyi began to think of quitting his job. The pressure of being called a coward was unbearable for him. He also prayed every night for the souls of the massacred in the North, and the souls of those that would die in the coming war. The Biafran side pushing the Nigerian side back to the West meant war to Aguiyi. He was even more terrified every night.
* * *
The war had begun
Half Sun Telegram relocated to Umuahia without Aguiyi’s consent. Two zealous young writers had taken his position. Some had gone to Uli to set up a strong local media. It was a relief to Aguiyi. The next day, he went to the village with Adadi.
‘Your people will be worried,’ he told Adadi as they drove to Uga.
‘They know I’m fine. I have sent words.’
There was hope, but hunger was creeping in.
Aguiyi was one of the few ‘learned men’ in Aguata who was appointed as representatives in Nkpologwu relief center, a post he did not like, because when Caritas did not come, people always almost fought him, as if he was the one sending them.
On his first day in relief center, Aguiyi was marveled by the songs from the women and the youths:
God bless Rhodesia
God keep Vatican City
God bless Israel
God keep Red Cross
God bless Portugal
God keep South Africa
God bless Holy Ghost Fathers
God keep Catholic Relief Service
God bless Biafra
God bless His Excellency!
The women had rehearsed this song for a long time for the coming of the Red Cross team. They believed it was the only way to appreciate the aids of the foreigners. The white nurse was smiling and wiping what Aguiyi thought was tears.
Words and rumors began to bring the dead home. Words also brought home the dead of Aguiyi’s twins. The pictures could not lie; one died after amputation, while the other died in the front. It came from Okwe, a correspondent with Half Sun Telegram, who also brought news of the demise of Mike in Kwale weeks ago. Aguiyi, like others, buried empty caskets of his sons at night. Burials were done at night for the fear of bomber planes and Biafran soldiers, who were going round conscripting young men,
The next week, the second set of twins was conscripted. The war was few miles away from Uga. Orlu and Umuaka were the only more peaceful places. Umuahia was under continuous torments of air raids from the bomber planes. There were rumors that Port Harcourt and Calabar would fall, since the federal troop was matching towards Owerri. Their mercenaries were also very smart and swift, and with the help of saboteurs their movements were easier. Other rumors had it that Calabar and Port Harcourt would soon be taken unawares by the Nigerian side, from the boundary of Cameroon.
* * *
The Caritas and Red Cross planes had stopped landing. Apart from hunger and diseases like kwashiorkor and small pox, Uga began to feel the bitter taste of the war when their young boys were being conscripted. Chika and Chidi, Aguiyi’s last twins had escaped twice, from the soldiers that came through Akokwa on rusted van. They were tired of hiding in forest with other young boys, but because hiding in the ceiling was more dangerous, they kept going to the forest to hide. Sometimes in the forest, there were many of them because boys from Amesi, Nkpolugwu and Umuchu had sought refuge in the fading forest. There were always rumors that some conscripted men were taking the soldiers from house to house in Umuchu to snitch others, and would soon be in Uga to do the same. So the hiding boys dug pits on the road to the forest which were covered with grass and banana leaves. These traps killed and crippled many soldiers who were too stubborn to pursue them into the forest.
When the soldiers stopped coming, everyone thought they had given up. But one morning, when everyone was waking up, the soldiers were in a ‘silent raking’; going house-by-house to tie small boys on a single rope, at gun points. Chika was very unlucky that morning. He was in the latrine, whistling as usual, when two soldiers entered into the compound and waited patiently until he emerged to behold them. The fence was far from his reach and the bearded soldiers had his finger on the trigger, gawking at him like an enemy.
He stood there, heart pounding, thoughtless of what to do.
‘Move now! And don’t make any noise,’ the bearded soldier commanded him in whisper. And he gestured to the second soldier to tie Chika up. Just then, Adadi came out from the house, a piece of wrapper tied above her breast. She startled as she saw them.
‘You, where is your husband?’ the bearded soldier asked going close to her.
‘He is fighting for Biafra,’ Adadi replied quickly, wondering why the solder was looking at her breasts and coming close to her. Then with one hand, the bearded soldier grabbed her and wrestled her down. And because Adadi had nothing under, it was easy for him to penetrate without much struggle. He cupped her mouth with his and made her screaming sound like moaning of consent.
Outside the compound where Chika was tied with seven other boys who were surrounded with two armed soldiers, he could hear the bearded soldier laughing and Adadi crying and cursing him. When the bearded soldier came out buckling his belt, Chika wondered why there was no shame or regret on his face, but smile of satisfaction. He now understood what his father had said that war had turned people to cruel animals that they fought it, not only with Nigeria but their brothers.
‘Forcing people to give them food was not enough for the soldiers. It is tearing the under wears of our women. His Excellency will be angry to hear this. This war is a real business to so many people.’ Aguiyi once said.
Aguiyi’s said this when he heard that the trucks of good stuff and milk going to Umuahia was hijacked. However, those stuffs were seen in the market at high prizes.
Aguiyi met Adadi weeping in the parlor. He had already heard that Chika had been conscripted, and thought Adadi was weeping for that. But he was disappointed when Adadi told him she was raped by a soldier. He concluded that the war has taken senses and conscience away from men, leaving them void of shame, wicked, and senseless; making a man to violet and vandalize his own sister, and still called Nigeria soldiers vandals and enemies. He remembered that few days ago, a soldier had beaten up an old palm wine taper because he refused to give him all the palm wine in the calabash. Aguiyi wondered the pride and joy of the soldiers in fighting with the dignities of their people and wining, while the Nigerian side was eating deep into them. It hurt Aguiyi that it was not only the Nigerian soldiers that had raped women like, in Opi or Awgu or Ibusa and Asaba, but Biafran Soldiers raped their own sisters. He wondered who they were fighting to protect, then. He wondered if they heard about the massacre in Asaba and that the Hausa soldiers were in Awka.
For the second time that week, Adadi was raped, his time, by two fierce soldiers, who demanded some money for the release of Chidi, who they caught while he was coming back from the forest. When Adadi told them she had no money, they pushed her inside the bush and took on her twice each. After that, Chidi was told to run home without looking back.
Like Amesi, Achina, Akpor Umuchu and Akokwa, Uga depended on the Caritas food in Nkpologwu. With rumor that Caritas and Red Cross had been threatened by Nigeria, people knew that it might be the end of salty stock fish that had helped them for long, people turned to bush sugar canes, cassava leaves, bush rats and some newly discovered edible leaves by the sheep and goats. And the women would tell Aguiyi ‘Oburu eziokwu, if it is true that Caritas will not come again, we are all dead. We are already fighting with our goats over grasses.’
‘Ka anyi na-ele anya, let’s hope they will come with better things. They can’t just leave us like this,’ Aguiyi was telling them every day. He was tired of answering question along the road and at home. Meanwhile, he was overwhelmed that the home-made vaccines were helpful to small pox. The radio reported that the white doctors in Umuahia were impressed too, about the vaccines.
Rumor came in from Akokwa that old men were now being conscripted. Aguiyi believed it, but he did not go into hiding with other men. Not because he thought it was act of cowardice to be going into hiding with his remaining son, but he felt the end of war was near or end of the rising sun.
Chidi was caught again. Aguiyi and Adadi ran to Mbata to speak to the soldiers. Chidi was tied with two old men and four boys below his age
‘This is my remaining son. I have given five to Biafra,’ Aguiyi told the sergeant, a tall dark man with red eyes. He ignored Aguiyi to talk in low voice with a woman who was untying the edge of her wrappers and saying ‘This is all I have.’
Later, the sergeant collected some money from the woman, and her son was set free.
Adadi was looking at a soldier who was slapping his right ear and singing
‘Bomb shelling and artilleries.
Artilleries bomb, shelling’.
She pitied him. She had heard stories about soldiers losing their heads from constant sounds of shelling.
‘Oga, are you not stupid to come out from hiding?’ the red-eyed sergeant asked Aguiyi as he turned to him.
‘I was not hiding’
‘Then join the line’
‘Join the line!’
The singing corporal made to hold Aguiyi but Aguiyi spat on his face. Again, and again he spat on him that he saw a stream running on his face. The corporal recoiled, and continued singing, this time:
‘Gabon, Zambia, Tanzania
Tanzania Gabon, Zambia,
Adadi wished she could tell him that Haiti and Ivory Coast also recognized Biafra
‘You cannot close my generation’ Aguiyi said.
‘Many generations have been closed,’ the red-eyed sergeant snapped.
‘Onye Army, soldier man, he has lost four sons in this war. One was conscripted weeks ago!’ Adadi said.
‘You call our war this war?’ the red-eyed sergeant shouted.
Adadi said nothing. She now remembered him. He was one of those soldiers who raped her lately. He was the last, who thrust as if she was an animal, as if she felt no pain. She hated him now, and wanted to jump up and bite off his big nose. The sergeant also recognized her.
‘Which of them is your son?’
Aguiyi swiftly pointed at Chidi.
‘That boy? No, his mates are in the fronts,’ the red-eyed sergeant shouted, his voice ricocheted on the lonely road.
‘Take me, and let my son go home!’
Adadi knew her master. He meant it but she could not let them take her master not like a common man.
‘Onye Army, soldier man, we saw last week in the bush’ Adadi intervened.
The soldier looked at Adadi, and then to Aguiyi and said ‘Go home. It is not my fault that we are doing our job. We would have won the war long ago if not for Banjo and that Ifeajuna.’
‘I want my son’, Aguiyi sounded lippy and blunt, and quickly wondered why he did not ask the soldier what Ifeajuna did.
‘Go home father, I will be fine,’ Chidi said and nodded to Aguiyi with confidence.
Aguiyi gnashed as he watched them put the captives in the van and drove away. He did not cry, even when Adadi’s sob touched him deeply. He refused to cry. He refused to be weak. He went home in silence, thinking why Chidi called him Father instead of Dad. It sounded man enough of him.
Adadi did not slept for nights, because she suspected something strange in Aguiyi’s movements. When Aguiyi was not going round the compound looking up, he was in his room reading and repeating a verse of the Psalm which Adadi did not know. It was about soaking of ones pillow with tears and breaking of his bones.
One night, Aguiyi did not read the Psalm, but Adadi heard him muttering prayer in his room. That night was dark and unusual, and quiet. A noise at the back of the house startled Adadi. It was like a jump. She quickly rushed to Aguiyi’s bedroom and he was not there, the bible of was on the bed, and his slippers under the bed, smell of burning incense was chocking her. At the back of the house, there was a dark figure standing under the ube tree blurred with darkness. She moved closer, and was not wrong; the broad shoulders was not confusing - it was Aguiyi, standing beside a tall stool, a rope with a hungry noose dangled from the tree, above his head.
‘Oga,’ Adadi called softly. Aguiyi seemed to be enlarging as she moved closer because her head swirled rapidly. She prayed she did not fall or faint.
‘You don’t want to do that, do you? You told me the war would soon end. I believe you. Why do you want to end before the war? I know Umuejima will return. The war will not eat them all.’
Aguiyi sat on the stool and sobbed. Adadi held him like a child, and they sobbed as if hearing the other sob was rubbing salt on their wounds. Somehow Adadi felt like singing to sooth him. As they went inside Aguiyi was reading the verse of psalm aloud, weeping into the dead silence of the night.