The Impact of the Nigeria Civil War in the Lives of Teenagers and Children In Ngozi Onyioha Orji’s Teenager at War

Introduction

War as defined by Webster’s Dictionary “is a state of open and declared, hostile armed conflict between states or nations, or a period of such conflict” This captures a particularly political – rationalistic account of war and warfare, i.e. that war needs to be explicitly declared and to be between states to be a war.

War, in its judicial sense is a contention carried on by force of arms between sovereign states, or communities having in this regard the right of states. The term is often used for civil strife, sedition rebellion properly so called, or even for the undertaking of a state to put down by force an organized bodies of outlaws.

The continent of Africa has been highly susceptible to intra and inter-state wars and conflicts. This has prompted the insinuations that Africa is the home of wars and instability, most pathetic about this conflagrations is that they have defied any meaningful solution and their negative impacts have retarded growth and development in Africa while an end to them seems obscure. What then are the causes of this unending wars in Africa? How far have they impacted our younger generation and how far have they weakened cohesion, unity and potential development of the African continent?

The history of Africa as a continent “is replete with conflict” (Alabi, 2006: 41) one may even assert that the major current that runs through Africa from North to South, East to West and central is conflict and wars. Since the 196o’s, series of civil wars had taken place in Africa. Examples include; Sudan (1990-1995), Chad (1965-85), Angola since ( 1974), Liberia (1980-2003), Nigeria (1967-1970), Somalia (1993-1999) and Burundi, Rwanda and Sierra Leone (1991-2001).

But apart from civil wars Africa has also witnessed a number of intermittent border and inter-state conflicts notable among which are the following:

  1. Nigeria-Cameroon dispute over Bakassi Peninsula since the 1970s
  2. Algeria-Morocco conflict over the Atlas, Mountain area in October 1963
  • Eritrea-Ethiopian crisis between 1962 and 1979
  1. Somalia-Ethiopia dispute of 1964 to 1978 over the Ugandan desert regions
  2. Chad-Libya crisis of 1980- 1982
  3. Kenya-Somalia Border war 0f 1963-1967 in which Somalia aimed at recovering its lost territories including the northern frontier district of Kenya.
  • Tanzania-Uganda crisis in 1978-79. (Barkindo et al, 1994: 279-321)

Current wars in the African continent Include;

  • The Boko Haram Insurgency in Nigeria (2009- present) The Islamic fundamentalist group Boko Haram is waging a war against the Nigerian government and against the Christian Community in Nigeria.
  • The Central African Republic War- (2012- present) Rebels seized several major cities and towns as they advanced on the capital city of Banjul in December, 2012
  • Burundi coup attempt(May, 2015) An attempt to overthrown the Incumbent president of Burundi, Pierre Nkwrunziza, ended in failed coup and confusion as to whether or not the Military Mutineers had foreign backing.
  • Congo wars (1998- present) Beginning in 1998, Congo (Kinshasha) has been wracked with civil war rebellions, presidential assassinations and foreign intervention and invasions to mention but a few.

Causes of wars and conflict.

Conflicts in Africa may be said to have been caused by a multiplicity of factors such as: arbitrary borders created by the colonial powers, heterogeneous ethnic composition of African states, Inept political leadership, corruption, negative effect of external debt burden and poverty.

Types of war

  1. Hegemonic War.

As defined by Ezine articles, is a war over control of the entire world order. The rules of the international system as a whole, including the roles of world hegemony. This class of war is also known as global war, World war, General war or systematic war.

  1. Total war.

A warfare by one state waged to conquer and occupy another. The goal is to reach the capital city and force the surrender of the government, which can then be replaced with one of the victors choosing. In total war, the entire society of the enemy is considered a legitimate target.

  1. Limited war.

Includes military actions carried out to gain some objective short of the surrender and occupation of the enemy. E.g. the US led war against Iraq in 1991 retook the territory of Kuwait but did not go on to Baghdad to topple Saddam Hussain’s Government.

  1. Civil war.

This refers to war between factions within a state trying to create, or prevent, a new government for the entire state or some territorial part of it. The Nigerian Civil war 1967.

  1. Guerrilla war.

Includes certain kinds of civil wars. It’s a warfare without front lines. Irregular forces operates in the midst of and often hidden or protected by civilian populations. The purpose is not to directly confront an enemy army but rather to arrest ant punish it so as to gradually limit its operation and effectively liberate territory from its control.

Teenager/ Adolescents and Children: Their Nature.

A teenager, or teen, is a young person whose age falls within the range of thirteen to nineteen years. They are called teenagers because their age number ends with “teen”. Usage by ordinary people varies, and also varies in different societies. Most societies traditionally had a formal ceremony to mark the change from childhood to adulthood. A child (plural form is children) is a person who is not an adult yet, or who has not reached puberty.

Theoretical Framework.

The Nigerian Civil war: A synopsis.

To place the present assignment in proper perspectives, a brief historical account of the events that produced the Nigerian Civil War is Germaine here. According to Emenyonu, “At the dawn of independence, achieved on a platter of gold in 1960, few  years after this, it became apparent that things were not moving as they should, some well- meaning Nigerians started getting concerned as to where the country was drifting to. By 1966, there were prolonged political disturbances which eventually culminated in the military coup that claimed so many lives.”(155)

The Northerners reacted violently and a counter coup followed in July 1966, in which many eastern political and military leaders were killed. It was this retaliatory coup that brought Yakubu Gowon (a Northerner) into power. For the Easterners, there was no security or assurance of protection of their lives and property outside their region, hence the desire to secede which gave rise to the birth of Biafra on 30th May, 1967. The federal government quickly decided to force them back to the federation and so war broke out on 6th July, 1967. It is against this background that the Nigerian Civil war broke out. To the ‘Biafrans’ it was a war of survival and to the federal government, a war to keep Nigeria one.

As often the case, creative writers make contemporary issues the subject of their writing Eddie Iroh is a postwar writer who in his two already published novels, Forty eight Guns for the General and Toads of War. Prose works as chukwuemeka Ike’s Sunset at Dawn, Achebe’s Girls at war, Isidore Okpe who’s The Last Duty, Festus Iyayi’s Heroes among others owe their thematic root to the Nigeria Civil War.

Eddie Iroh’s novel is preoccupied with presenting horrifying aspects of the War. The book is divided in three phases which are preceded with a prologue and end with an epilogue. His Forty-eight Guns for The General brings out the harrowing and horrifying incidents of the Nigerian Civil war as Nigeria and Biafra fought in four major cities of the former Eastern Region: Enugu, Port Harcourt, Calabar and Onitsha. In effect, he has shown that not only was life in each of these towns disrupted, but the destruction in human life and property was wanton. Both soldiers and civilians suffered untold hardships, deprivation, hunger and starvation.

In a war situation, many die of hunger neglect, heartbreak, constant air raids, bullet wounds and families are torn apart Cyprian Ekwensi in Survive the Peace comments on this horror. Elechi Amadi in Sunset in Biafra says as much, so also does Frederick Forsyth in The Making of An African Legend.

Writers who either write to support the Biafra nation or the Nigeria nation project consciously or unconsciously one ironic conclusion and that is the real victims of the civil war were innocent and ordinary citizens most of whom did not know what the war was all about According to Emenyonu, Elechi Amadi’s Sunset in Biafra is

“A personal account (autobiography) of Amadi’s experiences

during the civil war. He was opposed to the Biafran session

and therefore maintained a loyal stand to the Nigerian cause.

He was tortured and harassed repeatedly by the Biafran Civilian

and military leaderships and this hardened his stand against the

Biafran position in the conflict (pg.172).”

Thus Sunset in Biafra is written with understandable bitterness. The book has seventeen chapters and the title of each chapter is a summary of the authors experience in a particular situation of event.

In the text, Amadi was moved from one detention camp to another until his area was ‘liberated’ by the federal troops and he rejoined the Nigeria Army actively for a while but even when he was not actively deployed in the army, he still remained loyal to the Nigerian cause until the end of the war.

Isidore Okpewho’s second novel The Last Duty (1976), his first being The Victims (1970). The novel was about the Biafra-Nigeria war which was characterized by violence, greed, fear and lust.

Alabere in her review of The Last Duty says that:

The novel focuses on the casualties of war, how these

Circumstances, deprivations, the hardship, the zeal

to survive, changed people is a summary of this book. (n.p web)

The central characters are Aku, Wife of a man unjustly jailed for suspected pro rebel activities, Major Ali Idris a federal Commander assigned to protect the village and its citizens and Toja a selfish Local chief and rubber farmer who seeks to use the circumstances of war to his own advantage. Under the very intense pressure of war their behavior debases every moral virtue. The novelist uses dramatic monologue to capture their inner conflict that is a feature of the pressure that engulfs them.

Emeyonu further comments on The Last Duty,Okpewho

“Tries to show his readers other aspects of the war rather than

the shooting aspect. In the face of fear, violence and corruption,

there were individuals who still maintained their self-respect and

conducted themselves according to the dictates of their conscience

by doing what honor and fair play demanded”(157).

We can see this in Oshevire’s defense at his trial on the allegation that he collaborated with the enemy.

“Mr Oshivire, is it not safe for us to assume that the reason you

Saved that boy had to do with your wife being herself a samba? . .

I saw that boy as a minimum human being and that was my only

Concern. I felt deeply moved to see human life in danger (pg. 20)

Most books on war are expected to deal with the physical casualties of war like devastation of farms and residence, mass killing of soldiers and civilian, missing children and rape. But this book deals with casualty that is insidious, invisible psychological wounds that is the effect of man’s inhumanity to man.

The Impact of War on Teenagers and Children in Ngozi Onyioha Orji’s Teenager at War.

Ngozi Onyioha-Orji who is gradually establishing a reputation for dealing with issues of child abuse through her novels hails from Nkoporo in Ohafia local government in Abia state. The Umuahia based author has three novels to her credit. Her debut novel, Teenager at War was co-published with the Nigeria Education Research and Development Council (NERDC). Her second novel was The Accused, The Condemned, The reprieved and The Knots of Karma.

Teenager at War was described by The Guardian Newspaper on the preface page of the text as a ‘heart rending tale which portrays the sordidness of War and how it seizes people’s sanity.

Akachi Ezeigbo describes the text as ‘Fresh and Lucid in language suffused with local colour. The image of war are evocative and arresting.”

Teenager at War is all about the horrors of war which was mostly experienced by innocent children and teenagers.

Nkem and Chioma are Mr and Mrs Agahs’s daughters who are in their teenage years. They attend a secondary school where they have friends of the same age grade. Nkem who is the narrator in this text, is the younger sister to Chioma, both of them equally have siblings Egbuna, Aki and the twins.

Their lives were normal until May 1967 when she celebrated her sixteen years birthday with her peers; Chibuzo and Celia who in turn ushered her into teenage hood, their parents were very protective and do not want them out of their sight until the unfortunate incidence of the Nigerian Civil war broke out. They were surrounded by trustworthy house helps, cook, steward, washer man, gardeners, drivers and house girls.

Chioma started dating Louis who was eighteen years when the war started. During one of her numerous visits to Louis in the company of her sister Nkem, chidi was also introduced to Nkem. Chidi was also eighteen years old at that time he joined the war.

Both sisters gradually know the meaning of war when the invaders entered into Enugu where they live and go to school in 1967. The family was forced to leave Enugu to seek refuge at their Uncle’s house in Okigwe. At Okigwe they were not able to see friends and they became bored. Their mother does not like it with their uncle’s wife because she always prove to be the senior wife over their mother. Enugu fell, and soon it was time to leave Okigwe the family moved to Umuahia.

Initially, Umuahia was boring until refugees from other towns where the invaders had conquered started populating the town. Mrs Agha, Nkem’s mother started operating a restaurant to keep her busy and provide food for the family to eat. The girls, Chioma and Nkem found jobs with the medical directorate and propaganda respectively. These jobs kept them busy and allowed them to pay visits to their friends, Louis and Chidi.

Amidst the bombs, shellings and bullets their parents allowed them to enjoy their social life by going to dances particularly called ‘jumps’. With a chaperon assigned to them by their father. Apart from reading a lot of novels to ward off the strange happenings around them, they have Louis and Chidi, who unfortunately are fighting in the war. Their jobs kept them company until they can see them when they are less busy.

During Chioma and Nkems stay at Emekuku, a village near Owerri, a tragic incident occurred that shook the family especially Chioma in chapter 4 of part two of the text. By now Louis and Chidi were lieutenants commanding artilleries with batmen to serve them until Louis was called upon by his friend Ezenwa to help him collect his battery from a mechanic who exchanged his new battery with his old one.

Ezenwa was determined to get his battery so he went to the military police for help, the commander referred the case to his subordinate Louis. Louis went to investigate the allegation but the mechanic was no-where to be found. When the mechanic refused to show up he and his boys went to his shop, on getting there the mechanic and some unknown persons opened fire on Louis and his boys. They took cover and without waiting for instruction one of his boys reacted in self-defense and shot one of the ambushers dead.

Louis was told that his commanding officer wanted to see him at the Military Police Headquarters at Enyogugu. One incidence led to another, Louis was kept in detention, sent to the tribunals and later sent into the worst detention camp in Nnueke. All efforts made by Chioma to see him proved abortive, the officers In charge of the case told her that it was because the case involved a native that was supposed to be protected, that was why Louis case would be taken to the court even after the officer who committed the crime has exonerated Louis from the problem.

Pius, Louis brother and their father were the only ones granted permit to see him. His case was taken to court and he was pronounced guilty and sentenced to death. He made attempts at breaking out with six other inmates when Ezenwa was killed, but proved abortive, he was caught and was killed in the public with no traces of where he was buried.

Gradually, the enemy encroached into Umuahia after destroying the villages around them and Owerri is equally shaking. The frequent running to the bush and caves as hideouts from the air liners continued until the Federal troopes gain ground after shelling and destruction of Okigwe and the final push would be Orlu. Agha’s family decided to send Chioma and Nkem with their family friends, Frank and Paul to a farm when the news came to them that the soldiers were raping and humiliating women.

The family became separated when Umuahia became the enemies target and thousands of refugees packed out of Umuahia to God knows where. Chioma and Nkem parted ways when Chioma forgot her purse in their hideout, she went back to pick it and Nkem waited, during her waiting, special airliners of the Federal troops came and bombarded the town, Nkem had to run for her life.

After walking miles upon miles she came across the father’s friend who helped her a little in his car and told her to face Orlu. She overheard from the refugees that the warlords and generals are fleeing the country. This made the Biafran soldiers who had no weapons not to fight any longer, of which Chidi was one of them. She had to trace him, in doing this she walked six miles before seeing Uncle Victor, her mother’s distant cousin who joined the army in 1968 and had become a Captain.

She was directed to Umuaka where she was told Chidi’s artillery unit moved to. After dropping her off at the junction which leads to her destination, she came across chidi’s batsman who assured her of seeing his boss there but unfortunately they have moved and she had to walk miles until she became tired and sat by the road side where Chidi saw her and took her to Orlu.

With Chidi by her and Ikechi Chidi’s sister, they prepared to flee Orlu where the enemy is bombarding seriously they moved straight by foot to Umunze where Chidi’s batsman was staying before leaving to Akokwa the next day.

Chidi paid their transport fare with a lot of struggle to Enugu so that Nkem can rejoin her parents. Ikechi and Nkem had to disguise as old women before leaving for the fear of being captured by the Federal troops of which they were not so lucky, but for the courage Chidi exhibited in the presence of the sergeant that discovered that the girls were actually not old. The sergeant was encouraged by Chidi’s bravery and released them to continue their journey to Enugu.

During the civil war, children and teenagers contributed to national discussions about the war and other important issues like places where the federal troops are operating and the experiences they had in the home front, participation and what it meant to grow up in the midst of a violent national conflict. These episodes normally takes place in Mrs. Agha’s restaurant and the directorates where teenagers who are out of school pass their time.

The conversation that emerge between Nkem and Nkoli in the restaurant concerning which directorate to go and work;

‘Port Harcourt gone, Aba lost, Owerri taken by the enemy, tension had reached

a feverish pitch in Umuahia.

‘We will fight to the last man; the radio announcer said.

‘What patriotism! I think the Directorate to join is the propaganda Directorate

I muttered while serving food to Nkoli, one of our customers.

‘Don’t be silly, what do you think you can contribute to that directorate. (pg. 68)

Discussions arise whenever people get together to eat and have some fun to change or forget the war, Nkoli was a young girl with temper. She eats all her meals at the restaurant. Nkem listens to their customers whenever she is at the shop to help out. She was serving while she overheard this conversation going on;

“I have never seen anything like it before. It completely wiped out

The enemy’s warship in Port Harcourt sector. I hear it is the greatest

Thing that has been invented so far in Biafra”. (pg. 92)

Many gather in all this places to relay their fears and expectation concerning the war. Teenagers that were sixteen and above supposed to be in their schools or colleges were joining the army. Louis who joined the Army at the age of eighteen years old, after having a promising future, he had to save his country. “Louis, a higher school student was a very brilliant young man with great potential of becoming one of the great minds of the Nation. His brilliance earned him many scholarships to study abroad. He had a charming personality, and was well liked by all who came in contact with him. He was a gem of a man”. (Pg. 280)

This same man fought for his country, but he died in an unjust way at the age of twenty one. His death was used as a cover up for what the leaders wanted to achieve with the populace, they want to gain back their trust from the people. Chidi also relinquished himself to join the army. He was a brave teen who doesn’t want the army forcing him into training. He couldnt sit down and watch. He told Nkem thus:

‘I am going to join the army. I want to enlist within two weeks for the

Officers training program.

‘I beg your pardon? I said, shocked but praying fervently that what I

Just heard was not what he actually said.

‘You heard me Nkem’ he insisted

‘But why? You’re only eighteen. Why would you want to go and have

your head blown off? I asked reproachfully. He stood up and turned his

back on me.

‘Would you have me sit at home doing nothing while others die for our country?

(pg. 40)

Many of his age mates who already joined the army have rather got blown up or mentally insane just like Awa, and ota Nkem’s cousins. Among children and youth exposed to conflict, adverse mental health outcomes triggered by exposure to horrific events are compounded by war related damage to the extended support systems such as families. Awa came back to his parents psychologically traumatized. Awa was seventeen years old when he was enlisted.

‘Awa was still staring vacantly into space. Nothing seemed to penetrate his

disturbed mind. I wondered if everyone in that room had the same thought

as I. Was this one of the negative aspects of war that should not have been

started? How many of our young men were going to be left almost, if not

completely paranoid before this war ended? Awa never recovered from the

shock. After some days at home, he wondered off never to be seen again (pg. 23)

Nkem also suffered an attack after visiting the mortuary where she saw a horrific sight of bomb victims. Among these corpses was a child that made her retch and for three weeks, she wasn’t herself. She was also touched by a pregnant woman who was running to hide during the airliners raid, she gave birth to the baby dead.\

‘Sadness pervaded the atmosphere. How could it have happened?

Why such a climax to the bombing? God,

Why did you let the baby come to the world with such pain? (pg. 48)

Also the bombing of the school where the Red Cross are supposed to meet. Many children were gathered in the hall when an enemy air raid struck the Saint Stephen School.

‘Bodies of young boys and girls who were at the threshold of their journey

through life were strewn across the hall. Head severed from their parent bodies.

There were bodies so mixed up that shoveling them together was the only

convenient way of ensuring their removal. (pg. 58)

Another gory sight where the effect was felt was the deliberate waste of human life particularly the young generation, children that are either left by their parents or killed by natural phenomenon such as sickness, hunger or animal bite.

The following aspects by the author shows this horrific sights that sends readers to ask so many questions;

‘There was a woman, very emaciated from lack of food, who had a young child

Tagging along. She was too weak to carry the child and run across the bridge,

And out of desperation she suddenly lay the child at the edge of the bridge,

And ran across alone not looking back to the cries of the child who was too

Weak to run. None of us could get over to carry that child over to safety lest our

Position was detected. So the child was still on the bridge when it was blown up.

(pg. 386)

‘With the first shell landing in Orlu, he quickly took to his heels from his

Friend’s house abandoning his heavily pregnant wife and six children

Who were at home waiting for his return (pg.382)

Hunger killed children just as the shells were killing them too. The refugees that were also running for their lives were also attacked by animals such as snakes.

‘A little girl who had entered the bush with her mother and was bitten

By a snake lay dead by the road. (Pg. 382)

The war turned young teenage girls into prostitutes in other to get money to help themselves feed and also feed their families if need be. They were using themselves to get what they wanted from the soldiers.

‘How could a family that is starving to death which had a girl of at least

Thirteen years of age not look the other way if this same girl slept with

Men, be it soldiers or church leaders and brought home food stuff to

Fill the empty stomach of her hungry family. Do the parents have moral

Justification to preach chastity to her? (Pg. 110)

‘Sure some of the unfortunate one got pregnant, but it did not stop girls

Prostituting their bodies for food. (Pg. 112)

When almost all the territories have been captured by the federal troops, they in turn started raping this young girls, many parents started hiding their girls in the bush. This unfortunate incidence made Nkem and Ikechi disguise as old married women on their way to Enugu.

Apart from all these, they were backward in their education as lamented by the narrator, they have lost two years of education compared to their counterpart in Nigeria.

‘Compared to our counterparts in Nigeria, we were two and half years behind.

And how many more years were we going to lose? (pg. 354)

Teenager at war is a text written to discuss the impact of the Nigerian Civil War on children, teenagers and youths. Orji exposes the effect of the war on people with a particular interest on young people. If Biafrans did not turn against themselves by classifying some as saboteurs and taking children and teens by force to fight the war, maybe it could have been a different story.

According to Chioma who made herself clear to Nkem and told her to grow up.

‘so please grow up and remember the hard times ahead. Yes dear, we are teenagers

at war. (pg. 247). Not until His Excellency who propelled the war and a handful of others sent their families abroad and later flew away to join them leaving the innocent soldiers. Happy survival to those who would struggle to survive.

Conclusion

Orji’s Teenager at war through the narrator, Nkem, the story was told vividly to capture her subject matter which revolves round teens and children. In the midst of war, how they responded to it and its impacts on their lives.

Today, teens and children are still being used as weapons of war, especially the present religious problems in Nigeria and in other parts of Africa. Teens and children are very tender hearted human beings and whatever is recorded in their minds will remain in the psych throughout the days of their lives.

Children are being brainwashed to become suicide bombers rather than go to school to be educated. Teens are encouraged to fight for their rights by blowing the main source of their countries wealth. If this attitude continues with the younger generation, then what part will they play in the future of Africa?

All around Africa, children and teens are the ones who carry the guns, when they grow up, what kind of behavior will they exhibit? 15% of the wanted religious syndicates troubling the northern part of Nigeria are within the ages of ten years old to eighteen years of age being trained to carry bombs and big guns to destroy innocent children and humans like them without pity. Is there any solution to this problems?

How would they see human beings that they slaughter everyday like chickens? The future of any nation is in the hands of the children, teens and youth, but if they are given guns instead of education it could spell doom for the nation and the generations unborn.

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