Every year on May 30th, numerous Igbos and those whose families suffered in the Nigeria-Biafra War of May 1967-January 1970 often share stories to encourage one another and to remember that war is not a thing that should take place again. As an Igbo person and especially an Igbo woman, I have often wondered why comparatively, the stories and effects of the war on women are not told as often and as loud as the efforts of men.
So today, I want to take time to remember the efforts of four of my female family members who displayed tenacity and who the war took on.
I remember my paternal grandmother.
Virginia Nwanyibeke Nwosu(nee Nwaubani).
My father says she lost children in the war due to the starvation policies that saw a lot of children without essentials like milk and salt. He also says that the war even overtook a toll on her mental health but still carried on petty trading to feed the family.
I honour her for her courage and in addition to remembering her as the woman who rebuilt herself into love, I shall also remember her as the one who laid the foundations of me speaking about land inheritance for daughters.
I honour her for surviving in a refugee camp having lost one child and still not sure where her other children were displaced.
I shall remember her first as the woman who asked to be shot by a titled man because he tried denying her family land.
I remember my maternal grandmother.
Mercy Mgbokwo Onoh (nee Okoroji).
My mother says her mother ran a relief centre in their home at every point during the war. She remembers her mother organizing food materials in conjunction with other aid centres to feed people. My mother also says her mother tried teaching children to read and write which she used to do as a teacher before the war and before she stepped down from teaching to manage other businesses and take care of kids.
I honour her for her fierce courage and for her ability to use faith and belief in God as a way to mobilize women to maintain peace in an environment that was war-torn.
I shall remember her as the one who was described as a local politician who continually provided opportunities for women through her sewing institute.
I also remember my mum’s cousin who was kidnapped in the war and who when she escaped, returned with a child.
I remember her now as the one who picked her life together, remarried, is now a grandmother and is always the life of the party.
I also remember the aunt who was said to run away with a soldier because he promised her food.
I will not disregard her memory and that act the way I have often seen the male members of my family do so.
I will choose instead that in war, we all do things to survive.
I will choose instead to remember her as the one who beat him up when he tried abusing her sister.
I will remember and always honour as the courageous one who still speaks against the dis-inheritance of herself.
May we remember that just as there are no victors in war,
We must celebrate the women who could not let a war cause death to their spirit.
May it not happen again.