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The Seventies: Part Three

The Seventies: Part Three.

As soon as the war was over, in virtually every populated nook and cranny of Igboland, ranging from the crowded urban and commercial centers to the remotest of hamlets, the sight of stone-faced Nigerian soldiers armed to the teeth in faded khaki was commonplace. The presence of these occupying forces, nicknamed “Ndi Oma” (translating sarcastically to “the good guys”) in the local vernacular, brought about dynamic changes in society as well as tremendous grief to local populations, as they were notorious for their incessant brutality, rapes, and violence, particularly that targeted against women.

These soldiers, who were of mostly Northern extraction contributed to local economies as they attracted fellow Hausa-Fulani cattle rearers, traders, and craftsmen who set up small, permanent communities in commercial centers such as Umuahia, Onitsha, and Aba, as they provided meats, goods, and services for the locals. However, generally, the net effect of the military’s presence in Igboland was negative, as soldiers were known to maim, harass, and kill local civilians quite arbitrarily. In addition to these horrors, most shocking of the atrocities perpetrated by soldiers was their tendency to kidnap women—both married and unmarried—and take them back with them to the North as wives, where many of them would never be heard from again.

Such a crime does not only serve as a modern example of human sex trafficking, but also poses a tremendous threat to the very fabric of Igbo society and culture, which elevates the institutions of ‘ogo’ (inlaws), ‘ikwu na ibe’ (maternal kin), and ‘umunna’ (paternal kin) as the very pillars on which society is built. For, in the absence of socially useful marital constructs, [from the cultural vantagepoint of the Igbo] the essence of a union—a forceful one, for that matter—is lost. Although the majority of these marriages were forced and the women involved in them were never heard from again, some Igbo women did embrace these soldiers as a means of escaping the encircling depression and poverty, as is described in this quotation from an elder in Daniel Jorden Smith’s “Legacies of Biafra, Marriage, ‘Home People’ and Reproduction Among The Igbo of Nigeria”: “My brother was killed early in the war and his family really suffered. My

brother's daughter, Ngozi, was just coming of age at that time. Somehow she became involved with a Nigerian soldier and they married. After thewar she followed him to the north. We did not see her for many years. Her children do not even know here and they cannot speak Igbo.”#Igbohistory


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