50 years ago – Doctors Without Borders was conceived in Biafra (Part 1)

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Biafra

By Emma Okocha


“There were hundreds of women, children and men brought to the hospital that day, so many that we had to lay them out on the street and even operate on some of them there. The gutters around the hospital ran red with blood.


The woman had not just been attacked with a machete, but her entire body rationally and systematically mutilated.


Her ears had been cut off. And her face had been so carefully disfigured that a pattern was obvious in the slashes.

She was one among many — living an inhuman and simply indescribable suffering. We could do little more for her at the moment than stop the bleeding with a few necessary sutures. We were completely overwhelmed, and she knew that there were so many others. She said to me in the clearest voice I have ever heard, ‘Allez, allez…ummera, ummerasha’ — ‘Go, go…my friend, find and let live your courage.”

James Orbinski, Former President, Doctors Without Borders. 1999 Nobel Peace Prize

On June 5, 1969, a Swedish Red Cross DC-7 registered SE-ERP left Fernando Po in Equatorial Guinea, was heading to Uli-Ihiala. It was overhead at exactly 5:45 p.m. Meanwhile Captain Gbadamosi King left Port Harcourt airport dead on time at 5:40 p.m.; and right above our heads in the sky, at Ibono, the two flights met. Captain Gbadamosi signaled the cargo flight to land at Port Harcourt which the Pilot refused, so after five minutes, the plane was shot down. The crew was instantly killed. According to Brigadier Godwin Alabi Isama, in his book, The Tragedy of Victory, the cargo flight had food items, weapons and ammunition in it.

We have since learnt that the Swedish Red Cross plane apart from the crew was transporting Doctors, Nurses who were rushing in aids, delivering medical equipment and all sorts of aid for the starving Biafra children. The plane was clearly marked in Red Cross colors and until the last response the Pilot was vehement. Every Red Cross plane is sacrosanct and by international conventions is never attacked whether on the ground, sea or air!

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The Pilot will not detour from his flight destination and in fact was horrified to encounter a Russian MIG Jet fighter flown by a trained Nigerian Pilot ordering the Red Cross plane to change its course. That was the first time in modern warfare a clearly marked Red Cross plane carrying relief, boarding courageous humanitarian Doctors was viciously extinguished in the air, falling in horrendous pieces down to the ground.

While the devilish Pilot Gbadamosi and his fellow conspirators might have been beating their chests for this wanton ‘kill’ we return to page 27 where the heroine of the book, Alhaja Muniratu Alabi Isama had admonished her son, to do all in his power to protect his Ukwuani people who were many in Northern Nigeria ….

She told her son that while she was in a public transport sitting with an Ukwuani couple and conversing fluently with them in Ukwuani with them, the bus was suddenly stopped by a military road block. Between Zaria and Kaduna during the pogrom of 1966, right there in front of the Alhaja the Ukwuani couple was dragged aside and shot dead. Alhaja broke down and cried uncontrollably until she got to her son in Kaduna. On seeing her son, she admonished him to stay in the Army and do everything possible within his power to protect his people. She advised her son to leave Kaduna and return to his people and protect Ukwuani people.

Three weeks ago, Brigadier Isama’s best friend in the Army launched his book in Lagos. Full of regrets General Akinrinade lamented his participation in the war and wondered why the Biafrans were not allowed their own State. Isama’s book located another butcher Captain Dickson, who was the Commander at the Ikeja airport during the bloody massacres of July 28th 1966 night and 29th, and after. He was still the Commander of operations when Gbadamosi for the records shot down a Swedish Red Cross plane bringing relief to the starving children of Biafra.

Elsewhere in Ndi Oshimili, the home province of Brigadier Alabi Isama, there have been simmering issues between the Western Ibos of this area and their phalangist neighboring nations of Urhobos and Isokos. The 1967 ill-fated Biafran incursion into the Midwest and the consequences fifty years ago, forcefully reconstructed the boundary lines. A lot of unreported massacres of Ndi Oshimili akin to what happened at Asaba, Ogwashi-Ukwu, Isheagu, put these Western Ibos on the defensive.

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In 1949, according to B.O.N. Eluwa, Ado-Na-Idu, History of Igbo Origin, “Igbuku, having been enrolled in Ibo State Union in 1948 by the Okpara-Uku and his traditional cabinet had its tribal affinity made a subject of public controversy. Feelings on the subject were intensified by the visit to the town by the Secretary of the Ibo State Union.

At that time, the town had a Local Council recognized by the Western Nigeria Regional Administration. Igbuku (Igbo-Uku) which was in Ukwuani District of Aboh Division had a traditional ruler known as Okpara-Uku put together with his traditional council of elders (Ndichie), enrolled the town as a member of the Ibo State Union. The Okpara-Uku and his elders were however ruling a town which had a large Isoko population.


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The position had resulted from the fact that the Isoko people, who were originally tenant farmers, had settled in the town in large numbers and had in course of time out-numbered their hosts with whom they had greatly intermarried. The result of these inter-marriages was that, as children normally tend to speak the language of their mothers, more and more of the population were Isoko speaking.

Eventually those who spoke Isoko, even though many were bilingual in Isoko and Ibo, far outnumbered those who were merely Ibo speaking. So, in course of time, the inhabitants began to consider themselves Isoko rather than Ibo. In fact, it was said that at that time in 1949, there was hardly any inhabitant of Igbuku who was not Isoko speaking, unless he was a stranger.

Also in the families of the Ibo men who were bi-lingual in Isoko and Ibo and who were married to Isoko women, it was said that Isoko was more the family language than Ibo. Thus it was clear that the next generation of such a family would be completely Isoko speaking and would identify itself with Isoko cause.” That next generation did not wait for long. In 1967, Igbuku or Igbo-uku totally became Isokonized.

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Before Gbadamosi’s and Dickson’s taint on humanity, the first worldwide organized Relief Flight was conducted by the Jesus People of Canada. In the face of naked threats and actual shooting down of relief aircrafts, these Evangelicals refused to be intimidated, and while the United Nations, the OAU and many other world organizations failed to respond to the cataclysm of the Biafran starving children, the Jesus People mobilized: contributed money, raised funds, gathered food, sought aid, moved medical equipment and personnel, bought their own plane and were the first humanitarian organization to land in besieged Biafra!

Their dangerous flights and sacrifices suddenly awakened the peoples resolve to help and brought to the world camera the arduous plight of the dying children. Therefore, the highlight of the Anioma Asaba 50th Genocide Anniversary would register for the first time since the end of the war, the celebration of the sacrifices and the contributions of the following humanitarian organization, some of whose members died during the herculean exertions to bring relief and stave starvation for the Biafran children.

These unforgettable organizations are; The Caritas, World Council of Churches, The Red Cross, the

Jesus People, Doctors Without Borders, Swedish Churches, Sweden, Swedish Lutheran Church, Uppsala, the Prime Minister of Norway Jens Stoltenberg and his father Thorvald Stoltenberg, the Norwegian Church Aid Group, Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation, NRK, Norsk Riks Kringkasting, Norwegian Labour Party…. Arbeide Partiet, Carl Gustaf von Rosen, Bojrn Ryman, Jewish brothers, Ezra Melamed, Samuel Karniely, Josef, Shimony and Arnon Barak for their unprecedented courage, flying in darkness to bring food and succor to the starving children of Biafra.

Okocha – Columnist on The Sun Newspaper

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