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Fifty years on, Nigeria struggles with memory of Biafra war

Lagos (AFP) - Diekoye Oyeyinka, 33, has been billed as one of the most promising Nigerian writers of his generation.

He went to some of the finest schools in his West African homeland but says that like the majority of his classmates he "didn't know about Biafra until I was 14".

When he did begin to find out about the brutal civil war that nearly tore Nigeria apart, it was not in the classroom.

Instead it was a schoolmate in his dormitory who showed him a separatist leaflet demanding Nigeria's southeast break away from the rest of the country.


Before then Oyeyinka had known nothing about how leaders from the Igbo ethnic group declared the independent state of Biafra in 1967.

He knew nothing of the conflict that resulted and the 30 months of fighting and famine estimated to have cost over a million lives before the secessionists surrendered 50 years ago in January 1970.

"We've had a very brutal history, the older generation went through a lot of trauma," Oyeyinka told AFP.

"We just sweep it under the carpet, pretending nothing happened. But without knowing our history we will repeat the same mistakes. Our history is a succession of deja-vu."

It was to try to break this cycle of ignorance that the Oyeyinka wrote the novel Stillborn - a historic epic about Nigeria from the days of British colonial rule in 1950 to 2010.

In it the civil war is the pivotal event.

- 'Our history, our conflict' -

Unlike other famed Nigerian writers such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, with her novel Half Of A Yellow Sun, or Chinua Achebe's memoir There Was A Country, Oyeyinka is one of the few non-Igbo writers to have dwelt on the conflict.

"An Igbo friend got angry at me and said 'You can't write about us, it's our conflict'," he recounted.

But Oyeyinka insists that all Nigerians need to be made aware of what happened.

"We need to address these traumas ourselves, as a country, otherwise we are a tinder box ready to explode."

While in the rest of Africa's most populous nation many know little about the history of Biafra, in the former capital of the self-proclaimed state at Enugu the memory of those years lives on.  Read on

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