Twelve months ago, on January 15, 1970, Nigeria's civil war officially ended. Since then the?
Twelve months ago, on January 15, 1970, Nigeria's civil war officially ended. Since then the tremendous task of relieving the human suffering in the war torn areas has been tackled with much more success than many people thought possible a year ago. Today the worst of the malnutrition is a thing of the past and the biggest challenge now is political and social reconciliation.
The war ended when General Philip Effiong, acting head of the Biafran secessionist forces, made a formal declaration of surrender to the Nigerian Head of State, Major-General Yakubu Gowon. Since then the Federal Government has been faced with the vast task of feeding the starving in the Ibo heartlands, re-opening the public services destroyed by the war, finding houses for the homeless and unemployed, and overcoming the tribal fears left by the two and a half years of fighting.
An immediate impetus to the progress of reconciliation was given by General Gowon's speedy declaration of an amnesty for all former Biafrans, with the exception of a small group of officers who were considered guilty of special treason.
The end of the war found tens of thousands starving in the breakaway Eastern Region. A massive international relief operation was launched, under the control of the Nigerian Red Cross. From mid-February to mid-April when the operation was at its height, 3,000 tons of food a week were being distributed to more than three million people. There was some criticism of slowness and inefficiency in getting the food to the starving but by May a tremendous improvement in nutritional standards was evident in most areas. This was matched by a great drop in the number of people requiring hospital and clinical treatment.
Some malnutrition remains but this is considered part of the long-standing problem of nutrition in Africa, rather than a result of the civil war.
The work of rebuilding schools, re-opening railways, bridges, banks, postal services, and other public facilities has gone ahead rapidly in the former war areas. Their economy, too, is improving with many Ibo traders, traditionally among Africa's most enterprising merchants, rebuilding their old business. Market stalls selling food, palm wine and inexpensive goods now line roads which were once the front line of battle.
Only time will heal some of the deeper wounds of the civil war but now the Ibos are losing their fears about the Federal Government's intentions, the situation is getting more relaxed. The long-term economic outlook is heartening. In the past 12 months the country has been forging ahead and an ambitious development plan was recently announced. Soon oil will overtake agriculture as the most important source of foreign exchange. Production in 1971 is expected to run at more than 1,500,00 barrels a day, nearly fourtimes the total five years ago. Port Harcourt, one of the oil-producing areas hit by the civil war, is sharing in this boom.
Unemployment remain a major problem in the Ibo areas. And there is no easy solution.
But day by day the evidence of the civil war grows less as the people and children find enough to eat, damage is repaired and new homes and business are built. Twelve months after Biafra surrendered, for the 60 million people of Africa's biggest country, the future seems brighter than for years.
SYNOPSIS: Twelve months ago -- on January the 15th, 1970 -- Nigeria's tragic civil war came to an end. The Federal leader, Major General Yakubu Gowon, expressed the people's feelings.....
A massive international relief operation was launched to feed the starving in the Eastern Region. From the middle of February to mid April, when the operation was at its height, three thousand tons of food a week were being distributed to more than three million people, though for some the aid came too late.
The people at this centre near Enugu, in they heart of the former war zone, were luckier. By May a tremendous improvement in nutritional standards was evident in most areas. Today malnutrition among the Ibos has largely been ended.
Reconstruction work got under way. The Federal Commissioner for Works and Housing, Mr Femi Okunu, formally reopened a bridge across the Niger which had been blown up by retreating secessionists. The task of renewing railway, bank, postal and other services steadily went ahead.
Market stalls again lined roads, which a few months earlier had been in the front lone of the fighting. Soon there was a wide variety of food and clothing. Only Federal currency was legal. Notes put out by the secessionists regime were not accepted. The traffic in the streets of Enugu reflected the return to a normal pattern of life.
Although Federal troops remained in the former Biafra, now the East Central State, and much war-damage had not been repaired, the economy revived rapidly. With or without official aid, Ibo traders, traditionally among Africa's most enterprising businessmen, got back to work.
Port Harcourt, oil-rich centre of Rivers State and focal point of the civil war, is now centre of another campaign -- this time, an economic one. Thirty-four million pounds have been allocated to the state in the country's four-year plan, with several million going to the new Ministry of Economic Development and Reconstruction.
The Mgbidi Welfare Centre, 70 miles south of Enugu, is another symbol of hope. For it is here that Ibo war children are collected to be reunited with their parents, after being sheltered in neighbouring Gabon and the Ivory Coast during the strife. Of the 2,000 children repatriated since November (1970), most are back home with their parents. The last batch of 1,500 refugee children are due to arrive in Nigeria later this month.
A well-known and much-loved worker at Mgbidi is Miss Rhena Schweitzer, daughter of the late legendary "jungle doctor" Albert Schweitzer.
Recently, General Gowon toured Rivers State to see for himself the progress made since the war ended. One port of call was Yenagoa, where General Gowon was accompanied by his chiefs of staff and Lieutenant-Commander Alfred Diete-Spiff, the Military Governor of Rivers State. The Governor, who trained with Britain's Royal Navy, is responsible for the reconstruction of Rivers State following the ravages of the war.
For it was here, in Rivers State, that war damage almost destroyed the economy. The fighting damaged and crippled fishing ports, farms, factories, schools, hospitals and bridges. So it was with enthusiasm that the local chiefs and tribesmen welcomed General Gowon and his party -- for the visit heralded the real beginning of the reconstruction programme designed to rebuild the entire state.
There was laughter too -- when General Gowon cautiously accepted a gift of a crocodile, which forms part of the national coat of arms.
The colourful ceremony was in contrast to the years of bloody fighting -- years which split Nigeria and rocket the world. For it was to Nigeria that the world had looked as a model example of an independent African nation. Now, a year after the end of the war, Nigeria is regaining the respect it lost during the dark years.