Academic journal article Africa

Recollections of Childhood Experiences during the Nigerian Civil War

Academic journal article Africa

Recollections of Childhood Experiences during the Nigerian Civil War

Article excerpt


During the three decades following the end of the Nigerian civil war little attention has been given to the children who lived through the hostilities. This article on the recollections of present-day adults who experienced the crisis in their childhood, gathered by means of a qualitative research methodology, tells the story of the Nigerian civil war as the narrators perceived it in their childhoods. It probes their feelings and responses to the conflict, their lives under hostilities and some of the effects of the war on child survivors.


Au cours des trois decennies qui ont suivi la fin de la guerre civile nigeriane, peu d'attention a ete accordee aux enfants qui ont grandi pendant les hostilites. Cet article, qui s'interesse aux souvenirs d'adultes d'aujourd'hui qui ont connu la crise pendant leur enfance, recueillis au moyen d'une methodologie de recherche qualitative, raconte l'histoire de la guerre civile nigeriane telle que les narrateurs l'ont percue dans leur enfance. Il explore leurs sentiments et reactions face au conflit, leur existence sous les hostilites et certains des effets de la guerre sur des enfants survivants.


Children caught in war-torn areas the world over are depicted as both victims and perpetrators of violence (Caroll-Abbing 1952; Proud 1995; Cohn and Goodwin-Gill 1994; Werner 2000; Boyden and de Berry 2004). Most commonly they are portrayed as feeble, helpless, neglected and brutalized, with some becoming heads of households or supporters of elderly relatives. In the accounts of Cohn and Goodwingill child recruits are represented as merciless killers and persons 'whose innocence is exploited' in the pursuit of war to win emotional support for the cause of warring factions (1994: 23-7). Child victims of the Nigerian civil war (1967-1970) shared experiences comparable to those of children in other war-tom areas who suffered neglect and various degrees of brutality, yet, within the limits of their capabilities, also assisted their families to survive the conflict. Despite the salience of this topic in reportage of recent conflicts in and outside Africa, little is known about the young Nigerians who lived through a civil war about which so much else has been written. (1)

This article is about present-day middle-aged people's memories of that childhood. During the civil war all these narrators were under the age of eighteen. (2) The focal point of the discussion is the narrators' recollections and childhood opinions of the war and life during hostilities. Much of the discussion will focus on those in the Igbo section of Biafra, then Eastern Region, the major theatre of the war. (3) Others whose opinions and lives during the conflict are recounted were at the time of the events in Anioma--the Igbo homeland west of the River Niger and situated in the old Midwestern State--and in Idoma and Tiv ethnic communities of the old Benue State, then part of Northern Nigeria and Biafra's northern neighbours.

Oral data for this article were collected between December 2004 and February 2005 from informants between the ages of forty-two and fifty-five: persons who from 1967 to 1970 were between the ages of five and eighteen. A few older persons were also interviewed, mainly for verification of information collected. Some who in 1967 were under the age of seven could hardly remember what happened during the war, except what they were told afterwards. For this reason, the narratives used in this work came from individuals who had better recollections of the crisis. For Anioma, interviews collected from 2000 to 2001 were also used.

All narrators (4) were exposed to primary education, with quite a good number going beyond the secondary level. Half belong to the upper middle class, and include medical doctors, middle-ranking or senior civil servants and university lecturers. The other half include artisans and the gainfully self-employed, along with two large-scale farmers. …

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