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Bekwarra-Gakem: Nigeria Civil War First Bullet by Gabrinoz: 7:20pm On Jan 03, 2014
The people of Gakem, a town in Bekwarra-Cross River state, where the first shots of the civil war were fired in 1967, speak of 40 years of neglect and darkness.

Background
One morning in mid August a vehicle bears this writer to a popular junction in Vandeikya, Benue state. Then a motorcycle is found for the trip to Gakem which is some ten minutes away. Gakem is the first community you encounter when you enter Cross River state. Very soon you see a sign board which indicates that you are in Gakem.The town is named after Ogar Akem,who was the leader of those who ,many years ago, migrated to their present settlement,from Bendi in Obanliko local government of Cross River state. Over time, and perhaps owing to the contact with the British, the name contracted to its present form of Gakem, which is somewhat discernible in the original Ogar Akem. The language spoken here is Bekwarra, and the people are known as Bekwarra. They speak of a powerful connection with the ancient Kwararaffa Empire, and this is suggested by the name Bekwarra. Indeed there are several other groups long settled in Cross River state that also boast of a relationship with Kwararaffa.
Thus, Gakem has a link with the north and it has a long history of valour in war. They boast that it is because of their bold,warlike nature that they could dare to settle on the border, where they have had many wars with their Tiv neighbours. But, despite the threat of conflict, they never migrated from the area. This is green fertile country. They boast that they feed many other parts of the state. Here, everyone is a farmer and the town produces an excellent crop of groundnuts. The people are warm, the landscape undulates and the weather is fair. There is a tall hill overlooking the town, about which more will be said later. This quiet community saw violence in 1967, as the setting where the first shots of the Nigeria Civil War were fired, and the hill referred to was of crucial importance in that encounter. This event has given Gakem some level of fame. But this is fame which has not been fully utilised by Nigeria, the community argues. Many opine that if Gakem were in another country, its connection with the war would have been turned into a money spinning venture for the government and the community. People here say that the community has been forgotten by the government. There is no memorial to the war in Gakem, or even an indication that Gakem first had taste of the war in 1967. You cannot find a single war souvenir on sale in any shop. One will think nothing happened here. But something did happen here, and the people have not forgotten themselves or their past. They naturally have a strong sense of identity, culture and history. However, their recollection of the war and their heroic deeds in that context, function like a glowing verbal souvenir.
War
Chief Boniface Iyala, Chairman Gakem Development Association, speaks on the dramatic events of 1967. His words ‘Early in 1967 the Biafran soldiers camped on the hill here, preparing for war.They had placed mines from here right up to the border with present day Benue state. The whole place had been mined. They halted all social and economic activities in Gakem.’ He adds that the people of Gakem were not happy with the Biafrans, for the latter had practically crippled the economy, and frozen the normal character of life among the people.
According to him ‘Gakem, being an enterprising community didn’t want to sit and fold arms. Also, we did not support secession. This, however, did not go down well with the Biafrans who began to forcefully conscript the townspeople into their army. Some of our townspeople who were schooling in what is now Ebonyi state were captured and detained there. Up till this moment they have not returned. We think that they are no longer alive. Ogbeche Odah and Imogbo Njolly are part of the group, and we have not seen them up till the present.’ The people of Gakem were infuriated at this development and they began a series of efforts which crippled the Biafran defences around the town. Chief Iyala explains ‘Our people began carrying out surveillance work by watching the Biafrans and giving reports to the Nigerian troops who were just across the border in Vandeikya‘. He says ‘On the eve of the war, the people of Gakem led Nigerian troops to deactivate the mines laid by the Biafrans. Before this time the Biafrans had killed our domestic animals, and maltreated our people whom they saw as being stubborn and anti Biafra.’
Mohammed Shuwa
Very soon things came to a head .War came to Gakem on the 6th of July 1967. Chief Iyala says ‘As early as 5.30 am on the 6th of July, we heard an artillery shell.This first shot came from the Nigerian troops in Benue.They were targeting the Biafran troops on the hill here. The Biafran soldiers were disorganized. They ran to activate the mines, but these had been deactivated earlier. In anger they began to retreat as well as to burn our houses and kill our people. The shelling disorganized many people, who now began to run helter skelter, without knowing where to run to. Many were killed, and a good number had to suffer forms of amputation later on.Those who could not withstand the trauma of the heavy bombardment died.’ He adds that late Mohammed Shuwa, who led the Nigerian troops into Gakem, was seen by the people as a liberator, and he is still held highly by the people of the community. His words ‘Mohammed Shuwa led the Federal side from Benue. He is seen by the people as a liberator. He embraced us and asked us to feel free and to be happy.’ A report published on November 4,2012 recalling the war time bravery of Major–General Mohammed Shuwa states ‘It was his division that attacked Biafra from Vandeikya in Benue state and overran sukka, Enugu, Gakem, Ogoja, Abakaliki, Obollo Eke, Nkalagu Okigwi and Obollo Afor.’ At Gakem the memory of Shuwa is a golden, evergreen one .
There are people in Gakem who received serious injuries during the encounter between the Biafran and Nigerian troops. One of the respondent states ‘The artillery fell on my immediate elder brother. He was soon taken by the Nigerian Army to Makurdi for treatment. Indeed, all those who were wounded at Gakem were taken to Makurdi. When they returned to Gakem after the treatment, they spoke of the friendly reception they received, and how well they had been treated by Nigerian nurses and troops at Makurdi.’ The account also points to the fact that when the Nigerian troops expelled the Biafrans, the former set up camp in the town, and the Biafrans never returned to, or gained a foothold in Gakem during the course of the war.
Flashback
The war account is corroborated by Mrs. Ekaruma Olam, a prominent member of the community. She recalls the early days of the war. Her words ‘The Nigerian troops crossed over from the Benue area.They overpowered the Biafran soldiers .I was here when the Biafrans came,and they forced many of the locals to fetch water and carry out many other tasks for them. We welcomed the Nigerian soldiers as liberators. But our main compound was burnt down by the Biafrans when they were going.’ She argues that the Federal Government should immortalize people from Gakem who died in the course of the war, and that a national monument should be built in the community,which deserves some form of reparation too, she adds. ‘We lost everything, in the course of the war, but today there is nothing to show for it’.
‘African power’
As in most wars, there were accounts of the unusual at Gakem. Chief Opah Ushie, Clan Head of Uduo-Gakem, tells Weekly Trust of one miraculous event that occurred at Gakem. It is really a story of what some will call ‘African power’. He says ‘An armoured vehicle of the Nigerian Army got stuck in a stream within our community, and it had sunk to some depth too. Ushie Amiah, one of our chiefs, came forward and prayed over the vehicle together with his chiefs. To the surprise of many the car rose out of the mud. The soldiers were overwhelmed .There are also accounts of the use of the Black Kite, a species of birds by the locals to fight the Biafrans. The Clan Head adds ‘If the bird touched the Biafrans, then the Biafran would die. If they tried to shoot the bird, their guns will not work’.
Migration
On account of the civil war there was a significant level of migration out of Gakem. Josephat Bisong comments on this ‘The Biafrans had assembled a number of our male youths, and they wanted to eliminate the lot of them. Therefore, there was significant migration out of Gakem to places people thought were safe, in comparison with Gakem. In Taraba state, there is a ward named after Bekwarra called Udam ward. In Benue state there is a large settlement of the Bekwarra people. If you go to the mechanics village in Gboko, you will also find our sons flourishing there.’ He traces the origin of all these settlements to the civil war. Josephat Bisong argues that those townspeople who had to migrate from Gakem, on account of the war, are entitled to some form of compensation by the Federal Government. His words ‘Those who wre forced to migrate out of Gakem during the war and to settle in new places, are entitled to some form of compensation.
Lament
Here people lost practically everything they had when war came. The Chairman of the Gakem Development Association says ‘When the war came, the artillery destroyed a lot of houses. So, people had to live in the open for a long time.But when the reconstruction and reconciliation effort initiated by Gowon commenced, Gakem received nothing, despite the fact that the war began here. We actually suffered more than any other part of the country during the war. Yet, there is nothing to show for all of this. ‘He points to other theatres of war such as Umuahia, which today have museums or some form of memorial, as a recollection of that chapter in the nations history. He says that it is just the present administration of Liyel Imoke that has come to help the people, this occuring some 40 plus years after the end of the civil war. According to him ‘The present regime in Cross River state is trying to give us water by means of a borehole. For 40 years the people had been depending on a small stream as their major source of water. Ours is a story of 40 years of neglect as well as darkness. Take note that electricity was extended to us for the first time, only during the government of Donald Duke. This was seven to eight years ago. ‘The people wonder at the circumstances that have befallen their town, drawing attention to the fact that theirs is also a PDP community. They say ‘This community has been PDP since 1999.We have always been in mainstream politics ever since the time of the NPN.’ They cannot understand the cloud of abandonement which has encircled Gakem.
War museum
Gakem would like to have a war museum, given the significant events related to the war that occurred there. Chief Iyala makes this point, and adds ‘there are trenches dug by the Biafrans which are still visible on the hill summit. People can travel down here to look at these, as happens in other parts of the world, where a nation’s history is made to form a cardinal part of tourism. From the hilltop a visitor can see a large part of the surrounding country. Josephat Bisong argues ‘the people need a monument that will tell the story of Gakem, as the place where the first shots of the war were fired. ‘Meanwhile, some of the war time trenches on the popular Ushara hill are vanishing. Nkrumah Bankong-Obi makes the case for Gakem in a recent article of his titled Where in Nigeria is Gakem? He writes ‘There are museums in some parts of the country, stocked with military relics as part of our national history.Yet nobody thinks of Gakem where the first gunshot was fired.’
Neglected Ward
Gakem cuts the picture of an isolated and neglected ward, and it is described as such by the townspeople. It has a population of 27,000 persons, and some say that it could easily be split into three wards. Chief Iyala adds ‘There are funds allocated to created wards by the government. Gakem wanted 3 wards. In other areas that we know of, some wards do not even have a population of 5,000 people, yet they have a ward. Here we have 27,000 persons compressed into one ward. ‘He argues that more wards would also mean an additional source of revenue, which would help to develop the town. According to him ‘If we had three wards, we would receive more resources, since funds are allocated bearing in mind the number of wards.’ He argues ‘We had two wards in Bekwarra during the time of the South Eastern region of which we were a part . Now Gakem is just one ward. The counterpart ward in the days of the old region, has been split into nine wards. This difference is painful and shocking. This is victimization. ‘People speak continuously of many years of neglect. Again Nkrumah Bankong-Obi writes ‘By every template for measuring development, Gakem and the entire Ogoja lag behind.’
Tourism in Gakem
Omang Idiege ,who represented Bekwarra State Constituency in the Cross River State House of Assembly between 2007 and 2011, tells Weekly Trust of his effort to bring development to his people, while he served as their representative. His words ‘I once made a motion about the area between Cross River and Benue state, to the effect that more of the Federal Government presence should be felt. I argued that the government should capture the boundary point, and develop the hill so that it will become a tourist centre in the state. The civil war is an issue that cannot be forgotten.’ The hope of the community is that a gate would be constructed at the approach to Gakem, which would highlight the fact that the community was the place where the first shots of the civil war were fired. Next, is the wish that the hill would also be converted to a tourist site, in view of its strategic role in the war, as well as the war relics that are still there. Then there are the parts of Gakem that were mined by the Biafran soldiers. This area, which has since been demined, could also be demarcated and will play a huge role in terms of drawing tourists to Gakem, they say. None of this has happened so far. Lamenting the absence of industries in Gakem, Omang Idiege also tells Weekly Trust that his people are also ignored when it comes to federal appointments. His words ‘Since the civil war there has been no son of daughter of Gakem appointed as a Minister or made a member of a board or federal parastatal. We are well and truly forgotten here’.
Ushara hill
The hill in Gakem played many significant roles during the civil war. This is just one of a range of hills which are collectively called Ushara hills by the inhabitants of Gakem. It hosted the Biafran army. Later the Nigerian army, under late Major-General Mohammed Shuwa camped there for a while. However; some of the locals think there might be some unexploded bomb on the hill or thereabouts. But this has not stopped people from building on the slope of the hill. Efee Alibi tells Weekly Trust ‘If you are on the summit of the hill, you can see Vandeikya and many other communities clearly. It can give you accuracy, especially if you are a marksman.’ If the hill could speak, it too would raise a lament over Gakem, the town over which it watches like a faithful guardian.

2 Likes

Re: Bekwarra-Gakem: Nigeria Civil War First Bullet by Pangea: 8:25pm On Jan 03, 2014
I thought the Biafran soldiers were humane and didn't commit any atrocity?
Why were they killing the innocent villagers and burning their houses?
Re: Bekwarra-Gakem: Nigeria Civil War First Bullet by SLIDEwaxie(m): 8:31pm On Jan 03, 2014
In order just to hate a fellow citizen, Nigerians draw their essense from dark histories.


What positivity they derive from this erroneous act is stil beyond a normal humane reasoning!
Re: Bekwarra-Gakem: Nigeria Civil War First Bullet by DerideGull(m): 9:04pm On Jan 03, 2014
Pangea: I thought the Biafran soldiers were humane and didn't commit any atrocity?
Why were they killing the innocent villagers and burning their houses?


The above conjecture is by a typical Nigerian who lacks abilities required for critical thinking.

1 Like

Re: Bekwarra-Gakem: Nigeria Civil War First Bullet by ROYALD(m): 11:07pm On Jan 03, 2014
Sabotage is a deliberate action aimed at weakening an entity through subversion, obstruction, disruption, or destruction. In a war-force setting, etc So you got what you bargained when you led the Nigerian soldiers to dis-activate those mine you are typical Saboteurs don't complain,Biafran soldiers did not kill you when they came to the community first,Why did you engage in Sabotaging them and you expect the soldiers to praise you ,you are an idiott

1 Like

Re: Bekwarra-Gakem: Nigeria Civil War First Bullet by Sloan: 2:33am On Jan 04, 2014
ROYALD: Sabotage is a deliberate action aimed at weakening an entity through subversion, obstruction, disruption, or destruction. In a war-force setting, etc So you got what you bargained when you led the Nigerian soldiers to dis-activate those mine you are typical Saboteurs don't complain,Biafran soldiers did not kill you when they came to the community first,Why did you engage in Sabotaging them and you expect the soldiers to praise you ,you are an idiott

You may be right but the ibos did exactly the same thing in Asaba and were mowed down in hundreds, all lined up against a wall and shut at point blank! This is what ibos call the Asaba Massacre! For what it is worth, the got served what they dished to the minorities who they oppressed and tried to take their land and resources!

Gakem needs to look to a different party and negotiate what they feel they need and I completely agree that they have not asked for too much! They should get a war museum and memorial plus citing of projects in their areas and wards! Let's be honest, it costs a serious government nothing to do that, how many billions are still missing from NNPC ! $10 B and all that is needed if it is not stolen or looted to create some if this structures if far less than that, maybe 1 B or less. Let people likes these negotiate their future and projects with the APC and projects need to be on ground within 4 years otherwise they will be looking to other parties in the next election. For a sensible party and government, this is an economic activity right their that will create jobs and yield returns as they manage and invest on it! How much money is spent by people visiting memorials and war museums here and paying to hear the stories and see things for themselves! Even the Olumo Rock had for a long time been turned to a tourist haven for a long time by the state government and you will need to pay to explore the grounds and have a tour guide who will show you around and answer your questions plus people selling food and souvenirs nearby! It is a real opportunity and these kind of details can in fact make a big difference as a party like APC tries to go up and show Nigerians how governance ought to be and why the West (ACN) for longer is more successful than virtually by other parts of Nigeria.
Re: Bekwarra-Gakem: Nigeria Civil War First Bullet by ROYALD(m): 3:15am On Jan 04, 2014
you started well but you let you ego to divert your attention from the main topic to a campaign manager for Apc.wait a minute APC is an Islamic brotherhood and they will never ever win the presidency of this country quote me

look at them criminals

3 Likes

Re: Bekwarra-Gakem: Nigeria Civil War First Bullet by dayokanu(m): 3:34am On Jan 04, 2014
Chief Boniface Iyala, Chairman Gakem Development Association, speaks on the dramatic events of 1967. His words ‘Early in 1967 the Biafran soldiers camped on the hill here, preparing for war.They had placed mines from here right up to the border with present day Benue state. The whole place had been mined. They halted all social and economic activities in Gakem.’ He adds that [size=14pt]the people of Gakem were not happy with the Biafrans, for the latter had practically crippled the economy, and frozen the normal character of life among the people.
According to him ‘Gakem, being an enterprising community didn’t want to sit and fold arms. Also, we did not support secession. This, however, did not go down well with the Biafrans who began to forcefully conscript the townspeople into their army. Some of our townspeople who were schooling in what is now Ebonyi state were captured and detained there[/size]. Up till this moment they have not returned. We think that they are no longer alive. Ogbeche Odah and Imogbo Njolly are part of the group, and we have not seen them up till the present.’ The people of Gakem were infuriated at this development and they began a series of efforts which crippled the Biafran defences around the town. Chief Iyala explains ‘Our people began carrying out surveillance work by watching the Biafrans and giving reports to the Nigerian troops who were just across the border in Vandeikya‘. He says ‘On the eve of the war, the people of Gakem led Nigerian troops to deactivate the mines laid by the Biafrans. [size=14pt]Before this time the Biafrans had killed our domestic animals, and maltreated our people whom they saw as being stubborn and anti Biafra[/size].’
Re: Bekwarra-Gakem: Nigeria Civil War First Bullet by kettykin: 7:26am On Jan 04, 2014
This is 44 years since the war ended, what became of the enterprising community of Garkem and it's entrepreneurs in Nigeria is well known, they became the slow poke of history, igbos have since moved on to the world stage and the people who back stabbed them to the back stage of history
Good morning Garkem
Re: Bekwarra-Gakem: Nigeria Civil War First Bullet by Nobody: 8:16am On Jan 04, 2014
ROYALD: you started well but you let you ego to divert your attention from the main topic to a campaign manager for Apc.wait a minute APC is an Islamic brotherhood and they will never ever win the presidency of this country quote me

look at them criminals


What do you think will happen to PDP when people start calling it 'omo ibo' party. Hahah pdp will die a natural death faster than anything else.

Call APC whatever you want but don't forget that other people can call you whatever they want too.
Re: Bekwarra-Gakem: Nigeria Civil War First Bullet by ROYALD(m): 11:29am On Jan 04, 2014
Akinmail:


What do you think will happen to PDP when people start calling it 'omo ibo' party. Hahah pdp will die a natural death faster than anything else.

Call APC whatever you want but don't forget that other people can call you whatever they want too.



Hey wait a minute don't you understand which one you don't understand the A or P AND C WHICH MEANS ISLAMIC BROTHER HOOD VERY SOON AMERICA GOVERNMENT WILL DESIGNATE THEM AS BOKO HARRAM PARTY I DE WATCH HAHAHA
Re: Bekwarra-Gakem: Nigeria Civil War First Bullet by basilo101: 12:06pm On Jan 04, 2014
Sloan:

You may be right but the ibos did exactly the same thing in Asaba and were mowed down in hundreds, all lined up against a wall and shut at point blank! This is what ibos call the Asaba Massacre! For what it is worth, the got served what they dished to the minorities who they oppressed and tried to take their land and resources!

Gakem needs to look to a different party and negotiate what they feel they need and I completely agree that they have not asked for too much! They should get a war museum and memorial plus citing of projects in their areas and wards! Let's be honest, it costs a serious government nothing to do that, how many billions are still missing from NNPC ! $10 B and all that is needed if it is not stolen or looted to create some if this structures if far less than that, maybe 1 B or less. Let people likes these negotiate their future and projects with the APC and projects need to be on ground within 4 years otherwise they will be looking to other parties in the next election. For a sensible party and government, this is an economic activity right their that will create jobs and yield returns as they manage and invest on it! How much money is spent by people visiting memorials and war museums here and paying to hear the stories and see things for themselves! Even the Olumo Rock had for a long time been turned to a tourist haven for a long time by the state government and you will need to pay to explore the grounds and have a tour guide who will show you around and answer your questions plus people selling food and souvenirs nearby! It is a real opportunity and these kind of details can in fact make a big difference as a party like APC tries to go up and show Nigerians how governance ought to be and why the West (ACN) for longer is more successful than virtually by other parts of Nigeria.
compare Garkem and Asaba 44years later. U claim 2 librate minorities frm biafra bt u abandoned dia war ravaged lands n did d reconstrutions in ur land wia no single shot was fired. D unsually resilient igbos hv bounced back n taken ova while d saboteur minorities r stil groaning in d pains u inflicted
Re: Bekwarra-Gakem: Nigeria Civil War First Bullet by Jaypea98: 12:24am On Apr 20, 2015
ROYALD:
you started well but you let you ego to divert your attention from the main topic to a campaign manager for Apc.wait a minute APC is an Islamic brotherhood and they will never ever win the presidency of this country quote me

look at them criminals
I just did haha.n..Skenko
Re: Bekwarra-Gakem: Nigeria Civil War First Bullet by pazienza(m): 1:05am On Apr 20, 2015
Something is wrong with this story.

Were their houses burnt down by retreating Biafrans who were probably running for their lives, or were the houses burnt down by Nigerians who shot at anything that moved and were probably raining bullets and bombs on the whole Gakem community, to rid it of Biafran soldiers.


My instincts and knowledge of how the Nigerian Army operates tells me that the later rather than the former was the case.

It was rather all too easy for the imbecilic Gakem people suffering from Stockholm syndrome to blame their woes on the retreating Biafran soldiers, seeing as they were already blaming the Biafran soldiers for the Nigerian Army invasion of Gakem and were hell bent on sabotaging the Biafrans efforts to stop the invasion.

This and more is the reason I insist that Biafra 2.0 must be an Igbo only country.
Re: Bekwarra-Gakem: Nigeria Civil War First Bullet by pazienza(m): 1:10am On Apr 20, 2015
OP, can you provide a source for this article, I want to know the date this interview was granted.
Re: Bekwarra-Gakem: Nigeria Civil War First Bullet by pazienza(m): 1:19am On Apr 20, 2015
"The whole place had been mined.
They halted all social and economic activities in
Gakem.’ He adds that the people of Gakem were not
happy with the Biafrans, for the latter had practically
crippled the economy, and frozen the normal character
of life among the people".

How exactly was Biafra going to set a proper military camp in Gakem and be able to mount a serious resistance to Nigeria's invasion without disrupting the economic activities of Gakem? Economic activities of bigger and better commercial towns like Onitsha were disrupted to mount a resistant to Nigerian invasion, what makes a village town like Gakem special?


"According to him ‘Gakem, being an enterprising
community didn’t want to sit and fold arms. Also, we
did not support secession. This, however, did not go
down well with the Biafrans who began to forcefully
conscript the townspeople into their army. Some of
our townspeople who were schooling in what is now
Ebonyi state were captured and detained there. Up till
this moment they have not returned. We think that
they are no longer alive. Ogbeche Odah and Imogbo
Njolly are part of the group, and we have not seen
them up till the present."

Any documented evidence to show that Gakem people opposed the Biafran secession in the Eastern consultative assembly? Or are we just to take your words for it?

Refusing to enrole in the Army is not exactly the same as being opposed to secession, every country demands that citizens enrol in the Army in times of war when soldiers are not much in supply, even some weak Igbos who refused to join the Army were forced to join by the Biafrans, even though many joined voluntarily, more numbers were needed.


"Some of our townspeople who were schooling in what is now
Ebonyi state were captured and detained there. Up till
this moment they have not returned. We think that
they are no longer alive. Ogbeche Odah and Imogbo
Njolly are part of the group, and we have not. seen
them up to the present"

Now this part of the article has no foundation, it just popped out of nowhere, he didn't offer reason to why they were detained. It would appear they are just looking for any reason at all to justify their sabotage.
Re: Bekwarra-Gakem: Nigeria Civil War First Bullet by pazienza(m): 1:45am On Apr 20, 2015
"Thus, Gakem has a link with the north and it has a
long history of valour in war. They boast that it is
because of their bold,warlike nature that they could
dare to settle on the border, where they have had
many wars with their Tiv neighbours".

Perhaps, their link with the Tivs who were in large numbers in the Nigerian invading force explains their sympathy to the Nigerian soldiers and determination to sabotage Biafra.

Either way, they got exactly what they deserved, " used and dumped" will be puting it mildly, the Igbos have since moved on, but what did Gakem gain from their sabotage of Biafra?

Their woes can only get worse, unlike their partners in other parts of SS, they have no crude oil, and so nothing to bargain with. They made their bed, they should lie on it.

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