What Follows War
"If war is hell," TIME Correspondent John Blashill cabled last week from Nigeria, "at least it is organized hell. What immediately follows war can be worse. It is not yet peace, and it is certainly not organized." Blashill was one of 80 foreign newsmen who were given government permission to visit the Biafran enclave. Herewith his report:
In the silent palm forests and broken towns of the region once known as Biafra, the rape and the looting go on. Countless refugees told me this week of being stopped on the road by federal troops. The soldiers stripped them of their belongings, took their money and went off with their women.
Near Orlu, Nigerian marines invaded a Red Cross hospital, took all the food and raped the white nurses. During the brief period I was in Owerri, I saw an attempted rape and an attempt at looting. The looting took place right on the main square in front of most of the visiting newsmen. Several marine enlisted men simply entered a house and started ransacking it. They pulled out a bed and a table before an officer saw them and started shouting in Yoruba. They shrugged and carried the bed and table back inside.
The rape attempt was more dramatic. On the other side of the square, a drunken marine spotted a young refugee with his wife. Neither could have been much more than 20, and they clung together, very frightened. The marine demanded the wife and was about to make off with her when a marine lieutenant happened by. The lieutenant pulled out his .45 and shot the soldier in the foot. Neither rape nor looting is condoned by Nigerian officers. One marine was shot to death on the spot when he was found raping an Ibo girl near the Owerri radio station. He was not even arrested and tried. "There was no need," an officer said, matter-of-factly. "He was caught in the act." Stampede for Food. In the marketplace at Aba, where perhaps 200,000 refugees gathered, a stick-limbed girl in her teens was carrying home a few scraps of food in an old metal bowl perched on her head. A passing bicyclist jolted her, the bowl fell off, the food was spilled. The girl said nothing. She simply squatted on the ground looking at what she would have eaten that day as people trampled it. She was too numbed, too weary to retrieve it. At a makeshift Owerri food stand where the black-market pineapples cost two Nigerian pounds ($5.60) stood a young mother with a baby wrapped, African-fashion, in the robe around her back. The baby was starving, the mother had no money. She stood there for several minutes eying the food longingly. "We can look," she said eventually, "but we cannot buy." The Nigerian Red Cross precipitated a riot by setting up field kitchens at Owerri.
Two people were killed in the stampede to get food. At the Austrian Red Cross food-distribution center the food ran out. A thin old man, white stubble on his chin, walked away slowly, looking at his empty bowl. "Give chop? Give chop?" he muttered to nobody in particular.
Unforgettable Sound. The Niger Maternity Hospital in Port Harcourt is now the home of 538 babies who were trucked down from a hospital near Orlu, and are on the point of death.
They are all suffering from marasmus, the disease of advanced starvation. All have dysentery. Many carry ugly red tails hanging out of their bottoms, the medical term for which is "prolapse of the rectum." Most are too weak to stand. Some are too weak even to sit up and so they just lie there, often face down on the floor (there are not enough beds to go around), their faces resting in pools of mud and diarrhea. Those who have the strength to cry do nothing but cry, and the sound will never be forgotten by anyone who heard it. In Port Harcourt, His Excellency Lieut. Commander A. P. Diete-Spiff, military governor of Rivers State, married Miss Ethel Potts-Johnson, also of Rivers State. The wedding cake, shaped like a ship, was flown in from Lagos. The wedding dinner for 100 guests included two suckling pigs, three turkeys, 30 cold chickens, eight ducks, one side of roast beef, two goats on a spit, 30 chickens on a spit, various fresh salads, charlotte russe, three dozen bottles of vintage champagne, three cases of Scotch. Among the guests was Lieut. Colonel Phillip Effiong, the last leader of Biafra.