February 14, 2020

The Makurdi Bridge Was A Graveyard

By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Colonel Madu appeared in Kainene’s house two weeks later, much taller-looking now because he had lost so much weight; the angles of his shoulder bones were visible through his white shirt.

Kainene screamed. ‘Madu! Is this you? O gi di ife a?’

Richard was not sure who walked towards whom first, but Kainene and Madu were holding each other close, Kainene touching his arms and face with a tenderness that made Richard look away. He went to the liquor cabinet and poured a whisky for Madu and a gin for himself.

‘Thank you, Richard,’ Madu said, but he did not take the drink and Richard stood there, holding two glasses, before he placed one down.

Kainene sat on a side table in front of Madu. ‘They said they shot you in Kaduna, then they said they buried you alive in the bush, then they said you escaped, were buried alive in the bush, then they said you escaped, then they said you were in prison in Lagos.’

‘So many solid men – Udoli, Iloputaife, Okunweze, Okafor – and these were men who believed in Nigeria and didn’t care for tribe. After all, Udodi spoke better Hausa than he spoke Igbo, and look how they slaughtered him.’

Madu said nothing. Kainene stared at him. Richard finished his drink and poured another.

‘You remember my friend Ibrahim? From Sandhurst? Madu asked finally.

Kainene nodded.

 ‘Ibrahim saved my life. He told me about the coup that morning. He was not directly involved, but most of them – the Northern officers – knew about it. He drove me to his cousin’s house, but I didn’t really understand until he asked his cousin to take me to the backyard, where he kept his domestic animals. I slept in the chicken house for two days.’

‘No! Ekwuzina!’

 ‘And do you know that the soldiers came to search his cousin’s house to look for me? Everybody knew how close Ibrahim and I were, and they suspected he helped me escape. They didn’t check the chicken house, though.’ Colonel Madu paused, nodding and looking into the distance. ‘I did not know how bad chicken shit smelt until I slept in it for three days. On the third day, Ibrahim sent me some kaftans and money through a small boy and asked me to leave right away. I dressed as a Fulani nomad and walked through the smaller villages because Ibrahim said that artillery soldiers had set up blocks on all the major roads in Kaduna. I was lucky to find a lorry driver, an Igbo man from Ohafia, who took me to Kafanchan. My cousin lives there. You know Onunkwo, don’t you? Madu did not wait for Kainene to respond. ‘He is the station master at the railway, and he told me that Northern soldiers had sealed off Makurdi Bridge. That bridge is a grave. They searched every single vehicle, they delayed passenger trains for up to eight hours, and they shot all the Igbo soldiers they discovered there and threw their bodies over. Many of the soldiers wore disguises, but they used their boots to find them.’

‘What?’ Kainene leaned forwards.

‘Boots.’ Madu glanced at his shoes. ‘You know we soldiers wear boots all the time so they examined the feet of each man, and any Igbo man whose feet were clean and uncracked by harmattan, they took away and shot. They also examined their foreheads for signs of their skin being lighter wearing a soldier’s beret.’ Madu shook his head. ‘Onunkwo advised me to wait for some days. He did not think I would make it across the bridge because they would recognize me easily under any disguise. So, I stayed ten days in a village near Kafanchan. Onunkwo found me different houses to stay in. It was not safe to stay with him. Finally, he said he had found a driver, a good man from Nnewi, who would hide me in the water tank of his goods train. The man gave me a fireman’s suit to wear and I climbed into the tank. I had water up to my chin. Each time the train jerked, some of the water entered my nose. When we got to the bridge, the soldiers searched the train thoroughly. I heard footsteps on the lid of the tank and thought it was all over. But they did not open it and we passed. It was only then I knew that I was alive and I would survive. I came back to Umunnachi to find Adaobi wearing black.’ Kainene kept looking at Madu long after he finished speaking. There was another stretch of silence, which made Richard uncomfortable because he was not sure how to react, what expression to have. ‘Igbo soldiers and Northern soldiers can never live in the same barracks after this. It is impossible, impossible,’ Colonel Madu said. He had a glassy sheen in his eyes. ‘And Gowon cannot be head of state. They cannot impose Gowon on us as head of state. It is not how things are done. There are others who are senior to him.’

‘What are you going to do now?’ Kainene asked.

Madu did not seem to hear her. ‘So many of us are gone,’ he said. ‘So many solid men – Udoli, Iloputaife, Okunweze, Okafor – and these were men who believed in Nigeria and didn’t care for tribe. After all, Udodi spoke better Hausa than he spoke Igbo, and look how they slaughtered him.’ He stood up and began to pace the room.  ‘The problem was the ethnic balance policy. I was part of the commission that told our GOC that we should that we should scrap it, that it was polarizing the army, that they should stop promoting Northerners who were not qualified. But our GOC said no, our British GOC.’ Madu turned and glanced at Richard.

 ‘I’ll ask Ikejide to cook your special rice,’ Kainene said.

Madu shrugged, silent, and stared out of the window.   

 

Excerpted from Half of A Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Published in Nigeria in 2006 by Farafina.

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