One Day We Had to Run! | Philip Emeagwali | A Child Soldier’s Story | Nigeria Biafra Civil War

TIME magazine called him
“the unsung hero behind the Internet.” CNN called him “A Father of the Internet.”
President Bill Clinton called him “one of the great minds of the Information
Age.” He has been voted history’s greatest scientist
of African descent. He is Philip Emeagwali.
He is coming to Trinidad and Tobago to launch the 2008 Kwame Ture lecture series
on Sunday June 8 at the JFK [John F. Kennedy] auditorium
UWI [The University of the West Indies] Saint Augustine 5 p.m.
The Emancipation Support Committee invites you to come and hear this inspirational
mind address the theme:
“Crossing New Frontiers to Conquer Today’s Challenges.”
This lecture is one you cannot afford to miss. Admission is free.
So be there on Sunday June 8 5 p.m.
at the JFK auditorium UWI St. Augustine. [Wild applause and cheering for 22 seconds] [A Child Soldier’s Story] My scientific story is more fragmented
than the story of the theoretical physicist Albert Einstein.
It was the story of my journey to the frontier of
extreme-scale computational physics. That journey to discover
how to solve the toughest problems
in mathematical physics was interrupted
during the last thirty months of the 1960s.
That journey was interrupted when I fled from my all-boys
Catholic boarding school—named Saint George’s Grammar School,
Obinomba (Nigeria). I fled from Saint George’s Grammar School
in late April 1967 and I fled because the Nigerian Civil War
was in the air. I fled to become a 12-year-old refugee
in the break-away and short-lived nation
of Biafra. Two months after I fled from Obinomba (Nigeria)
to Agbor (Nigeria) to Onitsha (Biafra),
and on the Sixth of July of 1967 that Nigeria-Biafra War began.
On the Fourth of October of 1967,
my ancestral hometown of Onitsha (Biafra)
was heavily bombarded for 24 hours and bombarded from Asaba (Nigeria)
and bombarded from across the River Niger. The following day,
that artillery bombardment of Onitsha (Biafra)
by the Nigerian army was followed by the invasion
of my hometown. That night, Onitsha
was invaded by a 10-boat armada that carried five thousand [5,000]
Nigerian soldiers. Those Nigerian soldiers
were led by Murtala Mohammed, who would later become the president
of Nigeria. One in fifteen Biafrans died
when that Nigerian Civil War ended. The Nigerian Civil War
was a nightmare and a bloodbath. The Nigerian Civil War ended
after thirty months of non-stop fighting and on January 15, 1970.
One million soldiers died at the war fronts
of the Nigerian Civil War. And about half a million
women and children died in Biafran refugee camps.
I survived two years in Biafran refugee camps
and survived six months of bloodbath near the Oguta War Front.
I survived a war that was described as
Africa’s bloodiest war. [One Day We Had to Run!] Biafra
was located in the southeastern region of Nigeria, West Africa.
My family of seven children lived in six refugee camps
within Biafra. For two years and three months,
onward of April 1967, my family lived in refugee camps
in the Biafran cities of Onitsha, Ogidi, Oba, Awka, Awka-Etiti,
and Ndoni. During the months of January,
February, and March of 1968, Russian Ilyushin bombers
and Mig fighters were bombing and strafing
our neighborhoods of around 14 Mba Road, Onitsha.
On my 14th birthdate of August 23, 1968, my postal address was:
Chukwurah Philip Emeagwali Saint Joseph’s Refugee Camp,
Awka-Etiti, Biafra, West Africa. On the cover of the TIME magazine
that was dated August 23, 1968 is an artist’s portrait of “Colonel Ojukwu,”
the leader of Biafra. The cover story of that issue
of TIME magazine was titled “Biafra’s Agony.”
For us, the agony was real. Half of the refugees
at our Saint Joseph’s Refugee Camp, Awka-Etiti, Biafra,
were living skeletons. My father, Nnaemeka James Emeagwali,
was the live-in refugee camp nurse at Saint Joseph’s Refugee Camp.
In August 1968, my father told me that
half of the children in our refugee camp,
including my two-year-old brother, Peter, had kwashiorkor,
a rare malnutrition disease caused by lack of protein.
At Saint Joseph’s Refugee Camp of Awka-Etiti (Biafra),
children and grandparents that did not survive kwashiorkor
were buried without funerals and buried at our backyard.
In Biafra, meat, pepper, and even salt were almost as scarce as gold.
Three charity organizations —The Red Cross,
the Roman Catholic relief organization, named Caritas,
and the World Council of Churches—provided to our refugee camp
cornmeal, Norwegian dried stock fish named “okporoko,”
and powdered milk. The relief foods
were secretly flown into Uli airstrip of Biafra.
That 27-month refugee experience was the reason
the United Nations has the portrait of Philip Emeagwali
—along with the portraits of the likes of Albert Einstein—
in its Gallery of Refugees Who Made a Difference. [Wild applause and cheering for 17 seconds] Insightful and brilliant lecture

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