Maurice Okechukwu Nwokeji, born in 1961 in Biafra, Nigeria, came to East London at the age of 9 with his younger brother, to join his parents.
When he was about two and a half Maurice’s parents came to England to study and work. Whilst his parents were away the Biafran war broke out. Bombs were a weekly event and death was routine. Maurice and his younger brother were looked after by their maternal and paternal grandmothers, one of whom died of starvation in front of Maurice and his brother. Maurice and his brother often had to look for food or queue for handouts from the Red Cross. Maurice’s cousin, like many other children, died as a child soldier fighting for the Biafra cause.
After the war ended Maurice and his brother were separated and Maurice went to work as a pig herder where he was not well treated. One day a man, sent to trace the boys by Maurice’s parents, arrived asking for Maurice. The brothers went to stay with an uncle in Lagos until they had the papers to come to England. Hackney was a shock. The boys had not been to school in Nigeria and did not speak English. Maurice got into fights and was laughed at for having an extended belly. He got several O levels but left home at the age of 15 and did not see his parents again until he got on a plane to Nigeria at the age of 28. The intervening years were troubled.
Several factors have enabled Maurice to turn his life around – having children, becoming a Rastafarian and a musician. His latest CD, drawing on his childhood experiences, is called Biafran Nursery Rhymes.
Someone has to tell our story before it is completely erased from memory. Maurice did in gripping details. For three long years, the world turned a blind eye to the desecration of humanity for a senseless political ideology. Unless it means different things to different people at different times, it was genocide at best. We may never know how many Biafrans were lost in that bloody war; 2 million, 3 million or even more, but history will remain our witness.
Maurice, your story-telling ability – your factual realness and ability to still laugh has created the possibility for revisiting subliminal traumas re. How I operate in the Present. Dalu nwanne m and I hope we shall meet soon. I was 9 years in 1967 and my heart still ache for children all over who are forced to go through what we went through. Ofo debekwa gi o! Okalete, Mary-Blossom Brown, Ph.D., Bolton, Lancashire
Thanks for sharing of your life of survival!
I can empathise with you!what an unfortunate childhood but it has not left you bitter from my knowing you you are a good kind person.with a Soul….
I was an adult when I experienced. Biafra it was an situation not pleasant for a child…