By Eric Elezuo
The Igbo ingenuity has been explicitly expressed in commerce, industry, science and technology, and virtually all the spheres of human endeavour. No endeavour showcases Igbo ingenuity more than “Ojukwu Bunker” an annex of the National War Museum, which is located in Umuahia, Abia State capital.
When Enugu, the first capital of Biafran Republic fell to the hands of the Federal troops, it became unsafe as the federal troop attacked the Biafran Army from the Northern part of Nigeria. The need to proceed to the hinterland arose when Enugu was unsafe and that was when the choice was made.
A visit to Late Chief Chukwuemeka Odimegwu Ojukwu’s civil war home would expose the architecture in its magnificence. It is an appreciation of creativity, determination and doggedness of the Igbo race in the face of tribulation.
According to one of the guides, the personal house of the late Premier of the Eastern Region, Chief Michael Iheonukara Okpara in Umuahia was donated and used to serve as official residence of the leader of Biafra, Dim Chukwuemeka Ojukwu.
The need to provide a shield and protect Ojukwu and his men from incessant air raid and other attacks by the federal troop, gave rise to the construction of the bunker that could also serve as an underground escape route which would lead to thick forest around the house in case of any sudden attack.
The bunker, according to the guide, which was originally called the Subterranean Office of the Government of Biafra, was renamed Ojukwu Bunker by members of the public after the civil war .The 26.9 feet deep bunker was built within 90 days from April to June 1968.
Frank Mbanefo Associates in Port- Harcourt undertook the architectural design while the structural design was done by Agbim and Partners also in Port Harcourt. Builders are Mr. Joel Okechukwu Onyemelukwe. The irony of the whole episode is that the builders and designers were in their 30s.
As one approaches the building, he or she is greeted by the statue of the late Premier of Eastern Region, Dr. Michael Okpara. The inscription on the statue reads: the statue is dedicated to a patriotic Nigerian and Elder Statesman, the late Dr. Michael Iheonukara Okpara, Second Premier of Eastern Nigeria”.
Also in the front of the building is the sculpted bust of the late warlord, Chief Chukwuemeka Odimegwu Ojukwu.
The compound is expansive, accommodating the main building- a one storey-building, and other smaller houses meant for domestic servants. The landscaped compound and the lush green surroundings with a children’s playing area, add splendour to the environment.
The serenity of the place provides leisure for relaxation, and this is indicated by chairs scattered outside.
The entrance to the building is accommodated in a small building of about four by four feet that could pass for a pit toilet. This serves as a façade for the entrance.
The distance between the staircase and the building is about 30 feet. The tunnel that leads down is made of concrete. It is about three feet wide and seven feet high; and this makes it difficult for two people to walk along the corridor side by side. One person would have to be at the front while the other stays behind.
As one steps on the tunnel, the echo reverberates inside. The essence of this is to alert those inside of an approaching intruder, and for them to prepare their escape through the escape routes.
The bunker is divided into compartments such as conference room, store room, toilet, kitchen, ventilation shaft, cell for prisoners of war as well as escape routes.
The bunker is well ventilated through holes made along the corridor with a metal pole on the surface of the ground above that draws air deep down.
The passage leads directly to the modest three-room apartment below, which served as Ojukwu’s abode during the war.
In the conference room hung pictures of some of the best brains in the Biafran land who served as Ojukwu’s think- tank. They are Dr. Pius Okigbo, Cyprian Ekwensi, and Prof. Chinua Achebe, all of blessed memory. The picture of the young bearded Ojukwu clad in full Biafran camouflage also decorates the conference.
One of the rooms served as Ojukwu’s living room. The living room also accommodated the dining. Another room served as his bedroom. There are traces of air conditioners while other sides are positioned against the prisoners’ cell. The essence of this, it was learnt, was for the prisoners to feel the heat emitted by the conditioners at the reverse side. Pictures of war scenes also decorate one of the rooms, while a safe was built in the wall. The safe contains vital documents of the Biafran Republic. Beside the kitchen is a bathroom and toilet.
There are also pictures of scenes from the war also there. The room has air conditioner holes. There is also a safe built to the wall of the room inside. The second room is Ojukwu’s living room which also serves as dining while the third is his bedroom. Beside the kitchen is a bathroom and toilet.
There are two escape routes in case of emergency. They are both on the left and right hand sides of the three-room underground apartment. But the escape exit has concrete staircase like the one at the entrance. Metals are simply fixed to the wall serving as sharp steps that a person can both hold and step on as he or she makes his or her way upward.
There are three options of making one’s way out of the bunker just as it was the case during the war. They are the two emergency exits or the main entrance using the step. The emergency exits are from the bunker.
Ojukwu bunker is a “tourists’ attraction” which reminds one of the pains and bitter experiences of not just the Biafran war, but all wars. It also reminds one that the Nigerian nation can be technologically independent.