The National War Museum in Umuahia was established in 1985. The museum has a collection of objects of traditional and modern warfare. There are also outdoor displays of warships, military aircrafts, armoured tanks, and “Ogbunigwe” (bombs produced locally by Biafra during the Nigerian Civil War.
The museum was aimed at putting the ugly episode of the war behind and speeding up the process of national reconciliation and healing.
While the civil war lasted, various sophisticated weapons were used. Some of these deadly weapons were fabricated due the exigencies of the war. Outside the appurtenances of war, civilians were also involved in the process of not just fighting, but psyching up the minds of the people to forge ahead despite the deprivations that came with war. Different media of mass communication were used.
The war was a watershed in the history of Nigeria as a country. The experience, many agree, is such that makes the resort to arms and war as a means of conflict resolution not an attractive option. It is in this spirit that the Nigerian War Museum, Umuahia was established.
The museum’s location was chosen because it was where the bunker housing the famous shortwave radio “the Voice of Biafra”was transmitted from. Voice of Biafra was the mouth-piece for Biafra during the war.
The National War Museum has the highest collection of the Nigerian civil war weapons that are no longer in used. The weapons are from both the Nigerian military and the defunct Republic of Biafra .
The place has become a tourist site that attracts hundreds of people daily. They come from within and outside the country to see the war artifacts on display. To some, it is to relive the period of the war through items on display, while to others, it is for study purposes. There are yet others who come simply for curiosity.
The museum is located at Ebite Amafor in Isingwu Autonomous Community in the Umuahia North Local Government Area. It is off Umuahia-Uzuakoli Road. The war museum is very popular, so locating it would pose no problem as any cab or the commercial tricyclist could take one to the museum. There are no longer commercial motorcyclists in Umuahia.
The museum was commissioned in 1985 on a large expanse of land. It has three galleries that cover traditional warfare, the armed forces and the Nigerian Civil War weapon galleries. War relics housed in the museum include weapons used during the pre-colonial civil disturbances, warfare materials used during communal and inter-tribal wars and those of the Nigerian Civil War.
After paying the entrance fee, a tour of the museum kicks off from the prehistoric war section where some of the weapons that were used for war are on display. On display are spears, shields, bows and arrows. Metal war vests that warriors used to protect themselves are also on display.
The end of the old war weapons section leads to the Nigerian Armed Forces gallery. There are the ceremonial uniforms of the army officers. Pictures of some past military leaders are also on display. For those unfamiliar with the military insignia that differentiates the ranks in the military, this gallery offers tutorials.
From this section, one then walks to the gate of the bunker that houses the Radio Biafra of the defunct Biafran Republic. Just at the entrance is the Biafran flag: red, black and green with the rising sun in the middle. There are also black and white pictures of the Nigerian leaders that were victims of the war, starting with the January 15, 1966 coup of Kaduna Nzeogwu.
The bunker is about 30 feet deep and on both sides of the step as one walks down are pictures of protagonists of the war from both Nigerian and Biafran sides of the divide.
Inside the bunker are the transmission studio and the huge transmitter of Radio Biafra. The bunker was a perfect decoy and very difficult for any enemy aircraft to locate without any prior information, especially with the undulating hills in the area.
The bunker has two stairways for entrance and exit. The tour of this section of the museum is arranged in a way that the tourist would water through the main entrance to the bunker and exit through the back.
Scattered on the expansive premises of the war museum are different obsolete military weapons. Looking at them in their obsolete state, one wonders how many lives some of these weapons must have terminated. Was the course worth the lost? Has Nigeria learnt from this sad chapter in the nation building process? Has the huge cost of this war made the nation value the need for peace and dialogue as the best method of conflict resolution?
The army weapons on display include anti-aircraft guns and Squid Mortar MK4 anti-submarine gun said to be carried by the Navy warship N.N.S. Nigeria. According to the explanation by the side of the weapon, it is an ‘ahead throwing weapon that was used to destroy enemy sub-marine. It was mostly deployed for demolition of suspected mine fields along the channel for the safe passage of Nigerian Navy ships during the civil war’. Others are the Biafran red devil armoured personnel carrier; the famous Ogbunigwe (Ojukwu bucket) launcher; artillery gun 105mm Howitzer said to have been used by the Italians during the Second World War in 1943 and that the particular weapon on display was used at the Aba/ Ikot Ekpene axis during the Civil War and NAF 102 Donier 27 aircraft. According to the history of he plane, it came from Luftwaffe Training Mission.
When The Nation visited the museum, some renovation activities to protect the artifacts were going on. One could also see, however, that the place not well funded. The indoor gallery was not well lit as there was no light. It was just a small electricity power generation set that was supplying light.
All said and done, for those who never experienced the Nigerian Civil War, they may not appreciate it to the full without visiting the National War Musuem, Umuahia. For those who did, they could relive the period by visiting the place.