A first time visitor to Amafor Isingwu village in Ohuhu, Umuahia North LGA of Abia State may mistake himself to be at the United States of America’s military base.
This is because of the array of military equipment found inside the spacious compound of the national war museum. The museum located on a slopped landscape of Amafor Isingwu, off the busy Umuahia-Uzuakoli road is a place of history, tourism, technology and research rolled into one.
History of the Museum
Shortly before the fall of Enugu, the then capital of the Biafra, the then head of state of the Biafran nation, Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu contacted some foreign builders who together with Biafran engineers built a tunnel and radio station in Umuahia, connecting the tunnel to the part of the place in Umuahia city known as Ojukwu Bunker which served as his secret base.
It was from Umuahia Ojukwu and famous Okoko Ndem broadcast to the world unknown to the members of the Federal Troop. After the end of the civil war in 1970, the country became one again making the facility to lie fallow.
But in 1988, the government of General Ibrahim Babangida developed a new policy on preservation of national monuments. It was in that year that Amafor-Isingwu facility was chosen to be upgraded to National War Museum, where instruments of war used by both the federal Military troop and those used by the Biafran army would be put on display.
The museum was later commissioned by the Federal Government in 1989 after its completion and has since then received over 5 million visitors drawn from various background and discipline.
Home to military hardware
A trip by the News Echo to the museum did not yield the desired result on the first day as staff on duty said the head of the Museum known as the Curator was not on seat to respond to the newspaper’s questions concerning the place. But a new day was fixed and this time, the Curator was present and happy to receive the reporter.
She directed a male and female staff to take the reporter on a guided tour of the museum.
At the spacious compound, the lush green field was well mowed while military instruments like ship, bomber planes, fighter jets, military tanks, bomb-frames, machine guns, anti-aircraft guns were seen on display, beautifully arranged and kept under roof shields, the irony remained that many lives were cut short by those arsenals on display during the 1967-1970 war.
Also on display are Biafran famous Ogbunigwe, locally manufactured bomb, equally found at the museum were a radio transmitter and refinery belonging to the defunct Biafran government. NIGERIAN NAVY SHIPS (NNS) and other war boats which were used during civil war are also on display while another side of the museum has on display Nigeria Air force (102) and Nigerian Air force (108) and other fighters, which were used by the federal troop.
The museum guide explained to the reporter that most of the equipment used by the Biafran army during the civil war were manufactured locally by the Biafrans while some equipment belonging to the federal troops were captured by the Biafran from the federal troops during the war. He gave an instance of the capture of a military tank belonging to the federal troop at Uzuakoli by the Biafran army. Debris of a plane which crashed during the war is also on display at the museum.
It is Africa’s number one tourism point- Curator
The administrative head of National War Museum, Umuahia, Ms. Mercy Aduaka during the interview with News Echo in her office declared the place as the biggest tourism centre in Africa. According to the Curator, the museum receives researchers from across the globe, with tourists and researchers from the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Sweden, France, Germany and those from various African countries making the place their tourism and research Centre of choice.
She added that the inner section of the museum is endowed with a gallery of military portraits and instruments of military warfare, tracing military genealogy of European, African and Nigerian military history up to the period of the Nigeria-Biafra civil war. She noted that the museum is a place of reconciliation and also a place for students in different disciplines to equip themselves with accurate facts of events.
The Curator also said that the war museum was also established to serve as a place where the people would learn that war is not the best way to resolve a national challenge.
“It is not good to go to war. Problems should be settled on the roundtable of peace. Many people died during the civil wat, many dreams were cut short” adding that “the youths should shun violence of any type”.
Nigerian army, navy step up maintenance of facility
According to the Curator, the men of the Nigerian Navy from Rivers State recently took a tour of the museum where they repainted the Nigerian Navy ship NNS at the museum, giving the war-ship a new look and making it visitor-friendly. She also disclosed that the Nigerian Army is presently renovating the gallery section of the museum and also undertaking the landscape construction of the facility while the men of the Nigerian Air Force are also gearing up to paint the planes to bring them in tandem with the taste of the time.
The Curator said “we receive many visitors and people come here to relax, especially during festivities. Even schools come here on excursion”. She however regretted that a lot of financial resources were required to run the museum effectively but thanked the men of the armed forces for their interests in revitalizing the place.
She concluded by saying that the full potentials of the museum have not been tapped by tourists and researchers while urging Nigerians to make the museum their first point of tourism destination which she said if well harnessed was capable of attracting resources to the country.