Though Nigeria’s National War Museum was established in 1985 to record and display milestones in the country’s military history, it’s best known for housing key artefacts used in the 1967-1970 Civil War.
Indeed, Umuahia was chosen as the site for its role in the nearly three-year war in which between one and three million lives were lost. When war broke out in 1967 after the former Eastern Region was declared the Republic of Biafra, Enugu, the regional headquarters, naturally became the capital of the new nation.
However, it didn’t last. When Enugu fell to the federal forces within the first year of the war, the Biafran leader, Emeka Ojukwu, moved the capital to Umuahia. The city, subsequently, became the longest-serving capital of the short-lived nation.
One of the most significant relics of the war, the Ojukwu Bunker, an underground residence where the rebel leader lived, is located in Umuahia. The city is also the hometown of the first indigenous head of the Nigerian army and the country’s first military ruler, Johnson Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi, whose assassination in July 1966 helped trigger the Civil War.
The National War Museum is located at Amafor Isingwu, a village on the outskirts of the city, in a premises that also served as the headquarters of Radio Biafra, with its studios hidden in an underground bunker. The bunker is one of the main attractions of the museum.
The National War Museum is essentially in two parts, one indoors and the other outdoors. The indoors section includes exhibits of weapons of traditional warfare in Nigeria as well as artefacts and images dealing with the evolution of the Nigerian armed forces. Photographs of key actors in the Nigerian military are among items on display.
It also gives way to the underground location of the radio studios, from where visitors are led out to another part of the premises, a long way from the building from which they entered.
Outdoors on the premises, a large variety of weapons of war are on display, including military aircraft, warships, tanks and artillery guns. The most famous of these exhibits are the Ogbunigwe mines, anti-tank guns, tanks and armored personnel carriers produced by the Biafran army in the heat of the war.
The museum attracts thousands of visitors every year. However, it wears signs of poor maintenance, with the gallery often dark due to power cuts. Yet, it takes nothing away from its grim exhibits.