ENUGU, Nigeria — It’s not the few bullet-scarred buildings that catch the eye in Enugu, the first of many temporary capitals of the ill-starred breakaway state of Biafra, which proclaimed its independence 10 years ago and then lost a bitterly fought civil war.

Rather, it is the brand new houses, whose often palatial proportions contrast with the loser’s legacy of prefabricated bridges and badly-rutted roads.
Tucked away from casual view – sometimes down unpaved roads – the new palaces constitute a conscious change for the Ibos, the large southeast Nigerian tribe that made up the bulk of the Biafran nation. They are a symbol of the Ibo determination to get on with life and not wallow in self-pity.

Long the industrious and aggressive mainstay of Nigeria’s merchant and white collar classes, the Ibos were sent scurrying back to their southeastern homeland to escape the northern programs that in 1966 preceded the civil war.

Today, seven years after they were finally defeated in their bid for independence, the Ibos are once again working all over Nigeria. The difference is that, while they once built their palaces and flaunted their money in the Nigerian federal capital of Lagos or in other cities outside Iboland in the north and west, they are now investing everything in their own bailiwick. A vast tropical area that includes most of Nigeria’s oil wells, the region once known as Biafra is a heavily populated land criss-crossed by the highest density of schools and roads in Nigeria.

Since the war, Ibos no longer feel confident about investing outside what they once had hoped would be their separate homeland. Now, Enugu-based consulting firms are winning contracts in the desert north where on what was called “Saudi Arabia without the oil wells.” Enterprising Ibo businessmen, with a few Western expatriate engineers, are making small fortunes.
At the other end of the scale, the hard-working Ibo are staffing mom-and-pop stores and gas stations throughout the northeast and setting up small businesses at home.

Many Ibos have made a virtue of necessity in counting on themselves rather than a neglectful, and in some Ibo minds even a punitive, federal government in Lagos. C.C. Onoh, an old-school politician with vast local real estate interests, said; “the Ibo, with their own determination, zeal and hard work, can make money without government aid.”

Noting the pot-holed roads in which whole mammy wagons, the small trucks that are rural Nigeria’s main form of transportation, have been known to disappear from view, Onoh said: “Since the end of the war, we’ve been on our own and no longer look to government. If I cannot do something myself, I do not want to be part of it. The government cannot even maintain the basic infrastructure.”

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