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50 years on from Biafra

Jackie Macadam learns about the key role played by the Church of Scotland in the short-lived breakaway African republic.

“MEMBERS of the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria cherish their Scottish roots. They are eternally proud of the role of Scottish missionaries who came and lived with them, some for over 50 years. I learned all of that history and was fascinated by it.”

The Rev Richard Fee, retired General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, is talking about Biafra, the short-lived breakaway republic in Africa that existed for three years between May 1967 and January 1970.

It was a time when the world’s television sets brought the starvation and suffering of the Biafran people – and specifically the children, their bellies swollen, ribs sticking out, eyes sunken, hope lost, into homes across the world for the first time.

It’s estimated that at one point, 12,000 people a day died because of the deliberate starvation designed to bring the people to their knees and the war for a separate republic to an end.

Richard, Canadian by birth, but with Scots ancestry hailing from Forfar, became interested in the story of these three tumultuous years after being sent there in 1977 to work in the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria.

“Upon graduating from Knox College in 1976 I was accepted under appointment to the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria. I arrived in Lagos on February 19, 1977 and proceeded to Aba in the East where I was informed by the then Synod Clerk, the Rev Nwachukwu Eme, that I was to be posted to Ezzikwo Parish, an area roughly 99 by 55 kilometres, located within Abakaliki Presbytery. I was woefully ignorant, even after having studied the history of this country as well as having met several former Canadian mission personnel. Mary-Louise Archibald and Sarah and Dr Peter Murdoch were the only Scottish missionaries in Nigeria during my time there. I lived for 16 years in the area that was Biafra. The friends I made were children during the war and occasionally they would relate stories of how the war impacted them, but these were casual conversations and I tucked them away, but never thought to delve deeper. Now, I regret not doing that. I could have learned so much more.

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About Life and Work

IN THIS ISSUE SRT PROJECT AT 50 The Church of Scotland's Science, Religion and Technology Project celebrates its half century 'WE HAVE A HUGE ROLE TO PLAY' Dave Kendall, The Church's new Chief Operating Officer 'I LOVE SCOTLAND' The Archbishop of York and his passion for social justice 50 YEARS ON FROM BIAFRA The Church of Scotland and Biafra And much more..