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."
But the worsts is over as far as the Ibos are concerned. The worst was not just losing the war, but having to put up with what Ibos considered the Quisling regime of fellow-Ibo Ukapi Asika, who ran the local state government from the end of hostilities in 1970 to mid-1975.
"The ineptitude of the Asika government led lots of people to question the federal government's intentions," a prominent businessman said. "It was never quite clear if he (Asika was doing things on his own or carrying out a federal government policy of retribution."
As a legal government minister philosophically noted, however, "every change of government in Lagos means massive retribution is that much further away." Nigeria is now ruled by the third head of state it has had since the war.
Ibos complain they are still under-represented in the federal government's highest reaches, but nowhere more than in the armed forces and especially the ruling Supreme Military Council, which boasts what Onoh contemptuously calls a single Ibo "non-entity."
Like many Ibos, however, Onoh is just as happy to have his people out of the political running. "It would be stupid for the present moment and for the foreseeable future to think of a political role for the Ibos," he said without a shadow of regret. He is convinced Nigeria's time of turmoil is not yet over and wants the Ibos to have no part in the upheaval he feels is inevitable.
As a result of the war, Onoh insisted, "we told our children, never again, you'll never seen any Ibo involved in a coup."
The way he and other Ibos sees the situation. Nigeria's other two main tribal groupings, the Moslem Hausa-Fulani conservatives of the north and the Yorubas of the west, will soon be at odds. The north prefers the Ibo devils they know to the Yorubas of the west," he said. "The West and the North will fight it out, but neither will succeed without Ibo backing."
"My grandchildren will resuscitate Ibo nationalism," Onoh said slyly, explaining that the "occupation" officers in the southeast, drawn from the Moslem north, are marrying Ibo girls. The children speak their mother's tongue and it is to her village that they will owe their allegiance, he said.
Thus, there is a feeling that somehow Biafra will come to be by default. In the meantime, the engrained arrogance that even the Ibos recognize as their principal fault has helped them survive the peace. Few Ibos admit regretting the civil war or their part in it.
But few feel like crowing about it. Occasionally an Ibo will drink too much beer and sing Sibelius "Finlandia," Baifra's national anthem. There is still a flash of defiance in a prominent businessman's sharp answer to a foreign visitor who asked if Gen. Yakus a Gowan, who ruled Nigeria during the war and until he was ousted in a 1975 coup, had not symbolized reconciliation in choosing Ibos as his personal pilot right after the war. "Who else could he have taken? the businessman answered.
As the Ibos are the first to admit, diplomacy is not their long suit. But they can be subtle at times.
Many a mammy wagon boasts the slogan "No Condition is Permanent" or the less common "Ogali Je Ganota," Ibo for "he who is away must return." The latter is an allusion to Odemgwo Ojukwu, the Biafran leader still living in self-imposed exile in the Ivory Coast, whom many Ibos still revere and would love to give a hero's homecoming.
"Give them another 5 to 10 years," said a foreigner with long experience in Nigeria, "and the Ibos will be back. But give them 11 years and I fear they may be back in 1966," the eve of the bloody repressions that resulted in civil war.