Biafra has been my country from the world go!
By Ayokunle Odekunle
To the ethnic group that rose from the claws of near extermination to be the driving force of Africa’s largest economy, you have my respect.
A big house
A foreign village headmaster named Lord Laguda came around to colonize 3 families and some sub-families staying in a very large compound. These families stay in separate quarters within the house and were clearly independent of each other. Each of the 3 families and the other smaller sub-families had something unique they produced. For his selfish reasons and that of his Queen in Igilandi named Queen Alake, the three totally unrelated families alongside sub-families staying around their area were forced to come together as one and form a clan now named Naigara.
The names of the families are Arewa, Yariba and Ndigbo. These families have very different characteristics. Arewa family are the largest and highly temperamental. This family believe it is their birthright to lead others wherever they find themselves as God ordained them to be leaders right from the time of creation. Not that they are too good at that though. The Yariba family are the most educated but very hypocritical and arrogant. They believe that since they have the most exposure and education, they are better than every other person alive. The Ndigbo family are the most illustrious, industrious albeit greedy people.
Before Lord Laguda left them, he placed the Arewa family as the leader of the Naigara clan and ensured the family was placed in vantage positions. This did not go down well with the two other families and sub-families who felt like second class citizens in Naigara.
So, there we have it. Three unrelated families staying together as ‘one’ in a house.
As is the case with things built on shaky foundations or marriages built on deceit and cohersion, things started falling apart. The center threatened to start withdrawing it’s support
After Lord Laguda left them and allowed them rule themselves, these people started showing themselves as lacking the ability and capability to lead. In the Yariba family, there was serious fighting between Owolowo and Abintola over who will emerge as the Mogaji of the Yariba ruling house. This fight led to serious crisis and soon, Yaribaland was named Wild Wild West. Politicians and council chiefs in Naigara suddenly made the treasury of Naigara their own. The Agbekoya boys (Military boys) watched as things had degenerated in Naigara. They had to act fast.
The crisis got more intense. There was an attempt by some members of the Ndigbo family to overthrow the leadership of the Naigara clan and install the ambitious Yariba man called Owolowo (he was in jail then). The coup failed but an Ndigbo man named Oronsi emerged as leader. The Arewa family members were very unhappy with this development. Since naturally, they have been ordained by God to lead and for others to do follow follow, they couldn’t imagine themselves being led by those Ndigbo people. Some members of the Ndigbo family started singing and dancing Ayinla Omowura’s subliminal songs to taunt the Arewa family. The members of the Arewa family prevailed on their militiamen to take over power. They did, and Oronsi was killed. As if that was not enough, members of Ndigbo family were killed like chicken. It was a massacre. It got so bad that children of the Ndigbo family ran away from the apartments of the other families back to their own wing of the house.
Meanwhile, the leader of the Ndigbo family, a short, sturdy man known as Olukwu was not happy with the way his people were being mistreated and maltreated. He called the new leader of the Naigara clan named Lakubu Kowon and told him of the intention of the Ndigbo family to go on their own.
To make things worse for everybody, Kowon decreed that from then on, each family will cease having their own exclusive apartments (End of Regionalism). Each party, he said will have to share the main sitting room. Furthermore, he decreed that each familes will have to convert their large rooms into 4 rooms (Creation of more states). Olukwu thought these policies were aimed at the Ndigbo people.
He called Kowon’s bluff
People tried to broker peace between Naigara and the Ndigbo family. Olukwu and Kowon were invited by Kofi Asante to the land of the black men called Khana. To a place called Akuri precisely . At the meeting, Olukwu (Oxford trained guy) asked Kowon “Do you concur that the Ndigbo family should secede and go on their own”? Kowon who did not understand the meaning of the word ‘concur’ said “Yes, I concur”. So Olukwu got back home and told the Ndigbo people “Kowon has agreed that we can go on our own o”.
Pronto, Kowon said “I didn’t agree o. I only concurred!”
There was no turning back from here. Olukwu in a room known as Ahiara declared that from now his people had formed the Republic of Biafra and ceased to be a part of Naigara. Kowon refused to concur this time around.
And a bloody war began
The Naigarians and Biafrans fought a very bloody war. The Naigarians however failed and/or refused to keep the battle to the battle ground. They went into the rooms where the children of the Ndigbo slept and killed their children. They went to the markets, hospitals, schools and threw bombs. They killed the old harmless people waiting for God to kill them honourably. They killed the goats and chicken who were deserving of honourable deaths on Christmas Day only. They dishonourably took the virginity of the young girls.
They killed innocent Biafrans and their animals
Funny enough, the same Owolowo whom the Ndigbo people who planned the first coup wanted to make leader was released by Kowon and made him the Seriki of Naigara. It was Owolowo who planned and executed wicked and obnoxious economic policies to frustrate the Ndigbo people. Owolowo popularly said “Why should I feed my enemy? Why should I allow them have food”.
That was it. Innocent children who did not know the cause of the conflict were made to pay. These children who were used to eating Ogbono and Akpu now saw lizards as a delicacy to crave for.
Lizards ran out of stock. Wall geckos too. Delicacies. Gone. Nothing more to eat.
Kwashiokor, marasmus and all sort of diseases set it. Breast-feeding mothers ran out of breast milk to give their badies. The babies died. The mothers anguished. 9 months of hard labour. Gone. Wasted.
Owolowo, Kowon, Banjamin Adakunle and the Naigarians failed to remember that wars should only be fought on the battle field and that civilian targets should be avoided as much as possible. That is in consonance with the Geneva convention.
The water in Biafra turned to blood. There was no food anywhere. No medicine to cure the sick. The soldiers were weary. The Naigarians were winning. Olukwu ran way and left his people behind.
The war was over.
It is appalling that the tales of the Biafra war are being kept away from the public. From this present generation. The leaders of tomorrow.
Nigerians love to live in grand illusion and/or insane delusion. They like to believe things are fine even when it is clear to see. We love to wish away things; consoling ourselves that things can be worse and so we should be content with the present.
I have news for you
You wish you can wish away history? You cannot. History is not something to be avoided or hidden from public glare. It is something to be taught to the present generation so the future can be better and they can learn from the mistakes of the past generation.
The immediate and remote causes of the January 1966 coup, the July 1966 coup, the Biafra genocide are being hidden from this generation who ought to be the leaders of tomorrow. The mistakes that led to the 1966 coups, the Western Nigeria crisis of the early 1960s, operation wetie, the 1976 coup are being repeated albeit unknowingly. Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. If you do not know your history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree.
Some Saturdays ago, I attempted to conduct a history class on Twitter to share my little knowledge of the causes of the Biafra war to my followers. I received strange calls and subtle threats. Many people felt telling the story of Biafra is wrong. Some said telling the story of Biafra will ignite another war. Others who are of the opinion that no wrong was done to the Igbos are also against the telling of the story. Why?
Many Nigerians derided late Chinua Achebe when he wrote ‘There was a Country’ which was his own account of the Biafra Genocide. Many are of the opinion that Achebe was just a bitter old man who wanted to divide the country by opening old wounds.
Those thinking that way have stunted intellectual development in my opinion. Is the country not divided as we speak? Are the causes of the civil war not being repeated? Were the Igbos not massacred and ill-treated by the rest of the country? Did Achebe not have cause to be angry and disillusioned? Was this so-called ‘Biafra War’ not a genocide? Are Igbos still not being marginalized till today? Are people still not taunting the Igbos over the loss they suffered as a result of the war? Do some dim-witted writers like Femi Fani-Kayode still not write articles to deride, sneer, jeer and belittle the Igbos? Everything in ‘There was a Country’, are they not being repeated today?
You can try to cover up the story of Biafra all you want to. You can deride the Igbos all you want to. You can ban films that tell the stories of Biafra as you like. You can threaten those people who try to tell the story of Biafra all you want to. However, you cannot change history. You cannot change the fact that the nation is sitting on a keg of gun powder. Perhaps, if we had learnt from the causes of Biafra, we won’t be here today.
The Government should take the bulk of this blame. Hiding the history of Biafra from this generation, banning films on Biafra and so on are irresponsible. If the story of Biafra has been told repeatedly and we learn from it, we won’t have MASSOB today. Had government learnt from Biafra and taken steps to assuage the ill feelings the Igbos still have towards Nigeria, we won’t have a group like MASSOB. I know it as a fact that many Igbo people still welcome the idea of seceding. That is what happens when government refuses to publicly acknowledge that these people were wronged, apologize publicly and compensate them duly. This is also what happens when you relegate the story of the great suffering of these group of people to the background as if they are unimportant.
To those little children who lost their lives due to the insensitivity and wickedness of the Nigerian Government from 1966-1971, to those who suffered huge economic loss due to the economic policy of late Obafemi Awolowo who said no matter how much Igbos had in banks before the war, they would only be able to get £20 back, to those who suffered bodily impairment as a result of the war, to those who lost harmless fathers, children, mothers to the war, you all are heroes and are not forgotten.
To the ethnic group that rose from the claws of near extermination to be the driving force of Africa’s largest economy, you have my respect.
The Nigerian Government may try to ‘forget’ you but to well-meaning Nigerians who love history, who know the history of the Biafra War and are not cold and wicked, you are not forgotten.
*This article was first published in 2014*
Ayokunle Odekunle is a Lawyer, Editor and Partner in a Brand and PR agency.
* The Nigerian Blogger
DO YOU BELIEVE IN BIAFRA?
Posted on July 21, 2015
Someone who had read a piece I wrote sometime ago titled, “How I became a Nigerian” confronted me with this question. I guess the query arose because I’d indicated that Biafra was the first country I came to know as a child. I actually did have to become Nigerian. Before I address the question, let me state something by way of definition to eliminate all ambiguity about what Biafra is.
Biafra: A country where normal people will rule the country not corrupt ex-generals
Biafra, a State of the Mind for the Igbos
A concept that nearly became a world,
Became rather a synonym for war -
A war and about the only new war Nigeria would know
A war we could not refuse and
A country that could have been
The only world Africa needed to dine with the 8.
Here I come again, oh dear lost land
And now a state of the mind and still boils the hands that could not let us be
And yet feels they are dead without the Igbos.
They are Nigeria, The rest of us envious of Igbo alterity and hunting us with the wrong rungs we took that rubbed us Biafra, now a State of the mind.
I hurts when they say we, the Igbos , blew it and heals as soon as they would say the Brits gave them back Biafra. They could not have been able to do us in on their own but still feel we should know we lost and deserve no new bridge to Ore.
Do please stop rubbing it in more on us, the Igbos, on our falls and missteps in that war we did not buy.
They were misses that caused us Biafra
And in the death of Biafra, Africa died.
They were last steps on our destined short ladders to eminence that now looks like fathoms with no boundaries and in those Igbo missteps and falls and fades that caused us Biafra, Africa died.
We needed to live and prove we could be all Africa needed for life and
We faced steep and rough rungs on a long journey on a ladder we thought to be short and one and food for the state of Biafra, and
In such wrong takes on superiorly guarded steps on a long pole
The rungs in us we failed to take to the war we could not refuse to buy,
We made missteps that once again caused us Biafra and in such a sudden death of "Biafra, Africa died".
In our otherness - the Brits feared and
The braveness that set the world rocking and Nigeria sweating, we set a pace no other tribes in Nigeria can ever try.
We caused them some night sleep and we made them sweep their sweats at dawns too.
And in those wills, they in turn caused us Biafra and Africa died.
We spared some hope and held on some bolts on wills that later became limp,
And ladders holding on feathers short of winds and
Atop the remains of who would be next Igbos, our arms got short and hopes faded and could no more keep our big hearts alive, we left the scene and Africa died.
Note: The title to this poem is also a title to a book “In Biafra, Africa died” by Emefiena Ezeani.
BIAFRA! BIAFRA!! BIAFRA!!! Everywhere you go around this planet earth right now including Germany, the topic is about Biafra thanks to Chukwu Okike Abhiama. If you are not part of this phenomenon called Radio Biafra/IPOB then you are not human.
Join your nearest IPOB family meeting today anywhere you are in the world and help make history.
Biafra Survives: the Igbo people, 45 years after the Civil War
The Biafra Civil War from 1967-1970 resulted when the small West African region – primarily populated by the Igbo tribe – attempted to secede from Nigeria, a former British colony. An estimated 1-2 million people were killed in the conflict; 40% were Igbo children who died of starvation and malnutrition. The Igbo thought the global community would support them, but they gained little assistance, whereas Nigeria was massively armed by the British and Russians. Biafra was invaded and the Igbo were eventually subdued.
How are the Igbo doing today? Have they survived economically? Are they participating in Nigerian political affairs? Have enmities been forgiven?
To find out, I interviewed Kelechi Anyanwu (pen name Kelechi Deca) an Igbo journalist with special focus on Africa’s development, and accreditations from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank Group, African Development Bank Group and African Union. A graduate of the University of Nigeria Nsukka, he has worked extensively on the history, culture, and traditions of the Igbo people.
Can you tell me how your own family, friends, and village or city was involved with the war?
I am from Ezinihitte Mbaise, Local Government area of Imo State, my family lost two members during the war. One was conscripted as a soldier at the age of 21; the other was a lady who died as a result of shrapnel from shelling by the Nigerian artillery. I have not heard of a family that came out of the war fully intact without losing one or two members. The famine as a result of the food blockade affected my family too, three young people suffered from Kwashiokor, one never recovered fully - she developed mental problems after the war as a result of the after effects.
What were the main reasons for Biafra’s attempt at secession in 1967-1970?
Igbo people believed that their continued existence in Nigeria was threatened - that their lives and property were not protected, as exemplified by killings of Igbo people in other parts of Nigeria while the government did nothing. Igbo people lost trust in Nigeria, and the sincerity of Nigeria to protect them and other ethnicities in the Eastern Region of Nigeria. Also, the people of the Eastern Region felt that the resources being used to run Nigeria was majorly oil from their region, with other regions not contributing enough to the commonwealth.
Are the Igbo still angry at nations that helped Nigeria, like Britain, Russia, Egypt, the USA?
I wouldn’t say they are still angry but they have not stopped asking questions as to why the whole world seems to have conspired to obliterate the Igbo from the face of the earth. For example the Biafra War was in the thick of the Cold War, yet Britain worked seamlessly with Russia with the connivance of the United States government to destroy a relatively unarmed people whose only sin was that they tried to defend themselves against a blood-thirsty aggressor. The feeling among the Igbo was that the world conspired to stop the birth of a nation that was set to challenge the evils of colonialism and liberate the African continent. This also refers to the sitting-on-the-fence approach that France adopted. Igbo people believe that if France gave them full support, instead of piecemeal support, they would have won.
Do the Igbo have affection for the nations that recognized or helped them? Tanzania, Gabon? Cote d’Ivoire? Haiti?
Extremely. The majority of Igbo still see those countries as friendly nations. During the Haiti Earthquake, Igbo people felt very concerned. Many of the relief campaigns carried out for that cause were promoted by Igbo people. Aside from seeing Haiti as their kith and Kin, they see them as kindred nation. Gabon is like a second home to the Igbo, same affection is extended to Cote d’Ivoire and Tanzania.
I just read the novel Half a Yellow Sun - by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Is it a popular book in Igbo-Land?
It is a very popular book, but there are hundreds of other books about Biafra that have been written, what made Half of a Yellow Sun so popular was that it was published at a time when there is massive resurgence of pro-Biafran consciousness.
Is there freedom of speech to talk about the Biafra War today?
Yes, there is, especially among the young. Most of whom were not even born at the time. But it has not always been so; 20 to 30 years ago no one dared mention the name Biafra. All that has changed. There are various online groups, talk shows, lectures, and books on Biafra, even a guerrilla radio, called Radio Biafra.
Have opposing sides forgiven each other? Is there still tension between Igbo and Hausa (a Northern Nigerian tribe)? Between Igbo and other groups?
Biafra is like a scar on the palm. Other ethnic nationalities prefer it is just forgotten, but the Igbo still feel the pain of Biafra because they believe Nigeria has not done enough to assimilate the Igbo people. I do not think it has healed.
The Igbo want other ethnic nationalities to stop acts that delegitimize their pains and sufferings. They call for justice, especially for some acts that could pass as genocidal, and above all an apology from Nigeria. They believe that until these issues are looked into the pains of Biafra may not heal.
Igbo also do not feel included in Nigerian politics. They have been singing the marginalization song.
Do many Igbo still wish to have a separate nation? Are there Igbo who still wish for secession?
Yes there are, mostly the younger people. They feel frustrated by Nigeria and strongly believe that Nigeria is holding them down. They openly call for secession, and in some Igbo villages, you easily see flags of Biafra hanging from tall structures, and young people wearing T-shirts with the Biafra emblem on it.
Which way for Biafra?
By Clement Udegbe
Since the pogrom against Ndigbo of 1966, that led to the the declaration of the Republic of Biafra among the South Easterners of Nigeria , and the subsequent civil war, from 1967 to 1970, in which Biafrans were defeated, many do not know what to do with the name Biafra, which was drawn from the Bight of Biafra at the South of the Atlantic Ocean.
Most war veterans from the Nigeria side, especially the leaders treat everything about Biafra with ignominy, disdain, and repulsion. Out of pride and arrogance, they wish the name was crushed out of existence.
They forget , that over One million lives were lost in that war majorly through famine, and hunger; that over four African nations, and four nations in Europe recognised Biafra, within its two and half years of existence, that Ndigbo, are a people that show and carry love for humanity, everywhere they go; that Igbos are making their contributions to the building of a virile Nigerian nation in spite of and against all odds; that you can never kill love, for God is love; and that their poor handling of the case of Biafra is a major scar on the conscience of this nation, among other scars, which include the poor handling of Biafran war veterans, retirees, and pensioners of Nigeria, our Prison and police cells.
The only preserved relics of that civil war, can be found in the wretched, poorly maintained war museum in Umuahia. Till date many Biafran war veterans are yet to be paid their disengagement allowances and other entitlements 43 years after, and that is not a big surprise in a nation where even now, military pensioners still queue, and slump on queues for their pension stipends. If those who fought and won the civil war, and those who fight to keep Nigeria safe today still beg for their entitlements, Biafrans who lost the war, ought to learn, and look for a better solution to their predicaments.
The Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB, have consistently employed very non-violent methods to keep the name Biafra, and the quest for justice, equity, peace and unity of the Igbo man in Nigeria alive.
They have resuscitated the Biafran Pounds across some Nigerian Borders, organised serious protest marches and rallies, which the Federal Government find embarrassing and typically, MASSOB have been visited with arrests, extra judicial killings, harassments, and all manners of suppressive actions, which have not solved the problem. The latest development in the Biafra story, is the Radio Biafra, which has given the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission, NBC, sleepless nights.
I have not tuned to that radio, but those who have listened to it, say it spreads hate and bad language, against the Nigerian state, while also carrying news worthy items on the realities of the Igbo man in Nigeria.
The radio is quite popular among Igbo youths, and the problem is that most of these youths never saw or fought the war, they did not see kwasiokor, Ogbunigwe, air raids, army camps, bedbugs, and the likes, they never lived on rodents, and reptiles as a source for protein. All they know about that war experience is from books, and the social media, and thus,may also not realise that a pharaoh who did not know Joseph is in on the throne.
President Muhammadu Buhari, PMB, was reported to have told his audience during his recent trip to America that his government will be more favourably disposed to help those who voted massively for him, than those who did not. There is no problem with such a comment because it is exactly what politicians in Nigeria do, hence some argue that Igbos made the mistake of voting massively for former President Jonathan during the last elections.
It is realistic to expect a tilt against Ndigbo under this government, no matter what, and it will be a pleasant surprise if PMB did otherwise. Although we now hear that PMB was quoted out of context or wrongly, we will wait for time to tell.
Biafrans should now stand on the awareness created and the messages passed to turn things around for themselves.
The supporters of MASSOB, and Ndigbo in general, in Nigeria and in the diaspora should take the message to the next positive level in the best interest of Ndigbo. Rather than focus on the negativities, and fighting governments, MASSOB, Biafrans, and Ndigbo should harness all the energy and resources to look more inwards in order to turn Igbo land into that dream place for every person.
Their first assignment will be to hold our leaders in Igbo land responsible, by devising ways and means to challenge the present governors, and to make governance very hard and difficult for all thieves, and corrupt persons in our land. Information should be compiled on all past and present leaders, with the view of denying them access to governance where they have stolen the common wealth of Ndigbo in any way.
For example, a list of corrupt and stupendously rich governors making waves in the social media include some Igbo governors, and MASSOB should take such men to task, by organising to prosecute them now or soon after they lose their immunity. MASSOB should be in the fore front of the fight against corruption and kidnapping in Igbo Land.
Second, a master plan for rail and road transportation that will cover the entire Igbo land should be produced, in addition to Carbohydrate and protein supply plan for the South East Zone.
Third, the Igbo States, should agree with some South South States, especially Delta and Bayelsa on the development of a commercially viable deep sea port to augment Port Harcourt and Calabar Ports and to reduce the drudgery, risks and blackmail from importation through Lagos Ports.
The general attitude of an average Biafran should be to develop Igbo land and its environs first and as matter of urgent priority, with or without the oil money from federal government. Should this not be the way Biafra should go ?
Mr Clement Udegbe, a legal practitioner, wrote from Lagos.
BY CHIDI OBINECHE ON NOVEMBER 2, 2014TRENDING
The end plot, blackmail and intrigues
In Nigeria’s military circles, the name Joe Achuzia reverberates. Not only did he earn epaulettes for his activities and command positions, he also bagged the acronyms ‘Air raid’ and’ Hannibal’. Now in the twilight of his odyssey, Achuzia recounts vividly the minutest details of the prosecution of the Nigeria-Biafra civil war that ended 44 years ago, and lends his experienced voice to the ongoing insurgency in some parts of the North. In a parallax twist to the pervading notion of how the war ended, he insists that providence bestowed on him the honour of ending it “on a happy note”. He reels out snippets of his war memoirs Requiem Biafra, written during his seven years post-war detention in Katsina prisons, his regrets, heroes, and future plans.
Most importantly he says “The activities on the opposite side were more intense than the ones that were published. But most importantly, I need to tell how the war ended, because none of my people has ever asked “how did the war end?” No war has ever ended the way the Nigerian civil war ended.” Despite the strains and his tribulations, the war veteran is ever ready, even at his age to go back to the battle field if the need arises. He reveals for the first time that the oft-touted foreign military training for officers and men of the Nigerian Armed Forces failed all the combatants during the war, and they had to resort to their home grown ingenuity and tactics. He gives reasons why Boko Haram insurgency took roots, accusing government of double standards in allowing sharia and at the same time enforcing western education. He speaks on other key national issues ranging from the alleged ceding of presidential powers by Goodluck Jonathan, military court martials, to the need for Jonathan to purge his government of moles before the battle against insurgency will be won. Excerpts:
I want to start with Nigeria at war. You were an active participant in the first civil war. Nigeria is contending with insurgency in some parts of the North. Apart from religious motives, what other things do you think could be behind the insurgency, and how best can it be put down?
I couldn’t really understand, what you meant by first war. As of now, other than the first, (1967 – 1970) civil war, Nigeria has not faced another war, except the insurgency which has always been restricted to a particular Local Government Area in time. What you call a civil war is when a section of the country, either a state or within the Nigerian zonal arrangement, decides to oppose the authority of the Nigerian government to exercise its authority over those states or zones. Then, Nigeria in an attempt to assert its authority will embark on a war which will entail civil strife at the Local Government or zone, or any of the groups involved. So far, I haven’t seen anything of such nature. The only problem we have been facing in the country is a sectarian problem, which means that religion has been the bane of the country’s present civil strife. Rather, it is economic, accentuated by what happened in the Niger Delta area when organizations like MEND, and so on decided that they were not having enough share of the cake, and for that reason they decided to disrupt the line of distribution to save the area that lays the golden egg. That automatically also brought the Federal Government to the base of resistance. These are what we have been having, but no civil war.
Initially, it was believed that the whole affair began as an insurgency. But it has since transformed into a full scale war with the amassing and deployment of sophisticated weapons and all rudiments of warfare.
You see, war doesn’t declare itself. It is human beings that declare war. As of now, the insurgent group hasn’t declared war. But they have declared their intention of Islamizing the area they are operating in . In other words, what they are saying is that those who don’t go with their beliefs should get out from the area. So, if as a Christian, I am expected to have an interest in what they are saying, they should come openly and say so, economically, socially, spiritually, and otherwise, that everybody should clear away from the stated areas because it belongs to them. Then, our government must not continue to vacillate over their pronouncements. If the government says these people are challenging us; here is a foreign group claiming territorial rights over our land, then we will all rise to the occasion and do something about it. But not when a government says that in a particular Local Government, some people have been behaving improperly, and at the same time killing people, declaring their religious intentions. This is not the first time that this has happened. Maitatsine did it. Other groups tried it; all in the name of Allah, and in the name of Islamic religion. Usually in the past, why we have not been able to know the enormity of the threat was because there had always been a Muslim northern leader at the helm of affairs. How they managed to curb it, I can’t tell you, because I am not of their religious persuasion. So, I don’t know what they say in their mosques. But in this instance, it is a different ball game. The person at the helm of affairs is not a Muslim, not a northerner, and worst of all, he is one of the tiniest minorities in the South. Before his ascension to power, threats were made, that they will make the country ungovernable for him. Threats were made that under no condition must there be peace in the country unless he abdicates, or resigns his position. So, what we are seeing is just the same old religious troubles that we have been facing for a long time. Muslims are not prepared to accommodate Christians, and we only pay lips service to the secular nature of the country, especially from the Islamic end. Islam is a religion. But it is a religion that has certain tenets that you can’t deny them. They are in a Jihad. Jihad is what you call a war clarion call for islamization, and as long as that call is there, and they haven’t revoked it, it doesn’t matter the time span. It can be ten years, twenty years, hundred years. Immediately they gain ascendancy over population, they continue the Jihad. That’s my understanding of what is going on.
As a war veteran and old soldier, what do you suggest that will put the insurgency down which has not been done?
I can only state from what I hear the government proclaiming, and what I read in the papers. At one time, the government took it as mere insurgency; a declaration of interest. But they forgot that what the present group is saying is not a new request. They first made their request when they said they wanted a different criminal code, which they termed sharia. When you proclaim a different justice code in a country that is secular which has always had a democratic system, and it was not challenged, I repeat, not challenged, and it automatically became law, that’s the time islamization took roots in the country. If you noticed, Boko Haram is not asking for Islamization of any other place, except those seven so called sharia states. For us to be opposing what they are requesting, to me, seems a double standard. Why should we accord them the right of sharia, and then refuse to give them the right to choose what educational system they should have? So for me, government should allow them to continue their Islamic education within that territory, and withdraw western education from those areas. These things are within stated Local Government Areas, based on the steps that the government has taken. They declared state of emergency only within local government areas.
This is the first time I am seeing state of emergency declared on Local Government Areas basis, instead of on state basis. You can now have a governor who cannot handle his state stay on seat, while fighting some sections of his state in the local governments. The people are interwoven. Because, you drew a line on paper and called it local governments doesn’t mean separation of peoples economic interest. They are all the same group of people. People in that Local Government Area, where you declared a state of emergency can filter into the area where there is no state of emergency. How do you handle that? And they call it guerrilla warfare. What sort of guerilla warfare?. When have you ever seen guerrilla warfare being fought with armoured vehicles, helicopter gunships, tanks, anti-aircraft weapons and so on? No! The government hasn’t really interpreted what is going on.
Within the system, everything is skewed against the present leadership. Those around him, one cannot vouch for their stand. Whether they are moles within the system from the others side we don’t know. So, a lot of purge has to take place first, before you start thinking of how to fight the present insurgency.
So, victory is far-fetched because of the leged moles in the system?
Yes, because of the alleged moles in the system. You cannot, I repeat, you cannot be fighting an enemy with the enemy inside your home. First, you purge your home, then move out to confront the enemy. This has not been done. And I believe that these moles in the system are well known. They are identifiable. But the reason why the top hierarchy cannot, or will not tell us who these people are is best known to them.
Usually in a war, there are always heroes. Right now, having fought the war for almost three years now, there is no striking name or hero on both sides. What is responsible for this?
What is responsible is what you tried to push aside – the religious divide. We are gradually coming near it. An Australian, tried to hit at the truth. But in trying to do so, he tried to balance the equation, by picking a key name from another religious divide, and saying to us, you look at it, and sort out what’s wrong. The names mentioned are not the issue. The issue is what is the connecting link between the two?. The connecting link is their religious persuasion. Here we have a military hero, retired, being accused, while at the same time, a known person within the system of Boko Haram, an ex-governor of that particular state that is in the theatre of the hostilities being accused. And that particular ex-governor has made statements of how he came to know about this organization, how he participated, and the level of his participation. When it seems now that the issue of Gen Ihejirika doesn’t seem to hold water, what is the next step? They choreographed another system, which they call the $9.7m project in South Africa.
First, I ask, whose authority do you need to purchase weapons? One authority is presidential authority. And that presidential authority must proceed from the President. But looking back, I realize that something happened some months ago, when the system in the ministry of defense changed. Before the present minister came on board, he made certain demands from the President, that the authority the president has over the ministry of defense and the Armed Forces must be yielded to him. He said that was the condition under which he will agree to take up that position.
The president did not tell us whether he surrendered those powers, because that is the only thing I can project my mind to. If those powers had been surrendered as was requested, then people should stop looking at the presidency. They should go now to the ministry of defense to find out who ordered the arms deal. Because it was a presidential order, it is only the person who has the authority to exercise it, that can give the order for clandestine purchase of military equipment. If that is the case, then you must ask, why must he choose the following people – two non-Muslim Nigerians and one Israeli. What do you accredit these to? You are crediting this to the Igbo group, who call themselves the Zionist group in Nigeria, and Christians. Even the so-called traditional religion doesn’t seem to hold sway anymore in the Eastern Nigeria. So, here, everything concerning that $9.7m is tied to the South East. They tied it to the South East, and hung it over the neck of the president because of presidential powers needed to order those weapons,
So I said no, go back and find out from the presidency, if he has ceded those powers which was requested to the present defense minister. That is where your answers will come from. And then, that will show you how much powers the president is exercising over the release of Chibok girls, over the troops, in the extreme northern end of Borno who are now claiming themselves to be an Islamic state. It all boils down to one thing – religious divide. You cannot call what is going on at the moment, a civil war. It becomes a civil war if we bring it to the level of understanding that it is Islam versus Christianity, which I don’t believe has reached that stage, because most of the leaders in the North, who are Muslims don’t even understand what is meant by Jihad. They read it, gloss over it in the usual educated perception. Why do Muslims who did not bother about western education consider themselves professors and Alhajis, and doctors. Under this system, what sort of social organization are you trying to throw up? Our norms are different from their norms. The way they look at things is not the way you and I look at things.
Are you saying in effect that the country should break up along these enunciated lines?
If you look globally, you will find out that the trouble facing the world at the moment is this issue of spiritual understanding. In Europe it is there, in India the Muslims could not agree with the Hindus, hence the divide. The Pakistanis pulled away from India. And within the same situation, all over the world, even in Central African Republic today, there is religious problem. In Sudan, there is religious problem. Then you go to people of the same religious group, the same problem still exists. Sunnis versus the others. They are all Muslims, but they don’t believe that the other side is doing the right thing. It is their spiritual perception of looking at things.
I want to take you back to the Nigerian civil war. You were an active participant. Do you have any regrets?
Nobody likes a war, because there are lots of acts of criminalities that take place in a war situation. I didn’t like almost every aspect of the war. First, it deprived me of my God-given opportunities to develop the way I wanted my life to develop. But in terms of fighting in defense of my people, I have no regrets. If the same situation occurs again, I will do the same thing again. That being the case, I always marvel when people ask me if there’s any aspect that I regret. No. The only regret I have is the opportunity deprived me to develop my life the way I had planned it.
Some soldiers are being court martialed for mutiny and there have been calls for their pardon. As a soldier, how do you take in this?
The military is completely divorced from the normal peaceful way of existence. They have sets rules. They live within their own constitution. And for anybody to decide to join the military means that person must be prepared to obey the rules and conditions tenable within that system. And you cannot deny them their rights to exist the way they are planned. The military was set up purposely to defend the territorial integrity of the country of their birth. And to do this, means to be prepared to sacrifice their lives at the expense of every other thing, in defense of their country. To do this, you must have stringent laws that must instill enough fear within them. You either obey their law, by doing what you are asked to do, or you disobey and pay the penalty ascribed to disobedience towards that particular section of the law.
Any soldier that goes against the authority of his superiors in a battle situation must face court martial, and the pronouncements and decisions of that court martial, once upheld by the higher powers must be carried out. I am not one of those that will look at it and say please forgive them. Then we are no more in a war situation. With one hand you are saying we are out in a total war against Boko Haram, then with the other hand you are saying we are not at war. What exactly is the situation? If we are at war, then a war situation has been declared. Those soldiers that go against the situations that exist must face the consequences of their action. That’s the way I see it.
Can you compare the soldiers of your days and those of today?
You must realize that the soldiers we have now, most of them were not even five years old before the war ended. So the standard that we had is not the same standard that they are having. They are paying the same penalty which faced us, but we were able to overcome. The penalty that faced us had been in the system for a long time. No country imports security, just as no country exports technology. You cannot export your security system, nor export your technology. This is the reason why sending people abroad to go for a six months course, a nine months course on security, doesn’t yield any result. I remember Mons, Sandhurst, and so on. The papers and textbooks given to people from the colonies and foreigners are different from those with which they teach their people. But at the end, you are issued the same certificates as their own people. They don’t care because you are not staying with them. You are going away. But when we come back home, nobody tells the truth, nobody says look, this is what I have seen; what do we do about it? It took the civil war to separate the wheat from the chaff. It was then that we realized that what we had been seeing, rarely happens with us in real life. The type of preparedness we were equipped with to handle units, we were trying to apply them during the civil war, they didn’t work. So, we had to resort to our own ingenuity and alter the system for us to start getting results. When the war ended, Nigeria did not capitalize on its war experiences. Instead they tried to wish it away. They tried to kill it as if it is non- existent. Now, they are facing internal disorder, and they don’t know how to handle it.
They are asking Europe to come and handle the situation. They are asking America to come, asking China to come. Didn’t these people have the same challenges in their countries and overcame them? No, Nigeria hasn’t learnt any lessons yet. The perception that this insurgency will end in a week, in a month, in a year is wrong. The only time I foresee this thing stepping down a bit is, if the President, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, vacates that seat, either in this 2014, or early in 2015. Any attempt to proceed beyond that will automatically provoke an intensity of what is going on, and I don’t think this country can survive that.
Are you saying that the President should vacate office for peace to reign?
Looking at it from the point of view of a Muslim, the way a dedicated Muslim will see it, my answer will be yes. But looking at it from my own standpoint as a Christian and a Nigerian, my answer is no. He should stay, exercise the authority given to him by the constitution as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed forces, remove it from whoever he has given it to, because he has no right, authority or mandate from the Nigerian people to cede any section of his powers to anybody. He can delegate, while holding control, but not to relinquish. This is only the beginning of a loss of authority.
Let’s look back to the civil war of 1967 – 1970. Who would you proclaim as the hero of that war?
We have different sets of rules in the military. Any military commander or leader expects good results from his subordinates, and the way you assess them is based on results. If you are assigned a sector, that sector has certain objectives that it must achieve. There are two ways of doing it. There are commanders who are sit down tight commanders. There are commanders who are even reckless in their attempts to achieve their objectives. There are commanders who have no other intention than looting while the process of fighting is going on. A leader that assigns responsibilities, assesses his men, officers, his top commanders based on these rules. Now, you asked a question.
I wouldn’t call it a role model, because a role model presupposes that such a situation had occurred before, and so- so person excelled. And one starts aspiring to be like that person. In this instance, there was no role model, but there were people who exhibited talents, ingenuity. If you ask me, I will say Murtala Mohammed was number one. He tried to put into practice the rules of the game; hence he consistently felt that he must cross the Niger where the bridge is at Asaba. First attempt he failed; second attempt he failed, third attempt he failed, before he accepted to join his colleagues on the other side, and from that side continued the offensive towards the objective. But his stubbornness cost him his command.
It cost him his command because he refused to do what he did last; which was the advice they gave him when he failed the first time. He was applying his knowledge according to the books. Then, the next person is Big Gen Benjamin Adekunle who died lately. Since the war ended, I had met him several times. But it’s a pity that the same authority that appointed him was the same authority that destroyed him. Adekunle was removed from the front because of his stubbornness. Part of his stubbornness wasn’t disobeying orders, but because he refused to sacrifice his men to the incompetence of other commands when he was requested to supply certain number of troops to another command that was heavily pressed.
He claimed that he supplied the first, and they could not account for the men he sent. He was asked to send again. He did. The third time, he refused. He was withdrawn and Obasanjo was sent to take over. Then, coming to the Northern side, there were two good commanders. The first was Gen Mohammed Shuwa.
He was a systematic go- by- the- rules commander. In other words, he was applying the best rules as he understood them from his courses abroad, in England. The next person was the person who took over from him Gen I.D Bisalla. But Bisalla, notwithstanding his slow movement, did well. Well, we know he paid a penalty at the end of the war.
What do you mean by slow movement?
The slow movement was that he could have continued the pace which was set by Shuwa, when they had reached Enugu and moved faster. Instead, they got all the way to Awka and got bogged down, where Bisalla took over with…..ehm……ehm… T.Y Danjuma. If they had moved faster, they didn’t need the coming in of Murtala Mohammed for them to move forward all the way to Abagana. They could have gone beyond that. These are what I may call the various levels of command abilities I could point out on their side.
Since the end of the war, have you met your former colleagues in the Nigerian Army? What did they tell you when you met them?
Yes, I have met them. We exchanged greetings. I used to visit Adekunle in his home at Surulere. I visited Obasanjo at his Otta house, and also at the presidential villa when he was the president. I have been with Danjuma at the Port- Harcourt polo club. I have flown in his private jet with him. Bisalla, I met twice when he was in charge of the defense headquarters in Lagos, before he faced the military tribunal after the Dimka saga. Shuwa, I met twice, and also when I was launching my book, Requiem Biafra at the polo club in Lagos. I have been a member of the Lagos Polo Club and did the launching of my book at the club. I have met most of them. No animosity. No ill feelings.
None tongue-lashed you for abandoning them in Nigeria to join the Biafra forces?
We joked over the whole exercise. You see, we were not fighting out of hatred for one another. No. There was no hatred. We were only exerting our professional abilities.
Can you recall a day during the war that actually touched you, a memorable day?
A memorable day? Everyday of the war is a memorable day to me, because from day one to the end, I remained an active participant. Looking back, I can visualize the events that took place everyday. They reel out in my mind as if I’m reading a book. So, it’s difficult for me to single out a particular day, except one when one of my commanders, a major came to me and requested that I give him leave of absence to go and get married. I looked at him and said come; repeat what you said.
He saluted and repeated the same request. Then I asked him, “where do you think you are? What do you think we are doing?” He said his people had been pressing him to get married before going into operation again. I said I see. Major Iheme Ekwula, left to me, I will deny your request. But the rules are set out clearly. I will grant you 48 hours leave. So, he left, and got married. We moved the next day into operation heading for Nsukka. As we took over Nsukka again that evening, he was shot. He died. I wept for him, because as far as I was concerned, that marriage killed him, not the bullet.
You wrote Requiem Biafra, which I believe is an analysis of the events of the period. Is it not ripe to do another work, re-adapted as “Requiem Nigeria,” going by today’s sad events?
You see, the portion of Requiem Biafra that was printed was part of a manuscript that I wrote when I was in detention for seven years in Katsina prison after the war. I wrote it because I didn’t believe I will come out of that detention. I wanted it to be published, after I’m gone. I thought that people should know the role that I played, instead of some false roles ascribed to me. When I came out, people said let’s publish part of it, and then you can conclude the rest. Hence, the rest has not been published.
While the rest needs to be published is because the activities on the opposite side are more intense than the activities on the other side. The activities on the opposite side were more intense than the ones that were published. But most importantly, I need to tell how the war ended, because none of my people has ever asked, “how did the war end?” No war has ever ended the way the Nigerian civil war ended. The Nigerian civil war ended on a no winner, no vanquished note. But we are now ascribing different intentions to the no winner, no vanquished motive. There was a reason why it was no winner, no vanquished. The war ended on a Biafran radio announcement starting on the 11th of January, 1970 by 10.00am in the morning, that soldiers should lay down their arms, that emissaries had been sent to the various field commanders of the Biafran army, and within a few hours, a proper broadcast would be made about the end. Both the Nigerian Army, and the Biafran Army stopped shooting.
And from then on, situations were packaged that brought Obasanjo’s group, and my group to Owerri, where we sat down, had a good dinner, merriments and that was the end. Biafran soldiers carried their weapons home, Nigerian soldiers carried their weapons home.
Nobody heard about exchange of prisoners or anything. It ended on a happy note. But you see, for the issue of the civil war to be in the past, you have to know how it ended. Who ended it? How was it ended?
Who ended the war?
I ended it.
You ended the war? How did you do it?
This was based on request by our elders in the Biafran Exco, who immediately Ojukwu left, requested that the war must end, or else they will no more contribute towards the upkeep of the Biafra Army.
You were the one Ojukwu handed over to?
No. I was the one Ojukwu told to look after the Biafra Army while he was leaving.
Not Gen Phillip Effiong or Gen Madiebo?
No. Phillip Effiong was to represent him as head of state. I requested that he took Gen Madiebo along, because Madiebo cannot be there while he was asking me to take over the Biafra Army. So, he took Madiebo along with him.
Do you like the name air raid?
Nobody likes any acronym ascribed to him by his subordinates. But as time goes on, it clings on you and there is nothing you can do about it. I don’t know why I was called air raid neither do I know why I was called Hannibal (laughs)
Could it be because of your bravery?
I don’t know. Other officers were equally brave, because in a war situation, it takes human lives to keep an area free from enemy incursion. That’s why I say military rules must be obeyed. The army must be allowed to do what they know best. When soldiers go on mutiny, they should be court martialled, because every soldier knew that before joining the Army.
Biafra did not surrender – Achuzia
Posted on Nation By: Edozie Udezeon: August 11, 2015
Col. Joe Achuzia was one of the major figures that held Biafra together while the Nigerian Civil war lasted. He commanded almost all the major sectors in the Biafran Army and also ensured that discipline was enforced throughout the duration of the war. Before the war ended, he was in charge of operations in the whole enclave called Biafra. This position made it possible for him to begin the necessary overtures to end the war. While Ojukwu was away, he took over control of the forces and then made the appropriate contacts to bring the war to an end. In this interview with Edozie Udeze, he debunks some of the claims made by Gen. Alabi Isama and Gen. Alani Akinrinade in their recent interviews.
Gen. Alabi Isama in his latest book on the war alleged that Mid-western officers were alienated. Is it really true that as the Commander-in-Chief of the Biafran Armed Forces, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, did not trust some of the Midwestern Igbo officers while the war lasted?
It is not true. Why I say it is not true is that for Biafra to have lasted so long, it was as a result of the efforts of the Mid-western officers. This was because Biafra was really being hard pushed until the mid-west operation began.
And the Midwest officers that were supposed to go across, Alabi-Isama was one of them. Even then my own journey into the mid west when Banjo crossed into Mid west, Alabi too was one of those that I contacted. But somewhere along the line, after our meeting, after we gave him some instructions to follow across, Alabi defected. And he didn’t come back. So, for him to say that Ojukwu didn’t like some Mid west officers couldn’t be true. This was so because it was the Mid-west officers, all the way to the lower ranks, that really held Murtala from crossing over the bridge thereby entering Biafra.
This was when Murtala started his so-called operation to cross the Niger. It was mid western officers who fought and sustained the momentum. These were the 52 and 57 brigades that are also manned by the Mid west officers. It is unfortunate that many people from hindsight now after over 40 years of the war are writing books on the war. This is an after-thought after having read over other people’s works on the war, reading newspaper comments and other people’s statements and interviewing people. Now, they have got themselves in the position as being authority on the war.
I wouldn’t take Alabi’s document as a serious one. The only aspect of his statement that really deserves comment and which shows his inability to appreciate the war situation and reporting it as it were, was his reporting what did not happen in his presence. He talked about the end of the war, mentioning the participants. He is not in the position to say what he said about the end of the war. He wasn’t there.
The first person who was there was General Alani Akinrinade. Also Tomoye. Then Tomoye was not a substantive colonel. The command that reached Orlu was Tomoye’s command. And it was Tomoye’s officer that my men and in a night operation and captured them that made it possible for me to take the step I took by declaring that everybody should lay down their arms. Then I said we could be announcing it until I was able to bring Akinrinade into my headquarters. The narrative by Alabi shows ignorance of what happened that day. That’s what I can say about that. The only person that many a time I look at and say let sleeping dogs lie is General Akinrinade. This was because of his behaviour from the moment we met was officer-like.
And he conducted himself in a way that endeared him to me that up till date, we are still friends. Alabi, however, was right in one thing that the war had already ended before General Obasanjo came into the picture. And he came on the scene after I allowed General Akinrinade to make a call to him. And he told him that if he didn’t come, he might stand to lose his officers who were under my control then. When Akinrinade came, he came with only a few soldiers. We met at Orlu, I didn’t go to Owerri to look for any of them.
Now, we told Tomoye to phone him because Tomoye stood to lose all his officers and in Brigade they ventured into our territory near Orlu.
We assured Tomoye that we had already started to take steps to bring the war to an end. His officers that were collected were already deposited near my office in Igbo-ukwu. As a result, it wasn’t proper for me to claim that I went to Owerri looking for who to surrender to. Surrender who or what to who? After all, it was in my house while discussing with Akinrinade that we decided that in that instance we were bringing the war to an end. There was indeed no winner, no vanquished. The war had deteriorated into a state of stalemate, whereby we were trading one bullet for another.
By this time our men were crisis-crossing the war front because both the Nigerian soldiers and our soldiers were tired of the whole thing; the whole episode.
Could you please elaborate more on the last days of the war?
Let me also elaborate more on the events of the last days…
I read in the internet Akinrinade’s rejoinder. So I asked for it to be printed out. Akinrinade is the last person I expected to sanction what Alabi-Isama wrote or said about the end of the war. Isama wasn’t there. Akinrinade was there. Tomoye was there. The rest were just junior officers. Those collected that night of 11th were junior officers and they were in charge of a battalion which made it possible for us to move. It was almost a disaster. We could have capitalised on it but we were on the quest to bring the war to an end. Hence, we detained them at the DMI office in Igbo-ukwu, got them to send a message to their commander, Tomoye. Tomoye replied that he would contact Owerri. The officer at Owerri tactical headquarters, Col. Oni who replied that Obasanjo said he would send his chief-of-staff, Akinrinade, to come and negotiate with us.
That was how Akinrinade came to the scene. And we asked when would this be? He said that myself and himself should meet at Orlu. Hence, I left, heading to Orlu with my own escort, while he was coming with his own escort. We met at Orlu, greeted one another and I asked that he follows me to Igbo-ukwu. If it was a war situation and they had the advantage they would have arrested me and held me hostage. But we were already holding their men hostage. That was how we came to my home and I am glad that Alabi confirmed that because Akinrinade told him.
So, I had to do what I did because I was in full control of the situation. There was no way Akinrinade could have reached me in a hostile manner. I was the one who would have shown hostility but my mission was to bring the war to an end.
I would have handed over to Bisala. Bisala’s men were at Awka, which as you know, is closer to my headquarters. When we concluded no winner, no vanquished affair with Obasanjo, treachery came into it. While we were all celebrating at Owerri, Obasanjo came to me and said whether he could talk to General Effiong and I said yes. Anything? He said no, just to discuss for old time sake. And I said okay, you can go ahead with him.
So, they went out to discuss. It was Col. Anwuna who called my attention and said why did you allow Effiong and Obasanjo to meet alone and I said well, they are old friends. He said no, you better intervene. Obasanjo said ah, I am not eating your officer; we were just talking about old times. But the damage had already been done. On our way back to Uga, because that was where we took off from, it was then that Effiong told me and the rest of the people that he had promised Obasanjo that we would be going to Lagos to see Gowon. I said no, you don’t play a record we didn’t participate in crafting. He said it was necessary that we senior officers go with him; that they would provide the flight so that we and Gowon could see, that he had the final say for them. I said okay if we must go, all of you must go and put on your uniforms. Then he turned around and told me he also promised him we should go in mufty. So, I said in that case, I will not go. That was why I wasn’t in the entourage that went to Lagos. He said that it was important that I should go; that he even mentioned the names of the officers to go. I said, I will not go, I will not leave my troops undefended.
Col. Ogunewe, he was of the same stature with me, said please colonel you have done so much. Give me your French suit, we are of the same size.
So, he went in my place and that was why he was part of the team. I escorted them all the way to Owerri with reinforced company of soldiers. When we got to Owerri, Obasanjo and his men, with Col. Oni took over. They left from Port Harcourt. Instead, as they left from Port Harcourt, I continued with my company of soldiers all the way to Port Harcourt. Akinrinade will attest to this.
When we got to Port Harcourt, I reported to Col. Oluleye who was the war commander. We booked in at the Presidential Hotel with my men surrounding me. It was in the morning, they had gone to Lagos, finished and Obasanjo brought them back and I was quite sure Obasanjo was monitoring what was happening and had been told by Akinrinade that I was in Port Harcourt with my troops. So, he arrived early hours in the morning with Effiong and the rest and they left for Owerri. Then he sent Akinrinade to call me. He came to the hotel and told me that Obasanjo was back and wanted to see me.
I went with my troops to Owerri and we met and greeted. So, he said to me, was there any need for me to come with my troops?. And I said no. it was necessary for me because it was the cream of my men that you collected. Then we saluted and they escorted me across the Imo River at Owerri Nta. From there, I proceeded back to my home. Now, is that the position of a defeated army? If they want us to tell the truth about what happened, we’ll tell the truth. But for a group of people trying to make it look as if Biafra looked like a lily-livered army or a rag-tag army, no. No rag-tag army at all could hold a well-equipped army like Nigerian army to ransom for three years.
The only thing, I repeat, is that the ground strategy adopted by Biafra made it possible for Nigeria to remain till today.
In the face of all this, how did you warm your way into Ojukwu’s heart to become his favourite among other officers from the Mid-west?
I don’t know about being anybody’s favourite. All I know is that each time Ojukwu gave me order I obeyed it. That people consider me his favourite, well why should a commander-in-chief, have a favourite? All his officers were his favourites. For anybody to consider himself not to be a favourite of the commander-in-chief he must have been harbouring some disloyalty attitude in his mind towards the commander-in-chief.
But was Alabi-Isama fighting on the side of Biafra initially?
No! He was one of the Mid-west officers in Benin. He was in Benin at the beginning.
Now, let us look at another issue. Is it really correct to assert that while the federal troops had prisoners of war, Biafran soldiers were busy killing indiscriminately?
Let me ask you, when Nigeria claimed that they won the war, were there any exchange of prisoners of war? Because that would have been the situation. There wasn’t. By the time the matter got to Lagos to Gowon, the war had been over. It was more of war of attrition at a point and so as it was on the Federal side so it was on the Biafran side.
But why did you call for an end to the war when you did?
We did so because of the situation we found ourselves. Certain things were happening at the time which up till now we haven’t told our people. For instance, they said Ojukwu left because the war was closing in on him and the entire Biafra. That also is not true. We had several options then. One of the options was to break out of the Biafra enclave to cause confusion. But we had studiously maintained that we were not trying to create a civil war but we were still being attacked based on the perceived situation that brought about the pogrom.
Good enough, it was the pogrom that chased people out of the North. And when our people left the North, the pogrom continued and this made it impossible for our people to find relief in the West. There was no other alternative than to say, ‘to your tents oh Israel.’ So, our people left and came home. And even when organising the military defensive activity we still had it in mind that we couldn’t abandon a country we helped to build.
But we couldn’t in trying to maintain the status quo we helped to build allowed ourselves to be exterminated. No. Consequently, we retreated. By retreating, regrouping, we said we will not carry our military exploits beyond our shores. Otherwise, as it were, we had several options. Take a brigade and break into Nigeria and cause havoc. That would have made the war total, but instead under the counsel of our commander-in-chief and our elders, we maintained an operational balance.
It was for us to defend ourselves within our soil so that nobody could accuse us of either precipitating the war or as they try to accuse us that the coup was tailored against the North, an Igbo coup. If such a coup that had a universal acclaim could later change into an Igbo coup, what then would have happened if we had carried the war right into the North. The possibility was there and we didn’t do that.
But then when Igbo officers and men crossed into the West why were they not coordinated, allowing soldiers scatter into different directions?
No! No!! You see the war,… Every war produces certain actions and reactions. When it became clear after the second division of Nigerian army crossed over and attacked Biafra, we already heard that they were going to use the Mid-west whom we thought was the buffer zone between us and them. But the rampaging Nigerian army did not honour that. We were not prepared to allow them because once they did, it meant that they had three-quarters of the totality of the land in Nigeria. And that would have been very difficult for us.
We were also mindful of the fact that during the pogrom in the North, the majority of the soldiers as far as the North was concerned, Midwest was an Igbo land. It was in fact an afterthought when they tried to woo the Benins, the Urhobo’s and so on, forgetting that the Benins and Urhobos were some of those they killed during the pogrom.
So, ranging them against us by pacifying them as they did when they created Cross-River and Rivers States, it was not done to appease the North. No. it was done to range them against the Igbo people by telling them that they were sufficient to be on their own as states. And that they should not be an appendage of the Igbos. They even forgot that we could have done the same by moving into the North, bringing the Middlebelt against the Fulanis.
But we didn’t do that. So, that was what it was like.
Okay, were all these part of the blunders that prolonged the war?
Of course, yes. If we had played the game the way Nigeria played it, we would still be in the battle field today. But our people have a saying that the hen with so many chicks doesn’t know how to run in a battle situation.
At what point did the Biafran high command begin to consider some of the officers as saboteurs and what did it take one to be so considered?
In many war situations, the word sabotage is a constant and recurrent decimal. This is so because not all believe in the cause that brought about the war situation. People have different ideas and ideals. And some people, according to their belief, put themselves in the position where they were either the loyalists or considered anti-war efforts. This was what gave rise to the word saboteur. So it happens everywhere and it occurs everywhere.
You have nicknamed the Air Raid. How did this name come about?
Oh, no, no. I can’t continue to dwell on this.
But you’ve not told it to us before?
Okay, why I say so is that soldiers, especially in a conflict situation have the tendency for giving one name or the other to their officers, depending on the situation they find themselves. So, they did that when they wanted.
You didn’t start out as a commissioned officer, but rose to be a force to reckon with. How did it happen?
No, no. you see, people don’t seem to understand that soldiering is an art. Just like engineering or medicine, when a doctor is made to be so. You cannot just go into an operating room, pick up your instruments and begin to work, if you haven’t been trained. So also in a war situation. You cannot go into battle field and carry out all the norms necessary for an officer who had been trained over the years.
A civilian cannot plan war and execute war. It requires a trained military officer to confuse and configure the situation and operate. That is why many a time people say what they like and I don’t care. It doesn’t affect people like me; I am not interested. The situation occured within the purview of my duty and I operated just to show what I was trained for. After that I retired into a civilian life.
What really happened – did you actually kill Haliday, the owner of Silver Valley Hotel in the presence of his wife and daughter as alleged by General Alani Akinrinade?
That’s a lie. You see, when the war ended, Nigerian officers didn’t know what to do about me. First, they couldn’t reach me. Every effort made to kill me did not succeed. Haliday was a friend. My house, before the war started, was a stone’s throw from Chief Haliday’s house. If such a thing happened, why was it only at the end of the war that we started hearing that I was the one that killed him?
I commanded; I took over in Port Harcourt, when Port Harcourt was falling. And all that participated there will give testimony that I never picked a gun and shot him. I never picked my gun and shot at somebody. Why should I? I had soldiers who could do that. But instead, they tried to foist the death of Haliday on me. That exactly was what they’ve been saying; that I had been killing people indiscriminately while the war lasted. That also is not true. It took the way the war ended for most Biafrans to realise that it was really a lie that whenever I saw somebody I’d shoot. Shoot for what? For what purpose? And if that was the case, would I lay my life on the line to bring the war to an end? After all, the people who asked that the war be brought to an end are still alive. People like P.K. Nwokedi, a former justice of Enugu. Louis Mbanefo too. These were the people who came to my house and pleaded that I should try to stop the war.
Normally, I would have called for their arrest, because they were members of Biafran Exco. They were party to the last meeting we held with Ojukwu to ask Ojukwu to go to the conference that was to hold in Monrovia, Liberia. That conference was engineered by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe.
It was this meeting that we arranged laboriously for where Ojukwu could stay so that there won’t be any sabotage against us. Hence, Felix Houphet- Boigny was one of those that recognised Biafran efforts. And the French were also partially assisting us.
So, from Liberia, it was planned to move Ojukwu to Gabon and then to Ivory Coast. But we hadn’t settled down in Ivory Coast in readiness for the meeting when members of the EXco came requesting that I should bring the war to an end.
How come then you were the man everybody wanted to see to end the war?
I was the person in charge of operations. I was also visible. Yes, I was.
Do you think because the Yoruba officers were the ones that saw to the end of the war, it has caused any friction between them and the Igbo people?
No, because a day after my declaration, I started the announcement from 9a.m. Every 15 minutes, my broadcast was on. Sir Louis Mbanefo crafted the statement that we gave Philip Effiong to read. After it was read, it became necessary because in my broadcast, we said we had sent emissaries to various Nigerian military formations to inform them that we had decided to end the war.
It is only people with authority who could do that. Any army on the run will not make such statement. So, we did it on a friendly basis. Today Akin is still my friend. We meet from time to time. He visits me here too. No, it has not caused any friction at all.
Why was it possible for the Owerri battle front to be inclusive as it were?
First and foremost, to take over Owerri was impossible. Owerri is the heartland of the Igbo nation. The heart land of our domain. Enugu is our foremost town which was prepared by the colonial masters as an administrative headquarters. Just as Lagos is to the West, even though Ibadan was the heartland of the Yoruba. So, also in the North, they have Kaduna State, which now they have Abuja, even though they have Sokoto, Maiduguiri and those other places.
Nigeria is centered on a tripod, whichever way you push it, all that come to the surface are the Hausa nation, the Yoruba nation and the Igbo nation. Each of these nations has minorities. Today, all that people talk about are the minorities within the East, within the Igbo nation because of economic interest. If oil has not been the main source of income for the totality of Nigerians, nobody would care how the Ijaws, how the Itsekiris, the Ibibios, Kalabairis, the Efiks and so on, are faring. This is so because they’ve been in existence before the arrival of the Europeans.