By Mr Emma Okocha
A columnist at Dailysun Newspaper – He covers a column that titled: Blood On The Niger. A complete history of what happened before and after Biafran/Nigerian civil war.
His recent column titled: 50 years ago….. Ogbumedia was Igbo and Igbanke, Igbo Akiri
“From time immemorial, the people that are called Igbanke today were known and called Igbo-Akiri. It was in 1967 when Ogbemudia became the military governor of the Midwest State that he changed the name of the town from Igbo-Akiri to Igbanke…
It would have been unthinkable at that time to reveal that an Ibo man or an Ibo town produced the military governor of the Midwest State…. Ogbemudia, including the prominent Evangelist Rev. Isaac Idahosa, are all Ibo and they hail originally from Igbo Akiri.”
(See Blood On The Niger, Gomslam Books 2012 pages 33, 216)
Captain Fred Anuku, the Commander of the Biafran Navy was the first Nigerian naval graduate from Dartmouth. While his fellow Ika-Ibo Brigadier Samuel Ogbemudia joined the Federal troops, Fred, who was married to the Caribbean, fled Lagos during the 1966 Igbo pogrom and was offered the command of the fledging young Navy by the Biafran high command.
At the same time, Major Nzeogwu’s involvement on January 15, 1966, Revolution brought suspicion and calamity to his own people of Asaba, Okpanam and environs. As we prepare to organise a programme for the Anioma and Asaba 50th Year Genocide Anniversary, we shall today mention some of the top actors, commanders from the western Ibo nation of both forces whose roles led to the genocide in Asaba, Isheagu, Ogwashi, Igbodo, Ubulu Kingdom, Ibusa and Ndi Oshimili.
These prominent Commanders include Major Kaduna Nzeogwu, Col. Conrad Nwawo, Col. Joe Achuzia, and Captain Fred Anuku on the Biafran side. On the Nigerian side, we shall record the memorable activities of Brigadier Samuel Ogbemudia, General Godwin Alabi Isama, General Cyril Iweze and Commander O.Z. Chiazor, the first black man to be commissioned by the Queen in the Royal Canadian Navy.
Significantly, at this time, charismatic Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu had been released from the Calabar prison. He had disagreed with Ojukwu’s war aims and military strategy, and obviously discountenanced the declaration of Biafra. He advised that the East should resist for, at least, four months, cultivate foreign and local support and then prepare and get into the position with more arms and training to resist a total war.
He opposed any frontal engagements against the superior-armed federal troops at that initial stage of the war. At the 1967 Abakiliki military exercise, Nzeogwu demonstrated his extraordinary military acumen and proved beyond doubt that he was the Rommel of the Nigerian Army. A commander’s dream, endowed with a peculiar knowledge of the sub-savannah battlefield terrain, he exuded a rare combat capability and commanded the battle simulation with such confidence and precision that he drew tears of adulation from the awed subalterns.
He inspired most of the officers with his unmitigated improvisations. To most of the top brass of the Biafran Army, who were seeing the dawn of real combat action for the first time, this fighting leatherneck was a military institution all by himself, a study in combat readiness and tactics.
After his release from Calabar, Nzeogwu managed to reach his boys still in the Nigerian Army in the Midwest and in the West. The plan to enter the Midwest was originally his and that was his own way of setting a stage for the cessation of hostilities, an end to the war, and the restoration of the ideals of the January 15 Revolution.
To this end, he was disappointed by his friend, Major Olusegun Obasanjo whom he had not heard from and whom he learnt had gone back to Kaduna. On the other hand, he was confident in and had some respect for Major Samuel Ogbemudia, his colleague at the Nigeria Military Training College (NMTC), Kaduna.
Furthermore, Wole Soyinka revealed that the Westerners had agreed on the opposition against the North but also disagreed with Ojukwu on the declaration of Biafra, and for that matter, the declaration of Benin Republic. Declaration of Biafra, the Revolutionaries reasoned would isolate the Easterners and put the West and the Midwest in a bad position whereby sympathies from the West and the Midwest would end up being restrained.
They would do better fighting as Nigerians. Whatever was the final consensus, Ogbemudia turned tail. He was next heard of leading the triumphant entry of the Federal Forces into Benin.
Few days after the war, the Biafra Research and Production Bureau made two secret and instant contacts with the high command of the Nigerian Army. Willy Achukwu, the Onitsha-born multi-talented improvising scientist, led one team to the Commander of the 82 Division, Enugu. Before the meeting, a team of Biafran Scientists were directed to put down sketches of the scientific equipment, designs, take measurements of the weapons, guns.
A special house with good illumination was erected to keep safely all the Biafran designs and prototypes. They also produced a new Ajuala flying Ogbunigwe to supplement the ones produced at Awo Idemili. Research at this time resumed on what I might term the first world “Smart Bomb” was redesigned as the much-needed facilities and spare parts, lacking with the exigency of the war were becoming available after the war. (Pse., see Biafra, a Legacy Lost TELL Magazine Special Report No. 14 April 8, 2002. Page 37)
While Willy Achukwu led one group to the Commander 82 Division Enugu, Professor Ezekwe and Professor Nwosu went to Benin and handed over their Biafran scientific designs to Governor S.O. Ogbemudia. Ogbemudia raced to Lagos and desperately tried everything to convince General Gowon to seize the opportunity and convert that Biafran scientific ingenuity and like the Americans absorbed the German-Jewish war scientific breakthrough, and transform Nigeria to a modern powerful black nation. Gowon shilly-shallied and meanwhile the Willy Achukwu group were lucky to escape the gallows.
General Bissala the Commander of the 82 Division before their tearful eyes, poured gasoline over the designs and materials, brought out a box of matches and set the huge collection of the scientific fabric of Black civilisation on fire!
Ogbemudia’s shock and depression on learning of the outcome of the meeting with the GOC and the burning of the Biafran war prototypes and designs were enough to transform him from Saul to Paul.
For the third time, the Brigadier deflected and returned to his original base and more than any other post-war governor was very prominent in the rehabilitation projects to return the war-weary Igbo to Jerusalem. He offered grants to poor students, donated buses to the University of Nigeria and rehabilitated the former Biafran Army officers, returning home to Bendel.
All the same, he cannot run away from the serious war crime charges of changing the name of a whole community, the heritage of his people Igbo Akiri to Igbanke. To this day, the people of this community yearn to return to their kith and kin in the Ika province of Delta State.
On his triumphant entry into Benin, in company with the Butcher of Asaba, General Murtala Mohammed, can he absolve himself and other officers and men of the Federal Second Division, of complicity in the wanton killing of Igbo in Benin that started on September 21, 1967, to the end of that war?
This post was first published on Dailysun Newspaper