Artur Alves Pereira is another lover of freedom and one of the squadron commanders during the Biafra war, well known for his bravery in taking some calculated risks in order to help maintain and hold onto the seemingly only remaining Biafran airstrip (Uli Airstrip) used in smuggling relief materials into the Biafra territory for the dying and hungry during the brutal war.
On this day, we remember thee, we shall never forget!
A LIVING EULOGY
Artur, a living hero and a legend was known for his special love for the Biafrans due to their resoluteness and readiness to acquire new ideas and skills before and during the war which was one factor that motivated him. He took it upon himself to volunteer in helping Biafra to survive and probably win the war which was why he was hit thirteen times by anti-aircraft guns from the enemies during his selfless service for Biafra and for humanity as a Biafran flight commando during which he once sustained an injury.
Hear him: “I loved Biafrans from the beginning because they are avid for education and particularly for qualification in one of the technical professions. Because they are convinced that ‘no condition is permanent in this world’ an Igbo motto and they are adaptable to a degree and are prepared to learn new ways. Notably, the Muslims are content to accept their poverty or backwardness as the will of Allah, But Biafrans sees both as a challenge to his God-given talents.”
This special skills and resoluteness of the Biafrans was one outstanding factor that motivated him the more to stand by the Biafran air force by taking up the most risky task of flying within some restricted danger zones despite the heavy hostilities from the enemies’ machineries which was meant to enforce the blockade policy of air, land and sea by the Nigerian military government. Even when every other pilot is afraid to fly over the restricted non-flight zone, Artur always puts his life on the line to make sure that relieve materials must get to the Biafrans at all cost even if it might take his life.
To justify the saying which states that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’, the Biafran engineers and scientists devised a means to conceal the Uli airstrip with palm trees, palm fronds and leaf branches in order to hide the only surviving airstrip from the sight of the enemy jet bombers, which is the only hope and route through which food and medicine could get into Biafra hinterland. Usually, the Uli airstrip is normally dormant during the day but becomes a beehive of activities during the night and it takes the bravest of the pilots to successfully land his plane on the tarmac which was poorly lighted for few seconds before the lights goes off almost immediately to avoid detection by the enemy’s attack bombers. And one of those bravest pilots is Artur Alves Pereira who usually takes his plan named ‘Gray Ghost’ to only 100 feet above the Uli airstrip before landing on the dark tarmac as against the precautionary 1500 feet at least in order to avoid being hit by anti-aircraft guns from the enemy jet bombers.
The brave Alves Pereira has this to say: “It was in a Super Constellation, our famous “Grey Ghost that I first landed in the tarmac of Uli airfield. It was dark as coal and during the final approach when our people turn the lights on for 30 seconds, the runway looked very narrow. Till that night the only Igbos I knew were from the Biafra Embassy in Lisbon.”
Dear Artur Alves Pereira, for all these risks taken, for putting your life on the line to save many Biafrans from dying, we shall always remember, we Biafrans will never forget.
Artur’s Biography And Responsibilities During The War
Artur Alves Pereira was born on February 26, 1942, in Angola. He joined the Portuguese Air Force as pilot in May 1962 serving in Portugal and in Angola, a former Portuguese colony at the time. He got his Commercial Pilot License after the Air Force duty time. In early 1969 he was flying a Dakota DC3 for a Rhodesian between Luanda and Sao Tome with aid for the Airlift to Biafra. After a few flights one engine broke down and they had to cancel the operation due to lack of funds to buy a new one. In 1967, Biafran Government bought 12 T6-Texans what became a long and frustrating acquisition but in April 1969 were in Tires, near Lisbon ready to be checked but was a little late to enhance Biafra chances of operating a squadron of ground attack aircraft.
The first operational sortie by Biafra T6’s under Artur Alves Pereira command was Ughelli, the primary source of power that served Benin airport and the base from which the “Intruder” bomber operated. Two T6, s took-off in the evening in order to reach the target at 05:00pm. The two T6, s did plenty mission but one was very important. Port Harcourt Airbase was attacked early on November 10, 1969. Operating out of Uga, Port Harcourt represented only 15 minutes flight-time to target. Both aircraft escaped from heavy anti-aircraft fire and turned back to base. They attacked a row of three Mig 17 parked on an unprotected and open ramp area and a DC-4. The Port Harcourt raid was described by one of the British mercenary pilots (with the Mig detachment there) “not one of the usual flying-club type of raids”, but a highly professional attack and using high accurate rockets.
According to Alves Pereira, this raid destroyed two of the resident Mig-17 as well as one Ilyushin Il-28 which was passing through at the time. Four days after Port Harcourt, they attacked the Norwegian ship Titania when unloading at John Holt wharves at Warri docks and the African Crescent. In December 1969 he was alone flying his T6 still operational. Invited by Cor. Godswill Ezeillo he joins also the Minicons until the end of the war, for him, January 10, 1970.
With the Federal Troops near Uga, he took-off with Larry Obiechi, one of his pilots to Libreville leaving his heart in Biafraland. He was hit by anti-aircraft fire 13 times and injured once. He also served as a ‘Squadron leader’ in the Biafra Air Force. The brave Arthur Alves Pereira left the Biafran Air Force on January 10, 1970, few days before the war ended.