EMOTIONS ran high, yesterday, at the fully packed main auditorium of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Lagos, when ex-Generals and combatants in the 30-month Nigeria-Biafra civil war lamented that issues that led to the war had not been addressed 43 years after.
Reminiscing on their roles in the blood-guzzling campaign to keep Nigeria united, which claimed more than two million lives on both sides, they said it was sad that injustice still reign supreme in the country while vagabonds and thieves are being celebrated at the expense of heroes and heroines.
The occasion was the presentation of a book: The tragedy of victory; on-the-spot account of the Nigeria-Biafra war in the Atlantic theatre, written by Brigadier-General Godwin Alabi-Isama (rtd). The ex-generals berated former Head of State, General Olusegun Obasanjo (rtd), over his accounts of the civil war, in his book: My Command, saying that he gave himself kudos for the victory over Biafra without acknowledging the contributions of others.
This came as Civil War Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon (rtd) said he was deeply grieved by the number of souls lost during the war and said some of his aides acted on his behalf without authorization during the war. He also said that as the head of the campaign on Federal side, Obasanjo was right to claim plaudits for Biafra’s surrender even though he was not at the final battle that ended the hostilities.
According to reports, the 3 Marine Commando Division of the Nigerian Army was commanded for a long time by then Col Benjamin Adekunle (Black scorpion) with Lt Col Alabi-Isama as chief of staff. The division controlled the Atlantic coast from Bonny to Calabar before Obasanjo’s arrival as the new commander few months before the war ended and he collected the instrument of surrender from General Philip Effiong of Biafra.
Civil war veterans and military top brass at the event include former Chief of Staff, General Theophilus Danjuma (rtd), who chaired the occasion; General Alani Akinrinade (rtd); former Chief of General Staff, Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe (rtd); former Military Governor of Imo State, General Ike Nwachukwu (rtd); General Raphael Omilade a.k.a Hitler (rtd); General Rasaki Salawu (rtd) first Military Governor of Kwara State, Brigadier-General Femi David Bamigboye; General Sonny Tuoyo; General Daramola General Emmanuel Abisoye (rtd); former Military Governor of old Oyo State, General Oladayo Popoola (rtd); first Military Governor of Lagos State, General Mobolaji Johnson (rtd); former Military Governor of Lagos State, Gen. Raji Rasaki (rtd) and Alfred Irubo among others.
Other eminent persons at the event included Olubadan of Ibadan, who was represented by High Chief Omowale Kuye; Mr. Sam Amuka, Publisher of Vanguard Newspapers; Professor Wale Omole; former Governor of Ogun State, Aremo Olusegun Osoba, Designer of Nigerian Flag, Pa Taiwo Akinkunmi; Senator Florence Ita-Giwa; and Prof. Bola Akinterinwa, Director-General of Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) among others.
Speaking at the ceremony, Alabi-Isama, who called most of the ex-generals to the podium to share their reminisces including wives of some combatants who died during and after the war, said it was sad that heroes like ailing General Benjamin Adekunle, Pa Akinkunmi had not been appreciated.
His words: “We keep praising and celebrating thieves and vagabonds of this country to the detriment of the youths. Elders cause problems and the youths are called to fight. We lost many children during the war. Some of them had their parents shot in their presence. They will forever live with the memory. We neglected those who fought the civil war. Our glorified brother, then Col Obasanjo wrote a book praising himself and demonizing others. That was why I wrote this book. Why will two million people die and what caused the war is still with us? Those who died in the war, where is their estate today?”
Some of my aides acted without my order –Gowon
In a foreword to the book, read by Ambassador Moses Ihonde, General Gowon said: “As Head of State and Commander-in-Chief then and up to today, I had no recollection of asking that Alabi-Isama be recalled from the war front to see me in Lagos. Even today, I still do not have any recollection of having given any such order… It is highly probable that Army Headquarters might have acted on some intelligence report based on his capture and his forced enlistment in the Biafran Army. At any rate, that unexplained ‘invitation’ supposedly by the head of state became the unknown factor that obviously saved him from being among the precious souls that perished in the 2nd Division’s attempt to cross the River Niger to Onitsha at Asaba, which I had strongly objected to and had ordered the divisional commander not to undertake, but did at heavy cost of lives.”
Obasanjo was right to claim victory even though he was not at war front – Gowon
On comments that Obasanjo did not deserve the civil war victory he claimed in his book, My Command, the former head of state said: “Whilst it is true that Obasanjo was not physically present in the war front, especially at the time of the routing of the Biafran Army, yet as the commanding officer assigned to command the division that received the instrument of surrender from Biafra, General Obasanjo rightfully was positioned to claim victory on behalf of the Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces.”
Why Biafra allowed Alabi-Isama to escape—Madiebo
In a prologue to the book circulated via a special supplement, Maj-General Alexander Madiebo (commander, Biafran Army) described the book as a detailed and professional account of the major maneouvres of the 3MCODO and gave reasons Biafran soldiers allowed Alabi-Isama to ‘escape’ after capturing him in Mid-West.
His words: “When in a swift move into the Mid-West Region the Biafra troops captured the author, rather than send him to Biafra to face an uncertain future, he was given a chance to ‘escape’ to Nigeria as his best option. The author had previously escaped death narrowly in Northern Nigeria during the initial stages of the Revolution as he tried to establish his true tribal identity. His attempt to save the lives of some Igbo officers and civilians in Kaduna, confirmed him as an Igbo and that put his life in danger.”