May 18 2020 | Radio Biafra
Remembering Professor Gordian O. Ezekwe
Professor Gordian O. Ezekwe and his team were very courageous, they were also very talented and inventive. At the outbreak of hostilities meted out on Biafrans, the Biafran armed forces were poorly equipped as compared to the Nigerian Army with arms and ammunitions being in large supply.
This imbalance in power was intensified in the course of the war, Biafra engineers like Professor Gordian Ezekwe, Benjamin Nwosu, Willy Achukwu and others were instrumental in the design and production of indigenous weapons used. Biafran scientists, prominently from the University of Nigeria Nsukka (then University of Biafra), formed the Research and Production (RAP) Organisation of Biafra which included Weapons Research Center and Production Group.
It was the aim and purpose of this group to develop an indigenous arms industry and they soon started with the production of ammunitions, grenades and armoured cars. Their most effective and infamous product was the “Ogbunigwe” (Mass Killer), of which there were different types in various shapes and sizes. The term Ogbunigwe later came to include grenades and landmines but initially referred to non-guided rocket propelled surface-to-air missiles (specifically called flying Ogbunigwe), which were later converted to surface-to-surface missiles.
Their achievements, which were sometimes made with other groups, include the following:
• Production of indigenous solid rocket fuel in form of pellets of various sizes determined by available metal pipes.
• Design of suitable rocket bodies including nozzles to match the solid fuel.
• Production of offensive rockets that covered a horizontal range of 5km with war heads that exploded by impact on landing as well as those that fragmented before landing. These latter types were more dangerous.
• Production of ‘Samba Ogbunigwe’ or “Ojukwu Bucket” which showered over two thousand bullets in a conical direction – a weapon that frightened opponents very much and led to long periods of ceasefire because they were forced to retreat in all fronts and take some time to study the workings of this Ogbunigwe.
• Production of shot-guns, revolvers, hand grenades and explosion and explosive (flying land mines), and landmines, otherwise known as “foot cutters”.
• Production of anti-aircraft rockets that were projected up to a vertical distance of 5km. They either fragment or explode on impact with target aircrafts.
• Adaptation and improvisation for scarce commodities in which coconut milk were refined to brake fluids, a mixture of diesel and grease became engine oil and retreaded tyres were made from dead ones. There were also imitative remoulding of worn-out engine parts and creation of new engines from scratch (Nwankwo, 1972:37).
• Construction of mini refineries, and
• Production, by a subgroup, of life supporting products such as soap, liquors, wine and bread. After the manufacture of the indigenous solid fuel pellets, Dr. Gordian Ezekwe assigned members to test these pellets by firing them to determine their thrust and to check if the pellets could either be relied upon or improved upon.
The solid rocket fuel was a mixture of many odds and ends including aluminium, charcoal and gun powder. These elements and compounds are mixed in accordance with a formula which was applied from memory quite often. The scientists were charged to desist from committing the verified experiments to paper.
They were meant to be secret classified. As the war progressed, the Nigerian soldiers pushed into Owerri and Ezekwe’s group had to run to a little village that was a great distance away from major roads. This was in September 1968. They evacuated all their heavy and light machinery within two days. It required hard work and great brainstorming to do this. It was in this new location that the group invented the anti-aircraft rockets with a great vertical blast off thrust which had a range of 5km and would detonate on impact.
This invention led to explosions of federal aircrafts in flight. Consequently, the air raids were reduced as no federal pilot was ready to face those indigenous anti-aircraft rockets. Most importantly, the Biafran engineers designed refineries and refined crude oil collected in tankers from Egbema and Port Harcourt. They would distil the crude oil, separating petrol, diesel, kerosene and tar. They had built a distillation plant for separating these products.
The Rocket group had the largest store of fuel and kerosene as a result and never suffered any shortage of these products during the war. This was chemistry in action. It is worthy to note that it was Dr. Ezekwe who supervised the creation of the first mini refinery using mainly this devised distillation plant.
The Rocket group was able to supply fuel and kerosene to other scientists in the other branches of RaP for use in running their vehicles. Sadly, there were also moments of direct commercialization of these crude oil products. They were sold to other civilians and soldiers. These moments saved many scientists from going hungry. In fact, the scarcity of food did not affect members of the RaP Board. For whenever there was shortage of food, any product could be sold to get it.
At some points during the war, they marketed some fuel and even soap, liquor, bread and so many other things to keep on. Because of the successes of the Rocket group in building a mini refinery, other quick-minded people also did the same. There was one such refinery set up at Eziachi, near Orlu, with assistance from Dr. M.O. Chijioke of the Faculty of Engineering of the University of Nigeria (Ike, 1986:47). The production of Ogbunigwe was a quantum leap during the Biafra genocidal war. Michael Stafford (1984) reveals: “The most important weapon built was the Ogbunigwe (Ibo for “destroyers of all”.
These devices were also known as “Ojukwu’s kettles” and were the keystone of the rebel defense. They were made from available cooking pots filled with locally-produced explosives and miscellaneous metal products like nails, scrap iron or whatever else was on hand. The Ogbunigwe were planted in the ground (or in road beds) or abutted against trees and camouflaged.
When suitable targets arrived, the mines were command detonated. They produced a tremendous explosion and proved immensely effective. Their use alone often created enough damage to route Federal attacks.”. How can the Indigenous People of Biafra forget these great Men of valour? Come 30th May 2020 is a day the Indigenous People of Biafra will remember and honour you all that paid the ultimate price for the sake of Biafra.
Chibuike John Nebeokike
For: Radio Biafra Media