May 10 2020 | Radio Biafra
General Conrad Dibia Nwawo (born 1922 – died 2016), was a former Nigerian Military officer. He took part actively in the Nigeria-Biafra Civil War, initially fighting on the Nigerian side and then switching to the Biafran side.
General Conrad Dibia Nwawo from all accounts was a Soldier’s Soldier. Accounts of his numerous exploits as part of the United Nation’s Peacekeeping forces in Katanga, Congo, led by General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi are legendary.
General Conrad Dibia Nwawo’s exploits as a Commander of some of the fiercest Biafran forces, the 11 Division, the 13 Division, and the dreaded Biafra Commando Forces, are also, for a generation that lived through that era, nothing short of the heroic – the source of much myth. General Conrad Nwawo was a warrior, born as he himself once acknowledged, of the lineage of warriors. But he was not “eaten” by the war; he lived a long, and storied life. General Nwawo died February 2016 in his Onicha-Olona home in Delta state, and he was laid to final rest at his Akwubili, Ogbeobi home in Onicha-Olona, Delta state.
Gen. Conrad Dibia Nwawo, was in the very eye of the storm of numerous Nigerian histories, and was a key player in the events that shaped the foundations of modern Nigeria in very unique ways. Born in 1922, Nwawo was educated at the Aggrey Memorial School in Arochukwu, run by the legendary Dr. Alvan Ikoku, and at the Ilesha Grammar School. From 1944-1946, Conrad Nwawo trained at the School of Agriculture, Moore Plantation, and thereafter worked as an Assistant Agriculture Officer Grade III in Ibadan, and briefly in the Cameroon.
Conrad Nwawo was later transferred to the colonial Civil Administration as clerk in the Accountant-General’s office in Kaduna in 1948, while also taking private tuition for the University of London degree in Economics, passing part II of the Inter B.Sc. in Economics in 1950. In December 1950, Conrad Nwawo resigned from the Civil service and proceeded to join the then Royal West African Frontiers Force (RWAFF), and was posted to the 3rd Battalion of its Nigerian Regiment. Conrad Nwawo later had his officer training at the West African Command Training School, Teshie, Ghana.
Thereafter, Conrad Nwawo was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in 1953, after completing his training at Eaton Hall Officer Cadet School, Chester, England. Conrad Nwawo was subsequently posted on Secondment to the British Army of the Rhine, in Germany. This was a very tactical posting as the Second British Army on the Rhine formed the tactical forward command of British contribution to the NATO alliance in the event of war with the Soviet Union and the Warsaw pact. From there, after his brief stint, Conrad Nwawo was posted to the 4th Battalion of the Nigerian regiment in 1954.
It was a crucial moment of decolonization and expansion of the officers Corp of the Nigerian regiment. Conrad Nwawo was one of those real, and very few pioneers Nigerians to be selected and given officer training in an essentially British Army. He was number 10. His experience as a military officer was varied. He began as platoon commander at the 4th Battalion; trained in military logistics and intelligence; and was instructor in tactics and Military law at the Nigerian Military School Zaria.
In 1963, Conrad Nwawo was awarded the prestigious Military Cross (MC) for bravery by Queen Elizabeth II following his actions as part of the Queens own Nigerian Regiment of the United Nations peace operations in the Congo. After Katanga, Conrad Nwawo attended the United States Army Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and thereafter posted to the Nigerian Army’s 5th Battalion, and from there, sent to the Nigerian Military Training College, Zaria, as Chief Instructor. Among Conrad Nwawo’s many students in Zaria included Late Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, and many others who became Generals, and ex-these and that’s in Nigeria.
In 1965, Conrad Nwawo was promoted to Lt. Colonel, and sent to London as Military Attaché to the Nigerian High Commission at the Court of St. James. He was in that post on January 15th when Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna led the first coup to overthrow Nigeria’s first Republic. That coup, now generally known as the “Nzeogwu coup” on account of the remarkable role played by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu possibly changed the trajectory of Conrad Nwawo’s life.
Chukwuma Nzeogwu had held out in Kaduna after the collapse of the coup in Lagos, and announced himself in charge of the North, and by many accounts was mobilizing to march on Lagos from Kaduna with his troops to complete the failed coup. When General Aguiyi Ironsi assumed power, he appointed Conrad Nwawo, the Military Commander of the Midwest Area Command. The period between January 15, 1966 and July 6, 1967, were bitter and terrifying times that challenged the basis of Nigeria as a Nation, and tasked the loyalty of individuals and groups following the events that defined those moment. People had to take stands, and assert loyalties, and so it was with Conrad Nwawo.
The wave of killings of Igbo officers following the July 1966 counter coup drove many Igbo officers to seek refuge closer home. Igbo officers from the Midwest like Gabriel Okonweze and Chris Emelifonwu, for instance, had been prominent casualties in the event. The Midwest Area Command under the leadership of Colonel Conrad Nwawo soon became the refuge for these officers as they returned to safety. Conrad Nwawo fought on the Biafran side, and distinguished himself as a military commander.
He stopped the crossing of the Federal Forces at Onitsha, and he fought through a messy ambush in Umuahia, and cleared the Biafran capital of the Nigerians troops, before it finally fell. Conrad Nwawo was a General of the Biafran forces, and in his interviews was unambiguous about his choices. For Conrad Nwawo, it was an inexorable call to duty. He had few choices. He was a well-loved military leader, a courageous and brilliant war tactician, and he was in the end one of those who made peace possible, and of whom it must be said, never stood at the sidelines while history passed them by. On 30th of May 2020 we must remember him and all those who died that Biafra may be freed.
Chibuike John Nebeokike
For: Radio Biafra Media