November 23 2020 | Radio Biafra
There are arguably a few battles during the Biafran war more important than the ones at Oguta – but only a few.
Oguta, is a small lakeside town in south-east Nigeria, and harboured thousands of refugees due to its proximity to the Oguta lake and seafood with its vital protein and nutritional value.
Furthermore, it was a mere 16 kilometres away to Uli airport, Biafra’s last airstrip and only remaining link to the outside world that served as Biafra’s major supply line for arms and relief material, which made recapturing it an existential necessity for the Nigerian Army was well as keeping it liberated by Biafra.
Colonel Emmanuel Nwobosi, chief of staff to Biafran Leader General Chukwuemeka Ojukwu summates it perfectly when he recently said: “If Nigeria got a foothold in Oguta, the airport at Uli, which was our major link to the outside world, would have been in jeopardy. They would have also sent reinforcement by the seaway into Biafra.”
The three clashes between the Nigerian Army and the Biafran in the city were of epic proportion and showed the full fury of then, Africa’s most vicious civil war.
Ever since the early stages of the Nigerian Civil War, both sides had been fighting for control of the Imo State and to the Nigerian Army Oguta was critical as it was a gateway from the water. Especially so as many roads into Biafra from Nigerian-controlled cities were purposely destroyed by Biafran Army Engineers to delay attacks by the Nigerian army.
The Nigerian Air force pounded Oguta from the air forcing the citizens to hide in the bush during the day and brave returning at night but still they could not dislodge neither them. or their army. Then they tried something else. They invaded Oguta by land and sea and tried to swing down and take the airport by land. Their attack was meticulously planned and enough forces assembled. The Federal troops were so confident of their victory that they brought their wives, girlfriends and hundreds of cows en tow.
The Oguta Tiger allegedly manned by Ojukwu himself during Oguta I was a modified Panard is now at the War Museum in Umuahia.
In the subsequent two confrontations that formed that entire battle which lasted for three days, in which Ojukwu led the Biafran forces himself for the first and only time, the Biafrans fought their socks off and the Federals would be routed both on land and sea.
The battle ranks as one of their worst defeats of the war and again Uli would remain the elusive dangling carrot with the Nigerian Marines landing as close as 20 kilometres to it at Oguta II, only to be beaten back leaving countless dead including European advisors dead and bloated in the water for the fish to grow fat on.
Here the Oguta lake goddess Uhammiri aka Ogbuide and her female religious cult are credited with capsizing many of the enemies’ gunboats and making them a spoil of war for the natives Authors Okwuosa L, Okoli A, and Uroko F examine this breathtakingly in their September 2018 publication Mammy Water and Her Oguta Female Religious Cult During the Nigeria-Biafra War.
In mid-1969 Nigerian Head of State Yakubu Gowon ordered a final attack on Oguta and Owerri. Murtala Muhammad and Mohammed Shuwa made their ways towards Oguta. Biafran President Odumegwu Ojukwu countered and ordered Col. Omorowa, Adgara Ike, and Joseph Achuzie to defend the city. Before the arrival of the Nigerians Joseph Hannibal was able to destroy the Port Harcourt – Owerri road and the Owerri – Onitsha road.
They did precisely that..
In late May 1969 Mohammed Shuwa arrived with a large force of men in downtown Oguta. A large gun battle ensued and again the battle ended with the retreat of Shuwa’s men and over 500 dead on both sides.
Then Olusegun Obasanjo arrived with Murtala Muhammad in July 1969 with over 30 tanks and over 10,000 men. Obasanjo’s men surrounded the city and began shelling the city. Over 30% of the city’s population fled with over 2,200 civilians killed or wounded in the crossfire.
Nevertheless, the Biafrans managed to keep Oguta under their control for another 3 months but lost it when Olusegun Obasanjo invaded the city with full force on October 9, 1969.
Even though Oguta was eventually captured by the Nigerians they were still unable to capture either Uli or Owerri until Biafra surrendered to the Nigerians on January 15, 1970.
Source: The Awareness
Chibuike John Nebeokike
For: Radio Biafra Media