Benjamin Adekunle: The man who murdered sleep!
By Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye Lagos, Nigeria
Wednesday, August 24, 2004
In this section of the front that I rule-- and that is the whole South front from Lagos to the border of Cameroon? I do not want to see the Red Cross, Caritas Aid, World Church delegation, Pope, Missionary, or UN Delegation. I want to prevent even one Ibo (Igbo) having one piece of food to eat before their capitulation? We shoot at everything that moves, and when our forces move into the centre of Igbo territory, we shoot at everything, even at things that do not move........ Benjamin Adekunle, (translated interview with German Reporter, Randolph Baumann, of STERN Magazine; also published in De Telegraaf; quoted in The Economist, 24 August 1968, and in the book, Brutality of Nations, by Dan Jacobs, etc.)
A number of months ago, the owner of a Nigerian website hosted in the diaspora, forwarded to me an article by a certain Mr. Chibueze Iroakazi, entitled, 'Adenkule's book: Drenched with the blood of Igbo children. The essay, dripping with passion and wit, was a pre-publication comment on a forthcoming book by Benjamin Adekunle, the thorough-bred sadist, and colonel in the Nigerian army, who had earned a solid reputation for himself during the Biafra-Nigeria War by being the most accurate interpreter and successful implementer of the genocidal project that Yakubu Gowon and his merry gang in Lagos had designed for Ndiigbo, with active, avuncular support from Britain, America and Russia.
The article which has since been published on the site was my first hint that Adekunle was writing a book, ostensibly, to correct the misconceptions about his role in the war. Now, Adekunle's book is out and I have resolved not to buy it or even accept a free copy. The Biblical counsel that we should not be partaker of other men's sins keeps ringing in my heart. I am pretty sure that Adekunle has done enough to be rewarded with a terrible curse on himself and, in fact, anything that emanates from him. So, the mere act of even touching the book could be a grave risk! I am, therefore, grateful to the newspapers that did the dirty job for me last Sunday by publishing some bits of the book, although I was too sickened to read all the extracts the particular paper I bought published.
In an introductory note by the co-author of the book, Adekunle's son, we are told that the present account is expected to, as much as possible, present a better picture of Adekunle, totally different from the one painted of him by almost all written or oral accounts of the war and Adekunle's atrocious statements at the heat of the conflagration. Adekunle is, no doubt, a most exasperatingly boring topic. He appears to labour under the just consequences of his gory adventures in the Biafra-Nigeria War. Since the war ended, he has become a social outcast of sorts, abhorred by earth, and obviously by Heaven. It does seem that no one wishes to shake his hands perennially dripping with the pure red blood of innocent Igbo children who died as a result of his conscious action. While other Generals are seen now and again moving about in this new era, shaking warm hands, and rebuilding bridges destroyed by the senseless war, Adekunle simply shuns every bit of society. That probably serves his conscience better than to daily confront those whose parents, children, brothers, sisters, cousins and uncles were among the moving and unmoving things (civilians) heartlessly mowed down by his men at his direct orders in Igboland. It probably never occurred to him that after the war, there would still be some living Ndi Igbo whose faces would prick his horribly muddied conscience. Apparently, before he could finish mowing down everything that moves in Igboland, he was most ignominiously sacked from the Third Marine Commando Division, which he had effectively turned into a murderous gang. His letter to His Excellency protesting his sudden retirement and begging to be allowed to finish crushing the rebels made him appear so awkward and totally naVve. He was just coming to terms with the peculiar brand of Nigeria represented by Gowon and the resilient clique that lent him legitimacy, something Ojukwu had seen long ago, and was being persecuted for daring to challenge their murderous onslaught. Obviously, Adekunle was incapable of appreciating the fact that Gowon and the unrelenting cabal he represented were merely exploiting the devil they had seen in him to round off the pogrom they started up North. And so Adekunle, obviously carried away by his new-found importance, naively proclaimed: I did not start this war Ojukwu did. But I want to win this war. So, I must kill Ibos. Sorry!?
He probably got some applause after echoing this horrible statement with sickening excitement! So, to Adekunle, Ojukwu started the war. This is certainly a strange allegation, which only strange characters like Adekunle, suffering from a critical complex could mouth! Indeed, the Igbo should have stood still and watched themselves slaughtered by cowardly pogromists, cheered on by the undisguised partnership they had with Britain to wipe out Ndi Igbo. Was it not better to die fighting your enemy than to watch him cut you up. Yes, the Igbo, at very huge costs, was forced into a very bitter war to resist a most ungodly resolve to thoroughly execute an unambiguous programme of extermination directed solely at them. No apologies for rising to resist your implacable killers! Poor Adekunle. In his letter to His Excellency, Adekunle discovered too late that one could suffer persecution for coming from the wrong place. By publishing that letter, he is probably craving our sympathy and understanding. He wants us to see how shabbily he was treated after faithfully prosecuting his masters precise project in Igboland. Note that Adekunle was supposed to be fighting Biafra but all his threats of extermination was directed at the Igbo. He surely knows his target and where to find them! No mix-ups! Also, Adekunle is informing us (in 2004!) about his towering discovery that the sole motivating factor for the war was just OIL. Nothing more, nothing less. His boundless excitement as he authoritatively recycles this well-worn shibboleth relives for one the refreshing picture of a school boy intending to surprise his well-educated father with his great new discovery that twenty minus eighteen is two! The only difference between Adekunle's account and that of his more articulate predecessors is the clumsy phrases and super-abundant clichés with which he generously spiced his verbiage.
When I first read in Fredrick Forsythe's book, The Making Of The African Legend (1969), the chilling account that Adekunle had ordered his troops to shoot everything that moves in Igboland, I was so baffled that Gowon could heartlessly unleash such a base, implacable psychopath on hapless Igbo civilians at schools, markets, hospitals and homes. According to Mr. Iroakazi, whose article I referred to earlier: Every time Adekunle's troops were overwhelmed by Biafran soldiers, he sent his war planes to Igbo villages, away from the battle grounds, and caused civilian enclaves to be bombarded and razed. This brutality brought him the desired result because it prompted Biafran soldiers to disengage from hostilities and retreat, in order to minimize civilian casualties. I was barely three when Adekunle ordered his soldiers to start shooting everything that moves in Igboland. I always find it difficult to explain how I feel each time I am reminded that I was indeed one of those innocent, tender, defenceless targets of Adekunle's chilling orders, innocently moving about, pitiably unaware that somewhere in Port Harcourt, an obviously demonized fellow had signed my death warrant. I am grateful to God that I managed to survive Adekunle's sadistic orgies, but more than 100,000 couldn't. Those who escaped his unrelenting genocidal crusade were mowed down with the very effective Starvation Programme he carefully prosecuted. As I write now, I have before me the transcript of Adenkunle's famous 1968 interview with Randolph Baumann, the German Reporter of STERN Magazine. Someone had just told Baumann: If you want to see the devil of Africa, just ask for Adekunle. He is the man responsible for the death of 100, 000 Ibo people. So, the reporter flew into Port Harcourt, and in the night of August 18, 1968, during a riotous party, possibly, one of such routinely called by Adekunle to celebrate his gory victories against defenceless school children and women, and with abundant flow of whisky and beer, Adekunle granted the famous interview to Baumann, which greatly embarrassed the Nigerian government in Lagos, and their British backers, who had to hurriedly ferry in Independent Observers to come in and stay in Lagos to confirm that the charges of genocide inside Biafra were mere Odumegwu-Ojukwu propaganda. Indeed, Adekunle presents the perfect picture of a man heavily weighed down by blood-guiltiness and negative image, all of which he worked so hard to earn. But the present book he has released is not even an option in any attempt to free his conscience. I can imagine the nightmares and hallucinations that have become his permanent companions. Indeed, like Macbeth, Adekunle has murdered sleep, and sleep will continue to elude him. But all hope is not lost.
First he should come out clean and sincerely apologize to the people he has severely wronged. As a Christian, I do not need his apology to forgive him. But the fact that I have since forgiven him cannot excuse him from the sincere repentance and restitution that his heinous sins against humanity demands. He could use quality counseling from genuine men of God, and I can recommend two that I am sure of: Pastors W. F. Kumuyi (Deeper Life) and A. C. Ohanebo (Watchman), both in Lagos. Only when forgiveness is secured by true repentance and commitment of life to God can one's of conscience be rid of guilt. Writing books to justify or explain away one's acts of wickedness amounts to adding sin to sin. This is my sincere advice to Black Scorpion. I sincerely hope heeds it. Gowon, on his part, has mouthed a number of what looks like superficial apologies. Though he hardly sounds convincing, yet his attempt is an encouraging beginning. www.kwenu.com: Simply surprise yourself yonder!
' I Did Not Dislike Igbos, But I Had A War To Win'
WARTIME hero, Brigadier-General Benjamin Adekunle has finally dispelled the notion that he is a hater of the Igbo.
"I don't dislike Ibos. But I learned one word from the British and that is 'sorry.' I did not want this war. I did not start this war - Ojukwu did. But I want to win this war. So I must kill Ibos. Sorry!"
He is referring to the 30-month Nigerian Civil War that lasted between 1967 and 1970.
This explanation is contained in the book, 'The Nigeria-Biafra War Letters: A Soldier's Story (Vol. 1)', an explosive account of his role in the war.
Brigadier Adekunle was the Commander of the 'Third Marine Commando,' the dreaded force that operated in controversial circumstances during the war.
Otherwise known as 'Biafra war', the Civil War was estimated to have claimed over two million lives, mainly of the South eastern extraction, as well as wasted property worth billions of naira.
Because of his Commando's overwhelming expeditions that almost doubled those of the other two Divisions put together, Brigadier Adekunle's role had over the years been castigated in many publications on the Civil War.
Some of the writers contended that he bore anti-Igbo sentiment in his prosecution of the war, especially by allegedly letting loose the men in his Third Marine Commando. This, they claimed, led to the "massacre" of many South Easterners.
But the exposition by Adekunle, who earned the sobriquet, 'Black Scorpion' for his alleged "mythical" exploits during the war, contains his letters, memos and reminiscences, compiled and edited by his son, Abiodun A. Adekunle. Phoenix Publishing Group, Atlanta, United States, publishes the book.
In it, Brigadier Adekunle also exposed several secret memos detailing the correspondences between him and other military chiefs involved in the war, including the then Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, General Yakubu Gowon.
The memos revealed Adekunle's tough posture as a military officer and especially, the many obstacles he had to face in his strive to perform the duties assigned to him during the war.
According to the editor, Abiodun, the book is not intended to castigate anyone but to set the records straight on the role of Brigadier Adekunle in the prosecution of the inglorious war.
Said the editor: "It is my hope that this book succeeds in providing some insight into the zeal with which my father and others championed the ideal of 'One Nigeria' during the war; into the way in which he perceived his mission and duty to his fatherland and also, into some of the severe constraints he laboured under while striving to discharge this duty."
The editor, however, said the book would challenge some of the contentions and claims in the book, 'My Command', published by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo in 1980, "an account of his tour of duty as commander of the Third Marines after his take-over from my father in May 1969."
"It is public knowledge that many other participants in the war, disagreed with Obasanjo's version of events in general, and specifically, with his account of his command. My father was one of those," the editor said.
He continued: "General Obasanjo made many claims about his briefing tour of duty at the tail end of the war as Commander of Third Marines. It is a historical fact that by the time he took over the Division in mid 1969, all the major campaigns of the war had already been waged."
Source: The Guardian, 25th July 2004.
Benjamin Adekunle's War Memoir:
A Script of Blood, Rebirth Still Deferred...
By Louis Achi
, ThisDay 25th July 2004
Leaning on his lesser known talent as a 'historian', coupled with his trademark insight (and participation) in some of the key tragedies that have shaped modern Nigeria, the country's former military supremo, General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida identified ethnic nationalism as the major cause of Nigeria's 1967-70 fratricidal civil war. He did not concede that this primordial chemistry was at the heart of his 'ouster' from power in 1993.
As it were, the ethno-nationalistic explosion that was the Nigeria-Biafra civil war - woven around the Western crisis (Awolowo-Akintola political schism); January 1966 coup; July 1966 counter-coup; anti-Igbo pogrom in the North; and finally, the Biafran revolt - tell a poignant story of survivalist human response in the face of perceived threats to group identity and symbols of cultural/political faith. At another level, it represents an effort at rebirth, a national renewal forged in the furnace of crisis, a common discernible feature in the evolution of modern states.
Has this been the case for Nigeria? Has this tragic script of blood, enacted almost four decades ago, theoretically targeted at provoking change and renewal, met its dream? What is the state of this national rebirth, if any? In THISDAY's succinct cover choice, Brigadier Benjamin Adekunle (a.k.a Black Scorpion, one of the foremost military strategists and a critical spearhead of the federal offensive against Biafra, in the first volume of his maiden opus, "The Nigerian-Biafran War Letters: A Soldier's Story," shares a theatre ring-side view of what transpired during the war proper.
In this historically important tome (excerpted here), compiled/edited by Abiodun Adekunle, the Black Scorpion's son, an illuminating montage, assemblage of war-time correspondences by Brigadier Adekunle, the consummate field commander, to General Yakubu Gowon, the then head of state and Adekunle's superior's in the Nigeria Army high command emerges. It fills a crucial historical niche in the plethora of accounts of the war years put out by a disparate cast of actors.
"A Soldier's Story," contains hitherto hidden truths; controversial facts. Notes the book's editor/compiler Adekunle jnr., in his introduction: "General Obasanjo made many claims about his brief tour of duty at the tail end of the war as Commander of Third Marines. It is a historical fact that by the time he took over the division in mid 1969, all the major campaign of the war had already been waged...
"It is legitimate to ask what role may be fairly attributed to my father in bringing the war to its conclusion. Nigerians and more particularly the Yorubas, have perhaps been fortunate that Obasanjo has always been available to fill the roles of other fallen comrades, such as my father after his loss of command, Murtala Mohammed after his assassination and again MKO Abiola, after his premature death. Over the length of his career, from the very start until the present, General Obasanjo seems to have displayed an uncanny ability of reaping where others have toiled."
No less a child of providence, the 'Black Scorpion', born June 26, 1936, in Kaduna, was fifth in the line of six children by Amina Theodora to a polygamous husband, Thomas Adekunle from Ogbomoso in current South West's Osun State. His family legend has it that he was born after clocking the eleventh month in his mother's womb. Though stout Christian's, in the subsisting environment of fetishism this event became meat for crystal ball gazers who foretold much for the infant. Incidentally, they were not off the mark by much as later events revealed.
Adekunle's life trajectory started immediately he was done with his school certificate examination. "The idea of beginning 'life' at once, without the suspense and irritating interlude of university strongly appealed to me, a young man without the luxurious backdrop of a solicitous family...I departed for Lagos after my final examination and found my way to Apapa cantonment (Lagos)."
After scaling the often punishing preliminary admittance hurdles into the army, he, with other lucky peers were hauled off to the Regular Training School, Teshie in Ghana. "As I stepped over the portals of Teshie, I felt that my military career had truly begun. We spent six months at this institution and it was pure unadulterated hell. I, who had hitherto pride myself on my toughness, resilience and ability to manage any condition life cared to throw at me, found myself to be thoroughly challenged mentally and physically to maintain my chosen course. The objective of the Teshie training was to produce leaders. Leadership was conceived in two dimensions: leadership as a personal quality and leadership as an organisational function."
After Teshie followed military training in Britain's Sandhurst Royal Military Academy, Mons Officer Cadet School, Warminster School of Infantry, et al. His first commission was at the Queen's Own Nigerian Regiment based in Enugu. He was appointed Platoon Commander of 'C' Company under the command of (then Major Ogundipe). From here on, there was no looking back.
Lt. Col. W.R.B Allen, his one time company commander once commented on Adekunle whose hero was Napoleon Bournaparte: "He is always too sure that h is right and has a somewhat aggressive attitude." For Robert Browne-Clayton, his best friend and roommate at Sandhurst, "He was very much a lone wolf...He was particularly forthright about a united Nigeria. He boasted about what he would achieve in Nigeria and always said he would get to the top in the Nigerian army."
The rest is now history. His war letters paint a gripping insider picture of the progress and prosecution of the war and provide other insights that would benefit scholars and war historians. But at the end of the day, has Adekunle's idealism been rewarded? Does the extant national reality exalt or diminish the substance of his sacrifice and those of his compatriots who fought on opposite divides? These are legitimate posers. More so because they form pivots on which the future of the polity must turn.
The 'Black Scorpion's' son captures the core of this dilemma at a part of his introduction: "To chart a course towards a stable and productive future, it is imperative that we, as a nation and a people, fully come to terms with our past. This is my modest contribution to the promotion of dialogue, understanding, reconciliation and peace amongst my deeply divided compatriots for whom a fierce civil war failed to resolve fundamental sources of division."
Willy-nilly, this "fundamental sources of division" must be resolved. This rebirth is Nigeria's most important challenge and not a few believe it should represent the priority of current and future governments....
Benjamin Adekunle: My Personal Recollections of the War
By Benjamin Adekunle
I was born in Kaduna on the 26th of June I936, the fifth in a line of six children born by Amina Theodora to a polygamous husband, Thomas Adekunle. My father, a native of Ogbomoso, was domiciled in Kaduna as early as 1908. He had met my mother in her hometown Numan, during one of his sojourns to the Adamawa Province and married her in 1919. She was a member of the Bachama Tribe, an ethnic group noted for their fighting abilities. As one of the earliest converts to Christianity in her area, my mother was a staunch Christian. She succeeded in converting my father Thomas to Christianity in the course of their courtship and we were raised as Anglicans.
According to the legend repeatedly narrated to me by elderly female relations during my childhood, the circumstances surrounding my early entry into the world were somewhat portentous. They said I overstayed my time in my mother's womb by two months. Moreover, I am reported to have vacated this comfortable abode only after a series of local birth attendants had exhausted their entire repertoire of childbirth skills. These tales meant little to me at the time, but their chief significance was the special attention it secured for me from my family, particularly from my mother.
Both my father and grandfather served in the colonial army. My father later entered the carpentry trade where he made a sufficiently good living to fend for his large family of two wives (he later married a second wife, Christianity non-withstanding), a dozen children and numerous relatives. We all lived in the sprawling house that he built in the Kaduna Township.
By 1945, at age nine, I had enough of both school and my unsatisfactory home life. The death of my father in this year strengthened my resolve to take matters into my own hands. I resolved to leave home and look for someone to serve, in exchange for educational support. On the chosen night, I gathered my few belongings and ran away from my brother's home. After several days on the streets, I found my way to one Reverend Ayiogu whom I persuaded to employ me as a domestic servant at the rate of one Shilling and six pence a month. With the assistance of the police, my elder brother soon traced me to my new living quarters. However, all entreaties, commands, cajolery and threats directed at me by the police officers, relations, and the Reverend to return with my brother fell on deaf ears; with Reverend Ayiogu I would remain or vanish again.
From this period, the influences to which I was exposed were more stabilizing. The Reverend proved to be a decent man and I lived with him for two years. By 1947, I came under the protection of a new Master. Under his guidance, I earned a scholarship to Dekina Primary School in Kwara State. My new Master was an extraordinary man though unimposing in appearance. In all the years I spent in the home of Mr. Quinni, a native of Ugep and employee of the Igala Native Authority, he never once raised his voice in anger. He was scrupulously just in his dealings with all persons around him. He was gifted with a formidable intellect, which was brought to bear in every situation. I was fascinated by his ability to win any argument by rigorous analysis. By the time he reached his conclusion, the parties present had little option but to agree, regardless of their own initial positions or whether his conclusion, conflicted with their own interests. It was for this reason that his polygamous home was calm, stable, and peaceful. Mr. Quinni taught me the strength in meekness, the honour in humility, and the dignity in labor. If I have not always succeeded in exhibiting these qualities, he blessed me with the ability to appreciate and esteem them in others.
Under his influence, I thrived at my new school (Dekina Primary School) to the extent that my progress caught the attention of the Head Master, Mr. Dokpong. Among my schoolmates at Dekina was the one time Director of the Nigerian Twelve Corps Service, Colonel Ahmadu Ali, who is still a friend. I passed the entrance examination to Okene Middle School in 1951and left Dekina with many happy memories.
After my primary education, my relatives in Idah attempted to reassert their claims over me. According to their plans, I was to stop my schooling and be apprenticed in the family trade of carpentry. Needless to say, I vehemently resisted this plan as my years with Mr. Quinni had the effect of drilling in me, a powerful thirst and respect for western education. My stubbornness on this point served to severe all pretense of supervision over my welfare by my guardians. It was now clear to all that I was on my own. I was given to understand that I should expect no support from them. I steeled my mind to fend for myself, to plough a lonely furrow and take life as it came. Fortunately, for me those were the days of free education.
To Okene Middle School I went. I met other interesting characters such as Mr. Bolujoko whom we had nicknamed 'the black horse of Okene Rock.' Though an almost fanatical disciplinarian, Mr. Bolujoko like my former Master, possessed the ability to inspire the best in anyone and nurture the person's more positive qualities. Despotic though he was, he personified to his students the modernized and educated man. In addition to academic development, Mr. Bolujoko took great interest in the spiritual development of his students.
My Military Career
I enlisted in tile Nigerian Army in 1957 immediately after I finished my school certificate examination. The idea of beginning 'life' at once, without the suspense and irritating interlude of University strongly appealed to me, a young man without the luxurious backdrop of a solicitous family. Large or small, I had already proved my physical mettle on a thousand occasions; why not I reasoned, fight for a worthy cause - in the service of my fatherland? With the images of the confident giants of 1945 in my head, I departed for Lagos after my final examination and found my way to the Apapa cantonment.
The first hurdle in my chosen career was the stiff entrance examination. At the succeeding interview, numerous white-headed expatriate military officers gave me the grilling of my life. The Nigerian army was then in its infancy and placed every conceivable impediment to dissuade aspirants from making the army a career. These obstacles did not daunt me. We were then made to undergo physical exercises. I found these exercises hilarious. I was given size 12 boots (I take a size 6); and oversized clothing. For a joke, I put them on and appeared at the venue to the vast amusement of the other boys. Notwithstanding my deficiency in size, the Army accepted me.
Reflecting on Africa's propensity for coups in the post-independence era, I sometimes felt that it could be traced to some extent, to the feelings of indispensability that was nurtured in cadets at this stage of our training. Time without number, the importance of our roles in shaping the future of our nations was impressed on the minds of young military officers. This was not done with any sinister motive, but certainly, the orientation we were given was capable of sowing seeds of the 'messiah complex' in some of the cadets that passed through the institution. Also of some significance I believe, were subconscious feelings of competitiveness among the officers. If former course mates could successfully execute a coup in their countries, who wanted to be caught lagging? On January 15, 1966, Nzeogwu implemented his coup. In my opinion, there was a domino effect on the rest of Africa following the one in Nigeria.
The day of reckoning, which separated the boys from the men soon arrived. Though I had immersed myself in the world of the institution and had given my all, I was as nervous as hell. I had never before failed any task I set out to achieve, but there was no telling what the results of this selection board would be. The waiting period was a period of severe anxiety for me. To my profound relief, I passed this selection and the board recommended me for Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, England (RMAS). We (the successful cadets) went wild with joy. For the rest of our stay at Teshie, we conducted ourselves with licentiousness that would have been unthinkable only a few weeks before.
Prior to Sandhurst, cadets were sent to Mons Officer Cadet School in the UK for a period of three months. The objective of the Mons training was to separate cadets for either a long or a short training course. The older cadets were sent on the short course, while the younger or more able cadets were sent to Sandhurst. The Mons training was to be my first experience outside my native country and nothing in my interactions with expatriates in Africa prepared me for the culture shock I experienced in those first few months in Britain.
The first shock was the freezing cold. However, this was a condition that I could and did adapt to. What was harder to adapt to was the overt and covert racism that infected the entire British society. There are several facets of racism: first, the conviction that blacks were innately inferior to whites and secondly, an intolerance for blacks who failed to conform to a restricted number of stereotypes. From my observations, there were two acceptable 'African Types'; the 'funny' African who grinned incessantly and was incapable of taking offense and secondly, the 'ignorant' African, who understood nothing, appreciated his own ignorance, and was profoundly grateful for whatever attention was bestowed on him by the all knowing Whites.
The examination period arrived and again, I was filled with anxiety about my chances of success given the sour relationship between the instructors and myself. Other Nigerian officers who were contemporaries at Mons were Chukuka, Idiaja, Nnadi, Obasanjo and Adegoke. Once again, my fears promise to be unfounded. I passed the Mons examination and was confirmed for Sandhurst in January of 1959.
I considered my selection for the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst to be an honour and a privilege. To my mind, Sandhurst was the best military institution in the World. Not all the Mons graduates were so privileged - for example, while Adegoke, Idiaja, and Chakuka and I was selected, Obasanjo was not. He finished at Mons and returned home.
In later years, I attributed some of the actions of my former course mates in the national arena, especially with regard to their colleagues, to the need to assuage feelings of inferiority which many have sprung from having been publicly adjudged and labeled inadequate in the midst of their cohorts.
I was at Sandhurst for two years (1959 and 1961) and registered for the course with three hundred odd cadets. In addition to the physical training, officers where imbued with a thorough academic grounding in the art of warfare. The ultimate purpose of our training was to produce not the stereotype officer, but the dynamic officer. Character development was an integral part of the course and this was brought home to me in the first week.
Before I left Sandhurst, our College Commander invited me for an interview. He examined me closely about my 'unorthodox' political positions, my views on his institution, and my opinions of the training that I had just completed. In our final report, Sandhurst cadets were required to make a self-assessment of their officer qualities, which was then graded by their instructor. My final report and grade contained some of the two familiar complaints about my 'attitude'. Since the report had already been written (and passed me, notwithstanding) I felt at liberty to give the Commander an unedited piece of my mind on every subject he raised.
Far from being satisfied with my responses and desirous I think, of modifying my views, he suggested an extension of the 'interview' over dinner. We talked far into the night, and I conveyed my amazement that an institution would teach a course which mutilated the pride and self worth of some of the cadets and yet expect no reaction.
On the whole however, I enjoyed the period at Sandburst. The skills I picked up, particularly on the 'Tactics' course, (my favorite ), were to prove invaluable to me in later life.
My encounter with British military institutions did not end there. Two further courses were arranged for me in accordance with my selection. The first was at the School of Infantry at Warminster, and the second was at the School of the Tactical Wing. And so ended my military training in Britain.
My first unit was the first Queen's Own Nigerian Regiment based in Enugu. At this time, a good number of the senior officers were British, though there was a sprinkling of Nigerian officers and one Cameroonian, (Captain Malinga), whose awe of the British officers was a source of constant amusement.
Regimental life lived entirely up to my expectations. I was appointed the platoon commander of 'C' Company under the command of then Major Ogundipe. My main duty was to assist in training the troops. They were a mixed breed but those of Bachama extraction, (my mother's ethnic group), impressed me more than the others. There were quite a number of them in my platoon.
After a few months, we were posted to thc Republic of the Congo en masse, under the auspices of the United Nations, to quell the growing unrest there. The antecedents of the political turmoil in the Republic of Congo as is in much of Africa, could be traced to its colonial period. Congo was a colony of Belgium and its capital Leopoldville (now Kinshasa) was named after Leopold II of Belgium. The Congo was rich with precious minerals such as diamonds. Uranium was abundant in the Congo-in fact, the first atomic weapons were developed with uranium from the Congo.
The burning crisis for which troops were posted to the Congo involved the power struggles between the old colonial powers, Congolese nationalists and later, Congolese stooges of the Colonial powers. Municipal elections had already taken place in 1957; nationalists organized pre-independence elections after serious agitation in January 1959. Patrice Lumumba's Congolese National Movement emerged as the winner of the May 1960 elections. Lumumba became Prime Minister and on June 30, 1960 the Independent Republic of Congo was proclaimed. Violence within the Congo intensified soon after independence, and the political situation was complicated by the attempted secession of the mineral- rich province of Katanga in July. The Katangan Premier was funded and supported by Belgium. Lumumba invited the United Nations into the conflict and the UN demanded the withdrawal of Belgian forces from the country. Peacekeeping forces were then sent into the Congo with a mandate to restore order to the Congo and the Katangan province. Patrice Lumumba was murdered in the subsequent violence (January 1961) and UN peacekeepers were mandated to use force to prevent civil war. In spite of the spirited efforts of the UN Secretarial-General, Hammarskjold (who lost his life in a suspicious plane crash during one his Congo peace trips), the violence continued unabated. Mobuto Sese Seko, then the head of the army, foisted himself on the country as President in November 1965, according to him, for a 5-year term in October 1966. He formally dismissed the Parliament and the new Prime Minister and established a Presidential form of government. The 'five year term' ran over three decades.
Congo was a profoundly beautiful country though completely underdeveloped in physical terms. We were stationed in Leopoldville. Our first assignment was to fish out the murderers of about 15 Nigerians, who had been mutilated after their murder. It was hard going in that environment with very few roads, non-existent telecommunications system, and a perplexing language. With some hard work and the assistance of our intelligence system, the perpetrators were identified, tracked down and appropriately punished.
The language barrier precluded extensive interactions with the Congolese people, but my overriding impression of their lives, was of intense suffering. The amenities of life- electricity, clean water, roads, hospitals, etc- were in very scarce supply and the level of hunger, disease, immorality, physical insecurity and crime in the society as a whole was pitiful. As far as I was concerned, Nigerians were incomparably better off. I was also struck by the rigidity of the informal 'apartheid' system prevalent in Congo: after my experiences in the U.K, I had grown to be somewhat hypersensitive and intolerant of all forms of racism. I noticed that unlike Nigeria, the two races were almost completely estranged - not only physically segregated, but with few avenues for interaction, such as sporting or social events, where the differences of skin color were temporarily forgotten.
I watched the naughty bearing of the Congolese expatriates towards the owners of the land and their total subservience. The only relief available to the Congolese from the misery and deprivations they suffered appeared to be drinking, music and dancing. I would watch for hours as the Congolese men and women cast aside their cares and abandoned themselves to 'Congo music.'
Just as I settled down to learn more about my environment in the Congo, I was bundled home to Enugu to become the first Army officer Aide-de-camp to Sir Francis Akanu Ibiam, the first Governor of the Eastern Region.
Sir Francis Ibiam was a well respected Nigerian politician. An old boy of King's College and a graduate of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, he received a knighthood from the Queen in recognition of his accomplishments. He built Abiriba hospital, and served on several hospital boards. He had served on the Nigerian Legislative Council, between 1947 and 1952, on the Executive and Privy Councils between 1949 and 1959 and capped this with his appointment as Governor of Eastern Nigeria from 1960 to 1966. Sir Ibiam also chaired several Church Councils, including the World Council of Churches in 1961.
Within a very short period, it became clear that we had 'irreconcilable differences.' The nature of my posting compelled me to spend a lot of time with the governor, and at very close quarters. I was with Dr. Ibiam on formal occasions, I was with him behind the scenes at his home, and I witnessed and contributed to the policy-making processes of the Eastern regional government on a day-to-day basis at the office.
In many ways, Dr. Ibiam was a gentleman. However, there were several difficulties I had will the governor. The first was what I regarded as his religious rigidity. Like many persons I had come across, Dr. Ibiam was passionate almost to the point of fanaticism about matters of external religious observance - church going, prayers before meals etc.
Secondly, the good Doctor's treatment of his staff caused me to mull over the contradictions between what is preached as opposed to practice. I failed to understand why the Governor seemed unable to appreciate the connection between welfare, morale and productivity. Consequently, the working environment at the Governors office left much to be desired, characterized as it was by surliness, complaints and resentment. Our relationship was not improved by my blunt rejection of his attempts to compel me to conform to his religious practices.
The most serious chasm concerned our professional duties. As the governor of a region, which embraced many different ethnic groups, my boss appeared to have some difficulty in appreciating that he owed each inhabitant of the region an equal obligation. It seemed to me that at every turn of policy- making, he favored members of his own tribal group.
As a Nigerian of multi-ethnic parentage, born and raised outside my region of 'origin,' I found these exhibitions of ethnic chauvinism incomprehensible. At that point of my life, as far as I was concerned, a Nigerian was a Nigerian member of one nation with one destiny, and differences of origin were subordinate to the national identity.
I considered this to be an unfortunate disposition for a Governor of a multi-tribal state, and felt it to be my duty to point out the dangers of our discrimination against non-Ibos by the Eastern Government.
As time went on, my objections became less and less courteously expressed, and our discussions, louder and louder. Dr. Ibiam labeled me arrogant, rude as hell and unqualified to advise him politically. Naturally, I had a differing opinion. It got to the point that I was unable to bear the daily offense to my sensibilities. After one particularly unpleasant episode, I was sufficiently incensed to place my career in jeopardy. I left my posting without orders.
I posted myself to Enugu later that year in 1961. Enugu was a town I was very fond of. It was at Enugu that I had met my wife to be, Comfort Akie Wilcox, a police woman, sister of Chief Harold Dappa Biriye, and the daughter of Chief Roland Dappa Wilcox, a Bonny Chief from one of the riverrine tribes of Eastern Nigeria. I used the opportunity of my stay in Enugu to perfect my Ibo speaking skill. As a boy, I had picked up Ibo from my neighbors in Idah. From Enugu, I went to Port Harcourt on a month's extended leave. To my amusement, I was informed that the police was seeking me on the basis of certain allegations made against me by the Governor's wife. I immediately reported myself to the police where the issue was clarified. Meanwhile, the Governor, as he was perfectly justified in doing, had fired off a smoking hot letter of complaint about my abandonment of post and disrespectful conduct in general. After a month in Port Harcourt, I reported to the Army Headquarters in Lagos to make my defense to (then) Lt. Colonel Gowon, the General Staff Officer (Grade 1), and it was to him I made my case. This act of insubordination was to delay my promotion by over a year - at the time I felt it was a fair price to pay for my peace of mind and liberation from an intolerable duty.
I later discovered that my situation was not altogether unique; other Aide-De Camps attached to high ranking politicians experienced similarly poor relation with their bosses. ( Then) Second Lieutenant Obienu who had been attached to the Governor-General Azikiwe had lasted only 3 weeks before he terminated his posting in an equally unconventional fashion.
After my Captain to Major promotion examination, I was nominated for the State College in Wellington, India for a period of nine months in 1964. My exultation at being so distinguished by my superiors was tempered by recollections of my previous overseas experience. Yes, it was an honour to be offered the opportunity of a staff course, but who had the stomach for more condescension from the British officers who would be supervising training?
My wife Comfort dismissed my concerns, insisting that the benefits to be gained by taking the course far outweighed the brief period of discomfort I would face. My reluctance evaporated, and I went, leaving her in Zaria expectant with our first child.
Major Ifeajuna and I were in the second group to be sent to India. The first batch had included Nzeogwu and Olutoye. The course enabled officers to rise to Grade III Staff Officer. I knew both officers, but not intimately. It was the first time Ifeajuna and I had been at close quarters. Ifeajuna was a very interesting character, extremely well read and very politically conscious. I also had limited interaction with Nzeogwu, who had preceded us to Wellington. Nzeogwu has since been much vilified for his leading role in Nigeria's first military coup. However, any officer (or, for that matter, civilian) who knew him could tell you that this man was a pure nationalist who burned within with the love of his country. Like myself, he gave scant regard to the place of origin of his countrymen having been born in Kaduna and raised in an era of nationalistic consciousness. He was sophisticated in his analysis of history and of political events in the country. I never became intimate with these officers as I had little interest in politics. Of greater interest to me, was building up military skills and contributing to national development in a purely military capacity.
At Wellington India, I found another country of breathtaking beauty. The British Colonialists had been kind enough whilst pillaging and plundering India, to leave behind legacies of a more benevolent nature. Wellington was a very lovely city, with spacious and cool buildings, and an abundance of flowers, winding roads and undulating value. The solitude of the Staff College itself was ideal for studies, and nine months of studies really.
My experiences in India confirmed my opinions about the evils of colonialism. The Indians were fortunate in that the British had left legacies that would survive generations yet unborn.
Prelude to War
Back in Nigeria, I was posted to the army Headquarters, where I remained until this fateful day of the January 1966 coup. At this juncture, it is worth examining the political situation in Nigeria prior to 1966.
The first four years after independence was nearly of turmoil. One source of instability was the physical imbalance of the regions. A second source were the controversial census results of 1952 and 1962, which were perceived by many Nigerians as an attempt to legitimize the inequitable distribution of political power and other resources. It was on the basis of these census figures, that the northern region gained control of the federal legislature and other federal institutions.
The high hopes that had attended independence had been rudely dashed by the conduct of the political class. While it was taken for granted in developed countries that the basis of elective governments was the will of the people, in Nigeria the by-words for our political leadership were refined tribalism, religious politics, treasury looting, egotism- and to hell with the people!
The spark that led to Nigeria's first coup was ignited in 1962 when Chief Akintola and the NDP split from Chief Awolowo's Action Group. Akintola's alliance with NPC completely destabilized the western region, as the power struggle between him and his erstwhile boss knew no boundaries. With the ill-advised trial and detention of Awolowo for treason by the Tafawa Balewa led government, it was only a matter of time before the region exploded. The elections of December 1964, in which Akintola and his allies 'won,' set off this explosion. The widespread rioting in the region, which followed the confirmation of the election results, should have been entirely predictable to a responsible government. However, rather than taking measures to defuse the situation, the Tafawa Balewa-led government escalated the crisis by declaring a state of emergence and flooding the region with troops. Then there were the charges of corruption among the political class- supported by the obscene displays of wealth by some members of the political class. I recoiled at the democracy that was being hatched for Nigeria and this disgust was pervasive.
It is easy to forget that this was the background against which the military intervened. The idealistically led coup of 15th January, 1966 was the brain wave of patriotic officers of the Nigerian army. Major C. K. Nzeogwu explained his motives on January 16 1966:
Though well intended, the effects of this action on the Nigerian military was lamentable. The human losses were also grave, with the northern region suffering more deeply than other regions. The senior military officers killed in the January Coup were Brigadiers Samuel Ademulegun and Zakaria Maimalari. Also targeted and killed were Colonels Kure Mohamed and Ralph Shodeinde, with Lieutenant Colonels Yakubu Paul Arthur Unegbe (an Ibo officer), and Major Samuel Adegoke.
Among the political leadership, not only was the Prime Minister, Tafawa Balewa killed but also the much loved Sardauna of Sokoto, Ahmadu Bello, Premier of the Northern region. S.C Akintola and Okotie-Eboh, leading symbols of the First Republic also perished.
The primary ring leaders of the coup were Majors Nzeogwu, Ademoyega, Ifeajuna, Okafor, Chuk Nwuka, Onwuatuegwu and Obienu. After the initial national euphoria which followed the coup, it was not surprising that the northerners would begin to take a different view of events: the majority of the ring leaders were Ibo in origin, the Northerners had paid the highest price in terms of men and political power, and the entire 'national' operation had been executed on their soil. While Nzeogwu had successfully secured his area of operation in Kaduna, Major Ifeajuna and Capt. Nwobosi failed to secure Lagos and Ibadan.
In the midst of the confusion, and the bungled execution by the coupists, the GOC of the Nigerian army, General Aguiyi Ironsi, intervened and outmaneuvered Major C.K Nzeogwu. Luckily for him, Lieutenant Colonel Ojukwu, Commander of the 5th Battalion in Kano, had been able to seize Kano Airport on behalf of the rallying military. Ironsi later appointed him Military Governor of the Eastern region.
With the smell of blood choking our collective nostrils, the remnants of the Balewa government needed little persuasion to hand over the reigns of power to Army Commander-in-Chief, Major-General Ironsi. The new Head of State proceeded quickly to suspend the Constitution, dissolve all legislative bodies, ban political parties, and as an interim measure, formed a Federal Military Government. By January 18, 1966 he had announced the appointment of the Military Governors of all four Regions of the Federation: Lieutenant Colonel C. Odumegwu Ojukwu, East; Lieutenant Colonel F.A Fajuyi West; Lieutenant Colonel D.A. Ejoor, Midwest; Lieutenant Colonel Hassan Katsina, North.
Ironsi made several serious political mis-calculations. His handling of the coupists, who after all, had been mutineers, lacked directness, and betrayed insensitivity to the feelings of northern officers, who now felt vulnerable (and resentful). He also seemed to lack a full appreciation of the importance of taking steps to restore the espirit de corps in the military.
However, it was a difficult situation and I did not envy him one bit. There were skirmishes between Northern troops and their Southern counterparts throughout the country. Some five months after the coup, Ironsi announced his intention to institute a Unitary government- another serious mistake.
Predictably, this was misinterpreted by the northern elite as further proof of an Ibo plot to consolidate their hold on national political power. The abrupt termination of the Ironsi regime by a revolution by the 'heirs apparent' to Nigerian power politics should have surprised no one. It was an inevitable end and established later political patterns of Nigeria.
The counter-coup masterminded by the senior northern officers in July 1966 reversed the political pendulum that had swung to the political advantage of the south. It re-established the status quo to domination of political power by the North, which they had held since 1966 and justified through irregular census figures.
The Head of State was abducted in the company of Colonel F.A. Fajuyi, by a group of junior northern officers. (Months later, Major Usman Katsina finally confirmed that his abductors had assassinated him with the Western Governor). Thus began another traumatic period for the military. In Lagos, Kaduna, Ibadan, and Kano and throughout Nigeria (except the eastern region under the command of Lieutenant. Colonel C. Odumegwu Ojukwu), senior Ibo officers were rounded up- often by soldiers under their command and shot.
At the time the power leverage changed hands to the northern group, I was at Enugu. The Commanding Officer being Ibo was relieved of his duties and I was ordered to assume them. The tense atmosphere was not helped by the trigger-happy northern soldiers at Enugu who were hell bent on killing Ibos in their homeland. This I prevented with all the persuasive authority at my disposal. Sanity prevailed, but I had to pay with my blood to appease the bloodhounds that were given a 'rousing' welcome by their people on their arrival at Kaduna.
There was a complete blanketing of information to the troops, which generated unprecedented rumor mongering. The chain of command had completely broken down and in thc atmosphere of lawlessness that prevailed at the time, arson, illegal imprisonment, and gross indiscipline by soldiers became the order of the day.
Brigadier Ogundipe, next in order of seniority to Ironsi, had made efforts to assume command of the Army on July 29 1966, during the pivotal moments of the coup. Brigadier Ogundipe attempted to assert his authority with
THE WAR LETTERS_
Edited by Abiodun Adekunle
This Chapter contains letters written by my father to senior officials in the ruling military Council, Chiefs of Staff Supreme HQ, as well as to the Head of State, General Gowon, who were based at Dodan barracks Lagos, then the seat of military power. There are also letters addressed to the governors of the Western State and the newly created and liberated Rivers State. They were written from the warfront during the heat of battle. He retained copies of the letters he wrote and they have been reproduced below unedited. They have been interspersed with commentaries taken from his personal journals.
The major point of interest of these letters is that in the same was as some of the testimony at the 'Oputa Panel' proceedings, they paint a disturbing 'behind the scenes' picture of the highest echelons of the Nigerian Military at a critical juncture of Nigeria's history. The letters reveal how factions and cliques had begun to emerge in the army and how even at this stage when Nigeria was fighting for her corporate existence, suspicion and disunity of purpose among officers had eaten deep into the fabric of the Armed forces. The letters also touch on some of the issues that have remained unresolved within the Nigerian polity more than three decades after the war- the issues of double standards, ethnicism, equality of Nigerian citizens in the eyes of the state and the quality of national leadership.
They depict his feelings of isolation and increasing disillusionment not only with the war aims, but also his concerns about the future of the nation and his insistence on the maintenance of high professional standards within his Division. It is clear from his correspondence, that soon after the commencement of the war, he was fighting a battle on two fronts, - one on the Biafran frontlines and the second and equally stressful, with the Lagos high command. Reading through these letters, it is also true that he believed he might have been fighting a losing battle.
As I stated in the introductory section of this book, my father became an extremely controversial figure as the war progressed. Various myths sprung up about his person, ranging from the ludicrous to the plausible.
Similarly, many charges have been made against him: he has been called a sadist, has been accused of having 'deliberately prolonging' the civil war, of having made a 'fortune' from the war. Four years after the war ended, he was retired from the army after having been suspended by Gowon on charges of involvement in the Iyabo Olorunkoya Indian hemp scandal. His retirement was subsequent to a military inquiry whose findings have never seen the light of day; leaving a dark cloud of unsubstantiated allegations and innuendo hanging over him. These letters and his commentaries state his position on many of these issues. They illustrate I believe, the wide separation that can exist between public perception and actual fact.
The conflict between my father and the Lagos high command extended beyond the treatment of the defeated Easterners and the quagmire of "abandoned property". It extended to the conduct of the war. It is apparent that he came to believe that certain members of the Lagos High command strove to retard his efforts at the height of federal success after the initial fall of Owerri and Aba in September 1968, no doubt due to his abrasive style and a fear of his intentions.
My father's antagonistic relationship with many of his peer group began very early in his career. During his recounting of his early military training, he was found radical and hard headed not only by his military instructors, but also by his peers.
Many of my father's letters are in response to and in defense of his character. According to him, not long after he attained national and international acclaim, he was perceived by some of his superiors in SHQ, and Army HQ as a threat to the post civil war Nigeria. The great fear was that he would stage a coup to topple the existing government.
My father speaks vehemently against the long-term effect of the double standards of both military and political indiscipline that had already began to emerge in the military. Thirty years later, we are all in a better position to assess the validity of his warnings that the policies of Supreme Military Headquarters' would serve to entrench corruption, nepotism and mediocrity in national life.
Some of the letters written in this chapter are addressed to his perceived detractors, and mention others. To General Hassan and Army HQ specifically, he levels the charge of sabotaging his efforts in the field.
In a letter dated July 1968, at the height of the Division's success and several months before any such Owerri 'debacle', he responds to General Hassan (Chief of Staff, Army HQ's) attempt to dismiss him on the grounds of 'rudeness.' The letters depict a situation where my father speaks of having lost his command and to have all the Divisional Commanders being of Northern origin. It is during this particular episode that he made one of his infamous visits to the rear in Lagos ostensibly to make his case, (or as he puts it, to defend his 'character'). According to my father's letters, one of the consequences of this incident was a mutiny staged by officers and men of the Third Marine Commando on behalf of their potentially outgoing Commander. He speaks of absolving his men of their acts spurred on by desperation at losing their Commander.
As I stated earlier, one particular thread that remains constant throughout these letters is my father's stand against indiscipline, double standards and injustice. He maintains his stand on these principles regardless of whose ox is gored. One very clear example of his unyielding call for consistency related to the administration of the nearly- liberated South Eastern and Rivers States.
It is clear from the letters written in July 1968, that he felt grave concern about the choice of governors and later, about their direction of their governance. The series of letters written to the Rivers State Governor illustrate my father's concerns about the 'abandoned property' quagmire.
In his letters to the Head to State, General Gowon, he questions the sincerity of the SMC and its will for putting aside all political considerations, and providing him with the logistical and political support necessary to end the war.
In other letters to the Head of State, my father expands on these themes, imploring his Commander-in-Chief to practice justice for all. He is forthright in his admonitions against domination of any minority, and vents further against the Ibibios being 'trampled upon' by the Efik, Calabar and Ogoja. His prediction was 'they are going to demand for a state of their own sooner or later."
That letter was written in 1968. In 1967, South Eastern State was created when Gowon had increased the number of States to twelve. In 1976 when the states were increased to nineteen, South Eastern State was renamed Cross-River State. In 1986/87 under General Babangida, the number of States was increased to twenty -one, the Ibibios eventually got their own state. Akwa Ibom State was created from Cross River at that time.
Taken as a whole, my father's series of war letters reveal a soldier, a patriot, and a nationalist who was committed to his ideals as he saw them right or wrong. They reveal a soldier whose principles lead him into antagonistic relationships with his peers, and who declined to take the less troubled road to his ultimate detriment. It was this unyielding stance inherent in my father's character that ignited and fueled the efforts of the Lagos high command, and led them to characterize him as a 'threat' to the post war political set up. It was this view more than anything else, that would lead to his loss of command and eventually his forced retirement from the military in 1974.
This perverted dictum of the Nigerian living elite for villifying and ostracizing our very true fearless nationalists has been our bane as a nation even till this day. Indeed, I believe it shall remain our greatest impediment towards establishing a truly equitable, just, united and prosperous nation, whose future is secure and promising, and whose corridors of power are not filled with pretenders and charlatans.
The reader can formulate their own conclusions about whether or not the fears my father expressed about Nigeria's future in these letters have been unfounded. They can reach their own conclusions if subsequent events have vindicated the positions he stood for, politically and militarily.
The history of the Nigerian Army since the end of the civil war with the absence of discipline and prevalence of double standards clearly seem to vindicate my father's fears not only for his cherished Army but also for the nation.
These are His Words:
A new dimension surfaced after the capture of Calabar. The activities of the Division gained international recognition and applause. Lagos did not take too kindly to those glowing reports. The story was that I was constructing an aura of 'invincibility' around my person. The troops were told through clandestine avenues that I was building up an 'ego' at their expense. The officers and men, whom I had schooled in loyalty to their superiors and to country, were exposed to the gospel of my so-called ambition. I came to learn that the security threat I posed to the federal government was codified in numerous volumes by the special branch of the Nigerian Police Force, which had compiled its report with the assistance and close collaboration of a good friend in the Lagos cabinet office. I came to learn that some of my officers were given gifts and promised accelerated promotion to work with these Lagos elements. The bastion of my strength was the unflinching loyalty and support of the Officer Corp. For a good number of my men, these efforts simply had the effect of transforming their loyalty to the nation to personal loyalty to their Commander.
It surprised me that my Lagos friends were unable to appreciate the dangers in breaking up the ranks of the 3rd Marine Commando both in the short and the long term. The principle of double loyalty is a dangerous one to inject into an Army. It does not strengthen esprit de corps and certainly, has never contributed to tactical success in any war. The Army as a corporate entity suffered more than I from these activities, in the corrosive effect on the esprit de corps of the Nigerian Military.
Even greater surprise law in store: the domestic press was warned not to give 'undue coverage' to the successes of the 3rd Marine Commando Division and when the The Daily Times disregarded the military warning, Sam Amuka, Editor of the paper was shown the way out.
These events foreshadowed the post-war relationship between the authorities in Lagos and myself. At the same time, my relations with the foreign press grew more and more tempestuous. These men expected to stroll in and out of thc scenes of an ongoing war, at their whim and caprice! To The Economist Magazine, I was a friend who relished using starvation as a weapon of war.
I expected Lagos to come to the defense of its Commander. It did not. Rather, Army Headquarters under General Hassan, repeatedly sent damaging reports to Supreme Headquarters. I was branded as an obstinate officer who defied orders, an officer who refused to 'cooperate' or implement policy decisions and most incomprehensible of all, a grossly 'ambitious' officer. The Division was accused of being infested with hemp addicts and it was said that I was instrumental in this odium. I treated with absolute contempt, the ignoble role played by the 1968 Army Chief of Staff to undermine my command and control of the 3rd Marine Commando Division.
I was also accused of bad management and of selling arms and ammunition to Ojukwu. The civilians were fed with the untrue statement that the 3rd Marine Commando Division was not only saturated with first class arms, but also choked with first class infantry officers. Nothing could be far from the realities than the tale of arms saturation. The pattern was for the majority of arms and ammunition to be shifted to the north, on the pretext that the Republic of Niger ordered them. Time without number, I had to be physically present at Lagos airport whenever I had a warning that a plane load was expected, to get an allotment for the Division. This pattern of events persisted up to the capture of Port Harcourt. My protests never brought me close to securing any logistic support. It must be admitted that the ammunition expenditure of the 3rd Marine Commando Division was alarmingly high. The ill-trained soldiers that were drafted to this theatre had generated this deplorable situation.
When the accusations and counter accusations reached an intolerable level, I found relief in responding to Army Headquarters by letters addressed to the then Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters. By mid June 1968, the Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters received my letters in succession:
To: Brigadier E.O. Ekpo, June, 1968
I have a little more time on my hands and I want to devote it solely to replying your last Demi-Official letter. From the tone of your letter, I can well guess that you have not been given all the facts but that you have prejudged me, which I do not care one hoot. It does not take time for the truth to emerge.
From time it has been my cross for my ideas to be rejected in-to-to. I have grown to live with it.
One fact does stand out. Alao is a complete misfit, who still does not merit anything decent. When a man becomes self centered, to me, he is a pronounced enemy. You tell me, if within your sincerity you are not aware of the role Alao has been playing? Of course he is a venerable member of the ruling junta of the sane, so why should he not get away with murder?
All I have to say is that you should check these facts from the Commander-in-Chief, Chief of Staff (Army) and my Commander Rear. In as far as I am concerned, Alao is a liability to the nation, even the most stupid civilian will tell you that the Nigerian Air Force is a mess. Of course, I am aware I have no right to derail another officer or even service. Just contact Ochefu to tell you the devilish role Alao's clique has evolved again with regards to the deployment of the new crew of the Migs 17. This is one of the reasons why I find it difficult to remain in the Army. If I have to commit murder or anything to get out, I will do it. I am not kidding, just watch me for am on my way out already. The Army and the Armed Forces can do without an agitator. I am fed up to the neck, with the multiple plots I had to go through to see the war end. Please, for once, tell me: Have I done anything really out of the ordinary by persistently demanding equipment for my operation?
To turn to the vexed question of the Nigerian Air Force, other ranks under close arrest, one of them had been trafficking in Indian Hemp, while the other had a notorious circle patronized by some Nigerian Air Force (NAF) officers, in trafficking in the old currency from Lagos to Calabar.
For sometime I had known about these but I could not lay my hands on them. How can one explain an Other Rank (OR) having five back deposit books with about њ??3,000 in the bank? I have traced this up to Lagos. It has come to the notice of the Central banks and the confidence they have in me has been greatly dented.
If the Nigerian Air Force does know its laws, definitely under the Special Military Decree, I have full authority and power to try the boys. The dangers about Indian Hemp are self-evident. Calabar has been drowned in Indian hemp, it is rampant among civilians.
I am not going to this extent to justify my actions, but to show you again that all my intentions have been distorted in Lagos. I am well aware of the notorious rumour peddling of Alao, which he has initiated to damage me. I only pity him for many know what I am and what I stand for. I cannot contain myself whenever I look round at such people. I pity this country.
You might have read my letter to the Commander-in-Chief about the South Eastern State. I am sorry for South Eastern State. You have to move fast to give this state a good beginning. I had expressed myself freely, sincerely and honestly; to hell with anyone who thinks I am taking sides or derailing them.
The South Eastern State is in a real mess from my own judgement. Of course, it is none of my lookout to poke my nose into the State affairs.
Accusation By London Observer
Threat of new overthrow bid by Nicholas Lloyd.
As the Nigerian civil war splutter on, there are reports in Lagos of attempts to overthrow the federal leader, General Gowon. Following the rumours, security precautions have been tightened. At Ibadan earlier this month, two newspapers were shut down and three lawyers- one an ex-Minister- were arrested as dangerous to the good government of the Western State. The next day, houses were searched, a cache of arms found and 300 more people arrested.
The whole affair may merely have resulted from a Yoruba tribal squabble, but some Government officials are enough to give friends warning telephone calls- As they did on the night of the coup which brought Gowon to power. At the moment it is difficult to find viable alternative leader to Gowon. But army coups tend to breed army coups, so he must continually look over his shoulder for flashing knives.
"The story told me by an eye-witness of an army colonel pointing a gun at Gowon's head at a party some months ago, with unfriendly intentions shows the case with which the young general could be dispatched."
This tale of woe fitted the maze of the intrigues formented by Nigerian Army Headquarters during the era of General Hassan at the helm of authority. The equation formulated was that with the predominately Yoruba 3rd Marine Commando and my hoarding arms and ammunition, I had laid an undisputed claim to the post of Head of State of Nigeria. The then Governor of Western State of Nigeria fell prey to the well charted plot conceived in Lagos but hatched and executed in the turbulent Western State. To him I addressed:
Letter to Brigadier R.A. Adebayo, June 1968
Every sane Nigerian and fighting soldier is just baffled at the way you race to the so called "leaders of unthought" to seek mandate for every action that you take. Time and time again, every true Nigerian had held his breath at the next plunge that you take. I will go all out to bring home to you the naked truth. Do please do not for one moment minimize your hate or abhorrence for me, I am used to such plights. I thrive better if I am hated, scorned and utterly disparaged, these are the new dimensions of the roles that have been thrust on me. In your appointment of Commissioners you were so parochial to be true, you have played yourself into the hand of the ex-politicians that you can not get out of the web. You are a prisoner of Zender: this has been the bedrock of the recurring unrest in the yet to be divided Western State.
May I let you know this much that the West needs a leader devoid of playing to the gallery. You are guilty of utter abuse of power, position and the honourable thing to do is well known to you. I am sure you are well aware of the qualities of being an officer and a gentleman. If no one had the courage to tell you, you have lost long ago the support of the masses. The confidence the people have in you is at its lowest ebb. There is only one honourable course open to you. You are well aware of it, there is no need of wasting time and space to bring the home truth to you.
The West had been the sick political baby of Nigeria. The west had been the springboard of the present conflict, you have through misguided indoctrination plunged the West and Nigeria into insurmountable political tackle all because you want to satisfy your Yoruba Lagos factors. Surely, I need mention that you are a robot, whose strings are in Lagos. The game you are playing now is not yours but the so-called leaders of unthought, who had failed to satisfy the aspiration of this Country. Admit it that as a Military Governor you have failed, much as the Commander-in-Chief had not told you but we the younger ones know it. I adore you as a person but not as a leader. Do not for one moment misconstrue me, am not struggling to be a military Governor, for if I should I could have been long ago. The only thing is that you are a stumbling block to the way of Nigerian progress, who must be told how you stand. Hate me if you so wish, kill me if within your powers, curse me if that will help you, broadcast me as your enemy but there is a greater horizon than Adebayo and Adekunle with which Nigeria will live for posterity. You will have to go honourably to make way for peace, tranquility and orderly progress in the name of Black Power.
The world is still holding you responsible to give an honest account of your stewardship much as you disdain Gowon in all he stands for. In the name of humanity, request for a diplomatic job and let this country move off in unison before Easter. Yours is the asking with modifications in conformity with the aspirations of a reborn Nigeria. Your backers have no hope in the new concept of Nigeria. Death is a pleasure to a bastard like me, you may go to heaven, I, on my way to darling hell in Nigeria.
Do not think I am drunk with my duty to Nigeria, I have a divine duty, for my pay and records. You will do us an infinite pleasure if you are out of office by January 31, 1969. As a new hand is needed, so much as I love you, I will in the name of humanity tell you the truth. This is the limit of human endurance. Leave that office alone. Go overseas and you will be well off. My coffin is at Port Harcourt with me, check if you doubt it. Long live Nigeria, the Black Power and Black Race.
The question of my retirement by General Hassan Katsina from the Nigerian Army on the ground of rudeness re-echoed again in my next letter on July 1968 to Brigadier Ekpo
I have nothing but praise for the recent stand you have taken in some thorny matters. From time, it has been the practice rather than the exception to establish two standards for Nigerian Army. The bare naked truth are now manifesting themselves.
I do fully share in entirety. your remarks about discipline. Sincerely, I only glanced over the Chief of Staff Army Letter but yours stirred me up to go over the original Chief of Staff's letter. The causes of indiscipline are many. The foremost is these dreadful two standards that are prevalent in the Nigerian army. I have fallen prey to these two standards. I am aware that there is an inner circle, which is not subject to discipline. This vicious circle has got the Army in its grip and one of its plans is the discipline letter that has been issued. We will face a gloomier future far more dreadful and two standard plans would emerge.
I am just sorry for the Nigerian Army and the Country as a whole. I have enclosed a copy of a letter that I wrote to the Commander-in-Chief. The assertions are sweeping but they represent my deep down feelings. My main fear now is where do we go from here? If my reasoning is not faulty, then the "Adekunle must go" circle has more up its sleeves than is appreciated. Will it be wrong to say that since my cause has been upheld, the circle has not come to think that the main objective of weeding me out has been defeated? Frankly, the position of the Commander-in-Chief, Admiral (Wey) and yourself are not safe. I wonder if the circle could have stopped at me. How will any rational man give reasons for my retirement to be rudeness? Honestly, this is a definite plot that has exposed itself just two early and of course it is for the good of the county that we will wake up and be more watchful. I had months ago pointed out that it is my ardent desire to resign. It is not that I am afraid but I do understand that am a very controversial person. The stories circulating in Lagos about me are most dreadful. The originators are army officers, they nurture and spread them; this is discipline for you.
I have at last managed to get Chief E.O. Eyo to join the government of the South Eastern State. He and Jacob were in Port Harcourt on the 25th July of 1968 at a meeting with me. At long last I can rest assured that unity will reign supreme in the South Eastern State. Many will swallow their words. I will leave to you to please do me a great honour by writing both of them to ensure better understanding for the future.
Ariyo has been moved to Calabar to take charge of things there, to be a member of the Executive Council of the State.
I saw your letter about the loan. To all intents and purposes I gave out the money to ensure that the economic life is revived. The companies concerned were contemplating packing up; the loans have stopped them. Presently, I know that Dunlop wants to pack-up its affairs and sell-out its concern. I have stepped in to see if I can stop it. This, I am sorry to say, has failed.
Definitely, if the previous loans have not been questioned, I would have gone ahead and given the loan. My contention is always if the Federal Military Government is not ready to finance realistically the creation of States, then the idea should have not been conceived in the first instance.
Believe it or not, Jacob has still been relying on me for the salaries of his workers. If the Lagos Cabinet office and the Finance boys will not act, I will act, for the main national trouble has been the carving of two states from East Central State. The Trade Ministry and Cabinet Office have my sympathy, if after one year of fighting, a directive has not yet been evolved about private companies, then the new Nigeria will be worse off than the ousted political days.
Sir, finally, I must confess that I have lost not just confidence in myself but in the Army Headquarters. My hopes have been shattered and the only thing keeping me going is my patriotism and my pledge to Commander-in-Chief.
To General Gowon, Commander-in-Chief, July 1968
I enjoyed to the last bit, the recent show of authority in retiring me in a question of minutes. In as far as I am concerned there is more to it than presently meets the eye. In fact, in all sincerity, the infighting, which I had long wanted for, has just started.
The contention of the Chief-of-Staff (Army) is that I was rude in my signal to the Army Headquarters. How very unfortunate, but then what does he think his own language compares with? It is the embodiment of contempt and disparaging of a senior officer. Of course, I realize I am from the wrong side whose abomination should not be tolerated.
Coming to a more realistic problem, the present war is a national task in which all hands must be on deck. Of course, initially it was a seclusive affair until the bare truth dawned on the planners that no one section can take it upon itself to redeem this country. I am not quarrelling with this but I realized that I had a lot at stake. With this in mind, I got myself and my charge dug in into the task. With the help of God, I have been able at least, to achieve a measure of success, and of course, the place of honour and praise go to the boys. Nevertheless, to be treated with scorn at this hour speaks well of the remorse feelings in Lagos. Question is, is it now the policy to have all Division Commanders from the North? To counter and state that it is an under-statement would mean not playing cricket. It is sure blank bigotry. I had, from time, made it made clear that it has been my ardent desire to leave the Army. If I do not, I will have myself to blame, my people will not only lose me but my image will be damaged beyond recognition. The start has been made. I will state here that I have my fears now well founded. The said signal was not meant to spur me on to action nor is it an encouragement but part of a likely well-designed scheme. Much as I enjoy the full-unalloyed confidence of this Division, my life is obviously at stake. I am no coward but I like to face my death like a soldier - to die for a cause and a noble one at that, but let us crush the rebel first and foremost.
At this juncture, it will be appropriate to state one sad incident that occurred in my theatre. For the brief time that I was in Lagos, both officers and men mutinied in good faith that I was no longer returning. Sir, I built this Division in the name of Nigeria, not in the name of Oduduwa land or Dan Fodio. How-be-it, the confidence and the inter-dependence have been most remarkable. I am ready to be dragged into prison, to be discredited and disdained. I have served my country with all my might but how can anyone comprehend this signal. Revolting as the implications are, I will be of good courage and go ahead with the momentary job of crushing the rebels. To under-rate what I have started or to pronounce that my nature has induced me to commit the comments into writing will be begging the questions and deferring the evil day. Nigeria has got a gloomy future.
Cowards die many times before their deaths. I am in the name of sanity, humanity and God above all, imploring all the outcome of this letter should not be taken on the Division but on my person alone. I am responsible for what comments you are reading. My blood is ready to flow; death will be more suitable experience than I have been through. I have not the least refrained from my intention of leaving the Army, rather my convictions have been made stronger.
Am I really dangerous, I do ask in the name of decency, have I wronged humanity and the warlords by doing my God-sent duty? To destroy me will not solve the problem but heighten the contention of the rebels and the world at large. Given the opportunity, I will be useful to my country in better ways.
I do not deny that I will have to go but I implore that it should be done decently for we have given a new meaning to the African personality, which is enviable.
There had been remote talk that I am waxing in power and popularity. These are not to my knowledge nor have I got any ambition as such. I am a simple Carpenter's son who wants to earn an honest living. Whatever might have prompted such a callous move would be worth knowing. Have I ever given cause for anyone to doubt my loyalty or faith to the cause? If this can be done to me then the rest of the boys here will have their heads chopped off. Of course, I had long expected this.
What really are we fighting for, to enliven a new class of the domineering type or to integrate this country? My conscience is clear, my life mission has been manifested. I do not ask for promotion or any appointment within the Army or in the civil service. All I do request is that I am allowed to live a normal life having worked this far for it. If the design is to undo me, I will absorb the outcome but then I sincerely ask, will fate and destiny be muted? Farewell.
Another Letter to Gowon, Commander-in-Chief, July 1968.
The fluid nature of the rebel operations has again set me thinking seriously about our own reaction. The limitations of the rebels are most apparent compared realistically with our capabilities and weaponry. At long last we have been able to comprise the enemy into a crushable size which, incidentally is to his advantage. What remains of the name is OAU - Owerri, Aba and Umuahia. With the fall of Aba, Orlu and Okigwe are contained.
Much as political considerations have swayed us, especially in the Port Harcourt sector, it has become more and more apparent that the enemy is moving and grouping in incredible numbers in the area of Ikot Ekpene North West and North east. This is to his own advantage.
It is my duty as one of your boys to interpret my own application. The enemy will not wait to fight in his own area for fear of total destruction. The episode at Awgu is a sure prelude. It is the ardent desire of the enemy to fight as much as possible away and with this I dare say emphatically that the final battle will be fought not in Igboland, but within the areas of Ikot Ekpene, North West and North East.
From a fundamental military view, the enemy has already realized this and is earnestly planning not for the recapture of Enugu but Ikot Ekpene, Port Harcourt for her commercial outlet and Ikot Ekpene for being the main gateway to the Igbo hinerland. In as far as I have seen, no preparations have been made.