Nigeria History: The Biafra Midwest Invasion of 1967: Lessons for Today’s Geopolitics

By IndepthAfrica
In Analysis
Nov 4th, 2012
0 Comments
150 Views

BiafranSoldiersInAsaba

 

As the Nigerian geopolitical remains riled up, post the provocative publication of ‘There Was a Country’, by one of Nigeria’s most popular writers, Chinua Achebe. A revisiting of Nigeria’s history becomes pertinent. We decided to provide an address made by Dr. Nowamagbe Omoigui in 1998, which described a rather not so popular aspect of the Biafra secession war.

NewsRescue contacted Dr Omoigui, a high repute Cardiologist in the United States, in reference to this article, and as he explained, there is so much more detail which he left out in order to summarize it into this speech, but he will be glad to provide more information and evidence as needed to enlighten and inform Nigerians on their historical past. We updated his email in the article, so the author may be contacted.

Apparently from this and other evidence, the Biafra program was not a mere secession, but contained aggressive acts of war directed at non Igbo and non Biafra geopolitical zones, which the zealous young Ojukwu planned to annex and dominate over. His ambition and sight extended westward to Lagos, the Yoruba predominant western boundary of Nigeria. Indeed some say that no part of Nigeria was safe from the dreams and quest of this perhaps Narcissistic commander.

Lt Col Ojukwu

In addition to the scourge and humiliation of the occupation itself, fleeing Biafran soldiers carried out all kinds of unspeakable acts of brutality against the local population (17, 18). At the Urhonigbe Rubber Plantation, for example, hundreds of Midwesterners were summarily shot by regular and militia units which had already blazed a ‘scorched-earth’ trail of terror through Benin-West division (14).

The above is a excerpt from the article published on dawodu, below. The entire article is by all means a must read for those interested in Nigeria’s history and its relation to the present and future:

 

The Midwest Invasion of 1967: Lessons for Today’s Geopolitics

Dr. Nowamagbe A. Omoigui

Text of a keynote speech delivered at the Nigerian Independence Day Celebration sponsored by the Nigerian Women Association in Columbia, South Carolina on October 3, 1998 at the Holiday Inn Express, 773 St. Andrews Road, Columbia, SC 29210.

Nowamagbe A. Omoigui, MD, MPH, FACC

Nowa_o@yahoo.com

INTRODUCTION & BACKGROUND

Thank you very much for inviting me to deliver the keynote address to the Nigerian community in South Carolina this year. As you all are aware, our country is 38 years old, having attained political independence from Britain on October 1st 1960.

Our history goes back much further. Having secured the Atlantic coastal areas, in the latter part of the nineteenth century (1, 2), two significant events at the turn of this century marked the interior drive by colonialists to gain political and economic control over what later became the central and eastern states of Southern Nigeria. They were the Benin expedition of 1897 and the Aro expedition of 1901-2. Much earlier, Consul Johnston of the Niger Coast protectorate removed King Jaja of Opobo in 1887. Chief Nana of Itsekiri was deported in September 1894. In the context of events created by the 1892 treaty with vice-consul Gallwey, the Benin empire fell in the wake of the so-called “punitive” expedition by Sir Ralph Moor’s government on February 18, 1897. Oba Ovonramwen was subsequently deported to Calabar (3).

The British government later transformed the Niger Coast Protectorate into the “Protectorate of Southern Nigeria”, encompassing multiple ethnic territories (except Lagos) some of which used to be administered under the Royal Niger Company. In 1906, the colony of Lagos was merged with the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria.

On January 1st 1914, Sir Frederick Lugard announced the amalgamation of two British colonial protectorates, northern and southern Nigeria. In his words, the union would henceforth be “….conforming to one policy and mutually cooperating for the moral and material advancement of Nigeria as a whole…”. (4) Based on other accounts, however, it appears that the reason why the British amalgamated Northern and Southern Nigeria had nothing to do with the moral and material advancement of Nigeria as a whole. His Majesty’s Government sought to consolidate contiguous colonial possessions and reroute the great rail-lines, thus gaining direct access to Atlantic ports. Southern Nigeria’s riches (particularly timber) was a means to subsidize the cost of administering northern Nigeria so as to free up scarce resources in other colonies to prosecute the First World War.

Perhaps emblematic of our inability to find a stable structure (5, 6), Nigeria has had eight constitutions in the 70-year period between 1922 and 1992: 1922, 1946, 1951, 1954, 1960, 1963, 1979, and 1989. At the present time, we are in the throes of yet another military-civil transition program that will (hopefully) lead to the emergence of the third republic on May 29, 1999. The draft of our ninth constitution was recently released for public comment (7). There are those who believe we are in for yet another replay of our tortured past.

Indeed, much has happened in the last eight years, the details of which you are all aware. On April 22, 1990, a young middle-belt Armored Corps officer by name of Major Gideon Orkar (supported by a clique of southern minority officers) went on Lagos radio and announced the expulsion of all states in the far north fringe of Nigeria from the country. His putsch eventually failed. In 1993, Nigeria’s military leader, General Ibrahim Babangida, (himself a northerner, with a personal agenda of his own) was urged by a clique of northern officers in the Army (with the acquiescence of some southern civilian elite) to prevent the apparent winner of a national election from taking office. According to Babangida’s son, these officers reportedly cited the economic control of the country by southerners as a justification for politico-military control by the “disadvantaged” north. The presumed winner of the election, Moshood Abiola, who died recently in detention, was a Yoruba from the southern part of the country. Since then, separatist instincts (which have never been too far from the surface) have been given a new lease of life. With nearly all ethnic groups in the country suffering from the disease of want and feeling “marginalized” from opportunity by at least one other ethnic or religious group, calls have increased for measures to attain redress. They include a “sovereign national conference” to decide the future of the country, confederation, a return to the 1963 regional constitution, establishment of a political “Truth Commission” and even outright dissolution of the federal republic. Most recently, the establishment of “regional armies” has been advocated to redress what is perceived as the domination of the military by “the north” (7).

These developments are neither trivial nor new. In early September, an unnamed diplomat was alleged to have imported 9000 9mm parabellum pistols and 500 submachine guns across the Beninois border (7). Rumors of similar activities in other parts of the country (including the stockpiling of weapons in warehouses abroad) persist. Such importation may be motivated by the desire to sell weapons in Nigeria’s thriving “Armed Robbery” market. A more sinister possibility, however, is the contingency storage of weapons (by private interests) for another civil war.

My roots are from the Edo nation of the old Midwestern region (now Edo and Delta states) of Nigeria. My ancestors established the ancient Benin Empire, which, after 400 years of contacts with Europeans, lost its independence in 1897. Our country, Nigeria, has failed to live its promise and sometimes behaves as if it is living between wars. Indeed, no less a personality than Lt. General Theophilus Danjuma, former Army Chief made a similar observation in 1979.

Today, I have chosen to reflect on a particularly sensitive period of our history. The two-month period of the Nigerian civil war from August 9 to October 8th 1967 represent the entry and exit dates of Biafran forces from the Midwest. As we ponder the suggestion to set up “regional armies”, there are lessons from that campaign that need emphasis if we are to learn from history and avoid repeating its mistakes.


PRELUDE

The coups d’etat of January 15, and July 29, 1966 had profound consequences which went far beyond the expectations of its planners. The specific details of those coups are well known and will not be recounted here (8, 9, 10, 11, 12).

From the perspective of the Midwest, Ibo-speaking officers and men from the Ika, Asaba and Aboh divisions of the state joined the massive exodus of easterners from other parts of the country (13). This was in response to the May 29 and July 29 killings and the subsequent call by the Military Governor of the Eastern region, (Lt. Col. C. O. Ojukwu) for all Ibos to return ‘home’ in the wake of further acts of ‘ethnic cleansing’ in September 1966. [Subsequently, Ojukwu expelled all non-Ibo Midwesterners from the eastern region, including students.]

Because of the complete breakdown of military discipline and trust occasioned by the widespread killings of Ibos, it became apparent that troops had to return to their regions of origin. For this reason, a regional army structure was approved corresponding to the four regions of the country at that time (6, 12, 13). The 1st, 2nd , 3rd and 4th area commands were based in the Northern, Western, Eastern and Midwestern regions, respectively. Since the northern region essentially controlled the federal government, northern troops remained in Lagos. This raised two issues:

  1. Whether a mixed regional force ought to control Lagos, as federal capital.
  2. Whether northern troops should remain in the West to protect the northern flank of northern troops in Lagos, who would be cut off from the north, should their colleagues in the West be recalled. On August 9, 1966 the Ad-Hoc Committee had indeed recommended that northern troops be repatriated from Lagos and the West, but Gowon demurred. This led the West to believe that it was “occupied” and became a sore point in West-North relations for quite some time.

In the tense period of political maneuvering leading up to the civil war, the different area commands had different degrees of motivation for and ability to procure arms and ammunition. The 1st area command in Kaduna allegedly had the advantage of simply using federal connections to do this. Excess weapons in Lagos were reportedly moved up north, and certain prominent businessmen are said to have helped to import arms. Northern troops returning from other regions took their weapons along. The 3rd area command in the east made its own arrangements, which (as we now know) were grossly inadequate by the time a decision was made to secede (8). The 2nd area command in Ibadan was in a difficult position because of the presence of northern troops. Concerned about the lopsided ethnic structure of the 4th area command, and the potential for abuse, the Governor, Lt. Col. Ejoor prevented a private group led by Mr. Yon DaKolo and Lt. Col. Mike Okwechime from importing weapons to Benin. Instead, he asked the federal government to provide the Midwest region with weapons directly, choosing not to do so secretly. Hence a small consignment of weapons was sent to Benin to beef up the 20 odd Mark 4 rifles held by the 300 soldiers there at the time. Three keys to the armory were made. Midwest Ibo officers (Lt. Cols. Conrad Nwawo and Sylvanus Nwajei) held two keys, while Major Sam Ogbemudia (Bini-Edo) ostensibly held the third. Because of this complex arrangement, with Lagos regulating the supply of arms on the one hand, and the absence of any credible attempt to recruit new soldiers locally on the other, the 4th area command was never in a position to independently defend the region or state in a sustained manner from any threat even if all the officers were loyal (13, 14).

At the September1966 Constitutional conference for the political future of the country, the Midwest was the only region to support the preservation of a federation with a strong center. This was based at the time on enlightened self-interest, because the leadership feared that the barely three year old oil, cocoa, rubber, timber and port rich region would in all likelihood become a target of hostile intent and domination by its larger, more cohesive, more organized and more powerful neighbors. Midwestern Ibo officers who felt the confederate and even secessionist arrangements proposed by other regions was a better approach opposed this position, hammered out by the Urhobo Governor, Lt. Col. Ejoor, Chief Anthony Enahoro (Ishan-Edo), and a group of non-Ibo intellectuals from the University of Ibadan. Such disagreements over policy reflected deep divisions within the political milieu over which Ejoor presided (13).

From January 4-5, 1967 all military leaders of Nigeria met in Aburi, Ghana to resolve Nigeria’s dilemma. Thereafter, conflicting versions of what was and was not agreed became the stuff of a propaganda war between Ojukwu and the federal government (12, 15). On Jan 14-15, solicitors-general from all over the country met in Benin City to discuss the legal implications of Aburi and review all decrees passed by the Military since Jan 17, 1966. On Jan 17-18, they discussed a draft decree on decentralization. This was followed on Jan 25 by a an inconclusive meeting (again in Benin City) of senior Nigerian Officers from all regions to discuss the reorganization of the army after the events of 1966. On March 9-10, the Supreme Military Council met (yet again in Benin City) to ratify the decentralization decree. Ojukwu did not attend, citing security concerns. However, he showed up alone by Helicopter in Benin City on March 12 at which time Ejoor briefed him on the deliberations of the meeting he missed (13). He still was not pleased. This decree (No. 8) was issued a few weeks later, practically making Nigeria a confederacy (6).

On April 30, the National Peace Committee met in Benin City to review efforts to resolve the crisis. In the weeks that followed it was pretty clear that Ojukwu was heading toward secession. On May 26, a crucial joint meeting of the chiefs and elders of the Eastern Consultative Assembly was convened in Enugu (15). It mandated Ojukwu to proclaim the eastern region as an independent republic of Biafra. On May 27, therefore, Gowon pre-emptively declared a state of emergency and announced the creation of twelve states out of the four regions. The Midwest region became a state with no change in its size or configuration, while the other regions were divided. One of the most significant results of this exercise, was the splitting of the eastern region into three parts, separating (and land locking) the inland Ibo from the oil rich coastal minorities of the Calabar, Ogoja and Rivers provinces (12).

On May 30, 1967, one year after the infamous “Unification Riots” took place in the then Northern region, 34 year old Lt. Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, mandated by the East Regional Consultative Assembly, proclaimed the Republic of Biafra. Tracing a diary of events in 1966, Ojukwu stated (among other things) that: “The widespread nature of the massacre and its periodicity May 29, July 29, and September 29 show first, that they were premeditated and planned, and second that Eastern Nigerians are no longer wanted as equal partners in the Federation of Nigeria.” (15)

Based in Lagos, the federal government under 33 year old Major-General Yakubu Cinwa Gowon, did not accept the proclamation. The “northern group of states”, having suppressed their own prior instincts for secession, perceived it as an economic threat to its survival and well being. The federal government believed that it had not exhausted alternatives to complete disintegration, even though communication with Ojukwu in particular had broken down. Almost immediately, therefore, steps were taken to bring the situation under control. By June 3, a total naval blockade of the bights of Benin and Biafra (later renamed ‘Bonny’) had been ordered. Oil tankers and other ships heading for Bonny and Calabar were intercepted and diverted. Ojukwu was formally dismissed from the Nigerian Army on July 1st. The ‘police action’ land phase of what is now referred to as the Nigerian Civil War subsequently began in earnest at 0530 hrs on July 6, 1967. Troops concentrated at Vanderkya [in Benue State] under the command of Major Martin Adamu opened a barrage of fire in support of an assault on Garkem and Obudu in the Ogoja sector. A few hours’ later troops under Major Sule Apollo opened up a second front from Ankpa and Idah toward Enugu Ezike and Okutu in the Nsukka sector. (8)

It turns out that during the Commander-in-Chief’s conference on June 7 in Lagos, Lt. Col. David Ejoor (Military Governor) was told that “Midwestern State will be kept free from active operations unless where necessary, but the border between the Eastern States and the Midwest will be completely sealed off.” (10, 12) Therefore, on June 18, at a speech in Asaba, Ejoor reiterated a public commitment that the Midwest would not be turned into a battlefield. Sensitive to his own Midwest Ibo constituency, the prevailing wisdom at the time was that the war was a confrontation between the ‘Northern’ and ‘Eastern’ regions in the larger context of Nigerian unity. But within 7 weeks after Ejoor’s speech, “Biafran” troops were in control of the Midwest and hurtling across the West on their way to Lagos. That campaign and its far-reaching implications, ladies and gentlemen, is the focus of my speech tonight.

THE ASSAULT

At 3 a.m. on Wednesday, August 9, 1967, the fourth anniversary of the democratic creation of the Midwestern region, a motorized rifle brigade consisting of 3000 Biafran soldiers and militiamen, under the command of Lt. Col. ["Brigadier"] Victor Banjo, crossed the Niger Bridge at Onitsha into Asaba. The Biafran Invasion of the Midwest had begun. Transported in over 100 trucks and civilian vehicles, this was the nucleus of what eventually was planned to be designated the “101st division”, also known as the “Liberation Army of Nigeria” or the “Midwest Expeditionary Force”. Upon arrival in the Midwest, they split up into three spearheads, destined to peal off from one another at Agbor. Units fired indiscriminately into the air as they arrived unchallenged at successive tactical objectives. The seizure of the Midwest was essentially accomplished within 12 hours (8, 9, 13, 14).

The 101st HQ group included Major (‘Lt. Col.’) Emmanuel Ifeajuna as Chief of Staff and Captain (“Major”) Joe Isichie as QuarterMaster General. Much later in the campaign, Lt. (“Major”) Fola Oyewole (upon release from prison in Enugu, where he (and Adeleke) had been detained for the January 15 coup) became Isichie’s deputy (16).

The 12th Battalion, under Lt. Col. Festus Akagha, made a dash for Benin City, [the capital]. The 18th battalion under Major Humphrey Chukwuka, headed for Warri, [in the oilrich delta] with Sapele and Ughelli as secondary objectives. The 13th battalion under Lt. Col. Mike Ivenso, swung northwards toward Auchi, with Agenebode (across the Niger from Idah, in Benue State), and Okene (in then Kwara state) as secondary objectives. A detachment was to head for Jebba to destroy the Niger Bridge at that location (8, 9).

Unknown to Banjo, a unit led by Lt. Col. Ochei (a Midwest Ibo officer), specifically attacked the Government house in Benin, ostensibly ordered by Ojukwu to capture the governor, Lt. Col. Ejoor dead or alive (13). Fortuitously, Major Ogbemudia (then quarter-master-general) had changed the guard detail at the Government House during the night (14). Therefore, the soldiers on duty, not being part of the plot to hand-over the state resisted. Ejoor escaped, separated from the rest of his family. Other than some fighting in the Siluko area, this was the only resistance the “Liberation Army” had to face in its initial phase of operations.

The 12th battalion had originally operated in the Ogoja sector before being re-deployed to take part in the Midwest operation (8). It was supposed to have breakfast in Benin City, then proceed speedily toward Ibadan and Lagos on two axes springing from Ore and Okitipupa. The Ore group was to split into two groups, one pushing to Ibadan through Ondo and Ife, while the other was to drive through to Ijebu-Ode on to Lagos. Instead, the 12th battalion stalled in Benin City, while Banjo and Ojukwu argued back and forth for three days about whom to appoint Governor/ Administrator of the Midwest. Ojukwu had apparently initially preferred Lt. Col. Nwawo as the governor (9). But Banjo, eager to avoid creating a restive non-Ibo population, independently and separately approached Lt. Col. David Ejoor (through the Catholic mission), Major Sam Ogbemudia (through an agent) and Lt. Col. Trimnell (a molato officer with ancestral links to Aboh division), in that order (9, 13, 14). The first two declined. Ojukwu turned down the latter, ultimately choosing Major Albert Nwazu Okonkwo, a Midwest Ibo medical officer. After the first of several recalls to Enugu, Banjo returned to Benin City on August 11/12, 1967 to resume the fatally delayed westward thrust of the 12th battalion, which had now been re-designated a brigade. The announcement of Major Okonkwo’s appointment was eventually made on Thursday, August 17 from Enugu.

The 18th battalion took Warri without incident. Major Chukwuka released Major Adewale Ademoyega from Warri prison before making his radio broadcast to the people of the Delta (9). Discerning listeners knew that Chukwuka was one of the January 1966 coup plotters in Lagos who had killed Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh, a son of Warri, Federal Minister for Finance and arguably the Midwest’s most influential politician at that time. Ademoyega had been transferred to Warri from Uyo prison after a fistfight with Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna over the ultimate failure of their coup in Lagos. After expropriating all the Mark IV bolt-action rifles from the Warri Police Station, he headed for Benin City where he assumed training and command (as “Lt. Col.”) of a newly conscripted 700 man battalion, based at the Edokpolo Grammar School. This battalion (called the 19th) was to advance in support of the 12th battalion as part of the new 12th brigade. When on August 13, “Lt. Col.” Ademoyega relieved “Lt. Col.” Ifeajuna as Chief of Staff of the “Liberation Army”, Lt. Col. Henry Igboba (Midwest Ibo) took over the 19th battalion. Ifeajuna returned to Enugu as Liaison Officer for the Liberation Army (9).

The 13th battalion under Ivenso secured itself at Auchi and Agenebode, then crossed the border into then Kwara (West-Central) state (now Kogi) in the former northern region. By August 13th, they had captured Okene, Atanai and Iloshi, arbitrarily killing some civilians in the process (17). Their role was to protect the northern flank of the main force while cutting off supply lines to federal troops at Nsukka (8, 15, 19).

The 4th Area Command at the time of the Invasion (13, 14)

At the time of the Biafran Invasion, there had been no “northern” troops in the Midwest. The Nigerian Army 4th Area Command had two battalions organized in nine (9) companies. Two companies were based in Benin, two in Agbor, two in Asaba, and one each in Warri, Auchi and Ekiadolor. It was manned by Midwesterners, under the command of Lt. Col. Conrad Nwawo [the same officer to whom Major Patrick C.K. Nzeogwu (also Midwest Ibo) had surrendered in Jan 1966]. Because several non-Ibo officers remained in Lagos and Kaduna, all but three officers on the ground (Lt. Col. David Ejoor, Majors Ogbemudia and Eremobor) of the rank of Major and above were Midwestern Ibos. Probably 75% or more of the 42 officers were Ibo-speaking. Indeed, in addition to possessing a sizable chunk of the rank and file, among the strategic positions in the Command, Ibo-speaking officers held the following:

  1. Commander, 4th Area Command (Lt. Col. Nwawo)
  2. General Staff Officer 1 (Operations) (Lt. Col. Nwanjei)
  3. Staff Officer (Civil-Military Liaison), Governors Office
  4. Commander, Benin Garrison, including two companies (Lt. Col. Ruddy Trimnell)
  5. Battalion Commander (Lt. Col. Igboba)
  6. Battalion Commander (Lt. Col. Ochei)
  7. Commanding Officer, Depot. (Lt. Col. Keshi)
  8. Officer in charge, Engineers/ Communications (Lt. Col. Okwechime)
  9. Company Commander, Auchi area
  10. Company Commanders, Asaba area (including Major Alabi-Isama)
  11. Company Commanders, Agbor area
  12. Company Commander Warri area
  13. Company Commander, Ekiadolor Unit

Non-Ibos held the following positions:

  1. Quarter Master-General, 4th area command (Major Ogbemudia)
  2. Intelligence Officer (Major Eremobor)

Col. David Ejoor (Military Governor, Midwest), was thus caught between numerous Midwestern Ibo officers (whom he could neither trust nor control) and the federal government (whom they did not trust). Not exactly a stranger to intrigue, Ejoor (as Commander 1st battalion, Enugu), narrowly escaped death (from Majors Anuforo and Ifeajuna) at the Ikoyi Hotel in Lagos, Jan 15,1966. He also slipped out of an attempted kidnap (by Ojukwu) during the burial of Major General Aguiyi-Ironsi at Umuahia on Jan 20, 1967. As noted above, he tried to play a balancing act as a neutral, by declaring that the Midwestern region ‘would not become a battlefield’. It was a no win situation.

The Gathering Storm.

As far back as April 6th, 1967 almost two months before the proclamation of secession, special branch police reports had alerted the federal government of certain activities that were to take on significance later (10). Two officers from the eastern region, (Lt. Col. Ude and Major Obioha) were in contact with some of their counterparts in the Midwest to make arrangements for the possible occupation of the Midwest by troops from the Eastern Area Command. The pretext would be that the Midwest was not strong enough to defend itself and that Midwest Ibos needed protection. This occupation was to be coordinated with a simultaneous seizure of the Western region, which (according to the report) was why some individuals (presumably Ojukwu, Awolowo and Adebayo) were advocating that “northern” troops leave that region.

Ude and Obioha apparently met with Lt. Cols. Igboba, Nwawo, Okwechime and Nwajei, along with Major David Odiwo and a civilian hotelier, Joseph Nwababa. Igboba and Nwajei reportedly reconnoitered the Ilusi and Ubiaja areas of the region to determine their suitability as a springboard for operations. This option would have meant bypassing Benin while advancing through Owo to Ibadan. Using the African Continental Bank (ACB), money was allegedly laundered through Nwababa to Military and Police operatives.

[This detailed intelligence report provides another glimpse into the degree of dishonesty in Banjo's relationship with Ojukwu. When Ademoyega was released from Warri prison, Banjo told him that it was he (Banjo) that suggested the Midwest and Lagos moves to Ojukwu, who accepted because of his 'confidence' in him. Obviously, Banjo was unaware that plans for the invasion had been fostered even before Biafra was proclaimed.]

On July 11, a week after “police action” had commenced, Ejoor declared that the state would promptly and resolutely resist any incursion of its territory; unfortunately, signs that an invasion was indeed coming were essentially ignored. The Asaba end of the Niger Bridge was wide open. The federal blockade was not enforced by troops of the 4th area command, none of whom were under the operational control of Ejoor. Trade with the Onitsha market continued unabated. The Asaba Textile Mills, which was dependent on the Afam power station for electricity supply, had its power cut off on July 18th. The crude oil pipeline from Warri to the Port Harcourt refinery was also sabotaged (14). These acts heightened apprehension in the Midwest and raised eyebrows in Lagos. In his book (10), Major General Joe Garba (rtd) describes an irritant in the relationship between certain Midwest officers in Lagos (for example, Captain George Innih) and their northern counterparts during this period. It had to do with demands from the former that the 4th Area Command be given “adequate weapons” to defend the state, rather than rely on “northern” troops. However, in the setting of suspicions about the pro-East tilt of the majority of officers in the Midwest at that time, the federal government was, understandably, not in a hurry to flood the Midwest with weapons which might in all probability simply be handed over to Ojukwu.

A subsequent demonstration of Heavy Weapons at the Benin airport and public statements of assurance from the Commander of the 4th area command (Col. Nwawo) only served to lull the civilian population into a false sense of security. Behind the scenes, other events demonstrated the widening gulf between Ibo and non-Ibo officers. For example, on August 5, a company of soldiers led by Lt. (later Captain & “Major”) Igbinosa arrived in Benin from Lagos with orders to escort a consignment of boats (procured by Ejoor from the Delta) to the Bonny sector in the East, where Lt. Col. Adekunle was operating. Igbinosa was promptly turned back by Lt. Col. Nwawo and other Midwest Ibo officers at the Area Command HQ (13). Curiously, in his “Journal of Events” (15), Ojukwu interpreted this event as follows: “Nigerian troops start amassing troops and stockpiling large quantities of arms in the Midwest in preparation for an attack on Biafra.” The following day, on August 6, an embarrassed Ejoor (whose neutrality was now in doubt) confronted these same Midwest Ibo army colleagues with newspaper reports about the formation of a “southern solidarity front” to include the East, Midwest and West to the exclusion of the North (14). Not surprisingly, they denied. Interestingly, Ojukwu issued a public warning that day, to Ejoor reminding him of his pledges to keep the region neutral. However, two days later, on the night of August 8, Biafran army uniforms were secretly issued to selected Midwestern Ibos while weapons were withdrawn ‘for routine check’ from non-Ibo soldiers in the 4th Area Command HQ. The Police wireless station at Asaba closed down (as usual) for the night. The stage was set (14).

Between 3 a.m. when they crossed the Niger Bridge and 7:00 a.m. when the Biafran 12th battalion and 101st divisional HQ group arrived in Benin City, feverish activities took place among key officers of the 4th area command. Those in the know, manipulated and stonewalled their colleagues while rumors spread like wildfire (14). As it were, a group of Midwest Ibo officers had actually been slated to welcome Lt. Col. Banjo at Ikpoba Hill that morning (13).

Major-General Yakubu Gowon was very concerned about the dynamics of the Midwest before the invasion (12). Recognizing that (by prior agreement) there were no “northern” troops in the Midwest, he (Gowon) took the precaution of quietly creating a new brigade at Okene (in modern day Kogi State). According to Garba (10), a company was also positioned at Ore and may have been the group that put up some resistance at Siluko. All of these soldiers later came under the command of 28 year old Lt. Col . Murtala Ramat Mohammed. Although he was the coup-leader, he ceded leadership to Gowon after the July 29, 1966 counter-coup and was practically a man in search of a mission for some time after that. In a curious twist of fate, the Biafran invasion gave the Kano-born, Hausa-speaking Mohammed an opportunity to return to his ancestral home in Auchi in the Midwest region as a Liberator (17).

Initially, these Okene based troops were being massed in preparation for a possible dash to Agbor through Auchi, in the Midwestern region, to cut off any attempt by the Biafran Army to match on Benin City and on to Lagos (12). According to Ejoor, the nucleus of this unit was the 3rd battalion originally based in Ibadan, which had been transferred to Okene. In Ejoor’s opinion (13), the subsequent eastward movement of most of this battalion to provide reinforcement for the Nsukka sector, opened up the flank for Ojukwu’s invasion of the Midwest. Events validate Ejoor’s perspective, because the 3rd battalion was not in place to stop Ivenso from entering Okene on August 13th.

Clearly monitoring the unstable situation in the Midwest, and looking for a pretext based on real or imagined troop movements, Ojukwu struck on August 9th, fast and with near-total surprise. Near total, because the clouds of imminent invasion were noticed by at least a few others. One Sergeant Major, for example, desperately sought guidance from a few non-Ibo officers to pre-emptily arrest all Midwest Ibo officers. He was quite prepared to do this, he said, as long he had an order to do so. No one was willing to bite the bullet, perhaps for fear it might boomerang. Those were anxious days (17).

By pre-arrangement, the Midwestern Area Command put up no resistance, essentially folding into the Biafran rearguard. Among others, the Officers who were most deeply involved in all of this were Lt. Cols. Mike Okwechime, Igboba, Nwajei, Ochei and Col. Conrad Nwawo. [Nigerian Army Headquarters took the view that these "Nigerian" officers were involved in a coup d'etat against the Midwestern region of Nigeria; this attitude that affected the way those who survived were treated after the war ended in Jan 1970. (12)]

The Military Governor, Col. David Ejoor, eventually escaped to Lagos, after an unusual August 11/12 midnight meeting with Lt. Col. Banjo at the Catholic Seminary in Benin City. During this encounter, he apparently declined an offer to serve as Governor and assist in efforts to remove both Gowon and Ojukwu from office and form a new reconciliatory national government in the “Dominion of Southern Nigeria”. Lt. Col. Nwajei, ‘Major’ Alale and an unnamed Biafran ‘officer’ (possibly Achuzia) apparently witnessed this interesting meeting. Banjo not only apologized to Ejoor for the attack on Government House, but also stated that Ojukwu had told him that Ejoor was fully aware of the plan to seize the Midwest! (13)

On August 13, having decided that the situation was too complicated, Ejoor slipped out of the capital, dressed in a disguise, hitching a ride in a car until he got to the Sakpoba River. From there he reportedly trekked to an Urhobo settlement where he mounted a bicycle, which he says he rode for 80 miles to his mother’s village at Ebor-Orogun. He remained in hiding until September 23, when (with Benin and Warri safely back in federal hands), he emerged to rendezvous with Lt. Col. Benjamin Adekunle at Warri, enroute to Lagos by air. After stints as Director of Training and Planning at Supreme Headquarters and Commandant, Nigerian Defence Academy, years later, as a Major General, he eventually became the last person to hold the title of ‘Chief of Staff, Army’. He was retired in July 1975, at which time the title was changed to ‘Chief of Army Staff’ (13).

Banjo not only declared a free and independent Midwest region, but also expressed lack of support for the concept of an independent Biafra, infuriating Ojukwu in the process (9, 14, 19). On August 11, Lt. Col. Nwawo appealed to all soldiers in the 4th area command to “return to duty”. Conceivably, their role was to help garrison the Midwest while the main group of Biafrans proceeded to Lagos. At this point, Major Sam Ogbemudia, (who was subsequently declared wanted and had a bounty placed on his head), explains in his memoirs that he went underground to assist in organizing a resistance movement (14). For those interested in parallels, this was akin to the French or Polish Resistance against Nazi occupation in the forties. Ogbemudia was trained in special warfare techniques at Fort Bragg in the United States, and had also been Chief Instructor (support weapons wing) at the Nigerian Military Training College in Kaduna. Under Major Nzeogwu and Colonel Shodeinde, he taught classes in guerrilla warfare to military trainees.

THE OCCUPATION (14)

With the announcement of Major Okonkwo’s appointment as Military Administrator, Midwest, came the imposition of a dusk to dawn curfew and other measures consistent with martial law. Only individuals with passes could move freely at night. The administrative machinery of the civil service was manipulated to empower those who supported the invasion (or were trusted) rather than the traditional seniority based hierarchy. Mr. Agbajor (an Itsekiri police officer who had escaped from a northern hit squad at Makurdi in September 1966) became Chief of Police. Mr. Esedebe (Midwest Ibo) functioned as Head of Service.

Some military officers then persuaded a number of traditional rulers in the Ibo-speaking areas of the state to sign petitions calling for a merger with their “kith and kin” in the east. Local Governments across the board were mandated to donate materials for transportation to Enugu to assist in the War effort. Salt was rationed because of its presumably more important use as a raw material for explosives. Because of the cutoff of northern sources of cattle, meat became scarce. Shortages of other essential commodities also developed. As might be expected, not everyone was equally affected by the shortages, creating yet another sore point (among many) for ethnic resentment.

Outright molestation, harassment and killing of non-Ibo civilians occurred on a daily basis. At night “suspected saboteurs” were fished out of their homes and arrested. The Hausa community in the Lagos street area of Benin and other parts of the state were targeted for particularly savage treatment, in part a reprisal for the pogroms of 1966, but also out of security concerns that they would naturally harbor sympathies for the regime in Lagos. But non-Hausas were just as badly treated. And as the hostility of the local population became more intense, so did the degree of indiscrete brutality for “internal security”. Non-Ibo alumni of St. Patrick’s College, Asaba and Government College, Ughelli, found to their chagrin that old school ties meant nothing in the new dispensation (17).

Radio broadcasts “educated” the public about the role of ‘gallant’ Biafran troops who had only come to liberate them from the “bondage of the feudal Hausa-Fulani oligarchy”. An economic cooperation agreement was announced between the ‘independent’ states of Biafra and the Midwest. The truth, though, was that Ojukwu retained authority to approve all expenditures made by the Okonkwo regime and it was not until September 13th that normal postal, telephone and telegraphic services between Biafra and the Midwest were resumed (15). Counter-propaganda was indeed launched by federal radio, which appealed to the citizens of the state for loyalty and cooperation.

In this atmosphere, civil resistance and disobedience germinated, predominantly among non-Ibos. But a few Midwest Ibo-speaking soldiers and civilians did become leery about the invasion and felt the ‘interference’ from “across the Niger” was getting out of hand. On the other side of this opinion divide was the powerful, so-called “Enugu clique”, eager to share in the destiny of the corporate Ibo nation (14). Such ambiguous sensitivities and antipathies within and between “western” and “eastern” Ibos have always existed. Long after the civil war, for example, it even affected negotiations about the creation of a proposed Anioma state (18).

The Resistance

According to an Army manual, “a resistance movement is the organized element of a disaffected population, which resists a government or occupying power with means varying from passive to violently active. Resistance movements begin to form when dissatisfaction occurs among strongly motivated individuals who cannot further their cause by peaceful and legal means”. (20)

Not much has been written about the popular resistance. In their memoirs, Ademoyega (9) and Ejoor (13) make passing reference to it. Much of what we know comes from the written account of Ogbemudia (14) corroborated by oral testimony. For some reason, Alexander Madiebo (8) saw things differently from his position as Commander of the Biafran Army in Enugu, even claiming in his narrative that “Benin was taken early that morning without a single loss of life, amidst frantic jubilation by the entire local population.” (Italics mine) One can only wonder about which population he was referring, and the veracity of intelligence reports reaching the East (19).

Many resistance groups may have operated in the Midwest, but one in particular was organized and very effective. This group was the one formed by Chief Michael A. Ojomo in Benin on August 18th. According to Ogbemudia, “….In a short time, recruitment and training started, and volunteers came in hundreds. Soon afterwards, an effective system of hit and runs was in operation…..By 26th of August, we had assembled a reliable force of about 600 men and 180 women……” (14)

Supportive citizens, who were too old for action, donated their single and double-barrel cartridge guns. Recruits performed armed and armless combat, isolating and capturing Biafran sentries. Night raiders spat salt into the eyes of soldiers, while attractive girls distracted them with sex, obtained intelligence, and even stole their weapons. In a manner reminiscent of the Vietcong in Vietnam, corpses of freedom fighters were recovered at great peril for burial, frustrating the Biafran units who had just engaged them in firefights. In the Siluko area, 50 Biafran soldiers (about half of a company) were drowned by a group of “Ijaw, Urhobo and Itsekiri swimmers” who lost 16 men in the fight (14).

At the behest of the resistance, female cooks put all kinds of things in the meals of the Biafran soldiers. Supported by threatening letters written to harass the Biafran command, rumors spread about the risk of poisoning by locals. It is speculated that even the Administrator, Major Okonkwo, stayed away from food cooked by his official cooks, particularly if they were non-Ibo.

But all did not go well indefinitely. Undercover agents were infiltrated into the group and counter-insurgency raids on villages became more frequent and ruthless. Nine of the girls were killed, some in suspicious circumstances. Faced with threats of severe reprisals, extreme caution among the local population became the watchword.

However, by this time, they were encouraged by news of the progress of the federal army. After reorienting the movement to undertake psychological and deception missions in support of the theater commander, Major Ogbemudia himself eventually disengaged from guerrilla warfare activities to return to Army HQ in Lagos. From there, he joined the hastily organized Second Infantry Division of the Nigerian Army making its way to Benin City (14).

According to Ejoor (13), similar activities took place in the Delta. Small groups of Biafran soldiers looking for local Hausa communities in the riverine areas, were drowned by local Urhobo swimmers in the treacherous currents of the Ethiope River.

[Oral folk tales claim that even native doctors joined the resistance, using spells and 'juju' to cause unusual ailments among Biafran troops such as massive testicles, clearly an impediment to mobility!](17)

Endgame

Major Albert Nwazu Okonkwo’s title as Military Administrator of the Midwest region was changed to ‘Governor’ of the “autonomous, independent and sovereign republic of Benin” on Sept 19, 1967. This proved to be the shortest lived republic in history because less than 24 hours later, at 6 p.m. on Sept 20, 1967 Benin City was recaptured by troops of the second division, Nigerian Army (6, 21, 22). At the head of these troops were Lt. Col. Sam Ogbemudia (in charge of support weapons), Major Adeniran (CO, leading battalion) alongside Major Ike Nwachukwu, under Lt. Col. Alani Akinrinade (CO, 6th brigade), under the overall command of Col. Murtala Mohammed (14). [Adeniran was no stranger to Benin, having served in the mutinous Ibadan based 4th battalion. In the rumpus after July 29, 1966, a unit from that battalion had raided the Benin prison and abducted some January 15 coup detainees.]

The Benin operation was conducted in a giant pincer movement with motorized infantry and infantry on foot. They were supported by 81mm Mortar and 105mm medium artillery along with Ferret, Fox and Saladin Scout Cars. The main assault group came down from the north through Auchi and Ehor via Ikpoba Hill. This bottle-necked the retreating Biafrans, eager to avoid being trapped against an onslaught from the other group coming from the West through Ore, even as Col. Adekunle’s feared 3rd division was simultaneously landing at Warri in the south (9, 14, 17).

The 2nd division advance toward Benin from Ore in the west had been delayed by the destruction of the Oluwa bridge by retreating elements of the Biafran 12th battalion. Thus, the final assault on Benin was undertaken along three flanks that sprung from Ehor, 56 kilometers north of the city. The right flank swung around westwards through Uhiere to Oluku junction where the Owo-Benin and Ore-Benin roads intersect. The central flank made a direct dash for Benin along the main Auchi-Benin road. The left flank cut through eastwards to Ugonoba (on the Benin-Agbor road) via Eguaholor. They were programmed to then swing westwards to link up with the central flank at Ikpoba Hill for the final push into Benin (14).

Anticipating the arrival of federal troops and the possibility of street fighting, many civilians in the city had fled to the villages (17). The 101st HQ had itself been withdrawn to Agbor two days before, on September 18th just as Banjo was being recalled to Enugu ostensibly to assume the position of Chief of Defence Staff (9). In reality, he and Ojukwu were playing out the last phase of their many cat and mouse games. The decision to move the Liberation Army HQ to Agbor, understandably made in the light of a brutally honest assessment of the military situation, became a major political controversy in Biafra (8, 15, 16, 19, 21). Banjo (and Ademoyega) were later accused of “abandoning Benin”, yielding 40 miles of frontline to the enemy without a fight! On arrival in Benin, federal troops found that the Treasury and Central Bank had been looted of approximately $5.6 million allegedly by retreating Biafran troops (14, 22). Other than mop-up operations in small pockets (such as the fierce gun-battle at the Benin Prison) there was no major fighting in Benin once federal troops arrived.

Elements of the Third Marine Division assisted the Second Division in clearing the Delta region from a springboard stretching from South point (Forcados), through Escravos to North point. In an enveloping move designed to cutoff escape and reinforcement routes from Benin to Sapele to Amukpe to Agbor to Asaba, Adekunle (in coordination with Mohammed) took the two bridges along the Benin-Sapele road over the Ethiope River. While this did not prevent escape of stragglers through Sakpoba via Urhonigbe to Agbor, it isolated the Biafran 18th battalion from its divisional headquarters in Benin which had only just been hurriedly moved eastwards to Agbor. Warri, Sapele and Ughelli fell easily.

Those Biafran troops who found themselves cut off, simply abandoned their uniforms and weapons and merged imperceptibly into the rural civilian population, waiting for a chance to escape eastwards.

From a tactical perspective, based not only on terrain, but also the lack of sophistication of the hurriedly trained fighting troops, both sides relied heavily on basic infantry “fire and movement” methods along main roads rather than jungle paths for their advance. At other times, though, the 2nd division employed “Hook” tactics in dense forest maneuvers (14). Indeed, the Biafran Chief of Staff wandered into the cross hairs of one such ambush, barely escaping alive (9). Artillery and Mortar support was liberal, using “predicted shoot” techniques. As was the trademark of other Nigerian divisions, fire-discipline was not a priority. Ammunition was expended in great quantities (6).

Having sprung from Auchi, the attack along three axes out of Ehor used by Mohammed to retake Benin in 1967 was reminiscent of that taken by British Admiral Rawson in 1897. At that time, however, the “punitive” force sprung from Forcados and sailed up the Benin River to Ugharegin (Ogharegi), near Sapele. The assault on Benin was then conducted from the south along three converging axes. The main assault was via Ologbo creek (from Ologbo), with subsidiary assaults via the Jamieson river (from Sakpoba), and Ughoton creek (from Gele Gele) (3).

WHY DID OJUKWU STRIKE?

Coming to a conclusion about why Ojukwu struck depends in part on whether the Midwest was an end in itself, or merely a geographic and political corridor through which the West and Lagos could be conquered.

In Ojukwu’s words, “Our motive was not territorial ambition or the desire of conquest. We went into the Midwest (later declared the Republic of Benin) purely in an effort to seize the serpent by the head; every other activity in that Republic was subordinated to that single aim. We were going to Lagos to seize the villain Gowon, and we took necessary military precautions.” (15) In a speech monitored over Radio Biafra, Ojukwu also stated: “Now that we are on the offensive, we shall not relent until every single enemy soldier on Biafran soil is destroyed, more territories of Nigeria liberated, and the enemy vanquished.”

There are undoubtedly some historians (10) who see similarities between Ojukwu’s invasion of the Midwest and Hitler’s March 1938 march into Austria (the Anchsluss) following which he secured the annexation of Sudetenland in September (23). I think we can infer additional reasons, based on the operational and political details of the campaign, seen in light of the Nigerian situation at that time.

Within the early weeks of the ground war, Nsukka, Ogoja and Bonny were overrun by federal troops. Using boats expropriated from Shell-BP and U.A.C, and supported by the Nigerian Navy, the successful assault on Bonny (by Col. Benjamin Adekunle) gave the 3rd Marine Commando Division control of the river channel leading to Port Harcourt. This undermined Biafran control of the oilfields. Negotiations with oil companies (essential for foreign exchange) obviously became complicated. These moves were the earliest steps taken to create a military vise around Biafra. On a macro level, therefore, the invasion of oil-rich Midwest could be seen as a strategic attempt to break out of the jaws of encirclement and relieve pressure (6, 8,12).

Second, there was a perception in the Biafran leadership that, given the chance, the Midwest and West would unite with the East to fight the North (12, 19). On May 1st, during a trip to the East, Chief Obafemi Awolowo had stated that “If the Eastern Region is allowed by acts of omission or commission to secede from or opt out of Nigeria, then the Western region and Lagos must also stay out of the Federation”. Senior Yoruba officers (Colonel Olutoye, Lt. Cols. Obasanjo, Sotomi, Akinrinade and Major Ariyo) supported Awo’s demand that “northern” troops leave their region (10). They wanted westerners recruited immediately to create an all-Yoruba force, making the West less vulnerable to the ‘Northern region’, which at that time was believed to be actively recruiting soldiers in the North. (The West was the only region that had troops on its soil that were not exclusively from that region). Gowon eventually ordered “northern” troops in Ibadan to withdraw to Ilorin, but rescinded this order on May 27 when he declared a State of Emergency (12).

Thirdly, Ojukwu wanted to render Gowon’s ‘irritating’ May 27 creation of Rivers and SouthEastern (Cross-River) states moot by seizing Lagos and sacking the federal government. At the very least, this would force all parties to the negotiating table with a new set of “facts on the ground”.

Lastly, Ojukwu felt he could take the Midwest at minimum cost, for two reasons. In the first place, sympathetic officers dominated the Midwest Area Command (13, 14). Major Patrick Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu (himself a Midwest Ibo) had died in furtive circumstances reportedly leading a counter-attack against Sule Apollo’s boys on July 29 (11 days earlier) in the Nsukka sector (24). What more proof did his kinsmen in the 4th Area Command need that they were soul mates of the Biafran cause? And secondly, with the redeployment of federal troops away from Okene, thus exposing the northern flank, the timing looked perfect (13).

WHAT WENT WRONG?

The decision to invade the Midwest was a risky military gamble that left approximately 7,000 Biafran troops (at that time) stretched over 39,000 square miles (22).

Against this backdrop of logistic overstretch, there was disagreement among key Biafran Commanders about the pace and objectives of the invasion (8, 9, 19, 21). These disagreements became the substrate for inquisitions into alleged sabotage, further undermining Biafran command cohesion (19). Apparently, (according to Odogwu) Banjo and Ojukwu had a gentleman’s agreement to split the spoils of the invasion in a way that would leave Biafra intact as a nation under Ojukwu while Banjo took over the rest of Nigeria. But in the first three days of the assault, its element of surprise and advantage of speed were completely lost as Banjo sat in Benin arguing with Ojukwu over the appointment of a military governor, while trying to raise an additional battalion from scratch. Meanwhile, Gowon initiated recall of two battalions from Bonny to Escravos (25). Trains and trailers began bringing additional troops from Kaduna. Units were withdrawn from Nsukka sector. New recruits were hurriedly trained. From Lagos, every roadworthy vehicle that could be commandeered was grabbed to move troops and material to a “Maginot-Line” stretching from Okitipupa to Ore, through Ondo to Owo and on to Okene. A previously positioned company of men from the federal guard led by Lt. Sam Tomoye initially held the ground at Ore until relieved by additional troops from Ibadan led by Captain Geoffrey Ejiga (10). On August 18, Kano airport was suddenly closed to civilian traffic as a massive air shipment of Russian MIGS arrived along with personnel (15).

It cannot be overemphasized that one of the murkiest areas of the history of the Midwest invasion relates to the political activities of key Biafran commanders, once they reached Benin City. There are reports of secret contacts with the British Deputy High Commissioner in Benin (Mr. Bell) to arrange a cease-fire and peace talks between Nigeria and Biafra (15, 19). Simultaneously, attempts were made to recruit a number of non-Ibo officers in a grand scheme to undercut both Ojukwu and Gowon (13, 14). Col. Victor Banjo apparently disobeyed orders to proceed further West with haste (to Ibadan and Lagos) from Ore. Not until August 20 (11 days after entering Benin) did the threat of the advance to Lagos fully mature with the Biafran capture of Ore, followed quickly by Okitipupa, Atotogbo, Irele, Ute and Sobe (10, 15). In part because federal troops blew up the Shasha Bridge on mile 82 of the Ore road, but mainly because of yet another failure to press the advantage, the western operation ground to a halt. Subsequently, the prospect of being outnumbered and cut off by better-armed and numerically superior troops now said by reconnaissance to be mobilized and based at Ondo, made Lt. Col. Akagha very reluctant to continue his advance (9).

It is said that Banjo was in touch with Yoruba leaders who were initially supportive. Police officers in Ibadan were apparently told to expect Biafran troops and instructed not to resist (17). Eventually though, as events unfolded, other Yoruba leaders expressed serious concern about his entry into Ibadan (through Ife road) with a horde of Biafran (Ibo) troops under his command. In his book “My Command”, General Olusegun Obasanjo (who was at that time the rear commander based in Ibadan), said of one of Banjo’s contacts: “The man, who is also a renowned social critic, turned out promptly at the appointed place and time. I invited him to my car and for almost two hours we drove round Ibadan and discussed Banjo’s request for me to grant him unhindered access to Ibadan and Lagos at any price. Both the request and the price were turned down.” (25)

{One can only wonder why it took two hours of talks with the ‘social critic’ to reach this conclusion. Obasanjo later became a divisional commander and subsequently emerged as Nigeria’s Head of State in 1976. After handing over to Shehu Shagari in 1979 he went into farming and became a social critic himself. General Abubakar recently released him from a three-year stint in one of General Abacha’s jails. Wole Soyinka, on the other hand, served jail-time for his efforts (26). Many years later he became a Nobel Laureate. He is currently in exile, having been declared wanted by the late General Abacha. Abubakar (who took over from General Abacha) has appealed to him to return home.}

Although conceivable that Ojukwu may have viewed these interactions as having sensitized his “yoruba conscience”, the reality was that Banjo knew that his “liberation army” was a marginal outfit. It was unprepared to deal with any serious resistance in either Lagos or Ibadan, both of which had since recovered from the initial shock of his march into the Midwest. Only a negotiated entry (with popular support) seemed reasonable at that point and some form of reconciliation was still at the back of his mind. Indeed, at his trial in Enugu, Banjo stated: “In my opinion, the minimum condition for the continued successful prosecution of the war has ceased to exist…It is my view that, while we held the control of the Midwest we had a good political bargaining power within the context of Nigeria.” (19)

Banjo may also have been simultaneously concerned about an ambush in the rear, given the hostility of the local population. Indeed, his frantic attempts to arrest Ogbemudia and locate Ejoor support this view. Meetings were held with the Oba of Benin as unspeakable incidents became more frequent between the restive population and the Biafran soldiers who had become viewed as an army of occupation. Banjo even ordered troops to remove their Biafran badges to reduce tension (9). When rumors began to circulate that the Oba of Benin had himself been arrested and taken back to Biafra, the Oba had to appear publicly to calm nerves (17). With arguments among his commanders and so much on his mind, (including ongoing power struggles and policy debates back in Biafra) Banjo hesitated at Ore, which later became the scene of a very bloody battle on August 29. Some historians now regard the last Ore battle as the turning point of the civil war (6). Federal troops (using old colonial survey maps of the bush-paths and hills, which were not available to the Biafrans) pummeled the Biafran spearhead between Ohosu (Ofusu) and Ore (17).

In addition, there were serious command, control and logistic problems and errors. The so-called “Liberation Army of Nigeria” was a poorly armed, poorly led and barely trained ragtag outfit (9). Although (theoretically) there were as many as 28 fully trained Midwest Ibo officers available to assist Biafran officers in commanding the force, very few of these officers actually offered themselves once the Biafrans were in the Midwest. Once the federal counter-offensive began, the turnover of officers increased substantially. Lt. Col. Ivenso asked for a sick leave away from the northern front. “Lt. Col”. Henry Igboba took over but soon simply lost the will to fight. He cited the federal advantage in numbers, weapons, and ‘white mercenaries’, in addition to his own frustration with Biafran troops. Relieved of command, he was detained by Banjo in the Benin prison. [One account says he was later beheaded by federal troops. Another says he was actually executed by Banjo before federal troops arrived.] An ambivalent Major David Odiwo replaced Igboba, only to cross over to the federal side a few days later. Thus, ‘Lt. Col.’ Chukwuka was re-deployed from Warri to command the Irrua front, supported by Captain Adeleke who showed up from Enugu. An inexperienced ‘Major’ Nsudoh replaced Chukwuka in the southern front. (Nsudoh later redeemed himself during the first battle of Onitsha)

In the western (Ore) front, Lt. Col. Akagha, Commander of the “combat ready” 12th battalion incredulously “got lost” in dense forest reserves for two weeks. He later showed up in Benin seeking a posting for rest and recuperation back in Biafra, far from the debacle of the Midwest! Of the soldiers in the 11th and 19th battalions, former Major (“Lt. Col.”) Ademoyega wrote: “…at the slightest prompting, they would desert the front, skip the battalion headquarters and make their way straight to Benin, to sleep in one of the school dormitories or terrorize civilians in town.” (9)

Moreover, the 101st Division had no support weapons whatsoever. The 11th battalion at Auchi had three (3) machine guns along with rifles. The 18th battalion in Warri had two (2) machine guns along with rifles. Only 14% of men in the 19th battalion in Benin had weapons. Even the vaunted 12th battalion that had been slated to take Lagos had no mortars, until a single 3 inch mortar was sent from Enugu at the end of the second week of the invasion. [Shortly before Murtala Mohammed took Auchi, Ojukwu [who was still entertaining grandiose delusions about a counter-attack on Ilorin, made an additional 81mm mortar tube available to Ademoyega. Ifeajuna sent 'Molotov cocktails' (petrol bombs) when Irrua became threatened (9). It may well be these petrol bombs that caused a "poisonous gas" scare among federal troops at Eyaen (14).]

The invasion of the Midwest represented one of the first appearances in the War of Biafran-made Armored Cars (“Red Devil”) converted in Port-Harcourt from a hybrid of caterpillar parts on a pre-World War II era armored vehicle chassis. When Banjo ordered these heavy armored units up to the front to provide armor support, they proved too wide and heavy for the narrow bridge over the Ikpoba river in Benin City. An attempt was then made to bring up the armor through Sakpoba road, up from Urhonigbe. All of this caused an inordinate waste of crucial time (17). (As a historical similitude, many of Hitler’s tanks broke down when the Wehrmacht marched into Vienna (23)). For many years after the war, a relic of a Biafran Armored Car could still be seen near the old Ikpoba Bridge.

In a pattern of behavior that can only be described as self-destructive, the “liberation” force went molesting, raping, kidnapping, torturing, detaining and even killing local figures whose support they badly needed (14, 17). For example, Mr. J. O Adeola (Commissioner of Police), Mr. Olu Akpata (Permanent Secretary), Mr. Sam Umweni (of Radio Nigeria, Benin) and Mr. J Imoukhuede (Head of the civil service), were abducted from Benin and taken back to Biafra. They remained in prison (without trial) until the end of the war (17). In his memoirs, Ademoyega acknowledges: “The 18th battalion stationed in that port (Warri) was a ragged, ill-equipped and ill-controlled unit. Reports of their lawlessness in town had been scandalous.” Such actions (among others) did not endear them to the people they came to liberate from “the north”. Ademoyega summarized it thus: “Biafran entry into the Midwest was seen by the people, especially the non-Ibos of the State, as an act of foreign aggression.” (9)

The decision to occupy and then terrorize a proud and ancient cultural region should not have been made so lightly (18).

WHAT WERE THE POLITICAL CONSEQUENCES OF THE MIDWEST INVASION?

First, it antagonized non-Ibo ethnic groups in the Midwest who became extremely hostile to Midwest Ibos (as well as some non-Ibo NCNC supporters who may have been privy to the invasion). They were regarded [at that time] as fifth columnists. This hostility lasted for many years, possibly well beyond the end of the civil war, mitigated only by responsible leadership exercised by the Military Governor (14). Thus, previously lukewarm non-Ibo groups were galvanized against the entire concept of Biafra, fearing Ibo domination, and rushed to get recruited on the federal side, offering help and assistance (10, 12).

Second, Awolowo and other Yoruba leaders (e.g. Colonel Robert Adeyinka Adebayo) became intensely suspicious of Ojukwu’s agenda (27). Some of these leaders had actually visited the East as part of peace delegations on Mar 27 and May 5. [He (Ojukwu) had not coordinated this Midwest move with them. Obviously this was probably what prompted Ojukwu to make Col. Banjo the Commander, but it did not work out as planned, which is why Ojukwu had Banjo shot later on]. Up until that time, although Awo had been released by Gowon (from his 1962 treasonable felony conviction), and was the deputy head of the Federal Executive Council (effective June 12, 1967), the West was sitting on the fence. They had lost politicians and officers in BOTH the Jan 1966 and July 1966 coups (Samuel Akintola, Brigadier Ademulegun, Col. Shodeinde, Major Adegoke, Col. Fajuyi etc). Some, like Major Adeniran, had barely escaped being killed on Jan 15 1966 by Captain Nwobosi’s storm troopers in Ibadan (17). (Conceivably, his ‘crime’ was that he hailed from Ogbomosho – the same town as Akintola).

In terms of factions, the Lagos group (Ogunsanya and others) were opposed to the “Oduduwa Republic” secessionist leanings of radical intellectual inland Yorubas; bad blood between pro-Akintola and pro-Awo groups remained; and the civilian and military wings of Yoruba leadership were not particularly well coordinated. According to Major General Oluleye (rtd), many Yoruba officers “refused” to return to the West to create an all-Yoruba force (28). There were even Yoruba officers in Biafra, caught on the wrong side because they had been detained in Eastern prisons by the Ironsi regime. However, on August 12, 1967, (three days after the Asaba crossing), Awolowo publicly appealed to Yorubas to support the federal government against the Ibos (12). It was a fateful decision, one (among others) that would haunt him many years later during the 1979 and 1983 presidential elections.

As previously noted, advance elements of the Biafran invasion force actually reached Ore, 140 miles from Lagos. It is no coincidence that Obafemi Awolowo (Finance) and Anthony Enahoro [Information], along with the super-permanent secretaries and other civil servants, many of whom were southern minorities, became the main civilian bulwarks of the War Cabinet – the back office. Indeed a Midwest solidarity committee was formed in Lagos under the chairmanship of Chief J. M. Udochi with Chief A. Y. Eke as the secretary.

Thirdly, on August 11, Gowon announced the end of “Police Action” and declared ‘Total War’ against Biafra (6, 12). The second division of the Nigerian Army was formally created (with the symbol of a ‘Snarling Tiger’) under Col. Murtala Mohammed. They were charged to check the secessionist advance at Ore, drive them out the Midwest, and follow them in hot pursuit. The division was organized initially into three brigades, the 6th, 7th and 8th, under Lt. Cols. Alani Akinrinade, Godwin Ally and Francis Aisida, respectively (10).

Lastly, the invasion had international ramifications (6). British support for Gowon became unambiguous (8, 10). While this was in part due to the loss of the moral high ground by the Biafran leadership, practical “Cold War” concerns no doubt played a role. The enthusiasm of the Soviet Union (and its allies) to provide weapons and personnel to the federal government, was viewed as a potential forerunner to political influence in a former British colony, the largest black nation on earth and an emerging Oil power.

WHAT HAPPENED AFTER THE RECAPTURE OF BENIN CITY?

THE LOCAL SCENE

In addition to the scourge and humiliation of the occupation itself, fleeing Biafran soldiers carried out all kinds of unspeakable acts of brutality against the local population (17, 18). At the Urhonigbe Rubber Plantation, for example, hundreds of Midwesterners were summarily shot by regular and militia units which had already blazed a ‘scorched-earth’ trail of terror through Benin-West division (14).

Unfortunately, therefore, temptation to seek revenge against Ibos was very strong shortly after federal troops arrived. Further, mischievous elements used the situation to settle scores against old enemies simply by reporting them to federal troops for “harboring Ibos”. An uncle of mine, for example, was saved from execution at Ugonoba by the quick intervention of Colonel Murtala Mohammed himself (17). A few criminals even changed property deeds for housing, domestic plots, and plots on Rubber plantations. The presumption was that the Ibo owners would not return.

Many Midwestern Ibos who had behaved in a very high-handed manner while the Okonkwo regime was in power, anticipated vengeance and fled along with Biafrans before the arrival of federal troops. But others who had nothing to do with the Biafran invasion remained behind only to find themselves being identified for “interrogation”. As usual in such situations, small businesses were ransacked if they were known to belong to Ibo traders. Children of mixed ethnic marriages had to be sheltered as their desperate mothers frantically foreswore any relationship with Ibo men. Many changed their names and fled to the villages (17).

Because it was known that some Biafran soldiers had been cut-off from retreat, any suspicious looking physically fit character in underwear or disheveled civilian clothes was pointed out to federal troops for summary judgement. At roadblocks, grim-looking soldiers would frequently ask passing vehicles whether they were carrying any Ibos. As Umeorah put it, “Hundreds of Ibo bodies, many stripped and shot full of holes, were scooped into dump trucks and carted off to common graves or to the nearby Benin river, others were left to rot in the blistering sun.” (22)

FEDERAL SIDE:

Colonel Murtala Mohammed became “larger than life”. Some modern day authors even refer to him as “Monty of the Midwest” after Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery of Britain. Time magazine hailed him as the Commander of the ‘brutally efficient’ second division of the Nigerian Army.

On September 21, Col. Mohammed appointed Lt. Col. S. O. Ogbemudia temporary administrator of the Midwestern State (14). Gowon later ratified this after overruling a determined counter-lobby in Lagos, including not just Col. Ejoor (who wanted his old job back), but also some Edo individuals within the federal civil service and army (17). [Brigadier Ogbemudia was retired as Military Governor in July 1975, served as civilian Governor of Bendel from Oct-Dec1983 and Federal Minister for Labor & Productivity under General Abacha in the nineties]

With 3rd division firmly in Warri, and the 2nd division closing in from the north and west, a hasty tactical withdrawal by much of the virtually leaderless “Liberation Army” from the Midwest became inevitable (9). Bridges were blown up at every opportunity. To linkup with the 2nd division, the 3rd division advanced in two flanks from Warri. One went through Abraka to Umutu. The other went through Ughelli and Kwale. Finally, the second division entered Asaba on October 8 having taken Umunede and Isele-Uku before pushing to Ogwashi-Uku and Otutu (8, 21). As a footnote, one prominent officer in the recapture of Warri was Capt (later ‘Major’) Shehu Musa YarAdua, who eventually became Nigeria’s military Vice-President [Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters] in February 1976. He fell ill at Abakaliki prison, [one of General Abacha's gulags] last December and died in an Enugu hospital as a retired Major General. He has since received posthumous pardon for knowledge of the alleged Gwadabe coup, an offence he never committed.

Upon arrival of the main spearhead of the Second division at Asaba, two momentous events occurred.

  1. The Asaba Massacre: Although not the only example of savagery on both sides during the war, Federal authorities have never acknowledged this terrible event. It was a blatant violation of Gowon’s “Military Code of Conduct”. Hundreds of able-bodied males were allegedly lined up and summarily executed, Nazi style, for “collaborating with the enemy” (17). At least one authority opines that the delay occasioned by this exercise resulted in a missed opportunity by Mohammed to take Onitsha from the disorganized and retreating Biafran forces without a fight. (8)
  2. Three subsequent disastrous attempts to cross the Niger into the Ibo heartland. Against instructions from Supreme Headquarters, Murtala Mohammed (taking a cue from General George Patton’s behavior during the allied invasion of Italy, and encouraged by his initial success in evicting the Biafran force from the Midwest) tried repeatedly to take Onitsha from Asaba all by himself (6). He lost thousands of men and millions of dollars of material in the process. The bridge had been blown up at one end. Organized by Conrad Nwawo, and stiffened by the resolve of officers like Achuzia and Nsudoh, desperate well dug-in defenders using Biafran made rockets, “Shore-Batteries” and “Ogbunigwe” repulsed badly planned beach landings. During the first assault, federal troops actually occupied Onitsha briefly before being distracted by loot taken from the market, which they had set on fire (8, 19, 21, 25). According to an oral source, Major Ejiga (who later retired as a Major General) lost his entire battalion and swam back (alone) to the Asaba side on a raft. [A young and promising officer, 'Major' Igbinosa lost his life during another assault.] As far as the Biafran garrison was concerned, this was not going to be a replay of the US First Army’s capture of “the bridge at Remagen” in March 1945 (23).

Eventually, Mohammed acceded to orders to swing northwards, make an unopposed crossing at Idah, and take Onitsha via a north-south coastal advance, with Col. Shuwa’s 1st division protecting his eastern flank. Even then, he suffered one more humiliating loss at Abagana on March 31st 1968, when fleet-footed Biafran troops [under 'Major' Uchendu] ambushed a 96 vehicle- column, carrying some troops but mostly material, practically destroying the logistic backbone of the entire division (8). The whole Onitsha operation was clearly a nightmare. “Monty of the Midwest” began to look more like General Georges, the commander of the Vichy French forces at Sedan in 1940 (23).

Gowon replaced Mohammed with Colonel Ibrahim Haruna who was later replaced on May 12, 1969 by Col. Gibson Jallo when all divisional commanders were recalled (6). [These officers eventually retired as Major-General Haruna and Lt. General Jallo in the late seventies and early eighties, respectively]. Brigadier (later General) Murtala Mohammed became Head of State in July 1975 when a cabal of civil war frontline officers, aided by the Commander of the Federal Guard, staged a successful palace coup against General Gowon (12). After 200 days of sometimes-impulsive rule he was killed on February 13, 1976 when his unguarded official car was riddled with bullets in front of the federal secretariat in Ikoyi. Minutes later, Lt. Col. Bukar S. Dimka went on radio to announce his doomed putsch (7). [The International Airport in Lagos is named in Mohammed's memory. This is the same airport he commandeered in July1966 to fly "northern" families back to the north at the onset of the counter-coup, in a move to secede from the south - "Operation Araba"].

BIAFRAN SIDE:

In the wake of the “abandonment of Benin” and the disastrous Midwest expedition, a furious (and embarrassed) Ojukwu ordered the court-martial and subsequent execution (on September 25th) of Lt. Col. (“Brigadier”) Banjo, Major (“Lt. Col.”) Emmanuel Ifeajuna, ‘Major’ Sam Agbamuche (Agbam) and ‘Major’ Phillip Alale. They were found guilty of “treason”. Ojukwu’s rationalization was that they had planned a September 19 coup against him (operation “Kinshasha Special”) and sabotaged the entire Western operation (8, 15, 19). There are others who feel that they (and others) were made scapegoats for the failures of the leadership (17). The complexity of events on one hand and the very high expectations of Ibo people on the other, which were looking elusive as time wore on, placed a huge burden on the relatively young Ojukwu.

Ojukwu himself deserted Enugu, the first capital of Biafra, on October 2nd when the military situation became untenable (8, 19). It fell to troops under Lt. Col. T.Y. Danjuma of the 1st division on October 4th 1967. Ojukwu (along with his Army Commander) ultimately abandoned Biafra “in search of peace” on Jan 9th 1970 when its military predicament became irremediable (15, 22, 29, 30). He was eventually granted amnesty in May 1982 by President Shehu Shagari and is now a politician and businessman.

POSTSCRIPT:

On Jan 15, 1970, seated among the delegation that accompanied Lt. Col. (‘Major General’) Phillip Effiong to Dodan Barracks for the Biafran surrender, was ‘Brigadier’ Conrad Nwawo, the last Area Commander of the Midwest on August 9,1967 (12). After the surrender ceremony, General Gowon ordered the name “Biafra” expunged from the Nigerian dictionary and established a Board of Inquiry to evaluate the operational role of specific officers in the coup of Jan 15, 1966 and the Midwest invasion of 1967. Officers who were displaced by the July 29, 1966 disturbances and thus found themselves in the Midwest during the invasion, but who did not play operational roles either in the Jan 15 coup and/ or the “Liberation Army of Nigeria” were either retired or reabsorbed. Those who did were detained until October 24th 1974, when they were released following an Independence Day amnesty (12). They included:

  1. Colonel Conrad D. Nwawo
  2. Lt. Col. S. B. Nwajei
  3. Major Albert Okonkwo
  4. Major A. Asoya
  5. Major Adewale Ademoyega
  6. Captain Ben Gbulie
  7. Captain E. M. Udeaja
  8. Captian G.N. Okonkwo
  9. Captain J. N. Isichie
  10. Lt. F.M. Okocha
  11. Lt. F.O. Amuchienwa
  12. Lt. B. A. O Oyewole
  13. Lt. N.S. Nwokocha
  14. Lt. G.B. Ikejiofor
  15. Lt. G.G. Onyefuru
  16. Lt. A.R.O Egbikor
  17. Lt. A.N. Azubuogu
  18. 2/Lt. C.G. Ngwuluka
  19. Lt. J.C. Ojukwu
  20. Lt. J.O. Ijeweze

Many of these individuals are still alive. All were dismissed except Ojukwu and Ijeweze who were retired. Lt. Col. Ochei, who had attacked the Government House in Benin on August 9, 1967 and Captain Ganiyu Adeleke, who had taken part in both the January 15 coup and the Midwest invasion before becoming an instructor in the Biafran School of Infantry were released at a later date (9).

CAN ALL THIS HAPPEN AGAIN?

We are who we were and history tends to repeat itself. Time will tell whether we learnt any lessons. However, deciding what constitutes a lesson depends on the perspective. There were several players in the Midwest experience, each of whom can take away his (or her) own piece from the puzzle. What is clear is that regionalization of the Nigerian Army (as was done in 1966) without safeguards, is an invitation to war. And war is hell.

Liddell Hart once wrote: “If you allow anyone to stoke up a boiler until the steam pressure rises beyond danger point, the real responsibility for any resultant explosion will lie with you”. When I read the history of the Nigerian crisis in light of current events in Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Congo, among others, I tremble at the realization that any human being can behave like an animal if provoked enough. Our challenge, fellow countrymen and women is to co-exist peacefully so that our country can move on to take its place among the great nations of the world (31).

APPENDIX

SHORT AND LONG TERM EFFECTS OF THE INVASION

Putting “Humpty-Dumpty” back together again

In the wake of the invasion, real social, economic and political problems intersected with psychological bitterness and a sense of betrayal in the Midwest (14). Families had been disrupted, many citizens bereaved and ethnic mistrust and suspicions aroused. Roads, buildings and bridges were destroyed, all against a background of insecurity of jobs, life and property. The war was still in progress and soldiers milled all over the place sometimes commandeering houses “for military purposes” (17, 18).

With tensions running high for retribution, a ‘Rebel Atrocities Tribunal of Inquiry’ was established on October 26, 1967. Justice Omo-Eboh chaired it. Although unpopular with certain officials, this turned out to be a helpful tactical measure to reduce tension among those who felt wronged while preventing jungle justice from getting out of hand. The tribunal met from December 4, 1967 until September 28, 1968, by which time public temperament had softened considerably. In a move that was designed to avoid recriminations, a decision was then made by the government not to publish the report of the tribunal (14).

Simultaneously, a committee of senior bureaucrats worked on measures to reintegrate Midwestern Ibos into State life, assist the economic recovery of those who had lost property, and attain reconciliation. The scale was enormous. In Benin City alone, 213 houses had been abandoned by fleeing Ibos. Many were looted of their contents. The government, before wars end repaired many damaged and abandoned houses; rent collected from tenants in rental property was kept in trust for the Ibo landlords in a Bank in Warri (14). Similar acts of forthrightness and honesty occurred in other parts of the state (17, 18). It is fair to say that the problem of “abandoned property” experienced in Port Harcourt by Ibos was not a major issue in the Midwest.

Midwestern Ibo civil servants who had been displaced by the crisis of 1966 and returned to the state from other parts of the nation were absorbed into the civil service. Loans were given to self-employed individuals to enable them build back their businesses. Civil servants (and others) donated a percentage of their income to a State Rehabilitation Fund. These activities were in line with General Gowon’s policy of Reconciliation, Rehabilitation, and Reconstruction after the war (14).

From 1968 to 1975, the state enjoyed massive physical growth and development on multiple fronts, thanks to the inclusive and visionary leadership of that era.

Many years after the war, in what certainly qualifies as a triumph of the human spirit, one of the very young non-Ibos who had been abducted and conscripted into the Biafran Army in 1967 suddenly showed up in his family home in Benin. It had been assumed that he had died during the conflict. But he had actually fled with his unit in its hasty flight back to Biafra, only to be identified as an Edo by an Ibo man who had fond memories of his stay in Benin City before the crisis. Concerned about the child’s safety, this kind Ibo man took him into his protection, helping him go AWOL from his army unit. In the social chaos after the Biafran surrender, the young lad stayed behind in the East, doing odd jobs, until sighted years later by another Edo man to whom he revealed his heritage. That is how he began his journey back home to a grateful mother. The individual in question is now a physician. (17)

Effect On Army Recruitment

The experience of the Midwest Invasion affected Army recruitment. Before the war, the army was viewed as an unattractive career meant for dropouts. In his book, Major General Joe Garba (rtd) paid tribute to “the Northern soldier” as the principal reason why Biafra lost the war. While one must give credit to northern minority groups, along with citizens of Chad and Niger republic, it is not widely appreciated that during the War a huge number of non-Ibo Midwesterners joined the Army (17, 32). This phenomenon led to a disproportionate representation of Bendel (Midwest) State during the seventies and early eighties. [One middle-belt Army Officer told me in 1983 that the barracks were 'crawling' with Bendelites. I have no way of confirming or refuting this comment. There have been waves of military retirements since then, the impact of, which is unclear].

After the war, the experience led to civilian clamor for a new policy to admit an equitable number (to the extent possible) of officers from each state of the federation. This was modified later on to reflect each local government of each state particularly for those states (like Bendel) with multiple ethnic groups. When in 1979, with demobilization well on its way to completion, recruitment of other ranks and men began in earnest again, a similar policy was applied at that level, with a stipulation for minimum education. That intake group was called 79NA (7, 17, 18).

But even this approach has its controversies. If local governments are created unfairly, without due regard for population, injustice can be perpetrated, setting the stage for conflicts in the future. In the Edo South Senatorial zone of Edo State, for example, 56% of the population of the state has been allocated one third of the local governments and a similar proportion of seats in the federal legislature! Within the Etsako Central local government, 5 of 8 wards were allocated (along with the headquarters) to the minority Anwianwu clan, marginalizing the majority Ekperi clan (17, 18).

This polemic is an echo from the past that makes the number and distribution of states, local governments and wards in the country a sensitive political issue not only as it affects revenue allocation and distribution of amenities, but also the military balance. In a bizarre way, it is as if the contending political forces in Nigeria’s polity desire “mutually assured destruction” as the basis for respect at the bargaining table.

At a national level, some people feel that all went well with an equal number of “southern” and “northern” states (under Gowon) until the Obasanjo/ Mohammed regime approved an imbalance with more states in the north than the south, an imbalance which Generals Babangida and General Abacha sustained. One mechanism through which Ibo leaders perceive that they have been ‘marginalized’ in Army recruitments since the civil war has to do with the relatively small number of states allocated exclusively to that ethnic group (considering its population) as compared with, for example, the Yorubas or Southern minorities (7). Hence the calls for a shift to a zonal or regional system.

But it has become apparent that merely regulating entry quotas is not enough. The ethnic and regional distribution across the ‘teeth’ and ‘service’ arms is crucial. The rise of officers and men through the service also needs to be monitored to prevent disproportionate attrition through selective dismissals and retirements. Selective attrition can result in lopsided ethnic and regional control of key organs of state.

A Federal Character Commission now exists to monitor these issues. Unfortunately, it has no enforcement powers.

Subsequent Evolution of Military (and related) Facilities in the Midwest

Preamble:

In the period since the war of unification, the number of states in the country has grown from 12 to 36. Not counting the coup by an incumbent (Babangida) against an incoming administration (Abiola), there have been four successful and two unsuccessful coups. There have been three publicly alleged ‘coups in planning’. [All of these convulsions have resulted in deaths, jail sentences, dismissals and retirements.] By military decree, the federal capital has been moved from Lagos, on the Atlantic coast, to Abuja, technically in the geographic center, which happens to fall within the old “northern” region. Midwestern Region, which evolved into Midwestern State, was subsequently renamed Bendel State. On August 27, 1991, after 28 years, Bendel (the only political subdivision ever to be created democratically in Nigerian history) was divided into Edo and Delta states.

The Midwest:

(capital of Midwestern Region, Midwestern, Bendel and now Edo State) became the headquarters of the Second Division (which was created specifically to liberate the Midwest) until it was transferred to Ibadan in the early seventies. According to sources, the real reason the HQ was transferred was that the West put political pressure on the federal government to get a Divisional HQ. The ostensible reason it was transferred (and cover story) was a probe into the activities of the Ogboni Secret Society in Benin City and Bendel in general. Army Brass claimed the army was being corrupted, even though Ibadan and Lagos are both key centers of Ogboni activity! A Brigade HQ was, however, left in Benin until the late eighties/ early nineties when it was disbanded, as part of another “re-organization”. [A supply and transport company, along with the infantry battalion at Okitipupa, under that brigade were also disbanded.]

The huge 4 Mechanised Infantry Brigade HQ compound in GRA (which used to be the Divisional HQ) was turned over to the state government. In addition to an Army Reserve and Recruitment Center, an infantry battalion (69th) was left behind, located just outside the city on Ekenhuan road. This was later replaced by the 322 Field Artillery regiment. The large makeshift Ikpoba Army barracks (at the junction of the Benin-Asaba and Benin-Auchi roads) no longer exists.

The reason why there is a large Military Hospital in Benin (on Airport road) was because Benin became an important rear location for strategic medical evacuation during the War. That hospital (so far) remains there today although it is no longer a ‘reference’ hospital, having been downgraded to be commanded by a Lt. Col. The HQ (and School) of the Army’s Corp of Supply and Transport is at Ugbowo.

The civil wartime airforce forward operational base (FOB) in Benin was transformed into the headquarters of the Tactical Air Command, Nigerian AirForce during the reorganization after 1975 (6). It remained so until Air Vice-Marshall Ibrahim Alfa became Chief of Air Staff in 1984 and (without any credible reason) moved it to Makurdi (7, 17, 18). What remains now in what is known as the “81 Air Center” are a few propeller aircraft sitting in the rain near the old terminal, a far cry from the L29 Delphin and Mig17 fighter jets that used to streak its skies (18). It is unclear what has happened to the Maritime surveillance and Anti-submarine warfare capability that was at one time spoken about.

Somewhere near Agenebode a huge barrack facility (cantonment) was built in the late seventies. It was later turned over for Police and paramilitary use in the late eighties/ early nineties. The 12 Field Engineer Regiment at Agenebode was either disbanded or moved. The Nigerian Army Electrical and Mechanical Engineer Corps (NAEME) Training branch (School) is still at Auchi.

An Army Reserve and Recruitment Center is located at Asaba which is now the capital of Delta State.

Warri is garrisoned by the 20 Amphibious Infantry battalion which is administratively under the Brigade HQ in Port Harcourt. Warri also has an oil refinery and is the location of the Delta Steel Plant, Aladja, both of which are in disrepair. It has a modern Port, not far from a site from where I hid, (at the age of ten) trembling under the Minikon air-attacks of the mercenary Count Von Rosen against a background of Bofors antiaircraft gunfire. The stone frigate, NNS Umualokun is based at the Naval Base there. A Trans-delta expressway now links Warri to Port Harcourt.

The Niger Bridge was repaired after the war, as was the famous Onitsha market, which was gutted with fire. A river-port is now located at Onitsha. Shehu Shagari, the President who eventually pardoned Ojukwu (and Gowon), built it. Little (if any) evidence remains of the blood that was tragically shed there. Shagari also built a Port in Sapele in the eighties, which was for some time (and probably still is) a Nigerian Naval Base, not far from the Thermal Gas Power plant (18).

Monuments

Certain historic roads in major midwestern cities were initially renamed after key Civil War Commanders (Mohammed, Gowon, Ogbemudia and others). These roads reverted to their old names in a temporary fit of righteousness when the Murtala/ Obasanjo regime came to power in 1975. But other roads and public places were renamed later in their honor. After General Mohammed’s death in 1976, for example, “Ramat Park” was dedicated on Ikpoba Hill. Unfortunately, with officials and citizens alike oblivious of its historical significance, it has largely been overgrown with weeds over the years.

On December 18, 1980, the elected Bendel State House of Assembly overwhelmingly passed a ‘Vote of Implicit Confidence’ in Brigadier Samuel Ogbemudia (rtd) as the Military Governor of Bendel State from 1967 to 1975.

A statue called the “Soldier of Peace” now stands adjacent to the Museum at Ring Road Park in Benin City. With a gun cocked ready, it is dedicated to those who lost their lives liberating the Midwest.

Acknowledgements

Although a victim of several air-raids, all of which I remember vividly, and a witness to troop movements and littered corpses, I was too young to directly participate in the Nigerian crisis. I must, therefore, thank all the actors in and witnesses to the crises of 1966-70 for putting their invaluable experiences on paper and being willing to discuss their perspectives. Even though perceptions of events differ, their efforts have made it possible to reconstruct history for future generations. I can understand why some are unwilling to discuss these matters because of the pain and fear that stereotypes and inaccuracies may be handed down to unsuspecting future generations. However, we really cannot move forward without coming to terms with our past. One hopes that the 30 year lag since those events has helped to heal some of the wounds.

Those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it. As much as possible I have tried to verify much of what I have said today. In fact, this presentation is part of a book I am writing on the subject. I appeal to others who have personal stories to share them, so that we can all learn from their experiences. May the souls of the departed rest in peace.

REFERENCES:

    1. Lt. Seymour Vandeleur: Campaigning on the Upper Nile and Niger, London, 1898
    2. Haywood and F.A.S. Clark: The History of the Royal West African Frontier Force, London, 1964.
    3. Igbafe, P.A.: Benin under British Administration. Longman, 1979.
    4. M. Perham and M. Bull: Lugard Diaries, London, 1959
    5. Tamuno TN and Ukpabi SC (eds). Politics and Constitutions. (Vol. V) In “Nigeria Since Independence: The first 25 years.” Heinemann Educational Books, 1989.
    6. Tamuno TN and Ukpabi SC (eds). The Civil War Years. (Vol. VI) In “Nigeria Since Independence: The first 25 years.” Heinemann Educational Books, 1989.
  • Newspaper Reports.
    1. Madiebo, Alexander A.: The Nigerian revolution and the Biafran war. Fourth Dimension Publishers, 1980.
    2. Ademoyega, Adewale: Why we struck: the story of the first Nigerian coup. Evans, 1981.
    3. Garba, Joseph (Major General): Revolution in Nigeria – Another View. London, 1982
    4. D. J. M. Muffet: Let Truth be Told. Hudahuda Publishing Co. Zaria, 1982.
    5. J. Isawa Elaigwu: Gowon – The Biography of a Soldier-Statesman. West Books Publisher Ltd., Ibadan, 1986.
    6. Ejoor, David A.: Reminiscences. Malthouse Press Ltd., 1989.
    7. Ogbemudia, S. O.: Years of challenge. Heinemann Educational Books, 1991.
    8. Ojukwu, C. Odumegwu: Biafra. Selected Speeches with Journals of Events. New York, Harper & Row, 1969.
    9. Oyewole, Fola (Major): The Reluctant Rebel. Akure, 1977
    1. Personal Interviews with participants and witnesses.
  • Personal Observations.
    1. Odogwu, Bernard: No place to hide: crises and conflicts inside Biafra. Fourth Dimension Publishers, 1985.
    2. US Department of the Army Field Manual FM 31-21: Guerrilla Warfare and Special Forces Operations; September 1961.
    3. Achuzia, Joe O. G.: Requiem Biafra . Fourth Dimension Publishers, 1986.
    4. Amechi Umeora: WAR REPORT – A Documentary of the Nigeria/ Biafra Conflict. Chase Publication. Toronto 1983.
    5. B. H. Liddell Hart: History of the Second World War. Cassell & Co. Ltd., 1970.
    6. Enonchong, Charles. I know who killed Major Nzeogwu! An investigation into the most secret cover-up of the Nigerian Civil War. Century, 1991
    7. Obasanjo, Olusegun.: My command : an account of the Nigerian Civil War, 1967 – 1970. Heinemann, 1980.
    8. Soyinka, Wole: The Man Died. London, 1972.
    9. Awolowo, Obafemi: Awo on the Nigerian Civil War. J. West Publications, 1982
    10. Oluleye, James J.: Military leadership in Nigeria, 1966-1979. Ibadan University Press Ltd., 1985.
    11. Michael Mok: Biafra Journal. Time-Life Books, 1969.
    12. Kirk-Greene, A. H. M.: Crisis and conflict in Nigeria – a documentary sourcebook. Oxford University Press, 1971.
    13. Report of the Vision 2010 Committee. Main Report, September 1997, Abuja.
    14. Idahosa, Patrick E.: Truth and tragedy (a fighting man’s memoir of the Nigerian Civil War). Heinemann Educational Books, 1989.

NewsRescue

Share and Enjoy

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS