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Federal Nigerian Army Blunders of the Nigerian Civil War - Part 10
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OWERRI, 1969 [APPENDIX - CONTINUED]
Notes on key commanders during the siege of Owerri
PERSONALITIES DURING THE SIEGE OF OWERRI (continued)
Former Lt. Col. Ogbugo Kalu [Biafran Brigadier]
Ex-Biafran Brigadier Ogbugo Kalu, commander of the Biafran 14 Division during the siege of Owerri joined the Nigerian Army in September 1958. After training at the ROSTS (Ghana) and MONS Officer Cadet School (UK), he was short service commissioned 2/Lt. in November 1959. Like his colleagues of that era, he rose rapidly and was already a substantive Major by May 1966 when Major General Ironsi promoted him Acting Lt. Col. He saw action as an infantry officer during the Cameroon uprising and served with UN peace-keeping troops in the Congo. At the time of the northern counter-coup of July 1966 he was the Commandant of the Nigerian Military training College (NMTC) in Kaduna, as the successor to Colonel Ralph Shodeinde who had been assassinated in January. (Kalu was neither informed nor did he take part in the January 1966 coup.)
On July 29, 1966, as conditions in Kaduna became increasingly tense following reports of the northern counter-coup in the south, he hosted an early afternoon meeting at his house in Kaduna of a few officers who were concerned about their safety. These officers included Lt. Col. Madiebo, and Majors Emelifonwu, Ogunro and Ogbemudia. Ogunro and Emelifonwu were later killed. Kalu eventually slipped out of Northern Nigeria and, as Madiebo was to do subsequently, escaped to eastern Nigeria in the water-tank of a Goods Train.
In early February 1967, the then eastern region government, concerned about the gathering clouds of confrontation decided to create two new infantry battalions that would not be under the control of the federal government. These were the 7th and 8th battalions. Lt. Col. Ogbugo Kalu was asked to command the 8th battalion based at Port Harcourt while Madiebo was in command of the 7th, based at Nsukka. The 8th Bn was initially responsible for Ahoada, Calabar, Oron and Bonny. By the time war actually broke out on July 6th, a new 9th Bn (under Biafran Major Ogbo Oji) was in the process of being formed at Calabar. 52 Brigade was then created – to include the 8th and 9th Battalions, initially under Colonel Eze. Kalu later took command of this Brigade after further differentiation. He was, therefore, in command of unsuccessful efforts by 52 Bde to resist Colonel Adekunle’s landing at Bonny in July 1967. However, Kalu nearly recaptured Bonny in December 1967 and January 1968 from the federal 15 Brigade under Lt. Col. Julius Alani Akinrinade. Akinrinade had transferred to the 3MCDO from 2DIV after falling out with Col. Murtala Mohammed over the Onitsha disaster. But he then got into a disaster of his own and was barely saved at Bonny by timely reinforcements from Lagos. (It was during this operation that Lt. Col. Onifade died)
Again, in late March and early April, after a series of reversals, Kalu blocked the first major attempt by Adekunle to take Port Harcourt through Onne. Akinrinade’s 15 brigade was practically wiped out. According to Oluleye, the only survivors were “Ijaw swimmers” who knew how to disappear into the creeks. If Kalu had sustained the momentum and conducted a hot pursuit he would have retaken Bonny and made history.
Unfortunately for Kalu, local Biafran civilian leaders were frustrated with his inability to stem the overall tide of Adekunle’s subsequent advance on Port Harcourt. Therefore, in an atmosphere rife with unnecessary suspicions of sabotage, he was replaced in late April as Brigade Commander initially by then Major Joe “Hannibal” Achuzia of Abagana fame and subsequently by Navy Captain Anuku. This did not, however, stop Adekunle from eventually taking the city via other axes the following month – in what was clearly a major military disaster for the Biafran military.
After the Port Harcourt debacle, Kalu led the 63
Brigade of the 11 Division under Colonel Amadi and staged a successful assault
crossing of the River Niger. He slipped behind 2 Division lines and temporarily
harassed Asaba, Ogwashi-Uku and even Ibusa, all in the Midwest. The
significance of this move was that it was the first return of Biafran units to
the Midwest since they were evicted in October 1967. Unsurprisingly, the
incursion was not significantly publicized on the federal side.
In September 1968, as elements of the 3MCDO were linking Aba to Owerri during the opening phases of Operation OAU, Ojukwu relieved then 14 Division Commander, Colonel Nwajei and placed Colonel Kalu in charge – with the initial task of defending Mbaise against the federal 14th Brigade. Although unfairly needled by Ojukwu about his problems at Port Harcourt, he subsequently led the Biafran double envelopment of the federal 16th Brigade at Owerri, which – under Madiebo’s supervision - he recaptured in April 1969. As a result, he was promoted to the rank of Brigadier.
Brigadier Kalu was still in command of the 14
Division when Owerri was taken back, this time, finally, in January 1970, during
‘Operation Tail-Wind’, the final federal offensive of the war. He was among the
officers who accompanied Biafran Major General Phillip Effiong to Amichi, and
later Owerri for the military surrender to Colonel Olusegun Obasanjo in the
field after the broadcast of January 12, 1970.
Biafran Colonel Joe “Hannibal” Achuzia (rtd)
Biafran Colonel Joseph Oseloka Achuzia (rtd)
(a.k.a. “Hannibal”, “Air Raid”) never served in the Nigerian Army. For that
reason there are no Nigerian Army records in his name. He did write a book
titled, “Requiem Biafra” (Fourth Dimension Publishers, 1986).
He says he originally served as a conscript in the British Army in Korea under the assumed name “George Taylor.” However, Commonwealth war records that I have reviewed identify “George Taylor” as Brigadier George Taylor, Brigade Commander of the 28th British Commonwealth Brigade - one of the two Brigades in the Commonwealth division during the Korean War. ‘George Taylor’ was definitely a Caucasian. But it is possible that Achuzia may have served under him as a black man with the exact same name.
Be that as it may, Achuzia returned to Nigeria on July 29, 1966 as elements of the 2nd Battalion at Ikeja Barracks were closing down the Ikeja International airport in Lagos during the early stages of the northern counter-coup. With the assistance of coup leader Lt. Col. Murtala Mohammed (whom he knew personally), Achuzia and his expatriate wife were given safe passage to Benin City (capital of his home region), from where he later made his way to Port Harcourt. It was after he returned that he re-assumed his ancestral Asaba family name.
When the war broke out he joined the Biafran Militia. As a militiaman he played an active role in the August 1967 Biafran invasion of his home region in the Midwest. In fact he was involved in the arrest of several Biafran officers (like 101 Division Chief of Staff Major [Lt. Col.] Adewale Ademoyega) in that theater after suspicion fell upon them for alleged sabotage. He later claimed command of the “Republic of Benin Division” after Colonel Banjo was withdrawn, tried and later shot by Ojukwu. Along with other Biafran elements, he fell back across the river Niger Bridge in the wake of Lt. Col. Mohammed’s rapid advance.
As a volunteer militiaman, Achuzia was very active
in the defence of Onitsha. After the heroic defence of Onitsha against the
initial efforts of Colonel Murtala Mohammed to take it across the Niger, fellow
Midwesterner, Brigadier Nwawo, who was then 11 Division Commander, recommended
that Achuzia be commissioned. He was inducted into the Biafran Army with the
rank of a Major – in a move Madiebo calls “the greatest mistake of my military
career.” Achuzia proved to be an expert in publicity stunts – and had very poor
relationship with officers who had been conventionally trained in military
academies. There is no doubt, however, that he was quite useful to Ojukwu in
keeping the regular military boys “in line.” He was an absolute gem for Biafran
Just before Onitsha eventually fell in early 1968 (to then Major Shehu Musa Yar’Adua), civilian militia elements moved in to take control of some regular army formations. Citing his Korean War experience, Achuzia lobbied for, and was appointed the Division Operations Officer for the Biafran 11 Division, previously commanded by Colonel Nwawo. In this position he was technically the Divisional Commander – an appointment he attained within three months of being commissioned into the Biafran Army. Achuzia had direct reporting relationship with the Head of State, Ojukwu, thus bypassing the Biafran Army HQ. His new Administrative Officer was none other than Brigadier Nwawo – his former Divisional Commander (and one time Nigerian Defence Attache in London)!
According to several regular former Biafran officers I have spoken to, Achuzia never wrote operational orders for any battle – although to be fair to him, neither did Nigeria’s Lt. Col. Murtala Mohammed, who trained at Sandhurst. But time and time again, Achuzia would start off an operation and then lose interest and go somewhere else, and then return later on when it seemed things had worked themselves out. This happened in Onitsha during Mohammed’s final push into the town from Awka in March 1968. When Achuzia staged one of his disappearances, military officers like Colonel Chude-Sokei (Biafran Air Force Commander), Brigadier Nwawo, Colonel Eze, Colonel Aghanya, Major Okeke, and others rallied the front. Chude-Sokei died from mortar fire and most of the others mentioned were seriously wounded by the time Achuzia returned. On March 21st, Nigeria’s Major S.M. Yar’Adua took Onitsha. When, however, a column of 2DIV logistic vehicles tried to link up with Yar’Adua from Abagana, they were destroyed in an ambush led by Biafran Major Uchendu on March 31st at Abagana – in another disaster for Nigeria’s Colonel Murtala Mohammed. Nevertheless, Major Joe Achuzia promptly reappeared to address a Press Conference about it and did a photo-op at the scene with journalists, explaining in detail how he accomplished the ‘feat’. To the amusement of regular Biafran officers who say he was not even there, it was on this basis that he got the nickname “Hannibal” – in memory of the great Carthaginian General.
When asked to comment on Madiebo’s criticisms of
his military methods, Achuzia said:
“Yes, the point is that there has been a long drawn disagreement between me and
Madiebo over the conduct of the war. Madiebo was our Artillery officer but
unfortunately an Artillery officer who could not stand the sound of artillery.
Hearing the explosion of artillery shots he would place himself five miles away
from the scene………Our disagreement grew from lack of faith because I made it
clear to him that if for one second I lost faith in this cause I would remove
myself from command and participation…”
Anyway, Achuzia was later relieved by Ojukwu of
command of 11 Division and replaced by P.C. Amadi, a graduate of the MONS
Officer Cadet School. This would later prove vital when federal troops tried
unsuccessfully to take Nnewi. Achuzia, meanwhile, was ordered to relieve
Colonel Ogbugo Kalu as the 52 Brigade Commander in the Port Harcourt sector.
When he failed to stop Colonel Adekunle’s advance there, Navy Captain Anuku, a
graduate of the Royal Naval School at Portsmouth – who also failed to stop
Adekunle’s march into Port Harcourt - relieved him.
In September 1968, when Colonel Adekunle launched Operation OAU, Achuzia was at it again. He was embroiled in a command controversy with Biafran Navy Captain Anuku over control of the joint 52 and 60 Brigade HQ in the Owerri-Ahoada axis – under control of a newly created 14 Division. Eventually, Anuku was asked to accompany Ojukwu for an OAU meeting in Addis Ababa while Colonel Ben Nwajei of 53 Bde was asked to take command of the Division as its first Commander. In this way, Madiebo outmaneuvered Achuzia.
Nevertheless, he bounced back into political prominence, distinguishing himself during the Biafran counter-offensive to retake Oguta in collaboration with Colonel Nwajei and Captain Anuku. Later in September, Achuzia made an unsuccessful attempt to retake Obilagu airstrip from Nigeria’s Major Abdullai Shelleng of the “Jet” 22 battalion, 1 Sector, I DIV.
When Brigadier Nwawo’s 13 Division lost Okigwe to
elements of the Federal 1st DIV on October 1st, 1968,
Achuzia was ordered by Ojukwu to take over command of the badly battered
Division while Nwawo was redeployed to AHQ and Colonel Ude sacked. Achuzia then
changed the name to “15 Division” because he felt “13” stood for bad luck.
Nevertheless all three (3) attempts by Achuzia’s new 15 Division to retake
Okigwe failed woefully. By the time of his third attempt, many Biafran officers
had abandoned their troops for fear of failure and Achuzia’s dreaded retribution
– which some allege included summary executions. The 15 Division later came
under command of Biafran Colonel Linus Ohanehi.
Experience under Achuzia at the Okigwe sector
became the subject of Biafran folklore. On the day of the planned third assault
on the town, its Biafran administrator was driving toward the frontline in a car
similar to Achuzia’s vehicle. When soldiers saw him coming, they abandoned
their trenches and scampered into the jungle thinking it was Achuzia coming to
carry out his threats against them. The hapless administrator initially
misinterpreted the behavior of the soldiers as a sign that there was a Nigerian
“air raid” in progress. When he later discovered that there was no Nigerian
plane in the area, the incident served humorously to confer Achuzia with another
of his nicknames, “Air Raid.” That is why he is known as Colonel Joe Hannibal
“Air Raid” Achuzia. The implication was that his own troops took cover from him
whenever he was in the area – for fear of friendly fire!
After the failure of efforts to retake Okigwe, Achuzia, once again, got into a controversy with Colonel Amadi over the best way to stem federal advance in the Agulu and Adazi areas. With Ojukwu’s backing, he even allegedly expropriated ammunition and fuel supplies meant for the operation, delaying it in the process. Were it not for the “Umuahia Brigade” under Major Nwosu, the story would have been different. An entire battalion of federal troops was later destroyed at Agulu and Adazi – the only major disaster experienced by Colonel Shuwa’s 1st Division throughout the war. The outcome of that battle, in late November 1968, saved the 11 Division under Amadi and prevented the fall of Nnewi, Ojukwu’s hometown.
Other than the arrest and deportation of mercenary Colonel Steiner, which he claims credit for, Achuzia was quiet and subdued for a while, preferring to stir up trouble in the Midwest. But in March 1969 he convinced Ojukwu to allow him take temporary control of the “S” Division from Lt. Col. Onwuategwu in an effort to penetrate federal 16th Brigade lines during the siege of Owerri. This effort also failed, and as previously noted, led to a shoot out between Achuzia and Onwuategwu, his rival. Achuzia, therefore, left the sector and returned to planning guerilla operations behind 2DIV lines inside his home region in Midwestern Nigeria.
When Umuahia was threatened by the federal
“Operation Leopard” offensive, however, Colonel Achuzia returned from his
Headquarters and showed up. He took control of one axis of the attack plan to
retake Uzuakoli (along with Lt. Col. Onwuategwu and Majors Ananaba, Ginger and
Okafor). Biafran troops, badly disorganizing Nigerian Major Ibrahim Bako’s
battalion and wounding Major IB Babangida, temporarily retook Uzuakoli.
Achuzia wasted no time addressing an international Press conference about it and
exaggerating federal losses – but in no time Uzuakoli was again in federal
hands. Achuzia drifted away once again to plan further operations in the
Ojukwu’s apparent inability to resist Achuzia’s
requests despite his shortcomings has led some commentators to speculate that
perhaps he feared him. Commenting on accounts that Biafran leader Emeka
Ojukwu may well have feared him, Achuzia said:
think so. I will illustrate with one incident. When Owerri was recaptured, I
was in Owerri. I was the one who created 14 Division from a Brigade. [This is
untrue] Having put it together, I handed it over to Ogbugo Kalu. [Also
untrue] At this time there was a Professor from present day Akwa Ibom,
Effiong’s home, who was detained. Effiong was under pressure by his people to
get Ojukwu to release him and the day I was handling operations at the Ogbugo
front I was told to take the task force and penetrate into Owerri. He came with
Okwechime and said to me that Ojukwu sent him to me that I was the only one who
could give orders for those detained to be released. You can see it is not true
but under war situations you don’t know what to believe and what not to believe.
So I looked at him and said: “Sir, you are the Defence Chief of Staff. You are
number two to his Excellency. How does it sound that I, a mere Field Commander
and a Colonel should be the one to give instructions for the release?”
He answered that he was sent, and that I should ask Okwechime. Okwechime confirmed and said that Ojukwu said he was coming to Owerri for a meeting with the chiefs around that area, that he wanted me at the meeting. When I arrived there at 3 pm, Ojukwu was already there, the other chiefs, Effiong and so on. I walked in and saluted. The first thing he said was, “Are you averse to taking responsibility for me?” I said, “No, Sir”. That ended the matter. That shows order from somebody who is afraid of you.”
The real explanation for this bizarre chain of
command (if true) may have been that Ojukwu did not fully trust or feel
comfortable with the regular Biafran Army. Both Hilary Njoku (the first Biafran
Army Commander) and Alexander Madiebo (the second Biafran Army Commander) have
said – on record – that the regular Biafran Army was not consulted when Ojukwu
decided to secede from Nigeria.
When asked a few years ago to name those in Biafra
he trusted during the war, Ojukwu avoided the question by asking:
“Is this a fair question?”
When Ojukwu – who was himself the product of a
conventional, but not so prestigious former military academy at Eaton Hall - was
asked to assess his various Biafran commanders, he said:
“Achuzia was very good….”
When asked if he subscribed to any theory of war,
“I wasn’t trained at Sandhurst….I found that the classic mode of that war was wrong and, in fact, I had a lot of problems with my commanders. One of the first problems I had was this insistence that an officer has to be a gentleman. Yes, in peacetime you have to be; in warfare he has to be a beast…..”What I want from my officer is victory in battle. If they ate with their feet I didn’t care but let them go for war and win battles”…So there was a dichotomy in the Biafran Army symbolised by the ex-Nigerian military men and people like Achuzia who had joined them...."
In May 1969, Achuzia’s units were again in the news. This time, while he was personally based at Oraifite near Onitsha, a detachment of his Republic of Benin Division took some European oilmen hostage at Kwale in the Midwest, across the river Niger. A number of Italian oilmen were killed. Although tactically successful, the raid eventually proved strategically harmful to Biafra internationally. It certainly cost Biafra the support of the Vatican, among others. France reportedly reduced arms supplies.
In September 1969, Achuzia was again in action. This time he withdrew a Brigade of his “Republic of Benin Division” from the Midwest to assist in Biafra’s “Operation Do or Die” - the effort to relieve the Biafran 57 Brigade in the vital food producing area of Otuocha. The Brigade had been cut off by elements of the federal 1st Division (including Captain Bello Khaliel, Major Muhammadu Buhari, etc.) as they secured the Onitsha-Enugu road in one of their many efforts to link Abagana with Onitsha.
As previously noted, Achuzia’s press conjured reputation among civilians was mythical, even though not highly respected by professional soldiers. Ojukwu manipulated this tension for effect. On January 9, 1970, for example, at the final meeting of the Biafran leadership at Ogwa where Ojukwu announced his plans to go abroad “in search of peace”, Ojukwu used Achuzia’s name in a morale boosting decoy. Fully aware that federal troops were already in control of Owerri, and fully aware of the hopeless condition of the Biafran resistance at that point, he announced that plans had been made for Achuzia to command two thousand troops in defence of Owerri. He also announced that Achuzia was on the verge of taking four (4) thousand soldiers across the River Niger in another invasion of the Midwest. Neither force existed. Neither event occurred.
What did occur was that a few days later, Colonel Achuzia was among those who surrendered to Nigerian Colonel Obasanjo at Amichi on January 13, 1970, following the previous day’s broadcast by General Effiong. He later faced a Board of Inquiry and was held at the Kiri-Kiri prison for many years. Indeed, even when the very last batch of imprisoned Biafran officers who took part in the January 1966 coup (like Captain Christian Ude) was released on August 11th, 1975 by the new Murtala Mohammed regime, Colonel Achuzia was still ordered held (along with Shadrack) – for reasons never officially confirmed. What is certain, however, from sources that prefer to remain unnamed is that there may have been unconfirmed allegations from former Biafran colleagues of Achuzia, alleging wartime atrocities. He was, therefore, according to these sources, held in his own interest until he was let go later on the life of that regime.
In his memoirs, Colonel Achuzia expresses the
opinion that he saved Biafra during the war. When asked to explain why he had
not been given credit for this gigantic claim he said:
“Very simple. Those that denied me or wanted to deny me the credit are my professional colleagues. They never saw me as part and parcel of Biafra. I am a Midwesterner. It was by the same token that Brigadier Nwawo was equally denied his rightful place. That I performed was because they had no alternative.”
Brigadier Lambert Ihenacho (rtd) [ex-Biafran
Brigadier Lambert O. Ihenacho (rtd) commenced
training at the Nigerian Military Training College on July 21st
1962. He subsequently underwent Office Cadet training at the elite Haile
Selassie I Military Academy at Harar in Ethiopia. He was regular commissioned
2/Lt in October 1965. He had barely returned to Nigeria when the country was
consumed in the pangs of crises in 1966/67. As an easterner, he went east. [He
was neither informed nor did he take part in the January 15 coup.]
Early in the war, Biafran Major Ihenacho valiantly commanded a Biafran Battalion under the 53 Brigade at Inyi in the Enugu sector. During the Biafran counter-offensive of late 1968, Ihenacho was appointed Commander of the 63 Brigade in the rank of Lt. Colonel. This brigade was positioned along the left flank of the Owerri-Umuahia road to the Imo River. It was an active participant in all phases of the siege of Owerri, and was reputed to hold its ground against all odds right from the very beginning.
During Colonel Obasanjo’s “Operation Tail-Wind” in
January 1970, Ihenacho’s 63 Brigade came under withering attack by Major
Tomoye’s 17th Brigade, supported by 122 mm Russian artillery. The
collapse of the Biafran 63 Brigade, which had regularly held its ground for over
one year, was one of the clearest signals that Owerri would shortly fall, and
with it, Biafra.
Following the Biafran capitulation, after a Board
of Inquiry, he was reabsorbed into the Nigerian Army – with loss of seniority -
and was eventually retired in September 1990 as a Brigadier-General. His last
posting was as the Director of the Army Faculty at the Command and Staff
Lt. Col. Chris F. Ugokwe (rtd) [ex-Biafran
Lt. Col. Chris F. Ugokwe (rtd) joined the Nigerian
Army in April 1962. After Young Officers Course No. 5., at the NMTC, he
proceeded to the MONS Officer Cadet School, Aldershot in the UK from October
1962 until January 1963. He was commissioned 2/Lt on January 26, 1963, on the
same day as Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd).
After further training at the Royal Armoured Corps Center, Bovington Camp, in the UK he was deployed to the Recce Unit in Kaduna.
He was neither informed beforehand nor did he take
part in the January 1966 coup.
However, in the early hours of the coup, between 3 am and 4 am, Captain Ben
Gbulie summoned him from sleep along with other young officers like Captains
Anakwe and Dilibe, 2/Lts. JC Ojukwu, Mohammed Mayaki, Mike Ikeocha and others,
to the 1st Brigade HQ in Kaduna. When they all gathered, to their
consternation (as Gbulie testifies), Gbulie – who was an active coup planner and
participant - briefed them on the status of ongoing operations and then tried to
recruit them at that stage. Gbulie later singled out the Recce officers among
them, like Ugokwe, Mayaki and Ojukwu, and tried to get them to bring armoured
vehicles to the Brigade HQ to protect it from potential counter-attack. When
they expressed reluctance in the absence of a legitimate order from the Recce
Squadron commander, Major Nzeogwu reassured them that he had earlier confronted
their commander, Major Hassan Katsina, who had agreed to cooperate. What
Nzeogwu did not tell them was that he got the assurance of ‘support’ while armed
with a submachine gun pointed at Hassan in his house [read
January 15, 1966: The Role of Major Hassan Usman Katsina].
Anyhow, they proceeded to do as they were ordered.
The coup later collapsed when the GOC, Major General Ironsi took control in the capital, Lagos. Major Hassan Katsina became the Military Governor of the northern region and his first Aide-de-Camp was the young 2/Lt. Chris Ugokwe. Ugokwe was promoted Lt. in May 1966, and, as an easterner, eventually had to return to the eastern region in the wake of confusion after the northern counter-coup of July 29.
After war broke out in 1967, Ugokwe rose steadily in the Biafran army and, as a Major, later a Lt. Col., eventually became the Commander of the 52 Bde along the Port-Harcourt-Owerri road (following Ogbugo Kalu, Achuzia and Anuku). A detachment of his brigade fought at Oguta against the 3MCDO’s first attempt to take that town. But the main force deployed along the axis between the Owerri-Ihiala and Owerri-Umuahia roads when the double envelopment of the federal 16th brigade was sprung in December 1968. Ugokwe later ceded command of the Brigade to Biafran Major Igweze.
After the war, following a Board of Inquiry, he
was reabsorbed into the Nigerian Army Armoured Corps – with loss of seniority.
His name has been linked to the capture of Radio Nigeria Broadcasting House at
Ikoyi from Lt. Col. BS Dimka during the abortive February 13, 1976 coup attempt
in Lagos. Although then Lt. Col. IB Babangida took the credit, insiders say
Ugokwe, then serving at Ikeja Cantonment with the 4 Recce Regiment, was the man
His last appointment in the Nigerian Army was as the Commander of the 21Armoured Brigade in Maiduguri, under the 3rd Armoured Division at Jos.
In a move typical of the “dog eat dog” Nigerian
Army politics of that era, he was suddenly retired on September 16th,
1985 from the Nigerian Army. This came a few weeks after Major General
Babangida removed Major General Buhari (Ugokwe’s coursemate) as Head of State
during the coup of August 27, 1985. Someone somewhere thought that the mere
fact of Ugokwe’s connection to Buhari was a potential future threat to the new
Ugokwe later became Chairman of the Nigerian National Population Commission and was also a one-time Chairman of the African Population Commission.
Ex-Captain HA Asoya [Biafran Colonel]
Ex-Nigerian Captain (T/Major), former Biafran Colonel Asoya joined the Nigerian Army in November 1961. He trained at the NMTC, following which he attended the MONS Officer Cadet School in the UK. He was short-service commissioned 2/Lt. in July 1962.
He served in the Congo. He was neither
informed nor did he take part in the January 15, 1966 coup. When the war
broke out he was, like many eastern officers, as a result of complex
circumstances, physically in the east.
Early during the civil war, as a Biafran Major, he took part in the August 1967 Biafran invasion of the Midwest. He later rose steadily and became the Commander of the 60 Brigade. In September 1968, he was active in crucial efforts to clear Oguta and the Egbema oil field. On account of that battle – in which he evicted Lt. Col. Makanjuola’s 15th Brigade - he was promoted Lt. Col.
During the siege of Owerri, Col. Asoya was in
charge of the sector between Owerri-Ihiala and Owerri-Port Harcourt roads. He
took part in the final coordinated penetration of the city in April 1969 and his
was among the first units to formally re-occupy the town when the federal 16th
Bde under Etuk pulled out.
After the recapture of Owerri Asoya was tasked
with the unsuccessful effort to seize Ohoba, a forward 3MCDO base due southwest
of Owerri, which was considered, a threat. He later assumed command of the “S”
Division during unsuccessful Biafran efforts in mid and late 1969 to retake Port
In the final week of the war, Asoya’s “S” Division was operating along the Port Harcourt-Elele road. He found himself cut off and disorganized by a quick envelopment carried out by the Nigerian 17 Brigade under Major Tomoye. Shortly, thereafter, the final federal dash to Owerri and Uli-Ihiala began.
After the war, Asoya came before a Board of
Inquiry. On account of his role in the invasion of the Midwest he was jailed
until October 25, 1974 when he was dismissed from the Nigerian Army.
Major Timothy O Onwuategwu [Biafran Lt. Col.]
Like Alexander Madiebo, Major Timothy Onwuategwu
attended Government College, Umuahia. Like Emeka Ojukwu he was from Nnewi in
eastern Nigeria. He joined the Nigerian Army in September 1958. He attended
the ROSTS in Ghana, after which he was sent to the Royal Military Academy at
Sandhurst, where he distinguished himself as a boxer. He was regular
commissioned in July 1961.
He served in the Congo.
As a senior instructor at the NMTC, Onwuategwu was one of the officers that masterminded and carried out the January 15, 1966 coup d’Etat. He assisted Major PCK Nzeogwu in coordinating operations in northern Nigeria. He was personally responsible for the murder of Brigadier Samuel Adesoji Ademulegun and his pregnant wife, took part in the killing of Colonel Ralph Shodeinde, and arrested Sir Kashim Ibrahim.
The coup collapsed when Major General Ironsi took
over in Lagos. Although he initially reached an apparent deal with the
mutineers not to bring them to justice, a few weeks later, on February 5th,
Onwatuegwu was arrested in Kaduna and transferred to the Kiri-Kiri prisons in
Lagos. A month later he was again moved, first to Sarki maximum-security prison
in Lagos, and then later transferred to eastern Nigeria – where he sat out time
with no court-martial in progress. That is where he was during the northern
counter-coup of July 1966.
Just before the war began in 1967, Ojukwu released Onwuategwu, along with other January 15 detainees.
As a Biafran Lt. Col. he was initially appointed
commander of the 15th battalion in the Nsukka sector during
unsuccessful 53 Brigade operations to retake Nsukka from Colonel Shuwa’s 1st
DIV. After the fall of Enugu and eviction of Biafran troops in the Midwest,
this battalion was initially asked to defend the Enugu-Onitsha road but later
took part in the unsuccessful defence of Nkalagu Cement factory. By this time,
at least in part because he had also been appointed commander of Ojukwu’s “S”
(special) protection brigade, complaints had begun to surface about Onwatuegwu’s
love for publicity, non-regimental leadership style and the operational
tardiness of his 15 Battalion. The 15 Battalion was, therefore, disbanded and
Onwatuegwu redeployed to the Biafran School of Infantry.
He continued to command the “S” Brigade, however. When Aba was threatened during Colonel Adekunle’s ‘Operation OAU’, and the mercenary Colonel Steiner refused to fight, the “S” Brigade was upgraded to the “S” Division, with Onwatuegwu in charge. However, rather than focus on Aba sector, he suddenly asked Ojukwu to permit him to try to retake Okigwe, - while temporarily ceding control of the Aba sector to Colonel Eze - so that he might discredit Achuzia, since Achuzia had failed at Okigwe after three attempts.
Anyway, Onwatuegwu’s efforts to retake Okigwe also failed, so he resumed command of the “S” Division and focused his attention on Owerri. At Owerri, Etuk stood firm and Onwuategwu was unable to dislodge him or take the city. This was the background to his deep unhappiness when Ojukwu asked Achuzia to take full control of his “S” Division in an effort to do the job. Onwatuegwu was afraid that Achuzia might upstage him. As things turned out, Achuzia failed and Onwatuegwu got the Division back after a week.
Onwatuegwu later took part in the defence of
Uzuakoli. Because he left his position at Owerri to go to Umuahia to assist in
its defence, he was not present when Owerri was retaken in late April 1969,
although one of his units took part in that operation. When Owerri was retaken
Ojukwu finally decided to relieve Onwatuegwu of his command. Colonel Asoya took
over the “S” Division, which was now to report directly to Biafran AHQ, rather
than the Head of State. Its propaganda wing was disbanded. Onwatuegwu was not
promoted in the rash of promotions that followed the recapture of Owerri.
There are two accounts about Tim Onwatuegwu’s death in the week following the end of the war in 1970. One account by his former January 15 co-conspirator, Major Adewale Ademoyega, states that he was tricked into attending a meeting at a hotel with federal officers in the 3MCDO area of responsibility. At this “meeting” – some say occurred on January 15, 1970 - he was summarily shot dead, some speculate by vengeful officers personally aggrieved by the assassination of Brigadier Ademulegun and his wife on January 15, 1966. However, Colonel Obasanjo, who was at that time commanding the 3MCDO, gives an alternative account of Onwatuegwu’s death. He says that while in the process of receiving the surrender of Biafran Major General Effiong and others, Onwatuegwu had unsuccessfully arranged to ambush him near Amichi. After this, refusing to accept the situation, he apparently made for the Cameroun border and was later killed in a firefight in the 1st Division area of responsibility.
The truth about Onwatuegwu’s death remains a
Lt. TI Atumaka [Biafran Major]
Biafran Major TI Atumaka died in March 1969 at the
head of an “S” Brigade, during one of Colonel Achuzia’s frontal attempts to
He joined the Nigerian Army in April 1962 and was subsequently trained at the NMTC and the United States. He was a product of the USAAS Officer Leadership Training Course. Atumaka was a coursemate of men like Colonel Etuk (rtd) (who he fought against at Owerri), Colonel JA Nenger (rtd), Colonel William Walbe (rtd), Colonel Isa Bukar (deceased), Colonel JO Adedipe (rtd), Colonel E. K. Fakunle (rtd) and Lt. Col. L Adeyemi Alabi (rtd) (of the 3MCDO). They all did their initial officer cadet training in the United States, rather than Britain, which was more traditional at that time. Between 1962 and 1964 when the Nigerian Defence Academy was opened, Nigerian cadets were sent to the US, Canada, Australia, India, Pakistan and Ethiopia – in addition to the UK - because there were not enough vacancies in British military schools. Others who were in the same US set with Atumaka include Captain GN Okonkwo, Captain Ogbonna, Captain Ganiyu Adeleke, Lt. Nuhu Nathan (deceased), Lt. Pam Mwadkon (deceased), etc.
He was commissioned in June 1963 on the same day with Etuk.
He did not take part in the January 15 coup.
When the war broke out, Atumaka, like many other
eastern officers found himself in the east. After the fall of Aba when Ojukwu
upgraded the “S” Brigade to a Division under Onwatuegwu, Atumaka was asked to
take command of the original “S” Brigade. He took part in efforts to resist the
fall of Okigwe in 1968 before being redeployed to the Owerri sector for the
siege of Owerri.
2/Lt. G Ozoemena Igweze [Biafran Major]
Ex-Biafran Major Igweze joined the Nigerian Army
on December 10, 1962. He was a course mate to men like General IB Babangida (rtd)
and the late Major General MJ Vatsa. After a preliminary course at the NMTC, he
attended the MONS Officer Cadet School at Aldershot in the UK. He was
short-service commissioned 2/Lt. in December 1963 and posted to the Federal
Guards Company at Dodan Barracks in Lagos, then under command of Major Donatus
During the December 1964 federal election crisis,
2/Lt. Igweze was the platoon commander who provided security at the residence of
Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa in Lagos. His promotion to Lt. appears to have
been delayed because as of January 1966 he was still a 2/Lt. This may have been
connected to an incident in which his unit could not account for all its
ammunition. But it might also have been a function of his commission.
It is possible – but not confirmed - that this
grudge was a factor in Igweze’s decision to take active part in the January 15,
1966 coup. He attended the early morning meeting at Major Ifeajuna’s house,
where tasks were allotted and later helped to secure ammunition from the federal
guard armory. He accompanied his commander Major Okafor, as well as Captain
Ogbo Oji to Brigadier Maimalari’s house for the first attempts to arrest the
Brigadier – which failed because Maimalari escaped. Igweze later accompanied
Majors Anuforo and Ademoyega to Abeokuta road and was present when Major Anuforo
murdered Chief FS Okotie-Eboh. "He supervised the initial shallow burial along
He was later arrested and detained at Kiri-Kiri
prison where he – among others - was allegedly very badly rough handled by loyal
troops from the 2nd battalion led by Major Henry Igboba. There are
unconfirmed reports that some were even made to drink their own urine. [Some
sources claim that Major Igboba’s rough handling of the January 1966 suspects
later played a role in his death during the Biafran occupation of the Midwest in
Igweze underwent Police Special Branch interrogation at Police HQ, Moloney Street before being transferred to a prison in eastern Nigeria. That is how he came to be in the east when the northern counter-coup took place in July 1966 and the war broke out in 1967.
He distinguished himself as a battalion commander at Ikot-Okpara under the 56 Brigade. He was subsequently posted to the 15 Division during Colonel Achuzia’s unsuccessful efforts to retake Okigwe in October 1968. Major Igweze was one of the officers who ran away from his boys at Okigwe to avoid lethal reprisals from Achuzia – during the “Air raid” spectacle. He later relieved Ugokwe as Commander of the 52 Brigade and took part in the siege and recapture of Owerri.
After the war, following a Board of Inquiry,
Igweze was imprisoned until October 25, 1974 when he was released along with
others who had either taken active part in the January 15 1966 coup or the
Biafran invasion of the Midwest or both. On that date, he was also dismissed
from the Nigerian Army.
Former 2/Lt. BO Ikejiofor [Biafran Major]
Ex-Biafran Major BO Ikejiofor (Ikeji) joined the Nigerian Army in April 1962. He was short service commissioned in December 1963 after training at NMTC and the Australian Army Officer Cadet School at Portsea.
Like Igweze, 2/Lt. Ikejiofor took part in the
January 1966 coup and, as an officer at the 2 Brigade HQ in Apapa, attended the
January 15 coup operational orders meeting at Major Ifeajuna’s house. He was
later arrested and detained at Kiri-Kiri prison, then subsequently transferred
to a prison in eastern Nigeria. That is how – like Igweze - he came to be in
the east when the northern counter-coup took place in July 1966 and the war
broke out in 1967.
Biafran Major Ikejiofor commanded the 68 Battalion
during the siege of Owerri.
After the war, following a Board of Inquiry, he
too was imprisoned until October 25, 1974 when he was released along with others
who had either taken active part in the January 15 1966 coup or the Biafran
invasion of the Midwest or both. On that date, he was also dismissed from the
REFERENCES TO FOLLOW
Note: The next Federal Nigerian Army Disaster to be discussed is the failed 2DIV assault river crossing of the River Niger to take Onitsha in late 1967 under then Lt. Col. Murtala Mohammed.
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