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Boji-Boji Atamuna

General Gowon’s war albatross

“I remember with nostalgia the performance of the Commander-in-chief, General Gowon. Every Commander was given a copy of the Commander-in-chief’s instructions that we were not fighting enemies but that we were fighting our brothers and thus people were constrained to show a lot of restraint.”

– General Muhammadu Buhari, at Aso Rock Villa, during his investiture as Grand Patron, Nigeria Red Cross Society.

On his way to Heaven still in his wheelchair, the African grandmaster of prose prepared to scribble his goodbye. Veering from his familiar imaginations and creativity of novel writing, Chinua Achebe’s historic last testament was explosive. “There was a Country” landmark revelations were apt. The late author stated that, more bullets, armor, missiles, bombs and artilleries were fired into Biafra, against the Biafran people than the total war arsenal used by the combined combatants of the AXIS and ALLIED Alliances during the First and Second World Wars!!.

In his brilliant battlefield diary, The Tragedy of Victory, Brigadier General Godwin Alabi Isama affirmed that his marine Third Division was the least equipped division that fought the Biafrans. Detailing one of the confrontations with the Biafrans, he remembered at somewhere near Port Harcourt the Biafrans would hide in the bush and open up “with a burst of machine gun fire, some three of four soldiers fall. This enabled us to locate their position and our enveloping troops moved in immediately. There was the stench of the dead everywhere, the bodies floating on the river.” Elsewhere, Buhari’s First Division based in Enugu assigned with the mission to capture Awka, Onitsha and link up with the Second Division at Asaba and eventually capture Nnewi and win the war!.

Before the debacle at Abagana, there was a report, which gave detailed descriptions of the invading military convoy. That report stated that there were over five hundred trailers and Mercedes-Benz lorries, loaded with artillery shells, Saladin shells, mortar bombs, boxes upon boxes of bullets, grenades, eneger grenades, including anti-aircraft guns towed by Land Rovers uncountable Ferrets and Saladins.

When a company of Biafrans courageously ambushed the convoy their first motor shell landed on top of the first tanker of the advancing convoy. There were multiple explosions which shook the grounds from Abagana down to Onitsha. After the fire, which blazed for two days, was extinguished, it was chilling to find over 500000 burnt-out sticks of horsewhips packed inside the trailers! If Buhari’s soft war refrain is no propaganda at this time of elections, what were those horsewhips doing inside the trailers? Who were the intended lashes going to be unleashed on?

On page 48, Blood on the Niger, the Air Raid, Korean war veteran, and the last commanding Biafran officer to surrender to the Federal troops commented on the fury and the brutality of the Federal forces: “I will fight and give the Federal troops something to remember and if I failed to stop them, I will engage them on any other ground and theatre of the war till the end. This promise I made to myself because the intensity of the mortaring and artillery shelling, which I experienced that evening in Asaba, convinced me that this was a total war not a police action…” During the early days of the war, Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu’s death as also exclusively detailed in the Blood on the Niger questioned the professionalism of the Nigerian Army’s softness on the night of his death at the Nsukka sector.

A Yoruba General had volunteered that Col. Shelleng, was the officer commanding that sector when Major Nzeogwu was critically wounded. Lying still, unconscious after his night patrol was ambushed by the Federal troops, who was the NCO who instead of taking him in, savagely plucked out his eyes?

The same First Division variously under Bissala, Shuwa with Danjuma as commanders, after the cessation of hostilities pursued and finally captured the escaping flamboyant Jan 15 Revolutionary, Major Tim Onwuategwu, at the Abakiluki-Ogoja boundary road. The fine Biafran renowned commander of the S. Brigade was beaten to hell and, on the orders of a senior Nigerian officer, buried alive. After the war! We can go on but it is on this occasion of the investiture of the President as the Grand Patron of the Red Cross that the President extolled Commander Gen. Gowon on his civil war command. Let me remind the international humanitarian organisation of what happened to the Red Cross International plane flying food and medical supplies to the starving children of Biafra in 1969. The commander of the Third Marine Commandos, Nigerian Army, threatened to shoot down the Red Cross planes.

Flying in the red and white colors of the Red Cross, assuring the intercepting pilots of the Russian Ilyshin jet fighters of his humanitarian mission to Uli, the Red Cross pilot and his mission were heinously aborted by the Nigeria Air Force jets acting on the orders of the Third Marine commanders. Those killer pilots “killed” the Red Cross plane and with that act and crime committed genocide against the children of Biafra.

That killer air force flown by blood-thirsty pilots unleashed terror and bombed to smithereens civilians, animals and properties in Aba, Umuahia, Ihiala, P. Harcourt, etc, during that war. Fought without any code of engagement and bereft of any international rules regulating civil wars of that nature, the Nigerian civil war was a slaughter ground.

In Afikpo, most of the girls who escaped rape had their vaginas scraped with broken bottles and sticks of burning cigarettes. During the Oputa Tribunal sitting in Kaduna, General I.B. Haruna, who was commander of the Second Division, had the effrontery to condemn the lip apologies of General Gowon in his publicised Apologies to the People of Asaba (see Nigeria Prays, The Guardian, Sept 21, 2001). The General was vehement as he affirmed that the genocide of October 7, 1967, was part of his soldierly duties and that he would do exactly the same if faced with the same circumstances.

It is a matter of course that our President, whose biographical notes are right now on my table, would blunder and fabricate history at this time of electioneering. Like many officers of his time, this memoir of Muhammandu Buhari has blank pages on the civil war. For him to extol the odyssey of a commander-in-chief who over the years shaded his imprints all through the crisis that consumed his trusted commander-in-chief, and who during the war was the cold-blooded Chief that condoned the genocide in Asaba, the starving to death of Biafra’s children, is disheartening. Buhari’s statement on the war at this time is insensitive, callous and like the crime of genocide, unforgiveable.

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1 Comment

  1. Peter Okeke 13th June 2018 at 2:36 pm

    Have considered it worthy of note and relevant to cite the Biafra war during the Red Cross investiture of him as a grand patron, why did he treat the issue of IPOB as something of taboo that the government could not bring to the table for discussion except to dub them as a terrorist group and silenced? Now that Buhari mentioned that Biafra side was treated as brothers during the war, this is a good opportunity to bring the issues of the war into the open and appreciate how brotherly Nigeria side treated Biafra as has been outlined by the columnist. At the end of the day true reconciliation may be possible with the attendant restitution to the Biafrans that were very much wronged by the Nigerian side.

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