Madiebo: Exit of Biafra’s last army chief – The Sun Nigeria – Daily Sun

By Uwadiegwu Ogbonnaya

Public Forum

At the end of every war, it is the victorious side that tells its story and heard by the rest of mankind with glee. But the story/voice of the loser is hardly heard, no matter the justness of their case.

So it has been since the end of the Nigeria-Biafra war in 1970, 52 years ago. It still looks like yesterday but the reality is that the war ended more than half a century ago with Nigerians appearing not to have learnt any lessons from the two-and-a-half years conflict. The fratricidal conflict took the lives of three million of their compatriots, mainly from the former Eastern Nigeria that was Biafra.

Whenever the true history of the war is written in future, the name of Major General Alexander Madiebo, the second Chief of Staff/General Officer Commanding of the Biafran Army, would have its pride of place. He departed this sinful world at the age of 90 on June 3, 2022, at his Umuokpu ancestral home, Awka, the capital of Anambra State.

When the war broke out on July 6, 1967, Madiebo was just 35 years old. A product of Government College, Umuahia, he enlisted into the Royal Nigerian Army in 1954 at the same time as General Yakubu Gowon. Government College, Umuahia, produced Professor Chinua Achebe, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Major Christopher Okigbo, Brigadier George Kurubo, Commodore Amadi Ikwechegh, etcetera. Madiebo had the best of British military training at Teshie, Ghana, Aldershot and Royal Defence Academy, Sandhurst, England.

With the rank of lieutenant colonel in the pre-1966 10,000-man Nigerian Army, he formed and commanded what is today the Artillery Corps of the army. General Gado Nasko, one-time commander of the Nigerian Army Artillery Corps, was a second lieutenant under Madiebo in January 1966.

He was on a tour of the artillery formations in Kaduna when the counter-coup of July 29, 1966, led by Murtala Mohammed, T.Y. Danjuma and Martin Adamu, was being executed with northern Nigerian Army officers and men taking their vengeance on their southeastern/Igbo comrades in arms for the sin of Nzeogwu/Ifeajuna in the January 15 military uprising.

Major-General Aguiyi Ironsi, Nigeria’s first army general, military Head of State and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, was kidnapped at the Agodi, Ibadan, Government House, along with his host, Lieutenant Colonel Adekunle Fajuyi, by Major Danjuma. He handed them over to Lt. William Wallbe, who executed them at Moore Plantation, Ibadan.

Madiebo narrowly escaped from Kaduna to the East, but more than 200 eastern officers and men in Kaduna, Kano, Zaria, Ibadan, Lagos and Abeokuta were not that lucky. In his book, “The Nigerian Revolution and Biafran War,” Madiebo narrated how he escaped from Kaduna. Colonel Lambert Iheanacho, in his own book, “A Guided Destiny,” also narrated how he was hidden in an empty open petrol tanker by a patriotic Igbo locomotive driver to pass through Makurdi bridge. There, Lieutenant Shehu Yar’Adua was sorting out from coach to coach his former Nigerian Army colleagues from Eastern Nigeria, shooting them and throwing their bodies into River Benue. What an act of wickedness and heartlessness.

Back in the East, Madiebo, along with other escapees from other parts of Nigeria, were assembled by the Military Governor of the Eastern group of provinces, Lieutenant Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, to prepare for any eventuality, as Gowon had reneged on all the agreements reached at Aburi, Ghana, between January 4 and 7, 1967. General Joseph Ankra of Ghana was their host during the Aburi Peace Talk.

The lot to organize the Eastern Command of the Nigerian Army (in line with Aburi in a Nigerian Confederation) fell on Brigadier Hilary Mbilitem Njoku (from Avuvu, Ikeduru, Imo State). He was with Aguiyi-Ironsi as pre-war commander of the 2nd Brigade, Nigerian Army, Ibadan, at the Agodi Government House, when Danjuma came to seize the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. Njoku gallantly scaled the wall of the Agodi Government House with bullet wounds. He found his way to the UCH, Ibadan. He was hidden in a lift by Dr. Onukogu (from Ngwoma Obube, Owerri) and Dr. J.C. Ogbonnaya (Ogwudire of Ibeku) to shield him from northern soldiers who pursued him to the UCH. From UCH, Njoku was smuggled back to the East.

Contrary to the boast of Lt. Col. Hassan Usman Katsina that the “police action in the East would last for 48 hours,” the Nigerian federal troops who launched the war on July 6, 1967, found unexpected stiff resistance at Gakem, Ogoja, and Obollo Afor, Nsukka.

The deaths of Major Nzeogwu and Major Christopher Okigbo in the first month of the war in an ambush in the Nsukka sector was a big blow to the morale of Biafran soldiers. Hundreds of old Bende native warriors, armed with matchets, threw themselves into the war front with raw courage and determination to defend their fatherland.

Colonel Madiebo was the commander of 51 Brigade, while Colonel S.C. Ukpabi (pre-war History professor in UNN) was the commander of the 53 Bridgade in the North-west Sector (Nsukka) of the war.

Captain Lambert Iheanacho displayed gallantry and patriotism facing the better equipped Federal Nigeria troops under the command of Ukpabi. Ukpabi was the first provost of the Nigerian Defence Academy in 1979 when it became a degree-awarding institution.

On August 9, 1967, the Biafran Mid-West Liberation Army liberated the entire Mid-West Region within 48 hours, with Brigadier Victor Banjo, a Yoruba, in the lead, with the instruction to move to Lagos at the shortest time. Lieutenant Colonel Festus Akagha’s 11th Battalion was one of the two battalions that led the offensive and got as far as Ore. The army got to Uromi, Auchi and Okpella in the north.

A company of the army infiltrated into Okene, the home of the Secretary to the Federal Government, Alhaji Abdullazze Attah. Attah’s sister, Judith Attah, was the wife of Major Okigbo, who had been killed in the Nsukka sector.

The recapture of the Mid-West by Colonel Murtala Mohammed’s Second Division was a big blow to the Biafran struggle. The hastily declared “Republic of Benin” by Major (Dr.) Albert Okonkwo, who was a Mid-West Igbo medical doctor in the Nigerian Army, collapsed within 48 hours and the Liberation Army retreated to Agbor without Ojukwu’s knowledge.

In Enugu, it was complete chaos as news of an alleged plot to get Ojukwu out of the way for negotiations with Nigeria rent the air. The plot was the handiwork of Major Ifeajuna, Major Alale, Diplomat Sam Agbam and others. Not much was known of the role of Brigadier Njoku, the GOC of the Biafran Army in the alleged plot.

A hastily constituted special tribunal, headed by Justice G.C. Nkemena, formerly of the Aba High Court, tried and convicted Banjo, Ifeajuna, Alale, Agbam, etcetera, with death sentence for the alleged coup plot against Ojukwu. They were executed in the last week of September 1967. This was a few days to the fall of Enugu to Colonel Mohammed Shuwa’s First Division of the Nigerian Army.

The fall of Enugu and the aftermath of the abortive coup in Biafra were the origins of the expression “Saboteur” in Biafra for the rest of the war. Njoku lost his command and was in detention for the rest of the war. Ojukwu appointed Colonel Madiebo as the GOC of the Biafran Army and promoted him to the rank of brigadier. He acquited himself in the defence of the republic.

From Asaba, Murtala made a disastrous amphibian landing into Onitsha but was repelled with Biafran Ogbunigwe, shore battery and Ojukwu bucket. Such young hawks in the lead of the Second Division’s frontal attack into Onitsha included Captain Ibrahim Taiwo, Captain Ignatius Obeya, Captain C.C. Jorodan, etcetera.

The fall of Enugu saw the relocation of the Biafran capital to Umuahia. New battle fronts were opened by the federal troops. Colonel Benjamin Adekunle (Black Scorpion), having made a successful amphibian landing in Bonny Island, moved further east towards Calabar with the NNS Ogoja warship on the lead of the Third Marine Commandoe Division. Adekunle boasted that he would have his morning tea on October 1, 1967, at the Metropolitan Hotel, Calabar, which came to pass.

With Madiebo as the GOC of the army, Colonel Chude Sokei in charge of the air force and Commander Anuku (an Igbo from Delta State) in charge of the navy, they put in everything to defend the ‘Republic.’

In preparation for the war, Ojukwu brought in brilliant, well-educated men and women into the officers cadre of the army. They included Dr. M.S.C. Nwariaku (D.S.C. Civil Engineering), who was commissioned a lieutenant colonel by Ojukwu as commander of the Biafran Army Field Engineers, and Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, a pre-war civil engineering student of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, rose to the rank of major and fought under Colonel Nwariaku.

A lawyer, Ben Odogwu , son of Magistrate Odogwu from Onitsha, was made a lieutenant colonel and appointed director of Military Intelligence. A veteran of the Korean War (1954) from Asaba, Hannibal Joseph Achuzie, converted from the Biafran Militia to the infantry, with the rank of colonel. He was an itinerant commander in every sector of the war and a terror to deserters, cowards and AWOL Biafran soldiers.

Courageous and dedicated officers were given the task by Madiebo to form, train and command new regiments, corps and movement of the army. Major Nwadiegwu, from Orlu, formed, trained and commanded the Rangers, a guerilla warfare special group. A lawyer, J.S.P.C. Nwokolo (Pascan Jake), from Abagana, formed and commanded the Biafran Leopard Group Fighters. Veteran sports administrator, Jerry Enyeazu, formed and commanded the Biafran Organization of Freedom Fighters, another guerilla movement that specialized in sneaking behind enemy lines for information. Colonel Rolf Bob Sleiner, a foreign mercenary, commanded the First Division of the Biafran Army. Colonel Emeka Ananaba, a mate of Sani Abacha, Musa Yar’Adua and Joe Garba, commissioned in 1965 at the NDA, Kaduna, commanded the 4th Commando Brigade and took over the division when Ojukwu had to bundle Steiner out of Biafra in 1969. Ananaba, a former deputy governor of Abia State (2007 to 2015), proved his gallantry at the battle of Uzuakoli in April 1969.

Madiebo had under his command such gallant and patriotic commanders as Colonel Ben Onwuatuegwu, “S” Division; Colonel Ogbugo Kalu, 14th Division; Colonel Lambert Ohanehi, 15th Division; Colonel Tony Eze, 12th Division; and Colonel Conrad Nwawo, Adjutant General. Others were Colonel Mike Okwechime and Major Peter Ademokhoi. Colonels “Almighty” Okpara and Olehi commanded the original 14th Battalion at one time or the other from Igumali-Eha Amufu sector in defence of the Republic.

The wrong impression had persisted that it was only Igbo officers and men that fought the war, whereas it was the people of the former Eastern Region that lost their lives in the pogrom in Northern Nigeria and other parts of the country. General Philip Effiong (Akwa Ibom) was the Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters, second in command to Ojukwu. There were also Colonel Nsudo, Major Archibong, Major Okilo, Captain Osaro, Captain Briggs and RSM Obeteng (from Ugep). They were all fantastic, dedicated and courageous. Biafra’s Provincial Administrator for Yenegoa Province (now Bayelsa), HRM, King N.A. Frank-Opigo, was the one that gave the name “Biafra” at the Eastern Nigeria Consultative Assembly that gave Ojukwu the mandate in Enugu to declare the “Republic of Biafra.” Frank Opigo was my school principal/proprietor of Niger Grammar School, Port Harcourt.

With little or nothing to defend the Republic, Oron, Eket, Uyo, Ikot Ekpene, Ikom, Obubra, Abakaliki and Port Harcourt fell before the first anniversary of the republic, when Madiebo was decorated with Distinguished Service Medal of Biafra. Aba, Owerri and Okigwe fell before October 1968. The recapture of Owerri in February/March 1969, was what gave Biafra a breathing space. Colonel Ihenacho from Upe, Ngor Okpala, Owerri, was the hero in the recapture of the city in a combined operation of the 14th and “S” divisions that chased Adekunle’s 3rd Marine Commando towards Port-Harcourt.

Then the 1st Nigerian Division under Shuwa launched a one-month offensive to capture Umuahia between March 26 and May 1, 1969, after breaking through the 15th Division’s lines from the Okigwe Uturu-Isuikwuato axis. Madiebo, Achuzie, Ananaba, Ginger, etcetera, were at the titanic battle of Uzuakoli, supported by Biafra’s “Corporal Nwafor” armoured car driven by Sassa, a pre-war From 3 student from Ohafia.

With an all-out offensive by the Nigerian Army in all sectors from December 1969 and recapture of Owerri, Ojukwu, Madiebo and Ogbugo Kalu left from Uli Airport to Ivory Coast. General Effiong’s broadcast of January 12, 1970, signalled the end of the struggle.

The recent transition of General Alexander Madiebo at the age of 90 in his Umuokpu, Awka, ancestral home calls for celebration by the Igbo. The Ohanaeze Ndigbo, with Professor George Obiozor, and the South-East Council of Traditional Rulers should be involved in his funeral arrangements. A worthy posthumous chieftaincy title should be conferred on him in recognition of his sacrifices when it mattered most to defend the people of the former Eastern Nigeria.

Our prayer is that Nigeria should never again see anything that would resemble what happened between 1966 and 1970.

What is happening in Nigeria now calls for serious concern, as no nation has ever survived two civil wars, as a veteran of the Nigerian civil war, former Minister of Defence and Chief of Army Staff, General T.Y. Danjuma, warned in faraway Liberia in 1988.

Those who fail to learn from lessons of history are bound to repeat the mistakes of history. This should not be the lot of Nigerians again.

•Ogbonnaya, traditional ruler of Umuanyi Uturu, Abia State, writes via, 08073770915


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