By Clifford Ndujihe, Deputy Political Editor
A former Principal General Staff Officer (PGSO) of the Nigerian Army and Chief of Staff of 3 Marine Commando Division (3MCDO) during the 1967-70 Nigeria-Biafra war, Brigadier-General Godwin Alabi-Isama, is a reporter’s delight anytime. He canvasses his views with passion and emotion, not minding whose ox is gored. He was at his best, literally shooting from the hips, during a visit to the corporate headquarters of Vanguard in Apapa, Lagos. In a two-hour chat with Vanguard’s senior editors on his book, ‘The Tragedy of Victory, On-the-spot Account of the Nigeria-Biafra War in the Atlantic Theatre,’ the civil war hero made startling comments that are bound to raise dust and generate controversy in the polity. For instance, he said the Northern and Eastern Nigeria have jointly been ruling the country since independence in 1960 and Nigeria has not known peace; there was no pogrom against the Igbo during the war; Biafra would not have lost the war if her military leaders had been tactically disciplined and prosecuted the war professionally; and that Nigeria neglects her heroes and heroines.
He said the problem of Nigeria is disloyalty, not corruption; Obasanjo lied in his book, ‘My Command’; the first 1966 coup is not an Igbo coup but it ruined Nigeria. A Delta Igbo by paternal lineage but a Yoruba-cum northerner via maternal links, Alabi-Isama said God has destined Nigeria to be one country and those trying to dismember the nation labour in vain. He prayed that Nigerians should not witness another war because people are now very vicious. Excerpts:
Motivation to write the book
I did not know I have what it takes to be a writer. We all left secondary school to join the Army because they will not take you if you are from the university due to lack of trust at that time. They thought graduates would leave after a short while. The point has been proven that graduates did not do well in the Army then just as the likes of Rotimi and Emmanuel Ifeajuna, who were recruited from the university to the infantry, did not do too well. Victor Banjo was a graduate but he was recruited for the engineering aspect of the military where they have always recruited graduates. In the medical (corps), you had to be a doctor, but in the infantry they never did. However, they decided to experiment on recruitment of graduates, which yielded no positive results.
For you to be a general in the Army, you would have done a minimum of seven to eight years of training. If you went to the university, I don’t think you will spend up to that to get a Ph.D. I went through all the military training, and when I was to write the book, there were a lot of thoughts on why I’m writing a book. I discussed with some friends, including Adekunle (Adekoya) who is here.
They encouraged me to carry on with the book based on the ideas and my experience. Kunle told me that the book will make a good read. So we started working on it.
On my 70th birthday, General Alani Akinrinade came with a book, My Command, written by General Olusegun Obasanjo. I had heard about it but I had not read it then. He said that Obasanjo, who was our commander, said something about me in the book; that I will have stomach trouble if I read it. I questioned that comment; he then bought two copies and gave me.
How his mother preserved war materials
When I finished reading chapter one of ‘My Command’, I was so annoyed that I wanted to write. Luckily for me, I went to renovate my mother’s house in Ilorin for my 70th birthday. When I got there, I found a big box locked up. With a thought that my mother had kept money for me again, I broke the lock and found my military uniform, cap and so many civil war pictures. Though not arranged, the pictures had been saved for 40 years. When I got hold of them, the pictures were clean and clear. So every picture I looked at, I remembered what happened. ‘Obasanjo had lied,’ I said.
- *Gen. Alabi Isama
So, I started writing. Obasanjo has claimed so much for what he did not know, and where he didn’t visit, let alone attack. He didn’t attack anywhere, or capture anywhere; he didn’t command a battalion or even a brigade. Now he was saddled with a division, the best division of the Nigerian Army at the time and that was difficult for him. But he didn’t want us to see that it was difficult for him.
I didn’t write because of Obasanjo
A lot of people would have thought that the book was written because of Obasanjo which is not true. In this book, I have gone beyond personalities, but you can’t avoid talking about one or two people and, as a soldier, I had never thought that I should be saying ‘oh that man, oh that woman, oh that division, oh that state.’ In my book, I mentioned the states, I mentioned the names of those concerned and if they have any concerns, then they could get in touch with me. In this book, there are 450 pictures and I still have over a thousand pictures. I have gone beyond personalities. What I want really is to discuss my vision in our diversity, to discuss this country. How can we move forward? Where are we now?
How did we get here? If we are satisfied, let’s remain so, but if not, how are we going to get out of it? We did not agree with unitary system of government that was introduced by General Aguiyi-Ironsi, but here we are. We couldn’t get away from unitary government. Why did Ironsi die, why did the Army kill Ironsi or anybody for that matter because he (Ironsi) suggested unitary government?
Read the full interview in tomorrow’s edition of Sunday Vanguard.