By Japhet Alakam
Memories of the Nigerian civil war was relivedÂ recently as one of the major actors of the war, Captain August Okpe chief pilot of Biafra during the civil war years as well as the chief pilot of the Nigerian Airways and an established poet recounts the story of the war captured in his memoir, The Last Flight which was presented to the public forth night ago at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, (NIIA)Victoria Island.
The reviewer of the book, Uche Chukwumerije took time to reminisce over that war of attrition, describing it as the worse thing that has happened to the country. He therefore called on Nigerians to learn to apply courage and actuality of vision in doing what is right at all times as a way of moving the country forward.
The distinguished senator, and former Minister of Information under General Sani Abachaâ€™s military junta muted,Â â€œI pray that we do not go to war again.â€ Reminiscing on the lessons of the war, he noted â€œI very much believe that if we learnt the lessons from the Nigerian civil war, if we learnt to make the Nigerian states more sensitive to the needs of all classes of Nigerians, and if we all know how to cultivate Nigeria and make it a â€˜Plural Political Communityâ€™ Nigeria will become the largest ,strongest most powerful black country in the world.â€he said.
Senator Chukwumerije said, although the book came out 40years after the war, its ample store of revelations of hitherto unknown events made it one of the most comprehensive and objective accounts of the war so far published.
According to him,Â the story of The Last Flight is far richer than a tale of war and one service: a gifted story teller, the author uses the vintage point of Biafran Air Force to knit together the essential happenings in virtually all sectors of the war theatre including its political environment. The book is almost a full picture of Biafra seen through the clear lenses ofÂ a major actor.
He said that the author also reveals the social environment of the war, the account of how some avoidable acts of omission and commission that could have spared the Republic the destabilizing consequence of fratricidal mistrust and inter ethnic animosity. The political intrigues of both sides of the conflict were also revealed . It also reminded people the example of the self reliant efforts of BiafraÂ and what the black man can be in the world if he has a little more self confidence and self exertion. The book will endure as one of the major documents of the civil war.
In attendance were the cream of society, including the Vice-president during the second republic, Dr Alex Ekweme ,who chaired the occasion,Â former governor of Lagos and old Imo state Real Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu, Dr Abel Ubeku, Captain Shuaibi Alfa, Chief Alex Akinyele, HRH Prof. Laz Ekwueme, Navy Capt. Alison Madueke rtd. , Chief Mike Adeojo, Mr. ABC Orjiakor amongst others.
The chief launcher Mrs ABC Orjiakor while presenting the book congratulated the author for handing down history to us which is one of the things we are missing. She advised that theÂ book should be made available to schools andÂ library so that the children will read it and know what their parents passed through to bring them to this stage while Mr ABC Orjiakor who later joined the launching described Okpe as an eloquent fellow with clear mastery of English language and somebody that can captivate you with story telling. For Alison Madueke, while commending the author stated that emphasis should be laid on readership than the money because the essence of writing is for people to read.
Willy Murray Bruce, the number 2 man to Captain Okpe recounted how they didÂ the last operationalÂ flight in Biafra before the war ended. Speaking with pains he also recalled how 43 cadet officers who trained in Germany and were about to be commissioned before the war broke out were not absolved by the Nigerian government after the war.
The author who could not hold his joy because of the large turnout said it was natural for him to write a book about military aviation as he was the head of Biafra Air force and later head of the Nigerian Airways. According to him the book talks about the activities of the air force in the Nigeria civil war. Stating that no other book has said something about that as previous books about the war concentrated on the army and navy as if there was no air war.Â The book also talks about the problems of the country and national upheavals. He said that the title was taken from one of the segments of the war, when he took what turned out to be the last flight that had to return to base when he saw the mass of Nigerian soldiers everywhere.
Earlier in his remark, Dr Ekwueme recalled how he met the author in 1968 at Urualla as the director of planning of Biafra and the author, a squadron leader who later headed the tactical Airforce Base at UgaÂ in the course of the various efforts they made to establish airports during the war. He said that he was cut up by the authorâ€™s way of signing his signature from right to left instead of the usual left to right. He described the author as a good story teller, one who accepts criticisms at all times and makes good conversation, stating that it was the combination of the above that led to the writing of the book. Continuing Dr Ekwueme, an architect told the audience that the first major work he did after the war was the redesigning of the Enugu Airport, a job given to him by General Gowon. Finally he advised that it is not good for brothers to take up arms against one another. Stating that millions of lives and properties were destroyed as a result of the war including the socio- psychological and physical dislocations.
In his goodwill message, the chief of Defence staff, Air vice Marshal Paul Dike who wrote the forward of the book represented by AVM J.O.Oshoniyi congratulated Captain Okpe for taking time to put down what happened in the unfortunate civil war especially as it concerns the deployment of Air power.
AVM Nyanayo who represented the Chief of Air Staff said that he was elected to see the man who was a pilot when they were in primary school. He expressed his happiness that somebody like Captain Okpe took it upon himself to put down all that happened during that time. and tasked past aviators to come out and give account of their days.
The chief host AVM Dominic Bello on his part described the book as a unique and incredible book. Unique in the sense that it is the first book to be written on the civil war about the Nigerian air force . He reminded the audience that Biafra introduced the air war long before the Nigerian forces overtook them because of the quality of the aircrafts. He therefore recommended the book to all students of Air power because the book to him contains an incredible source of information.