…Ojukwu should have renounced Biafra
By Chioma Gabriel,Deputy Editor Uduma Kalu
It is 40 years after the Nigerian civil war but the echoes will never die. Many books have been written and one of those being expected is that of Brigadier General Godwin Alabi Isama who was Chief of Staff to Gen. BenjaminAdekunle,the Black Scorpion known for his role in routing the Biafrans and credited for the Nigerian victory in Port Harcourt.
But Isama, who paid a visit to the VanguardÂ office and met with its team of Editors last Monday, explains how his strategy won the war as well as the mass deaths which Adekunle and Gen Olusegun Obasanjo caused during the war.
He was responsible for the recruitment of such Northern soldiersÂ such as the present Senate President, David Mark, John Shagaya and Raji Rasaki, when the caliphate asked that northern soldiers be recruited into the army in large numbers.
He was the acting governor of the then Bendel state when Gen Ogbemudia went on leave.
On whether he regrets fighting the war as his fellow soldier, Gen Alani Akinrade said, Isama said he would want a one united country but that there should be a discourse on how to make the country work. And that the wrong people are in power.
The first coupists, like Major Kaduna Nzeogwu he went on, had an idea of what they wanted to do for the country.Â Nzeogwu, he said, did not want to be president but others that came later were after money because they came from poor background.
Why were you thrown out of the military?
I was thrown out of the military because I kept arguing on so many things. During the war, we were doing very well. I was Chief of Staff to Adekunle. From Calabar to Port Harcourt was 300 miles. I had to move the troops from Calabar to Port Harcourt. We could have done that from Bonny to Port Harcourt, which was just 50 miles. So, why 300 miles? The debate was very robust. Adekunle saw the potential in me and what I was talking about.
He had to go to Lagos because as soon he captured Port Harcourt, we would be dealing with core Igbo heartland. To do that, we needed to be ready. The tactics in the riverine area must change for another tactics on the ground. I am writing a book on this subject because everybody has been claiming excellence when they were nobody.
I wouldnâ€™t have been able to write the book if I didnâ€™t come home to renovate my motherâ€™s home at Ilorin which was falling. And the woman did so well.
To allow my motherâ€™s house to fall like that I think was an abomination. That wasnâ€™t right. So I started renovating my motherâ€™s house. I opened her room and there was a big box. The box had my pictures ofÂ the war, over a 1000,Â with the original map of the war all over again. So I started writing my book.
Problem with our military strategy
What caused the problem in the military was strategy and tactics. I went to Tactics and Strategy School in Pakistan.
There are certain things you do not do. Why would you want to capture Umuahia and not look for the centre of gravity of the people you are fighting against? The aim was not to kill them. The aim was to end the war.
We took Enugu. The war did not end. We took Okigwe, Awgu, Umuahia. The war did not end. We took Obubra, Ugep. It did not end. The point is:Â where was the centre of gravity that you will hold the man properly and he will surrender?
We went to Port Harcourt. All kinds of people were coming in with food and ammunition and all that. He (Ojukwu) survived. He continued the war. One division went to capture Umuahia on 22nd of April 1969. It did not end. They just caused panic.
Adekunle and His Men
The point was that he was not listening to me. When he was not listening to me, we were losing men. From Calabar to Port Harcourt, Adekunle was not there. He was in Lagos trying to get supplies so that when we get to Port Harcourt, we regroup, reorganise and move on. Because we would now be facing the core Igbo heartland.
I had 8 casualties in men and one dead for the 300 miles, whereas when we started OAU, that is to go and capture Owerri, Aba and Umuahia, that was rubbish. What would you need Umuahia for? Why must you capture Aba, Owerri?
Would it end the war? And everywhere we attacked, people died. May be, it wasÂ the part in me that will not let me see people die, and for the fact that my mother had warned me never to kill anybody that looked at me in the face. My mother bought five canes.
One for me, one for Adekunle, Ariyo, Akinrade, and Abubakar. We never carried any weapon during the war. The aim was not to kill these people; but cause enough panic and let them just surrender. But a lot of my people wanted it otherwise. Because I opposed the OAU, Adekunle quarrelled, and tried to ambush me. I have pictures on this subject.
So, we came back. Akinriade and I came to Lagos and complained to Gen Gowon. It was the eve of Gen. Gowonâ€™s marriage. After he had listened to Gen Akinrade, Gen Gowon said every officer that had been there for over two years…
He needed to change everybody, rather than change Adekunle. Adekunle started saying there were too many Yoruba in the headquarters. Too many Yoruba? Was it an ethnic war?Â We were not fighting Igbos. We were fighting Biafrans.
He did not want to hear Biafrans. All the Igbos were not Biafrans. There were many of them in the Lagos area and in other parts of Nigeria. We were fighting the secessionists. You called them rebels. I understand but I was calling them the Biafrans. Even in my book, I was writing Biafrans.
So they changed them and Obasanjo came in. Obasanjo, (laughs) when he came in, the same mistake that Adekunle made was what my brother made. Soldiers died, and Iâ€™m talking in thousands, not just in hundreds. NigerianÂ troops.
Three Marine Commando had captured Owerri and they were surrounded inside Owerri. For 7 months, they were besieged.
This same beleaguered troops, you told them to go back to attack Owerri. The place they defended with all their sweat and blood became their burial ground. It was not necessary. (Begins to draw a map, showing the distances between Aba, Owerri, Umuahia, Port Harcourt, Elele, Okrika). I was in all these places. It was my plan. It was tactics. It was my strategy.
Now,Â we have captured this place. Two officers again did not do the right thing there. There was what we called 15 brigade. There was 16 brigade. And there was14 brigade, all to enter Owerri. After capturing Owerri, would it end the war?
Aba we had captured Biafrans recaptured it again. ‘When something went wrong, it was either you would send Akinrade or you would Alabi Isama. We had to make sure… We know you sent us there. There are other officers in this place.
There were more than 50 but you will send Alabi or you will send Akinrade. Let us discuss so that you donâ€™t send us there when things went wrong.’
We recaptured Aba. Shande died. He was one of our classmates. This man, name withheld, went to a place called Jokoju. This one from Oguta area withdrew to a place called Omoku. This manÂ remained in there. Even Biafran officers and soldiers said that was the best officer in the Nigerian army. He did not surrender. He came out with dead bodies, his refugees, and prisoners of war. And you people could not go from here. There was a sector commander here called Godwin Ade.
They did not have to go and attack everybody. But by the time you appear at the back and people are attacking here, they will escape. They didnâ€™t do that. We lost so many men. And it became a situation where my enemy, if he is your enemy, becomes my friend. If you are my enemy, and he is our enemy, then both of us are friends.
All we needed to do was to forget Owerri. It happened in the Battle of the Bulge, during the WW2. The American general there, he was in a town called Bastogne. The Germans made a quick attack into Antwerp. But Thomas Bradley went to party with Eisenhower who had been promoted to Allied Commander. They were at the party when the Germans captured all these places.
Eisenhower did not panic. Why Nigerians panic I donâ€™t know. And that has also affected the way we are in the country. We approach problems like fire brigade. You need to plan ahead. You need to move step by step. You canâ€™tÂ climb the ladder from the top. You will fall.
Eisenhower told his guests, donâ€™t panic. Thomas Bradley, you can finish your drink. He moved the British Gen Montgomery from the north, and Patton from the south. By the time they captured here (centre between captured towns), 120, 000 Germans were captured, or wounded or killed. Our people do not need to panic. I was a bit too loud for all of them.
When the war ended, we had these senior officers, and super permanent secretaries. How did they become super? Super Permanent secretaries? Because anytime they were in a nightclub, for instance, they would say, tomorrow, two plus two will be five. And you will say who told you two plus two will be five in Nigeria? They will say donâ€™t worry, tomorrow.
And then the poor soldier…. We were only school certificate people. That was the requirement to join the military so that they could mould you. They didnâ€™t need university graduates. University graduates were not there at time.
What about Ojukwu?
I am talking of my classmates. Ojukwu was already in the army. He was our senior. They didnâ€™t want anymore university graduates. University graduates would argue with you. They wanted somebody they would mould into a zombie. They would mould you into leadership in the military.
Akinrade should have moved to Aba. Alabi Isama from Ikot Ekpene should have moved to Umuahia. Why? When I told my seniors they didnâ€™t understand it.
Back to super perm secs. Now, youâ€™ve told everybody, two times will be five in the nightclub. Everybody will wake up half drunk,Â if not drunk. Ladies and gentlemen, we are together. We have an army Englishâ€”Â two times two is five.
Everybody would clap. A lot of us could not understand. We couldnâ€™t do anything about it. IfÂ you talked, you are out. I was not one of those that could do what the boss wanted.
I wasÂ the Principal General Staff of the Army. I started sending army officers to the university. There was none that went from the army to the university before my time in 1977. And I started sending officers to the university. Why? Because you were not to do bush training because they would say you are going to organise a coup.
I donâ€™t know how university admission was organised. I called the education officer. Give me an education man who went to the university to come to the army headquarters. I was the first to move an education team to army headquarters.
They gave me one Captain Okurigido and from there Okurigido organised… You pass your exam, any university in the world, you are there. And that was how we built a qualitative army. The thing was how to build a qualitative army.
There were officers like Ishola Williams. He was a good junior officer. I had another, Layi Yusuf.
We were taught in the military to listen to our officers from where you would take a decision. Even though the bucks stopped on your desk but you must listened to the experts on their various fields. You do not have a preserve of knowledge.
Now, they have a preserve of knowledge. They tell you what to do, even though itâ€™s wrong but they tell you must do it. I couldnâ€™t stand the nonsense. At the end of the day, I was thrown out.
But then, there is something in my book. Because they did not know what to do. If you donâ€™t want this man, just tell him to go. You donâ€™t have to give me a name. They had to give me a name. Because if there was an exam, and you canâ€™t promote someone who came second or third unless the man who came first did something wrong. It would be wrong to kick him out.
So, they were not sure how to kick this man out. They lied, then published a government paper which will be in my book. Thatâ€™s how I left the military in 1977.
But using the same strategy, I went to the United States, and the man who employed me announced me president of the company. He became my deputy.
Obasanjo said his generation fought for the unity of Nigeria. Can you say you fought for the unity of Nigeria?
What did they say you did in the military?
You want me to tell you whatâ€™s in my book? Thatâ€™s ok. It was that Alabi Isama attempted to steal N300, 000. Thatâ€™s a lot of money at that time. I had more opportunity than all of them. I was the commander of 36, 000 troops from Calabar to Port Harcourt. All we did was to say no soldier must get a salary. We give you an allowance in case you want to eat kolanuts.
Because most of the soldiers, their families depended on them. We wanted their families to get their salaries back home. Your children had to go to school. Most of the wives were not working and my people didnâ€™t see this. They wanted to pay full salary to the troops.
Let meÂ tell you, it is not off record. Any army officer that you see that built a house would have stolen the money. Because how much was the salary that we now have mansions? We own properties and estates all over the country.
But generals are rich
Yes, generals are rich but with what salary? Thatâ€™s the question Iâ€™m asking. What salary? In the military? Buying and selling? Where did you get the funds from? Some said they wrote a book. I want to see the book you wrote. Some said they got loans. What was the collateral? I think we are lying to ourselves in this country.
One of the fall-outs of the war was the issue of abandoned properties at Port Harcourt. If the war truly ended, why were those properties not returned to the original owners?
Were there abandoned properties in Lagos or South West or elsewhere apart from Port Harcourt? The issue of abandoned property should be looked at three dimensions: the locations, who sold them and to whom? Abandoned properties, the way I see them are loots of war. The houses in question were taken by the soldiers and sold to the soldiers who later resold them. I remember I was approached to buy one and I didnâ€™t because I didnâ€™t have the money to pay for one.
But I tell you, if you have a property that was taken, you could reclaim them. All you have to do is present documents of ownership, find out from the present owner how he got the property and from there, begin your investigation. The people whose properties were taken in Port Harcourt have not made any case seriously. If they did, they will get them back.
In Lagos, there were no abandoned properties. When the Igbos left for their homeland, their neighbours collected their rent and when they returned after the war, they took back their houses. There is nothing like abandoned property.
So many Igbos were killed during the war. Would you accept that the Nigerian Army committed genocide?
What do you mean by genocide? Who started killing first? Nzeogwu and his team killed first. They killed a man and his wife who were sleeping. The Hausas would not kill women.
But a man and his wife were killed. If you had killed my mother, I would not only have killed the family but I would haveÂ killed the neighbours and levelled the area. You see, Ojukwu committed a crime against the Igbos by leading them to the war he was not prepared for. If Ojukwu had forgiven, if he had embraced dialogue, things wouldÂ not have gone that far.
The North was fighting against Biafra and not the Igbos. Biafra was beyond the Igbos. It was the entire Eastern region. Some people in the Mid-West and even in the West believed in Biafra. Somebody like Banjo did . So, it was not against the Igbos.
When Ojukwu seceded, Gowon wanted to take the Hausas back to the North. He didnâ€™t want to fight He thought there was no need for the war but the entire European world asked him to fight a war of unity. And that was what we in the Nigerian Army fought: a war of unity.
We didnâ€™t set out to kill but to reclaim Biafra for Nigeria. I was in the 3rd Marine Commando and I came back with severalÂ captives of war and didnâ€™t kill them. Their leader became my P.A. But when you go about killing women and children, what else do you expect? Ojukwu should apologise to the Igbos. He shouldnâ€™t have led them to war because he had nothing to fight with. If he had wanted a war, he would have embraced dialogue and dragged it on till he got fully prepared for war. But he had nothing.
Only the Ogbunigwe and a few weapons he got from a sympathetic nation. He had no air control and no sea ways control. All his flanks were open and he led Biafra to war. Ojukwu should have maintained dialogue.I still maintain that his pardon was a fraud.
He did not apologise for the war and he did not renounce Biafra on his return. He should have been taken to a radio station to renounce Biafra but he was not. He was given a heroâ€™s welcome which is why I said that his pardon was a fraud. In a war that would have claimed about 20,000 people, more than two million people died.
That was genocide. When you kill innocent women and children, bomb churches and just destroyed things. You remember the incident at Asaba where people were massacred for nothing.
Well, I donâ€™t know about that. I told you I brought captives back and they were alive. I didnâ€™t kill them. They worked with me and showed me the way out afterwards. What happened at Asaba was a bad case in a war situation. I have the book, Blood on the Niger and anybody who would have done what happened at Asaba must have a good reason for it.
We fought a war of unity. We came to the East to reclaim Biafra for Nigeria and not to fight.
You are from the Delta region but you refer to Ilorin as home. How come Ilorin is home.
My mother was from Ilorin but my father from Delta.My father had two wives but he died My mother went back to Ilorin. The other wife is Mama Beatrice and she has my photos when I was four years old. I have a house in Delta and all my children and grand-children will be there this December.