By Emeka Obasi
The words of Okokon Ndem come in handy here as some continue the fight against injustice. We all abhor a system that marginalises individuals and groups. It is also true that while we cry for equity, there must be a touch of wisdom and diplomacy. With awareness created, bridges should be built and walls destroyed.
Okokon Ndem was the most popular voice within and outside Biafra. He was not the Head of Radio Biafra but Radio Biafra was on his head. There was the popular jingle: “Onye ndi iro gbara gburugburu, na eche ndu ya nche mgbe nile.” Sasa Nwoke’s translation is: “The price of Liberty is eternal vigilance.”
This is the message from Okokon Ndem to IPOB. The broadcaster,dubbed Lord Haw Haw,by the General Yakubu Gowon Administration, used his voice to defeat Federal troops on air even if the battle was being lost on the ground. He also drew global attention to Biafra. Okokon Ndem was not Igbo. The journalist hailed from Ikoneto in Odukpani Local Government Area of Cross River State.
He died in August 2003 and was buried on Igbo Day, September 29, 2003. One prominent guest at the funeral was General Emeka Ojukwu, Head of State of Biafra. Burial ground was Calabar. Also in attendance were prominent politicians from the South East, including Chief Chekwas Okorie and Onwuka Kalu.
The lesson from this is that Biafra was never an Igbo movement.
The last President of Biafra, General Philip Effiong, Akangkang of Ibiono, though born in Aba was an Akwa Ibom son. Chief Frank Opigo, the man who named Biafra is from Bayelsa State and is today Dawai the Third, Amanaowei of Angiama. He was Administrator of Yenegoa Province. The most popular voice on Radio Biafra was a Cross Riverian.
The war started at 5.30am, July 6, 1967 in Garkem, Cross River State no thanks to Lt. Gado Nasko who fired the First Artillery shots. The last officer to leave Nigerian detention ,Col. Beneth Ochei, was from Delta State. One of the first ever hijackers, Captain Ibikari Allwell-Brown had Rivers blood in his veins. The trio seized a Nigeria Airways flight bound for Lagos from Benin. Allwell Brown flew the aircraft to Enugu.
Some top officers in Biafra were not from Igbo lands. Starting point should be Ibiono, home town of Gen. Effiong. It is also the place of Chief Ntienyong Akpan, Secretary to the Biafran government. The environment will shock all. There were civilians like Chiefs Ekukinam Bassey, J.E. Udoh-Affiah,Dr. Thompson Akpabio, and S.J. Edoho.
There were crack officers and soldiers from Akwa Ibom. Lt. Col Nsudoh,was described as “tough, courageous and iron willed, “ by General Alexander Madiebo, Biafra’s Army Chief. Col. Akpan Utuk was all bravado and was said to have committed suicide when news of the surrender got to him. There was one teenage Commando, Edet, who fought in Uzuakoli under Col. Emeka Ananaba.
From Cross River, there were civvies like Dr. Sam Imoke, Governor Liyel’s dad,from Itigidi, Abi.Chief Matthew Mbu, Professor Eyo Bassey Ndem, Justice Ndoma Egba, Senator Victors father and Frank Ugbut.
In the military, they had Lt. Col. Archibong, who according to Madiebo, was “one of the bravest officers I have ever met.” The young man on wheels of the dreaded Corporal Nwafor armoured car, Daniel Lawrence, better known as ‘Pampas of Argentina’ was an Ikom boy, born to a British mother from Liverpool. And Clement Ebri of the Biafra Airforce.
There was one armourer, Arikpo, from Mpaghni, Ugep who was ready to die for Biafra while his kinsman Okoi Arikpo defected to Nigeria to be appointed Commissioner for External Affairs. Mention must be made of Lt. Peseke Ita Ikpeme and Sylvanus Eta, one of the crew of the Panhard armoured car, Oguta Boy.
Then the train moves to Port Harcourt to see the family of Emmanuel Agumah. Other sons of the soil,among them Ignatius Kogbara, S.N. Dikibo and Sylvanus Cookey. The warriors included Col. Joshua John (J.J) Brown, Capt. Willy Murray Bruce, Senator Ben’s brother and Victor Masi.
From the Garden City, next stop is Asaba. Col. Joe Achuzia is still bouncing. We all remember the Asaba massacre of 1967 and what followed in Isheagu and Igbodo. Delta is the land of Brigadiers Conrad Nwawo, Okonjo, Auntie Ngoo’s papa,and Mike Okwechime. And Navy Chief Wilfred Anuku who was also an Army Commander just like Ben Nwajei. Bini man Sam Loco Efe too.
Yenegoa should not be skipped, at least for the sake of Chief Frank Opigo and Major Okilo who led the 63 Brigade. He was as steeled as Captain Ebube who chose Nigeria while his brother-in-law, George Ozieh (NAE 232) flew Nigeria Army boss, Col. Joe Akahan to death. So was Capt. Chris Ogbolu, brother to Col. Gab Okonweze’s wife, Carol.
Onward to Ado Ekiti. The soil of Col. Adekunle Fajuyi and Ayo Fayose. No condemning the Yoruba. They gave Biafra Prof. Wole Soyinka and Tai Solarin. Col. Adebayo helped out after the war as much as Chief Adeniran Ogunsanya. Maj. Ganiyu Adeleke was on the same side with his course mates Majors T.I. Atumaka, Okonkwo and Ogbonna.
There was also Capt. David Brown, the American Red Cross pilot who was downed across Opobo on June, 5, 1968 alongside his crew of two Swedes and a Norwegian. Count Von Rosen was a hero, with his minicons. So were the Portuguese, Artur Alves, Manuel Reis and Gill Pinto de Sousa among many others.