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Still on handshake across the Benue

By Emaka Obasi

Blood on the Benue as we all see today must cease if we go through a highly spiritual process to pacify the souls of innocent Nigerians slaughtered in the second  half of 1966.The Middle Belt and the former Eastern region need to come together for good.

I understand Pastor David Jang is with the EFCC. He will be set free and as soon as that is done; he should get in touch with the quartet of General Yakubu Gowon, Governor Darius Ishiaku of Taraba State, The Tor Tiv and the Hama Bachama. Bishop Benjamin Kwashie has a huge role to play as a spiritual father. Their mission will be to visit the former Eastern region.

It all began with the assassination of two senior Middle Belt officers: Cols Yakubu Pam and Abogo Largema  in the January 15, 1966 coup. The July 29 counter coup that followed was carried out majorly to ‘balance the equation.’ The Eastern region lost General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi, Lt.Cols. Israel Okoro and Gabriel Okonweze, 11 majors including Ibanga Ekanem and Ukpo Isong, 12 Captains, 14 Lieutenants and hundreds of other ranks.

It was so bad that the Yoruba were not spared, simply because Lt.Col. Adekunle Fajuyi, chose to die with his guest, Gen. Aguiyi-Ironsi. The unlucky Yoruba officers were: Maj. Ayodele Ogunro and Lts. S.E. Idowu and A.O. Olaniyan.

That plot was carried out in Ibadan. The Commander of the Fourth Battalion, Letmauk Barracks, was Lt.Col Ityowua Akahan, aTiv. The man who led the assassins was Maj. Yakubu Danjuma, a Jukun. One prominent Yoruba who supported the coup was Lt.Col. Shittu Alao, from Ogbomosho.  However , his maternal home was Shendam.

If the killings ended within the barracks, it could be dismissed as tit for tat. Thousands of Easterners who escaped death mobs in the Upper North ended up being butchered in Jos and Makurdi. Their blood is part of the problem in the Middle Belt today except  we do not want to tell ourselves the truth.

Gen. Gowon deserves commendation. He tried to make amends. In 2002, he publicly apologized for the genocide in Asaba during the Civil War which he supervised as Head of State. At the end of the war, he strategically left GOC First Division, Col. Iliya Bisalla, in Enugu under a civilian Administrator, Ajie Tony Ukpabi Asika.

Bisalla was from Amper, Pankshin and Military Coordinator of Gowon’s wedding to Victoria Hansatu Zakari in 1968. Mrs Mildred Bisalla was one of the Ladies-in-waiting. Bisalla was said to have been against the use of bombs on Biafran civilians. He was so popular in the East Central State and donated a trophy for soccer clubs which was won in 1972 by Vasco da Gama, Enugu, 2-1 against Neptune of Aba.

The first governor that visited the East Central State after the crisis was Joseph Dechi Gomwalk, also from Pankshin. His sister-in-law, Helen, was elder sister of Mrs Bisalla. Bishop Kwashie is their brother and like Gowon, they grew up in Wusasa, Zaria.

Biafran leader, Gen. Emeka Ojukwu, had a driver, Yusuf Azi, when he lived in Kano as Commander of the 5th Battalion. Azi, like Gowon, was Berom. And we have not forgotten that while the killings were going on after July 1966, Edith Ike,was Gowon’s best friend.

The East showed the Middle Belt so much love. Take the case of Bukar Suka Dimka. He underwent training at the Australian Military Academy, Portsea with Boniface Ikejiofor. Both were commissioned Secod Lieutenant, on December 13, 1963.

Dimka killed Lt.Col. Okoro in Kaduna in 1966,mistook Maj. Samuel Ogbemudia whose mom hailed from Igbanke[Igbo Akiri], for an Igbo and pursued him from Kaduna until the Bini officer ran out fuel, abandoned his car and headed for the bush in today’s Kogi. Even at that, Dimka went into the wild, firing….

Dimka was involved in another coup in 1976. Again, the Head of State was murdered. The same man ran to the East to hide in Chief Chukwurah’s Abatete home. When he was confronted by Chief Mbazulike Amaechi, Dimka moved to Afikpo and checked into Friendship Hotel. He had company in Beatrice Agboti.

People recognized him even with a turbaned head but refused to give the soldier away. Dimka was mean to the Igbo. He had threatened to shoot Amaechi after commandeering his car in 1970. The Police gave out three lines: Lagos 23711,56878 or 52797 while the search for Dimka lasted. No Afikpo person gave him away. Those were the years of Kafaru Tinubu as police commissioner.

When Dimka was arrested by Constable Jika Iya in Abomega, near Afikpo,he was handed over to a Middle Belter, Col. Danjuma Dyeris, Commander One Brigade, Enugu who sent him to face death in Lagos alongside Gomwalk. Bisalla too was unlucky. There was no Igbo on the Tribunal that tried them.

Akahan and Alao died as service chiefs during the war in air crash. And there was something Igbo about their death. Akahan died nearer home and the chopper pilot was Capt. George Ozieh, an Igbo from Ogwashi Ukwu, fighting for Nigeria. His brother-in-law, Capt. Ebube, was for Biafra alongside Capt. Chris Ogbolu, whose sister, Carol, lost her husband, Lt. Col. Okonweze, to Akahan’s troops in Ibadan.

Alao died on his way to Enugu when he lost direction and crashed in Uzebba,  kilometers away from Benin.

Middle Belt and Eastern Nigeria can come together again. When Mighty Jets of Jos won their first ever trophy, the National League in 1972, they were ahead of Enugu Rangers, albeit, controversially. Rangers won their first Challenge Cup in 1974, defeating Jets.

No Middle Belt team won the Challenge Cup until 1989 when BCC Lions of Gboko dethroned defending champions, Iwuanyanwu Nationale of Owerri 1-0. That goal was scored by an Igbo, Aham Nwankwo. Jets lost in  11 finals and only succeeded in 1999, thanks to losers, Iwuanyanwu.

In Berom, Gowon means: The owner of gods. Now God owns him. He should pray and do the needful.


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