By Emeka Obasi
We must be learning from our past now. Those whose ears are still working, let them hear. This is time for reconciliation as blood continues to flow across the upper Benue. The East and Middle Belt will shake off the bloodletting of yore.
Truth is key here and I have on my own, appointed men who can make things happen. General Yakubu Gowon is most qualified to lead this all important crusade. Senator Jonah Jang, Tor Tiv, James Ayatse, Governor Darius Ishaku of Taraba State and Hama Bachama, Honest Irmiya Stephen, will make up the powerful Middle Belt team.
There should be consultations with the former Eastern Region. Senator Jang knows the right buttons to press, especially in the South-East geo political zone. There is a spiritual game going on in the Middle Belt and we should not continue to shy away from the truth.
The physical eye sees Fulani herdsmen tormenting many parts of the federation especially the Middle Belt. It goes beyond that. A lot of innocent blood was shed in that region just before the Civil War began. That was 52 years ago and the spirit of the dead is not at rest.
Let us get it right. There was a coup on January 15, 1966 by a group of young majors. Among the dead were Colonels Yakubu Pam and Abogo Largema, both from the Middle Belt, murdered by Majors Chris Anuforo and Emma Ifeajuna, Igbo officers.
Anuforo, a Recce Officer, had complained bitterly to Lt. Col. Alex Madiebo about his experience during the Tiv riots. Politicians had tried to send the Nigeria Army through the backdoor but Commander of the Fifth Battalion, Lt.Col. Arthur Chinyelu Unegbe, resisted the move.
Madiebo and Col. Mike Okwechime, both Igbo officers, were in support of Unegbe. The Army got involved eventually and Col. Pam led troops to Tiv land. Anuforo was not happy with that development. It was sad Mrs Elizabeth Pam and her children watched as their bread winner was killed in Lagos during the first coup. The plotters also assassinated Unegbe.
In Kaduna, Maj. Chukwuma Nzeogwu, led troops to kill the Premier, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello. A Middle Belt officer, Second Lieutenant John Atom Kpera, was among the subalterns. Other ranks from the same zone included: Lagwin Goshit, Ali Shendam,Yakubu Kaje, Thaddeus Thamyil Tsenyil, Mamis Hundu,Felako Kwa, Danyo Mbula, Tunana Bangir, O. Dasheet and J. Gwaske.
The January coup was foiled majorly by Igbo officers like Maj. Gen. Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi, Cols. Emeka Ojukwu, Madiebo, Conrad Nwawo and Maj. Alphonsus Keshi. Ironsi emerged as Head of State, insisting that power was handed over to him by the First Republic politicians.
Ironsi had a soft spot for the Middle Belt. He appointed Lt.Col. Gowon, Army Chief, over and above senior officers like Cols. Wellington Bassey, Adeyinka Adebayo, Philip Effiong and David Ejoor. He chose Pam’s younger brother, Timothy, as his police Aide de Camp[ADC] and his escorts were led by Lt. William Godang Walbe.
On July 29, 1966 Ironsi was murdered in Ibadan,by troops led by Maj. Yakubu Danjuma, a Jukun. The Commander of the Fourth Battalion from where many of the killers came, Lt. Col Joe Ityowua Akahan, a Tiv, was in the know. Top Eastern officers like Lt.Col. Gabriel Okonweze and Maj. John Obienu were not spared. Among the assassins were Titus Numan, Walbe, Jerry Useni, Abdullahi Shelleng, Mac Donald Gotipb, John Shagaya and Clement Dabang, all Middle Belters.
Gowon, an Angas, became Head of State. He could not stop the pogrom that followed. Igbo officers were slaughtered. In Kaduna, Acting Commander of the Third Battalion, Lt. Col. Israel Okoro, was shot by Lt. Bukar Suka Dimka. Maj. Okpo Isong died.
Madiebo saw hell in his bid to escape from Kaduna and painted a gory picture of what happened in Jos and Makurdi ‘RedBridge’ were fleeing Igbo were wasted. He managed to cheat death wearing a fireman’s uniform inside a water tank on a train on August 14, 1966.
His story:” In Jos, the mobs were said to have combed out all Easterners. All of them, including men, old women and children were either killed or maimed. Young women were raped until some of them collapsed and died. Some pregnant women, they said, had their wombs cut open and their unborn babies brought out and publicly executed.”
And when war came it began through the Middle Belt axis when the first shot was fired from Garkem, about 30 miles outside Ogoja. Gowon did not choose The Mid-West, he chose Makurdi as launch pad.
And Middle Belters played a huge role. Akahan and Iliya Bisalla were GOCs as well as Gibson Jalo and Ibrahim Haruna. Benjamin Adekunle, a Yoruba, had a Bachama mom, Amina Theodora. Bisalla[Berom], Haruna[Garkida], Jalo[Bacahama] and Emmanuel Ikwue[Idoma] were Service Chiefs. Another Air Chief, Shittu Alao, was Yoruba but also had Bachama mother and was born in Jos.
Gowon loves the Igbo, this , I know. He joined the Army same day as Madiebo, Okwechime, Patrick Anunah and Unegbe. Some accounts say he was Unegbe’s Best man. Gowon’s fiancée, before he went for Victoria Zakari, was Edith Ike. He once gave Madiebo 50 pounds to check into Hamdala Hotel, Kaduna.
Jang was asked by his mom to be a pastor. He chose the Air Force. Jang wined and dined a lot until God arrested him. “ There is someone you offended that you must apologize to,” the Holy Spirit told him. He turned to his wife, Hanatu, and said:”I am sorry.” Before that, his children named him ‘Stone’ for he hardly smiled.
Gowon was supposed to be a pastor, like his father, Yohanna. Today, the General prays for Nigeria. Jang is also a pastor and is the only Nigerian to have governed three different states: Gongola[Adamawa, Taraba], Benue and Plateau. It is now their job to bring Bishop Benjamin Kwashie to meet with the old Eastern Region.
They should pray together. The souls of the innocent dead deserve peace. Herdsmen will eventually disappear.