By Emeka Obasi
The world is divided into men who accomplish things
And those who get all the credit
General Alani Akinrinade may not remember this story. He was involved, no doubt, and my source was a Biafran officer, Gogo Lemchi, whose last major political appointment was, Supervisory Councilor, Nkwerrre/Isu Local Government Council, Imo State while the general served as Army chief between 1979 and 1980.
Lt. Col Akinrinade was outstanding during the Civil War. By August 1967, he was Commanding Officer[CO], Sixth Brigade of Nigeria Army’s Second Division under Col. Murtala Mohammed. From Ifon, Sobe to the Mid West, war took him to the Eastern Region.
He is best remembered for challenging Murtala’s tactics which created more casualties for his troops. Akinrinade had watched the first attempt to cross the River Niger to Asaba. Led by Capt. Geoffrey Ejiga, it ended in disaster. The second attempt by Capt. Bassey Inyang went the same way. Akinrinade left the division after he was asked to lead a third attempt.
His next posting was the Third Marine Commando Division under Col. Benjamin Adekunle[ later Col. Olusegun Obasanjo]. From commanding the 15 Brigade in Bonny, Akinrinade became Commander, Sector Two. He also fought in Aba and Owerri.
When the Nigerian commandos confronted Col. Ogbugo Kalu and the Biafran 52 Brigade, it was quite bloody. Federal troops’ attempt to capture Port Harcourt through Onne, almost cost Akinrinade his entire brigade. Some accounts say only a few Ijaw divers lived to tell the story.
Akinrinade survived, came back stronger and ended the war as General Staff Officer [GSO] One, of the Division. Some of the Brigade commanders under his control were Majors George Innih, Philemon Shande and Sam Tomoye.
Back to Lemchi’s story. The Biafran officer talked about his first encounter with Akinrinade whom he described as a ‘highly intelligent soldier.’
According to him: “ Some of us, Biafran soldiers, had penetrated Nigerian lines, mingled with them, disguised as their colleagues. We were monitoring their preparations for the next battle successfully until Akinrinade began to bid his time.
“ We wanted battle to commence since delay was affecting our reports to the Biafran position. Then he sensed danger and said, ‘how am I sure there are no enemies in our midst.’ We knew the game was up and were lucky to escape alive.”
This same Akinrinade was the man Biafran officers, led by newly self promoted Brigadier Joe ‘Air raid’ Achuzia, met to discuss cessation of hostilities on January 8, 1970. He was led to Achukwu’s House, Amichi, accompanied by Tomoye who stayed outside with troops , just in case.
Akinrinade found Biafran Head-of-State[in the absence of General Emeka Ojukwu], Gen. Philip Effiong seated. Sorrounding him were, Col. Bernard Odogwu, Head of Biafra’s Military Intelligence, Col. Patrick Anwuna, Gen. Yakubu Gowon’s Sandhurst course mate and Maj. Jacob Nwokolo.
Innih came later before Obasanjo was informed. It is sad to note that according to official Civil War records, no credit is given Akinrinade. Innih who was not there in the beginning, occupies undeserved space as the man who encountered the peace-making Biafran team.
This same Akinrinade who fought and almost died for Nigeria, commanded the first Infantry division between 1975 and 1979, was Chief of Army Staff and first Nigerian Chief of Defence Staff, was forced into exile by the Nigerian government under Gen. Sani Abacha during the June 12 years.
Akinrinade was smart against Biafran Intelligence for they were good in the game. After losing free lance, Maj. Chukwuma Nzeogwu, Nigeria’s first Military Intelligence officer, Biafra deployed this strategy effectively.
First Air Force Chief, Col. Chude Sokei, headed a Special Force that penetrated Federal lines and hijacked a Nigeria Airways flight. One of the hijackers, Mark Odu, went further with plans to blow up the Niger Bridge at Jebba before he was arrested and kept in Kirikiri.
Capt. Ibi Allwell-Brown, after piloting the F-27 plane from Benin to Enugu, joined the Biafra Air Force. His bomber jet was shot down a few days to the end of the war. Sam Inya-Agha, the man who pointed a gun at the pilots, survived the war.
Maj. Nwokolo formed the Biafra Leopard Group Fighters[BLGF]. Col. Ejike Aghanya helped set up the Biafra Organisation of Freedom Fighters[BOFF]. It was from this group that Biafra Rangers emerged. Jerry Enyeazu, the man who set up Enugu Rangers was also a member of BOFF.
One star who played for Rangers, Patrick Ekeji, is a veteran just like Godwin Achebe, Dominic Nwobodo, Chukwuma Igweonu, Ernest Ufele and Nwabueze Nwankwo.
Ekeji tried the Air Force but failed, no thanks to his big navel. He eventually joined Army Signals. After four weeks training, ’Powerhouse’ was sent to guard Ojukwu at the State House, Madonna High School, Ihite Uboma.
First night on duty, Ekeji slept off. When the Duty Commander came around to observe his boys, he tried to disarm the soldier. Ekeji, even in his dream, held on to his rifle. That was his saving grace. He got the equivalent of a yellow card. Like ‘Bulldozer’ Nwankwo, the player fought in the Mid-West.
Nigeria had their own Rangers, the 44th battalion, under Maj. Ibrahim Babangida. IBB and his Rangers fought in Uzuakoli. When he was injured, Maj. Mamman Vatsa took over. The Radiculopathy surgery of 1987 in Paris came due to that bullet wound.
Akinrinade and his buddy, Lt. Col. Godwin Alabi-Isama, used commando girls like Florence Ita -Giwa and Ndii Okereke-Onyiuke as Intelligence operatives. The Marine Commandos had time to party too.
The day Allwell Brown died, January 7, 1970, I understand Victor Olaiya was with the commandos as their 31 battalion led by one Lt. Mohammed under Maj. Mac Isemede’s 12 Brigade, attacked Obokwe.
Five minutes into the assault, Mohammed was brought in dead. Olaiya could not stand it. He was flown back to Lagos through Port Harcourt. Biafran soldiers enjoyed music from the Fractions as lead drummer, ‘Stone Face,’ Obasi Iwuagwu, did his thing. Founders’ 15 and Action followed.