By Emeka Obasi
Finally, the mystery surrounding Tim Ifeanyi Onwutuegwu’s death was solved by a Biafran veteran who sent me a text identifying Bukar Suka Dimka as the man who did it, and in Afikpo of all places.
We were discussing the law of retributive justice. It turned out that Onwuatuegwu, a colonel in the Biafra Army, was trying to escape to Cameroon in 1970, when Dimka, got him executed.
The same fate befell Dimka in 1976. He was on his way to Cameroon after the assassination of General Murtala Mohammed. Dimka disappeared from Lagos through the Ikoyi cemetery just before Maj. Chris Ugokwe moved in armoured tanks to Radio Nigeria to flush out the plotters.
I had been trying to get details of Onwuatuegwu’s death because he survived the Civil War. Two accounts got very close, but none was able to identify the place of death and those behind the act.
General Obasanjo wrote: “I learnt that even at that time, Maj. Onwutuegwu and his band of hardliners had laid an ambush for me and I narrowly escaped it. It must have been his uncompromising resistance that led to his death later in the One Division area near the border with Cameroon.”
According to military historian, Nowa Omogui:”There are two accounts of how he died. In one account, he was tricked [through a friend] into a hotel meeting with a federal officer of the Third Marine Commando where he was murdered in cold blood.
“In another account, he was killed in a skirmish by soldiers of the first division , near the Cameroon border.”
Now we all know that Onwuatuegwu was murdered by Dimka in Afikpo in January 1970. Dimka was arrested near Afikpo in March 1976. Both were trying to escape to Cameroon.
Onwuatuegwu was active during the first military coup of January 15, 1966. He operated in Kaduna and is infamously remembered as the major who killed Brigadier Samuel Ademulegun, Commander One Brigade, Kaduna and wife, Feyisitan, before their baby girl, Solape. The senior officer lived at No 1. Kashim Ibrahim Road, Kaduna when 14 soldiers invaded his home.
Onwuatuegwu was Chief Instructor at the Nigeria Military Training College [NMTC], Kaduna, stepping into the shoes of Chukwuma Nzeogwu who had assumed office as acting commandant.
Substantive Commandant of NMTC, Col. Raph Sodeinde, was at the time busy trying to set up the Nigerian Defence Academy.
Onwuatuegwu and Nzeogwu drove to Sodeinde’s house and also killed him. His wife was lucky to survive their bullets. She could not stand the sight of her husband being murdered. One account said the woman was shot to calm her down.
Those who tried to defend Onwuatuegwu, said he shot in self defence because those he killed were equally well trained in weapons handling even if they did not graduate from the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst [RMAS].
Well, the same Onwutuegwu also arrested the governor of the Northern region, Sir Kashim Ibrahim but spared his life even when other soldiers wanted the man executed.
Sir Kashim, according to Onwuatuegwu did not resist arrest. The major even offered to die in place of the governor who was detained in Alphonsus Keshi’s office.
Keshi was Brigade major of the Third Battalion, Kaduna and was not involved in the coup. He was quoted as describing Nzeogwu as a murderer.
Dimka was very active during the counter coup of July 29, 1965. He was a lieutenant attached to the same Third Battalion, Kaduna where he connived with the Regimental Sergeant Major, Ahmadu Bello, to execute their commanding officer, Lt. Col. Israel Okoro.
Dimka was so blood thirsty that he pursued Maj. Samuel Ogbemudia from Kaduna all through the jungles of the Middle Belt until the latter ran out of fuel, abandoned his utility vehicle and escaped into the wild.
Onwuatuegwu was at Sandhurst as part of Intake 27 [September 1959 to July 1961]. Some of his mates included Murtala Mohammed, Ibrahim Haruna, Iliya Bisalla , Mohammed Shuwa and Christian Anuforo.
He was said to be a good boxer like General Yakubu Gowon. Onwutuaegwu was an Under-Officer at the Academy, as distinguished as Major John Obienu who also passed out of earlier.
Nzeogwu used Onwuatuegwu as right hand man. When Lt. Col Emeka Ojukwu detained Capt. Christian Udeh at the Fifth Battalion, Kano after the January 15, 1966 military action, Onwuatuegwu was going to lead an attack on Kano until Lt. Col. Alex Madiebo intervened.
During the Civil War, Onwuatuegwu was so popular among the people and junior Biafran officers, but his superiors did not feel comfortable with what they regarded as professionally undue attraction.
Sasa Nwoke, who joined the Biafra Army as a boy soldier [BA 61832] but ended up as gunner of the dreaded armored car, Corporal Nwafor, would not forget the handsomely bearded Col. Onwuatuegwu, Commanding Officer of the X-Ray Division.
Nwoke said:” He looks too good, too humble and too ordinary to be Col. Onwuatuegwu… He had a personality for sure, but he looked more like a war correspondent than the prolific colonel everybody knew he was.”
Onwuatuegwu had driven the injured soldier to the hospital during the battle of Ugba Junction in his official Peugeot 404 Station Wagon and also fished out a doctor to commence treatment.
Madiebo, who later commanded the Biafra Army [Onwuatuegwu was godfather to his first son] said of the officer: “Onwuatuegwu himself, like [Joe]Achuzia loved publicity and was getting quite a bit of it already with full assistance from high places.”
Onwuatuegwu began as commanding officer 15 Battalion. It was disbanded by Madiebo who moved him to the School of Infantry following the fall of Nkalagu. He rose to command the “S” Brigade and later “S” Division. Onwuatuegwu was again removed.
Dimka was part of Shuwa’s First Division of the Nigeria Army and spent time in Afikpo after the war. He got married to Chief Chukwura of Abatatete’s daughter, Maria.
It was Chief Chukwura’s car he drove to Friendship hotel, Afikpo after killing Murtala with William Seril. Dimka killed Onwuatuegwu in Afikpo. He was arrested in Abomege after escaping from Afikpo.