By Emeka Obasi
Perhaps not many know that Biafra’s Chief of Naval Staff, Captain Wilfred Anuku, also fought the civil war as an Army GOC. That was also similar to the role played by Col. Iliya Bisalla on the Nigerian side. From Chief of Army Staff, he ended up as a GOC.
Anuku and Bisalla were in England to begin training in elite military institutions in 1959. While the former was a cadet at the Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, the later studied at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst.
Anuku’s emergence as Navy chief did not go down well with some of his colleagues. Lt. Commander Paschal Jacob Odu felt his boss should have stayed on the Nigerian side instead of joining Biafra since Anuku’s town lay around Agbor with one leg inside Nigerian territory.
Commander Onwura Zonyeuno Chiazor, from Atuma in the Mid-West as Anuku, described him as ‘my boy. I could not serve under him.’ In 1957, Chiazor became the first Nigerian to be commissioned Naval officer, in Canada.
Bisalla was appointed Army chief ahead of his seniors that included Col. Wellington Bassey, Col. Adeyinka Adebayo, Lt.Col David Ejoor and Lt. Col Hassan Usman Katsina.
The elevation was as a result of the demise of Lt. Col. Joe Akahan in a chopper crash. General Yakubu Gowon, Akahan and Bisalla were from the Middle Belt. It did not take long for Katsina to take over from Bisalla.
Anuku was named GOC of the newly formed Biafran 14 Division by Army chief, Maj. Gen. Alex Madiebo, in 1968. Then the Biafran Navy had little work to do.
The appointment was short lived. A fellow officer from the Mid-West, Col. Joe Achuzia, wanted the job so badly. Eventually, it went to another Mid-Westerner, Col. Sylvanus Nwajei.
Ironically, Anuku also became commanding officer, 52 Brigade in July 1968, replacing battle weary Achuzia; a naval officer commanding an Army Brigade.
Earlier on May 12, 1968, Bisalla, replaced Col. Mohammed Shuwa as GOC, First Division of the Nigeria Army. That same day, Col. Gibson Jalo, succeeded Col. Murtala Mohammed as GOC, Second Division while Col. Olusegun Obasanjo took over from Col Benjamin Adekunle as GOC Third Marine Commando Division.
Bisalla, Shuwa and Murtala were course mates at Sandhurst. Adekunle and Obasanjo joined the Army same day alongside Humphrey Chukwuka, Samuel Adegoke, Emma Udeaja and Patrick Amadi.
Anuku was at Dartmouth between 1959 and 1962, with Michael Adelanwa who in 1968, was Commanding Officer, NNS Nigeria, flagship of the Nigerian Navy. Adelanwa had taken over from Nelson Soroh.
Soroh was the most experienced seaman in the country. In 1960, he became the first Nigerian to captain a warship, HMNS Kaduna. The Nigerian Chief of Naval Staff, Edet Wey, was a marine engineer, better known as a left back for the Lagos Marine Football club in the 1940s.
Ojukwu chose Anuku over and above Chiazor because Chiazor could not be trusted. When Biafran commandos plotted to defy the Itsekiri ‘Umale okun’ [spirit of the sea] and Urhobo ‘Urhiapele’ [River of Juju] to destroy NNS Nigeria anchored in Warri under Soroh, Chiazor alerted the Nigerians.
That was where the Biafra Navy lost the war. Under Anuku, what they had were locally assembled gunboats and armoured plated warships. With NNS Nigeria, the sea battle favoured Nigeria.
One interesting battle was led by two opposing friends. Lt. Commander Odu used BNS Ibadan against Commander Akin Aduwo’s NNS Ogoja. Aduwo proved his mettle and extended a hand of friendship to his sinking buddy. Odu simply disappeared.
For Odu, it was a war to remember. His Teshie, Ghana [ROSTS 13] mates: Jalo and Emmanuel Obada were in the Nigeria Army. His Nigeria Military Training College [NMTC], course one, buddies: Yakubu Danjuma, Alani Akinrinade, Godwin Alabi-Isama, Emmanuel Abisoye and Ignatius Obeya had become enemies.
Odu’s sister, Elizabeth, was married to a Jukun man, Sunday Dankaro, who later became Chairman of Nigeria Football Association. His brother, Mark Odu, was in Kirikiri Prison on allegations of plotting to blow up the Niger bridge in Jebba.
Anuku did his best when the Biafran Navy was on Kidney Island but he did not have the liver to do more after Port Harcourt fell in 1968.The battle of Oguta ignited hope because Ojukwu witnessed it. Akata became base of the inactive sea men.
Some accounts say officers like Allison Madueke and Arthur Mbaneme did not last the distance with the Biafra Navy. However, Cdr. Frank Okosi, Lt. Cdr. Ebitu Ukiwe, Lt. Ndubuisi Kanu, Lt. Obi Rapu, Sub. Lts. Anselm Okoli, S.M. Okeke, Okwesa and Ozumba stayed put.
Sub. Lt. Ohiaeri was in Kirikiri prison while his wife, Kofo, first daughter of Oba Oyekan of Lagos, lived in Ogwuagga, Abba, Biafra with their two kids. Midshipman M.S. Ndukwe was also jailed in Kirikiri.
On the Nigerian side were their friends, Denson Okujagu, navy ADC to slain Gen. Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi, Olufemi Olumide [NN0029], Ochegomie Promise Fingesi [NN 0058],Samuel Bitrus Atukum [NN0069],Salaudeen Akano, Suleiman Seidu, Omotehinwa and Cocodia.
Anuku’s role goes to prove that Biafra was not only about the Igbo or the Eastern region. There were non–Igbo combatants. Lt. Col Assam Nsudo rose from Battalion commander to command a Brigade. So did Col. Akpan Etuk and Lt.Col Archibong, ‘The Imperial Son of Thunder.’
Lt.Col. Okilo commanded 63 Brigade. Lt. Peter Igezunya Adomokai was at the School of infantry commanded by Maj. Ganiyu Adeleke. The Air Force had the Allwell- Brown brothers, Bara and Ibikari.
There were also Flt. Lt. Willy Murray-Bruce, Flying Officers David Inyang, Oraeki Omene and Essien.
Give it to the Mid-West. Four GOCs hailed from there: Brig. Conrad Nwawo [N 10] Achuzia, Nwajei and Col. Hippolytus Azum Asoya [N 272]. Col. Mathias Mitchell Morah [N341] abandoned his job of Pay Master and led troops in battle. One of the best pilots was Larry Uka Obiechie [NAF231].
Bisalla remained in Enugu in 1970, and donated a cup for football tournament. It was won in 1972, by Vasco who beat Neptune, Aba 2-1. He is remembered as the GOC who advised a fellow GOC against using heavy weaponry on innocent Biafran civilians.