By Emeka Obasi
Those who fail to learn from the civil war will continue to plunge Nigeria into crisis. Our leaders, especially those who did not feel the impact of those bloody years, must be encouraged to beef up their Kitchen Cabinet with comparative historians.
The assassination penultimate Friday of Funke Olakunrin, 58, daughter of Afenifere leader, Pa Reuben Fasoranti, should send signals to everyone. She died on the Benin–Ore road.
Those of us who know history cannot forget the place of that axis in 1967. It was from there that the tide turned. The Yoruba fully became involved in the civil war. The same officer who galvanized Yoruba involvement from the Two Area command, Ibadan, Col. Olu Obasanjo, also ended the war as a GOC.
For the uninformed, the Western region, did not have the military strength to challenge either the East or the North before war broke out in 1967. They had lost their most senior officer, Brigadier Sam Ademulegun, in the first coup. The next in line, Col. Raph Shodeinde, was also murdered. Maj. Samuel Adegoke was not spared.
Things grew worse when the July 29, 1966 coup plotters chose Ibadan as their killing field. Another senior Yoruba officer, Lt. Col. Adekunle Fajuyi, was killed. In Lagos, Brigadier Babafemi Ogundipe was lucky to be alive. Col. Adeyinka Adebayo had no command.
The next most senior officer, Lt. Col. Victor Banjo, found himself in Biafra having been detained in the Eastern region on what he considered as trumped up charges.
Banjo and Biafran leader, Col. Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, were buddies. They were among the first set of University graduates to join the Nigeria Army. In the early days of battle, both were strategizing together in Enugu.
When Nigeria opened attack to signal the beginning of the war, it was through the Northern region. Troops under Maj. Martin Adamu, operating from Vandekya, attacked Garkem and Obudu in the Ogoja area. The first shots were fired by Lt. Gado Nasko. That was on July 6, 1967.
The Biafran First Battalion under Major Patrick Amadi was not in any battle mood. The company deployed in Garkem was without a leader. Its commander, Captain Chris Ude, who had taught Nasko at the Nigeria Military Training College [NMTC] Kaduna in 1962/63 was sick.
Ude’s second in command[2ic], Captain Juventus Ojukwu, was also hospitalized at the Ogoja General Hospital. Luckily, Lt. Col Alex Madiebo, who was about setting up a Biafran Brigade in the area was visiting.
As the first Sandhurst trained Commander of the Nigeria Army Artillery Corp, Madiebo knew the difference between police Mark Four rifle fire and mortar. It dawned on him that battle had begun.
Events that began in Garkem and spread to Enugu Ezike, Nsukka and other areas of the Eastern region did not rattle the West. The Yoruba were watching events unfold with a few trying to intervene on individual basis.
Ojukwu and Banjo took a bold step. Biafra set up the 101 Division which the latter rechristened, ‘The Liberation Army of Nigeria.’ Banjo was promoted to the rank of Brigadier [Brigadier General] and given command of the division.
He carefully selected his staff. Major Emma Ifeajuna became Divisional Chief of Staff, with the rank of Lt.Col. Capt. Joe Isichei, assumed office as Quarter Master General, QMG, ably assisted by Lt. Fola Oyewole.
In a lightening move, Banjo, overran the Mid-West Region. And in another daring move, his 12th Battalion under Lt.Col Festus Akagha, advanced to Ore, about 140 miles from Lagos.
Some accounts say, Lt.Col Yakubu Gowon, had given up and was ready to fly to Wusasa, Zaria, his adopted home. The British High Commissioner, Sir David Hunt, stepped in, urging the former to stay strong.
The invasion of Ore by Biafrans under a Yoruba GOC shocked the West. Meetings upon meetings were taking place. Troops of the 11th Battalion from Iwo Road Barracks dug in.
There were just 32 of them, a platoon, commanded by Lt. Raphael Iluyomade, whose NMTC course six mate, Nasko, had started the war in Garkem. Obasanjo, as Two Area commander, knew the Yoruba were short of officers and men.
Banjo, Lt.Col Wale Ademoyega, Captain Ganiyu Adeleke, Oyewole and Lt. Festus Olafimihan were holed up in Biafra. Majors Folusho Sotomi, Olufemi Olutoye, Benjamin Adekunle, Olu Bajowa were the available senior officers.
Following them were Alani Akinrinade, Emmanuel Abisoye, James Oluleye, Yemi Alabi, Ayo Ariyo and Ola Oni.
Banjo discovered that taking the battle to Ore was more complex than taking an easy ride over the Mid-West. He could have grabbed Lagos, Gowon sensed that.
But Banjo was reminded of Afonja, the man who sold the Yoruba in Ilorin. At that time, he lost steam. That action eventually turned the Biafrans against him. Banjo retreated and made a speedy return to status quo.
That push to Ore gave the West enough reason to join forces with the North against Biafra. Its failure turned the non-Igbo speaking groups of the Mid-West against Biafrans.
Ore happened 52 years ago. The story began from Benin when Lt.Col Ben Ochei led forces to Osadebay House to abduct Governor David Ejoor. The Urhobo man escaped to Lagos on a fairy tale bicycle ride.
Today, the Benin-Ore road has been rattled. We have witnessed abductions and killings by all bands of criminals all over the country. It began from the North, moved to the Nsukka part of the East. Now it is in the West and terror reigns on the Benin-Ore road.
The killing of Mrs. Of Mrs Olakunri has animated the Yoruba. Afenifere has spoken. Aare Onakakanfo Gani Adams has issued warnings. Obasanjo has cried out again. Mark my words, things will not be the same again. The Yoruba will join the rest of Nigeria to fight again.
In 1967,Gowon’s de facto deputy was Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Today, the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo is Awo’s son-in-law. After Ore, the Second Division of the Army was formed.
I challenge National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno, to think deep. Nigeria is at war. He speaks Igbo as much as he speaks Yoruba. Anything that affects Benin-Ore axis may sink Nigeria.