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Museveni, Garang dined with Biafrans

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Biafra, Museveni

By Emeka Obasi

Yoweri Kaguta Museveni and John Garang de Mabior forged a strong bond in Dar-es-Salaam just as a group of Biafran intellectuals relocated to the Tanzanian capital at the end of the civil war.

Garang was in Nigeria before war broke out and was taken out of Biafra by Captain Andrew Nwankwo in 1967. Both landed in Dar-es-Salaam and were well received by President Julius Nyerere.

Museveni was at the University of Dar-es-Salaam [UDSM] to study Political Science and one of his favourite lecturers was Professor Okwudiba Nnoli, from Oraifite. He also attended the History class of Dr. Walter Rodney.

Museveni and Garang got to meet in 1970 just as the Ugandan was rounding off studies. The Sudanese came in with a degree in Economics from Grinnell College, Iowa, United States.

Another Biafran at UDSM was Dr. Theodore Okeahialam, from Otulu, Ahiara-Mbaise. He was the Paediatrician who managed malnourished Biafran children in Gabon.

I got to know Okeahialam, now professor emeritus, from an old school pal, Emeka Onyenacho. And the man confirmed the Museveni-Garang link that was developed in Tanzania.

He said:”President Museveni of Uganda was a student of Political Science at that university then, tutored by our own Prof. Nnoli [now late] and the famous Guyanese Afro-Thinker, Walter Rodney, my friend, also late.”

Prof. Okeahialam’s younger brother, Heron, played a key role during the Civil War. A British-American trained engineer, he was the brain behind Radio Biafra. The small but powerful station continued to operate from ‘unknown’ locations.

Okeahialam, the engineer, once hung the aerial on top of a palm tree in his Otulu village while Nigerian soldiers searched all over occupied Enugu for the location. When Biafra fell in 1970, Col. Olusegun Obasanjo was excitedly surprised to find the Radio station operating from Obodoukwu, Urualla.

Okeahialam, the medical doctor, was at the State House, Lagos in 1966 as Gen. Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi’s physician. That was where he met Capt. Nwankwo.

Nwankwo was the Air Force Aide de Camp to Ironsi, the Head of State. There were other ADCs. Lt. Sanni Bello represented the Army, Sub. Lt. Den Okujagu was for the Navy and from the police came Timothy Pam.

When Ironsi was killed in Ibadan, Nwankwo was lucky. A deal with Bello saved the Air Force officer. Bello confused the assassins, causing them to fire at an empty bush while Nwankwo ran to safety on the other side.

Garang was a student of Government Secondary School, Afikpo. He came from troubled Sudan and was already battle tested. At ten, the boy was orphaned. Some elders of his Dinka ethnic nationality pushed him out to acquire education.

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There were other African students at Afikpo under disciplinarian principal, George Chukwuneke Akabogu, from Nnewi. Hilton Sinyangwe came from Tanzania. Iyassu Gutama was Ethiopian. From Namibia [South West Africa] there was Samuel Chichindua.

Those were the years of Tete Mbuk and Precious Omuku. Paul Omeruo, Bernard Akpunonu and Lorderick Emejuru had joined from Nigeria Military School, Zaria. One of the junior students was Sasa Nwoke, the boy who would later become famous as gunner of the armoured vehicle, Corporal Nwafor.

Capt. Nwankwo had lived in Tanzania as a member of the Presidential Fleet of Mwalimu Nyerere. He had also done similar job for Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia.

Nwankwo was a member of course six, Haile Selassie Military Academy, Harar [July 21, 1962-October 12, 1965]. His mates included: John Atom Kpera, Sunday Orinya Ifere, Umaru Alhaji Mohammed, Robert Omakwu Obeya, Peter John Okoli [N/591] and Lambert Ogbonna Ihenacho.

Others were Peter Adomokai, Layiwola Yusuf, Philip Onyekweli, Ezekiel Umaru, Innocent Ihemekwele and Augustine Azubugo.

It was therefore easier to ask Nwankwo to take Garang to Tanzania in 1967. It did not come as a surprise that the country was the first to recognize Biafra. By 1968, Onubogu was a Major and in charge of Uli Airport.

Nyerere had turned Tanzania to a safe haven for revolutionaries from all over the globe. Eduardo Mondlane was there, from Mozambique. Ernesto Che Guevera,  Malcolm X and Stokely Camichael came from the Americas.

Laurent-Desire Kabila of Congo lived there. So did Apollo Milton Obote of Uganda and Kenyan opposition leader, Oginga Odinga. Kabila’s son, Joseph, spent childhood and part of his teenage years in Dar-es-Salaam.

Congolese thought Joseph Kabila was more Tanzanian because he spoke better English and Kiswahili than French. The father owned property in Dar-es-Salam, something that did not go down well with Gueverra.

When Museveni got to UDSM, the campus was littered with intellectuals. Apart from Nnoli and Okeahialam, there was the Nigerian, Claude Ake. The list included Ghana’s Ayi Kwei Armah, Ngugi wa Thiong’o of Kenya, Mahmood Mamdani from Uganda and the Zimbabwean, Nathan Shamuyarira.

Dr. Walter Rodney was a popular face. He first arrived in 1966, left in 1967 came back two years later and stayed till 1974. His famous book: ‘How Europe Under developed Africa’, was written right inside UDSM.

This was the environment that gingered the duo of Museveni and Garang to more battles from the bush. They were lettered and revolutionary at the same time. Garang later bagged a doctorate after post graduate studies in Agric. Economics from the Iowa State University.

I saw President Museveni in 1991. He had become President of Uganda in 1986. The former guerilla fighter came to Abuja for the African Union Summit [then known as OAU] fully loaded.

I think his wife was also there with him and I was given two of his books. One, ‘The Path of Liberation’, was a selection of his speeches in 1986. The other, ’Consolidating the Revolution’, spanned through speeches delivered in 1989.

At the International Conference Centre, Museveni asked West Africa to thank Nigeria for stabilizing the sub region with ECOMOG, a bold step no country in East Africa could take.

Museveni felt very much at home with Chief Moshood Abiola. There were reports that the Nigeria billionaire played a huge role in the emergence of the Ugandan leader as president.

Garang went back to Sudan. He later became First Vice president. On July 30, 2005, Garang died in an air crash. The chopper was part of Museveni’s fleet.


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