By Emeka Obasi
War they say is a series of surprises where combatants always expect the unexpected. Nigeria Army Chief, Tukur Buratai, with his four decades plus experience in the military must know General Emeka Ojukwu as the man who led Biafra during the Civil War. I doubt if he heard of the ‘Steiner Solution.
On May 18, 2020,troops of Operation Lafiya Dole, drove into land mines planted by Boko Haram around the Buni- Gari area of Gujba in Yobe State. According to reports two soldiers lost their lives while scores were injured. That loss was dramatized in a viral video which showed a soldier clearly firing invective on Gen. Buratai and cursing the Army.
Defence Spokesman, Maj. Gen. John Enenche, impresses me as a very good image launderer. I understand the soldier has been identified and will be ‘counseled and mentally evaluated’. That is the best way to handle the situation and I want to believe that Buratai will not take this personal. Putting the soldier through torture in the Guard Room does not make any sense at all.
Athletics giant, AbdulKareem Amu, was at the University of Ibadan and remembered Emmanuel Ifeajuna who joined the Army after graduating with a degree in Chemistry from the same institution. I picked one phrase from the sprinter: ‘In the Army, you are paid to die’.
War does not heal any wounds. ‘Warsaw saw war and war no more’ is quite ambiguous. The Poles have neither recovered from the German invasion nor the Soviet occupation. Jews may be blossoming after the holocaust, they will never forget Auschwitz and Treblinka. The blood of Biafra is still crying all over Nigeria with more killings from the desert to the ocean.
Rolf Steiner is German and very much alive. He loved war and fought as a soldier of fortune all over Africa. He was in Katanga. Ojukwu was also in the Congo as part of United Nations Peace Keeping Force. General Johnson Aguiyi -Ironsi got a medal from Austria for bravery. Adekunle Fajuyi and Conrad Nwawo earned the Military Cross for exceptional bravery.
Steiner landed in Biafra and was hyped as a magician after harassing Nigerian forces at the Enugu Airport. Ojukwu was impressed and gave the German his first ever commission-a Lieutenant of the Biafra Army. Within a short time, Steiner was promoted to Major and given command of a special formation, the Commando Brigade. Biafrans called them CODO. The commandos had as insignia, a skull and two bones.
Steiner’s spoken English was not wonderful. He relied more on a Welsh, Taffy Williams, for effect. Steiner and his commandos were untouchables and reported only to Ojukwu. They could delay battles or choose not to fight at all. On one occasion, Steiner refused to fight unless Biafra Army Chief, Gen. Alex Madiebo, gave him a white Mercedes Benz car parked in the latter’s office.
On November 15, 1968, Biafran troops launched ‘Operation Hiroshima’, an attack to take Onitsha from the Federals. Steiner’s commandos had grown to the equivalent of a division and the battle was centered around them. They had support from Col. Patrick Amadi’s 11 Division with 54 Brigade under the very courageous Maj. Assam Nsudoh playing a leading role.
The Nigeria Army Second Division was led by Col. Ibrahim Haruna who took charge after his Sandhurst mate, Col. Murtala Mohammed, walked away from action. Biafran troops had little respect for that division especially after a small detachment, led by Maj. Jonathan Uchendu had destroyed most of it in Abagana. Steiner apparently felt there was going to be another Abagana but he failed because his usual pre-battle parade all over Nnewi alerted the Nigerians.
Ojukwu invited Steiner to his Umuahia office on December 6, 1968. The commando commander arrived, drunk as fish in the River Niger. A shouting bout ensued as the Biafran leader tried to take Steiner through lessons in Tactics. It got to a stage, the officer tried to slap his Commander-in-Chief. Ojukwu’s guards pounced on the offender and were going to tear him like wounded lions.
Ojukwu called his boys to order. A look at Steiner showed that normalcy and sanity had departed from him. It was total nervous break down. The man had failed in his job and was also not in any mood to be dressed down. Ojukwu knew what the problem was. The Commandos waiting outside for their hero were shocked to see him in chains afterwards. A flight was arranged and the mercenary was flown to Gabon and sacked.
An Adolf Hitler or Idi Amin would have finished off Steiner. Ojukwu saved him because he understood what went wrong. That is what Buratai should do. In war, you expect the unexpected. That was why Col. Godwin Alabi-Isama ate Biafran human flesh at Obubra. Col. E.A. Utuk did not forget the day he drank garri with his urine after being encircled for months in Owerri by Biafran forces. Just as he took the last spoon, the heavens opened up. Utuk wept.
The young Gunner of the armoured vehicle, ‘Corporal Nwafor’, Sasa Nwoke , drew blood from his lips on discovering that he had been mistakenly led by a battalion commander to kill fellow Biafran soldiers. “ I bit my lips in self condemnation, so hard that I tasted my own blood”. This happened at Opobo junction, Aba, after Ogbor Hill as Biafra’s 61 Battalion squared up against Nigeria’s Third Marine Commandos.
These things are common in war. On October 22, 1946, two British destroyers, HM Saumarez and HM Volage were on patrol in Corfu. The sea was allegedly mined by Albanians. Saumarez was hit. In the bedlam that ensued, one of the ratings was on fire and shouting :”Shoot me, somebody shoot me”. At the end, 44 British sailors were consumed. Eric Leggett later put it in book form as ,’The Corfu Incident’.
It is the reason we have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD]. People who fought wars remain abnormal until they are treated. Unfortunately, in Nigeria, soldiers who fought the Civil War were reabsorbed into the society, just like that. One should not be surprised that some of the problems the country faces today are as a result of this. We have bee ruled by soldiers whose battle disorder was not medically tackled.
Mustafa Wya, whose father Col. Abdul Wya, was executed following the assassination of Murtala in 1976, identified PTSD as part of the cause of that coup. His dad was presumed innocent but condemned to death because one particular member of the Supreme Military Council,thought otherwise. Many of those who killed Gen. Mohammed fought the war and formed the core group that murdered Aguiyi-Ironsi in 1966. So their heads were full of blood.
This is appealing to Gen. Buratai to spare the soldier who must be in confinement now. War makes soldiers mad. Legally, you cannot hold a mad man responsible for his actions. At the time that soldier caused his ‘Oga patapata’, he was mad. And madness comes in different forms. I hope one influential Bura man understands Buratai more than I do.