By Emeka Obasi
Until 1964, Nigerian cadets were trained outside the country to be commissioned as military officers. The choice institutions were in Britain, from Chester to Sandhurst or Mons. By 1962 nations like the United States, Australia, Pakistan, India and Ethiopia were in contention.
Lambert Ogbonna Ihenacho, enlisted in 1962 and was sent to the Haile Selassie Imperial Military Academy, Harar, Ethiopia. He was of Course Six which ran from July 21, 1962 to October 12, 1965.
He was not alone. Compatriots included Peter Adomokai,John Atom Kpera, Umaru Alhaji Mohammed, Sunday Orinya Ifere, Robert Omakwu Obeya, Andrew Nwankwo, Layiwola Yusuf, Ezekiel Umaru, Augustine Azubugo, Philip Onyekweli, Peter John Okoli and Innocent Ihemekwele.
While the cadets in Ethiopia spent three years like some of their colleagues at Sandhurst, Mons Officers Cadet School, Aldershot commissioned officers after six months training. The Indian Military Academy, Dehra Duhn, Uttar Pradesh was almost like Mons.
Ibrahim Babangida, Mamman Vatsa, Garba Duba and Gado Nasko were in India. They joined the Army In December 1962. Twelve months alter, the cadets were commissioned Second Lieutenant. The import was that they became seniors to those who joined before them but were sent to Ethiopia.
For instance, Babangida’s Army number is N438 while Okoli was commissioned as N591. Ifere was at the Nigeria Military Training College [NMTC], Kaduna before IBB.
Those who went to the Pakistani Military Academy included Emeka Omeruah, Tunde Idiagbon, Godwin Alabi-Isama and Anthony Oparaji. Idiagbon joined the Army some months before Babangida but in December 1983, the former was a one-star general, a rank below the latter.
Bukar Sukar Dimka and Boniface Ikejiofor were at the Australian Military Academy, Port Sea and became officers on December 13, 1963.
There were those who trained at Fort Dixon, New Jersey and Fort Knox, Kentucky, in America. Edward Utuk [N415], William Godang Walbe, Theodore Atumaka, Isa Bukar, Yemi Alabi, Rowland Ogbonna, Pam Mwadkon, Nuhu Nathan and Ganiyu Adeleke earned their pips from there.
Ihenacho was destined not to die by the barrel of a gun. He survived the July 29, 1966 coup. He survived the Civil War and he survived the Gideon Gwarzo Orkar mutiny.
Nigerian troops fought in the Second World War for Britain in Abyssinia.So Ihenacho’s days in Ethiopia accorded him full respect. His course mate, Nwankwo, who later served as Gen. Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi’s ADC was recruited by Emperor Selassie as one of his pilots.
It was Nwankwo that flew John Garang of Sudan to Tanzania from Biafra during the war. Count Von Rossen of Sweden also joined Ethiopia after fighting for Biafra with his minicons.
Ihenacho commanded Biafra’s 6th Battalion under 53 Brigade and fought in the Enugu-Nsukka axis. When Owerri faced serious threat, he was recalled and given command of 63 Brigade under Brigadier Ogbugo Kalu’s 14 Division, taking over from Maj. Okilo.
He was just 24 then, in September 1968 and for nearly 15 months that formation did not not lose ground. It was only on January 7, 1970 that the tide turned. At the end of the war, he was recalled by the Nigeria Army to start afresh as a Second Lieutenant.
Ihenacho was as good as dead in July 1966. As a subaltern at the Fifth Brigade, Kano , hit man, Lt. Gora spared him. The same Gora did not spare Maj. Chukwuma Nzeogwu a year later. While Ihenacho fled to the East, his friend, Lt. Ike Nwachukwu was saved by Katsina maternal links.
The Orkar coup was going to harm Ihenacho. Orkar and Lt.col.Tony Nyam were under him at the Command and Staff College, Jaji. There were insinuations that Ihenacho was penciled down for a top position by the plotters. He was arrested.
It is possible that the President of the Military Tribunal, Gen. Ike Nwachukwu, saved his pal. The IBB government had to set up another tribunal under Gen. Yohanna Kure to try some of those spared by Nwachukwu.
On Septemeber 3, 1990, Ihenacho was retired from the Army. Ten days later, the second batch of plotters, about 33 of them, faced the bullets in a military shooting range in Ogun State. One Lance Corporal Lawrence Ihenacho got lucky. His death sentence was commuted to one-year jail term.
July 8, 2020, the warrior passed on. He had something in common with coursemate,Obeya, who died in a car crash in 1972. Their children are in the Nigerian Navy. Robert Obeya is a Commodore. Nkemakolam Ihenacho is a Captain.The senior Ihenacho was in Lebanon with UN troops.