By Emeka Obasi
He was all fun, wore different faces, exhibited some uncanny traits and remained a brave man till his last seconds. Major General Eugene Chiazo Godwin Nwanguma, known as Gwuris by many rose to command a division of the Nigeria Army.
In 2009, Nwanguma was posted to the 81 Division as General Officer Commanding (GOC). He had commanded the 32 Artillery Brigade, Alamala, Abeokuta and also served with ECOMOG in Liberia.The officer was in love with education.
By the time he died on April 27, 2021 Nwanguma possessed a first degree in Business Administration from the University of Lagos and a Masters in Strategic Studies from the University of Ibadan. All these came after he was commissioned Second Lieutenant in 1977.
To know more about the general, I contacted his close friend and secondary school mate, Ambrose Chijioke Nkwopara. They were together at Government Secondary School, Owerri from 1967 to 1974. We shall get to why they spent eight years instead of the normal five years at the time.
Nwanguma was known as Gwuriegwu(playful). The nickname was shortened to Gwuris. Nkwopara chose Maharajah. The short form, Rajahs has remained with him till date. Rajahs, a former banker and APC chieftain was my Master. He is presently in London.
Rajahs said of his friend : “ He was such an introvert that you could never know when he’s serious. He was a philosopher from a young age but lived out a mysterious life. Nwanguma was a special breed sent on earth for an assignment which he completed and exited.”
I got to know some of the late officer’s pranks and could not but laugh out loud. He tackled Mathematics from source, took his troops unawares and even wondered why his friends were interested in seeing him leave the sick bed.
“When we returned to retake our School Certificate exams, we sat back in the dormitory one day, and were cracking jokes instead of going for Assembly. When Prefect Irechukwu was headed towards us, Gwuris advised us to run that he would pretend to be ill.
“We all laughed and ran off. He stayed. Do you know Prefect Irechukwu had to suggest that Gwuris be rushed to the hospital as he was so sick. When we came back, he was making a joke out of it, “ Nkwopara added.
“During preparations for our final exams, Nwanguma bought Longman’s Book One for Arithmetic because he claimed he had to start from Arithmetic to Mathematics. When he was done with Book One, he moved to Book Two. This same guy had a very good credit in Maths.
“While at Abeokuta as a Brigade Commander, Nwanguma and I went out. He drove back to the barracks in mufti. He met the gate open and the guards playing draught. As we drove in unchallenged, he stopped and called them casually,” Nkwopara said.
Then came the surprise. “ One came reluctantly. My friend asked why the gate was not manned. The young officer took offence and was rude. Nwanguma heard him out and told him who he was, to the surprise of all who then abandoned the game to stand at attention. The commander drove off and that was the end of the matter.”
Nwanguma enlisted in 1975 as a member of the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) Regular Course 18. His mates include Lt. Gen Azubuike Ihejirika, a former Army Chief, Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, Captain Bala Shagari, Rear Admiral Bodunrin Raji, AVM Clayton Nyananyo and Group Captain Felix Ihenacho.
According to Nkwopara, “ when Nwanguma gained admission to NDA, he equally got admitted to Ife. The man chose NDA saying as an officer, you can be a graduate but as a graduate, you may never be an officer.”
The strong man had medical challenges in 2019 but refused to seek attention. His cousin had to report the situation to Rajahs.
Rajahs said, “ he sounded low and I advised him to meet my cousin, Prof Mbakwem since he was in Lagos. He had a waist challenge. We agreed to go see our classmate, Prof. Uche Katchy as soon he came over to the East. I drove him to UNTH, Enugu.
“It was noticed that there were other challenges and immediate admission was recommended or we could lose him in hours. When he saw the efforts we were making, Nwanguma asked us, ‘ Katchy and Rajahs, what will you people gain if I’m alive?”
The general did not stay. He chose to go back home and later traveled to the United States for further treatment. At the end, death eventually came. Nwanguma escaped coup charges heaped on him during the Sani Abacha years by some of his Lorji, Mbaise clansmen over chieftaincy tussle.
“No one can claim to know all about him. Indeed he was mysterious Gwuriegwu even in death. It took his death for even his supposed close friends and colleagues to know he had kids. I never knew he was Benjamin. He kept everyone guessing”, Nkwopara summed up.
The Civil War made them spend more time in school. The Artillery officer still joined the army. His cousins, Brig. General Felix and Navy Captain George Alily may say more about this First OGSSIAN general.