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Saturday, 20 July 2013

When Generals Clash


Olusegun-Obasanjo-0903.jpg - Olusegun-Obasanjo-0903.jpg

A new book written by Brig-Gen Godwin Alabi-Isama (rtd) has dispelled tales of personal heroics recounted in former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s civil war memoir, My Command.  Alabi-Isama, a former Principal General Staff Officer of the Nigerian Army in his book, The Tragedy of Victory: On-the-spot account of the Nigeria-Biafra war, launched Thursday at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Lagos, said he was spurred to write the book “to put the records straight and to give honour to whom honour is due”.

The author who served as chief of staff at the 3rd Marine Commando, a division commanded by General Benjamin “Black Scorpion” Adekunle and credited with several military successes during the 30-month civil war, refuted the notion that Obasanjo (then a colonel in the Nigerian Army) was the mastermind of the final tactical manoeuvre culminating in the ultimate defeat and surrender of Biafran forces.

“The Biafrans had already surrendered to Tomoye and Akinrinade when George Innih finally arrived with 13 Brigade, the fourth day after the battle and the war was over,” said the author in the 671-page book written in unvarnished language. “This is how it (the surrender) all happened and Obasanjo, the new commander, was not there. Biafran emissary, Col. J. Achuzia, waving a white flag approached 3 MCDO front line that they (all Biafran troops) have come to surrender to the commander of the federal troops. Then Major S. Tomoye of 17 Brigade and Lt. Col. Akinrinade, the GSO1 together went to meet with Effiong, the acting Head of State of Biafra at Amichi, with Ola Oni standing by for battle. “Naturally, Akinrinade called his commander, Col. Obasanjo, and notified him that Biafran officers and men had surrendered to him at Amichi. Obasanjo got lost as he did not know how to get to Amichi. He could not find Akinrinade and Tomoye but joined them, hours later through an escort at Amichi, to meet Effiong and later posed (alone) for a photgraph on the Uli airstrip with soldiers in the background.”
Below are excerpts from the book...
The Death Note
Adekunle arrived once again from Lagos to Port Harcourt. Owerri situation, as noted, was already a disaster and Adekunle sent for Akinrinade and I, to report at Port Harcourt at 7.00a.m. That was most difficult indeed, as I had to leave Uyo not later than midnight to arrive Port Harcourt at 7.00a.m. We did not have even a full day’s notice. Otherwise, we would have gone to stay the night at Port Harcourt or at Akinrinade’s place at Asa, which was about three to four hours drive to Port Harcourt. My situation was worse, as I had to drive at night without headlights for fear of vehicular movements being detected by Biafran troops or stragglers or an ambush party on the way. So, I left at midnight and passed through areas where I had troops and their commanders from Uyo through Etinan,, Ekeffe, and Akwette to Obigbo and to Asa to pick up Akinrinade.
I got to Asa at about 4.a.m. All the commanders en route had sent their passwords to Akinrinade and me to be able to pass through their road blocks at night, as any mistake was death by bullet. Adekunle did not think at all about the implications of ordering us to arrive at 7.00am in the morning or so I thought. Otherwise, it was premeditated for us to have an accident. Akinrinade and I had two Land Rovers full of escorts each, all battle-ready. I had an Old Mercedes Benz car which I bought at Uyo from one of Justice Ntia’s friends which I drove to pick up Akinrinade. The man needed the money to pay his daughter’s school fees in Ibadan at the university.

We set off at about 4.15a.m. and headed for Port Harcourt without the headlights on. However, as we drove, the Mercedes car’s bonnet snapped open and almost shattered the windscreen. We stopped and put it right. It did the same thing after about another kilometer drive. We stopped again, and put it right, and in order not to get into any of the Land Rover vehicles. Akinrinade was in the front vehicle and I was in the fourth at the back. We got to Port Harcourt at exactly five minutes to 7.00a.m. Adekunle was by the operational RS 301 radio. With him was a Lagos musician called Roy Chicago. When we showed up at his office, he was shocked and sat up. He asked how we got to Port Harcourt. I wondered what type of question that was, since he was the one that ordered us to arrive Port Harcourt at 7.00a.m. which he knew was difficult as we had to drive through enemy areas at night without our headlights on. Also, because there were no airports at Aba or Uyo, we had to come by road. We both thought that he had changed his mind, and that we were going to discuss Operations Pincer 1,2 and 3 and since it was a weekend, we had civil dresses in our box. Roy Chicago kept saying, “Please, do not quarrel;” I was not sure what he was talking about.

However, Adekunle became restless and was chain-smoking. Within minutes, he had lit about three or four cigarettes. Then he gathered himself together and said, “Well fine, I will talk to you one by one,” and then ordered that Akinrinade should stay outside while he talked to me first. So, Akinrinade went out and stood by the door. Barely a minute after, Adekunle was yet to say a word when Akinrinade kicked the door open and said we should get out of there fast. He showed me a note written by Capt. Richard, the Military Police Commander who was at the Head of an ambush party. He had been ordered to ambush our vehicles with a view of killing both of us. Apparently, it was just about 140 metres away from the corner where the ambush was laid that my car was abandoned. The ambush party was waiting to attack the Mercedes Benz car which they were sure we would be traveling in. the motorcyclist that Richard sent with the note to me at Uyo missed me because I left at midnight and he got there at 4.00a.m., at which time I had reached Akinrinade’s HQ at Asa. Then the ambush party missed us because they were expecting a Mercedes Benz to pass by. That was why, in retrospect, Adekunle asked how we got to Port Harcourt. He was probably waiting by the RS 301 radio for reports of our deaths.

The note from Capt. Richard simply said that we should not pass by Asa railway line on our way to Port Harcourt because an ambush had been laid to kill both of us. Adekunle had guessed right that we would both be in the car to Port Harcourt. When Akinrinade showed me the note, I was just short of shooting Adekunle dead. Akinrinade then asked him why he wanted to kill us after all we had done. We both just walked out with our maps and the many books we had carried for discussions with him.
Finding Adekunle’s Replacement
General Gowon’s marriage ceremony had ended. Army Headquarters then focused on the problem created by our escape to Lagos from the 3MCDO war front. We had been armed with the failed ambush warning note from Capt. Richard, on the strength of which Akinrinade and I had requested to be posted out of 3MCDO. Both of us had been in the war front non-stop from October 1967 until the failed ambush incident in April 1969, almost stretched to the limit by war effort activities on a daily basis. Of all my experiences at the war front the most heart-rending was talking to a dying soldier. To be hooked with the emotions of the man as life drained from him and as he enquired about his mother, wife, children and other loved ones, were to feel the pain of death and suffering along with the dying soldier. It sapped one’s energy, but that was hardly any reason for us to deserve death by ambush either, especially from what we would call friendly fire from the bullet of the tax payers of my country, and not from enemy fire: the country that I had served to the best of my ability.

When we met the following day, General Gowon wanted us to suggest which senior Yoruba officer we thought should replace Adekunle. Akinrinade once more mentioned Obasanjo’s name instead of Sotomi, Olutoye or Oluleye, who were also staff college-trained senior Yoruba officers. Akinrinade would not have suggested Oluleye anyway, because although infantry, he had sent barbed wire to Akinrinade in Bonny in place of reinforcements that had been requested. Olutoye, in the Education Corps, was not a combatant. Gen. Gowon was skeptical about Obasanjo accepting the appointment as he was an army sapper. I drew the Head of State’s attention to the fact that the position Obasanjo occupied at their time at Ibadan as the garrison commander was an infantry post. Gowon then said that we should contact him.

Akinrinade suggested that we sent our wives to book appointment with Obasanjo in Ibadan for 10.00a.m. the next day. We arrived his doorstep at 9.24a.m. and were ushered in. We told him our mission, and gave him a comprehensive briefing of the war front situation, and why the change of Adekunle was necessary. In this process, we had spread out our maps and I gave a comprehensive briefing about Operations Pincer 1, 2, and 3. We told him what problems there were with Adekunle’s plan to attack Ibo heartland without proper reorganization and refitting of troops that had been involved in the 30-day advance from Calabar to Port Harcourt. I also reminded him that when, in July 1968, he had visited 3MCDO with General Hassan Katsina, and we already had the problem of Adekunle’s decision to attack Ibo heartland on our hands, as Operation OAU.

If Pincer 2 was adopted, we told Obasanjo, we were sure to end the war in 30 days. By that time, we had been speaking for over three hours without food or drink. The man simply listened as we did the talking. And when he spoke, he asked, “How do you know that Uli-Ihiala is the centre of gravity of Biafra?”

That question put me off completely, and I had to ask Akinrinade if he would like to repeat the explanations. He was at it again until 2.00p.m when Obasanjo then toldus that he was an engineer, and that he was not going to the war front! I was livid. We had been with this man for four hours without food or water as he offered us none and in spite of all we said, here was this officers saying he won’t come to the war front! I told Akinrinade that we had to get out of Obasanjo’s house fast, but not before I had given him a dressing down. I reminded him of a similar behaviour he had shown when the Biafrans entered the Midwest, and we asked the army in Ibadan to blow up the Ore bridge to further delay the Biafran advance to Lagos. Obasanjo’s corps or an engineer was nowhere to be found. But for the courage of one Mr. Akande, a civilian from the Public Works Department at Ibadan, who blew up the bridge with the assistance of his men from the Ministry of Works, even without the supervision of the military, the advancing Biafran troops would have probably marched on to Lagos, though they too were poorly led and lily-livered.

I was so annoyed that I went on pouring venom on this officer, asking what engineering university he did attend anyway! We were out there in the war front carrying our dead and wounded comrades daily and he just sat there in Ibadan talking of being an engineer – so what! In anger, I reminded him also that we had engineers like Bayo Onadeko, Oladejobi and Duke who were university graduates and capt. Olajire at the war front who were building roads, bridges and pontoons to facilitate our advance and at that point Akinrinade and I stormed out of his house.
By the time we returned to Lagos, General Gowon had given the orders through the Army HQ that all divisional commanders at the war front who had been there for upwards of two years or more should be changed. Col. Bisalla would replace Col. Shuwa, while Col. Jalo took over from Col. Haruna, and Col. Obasanjo was named as replacement for Adekunle. Many people received the news of Adekunle’s replacement with shock and sadness. They couldn’t understand why and one of them was Col. Father Pedro Martins. Together with Commodore Akinwale Wey, Pedro Martins visited me on our return to Lagos to find out what exactly went wrong for Adekunle to be removed at a time when the entire country thought that 3MCDO was doing well under his leadership.
I then narrated the story of how Adekunle had changed completely, how he had underrated the Biafrans as spineless with no fire power in their belly, which led him into taking wrong decisions and muting ideas that resulted in the kind of casualties hitherto unknown to 3MCDO. Against all advice to the contrary, Adekunle advanced into Ibo heartland without adequate preparation. His military tactics and strategy were wrong. Besides, it appeared as if Col. Adekunle became drunk with success. Like Col. Murtala Mohammed, when he ignored the warnings of Akinrinade over the Asaba River Niger crossing, the results were tragic. Then I turned to Father Pedro Martins and asked, “Did the Holy Book not say in 2Timmothy 4 v 4 that for their destruction, they will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside the myths?” Col. Fr. Pedro Martins laughed, and I told him that I also know the Bible fairly well, to which he said that he was impressed.
Obasanjo’s First Battle Experience – a fiasco
Briefing over, Col. Obasanjo was ready to go as commander of 3MCDO, but his very first move was a disaster. In complete disregard of our advice, he planned an attack from the same problematic Sector 1 under Lt. Col. Godwin Ally. The target was again Ohoba, a town of about 40 kilometres south of Owerri where Adekunle’s conventional war tactics had resulted in heavy casualties earlier on. Obasanjo did exactly what Adekunle had done by reinforcing failure. The pity of this failure, however, was that Obasanjo himself was not there at the war front to experience the tragedy. He ordered Lt. Col. Godwin Ally to counter-attack. He saw them advance, but turned back and traveled to his HQ in Port Harcourt, a distance of about 240 kilometres away.
Murtala’s tragic death
Since Gen. Mohammed had been killed, we started looking for who was next. This was the greatest mistake of my life. Instead of allowing those loyal officers who crushed the coup to handle the affairs of the nation to which they were loyal, Akinrinade and I insisted that it must be the next in seniority; and that meant Obasanjo as the most senior in the army then. We started looking for him to take over command but he was nowhere to be found. However, discussions between Ibrahim Babangida and Danjuma on the one hand, and Alabi-Isama and Akinrinade on the other were changing, becoming confrontational. Akinrinade and I warned that no one would hijack the coup without a fight; the next senior officer must be the next Head of State, and that was Obasanjo. But how could the senior officer who ran away during a coup against the government in which he was number two come back to lead those who put the coup down? Akinrinade ad I sat down to think for a minute. We reasoned that this man, Obasanjo, might not like us, whatever we might do. Then Akinrinade said that we should just do the right thing, and that the army operates by seniority. Fine, I was ready.

I decided to stay with the others trying to put down the coup, while Akinrinade searched for Obasanjo. Just as we were thinking, we had a tip-off from Lt. Col. Roland Omowa who was then Obasanjo’s ADC, had sent me a message about the whereabouts of his boss, that he was at the house of a chief. The chief was S.B. Bakare, a well known Lagos businessman. When Omowa was a major, he was my Public Relations Officer (PRO), when I was the Commander of 9 Brigade in Benin City after the war in 1973.
He was also with me at 3MCDO. He is a very loyal and dependable officer. He knew me very well and what I was capable of doing in all respects including sports, military tactics and strategy. Omowa had been promoted to the rank of Lt. Col. And appointed Obasanjo’s ADC. With that tip-off from Omowa, Akinrinade and I made a plan on what to do and how to achieve results by ensuring that the next senior officer would be safe from whoever might be planning to bump him off. Then we decided that Akinrinade would lay ambush around Chief S.B. Bakare’s house to ensure Obasanjo’s safety while I would handle the rest since I could speak Hausa and could take armoured vehicles and marry with the infantry under Maiyaki and get Dimka at the radio station in Ikoyi where he was announcing his curfew messages.

Babangida got there, saw Dimka, got his weapon, and advised Dimka to run away instead of arresting him. I was furious and started being suspicious of the situation, as that action alone was a court-martial offence. I sent a message to Akinrinade through Cpl. Isa, my orderly, on a motorcycle to be prepared for war if the coup was to be hijacked by anyone or by any group for that matte. Most of the coup plotters were well-known officers to me like Rabo, Jow Kasai and Clement Dabang who were NMS students while I was tactics instructor there in 1962/63. As a matter of fact, I recruited Rabo into the army in 1962. He was thirteen years old when he entered NMS. They spoke with me nicely and allowed me to take control of the situation in Bonny Camp, while in the meantime, Akinrinade was patrolling Chief S.B. Bakare’s house should anyone attempt to kill Obasanjo with a view to hijacking the coup. Finally, we all tooks control, and the coup failed. So, Obasanjo went back home to the government house. Well, here is an excerpt from a book titled, Not My Will, authored by Olusegun Obasanjo at page 29.

What did he think Akinrinade was there for? Was Akinrinade his orderly or ADC? He (Obasanjo) did not appreciate what we went through to get him there. I became Dabjuma’s enemy ever since; Danjuma was right, afterall.
The Conspiracy: Tide Turns against Me after Dimka’s Coup
With the coup over, Obasanjo became the Head of State. Danjuma who was my classmate and friend, who was to be ambushed on his way to work, but was missed because he rode in my boat suddenly became my enemy, and we never say eye to eye again after the Dimka coup. So did Adelanwa. Only Domkat Bali still remained on talking terms with me. I was wondering what went wrong or what I did wrong. Ah ah, it was because we did not allow the coup to be hijacked. We regretted that though later on, because we realized that Danjuma would have been a better Head of State. Nigeria has been drifting ever since with so many activities but no results. “Motion Without Movement.” Anyway, I was too busy, to appreciate how deep the enmity was. Obasanjo, in his wisdom, needed Danjuma as a northern officer to enable him to rally northern support for him. He had to tell Danjuma a story about Alabi-Isama and Akinrinade with reference to what happened during the war at the 3MCDO with Adekunle.

So Danjuma started behaving differently to me. Akinrinade they could tolerate to some extent. Once again, like at the war front, my enemy, of course, became his friend. So, Danjuma and Innih became my enemies and automatically became Obasanjo’s friends. When I realized that, I got myself busier building a ‘Qualitative Army,’ while they got on with politics and oil wells.
ThisDay

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