A platform for Nigeria's social,political and economic history.

Archive for the ‘Military Rule in Nigeria’ Category

The story of Lagos’ ill-fated 1976 Professional Tennis Tournament

By: Olaojo Aiyegbayo

It was Monday, February 16, 1976, a sunny day in Lagos, just before noon. The Lagos Lawn Tennis Club terraces were filled with middle class Nigerians and foreign expatriates. Arthur Ashe, current Wimbledon champion, was playing his semi-final match against Jeff Borowiak, a fellow American on centre court. The event was the $60,000 Lagos Tennis Classic tournament, part of the World Championship Tennis (WCT) pro circuit series, and Black Africa’s first professional tennis tournament. Ashe had just won the first set in a tie break. It was a game apiece in the second set and Ashe was about to serve. As he threw the tennis ball into the air, five men marched on to the court via the players’ entrance.

The spectators watched as the men approached Ashe. One of the men was in a brown suit while the others were in military outfit. The leader of the group, an army Captain, shouted “What are you doing? We are in mourning. You are making money. Are you all mad? Please go. Please go.” One of the soldiers shoved the cold steel of his machine gun into the back of Ashe’s sweat-soaked shirt to push him off the court. Ashe walked off the court with his two arms raised in the air, leaving his gear behind. The other soldiers proceeded to clear the Main stand, East and West wing terraces. Pandemonium broke out as spectators ran from their seats for the main exit before the soldiers got to them. The Nigerian spectators moved quicker than their bewildered foreign counterparts. They were well aware of their countrymen’s brutality. Ashe however headed to the dressing room.

Jeff Borowiak (far left), Arthur Ashe, Pele and Tom Okker at Lagos in 1976. Image courtesy of Tom Okker

In January, a month before the start of the Lagos Tennis Classic, Dick Stockton, an American tennis player, had visited the WCT headquarters in Dallas, Texas. He was concerned about travelling to Lagos to play in the Lagos Tennis Classic. He had read reports, in the local Dallas papers, of anti-American demonstrations in front of the US Embassy in Lagos. “I said to them that this could potentially be a very dangerous situation if these reports about all these anti-American demonstrations are true,” Stockton recalled. WCT officials assured him by saying “we have been in touch with the State Department and they told us that everything is fine, there is no reason to worry.”

Arthur Ashe played a key role in influencing WCT’s decision to take the event to Lagos. He had been to Nigeria in 1970 with fellow American tennis star, Stan Smith, as part of a US State Department goodwill tour. This experience had made him keen to promote tennis in Black Africa. The Lagos Lawn Tennis Club fulfilled every WCT condition to host the event which included providing the prize money for the singles and doubles’ tournaments and the building of a new centre court. World Championship Tennis signed a five year agreement with the Lagos Lawn Tennis Club to host an annual series of WCT tennis tournaments in Lagos. The 14 WCT players drawn to participate in the Lagos Tennis Classic were Arthur Ashe (USA), Tom Okker (HOL), Dick Crealy (AUS), Harold Solomon (USA), Jeff Borowiak (USA), Brian Fairlie (NZL), Eddie Dibbs (USA), Ismail El Shafei (EGY), Wojtek Fibak (POL), Karl Meiler (GER), Bob Lutz (USA), Stan Smith (USA), Erik Van Dillen (USA), and Dick Stockton (USA). Nigeria’s two best tennis players, Lawrence Awopegba and Yemisi Allan, were given wild card entries to compete in the tournament alongside some of the best tennis players in the world.

John McDonald, WCT’s International Director, was in the Lagos Lawn Tennis Club dressing room with a plastic bag containing WCT tennis players’ passports that fateful February 16 when Ashe entered. He had just been to the Lagos International Airport to retrieve them. Nigerian immigration officials had collected most of the players’ passports on their arrival from Barcelona and held on to them because their visas needed to be revalidated. These players were unhappy about leaving their passports behind but had no choice if they wanted to be permitted to leave the airport.

The man in the brown suit burst the door open and stepped into the dressing room with a big stick. He was accompanied by a soldier who ordered McDonald and Ashe to get out. The man with the stick slammed it on the table to emphasize this order and took a swing at the men as they ran away. The two men ran out of the stadium on to the street which was filled with people fleeing in all directions. McDonald spotted John Parsons, the Daily Mail tennis correspondent who travelled with the WCT contingent to Lagos, heading in the opposite direction. A soldier with an ebony stick shouted at Parsons “Where are you going?” as he clubbed him across the back. Parsons had been on his way to the local Reuters office to file the breaking story with the Daily Mail; instead he got an 18-inch weal on his back for his effort.

Donald Easum, US ambassador, was in the terraces watching the semi-final match with his security detail, a young marine guard in civilian clothes. He located Ashe, Borowiak and McDonald outside the stadium and secured vehicles to transport them to the US Embassy. Ashe and Borowiak got into one car while McDonald was put in another car. On their way, Ashe and Borowiak’s vehicle was held up in a traffic jam because a soldier was beating a Nigerian spectator in the middle of the road. The players got out of the car and headed to the US Embassy on foot. The Hungarian ambassador on his way from the Lagos Lawn Tennis Club offered them a ride to their destination in his limousine. Easum and the marine guard chose to walk to the US Embassy and had to pass through a group of anti-American demonstrators who chanted in protest with placards declaring “Down with the CIA” and “Yankee, go home.” Some carried pictures of the Nigerian Head of State with placards lauding him.

Friday the 13th was supposed to be the fourth day of the Lagos Tennis Classic tournament. General Murtala Mohammed, the Nigerian Head of State, was on his way from his Ikoyi residence to his office at the army headquarters in Dodan barracks. His metallic-black Mercedes Benz was stuck in a traffic jam near the Federal secretariat shortly after 8 a.m. The General had his Aide-de-Camp beside him while his orderly sat in front with the driver. He, unlike General Gowon, his predecessor, travelled without an armed security escort.

A group of men with machine guns strolled to the General’s vehicle and fired at the car and its occupants. Pedestrians and drivers stuck in the traffic jam scampered for safety. One of the gunmen fired a whole magazine of bullets at the car, reloaded and then fired another magazine at it. The gunmen left the bullet-riddled car and headed for the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation. The leader of the group was the head of the Nigerian Army Physical Training Corps, Lt. Colonel Bukar Dimka, a 33 year old man with a waxed walrus moustache and a deep tribal mark on each cheek. He announced from the radio station that the ‘Young Revolutionaries’ had overthrown the Government and declared a 6am to 6pm (sic) nationwide curfew while imploring listeners to stay by their radios for further announcements. His short recorded broadcast played repeatedly on the radio throughout the morning and was interspersed with martial music.

Dick Stockton was asleep in his room at the Federal Palace hotel when his hotel telephone rang. It was Paul Svehlik, the WCT tour manager. He told Stockton about the attempted coup and cancellation of the Lagos Tennis Classic matches for that day. A shocked Stockton was told to inform the other four American tennis players at the hotel. The instruction was to stay in the hotel until further notice. One of the Americans that Stockton called was Eddie Dibbs who asked “What the hell’s a coup?” when he saw Stockton. Pele, the Brazilian soccer superstar, and his entourage were also at the Federal Palace hotel when they heard about the coup attempt. They stayed beside the radio in their hotel room to find out what was happening. He was in Lagos on a Pepsi-Cola sponsored marketing tour to play an exhibition match and run some soccer clinics.

Around lunchtime, the five tennis players went down to the hotel’s swimming pool area to relax. Eddie Dibbs, Harold Solomon, Bob Lutz, Erik Van Dillen and Dick Stockton were by the pool when 30-40 soldiers with machine guns surrounded the area. The scared hotel manager came to the swimming pool and told the guests in the area to get back into the hotel for their safety. Everyone was unsure what the soldiers were going to do.

The Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation went off air around 3pm when Federal Government troops tried to recapture the radio station from the coup plotters. Dimka escaped during a brief gunfire exchange between Federal forces and his men. The radio station returned to air around 4pm playing popular Highlife music. At 6.20pm, a spokesman for the Federal Military Government came on air to announce that the coup attempt had been crushed with several arrests made. He stated that a 6pm to 6am curfew was in place throughout the country and all borders and airports were closed until further notice. There was no mention of the fate of the Head of State. Lagos, the busiest city in Black Africa, was subdued as most Lagosians stayed indoors by their radios. The city was on high security alert. There were numerous roadblocks all over the city manned by soldiers tasked with maintaining security and capturing suspected coup plotters. There was no further radio announcement from the Federal Military Government that Friday.

The five American players received a phone call from the US Embassy that evening and were told to pack their stuff and be prepared to leave the hotel. The Federal Palace hotel wasn’t considered safe. Donald Easum sent a minibus to evacuate the players. The driver of the minibus took a wrong turn on the way back and got into an argument with a soldier stationed at a road block. The soldier pointed his machine gun at the vehicle and the tennis players thought they were going to die. He eventually let them go through after he was satisfied that they were harmless. There were no spare rooms at the US ambassador’s residence for the five American players because Ashe, Borowiak and Tom Okker (a Dutch tennis player) were already staying there. This meant that alternative accommodation had to be arranged with an American family. “We descended on this poor family,” Bob Lutz recalled. “They were an elderly couple and he worked for the US Embassy.”
The assassination of General Mohammed was officially announced around noon on February 14 and his deputy, General Obasanjo, was named as his successor. His corpse was flown to Kano, that Saturday, and buried in his hometown according to Muslim rites. The Federal Military Government announced seven days of national mourning in honour of the slain Head of State.

Rumours circulated across the country that the US Government via the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was involved in the coup attempt and assassination of General Mohammed. This was because of the well-publicised differences between the US Government and Nigerian Government over the latter’s support for the soviet-backed People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA). Tennis matches scheduled for Saturday were cancelled because of the national mourning.
John McDonald pushed for the players to continue with the tournament and this led to a big argument between him and some of the American players who weren’t willing to play in such unsafe conditions. McDonald told the players that if they didn’t play then they wouldn’t be let out of the country. This was because their passports were still at the time with Nigerian custom officials who had taken them for visa revalidation.

“We were told that the last coup that had taken place was a bloodless coup and no one was able to get out of the country for a while,” Stan Smith said. “We were concerned that we would not get out of the country to go to the next tournament.”
Lagos Lawn Tennis Club officials contacted McDonald late Saturday to inform him that Federal Military Government had authorised the resumption of the tennis tournament on Sunday. The Government also promised to provide a plane to fly the players out of the country at the end of the tournament despite the closure of the national borders and airports. John McDonald contacted the 8 players still left in the singles tournament to notify them that the event was back on. There were six Americans, a German and an Australian in the quarter-finals. The plan was to play the quarter-finals on Sunday and the semi-final and final matches on Monday to make up for the two lost days – Friday and Saturday. The doubles tournament which was in the semi-final stage was cancelled because there wasn’t enough time to fit it into the schedule.

The quarter-final matches resumed at 11am on Sunday, February 15 and all the four matches went smoothly without any incident. Four Americans {Dick Stockton, Bob Lutz, Arthur Ashe and Jeff Borowiak} made it through to the semi-final stage in straight sets. The Lagos heat sapped the players’ strength and motivation so that players who lost the first set went on to lose the match. The players weren’t provided with cold drinks by the tournament organizers and struggled as a result. Some of them snuck into the air-conditioned room close to centre court for a few seconds to cool down during game change-overs. The match umpires permitted them to do this. February would go on to be the hottest month of that year in Lagos.

Sunday was a relatively calm day in Lagos after Friday’s upheaval which meant that Arthur Ashe, Jeff Borowiak and Tom Okker with Donald Easum could go to the Brazilian ambassador’s residence to have lunch with Pele. Whereas the five American players staying with the elderly American couple had nothing to do. “They had this world professional dart board and darts and we were bored. There were these huge lizards running around the property,” Erik Van Dillen said. “We decided to go on a big safari hunt and see if we can get them. We weren’t very politically correct at the time.” The lizards were too quick for the players despite their best efforts. “So Eddie Dibbs is going one way and I am going another and he throws a dart which ricochets off the cement floor and sticks right into my leg. It hurt for a little bit.” Bob Lutz laughed as he recalled the incident. “We had a lot of fun considering what was happening.”

Dibbs and Lutz later approached some soldiers stationed at a road block down the street to chat with them. The soldiers were eating their rations and seemed friendly. The players told them that they were in Lagos to play a tennis tournament. All of a sudden, their Commanding Officer showed up and shouted at the players “What are you doing here? Are you CIA? Are you spies? Get out of here!” The players hurried back to their residence.

The 18-man WCT contingent comprising of 14 players, 2 WCT officials and 2 English journalists departed from their Ikoyi rendezvous point in a convoy of cars in the early hours of Tuesday, February 17, for Lagos International Airport. The Federal Military Government provided an armed police escort to the airport. This ensured that the vehicles were able to pass through the roadblocks that dotted the city. The Government also kept its word by providing an airplane and lifting it’s imposed flight restrictions to let the tennis contingent leave Lagos airspace. They were the first foreigners allowed to leave the country after the attempted coup. The local Pepsi-Cola Manager approached Donald Easum the day before to enquire about Pele and his entourage traveling with the WCT contingent but official government permission couldn’t be secured in time for this to happen. There was a large military presence at the airport to prevent fugitives like Dimka from leaving the country. The plane departed at 7.00am in order to catch the AZ 837 Alitalia plane which left Accra at 8.15am and arrived in Rome at 2.35pm. There was an eruption of cheers by the players as the aircraft took off from the Lagos International Airport runaway. They were relieved that their ordeal was finally over.

“It was an unfortunate incident”, Harold Solomon recalled. “We were going down to have a major tournament in a developing African country and it was a case of bad timing that we were there when they had an unfortunate coup de’tat.”
The Rome WCT tournament was delayed by a day to accommodate the late arrival of the players. Arthur Ashe went on to win this tournament. Pele eventually left Lagos when the Federal Military Government re-opened the borders and airports a few days later. The Brazilian ambassador insisted that he wore an aviator’s uniform to conceal his identity. The greatest danger that Pele faced throughout his time in Lagos was to lose money during games of gin rummy in the Federal Palace hotel.

Screenshot of 1976 Lagos Tennis Classic Tournament Draw via ATP World Tour website

The WCT informed Arthur Ashe, Jeff Borowiak and Dick Stockton when they got to Rome that they had to honour their Lagos Tennis Classic match commitments. They had to complete the event to ensure that the prize money and Hagger points for the singles tournament were appropriately distributed. The only available opportunity to do this was at the Caracas WCT Open. On April 1, in the middle of the Caracas tournament, Arthur Ashe completed his unfinished semifinal match against Borowiak by beating him. The following day, April 2, he faced Stockton in the final and lost to him. The match was over in less than an hour and it was Stockton’s first ever victory against Ashe. The score was 6-3, 6-2. The WCT never held another tennis tournament in Nigeria. The Lagos International Airport was renamed ‘Murtala Mohammed International Airport’ a few days after his assassination. Dimka was on the run for three weeks after the coup attempt before his eventual capture on March 5. He was executed on May 15, 1976. There was never an official Government explanation for the military interruption of the Ashe vs Borowiak semi-final match.

This longform story is based on archival newspaper research, biographical accounts of key characters, US Embassy/State Department cables plus telephone interviews with Tom Okker, Stan Smith, Harold Solomon, Dick Stockton, Bob Lutz, John McDonald, Ismail El Shafei, Paul Svehlik, and Erik Van Dillen.

Olaojo Aiyegbayo is a writer based in Huddersfield, UK. He tweets @olaojo15 and can be reached at ola@horebinternational.com

Culled from : http://africasacountry.com/the-story-of-lagos-ill-fated-1976-professional-tennis-tournament/

late M.K.O. Abiola-Epetedo ” Enough is Enough” Speech – Saturday, June 11, 1994,

Late Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola (24 August 1937 – 7 July 1998)

Late Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola (24 August 1937 – 7 July 1998)

Text of the proclamation speech by the late M.K.O. Abiola on Saturday, June 11, 1994, announcing the formation of a Government of National Unity (GNU) at Epetedo, Lagos.

PEOPLE of Nigeria, exactly one year ago, you turned out in your millions to vote for me, Chief M.K.O. Abiola, as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. But politicians in uniform, who call themselves soldiers but are more devious than any civilian would want to be, deprived you of your God-given right to be ruled by the President you had yourselves elected. These soldier-politicians introduced into our body politic, a concept hitherto unknown to our political lexicography, something strangely called the “annulment” of an election perceived by all to have been the fairest, cleanest and most peaceful ever held in our nation. Since that abominable act of naked political armed robbery occurred, I have been constantly urged by people of goodwill, both in Nigeria and abroad, to put the matter back into the people’s hands and get them to actualise the mandate they gave me at the polls. But mindful of the need to ensure that peace continues to reign in our fragile federation, I have so far tried to pursue sweet reason and negotiation. My hope has always been to arouse whatever remnants of patriotism are left in the hearts of these thieves of your mandate, and to persuade them that they should not allow their personal desire to rule to usher our beloved country into an era of political instability and economic ruin. All I have sought to do, in seeking dialogue with them, has been to try and get them to realise that only real democracy can move our nation forward towards progress, and earn her the respect she deserves from the international community.

However, although this peaceful approach has exposed me to severe censure by some who have mistaken it for weakness on my part, those with whom I have sought to dialogue have remained like stones, neither stirred to show loyalty to the collective decision of the people of their own country, nor to observe Allah’s injunction that they should exhibit justice and fair-play in all their dealings with their fellowmen. Appeals to their honour as officers and gentlemen of the gallant Nigerian Armed Forces, have fallen on deaf ears. Instead, they have resorted to the tactics of divide and rule, bribery and political perfidy, misinformation and (vile) propaganda. They arrest everyone who disagrees with them. Even the 71-year old hero of our nation, Chief Anthony Enahoro, was not spared. How much longer can we tolerate all this? People of Nigeria, you are all witnesses that I have tried to climb the highest mountain, cross the deepest river and walk the longest mile, in order to get these men to obey the will of our people. There is no humiliation I have not endured, no snare that has not been put in my path, no “set-up” that has not been designed for me in my endeavour to use the path of peace to enforce the mandate that you bestowed on me one year ago. It has been a long night. But the dawn is here. Today, people of Nigeria, I join you all in saying, “Enough is Enough!”

We have endured 24 years of military rule in our 34 years of independence. Military rule has led to our nation fighting a civil war with itself. Military rule has destabilised our nation today as not before in its history. Military rule has impoverished our people and introduced a dreadful trade in drugs which has made our country’s name an anathema in many parts of the world. Even soccer fans going to watch the Green Eagles display in America are being made to suffer there needlessly because Nigeria’s name is linked with credit card and fraud and “419.” Politically, military rule has torn to shreds the prestige due to our country because of its size and population. The permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council that should be rightfully ours is all but lost. For who will vote for Nigeria to get the seat if Nigerian military rulers do not respect the votes of their own people? Enough of military rule.

We are sickened to see people who have shown little or no personal achievement, either in building up private businesses, or making success of any tangible thing, being placed in charge of the management of our nation’s economy, by rulers who are not accountable to anyone. Enough of square pegs in round holes. We are tired of the military repetitive tendency to experiment with our economy: Today, they say “no controls.” Tomorrow; they say “Full controls”. The day after, they say “Fine tuning”. The next day, they say “Devaluation.” a few days later, they say “Revalue the same naira upwards again Abi?” All we can see are the consequences of this permanent game of military “about turns;” high inflation, a huge budget deficit and an enormous foreign debt repayment burden, dying industries, high unemployment and a demoralised populace. Our youths, in particular, can see no hope on the horizon, and many can only dream of escaping from our shores to join the brain drain. Is this the Nigeria we want?

We are plagued also by periodic balance of payments crises, which have led to a perennial shortage of essential drugs that has turned our hospitals and clinics into mortuaries. A scarcity of books and equipment has rendered our schools into desolate deserts of ignorance. Our factories are crying for machinery, spare parts and raw materials. But each day that passes, instead of these economic diseases being cured, they are rather strengthened as an irrational allocation of foreign exchange based on favouritism and corruption becomes the order of the day. Enough is enough of economic mismanagement! People of Nigeria, during the election campaign last year, I presented you with a programme entitled “HOPE ’93?. This programme was aimed precisely at solving these economic (problems) that have demoralized us all. I toured every part of Nigeria to present this programme to you the electorate. I was questioned on it at public rallies and press conferences and I had the privilege of incorporating into it much of the feedback that I obtained from the people. Because you knew I would not only listen to you but deliver superb results from the programme, you voted for me in your millions and gave me an overwhelming majority over my opponent. To be precise, you gave me 58.4 per cent of the popular vote and a majority in 20 out of 30 states plus the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. Not only that, you also enabled me to fulfill the constitutional requirement that the winner should obtain one-third of the votes in two-thirds of the states. I am sure that when you cast an eye on the moribund state of Nigeria today, you ask yourselves: “What have we done to deserve this, when we have a president-elect who can lead a government that can change things for the better?

Our patience has come to an end. As of now, from this moment, a new Government of National Unity is in power throughout the length and breadth of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, led by me, Bashorun M.K.O. Abiola, as President and Commander-in-Chief. The National Assembly is hereby reconvened. All dismissed governors are reinstated. The State Assemblies are reconstituted, as are all local government councils. I urge them to adopt a bi-partisan approach to all the issues that come before them. At the national level, a bi-partisan approach will be our guiding principle. I call upon the usurper, General Sani Abacha, to announce his resignation forthwith, together with the rest of his illegal ruling council. We are prepared to enter into negotiations with them to work out the mechanics for a smooth transfer of power. I pledge that if they hand over quietly, they will be retired with all their entitlements, and their positions will be accorded all the respect due to them. For our objective is neither recrimination nor witch-hunting, but an enforcement of the will of the Nigerian people, as expressed in free elections conducted by the duly constituted authority of the time.

I hereby invoke the mandate bestowed upon me by my victory in the said election, to call on all members of the Armed Forces and the Police, the Civil and Public Services throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria, to obey only the Government of National Unity that is headed by me, your only elected President. My Government of National Unity is the only legitimate, constituted authority in the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as of now.” People of Nigeria, these are challenging times in the history of our continent, Africa, and we in Nigeria must not allow ourselves to be left behind. Our struggle is the same as that waged by the people of South Africa, which has been successfully concluded, with the inauguration of Mr. Nelson Mandela as the first African President of that country. Nelson Mandela fought to replace MINORITY rule with MAJORITY rule. We in Nigeria are also fighting to replace MINORITY rule, for we are ruled by only a tiny section of our armed forces. Like the South Africans, we want MAJORITY rule today, that is rule only by those chosen by all the people of Nigeria as a whole in free and fair elections. The only difference between South Africa and Nigeria is that those who imposed minority rule on the majority rule whether it is by black or white, remains minority rule, and must be booted out.

I call on you, heroic people of Nigeria, to emulate the actions of your brothers and sisters in South Africa and stand up as one person to throw away the yoke of minority rule for ever. The antics of every minority that oppresses the majority are always the same. They will try to intimidate you with threats of police action. But do not let us fear arrest. In South Africa, so many people were arrested, during the campaign against the Pass Laws, for instance, that the jails could not hold all of them. Today, apartheid is gone forever. So, let it be with Nigeria. Let us say goodbye forever to minority rule by the military. They talk of treason. But haven’t they heard of the Rivonia treason trial in South Africa? Did those treason trials halt the march of history? People of Nigeria, our time is now. You are the repository of power in the land. No one can give you power. It is yours. Take it! From this day, show to the world that anyone who takes the people of Nigeria for fools is deceiving himself and will have the people to answer to.

God bless you all.

Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Long live the Government of National Unity.

BIAFRA: The Untold Story of Nigeria’s Civil War 2

America’s Secret Files On Ojukwu (2)
Published on February 26, 2013 by pmnews

•Benjamin Adekunle. First head of the 3rd Marine Commando. He captured Bonny Island with “no damage to the oil installations”

Confidential US dispatches on the Nigerian Civil War yield a wounding portrait of Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, who was painted by those who knew him as a man that experienced rejection as a child, a megalomaniac, demagogue and one who once threatened to shoot his own father

In a broadcast to the German people on BayerischerRundfunkMuchen (Bavarian Broadcasting, Munich) on 11 September 1967, Klaus W. Stephan, the West African correspondent of the service for many years, said Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu had harboured an ambition to “alter the political constellation of power in Nigeria by means of the army one day”.

Ojukwu, said Stephan, was a supporter of the 15 January 1966 coup, the first in the country’s history. “He sympathised with the January 1966 plot makers, but was careful enough to avoid any overplayed attachment to them. Ojukwu told me later that it had been him who had requested General (Aguiyi) Ironsi to crush the coup and that he had stopped the General from being arrested.”

On 8 April 1967 in Enugu, while meeting with Suzanne Cronje, author of The World and Nigeria: The Diplomatic History of the Biafran War, 1967-1970, Ojukwu said: “On January 15, I was the one who advised Ironsi to stand as the head of the army, call for support and then organise the various units that would immediately support, so that the rebels, who were bound to be few and already committed, would suddenly find that the whole thing was phasing away.”

For this support, Ironsi rewarded Ojukwu with an appointment as governor, reckoned Stephan. “Obviously on the grounds of thankful feelings, the General (Ironsi) made him Military Governor of the Eastern provinces. I know Ojukwu as a man of more than average intelligence, extraordinary versatility, high eloquence and remarkable personal charm. But there are two characteristics in that man that are not realised by many people for a long time: his greed for power and his ability to charm and enchant the masses: a demagogue,” Stephan told the German people in the broadcast.

A similarly unflattering verdict on Ojukwu’s personality was delivered by Chief Richard Akinjide, the man who later became Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation.

A US document of 11 September 1969 quoted Akinjide as telling Mr. Strong, American consul in Ibadan, that “he (Ojukwu) suffers from Hitler-like megalomania”.

Akinjide explained to Strong that as a child, Ojukwu was rejected because his father strongly denied that he was solely responsible for the pregnancy that led to him, arguing that other mysterious force or forces may have been at work as well. His mother, claimed Akinjide, was a mistress his multimillionaire father, Sir Louis Ojukwu, acquired on one of his business trips to the North. Being a devout Catholic, Sir Louis refused to keep the boy in his house in Lagos, preferring to send him back to the North, where he was born and where his mother made a living as a trader. Ojukwu, like Nnamdi Azikiwe, was born in Zungeru, in the present day Niger State.

As the boy grew up, friends of the business mogul prevailed on him to recognise him as a son. According to Akinjide, Sir Loius agreed to do so, but the boy became something of an embarrassment to him, the reason for which he sent him to school in England, where he made it into Oxford University.

Akinjide, a member of the Nigerian National Democratic Party, NNDP and federal minister in the First Republic, said: “When Ojukwu returned to Nigeria, he tried to get a job with the Nigerian Tobacco Company, NTC, but was turned down.” Akinjide speculated on how Nigerian history might have panned out if NTC had given Ojukwu a job. “Instead, he drifted into the civil service and was given a post as Assistant District Officer at a bush post in the East. He was unhappy in this position,” claimed Akinjide, because he felt his talents undervalued.

Seeking a surer road to power and influence, he joined the army. And because of the top-tier education he had acquired in England, he was soon sent to the elite Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in the UK. Akinjide believed Ojukwu’s career and personality could be explained as an endless effort to gain the recognition he was denied early in life and to show his father and the society that rejected him how wrong they were. “Ojukwu was subconsciously seeking revenge for his early rejection. A man so driven is not subject to rational dissuasion from the course on which he has set himself,” he told Strong.

In another document dated 19 September1969 and titled Psyching Out Ojukwu, Strong narrated the story he and Colonel Adeyinka Adebayo, Military Governor of Western State, were told over lunch by Nnamdi Azikiwe. Azikiwe said the reason he was hated by Ojukwu was because “at one point, he (Azikiwe) had settled a dispute between Ojukwu and his father, which had already reached the proportion where Ojukwu had threatened to shoot his father.” Azikiwe told the private gathering that Ojukwu’s father was a very good friend of his and he prevailed on Ojukwu not to carry out his threat. Since then, Azikiwe said, Ojukwu had been very unfriendly towards him.

According to Chief N.U. Akpan, Ojukwu’s secretary before and during the war, the first orders Ojukwu gave when he resumed as military governor on 19 January 1966 were to “remove Azikiwe as the Chancellor of University of Nsukka, cut off all incomes accruing to him from his properties in Nsukka and order African Continental Bank to recover forthwith all overdrafts or loans outstanding against Azikiwe or any companies and business establishments with which he might have been associated”. Azikiwe told the American consul: “Perhaps, I offended him by preventing him from shooting his father.”

Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s assessment of the Biafran leader was not very dissimilar to Akinjide’s view of him as a man who sought to control everything around him. Reviewing his own efforts, undertaken at considerable personal risk to find an accommodation with Ojukwu before he declared the secession in May 1967, Awolowo told US Ambassador Elbert Matthews on 24 August 1967 in Lagos that he was convinced it was impossible to negotiate with Ojukwu, who was seeking to bring the whole of southern Nigeria under his control. He described Ojukwu as being committed to conquest, not secession. According to the Periodic Intelligence Note complied on the Nigerian situation by Thomas L. Hughes, Director of Intelligence and Research, submitted to US Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, the “chief target” of Ojukwu’s “seizure of Midwest” was the Yoruba. “Should this large tribe, numbering eight million or more, choose to join Ojukwu in a move to oust northerners from southern Nigeria, the rump Nigerian federation would come apart…The Yorubas, riven by past divisions and in no mood to pull Ojukwu’s chestnuts out of the fire (rescue Ojukwu), are undecided. They have tended to side with the Gowon government ever since their principal spokesman, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, agreed to join it last June. At the same time, the fear of northern domination remains strong…Awolowo rallied towards the Federation when Gowon, himself a northerner, showed he meant to break up the once monolithic North by decreeing several newstates there,” the US intelligence estimate stated.

On 12 September, Radio Biafra broadcast attacks on Awolowo and Anthony Enahoro for being in “the rebel government of Gowon”. The radio station referred to the recent arrest and detention of “Wole Soyinka, that patriotic Yoruba son” and the arrest and interrogation of Tai Solarin, the well-known Yoruba educator and writer. It thought it “significant” that these “Yoruba freedom fighters” should be threatened by a government of which “Chief Awolowo himself a Yoruba is a deputy head.” It reminded its listeners that “Awolowo and Enahoro have not only succumbed to northern pressure, but have also teamed up with Gowon to supress Solarin and Soyinka, whose ebullient enthusiasm for Yoruba freedom is threat to their security, but they have substituted private interest for commonwealth.” The radio station, confirming the findings of the US intelligence estimate, then recommended that “all Yorubas should waste no time in responding to call by one of their own sons, Brigadier Victor Banjo, commander of liberation forces. It is such young men as Brigadier Banjo, Wole Soyinka and Tai Solarin that will provide effective but selfless leadership that Yorubas badly need at this moment”.

On Biafrans sounding more Yoruba than the Yoruba themselves, the American ambassador noted in a confidential document of 15 September 1967: “In fact, the Eastern effort to tell Yorubas who their leader should be as well as not to follow Awolowo could cause opposite reaction among majority of people in Yorubaland.” It did.

With troops blazing with Biafran agenda already at West’s door at Ore, it became clearer to Awolowo that Ojukwu was not interested in secession, but actually in conquest. Awolowo proceeded to rally the Yoruba, who had hitherto been lukewarm to Gowon’s government with a powerful “I am absolutely and irrevocably committed to the side of Nigeria” press release on 12 August 1967. It was Awolowo’s first statement defending the Federal Government since the Civil War began on 6 July. Unlike many of Awolowo’s speeches and public statements, this one derived its forceful elocution from the use of adverbs and intensifiers. There were no “could,” “might” and other hedge-betting modal verbs. It was all “must,” “will” and other commanding auxiliary verbs.

“It is imperative that the unity of Nigeria must be preserved and the best judge of what to do now is the Federal government, which Yorubas must continue to support. The Yorubas have never set out to dominate others, but have always resisted, with all the energy in them, any attempt, however slight or disguised, by others to dominate them.…Indeed it is for these reasons that they must now be ready to resist any attempt by the rebel forces from the East and the Mid-West to violate their territory and subjugate them.…To these ends, therefore, all Yoruba people, particularly those in the Western and Lagos states, which now face the threats of invasion, must not only be as vigilant as ever, but must also lose no time and spare no efforts in giving every conceivable support to the Federal troops in defence of their homeland and of the fatherland,” Awolowo said.

He was not only rallying the Yoruba people, he was sending a powerful message to the Biafran High Command in Enugu. Victor Banjo, on 11 August, had sent a secret note to Governor Adebayo, the man who, according to the Biafran High Command, was slated for assassination by Banjo’s gun. In the letter, amongst other things, Banjo asked for “clarification of the Western position.” Adebayo promptly passed the letter to Awolowo in Lagos. S.G. Ikoku, an Awolowo loyalist in the East and Secretary-General of his Action Group, who was in exile in Ghana, said Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna told him when he escaped to Ghana, their plan in the January 1966 coup was to free Awolowo from Calabar prison and install him as Prime Minister. Awolowo was serving time for treason.

In reality, there was no army unit heading to Calabar to spring Awolowo from jail. Receiving the secret note, Awolowo publicly pledged his allegiance to the federation and called upon special adverbs, forceful intensifiers and commanding modal verbs to elicit and consolidate the patriotism of his fellow Westerners. The statement split the Action Group and the West down the middle. They had not forgotten the monstrosity of northern hegemony; they had not forgotten how the North colluded with Igbos to forment trouble in the West. They had not forgotten how the North-East coalition had excluded Yoruba from key posts and grassroots recruitment policies.

On 7 August 1967, the American consul in Ibadan, Strong, wrote: “An old line of supporters, including more mature intellectuals like Professor Hezekiah Oluwasanmi (Ife University Vice Chancellor) and S.O. Ighodaro (lecturer at the University of Lagos) support the statement. They said Awolowo has always been a minorities man and the Eastern takeover of Midwest and continued occupation of Eastern minority areas is an indication of continued Ibo desire to dominate southern Nigeria.”

On the other hand, Strong continued: “AG (Action Group) activists and the man in the street are convinced Awolowo made the statement under duress…They say Awolowo’s true position was indicated in the Leaders of Thought resolution in May, which said if any region seceded or forced out, the West would automatically become independent. The activists feel that Awolowo missed the opportunity to bring the present conflict to close by coming to Ibadan and make a Western Declaration of Independence speech supported by Victor Banjo and his National Liberation Army.”

Mr Strong provided another dimension. “Since ‘there are no secrets in Yorubaland,’ it is very likely Awolowo was aware of coup talk here and issued the statement to forestall Western coup attempt and try and keep the tenuous peace in the West,” he wrote. On the night of 11 August, Mr Smallwood, British Deputy High Commissioner, came to inform his American counterpart that “decision has been taken by a group of AG activists to support efforts to stage a Midwest type coup here in the West. Timing uncertain but could happen anytime from 12th. Planners supposedly do not include top members of AG hierarchy, but certain young activists who hope present AG leaders with fait accompli consistent with their own sympathies.”

Strong was sceptical of the success of the coup not because of Awolowo’s rallying call, but as he wrote: “In the West, several ingredients for successful coup are lacking. There is, for example, no real counterpart of Ibo officers here.” And that was the coup for which Victor Banjo, confident of its success, received Ojukwu’s bullets with his head raised high and his chest pumped out at the firing squad in Enugu. Odumosu, Secretary to the Western government, was to later tell the consul in a secret document of 11 October 1967 that Bola Ige and Bisi Onabanjo, both commissioners, were suspected to be involved in the plot to make Banjo replace Adebayo once he invaded the West. Strong also noted that Alhaji Busari Obisesan, the former NNDP speaker of the Western House of Assembly, had been heavily involved in the plot to assassinate the pro-AG and pro-Awolowo Governor Adebayo since November of the previous year. The NNDP was a traditional ally of the North in its will to dominate. The consul noted: “Their plans in the past, traditionally, involve use of Northern troops for NNDP ends.” That was the 4th Battalion. This North-based battalion was moved over to Ibadan in 1957, it was said, to quell the political restiveness engulfing the streets of Ibadan. Soon it became a repressive machine made available by Ahmadu Bello to Akintola for use against his opponents and critics. The self-loading rifle Akintola used on the night he was murdered by Captain Nwobosi and his men was given to him by the 4th Battalion commander, Lt-Col Abogo Largema.

He personally supervised Akintola’s target practice in his barracks. It was some members of this notorious battalion that Major TY Danjuma also used to capture and murder Ironsi and the Western Region Governor, Adekunle Fajuyi. As part of Gowon’s effort to secure the support of the West, he pulled the notorious battalion back from Ibadan, stationing it in Jebba. As Captain Hamza, Ahmadu Bello’s chief body guard said to an expatriate friend, who then informed the British Deputy High Commission who, in turn informed the American consulate, Busari Obisesan had gone to the North to ask Hassan Katsina for help on 10 August.

NNDP, he said, was “plotting their own measures to counter the AG threat of takeover” in the light of a pro-AG governor.

Meanwhile on the streets of Ibadan, there was massive anger. On the morning of 15 August 1967, Adebayo told the American consul that “the trouble in Ibadan in the last three days were caused by some Hausas, including some Hausa soldiers hunting out and beating up Ibos. They wanted to kill them. This started sporadically, but when the situation got worse yesterday. He decided firm action was necessary to bring it under control. He ordered soldiers back to barracks and later announced curfew.” The Western State Police Commissioner, Emmanuel Olufunwa addressed the Hausa community in Sabo and “warned them against engaging in any unruly acts.” The leader of the Hausa community replied and warned his fellow Hausas against doing anything (that would) damage their reputation.” It wasn’t clear whether he was being ironic or sincere because at 8:15pm that same day, Lt Colonel Olusegun Obasanjo, head of Ibadan Garrison Command, and his deputy, Major Olu Bajowa, were there with around 60-bayonet wilelding slodiers to seal off the Hausa quarters.

Why Ojukwu Killed Banjo, Ifeajuna and Others

In the most detailed revelation yet, Ojukwu said he killed Victor Banjo, Emmanuel Ifeajuna, Philip Alale, Sam I. Agbam because they wanted to remove him, remove Gowon and install Chief Obafemi Awolowo as the Prime Minister. In a secret document cabled to the Defence Intelligence Agency in Washington, the US military and defence attachés in the Nigeria reported that based on available information at the time (3 August 1967), “in the long run Njoku will unseat Ojukwu.”

•Benjamin Adekunle. First head of the 3rd Marine Commando. He captured Bonny Island with “no damage to the oil installations”

In a chat with the American consul, Bob Barnard, in Enugu three days after the executions, Ojukwu said: “The plotters intended to take Brigadier Hillary Njoku, the head of Biafran Army, into custody and bring him to the State House under heavy armed guard, ostensibly to demand of him that Njoku be relieved of the command on the grounds of incompetence.

Once inside the State House, Njoku’s guards would be used against him. Ifeajuna would then declare himself acting Governor and offer ceasefire on Gowon’s terms. Banjo would go to the West and replace Brigadier Yinka Adebayo, the military governor of Western Region. Next, Gowon would be removed and Awolowo declared Prime Minister of Reunited Federation.”

Ojukwu continued: “Victor Banjo, Ifeajuna and others kept in touch with co-conspirators in Lagos via British Deputy High Commission’s facilities in Benin.”

When the American consul asked Ojukwu for evidence, Ojukwu replied: “Banjo is a very meticulous man, who kept records and notes of everything he did. The mistake of the plotters was they talked too much, their moves too conspicuous and they made notes which came into my hands. As a result, the conspirators came under surveillance from the early stages of the plot’s existence. Their plans then became known and confirmed by subsequent events.”

In another document, Major (Dr.) Okonkwo, whom Ojukwu appointed as military administrator of the Midwest, said he and Ojukwu participated in court-martialling Banjo in Enugu on 22 September 1967 and Banjo “freely admitted in his testimony that a group of Yorubas on both sides of the battle were plotting together to take over Lagos and Enugu governments and unite Nigeria under Chief Awolowo. Gowon, Ojukwu and Okonkwo were to be eliminated. Gowon was to have been killed by Yoruba officers in the Federal Army.” He added that when arrested on the night of 19 September, Banjo offered no resistance because he said then it was too late to stop the affair and the plot was already in motion. His role, Banjo said, was already accomplished. “As far as is known, Banjo died without revealing the names of his collaborators in Lagos,” Okonkwo said.

In another confidential document cabled to Washington on 12 October, 1967 it was revealed that Ojukwu who had always been suspicious of Major Kaduna Nzeogwu, sent him to his death at Nsukka. According to Lieutenant Colonel Abba Kyari, military governor of North Central State, “there is no question that Major Nzeogwu, Ibo leader of 1966 coup in Kaduna, had been a nationalist, not a tribalist, who was acting for the good of all Nigeria.” He described Nzeogwu as “a victim of Ojukwu”, explaining that Nzeogwu, having been falsely informed that Nsukka was in Biafran hands, boldly entered Ubolo-Eke, near Nsukka at night and was killed. Nzeogwu’s corpse was transferred to the North and given full military burial, but not before northern soldiers had plucked out his eyes so that he “would never see the North again”.

Ojukwu, who told the American diplomat that the coup against him “involved many who participated in the January 15, 1966 plot” and that aside the four he had executed three days before, he would not execute others yet because “ he did not wish to give the impression he was conducting blood purge.” Ojukwu later made a radio broadcast that confirmed the existence of mutineers and blamed the loss of Midwest, Nsukka, Enugu, Onitsha on them. He said they called for the withdrawal of Biafran troops from these cities and that they were even shelling Onitsha with Biafran artillery to sow panic long before the arrival of federal forces.

Ojukwu did not execute Njoku. He only demoted him and replaced him with Colonel Alexander Madiebo. The secret US document called Njoku “the best Enugu has (and one of the very best Nigeria has produced). The UK defence advisor, who had known Madiebo as subordinate officer First Recce Squadron for several years, said he is “perfectly charming socially, but quite worthless professionally. He is weak, ineffective commander and consistently had worst unit recce squadron.” To affirm what he was saying, he showed the US defence attaché Madiebo’s file at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. Madiebo’s records were abysmal. The US attaché noted also that Madiebo graduated as an associate field artillery officer at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in 1964.

In another document, it was disclosed that the Head of State, Major-General Aguyi-Ironsi, was scheduled to have been assassinated on the northern leg of his national tour after the January 1966 coup. Some northern officers were already plotting to kill the head of state on 19 July 1966, but “Colonel Hassan Katsina dampened their enthusiasm, asserting nothing should happen to Ironsi while in the North. Ironsi was scheduled to visit Kano, but Colonel Katsina persuaded him to cancel that portion of his trip because Lt. Colonel Muhammed Shuwa, Commander of the 5th Battalion, had made arrangements for Ironsi’s assassination in Kano.”

Katsina told northern officers that if anything should happen to Major General Ironsi, it should happen in the South. Ironsi was killed in Ibadan 10 days later by northern officers led by T.Y. Danjuma.

The Priest, Publicist and Arms Dealer

How lean finances unhinged Ojukwu and the Biafran dream

The Irish missionary priest of the Holy Ghost Fathers, Father Kevin Doheny, according to the US documents, was Ojukwu’s intelligence director. He was also said to be in charge of all radio communications in Biafra. According to the secret documents, Doheny, a cousin of Senator Mansfield, had ties to Senator Goodell and Congressman Lowenstein, who visited Biafra, and through his older brother, Father Mike Doheny, had ties to Cardinal Cushing, the Archbishop of Boston and member of National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) and to US Speaker McCormack who passed the landmark 1964 American Civil Rights Legislation.

•Professor Ade Ajayi, V.C University of Ibadan. He offered to repatriate his Igbo staff with three months’ salary in advance

Father Doheny was ordained a priest on 5 July, 1953, in Dublin and arrived in Owerri Diocese in November 1954. During the war, Doheny was successful in mobilising worldwide Catholic relief support for Biafran children and women. Doheny, who travelled from Dublin to Geneva to hold talks with Clarence Clyde Ferguson Jr., the US Special Coordinator on Relief to Victims of the Nigerian Civil War in June 1969, told the American head of mission there that the charge of genocide against the federal troops was “highly exaggerated”, but said it as “a major factor in keeping the Biafrans fighting”.

Robert Goldstein, Biafra’s Public Relations guru, said it was necessary for the world to see the deaths and the starvation of tens of thousands refugees in Biafra. He helped organise regular international press trips to Biafra. But unlike Doheny, revealed the documents, he was motivated purely by money.

In a 13 February 1968 conversation he had with Robert Smith, Country Officer for Nigeria at the US State Department in Washington, Goldstein said Mathew Mbu, Biafran Commissioner for External Affairs, arranged for him a Public Relations contract worth “one million pounds in negotiable bonds” with the Biafran government. He presented the two certificates for the diplomat to see. One was for £200,000, payable in 1968, and another for £800,000, payable in 1973. While both bore a stamped signature of a Nigerian Central Bank official, they seemed payable to the “Ministry of Finance of Eastern Nigeria,” Smith noted. Goldstein said he was told he could borrow money against the certificates pending the time they matured. In other words, the Biafrans had convinced Goldstein he was holding gold in his hands.

Smith then told Goldstein that Biafra was in serious financial difficulties and he was not sure Biafra would be still be in existence by the time those certificates would mature. The certificates, Smith added, were of doubtful value and authenticity, given the names and offices of those who signed and stamped them. Goldstein replied that they were not fake and that as a matter of fact, he was going to the World Bank later in the day to see how the bonds could be added to Biafra or Nigeria’s external debt portfolio when he eventually had to cash them.

It was not only Goldstein who was paid for his services to Biafra in bonds. According to the US cable of 16 November 1967, written by Ambassador Elbert Matthews in Lagos, Ojukwu went on Radio Biafra to denounce the Federal Government for seeking through its High Commissioner in London “the services of four notorious mercenaries, who were connected with recent activities in Congo”. He listed them as “Mike Hoare, otherwise known as Mad Major; Commandant John Peterson, Major Capister Wicks and Major Bob Desnard.” In October, the document continued, Ojukwu had met these men at the Port Harcourt airport. They had turned his offer down as too little. He then went on radio to reveal and denounce them so that they would be rendered unbuyable by the Federal Government. Then he thought up the bonds and called them up.

According to the secret cable sent from American embassy in Gabon on 12 November 1968, “Bob Denard, a French mercenary, arrived in Biafra in December 1967 with 100 mercenaries under contract with Biafra. They fought as a single unit during the defence of Onitsha. Rolf Steiner, Taffy Williams and an unnamed Italian then became military advisors to Ojukwu. At the end of April 1968, Steiner and the Italian were each given command of a battalion of Biafran commandos with 400 to 500 men per battalion. The Italian was killed during the defence of Port Harcourt. In April, Taffy Williams went to the UK to recruit two additional mercenaries: John Erasmus and Alex, who were veterans of the 6th Commando in the Katanga war in Congo. Williams, Erasmus and Alex arrived in Biafra at the end of June 1968. There was another Irish mercenary during March to August, named Paddy, who was an engineer with 22 years experience in Africa. He was in charge of maintaining equipment.”

Another French mercenary and a Congo veteran named Armond as well as another Frenchman, Leroy, arrived at the end of August to fight for Biafra based on the bonds.

It was Leroy who proposed to Ojukwu to set up small guerrilla units to arrange air drops from Libreville, Gabon, since Uli Airstrip could not support the bigger transport plane proposed for more quantitative deliveries of arms and ammunition. Steiner, who was now in command of the 4th Commando Brigade, was put in charge of the defence of Aba. In early June, when the Federal Government announced “Operation Quick Kill” to finish off the war swiftly, Steiner’s brigade consisted of about 8000 men. Of these, only 1,500 were armed. Why?

The American, Hank A. Wharton, was the main arms dealer remaining for Biafra after Christian von Oppenheim, the Spain-based arms dealer of German origin, was shot down on 8 October 1968, when he flew to bomb Lagos. The first bomb, a 50-pound ordnance, dropped on the southwest side of State House in Marina did not explode. The second hit the Barclays Bank building (40 Marina, Lagos) and extensive damage was done to the Canadian Chancery in that same building. The third bomb was dropped in the vicinity of Niger House at the intersection between Broad Street and Marina. According to US defence attaché’s report, the plane then flew to Apapa dropping a bottled gas bomb on Harbour Road, missing the large fuel tanks in the area which were its primary targets. It was when the plane circled to return to Lagos Island that anti-aircraft batteries from the Naval Dockyard, Apapa, were launched at it. Still hurtling in the air as it passed over Ikoyi, the plane was hit by artillery from Dodan Barracks. Oppenheim and his three crew members hit the ground in southwest Ikoyi as a ball of fire. That left Wharton as Biafra’s sole arms dealer.

Wharton had been involved in arms supply to Biafra since October 1966, when Ojukwu told a select few he had decided on secession. In September 1968, Wharton said he was tired of the promise of the Biafran bonds and flew to see Ojukwu for his $1million dollars cash payment. Instead, Ojukwu accused Wharton of working for his enemies. He charged that from June to August 1968, when the Federal Government announced the much publicised “quick-kill” offensive to defeat the Biafra, Wharton’s deliveries suddenly became irregular and so the mercenaries and their battalions could not have enough supplies of arms and ammunition.

Ojukwu also described as sabotage the incident during which Wharton’s plane emptied its Biafra-bound cargo into the Atlantic Ocean. In his diary entry on that day Ojukwu wrote: “August 13 [1968]: The Hank Wharton Plot, hatched by British government and American CIA to sabotage Biafra and help Nigeria to carry through her ‘final thrust’ into Biafran heartland. Cargoes of arms and ammunition bought by Biafra are dumped into the sea during airflight. Tons of new Biafran currency are dumped into the sea, to create artificial scarcity in the Republic.”

Wharton vigorously denied that was the case. He told Ojukwu that his plane developed engine problems and the pilot had to quickly eject its cargo into the sea to avoid crash. He argued further if he had wanted to double-cross Ojukwu, he would not have lifted the cargo at all from Sao Tome. Ojukwu was not convinced. He had no money to pay Wharton.

The European mercenaries too started having a rethink; they were convinced that there was no money and that the bonds were a fraud. Peter Lynch, the Australian correspondent working for United Press International in Biafra, told the American Ambassador in Lagos on his way back that Pierre Laures, the Chief French Procurement Officer, had disappeared. “All the French mercenaries of the Faulques Group had left Biafra as they found the going too tough and had not being paid.”

Goldstein, the PR guru, called up Robert Smith, American diplomat in Washington. He said because of the discussions they had about the validity of Biafran bonds, he too had started to scale down his commitment to Biafra.

On 13 August 1968, Goldstein addressed a press conference in Washington, where he announced that he was done with Biafra and Ojukwu. In his resignation letter, he accused Ojukwu of using Biafra’s starving children to negotiate favourable concessions for himself because of the OAU summit coming up and that Ojukwu never cared about those starving children. Yet, Goldstein wrote: “Starvation was the most agonising death that can befall any living creature.” He seemed to have claimed the moral high ground.

However, The Milwaukee Journal of 14 August 1968 told a different story. The paper reported that Goldstein was given $35,000 down payment in cash for his resignation by the Federal Government in place of the worthless $1miilion Biafran bonds he was carrying about. Even his resignation letter was worded for him. According to a confidential State Department document cabled to the US Embassy in Lagos on 17 July, Goldstein met with Iyalla, Nigeria’s Ambassador to US, on 16 July 1968 and offered to reverse all the PR successes he had done for Biafra. He suggested that he would help organise a world press conference at which Gowon would passionately plead with Ojukwu to allow his people to come out of the bush and be fed. This, Goldstein argued, would switch the perception of Gowon as the starver of children they had created in the eyes of the world back to Ojukwu and the Biafran government. Goldstein also suggested that Nigerian planes should drop food and leaflets pointing to relief centres on starving Biafran territories, but this should only be done when foreign reporters were there. The cable concluded: “The fact is that Goldstein has not received payment from the Biafrans is obviously the reason for the switch, but he didn’t reveal (to us) the price he is quoting to the Federal Government. He continues to negotiate with Iyalla and awaiting decision from Lagos.”

A month later, the cable of 14 August 1968 opened with: “The (State) Department has noted with interest the Federal Government’s leaflets drop in rebel-held areas.” A sum of $35,000 had changed hands. Wharton, Biafra’s sole arms dealer, also admitted in an interview with Alexander Mitchell of Sunday Times of 27 October 1968 that he too had been “approached by British agents and offered bribes to switch allegiances”. He emptied his cargo in the sea to convince his new paymasters he meant business. The British Foreign Office promptly denied it. Wharton, Peter Lynch observed, had a row with Goldstein in Port Harcourt back in February 1968 over Biafrans’ failure to produce money owed him.

Goldstein persuaded him he would get paid one way or the other. Wharton later said he received “an anonymous call” from Frankfurt in Germany, offering him $100, 000 to switch sides. As Alexander Mitchell of Sunday Times noted, Wharton secretly visited London twice in two weeks.

During their talk in Geneva, Father Doheny told Clarence Ferguson that Biafrans believe the key to a ceasefire was London. “Despite British support for the federal side, there is an innate respect in Biafra for Britain. He feels that a British fact-finding mission to Biafra would be well received,” Doheny said. Ferguson carefully noted what the priest said and asked if Biafrans “have a price” other than “the stated price” it might be “useful if they sent the message in clear terms by known Biafran official.” Ferguson then suggested Pius Okigbo, the Commissioner for Economic Affairs and Sir Louis Mbanefo, the Chief Justice.

Father Kevin Doheny stayed with the Biafrans till after the war when he was arrested. He was tried on 27 January 1970, found guilty of “giving military help to the rebel regime” and sentenced to six months imprisonment. He was expelled from Nigeria on 3 February, 1970.

Inside The Midwest

In Lagos, the atmosphere of deep mistrust of Igbos left behind and those who recently made their way back from Biafra thickened. It had come to light that some of the Igbo minority of the Midwest were used to sweep away Ejoor and put an Okonkwo in power. It would happen in Lagos, they reckoned. Banjo’s troops were reported to be in Ore heading for Lagos. The atmosphere was dense with suspicions. Rubbles of the damaged Inland Revenue office, the British Library, the telephone exchange and cinema house near Rowe Park inYaba from the explosions of bombs conveyed in a petrol tanker on 19 July 1967 were there. Four people died and 56 were injured.

•Philip Asiodu, a midwest Igbo, joined in reconciling the Midwest

On the night of 9 August, another Biafran plane flew in from the East and dropped bombs on non-military area.‘Warning bombs,’ Ojukwu called them in a lengthy midnight address on Radio Biafra on 10 August 1967. The plane also dropped leaflets in Ikeja and Palmgrove areas “calling on people to overthrow Gowon’s government and the Hausa imperialists.” The American ambassador noted that the leaflets were similar to the ones being distributed by Biafran soldiers to gain support in the Midwest. On 16 August 1967, another Biafran plane flew in and dropped two bombs on Apapa. The more the bombs exploded, the more Igbos resident in Lagos were put in trouble.

Ambassador Mathews cabled Washington: “We have a number of reports that Ibos are being taken from their homes and offices, in many cases not, repeat, not gently. We have no info on what is being done with those detained.” In an earlier document, Mathews wrote: “Soldiers in lorries mounted house-to-house searches along Ikorodu Road in densely populated quarters of Lagos and took Ibos from their houses to the army barracks.”

Governor Mobolaji Johnson went on radio to address Lagosians in a way sharply different from the conciliatory tone he adopted the previous month when Biafran explosions began to rock Lagos. “Ibos openly rejoiced at the events in the Midwest and that some openly boast Ojukwu will soon take over Lagos or bomb Lagos to ashes. All these acts of treachery, sabotage and uncharitable-ness are an abuse of kindness and hospitality of people of Lagos State,” Johnson said.

According to official police estimates, around 50,000 Igbo lived in Lagos; around 32,000 were believed to live in Ikeja, where the airport and army base are located. As of August 1967, only 17, 000 were left. In Ibadan, an estimated 6000 remained.

“Recent conversations with AlhajiAdegbenro (Awolowo’s lieutenant), Dele Ige (Bola Ige’s younger brother) and other prominent Yorubas have indicated great fear on their part that Ibos were planning to sabotage federal institutions located in Ibadan, in particular University of Ibadan and University College Hospital,” Mr Strong wrote in a confidential cable.

In his probe of the prevalent fear, Strong questioned E.M. Ajala, the local head of Nigerian Tobacco Company, whose employees had been implicated in the discovery of ten cases of gelignite near University of Ibadan. According to Ajala, “the leader of the group was an Ibo graduate of University of Nigeria and the purpose was to teach the Yorubas a lesson, having displaced their countrymen after the mass exodus of Ibo doctors and professors from both institutions since last October (1966).”

The American diplomat then noted that University of Ibadan and the University College Hospital were being watched and that “Premier Hotel now searches all entering guests”.

Though later rescinded by Awolowo when he heard of it overnight on 16 August 1967, the British Area Manager of Electricity Corporation of Nigeria (ECN) received an executive order from Governor Adebayo that he had 48 hours to round up ‘his Igbos’ and send them to the designated collection points. All Igbo in Ibadan were to be rounded up and sent to designated collection points as a matter of state policy. The collection point for ECN Igbo was, ironically, Liberty Stadium. Olunloyo College of Education and Government College were the collection points for the estimated 400 Igbos of UCH and 900 Igbos of UI. All 6,000 to be rounded up would then be transported by train to Apapa for onward movement back to the East. According to the American consul, Professor J.F Ade-Ajayi, acting Vice-Chancellor of University of Ibadan after Professor Kenneth Dike fled, had gathered his remaining Igbo staff and offered to repatriate them with three months’ salaries paid in advance.

At two o’ clock that sameday, Governor Adebayo met with the Leaders of Thought at the Parliament Buildings, Ibadan, to discuss Victor Banjo and the developments in the Midwest. Adebayo told the gathering: “He stands firmly by oath to join with colleagues in the federal government to do everything in our power… to work for reconciliation amongst various peoples of the federation.” Yet, on that same day, he signed a secret executive order for Igbos to be rounded up and deported from Ibadan.

At the Kano airport, soldiers seized an Igbo stewardess from a plane on which she flew in from London. She was never heard of again. Radio Kaduna informed its listeners that all branches of the African Continental Bank, ACB, had been closed and were being searched by mobile police after “intelligence reports” revealed “all ACB branches” were harbouring explosives. ACB, the radio informed its listeners, was owned by “the former Eastern Nigerian Government and the banned Ibo Union.”

At 9:25 p.m on 10 August 1967, NNS Lokoja (Nigeria’s only landing craft), left Lagos again with supplies to reinforce the activities of Adekunle’s 3rd Marine Commandoes, 3MCDS. Two weeks before, she had taken two battalions – the first instalment of the 35,000 strong Division to Bonny. The Biafran Navy comprised speedboats, tug boats and barges commandeered from the oil companies as well as canoes and rafts of fishermen. NNS Ibadan, a Second World War British Navy Seaward Defence Boat with a 40/60mm Bofors anti-aircraft forehead that could hardly fire three rounds without jamming was the command ship of this Navy. She was proudly rechristened BNS Biafra.

Commander Winifred Anuku, head of the Biafran Navy, had mapped out a plan to arm an old dilapidated dredging ship with hidden artillery and several companies in its well and deck fittings. Seeing it was old and non-military, one of the NNS enforcing the blockade would be confident to approach her and interrogate her, they reckoned. Then they would quickly open fire on the upper deck of the Nigerian ship, overpower her and take her to their naval dockyard in Port Harcourt as the new Biafran sea jewel. Three days on the sea, no NNS approached. Lt Cdr P.J. Odu, commander of the planned piracy, reported back to Anuku: “No enemy ship sighted 20 miles offshore.”

He then dismissed the naval blockade as “propaganda to convince friendly countries from sending shipments of arms.” When James Parker, the UK Deputy High Commissioner in Enugu, and Bob Barnard, his American counterpart, met Ojukwu and asked him about the rumoured invasion from the sea, Ojukwu simply laughed. “He laughed at the thought that the Nigerian Navy could enforce a blockade of Biafran ports or mount amphibious operation on Biafran coasts with its winding creeks and primordial mangrove swamp running twenty miles inland. He said he doesn’t know where the Nigerian naval vessels go when they depart Lagos, but they are not, repeat, not patrolling off the coast of Biafra,” Barnard wrote.”

Unknown to the Biafrans, NNS Penelope, the command ship of the Nigerian Navy had been summoned with all her sisters, including the five taking turns to enforce the blockade to the Naval Dockyard in Apapa. By 1800hrs on 18 July 1967, they were all there. Also assembled were three merchant vessels from the Nigerian National Shipping Line: King Jaja, Oranyan, Bode Thomas and later Oduduwa and Warigi from Farrell Lines. They were there to rehearse a joint Army and Navy amphibious operation, which was later variously described as a “masterpiece in the history of warfare in Africa, “the first of its kind by any 3rd world country,” “the African version of Omaha Beach landings that turned the tide of the Second World War”.

By the 25 July, the invasion to stamp Federal boots on the Niger Delta and close in on Biafra from the south was launched. The three Seaward Defence Boats, SDBs: NNS Ogoja, Benin and Enugu proceeded into Bonny River channel, while NNS Nigeria, a frigate, stood on the high seas guarding NNS Lokoja with its human cargo. Because of her longer range four-inch battery, Nigeria was still able to provide support for the operational objectives of the three SDBs ahead. NNS Ogoja, the largest of the SDB spotted BNS Biafra heading downstream. She quickly steered away from the convoy to engage her. Once Biafra came within her range, Ogoja fired shots in rapid succession. Biafra replied feebly and its Bofors guns kept on jamming after three shots. Akin Aduwo, who was commanding Ogoja, and P.J.Odu, commander of Biafra, were colleagues and very good friends for years. But the war had made them to reach a point where one must destroy the other for the greater glory of his country.

While the engineers were fixing this jam, Biafra was trying to quickly manoeuvre round in a tight circle so that it won’t be in a broadsides range with Ogoja, hence becoming a turkey shoot. But she got stuck in the shallow end of the river. Aduwo depressed his guns, fired low at the stern to jam the engines and propellers. That ensured Biafra was going nowhere again. His friend and his crew quickly deserted the ship and escaped into the swamps. The tow tug boat, Abdul Maliki, later came to tow BNS Biafra back to Naval Dockyard in Lagos, where it was rechristened NNS Ibadan. Ogoja returned to join Benin and Enugu never realising that the fight between friends, the desertion of Biafra and its rechristening in Lagos would be the metaphor for the 30-month civil war.

The heavy fire from Enugu, Benin and Ogoja so thoroughly subdued the Biafran defensive positions on Bonny Island that resistance to NNS Lokoja’s troop landings were too scattered to make an impact. As a result, Federal SDBs did not have to recourse to indiscriminate shelling to subdue the island, which may have affected the oil installations and refinery jetties. US Defence Attaché’s noted in his secret report of 27 July 1967 that Gowon, was “overjoyed” when Adekunle reported that Bonny had been taken with “no damage to the oil installations.” All the 16 storage tanks with their 3.9 million litres of crude oil were intact. Quickly, they consolidated their positions on both sides of the river channel and by mid-morning 5 August, Dawes Island, which controls river channels leading to Okrika were in Adekunle’s hands.

On 10 August, Adekunle received a report from Supreme Headquarters that a whole Biafran Brigade had crossed the Niger Bridge and had split in Agbor. Some battalions were heading northwards towards Auchi and Aghenebode, some were heading to Benin and more pertinently to him, some were heading to Warri and Sapele. The 3MCDs made immediate plans to respond to this Biafran surprise. First, Adekunle knew that the invasion may be a tactical objective to recapture Bonny. Biafran Navy Headquarters in Port Harcourt could not feel safe knowing that a Nigerian brigade was stationed 35km away at Bonny.

What Adekunle did was to quickly redeploy the 7th and 32ndbattalions to the Forcados and Escravos creeks, 166 nautical miles away, to contain any advance of Biafran troops to the creeks. The 8th battalion proceeded to hold a defensive alignment with Port Harcourt. Major Abubakar’s 9th Battalion left to hold Bonny Island and perform rear operations. The NNS that were bringing in supplies, equipment and personnel were re-routed166 nautical miles back to Forcados and Escravos. The Nigerian national line cargo vessel, Oranyan which, on 8 August, had departed from Lagos and arrived in Bonny with supplies, equipment and some personnel, was ordered to unload at the village of Sobolo-Obotobo which is northwest of Forcados. At 6:30a.m on the 11 August, NNS Enugu left Bonny River and was on recce in Escravos River in case there were militarised speedboats, tugs or barges lurking somewhere. There was none.At 9am, NNS Lokoja disgorged two additional rifle companies at Escravos and quickly established defensive positions there. On the 13 August, MV Bode Thomas added more supplies, equipment and personnel reinforcements. The build-up continued.

To the annoyance of Adekunle, who was arguably the most successful war commander in Nigeria’s military history, a new Division was created and called 2nd Division. It was headed by Lt Colonel Murtala Muhammed. Adekunle’s formation, despite the success of his mission so far, was not upgraded to divisional strength. With the addition of 31st and 33rd Battalion, he was upgraded to 3rd Marine Commando Division. Muhammed’s comprised three brigades 4th, 5th, 6th. They were commanded by Lt Colonels Godwin Ally, Francis Aisida and AlaniAkinrinade. Their mission imperative was to rout the Biafran forces from the Midwest by invading from the West, Northwest and North.

Ally’s 4th Brigade (which was to be later commanded by Major Ibrahim Taiwo of the 10th Battalion because a sniper fire hit Ally in the chest in Asaba and almost killed him) was at the Ore, Ofosu, Okitipupa sector, holding a defensive alignment against Banjo’s advance. Akinrinade’s 6th Brigade was tasked with Owo-Akure sector and Aisida’s 5th was the command brigade in Okene with Auchi and Ubiaja being their strategic objectives. Benin, Agbor and Asaba were their operational objectives.

All the brigade commanders were waiting for a sign. In his report of 24 August 1967, Standish Brooks, US Defence Attaché wrote: “Murtala Muhammad does not want to fight a piecemeal campaign without a series of logical and successive objectives being assigned and without reasonable capabilities to achieve the objectives at hand.” Bisalla, the Chief of Staff (Army), said of Murtala: “I know him. When he starts, he wants to go all the way to the River [Niger] before he even thinks of stopping.” But he needed the sign first and his brigade commanders were waiting too.

Besides the military communication units, the army headquarters in Lagos, at times, used the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation to transmit information to all the divisional headquarters and brigade commanders. It could be done during radio programmes, news bulletins or radio jingles. The public heard these secret codes, but thought they were part of the show. But on the 20 September 1967, at 8a.m, NBC broadcast the sign the field commanders had been waiting for. “The frogs are swimming; the frogs are swimming.” The CIA’s Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) monitored and recorded key signals, statements and speeches about the war from every radio station in Nigeria, Biafra and neighbouring countries. And they shared them with American Diplomatic/Consular units, CICSTRIKE (Commander In Chief STRIKE – Swift Tactical Response In Every Known Environment), ACSI (Assistant Chief of Staff, Intelligence), CINCMEAFSA (Commander in Chief Middle East/South Asia and Africa South of the Sahara) and DIA (Defence Intelligence Agency).

Brooks, the attaché posted to Nigeria, analysed The frogs are swimming intelligence thus: “This informed the 2nd Division and the guerrilla bands operating in various areas of the Midwest that elements of Adekunle’s 3rd Division are already ashore from the Escravos/Forcados creeks.” Hastily marshalled Midwestern militias had been dealing fires to the Biafran occupiers. It was reported that Urhobo, Ijaw and Itsekiri swimmers were diving underwater and organising surprise attacks on Biafran units and formations along the Ethiope River. In Benin too, they reminded themselves they were the city of Ovonramwen Nogbaisi and the Biafran forces were the latest version of the British expedition forces of the 19th century. Rapidly, young men were organising themselves into deadly underground resistance groups. Old people, who could not fight, were contributing money and their dane guns; young women, like Moremi, were reported to be offering their bodies to get close to these Biafran forces and poison their food.

The frogs are swimming. Adekunle and his 3MCDOs left their Escravos base at 3a.m and were blazing towards their objectives on speedboats. The boats held a platoon of 26 troops and the ones that carried a Land Rover each could only take 12 soldiers. With NNS Enugu providing the operational support, seven hours later, they had secured the ports of Koko and Sapele. They forked into two columns. One headed towards Warri and by 22 September, it had captured the Warri Port and the ECN power station in Ughelli. The frogs are swimming. The other column headed northeast to Agbor on Sapele/Agbor Road. A northern column from the 6th Brigade of the 2nd Division was also heading south east to Agbor via Ehor-Agbor Road.

The next day, Agbor fell. To keep up the momentum, Lagos sent in 5,000 German G3 7.62 rifles to be issued to marine commandos.The riverine operation of the 3MCDs was billed to be defining in its ruthless efficiency because the federal government wanted to use it to send a message to the oil companies suspending royalty payments who their boss was between Nigeria and Biafra. The American secret cable of 3 July stated that Shell-BP was convinced that “Biafra was here to stay and that Ojukwu would be kind to the company.”

Within seven days, Ore, Benin, Agbor, Asaba, Kwale, Warri and Sapele fell. Ojukwu fled. The 3MCDs were asked to pull back from Agbor and Kwale and the Ethiope River was made into the inter-divisional boundary with the 2nd Division. On 29 September at 1550hrs, CIA’s Foreign Broadcast Information Service recorded Adekunle on Benin Radio warning Midwesterners: “not to take advantage of the presence of federal troops to engage in looting, murder, and other criminalities.” Addressing the people of Warri, western Itshekiri and Agbor, he warned against using soldiers to achieve “personal vendettas.” Adekunle reminded his listeners that “he has powers to impose martial law in coastal areas, but does not wish to do so.”

He then signed himself off as General Officer Commanding Nigerian Coastal Sector. It was not only Adekunle, made colonel after the successful Bonny Island landing, that promoted himself without the approval of Lagos. On 21 September, Murtala Mohammed went on the same Benin Radio, as monitored by the CIA, to “officially confirm the complete liberation of the Midwestern state except Agbor and Asaba” as the GOC of the 2nd Division when he was only a lieutenant colonel. He then announced: “On behalf of the head of the Federal Military Government,” the appointment of “Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Ogbemudia as the temporary administrator.”

Gowon and the Federal Executive Council were reported to have been “shocked” but they “regularised the appointment since Ogbemudia was the most appropriate for the job.” Another document titled Military Campaign in the Midwest stated: “Ogbemudia’s father is of mixed Benin-Ika extraction, as his home village near Agbor is inhabited by a tribally mixed people. Ogbemudia’s mother is ‘pure Ibo’ from the East.”

Later in the evening, Ogbemudia addressed the people. The CIA was listening, too. He asked all workers to resume work in the morning of 22 September and nullified all the appointments and promotions made by the Biafran regime. He asked the people not to “pay back Ibos in their own coin” and announced the the lifting of the curfew imposed by the Biafran regime. However, he advised people to stay indoors after 10:00pm “to allow the federal troops to complete the operation of mopping few relining stragglers.” But why after 10pm in the night?

On Wednesday 20 September 1967, federal troops opened fire on a Catholic Convent in Benin City. There was only one nun there and she managed to escape with a few injuries. The soldiers subsequently said they were told by the local people that some Igbos were hiding behind the convent, hence their decision to shoot at anything that moved. While Bishop Patrick Kelly was giving spiritual comfort to one Igbo civilian, who was badly wounded, some soldiers approached him, enquired whether he was yet dead. When the Bishop said he was still alive, they promptly killed him. The bishop wrote a report to the Irish ambassador, who passed it to Gowon and the American ambassador.

The cold-blooded massacres in Midwest were not monopolised by the federal troops only. A confidential report of 15 October 1967 recorded that “as the Biafrans retreated from Benin to Agbor, they killed all the men, women and children they could find who were not Igbos. The town of Abudu, one of the larger places between Agbor and Benin lost virtually of its population with the exception of a small proportion that fled into the bush”. Anthony Charles Stephens, an expatriate teacher from Britain, was killed when he refused to surrender his car to the retreating Biafran forces. Father Coleman, an Irish priest, said before Biafran troops left Agbor “without a fight”, they killed off most of “non-Ibo men, women and children.”

In general, the American confidential report stated, non-Igbo Midwesterners were very anti-Biafran throughout the occupation. For weeks, many of them hid northerners in their homes from the Biafran troops who set out to kill them. The document continued: “Nearly all rejoiced when federal troops came in. The only town that was an exception was Ehor where, even after the federal troops arrived, the local populace was protecting the Igbo soldiers and tried to confuse the federal troops.” However in Benin, there was no intention to confuse. “The civilians were busy pointing out the Ibos,” the document stated. The federal troops set up “two big camps to serve as safe havens in a school for the Ibos. The women and children were taken there,” the report said. But the men? Sam Idah, Director of the Benin Cemetery on Ifon Road, told the American diplomats on 21 September 1967 that 24 hours after the federal troops arrived, 1,258 bodies had been buried there. “Trucks from the Ministry of Works and Transport and from Benin Development Council were used to haul the corpses to the open pits,” he said. Reverend Rooney, a Catholic Missionary with Benin Public Service, said: “A total of 989 civilians had been killed that day in the city.”

Ambassador Elbert Matthews noted that “with the capture of the Midwest and the fall of the Biafran capital within days, the Federal Government senses eventual military victories and was in no mood for outside criticisms”. The massacres went on unchecked. Their report in the international media encouraged some diplomatic recognition for Biafra and arms shipments, which prolonged the war for another 27 months.

—Damola Awoyokun/London

BIAFRA: The Untold Story of Nigeria’s civil war

Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu

1966, Nigeria — FILE – Biafran leader, Lietenant Colonel C. Odumegwu Ojukwu, military governor of East Nigeria is seen in this 1966 file photo. (AP Photo, File) — Image by © /AP/Corbis

Published on February 19, 2013 by pmnews.

Secret American diplomatic dispatches, spread over 21,000 pages, provide previously unknown information about the Nigerian Civil War

Early in the morning of 1 July 1967, Nigeria’s young head of state, Colonel Yakubu Gowon, was feeling uneasy in his office at the Supreme Headquarters, Dodan Barracks in Lagos. The unease was a result of his being ceaselessly pressured to authorize a military invasion of the breakaway Republic of Biafra.

Thirty officers had been recalled from courses abroad. Trains and truck convoys, bearing fuel, supplies and men, were still leaving Kano and Kaduna for the south of River Benue.

Colonel Mohammed Shuwa of the First Area Command had moved his command headquarters southwards and set it up in Makurdi. The 2nd Battalion was already headquartered in Adikpo. Schools and private homes had been commandeered for the use of Major Sule Apollo and his 4th Battalion in Oturkpo. They were itching for action. The same day, Major B.M. Usman “a member of the intimate northern group around Gowon” told the American defense attaché: “I do not know what in hell he is waiting for; the boys are all ready to go. They are only waiting on his word.”

Members of the Supreme Military Council, who had been meeting twice daily, were waiting for his word. The whole nation was waiting. Biafra, which was on high alert, was also waiting.

On 27 June 1967, Cyprian Ekwensi, famous writer and Biafra’s Director of Information Service, through the Voice of Biafra (formerly Enugu Radio), urged Biafrans to be prepared for an invasion on June 29 since “Northerners have often struck on 29th day of the month.” He was alluding to the day northern officers, led by Major T.Y. Danjuma, seized Gowon’s predecessor, Major- General Aguiyi-Ironsi, and killed him in a forest outside Ibadan.

Gowon, then 31, had been running the affairs of 57million Nigerians for 10 months. It had not been easy. Chief Obafemi Awolowo, his 58-year old trusted deputy and adviser, was with Okoi Arikpo and Philip Asiodu, permanent secretaries of the ministries of External Affairs and Trade and Industries respectively.

They were preparing to put the noose on the neck of the Anglo-Dutch oil giant, Shell-BP, which had frozen royalty payments due to the Federation Account on 1 June 1967 and had offered to pay the Biafran government £250,000.

Lieutenant Colonel Odumegwu Ojukwu, Biafran leader, had ordered all oil companies to start paying all royalties to Enugu because they were operating in a new country or risk heavy penalties.

Ojukwu: Sworn in as Head of State of Biafra

Specifically, he demanded a minimum of £2million from Shell-BP. The Federal Government had imposed an economic blockade on Biafra. It entailed barring all merchant vessels and sea tankers from sailing to and from Koko, Warri, Sapele, Escravos, Bonny, Port Harcourt, Calabar ports, which Ojukwu had declared part and parcel of Biafra.

Biafra controlled the land on which the oil installations sat; the Nigerian government controlled the coastal entrance and exit to those lands. Shell-BP was confused as to whose order should be obeyed. Sir David Hunt, the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, told his American counterpart after the meeting with the Nigerian delegation: “Awolowo is very firmly in control of Ministry of Finance and he is giving Stanley Gray, Shell’s General Manager and other experts from London a very difficult time for the past three days.” They persuaded Awolowo to accept a deal that would favour the Nigerian government and, at the same time, would predispose oil workers and the £150million investment to danger in the hands of Biafran military forces. Awolowo refused, arguing that anything short of the status quo was recognition of Biafra and concession to the rebels. As for security of investments and personnel, he argued that once royalties were paid, the Nigerian government would have the capacity to fund whatever action it would take on the rebels and Shell-BP’s investments would be safe.

Gowon paced to the large outdated map of the country by the door to his office. When he asked Awolowo to come and join his government, Awolowo said he would accept only if Gowon did something about the dominance of North over the rest of the nation. A month before, Gowon had broken up the North into six states, but the map by the door still showed the old Nigeria, with an imposing North at the top. He ran his finger around the boundaries of Biafra and asked himself: “How can I authorize an invasion of my own people?” He knew what it meant to be resented. He was not the most senior officer in the army. He was not a Muslim Hausa or Fulani from Kano, Kaduna or Sokoto. He was a Christian from one of the small minorities that dot the North and yet, events had promoted him to the position of the Head of State and Commander-in-Chief–to the chagrin of many northern officers, politicians, and emirs.

He knew the Igbo were resented in the North for succeeding where indigenes had failed. His Igbo lover, Edith Ike, told him her life was threatened twice in Lagos since she returned from the North in March.

According to the secret US document of 1 July 1967, Edith’s parents, having lived in the North for 30 years, where she too was born, had fled back to the East in October 1966 because of that year’s massacre of the Igbo. Not 30,000 but around 7,000 were killed, according to the American documents. Donald Patterson of the Political Section and Tom Smith of the Economic Section travelled from the US Embassy in Lagos to the North after the pogrom. “The Sabon-Garis were ghost towns, deserted, with the detritus of people, who had fled rapidly, left behind. Most Northerners we talked to had no apologies for what had happened to the Ibos, for the pogrom that had killed so many. There were exceptions, but in general, there was no remorse and the feeling was one of good riddance.

“One day, our Hausa gardener attacked and tried to beat up our Ibo cook. We fired the gardener, but not long afterwards, the cook left for the East,” said Patterson.

Earlier that week, Gowon called the West German Ambassador in Lagos. The Germans were eager to be in the good graces of the Gowon administration. A war loomed. And in wars, buildings, roads, bridges, and other infrastructure are destroyed. These would need rebuilding. The contract for the 2nd Mainland Bridge (later called Eko Bridge) was signed two years earlier by the Ambassador, CEO of Julius Berger Tiefbau AG and Shehu Shagari, Federal Commissioner for Works and Survey. That was Julius Berger’s first contract in Nigeria. It was due for completion in less than two years and they wanted more bilateral cooperation. The ambassador assured Gowon over the phone that he had taken care of all the details and guaranteed the safety of Edith, the nation’s “First Girlfriend”.

On the evening of 30 June, just before her departure on a commercial airline, Edith told the American Defense Attaché Standish Brooks, and his wife, Gail, that she actually wanted to go to the UK or USA, but Jack, as she affectionately called Gowon, insisted that she could be exposed to danger in either of the two countries. Germany, he reasoned, would be safer.

To Major B.M. Usman and other northern officers around Gowon, who had attributed his slow response to the secession to the fact that his girlfriend was Igbo and that her parents were resettled in the East, it was such a huge relief that at the Supreme Military Council meeting of 3 July 1967, Gowon authorized the long awaited military campaign.

Edith had safely landed in West Germany. Gowon told the gathering: “Gentlemen, we are going to crush the rebellion, but note that we are going after the rebels, not the Ibos.” The military action, which was to become the Nigerian Civil War or the Biafran War or Operation Unicord, as it was coded in military circles, officially started on 6 July 1967 at 5 a.m.

The North was minded to use the war as a tool to reassert its dominance of national affairs. Mallam Kagu, Damboa, Regional Editor of the Morning Post, told the American consul in Kaduna: “No one should kid himself that this is a fight between the East and the rest of Nigeria. It is a fight between the North and the Ibo.” He added that the rebels would be flushed out of Enugu within six weeks. Lt. Colonel Hassan Katsina went further to say with the level of enthusiasm among the soldiers; it would be a matter of “only hours before Ojukwu and his men were rounded up”.

The northern section of the Nigerian military was the best equipped in the country. To ensure the region’s continued dominance, the British assigned most of the army and air force resources to the North. It was only the Navy’s they could not transfer. All the elite military schools were there. The headquarters of the infantry and artillery corps were there. Kaduna alone was home to the headquarters of the 1st Division of the Nigerian Army, Defense Industries Corporation of Nigeria (Army Depot), Air Force Training School and, Nigerian Defence Academy.

Maitama Sule, Minister of Mines and Power in 1966, once told the story of how Muhammadu Ribadu, his counterpart in Defence Ministry, went to the Nigerian Military School, Zaria, and the British Commandant of the school told him many of the students could not continue because they failed woefully. When Ribadu thumbed through the list, Sule said, it was a Mohammed, an Ibrahim, a Yusuf or an Abdullahi. “You don’t know what you are doing and because of this you cannot continue to head the school,” an irate Ribadu was said to have told the commandant.

Shehu Musa Yar’Adua was one of the students for whom the commandant was sacked. “You can see what Yar’Adua later became in life. He became the vice president. This is the power of forward planning,” Sule declared.

Unknown to the forward planners, according to the US documents, Ojukwu had been meticulously preparing for war as early as October 1966, after the second round of massacre in the North. He had stopped the Eastern share of revenues that were supposed to accrue to the Federation Account. By 30 April 1967, he had recalled all Igbos serving in Nigeria embassies and foreign missions and those that heeded his call were placed on the payroll of the government of Eastern Region. The 77,000 square kilometres of the Republic of Biafra–a mere 8 per cent of the size of Nigeria–was already divided into 20 provinces, with leaders selected for each. They had their own judiciary, legislative councils, ministries and ambassadors. Alouette helicopters and a B26 bomber were procured from the French Air Force through a Luxemburg trading company. Hank Warton, the German-American arms dealer, had been flying in Czech and Israeli arms via Spain and Portugal since October 1966. The military hardware, they could not get, they seized. A DC3 and a Fokker F27 were seized from the Nigerian Air Force in April. NNS Ibadan, a Nigerian Navy Seaward Defence Boat (SDB) that docked in Calabar Port, was quickly made Biafran.

Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu, who was supposed to be in Enugu in prison for his role in 1966 coup, joined in training recruits in Abakaliki. Foreign mercenaries were training indoctrinated old people, young men and teenagers recruited as NCOs [Non-commissioned Officers] in jungle warfare, bomb making, mortar and other artillery firing. Ojukwu, through speeches, town hall meetings, market square performances and radio broadcasts, succeeded in convincing his people that their destiny was death or a separate state. All his performances in Ghana that culminated in the Aburi Accord of January 1967, or discussions with the Awolowo-led National Conciliation Committee five months later, turned out to be ruse.

The underground war preparations, the secret arms stockpiles openly manifested themselves as Ojukwu’s stubborn refusal to accept offers or concessions during these peace meetings.

But the Biafrans knew that their vulnerable line was along Ogoja, Ikom, Calabar, Port Harcourt, and Yenogoa. Support from the six million people making up the Eastern minorities was very much unsure. The minorities viewed their leaders in Biafra high command as traitors. And without the minorities, Biafra would be landlocked and most likely, unviable as a state. More so, their vast oil and gas resources were the reason they contemplated secession in the first place. The Biafra high command believed that if there was going to be any troop incursion from there, they are going to be transported through ship. They already had a B26 bomber to deal fire to Nigeria’s only transport ship, NNS Lokoja, anytime it approached the Biafran coastline.

The Biafrans also knew that Gowon wanted to respect the neutrality of Midwest and not invade through Niger Bridge, which would have driven the people of the Midwest into waiting Biafran hands. But if Gowon changed his mind and there was a general mobilization of the two battalions of the federal troops there, they had trustworthy men there that would alert Enugu. And if that failed, according to the US documents, the Niger Bridge had been mined using “explosives with metal covering across the roadbed at second pier out from the eastern side”.

The Biafrans also knew that the Yoruba, who were sworn enemies of the Northern hegemony, would never join the North militarily or politically against the Biafrans. When Gowon vouched to “crush the rebellion,” progressive Yoruba intellectuals deplored the language. Professor Hezekiah Oluwasanmi, Vice Chancellor of University of Ife, described the use of the word as unfortunate. Justice Kayode Eso of the Western Court of Appeal said: “Crushing the East was not the way to make Nigeria one.”

Mr. Strong, the American consul in Ibadan, whom they had been speaking to, confidentially wrote: “As intellectuals and modernizers, they see the conflict in terms of continuing determination of conservative North to dominate the more advanced South and they expressed fear that once North subdues East, it will seek to assert outright dominance over the West. The centre of trouble might then swing back to the West, where it all started.”

The Biafrans understood, therefore, that their strongest defence perimeter would be along Nsukka, Obudu, Gakem and Nyonya in Ogoja province, where they share border with the North. That was where they concentrated. On 8 July after three days of fighting, only four Biafran troops were dead and nine wounded in Obudu, while up to 100 Nigerian troops were dead, according to the Irish Embassy official, Eamon O’tuathail, who visited the Catholic Mission Hospital in Obudu. He said: “Forty five (45) of the dead had already been buried and the villagers were seen carrying the heads of the remaining around town.” In June before fighting started, Ojukwu charged on Biafra Radio: “Each Biafran soldier should bring back ten or twenty Hausa heads.”

At Nyanya, Nigerian troops attempted to seize the bridge linking Obudu and Ogoja, but were beaten back by the Biafran troops on 7 July at 1400hrs. According to the New York Times’ Lloyd Garrison’s dispatch of 8 July: “The Biafran Air Force–a lone B-26 fighter bomber–flew sorties from Enugu today, bombing and strafing enemy columns. Asked what damage it had inflicted, its European pilot replied: “Frankly, I don’t know. But we made a lot of smoke. Hundreds of Enugu pedestrians waved and cheered each time the plane returned from a mission and swooped low over the city buzzing Ogui Avenue.”

Tunde Akingbade of the Daily Times, who was returning from the frontlines, said the first Nigerian battalion in Ogoja area was “almost completely wiped out by a combination of mines and electrical devices (Ogbunigwe)”.

In the first few weeks of the war, the Biafrans were clearly on top. “Enugu is very calm,” the confidential cable of 13 July 1967 noted. “Ojukwu is dining with Field Commanders in State House tonight.”

On the federal side, confusion reigned. They had grossly underestimated Biafran capabilities. “Gowon and his immediate military advisers believe they can carry out a successful operation putting their trust in the superiority of the Hausa soldier,” the British High Commissioner, Sir David Hunt, told his American counterpart on 31 May 1967. He said further: “A northern incursion would be hastily mounted, ill-conceived and more in the nature of a foray.”

Even the Nigerian infantry, which advanced as far as Obolo on Oturkpo-Nsukka Road, was easily repelled. It ran out of ammunition. At the Supreme Headquarters in Lagos, they were accusing Shuwa, the commander, of not sending enough information about what was going on. Shuwa counter-accused that he was not getting enough and timely orders. Requests for ammunition and hardware procurement were chaotically coming to the Federal Armament Board from different units, not collectively from the central command.

Major S.A. Alao, acting commander of Nigerian Air Force (after George Kurubo defected to Biafran High Command) together with the German adviser, Lieutenant Colonel Karl Shipp, had travelled to many European cities to buy jets. They were unsuccessful. Gowon had written to the American president for arms. The State Department declined military assistance to either side. Gowon replied that he was not requesting for assistance, but a right to buy arms from the American market. That too was rejected.

The CIA had predicted a victory for Ojukwu, but American diplomatic and consular corps in Nigeria predicted victory for the Federal side and concluded that a united Nigeria served American interests better than the one without the Eastern Region. Two conflicting conclusions from an important department and a useful agency. The American government chose to be neutral. Dean Rusk, America’s Secretary of State said: “America is not in a position to take action as Nigeria is an area under British influence.”

The British on the other hand were foot-dragging. At the insistence of Awolowo, “the acting prime minister” as he was called in diplomatic circles, Gowon approached the Soviet Union.

According to a secret cable (dated 24/08/67) sent by Dr. Martin Hillenbrand, American Ambassador in East Germany, to his counterpart in Lagos, MCK Ajuluchukwu, Ojukwu’s special envoy, met Soviet Ambassador to Nigeria, Alexandr Romanov, in Moscow in June 1967. Romanov said that for USSR to recognize Biafra and supply it arms, the latter had to nationalize the oil industry. Ojukwu refused, saying that he had no money to reimburse the oil companies and that Biafrans did not have the expertise to run the oil installations.

A month later, Anthony Enahoro, the Federal Commissioner for Information and Labour, went to Moscow, signed a cultural agreement with Moscow and promised to nationalize the oil industry, including its allied industries once they got arms to recapture them from the Biafrans. Within days, 15 MiGs arrived in sections in Ikeja and Kano airports, awaiting assemblage. There was no nationalization.

Meanwhile, buoyed by the confidence from early success, the Biafrans went on the offensive. Their B26 (one of the six originally intended for use against the Nigerian Navy) was fitted with multiple canon and 50mm calibre machine gun mounts. It conducted bombing raids on Makurdi airfield, Kano and Kaduna. Luckily for Nigeria, the two transport DC3s had gone to Lagos to get more reserve mortar and 106-artillery ammo. In Kano, there were no fatalities, only a slight damage to the wing of a commercial plane.

Kaduna, however, was not that lucky. On 10 August 1967, the B26 dropped bombs on Kaduna airbase, damaging many buildings and the main hangar. The German consulate in Kaduna confirmed that a German citizen, a Dornier technician tasked with maintaining Nigerian military planes, was killed and two others injured.

A week later, the senior traffic control officer, A.O. Amaku, was arrested for sabotage. He was accused of failing to shut off the airport’s homing device, thus giving the Biafran plane navigational assistance. His British assistant, Mr. Palfrey, was similarly suspected. He resigned and immediately returned to the UK. However, Major Obada, the airbase commanding officer and an Urhobo from the Midwest, strongly defended the accused.

The daring bomb raid provoked many more Northern civilians to run to the nearest army base and enlist to fight.

According to a report by US Ambassador Elbert Matthews, cabled to Washington on 3 July 1967, unidentified men tried to bomb the police headquarters in Lagos on the night of 2 July. They attempted to drive an automobile into the compound, but the guards did not open the gate. They packed the car across the street near a small house opposite a petrol station. Leaving the car, the men fled and within seconds, an explosion took place. The house was demolished and all its occupants killed, but the petrol station was unaffected. Eleven people, including some of the guards at the police headquarters, were injured.

Two hours later, a second explosion, from explosives in a car parked by a petrol station, rocked Yaba. This time, the station caught fire. The ambassador remarked: “It is possible this is a start of campaign of terrorism…public reactions could further jeopardize safety of Ibos in Lagos.” And sure it did.

A Lagos resident, who visited the police headquarters after the attack, told the Australian ambassador “Ibos must be killed.”

There was panic all over Lagos. Anti-Igbo riots broke out. Northern soldiers at the 2nd Battalion Barracks in Ikeja used the opportunity to launch a mini-version of the previous year’s torture and massacre of the Igbo in the North. On 7 July 1967, Lagos State governor, Lieutenant Colonel Mobolaji Johnson, condemned the bombing in a radio broadcast. “A good number of Igbos in Lagos is innocent and loyal to the federal government. It is only fair that they be allowed to go about their business unmolested so long as they abide by the law and are not agents and evildoers,” Johnson said.

He called for Lagosians to join civil defence units and for Easterners to come and register with the police.

Meanwhile, the corpses of troops and soldiers wounded in Yahe, Wakande, Obudu and Gakem that arrived Kaduna by train on 11 July 1967 sparked enormous interest in enlistment and volunteering. Recruitment centres were established in Ibadan, Enugu, Lagos and Kano. But it was at the Kano centre, headquarters of the 4th Battalion of the Nigerian Regiment that generated the biggest number of recruits. According to the US confidential cable of 17 July 1967, 20,000 of these were veterans, who had been recruited to fight on the British side in Burma. The Burma veterans marched angrily to the recruitment offices to replace those that had been killed or injured. Around 7,000 were accepted. Of these, 5,000 were immediately sent to the frontline. They said they needed no training; only guns.

As they advanced, towards the outskirts of Ikem, 4km southeast of Nsukka, when mortal fires from the Biafran artillery landed close by, inexperienced recruits ducked for cover behind their transport columns out of fear and incompetence in bush warfare. Not these Burma veterans. Damboa, the Regional Editor of the Morning Post, was embedded with some of these veterans under the command of Major Shande, formerly of the 5th Battalion, Kano, which Ojukwu commanded in 1963.

One day, at about 2a.m, Biafran forces began firing from the jungle in the hope of drawing a return fire if the enemy was ahead. “But the veterans were too smart and began to creep towards the source of firing. After some time, the Biafran troops began to advance thinking that there were no federal troops ahead since there was no return of fire. They walked straight into the pointing guns of these veterans, their fingers squeezed the triggers,” said Damboa to a US Consulate officer named Arp.

These veterans were shooting at innocent Igbo civilians, too. Damboa further told Arp, when he came back from the frontlines on 17 September 1967, that “federal troops were shooting most Ibo civilians on sight, including women and children except for women with babies in their arms. Initially they observed the rules laid down by Gowon on the treatment of civilians. Then, after the takeover of the Midwest, they heard stories that Ibo soldiers had killed all the northerners they found residing in the Midwest. Since that time, Federal troops have been shooting Ibo civilians on sight,” added Damboa.

The Midwest Invasion

Something was happening to Biafran soldiers, which the Federal troops observed but could not explain. Indeed, the fortunes of the Federal troops were improving. Colonel Benjamin Adekunle’s 3rd Marine Commando had landed on 25 July 1967 at Bonny Island, establishing a heavy presence of federal forces in the creeks. Two L29 Delfins fighter jets from Czechoslovakia (NAF 401 and NAF 402) were at the Ikeja Airport and battle ready.

Five more, on board Polish vessel Krakow, were a week away from the Apapa Ports. Major Lal, an ammunition ordnance officer seconded from the Indian Army to Nigeria, had arrived from Eastern Europe, where he had gone to acquire information necessary to utilize Czech aerial ordnance. Sections of 15 Soviet MiG bombers hidden in NAF hangars were being assembled by 40 Russian technicians lodging in Central Hotel, Kano. Bruce Brent of Mobil Oil was flying jet oil to Kano to fuel these bombers. Captain N.O. Sandburg of Nigerian Airlines had flown in seven pilots, who had previously done mercenary work in South Africa and Congo, to fly the MiGs. Names, birthdates and passport numbers of 26 Russians, who were to serve as military advisors had been passed to Edwin Ogbu, Permanent Secretary, External Affairs Ministry. They were in Western Europe awaiting a direct flight to Lagos.

But George Kurubo, the Federal Air Force Chief of Staff, who had earlier joined the Biafran high command, had defected back to the fold and had been sent to Moscow as ambassador to facilitate the flow of more arms from the Soviets.

Lt. Colonel Oluwole Rotimi, Quartermaster-General of the Nigerian Army, went to western Europe with a fat chequebook.

What followed was the arrival of Norwegian ship, Hoegh Bell, bearing 2,000 cases of ammunition; and British ship, Perang, which discharged its own 2000 cases of ammunition. A German ship Suderholm also arrived. Those in charge of it claimed she was in Apapa to offload gypsum. But the US defense attaché reported that it was carrying “300 tonnes of 60mm and 90mm ammo.” The Ghanaian vessel, Sakumo Lagoon, was already in Lome, heading to Apapa to discharge its own ammo. A cache of 1,000 automatic fabriquenationale rifles had arrived Lagos by air on 8 August 1967 from the UK.

Speaking secretly to UK Defence Attaché, Lt. Colonel Ikwue said he too had gone to the German Defence Firm, Merex, to buy ammunition: 106mm US recoilless rifles at $86 per round; 84mm ammo for the Carl Gustav recoilless rifles at $72 per round; 105mm HEAT- High Explosive Anti-Tank warheads at $47 per round. Ikwue also bought three English Electra Canberra, eight Mark II Bombers at $105,000 each, 15 Sabre MK VI-T33 Jets at $100,000 each.

With all of these, Awolowo, rejected Hassan Katsina’s request for funding of 55, 000 more rifles for new recruits. However, he agreed once Gowon intervened and assured him it was not a request inspired by fraudulent intentions.

Federal troops had captured Nsukka, 56km from Enugu. Over 200 non-Igbo Biafran policemen had fled across the Mamfe border into Cameroun. In Ogoja, the Ishibori, Mbube and other non-Igbo Biafrans welcomed the federal troops after driving out the Biafran troops in a fierce battle.

The Biafrans blew up the bridge over the Ayim River at Mfume as they retreated.

The momentum was with the Federal side, but they knew their victories were not only because of their military superiority. At critical stages of battle, even when the Biafrans were clearly winning, they suddenly withdrew. An instance was on 15 July 1967, to the west of Nsukka on the route to Obolo. According to a conversation Colonel J.R. Akahan, Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff, had with British Defence Advisor, the Nigerian infantry companies of the 4th Battalion, totally unaware of the presence of the 8th Battalion of the Biafran army, were buried under a hail of bullets and mortar.

Yet, the Biafran forces began to retreat. This enabled the remnants of the federal infantry company to regroup and successfully counter-attack. Even more senior Biafran commanders that should have been aware that the area had come under federal control were driving into the arms of the federal side. Nzeogwu and Tome Bigger (Ojukwu’s half-brother) were victims of the mysterious happening. Ojukwu initially put this down to breakdown of communication in the chain of command. During a special announcement over Biafran radio on 15 July 1967, Ojukwu said: “Yesterday, a special attack, which would have completely sealed the doom of enemy troops in the Nsukka sector of the northern front, was ruthlessly sabotaged by a mysterious order from the army high command…Our valiant troops were treacherously exposed to enemy flanks.”

At 9.30p.m on 8 August 1967, Biafran forces invaded the Midwest. In the recollection of Major (Dr.) Albert Nwazu Okonkwo, military administrator of Midwest, made available in confidence through an American teacher living in Asaba to Clinton Olson, Deputy Chief of Mission in Lagos on 1 November 1967, it was known by 4 August 1967 in Asaba that the Midwest, West and Lagos would soon be invaded.

On 5 August, Ojukwu had warned the Midwest government, headed by Colonel David Ejoor, that if northern troops were allowed to stay in the Midwest, the region would become a battleground. Many Midwestern officers knew of the plans; some of them had gone to Biafra earlier to help in the preparations. Lt Col. Nwawo, Commander of the Fourth Area Command at Benin, was probably aware. Lt Col. Okwechime, according to the document, certainly knew of it. Lt Col. Nwajei did not know and was never trusted by the anti-Lagos elements in the Midwest. “After the Biafran takeover, Nwajei was sent back to his village of Ibusa, where he was said to be engaged in repainting his home until just the arrival of Nigerian troops in the area,” disclosed the document.

Major Albert Okonkwo, later appointed military administrator, did not know in advance. Lieutenant (later Major) Joseph Isichei and Lieutenant Colonel Chukwurah were not informed in advance. “Major Samuel Ogbemudia participated in the invasion, properly by prior agreement,” the document stated.

That night of 8 August, Biafran army units blazed across the Onitsha Bridge and disarmed the Asaba garrison that was then stationed at St Peter’s Teachers’ Training College. Then they went on to the Catering Rest House, where Midwest officers were living, and disarmed the officers. The only exception was Major Asama, the local commander, who escaped and drove to Agbor at about 22.30hrs.

There were no casualties except for one officer with a gunshot wound in the leg. The invading force drove to Agbor, where it split into three columns. One column drove northwards towards Auchi and Aghenebode. A second column went to Warri and Sapele.

“The main force led by Victor Banjo was supposed to drive on to Benin and capture Ijebu-Ode, reach Ibadan on 9 August, reach Ikeja near Lagos by 10 August, setting up a blockade there to seal off the capital city,” the document quoted Okonkwo as saying.

However, this main column stopped in Agbor for six hours, reaching Benin at dawn. There was no real resistance in Benin, where no civilian was killed. The main column left Benin for Ijebu-Ode early in the afternoon. It stopped at Ore, just at the Western Region’s border.

According to US Defense Attaché report, three weeks before, Ejoor informed the Supreme Headquarters that he had information that Ojukwu was planning to send soldiers in mufti to conquer the Midwest. So, the 3rd Battalion, which was heading towards the Okene – Idah route to join the 1st Division on the Nsukka frontline, was ordered to stop at Owo. The first Recce Squadron from Ibadan, which had already reached Okene, was reassigned to take care of any surprise in the Midwest. By the time Lagos heard of the invasion, this squadron was quickly upgraded from company strength to a battalion, with troops of Shuwa’s 1st Division across the river, and another battalion was stationed at Idah to hold a defensive alignment against any Biafran surprise from Auchi.

Upon receiving the telephone call from Major Asama about the Biafran invasion at Asaba, Ejoor hurriedly left his wife and children at the State House, went to his friend, Dr Albert Okonkwo at Benin Hospital to borrow his car. He then sought asylum in the home of Catholic Bishop of Benin, Patrick Kelly.

In his first radio address to the people of Midwest on 9 August 1967, Banjo said Ejoor was safe and “efforts were being made to enlist his continued service in Midwest and in Nigeria.” Ejoor stayed in the seminary next door to the bishop’s house for almost two weeks, receiving visitors including Banjo, Colonels Nwawo and Nwajei, Major (Dr.) Okonkwo, who were trying to persuade him to make a speech supporting the new administration.

Ejoor refused. He was told that he was free to go wherever he wished without molestation. Not trusting what they might do, he went back to Isoko his native area, where he remained till federal forces captured it on 22 September 1967.

Before Banjo knew the full score, he met with Mr. Bell, UK Deputy High Commissioner, the evening of Benin invasion. Bell summarized his and Banjo’s words as:

a. There were no fatal casualties though some were wounded.

b. Ejoor and two senior officers were not in Benin when Eastern troops arrived. Bell had firm impression that they had been warned about the day’s event.

c. All the Midwest is now under the control of combined East/Midwest forces.

d. East was asked to cooperate by certain Midwest officers because an invasion of the Midwest by the North was imminent.

e. That he does not agree with Ojukwu on the separate existence of Biafra. He is convinced that a united Nigeria is essential.

f. Bell said he saw only three officers at the army headquarters: one was a Midwestern medical officer (Major Okoko). All others were Easterners.

Meanwhile when Banjo made the first radio address, he announced the impending appointment of a military administrator, but there was considerable difficulty among the Biafran and Midwestern leaders in selecting a suitable man.

First choice was to be someone from the Ishan or Afemai areas. Someone from the Delta was next, preferably an Ika-Igbo. However, the stalemate continued until Ojukwu intervened and selected Albert Okonkwo. Ojukwu knew Okonkwo only by reputation.

Okonkwo had certain things that recommended him. First, he had an American wife, which cut the family/tribe relationship problem of those times in half. Second, he was considered to be politically “sterile,” having been in the US for 13 years and was not associated with any political party or faction. Third, he was commissioned a captain in the medical corps on 2 October 1965 and just made a Major on 22 June 1967. The implication was that he was not tainted by army politics. He was also very pro-Biafra.

As soon as Okonkwo became military administrator, Banjo was recalled to Enugu to explain the failure of the military campaign. During his absence, the Midwest Administration was established (an Advisory Council and an Administrative Council). Banjo succeeded in convincing Biafran leaders in Enugu that his halt at Ore had been dictated by military expediency. He then returned to the Midwest front. Banjo informed Okonkwo of the military situation through Major Isichei, Chief of Staff of the Midwest. Isichei later commented that he had noticed that Banjo’s headquarters staff never discussed plans or operations in his presence. Through Isichei, Banjo told Okonkwo that Auchi had been lost after a fierce battle when, in fact, it was not defended at all.

Suspicions began to thicken around Banjo. Okonkwo, in a confidential statement made available to the Americans, said he also noticed that Banjo obtained money by requisition from him for materials, food and officers salaries’, thus drawing on the Midwest treasury. On 19 September, when Okonkwo telephoned Enugu, he discovered from the Biafran Army HQ that Banjo was simultaneously drawing funds from Biafra for all these supplies. Okonkwo sent Major Isichei to arrest Banjo for embezzlement, but they found that he had already left Benin and had left orders for all Midwest and Biafran soldiers to fall back to Agbor.

Okonkwo ordered his Midwest government to move from Benin to Asaba, which it did that day. The seat of the government was behind the textile factory, in homes once inhabited by expatriates. In August, Okonkwo tape-recorded five broadcasts to be used when possible. Those included the Declaration of Independence and the Proclamation of the Republic of Benin, as well as a decree setting up a Benin Central Bank, a Benin University, etc. The Republic of Benin Proclamation was delayed while the consent of the Oba of Benin was sought. Finally, just when the Oba had been convinced that the Republic was “best for his people,” the actions of Banjo were discovered and the Midwest seemed about to be lost, or at least Benin was undefended. Okonkwo went ahead with the broadcast early on 20 September 1967 in order to record for history that the Midwest was separate from Biafra. It was the last act of his government in Benin.

Early afternoon on 9 August, Banjo’s main force left Benin for Ijebu-Ode. It was composed of both Biafran and Midwest units. Midwest troops, who were mostly Igbo, had joined the “liberation army”. Commanding the Midwest forces with Banjo was Major Samuel Ogbemudia, who had been nursing the idea of defection. When the troops reached Ore and halted, Ogbemudia disappeared to later rejoin the Nigerian Army. Lt. Col Bisalla, acting Chief of Army Staff, confirmed that Ogbemudia, in the morning of 9 August, telephoned him precisely at 7:20am to inform him of the “trouble in Benin.”

According to Standish Brooks, the US Defense Attaché, Ogbemudia was the first Nigerian officer to attend American Military School’s counterinsurgency course in Fort Bragg, 1961. Brooks said after his arrival in Lagos on 9 September 1967, Ogbemudia said: “He escaped with a small group of non-Ibo troops from the Benin garrison and have been waging a guerrilla warfare against Eastern units. Having run out of ammo, he made his way back to Lagos.”

Army Headquarters believed him and Brooks’ report further stated: “Ogbemudia would be sent to the headquarters of Second Division in Auchi to assist in operational planning because of his intimate knowledge of the Midwest area and his recent experience in the Midwest under Eastern control.”

From 20 September onwards, the Midwest and Biafran Army began to fall apart. The 17th Battalion in Ikom mutinied and fled. So did the 12th and 16th Battalion in the Midwest.

In the evening of 22 September, the Midwest paymaster, Col. Morah, from Eze near Onicha Olona, offered an American expatriate in Asaba £3, 000 if the American would arrange for Morah to get $5,000 upon his arrival in the United States. This would have been a profit of about $3, 400 to the American. The offer was refused. Later on September 25, Morah disappeared with £33, 000, the document said. This was the time six NAF planes went on reconnaissance and reported back to the Defence Headquarters that they had noticed “heavy movements of civilians over the bridge from Asaba to Onitsha,” but did not have the details. On 27 September, Okonkwo called a meeting of all Midwest civil servants, where he said if the Nigerian Army reached Agbor, he would close the Onitsha Bridge. He would not let the civil servants abandon the population of Asaba to the inevitable massacre when the Federal Army reached the town. The people of Asaba knew by this time of the killings of Igbos in Benin when the federal forces reached it on 20 September. Everyone assumed that it would happen in Asaba.

From 20 September, there were no Biafran soldiers stationed west of Umunede, east of Agbor.

On 1 October, Midwest commanders in Umunede and Igueben, south of Ubiaja on the Auchi-Agbor Road, fled from their positions. Their Biafran subordinates promptly retreated. Constant streams of retreating Biafran and Midwest troops filed through Asaba on 2 and 3 October. The Biafrans were usually mounted in vehicles, while the Midwesterners had to walk. The attitude of the Biafran soldiers and officers was that they would not fight for the Midwest if the Midwest Army did not want to fight. In Asaba on 2 October, the elders and chiefs met to consider sending a delegation to the approaching Nigerian Army to surrender the town and ask for protection in return for help in finding and capturing Biafran soldiers in the town. Cadet Uchei, who brought soldiers to stop the delegation with death threats, thwarted this effort. At this time, some 35 non-Igbos were rounded up and given shelter at St. Patrick’s College, Asaba.

Twice, Cadet Uchei brought soldiers to kill the refugees and arrest the Americans in charge of the school. On the first occasion, Lt. Christian Ogbulo, ADC to Okonkwo, stopped the attempt. Cadet Williams from Ogwashi-Uku brought soldiers to rescue only the Americans from Uchei’s second attempt. Also on 2 October, Col. Chukwurah, who had been the commanding officer at Agbor, came to Asaba and told the Midwest Army HQ staff that he had overthrown Okonkwo and he was now military governor of the Midwest. Chukwurah fled across the bridge to Biafra before nightfall.

Only two of the officers of the Midwest Army were known not to have fled from battle during the campaign: Major Joe Isichei (who was a Lieutenant on August 9) and Lt-Col. Joe Achuzia. Gathering a few soldiers, they attempted to shoot their way out. Okwechime was seen in Onitsha at this time; he had been wounded. By the evening of 2 October, the Midwest Army was completely dissolved.

From 6 a.m on 4 October, machine gun-and mortar fire was heard near Asaba, but the direction was uncertain. It was later discovered that the firing came from Asaba-Isele-Uku Road. At about 1p.m, as the staff members of St. Patrick’s College were leaving the dining room, the first mortar shell landed on the school football field. Mortar shelling continued until dusk. Federal troops reached the northern edge of the campus, along the Asaba-Agbor Road, at about 5p.m. By noon of 5 October, there were six battalions lining up on the road in front of the college, according to Captain Johnson, who was third in command of the 71st Battalion. By the evening of 6 October, Federal forces held the road all the way into the Catholic Mission, two miles inside Asaba. Biafran resistance west of the Niger was over.

Major Alani Akinrinade commanded the 71st Battalion. (Akinrinade in a clarification, said his command was the 6th Brigade and truly he was in Asaba at this time.

His second in command was a Tiv officer, older than Alani. The men of this battalion were mostly Yoruba and Tiv, with some Delta (Ijaw) men. “Most spoke English. They were disciplined, courageous and polite,” the American report stated.

Captain Johnson ordered the Americans to leave Asaba by the morning of 6 October. The reason was understood to be that the 71st Battalion was unable to guarantee their safety from the “second wave” of federal soldiers, known as “the Sweepers” coming behind. “The Sweepers” were only briefly observed, but they wore long hair, had “cross-hatching tribal marks on both cheeks” and apparently willing to live up to their reputation as “exterminators.” According to secret cables sent from American embassies in Niger and Chad to the Embassy and consulates in Nigeria, thousands of Nigeriens and Chadians crossed the border to enlist for the war.

Ten trucks of Nigerien soldiers were seen being transported for service in the Nigerian Army from Gusau to Kaduna and over 2,000 more waiting on Niger-Nigeria border for transportation to Kaduna. The secret document went on: “1,000 Chadian soldiers passed through Maiduguri en route Kaduna. These mercenary soldiers constituted the “Sweepers.” The captured American teachers aptly observed that there were soldiers regarded as fighting soldiers and there were other units that came behind to conduct mass exterminations.

Major Alani, it was understood, was trying to get as many civilians as possible into the bush before the sweepers could arrive.

On the 5 October, when they came, a lieutenant attempted to arrest the American teachers at St. Patrick’s College and their non-Igbo refugees, who had hidden from retreating but still vicious Biafran troops.

Captain Johnson quickly summoned Major Alani. The lieutenant claimed to be acting for a “Major Jordane,” but a check proved this as false. Alani sent the lieutenant and his men away and posted a guard to the school until the staff and refugees left Asaba. There were too many civilians to be executed that Captain Paul Ogbebor and his men were asked to get rid of a group of several hundred Asaba citizens rounded up on 7 October. Not wanting to risk insubordination, he marched the contingent into the bush, told the people to run and had his men fire harmlessly into the ground. Eyewitness accounts confirmed that he performed the same life-saving deception in Ogwashi-Uku.

However, other civilian contingents the sweepers rounded up were shot behind the Catholic Mission and their bodies thrown into the Niger River. This incident and many others were reported to Colonel Arthur Halligan, the US military attaché in Nigeria at that time, the document concluded.

At night on 19 September, Banjo was arrested in Agbor. He was court martialed in Enugu three days later. Okonkwo participated in the court-martial and Ojukwu was present too. Banjo was found guilty, together with Emmanuel Ifeajuna (“the man from Ilaah who shot Abubakar” –the Prime Minister), Phillip Alale and Sam Agbam.

Bob Barnard, American consul in Enugu, said Ojukwu told him that he ordered the killing of Banjo, Ifeajuna, Alale and Agbam because they had planned to oust him from office, oust Gowon as well and install Awolowo as Prime Minister. The American military attaché, Arthur Halligan and Brooks, the Defense Attaché who had some prior intimation of the coup cabled the Defense Intelligence Agency in Washington 3 August 1967 that “in the long run, Njoku will unseat Ojukwu.”

Ojukwu told Barnard: “The plotters intended to take Brigadier Hillary Njoku, the head of Biafran Army into custody and bring him to the State House under heavy armed guard ostensibly to demand of him that Njoku be relieved of command on the grounds of incompetence.” They had been behind the withdrawal of troops and reverses of prior Biafran victories. He continued: “Once inside the State House, Njoku’s guards would be used against him. Ifeajuna would then declare himself acting Governor and offer ceasefire on Gowon’s terms. Banjo would go to the West and replace Brigadier Yinka Adebayo, the military governor of Western Region. Next, Gowon would be removed and Awolowo declared Prime Minister of Reunited Federation…Victor Banjo, Ifeajuna and others kept in touch with co-conspirators in Lagos via British Deputy High Commission’s facilities in Benin.”

When the American consul asked Ojukwu for evidence, Ojukwu replied: “Banjo is a very meticulous man who kept records and notes of everything he did. The mistake of the plotters was they talked too much, their moves too conspicuous and they made notes. As a result, the conspirators came under surveillance from the early stages of the plot’s existence. Their plans then became known and confirmed by subsequent events.”

In a separate document, Clint Olson, American Deputy Chief of Mission wrote: “Much of the information recounted came from Major (Dr.) Okonkwo. Banjo freely admitted in his testimony that a group of Yorubas on both sides of the battle were plotting together to take over Lagos and Enugu governments and unite Nigeria under Chief Awolowo. Gowon, Ojukwu, and Okonkwo were to be eliminated; Gowon was to have been killed by Yoruba officers in the Federal Army.”

The document stated further: “When arrested on the night of 19 – 20th September, Banjo offered no resistance because he said then it was too late to stop the affair and the plot was already in motion. His role, Banjo said, was already accomplished. As far as is known, Banjo died without revealing the names of his collaborators in Lagos.”

Before Banjo got to Enugu after his arrest, Okonkwo had telephoned Gowon to warn him of a threat to his life. Okonkwo said he was afraid that the assassination of Gowon would prevent the Heads of State Mission of the Organization of African Unity from coming to Nigeria. The OAU mission held the best hope of resolving the war, Okonkwo believed.

Whether Ojukwu knew of or agreed with Okonkwo’s warning to Gowon was not known. However according to the American Olson, roadblocks appeared in many places in Lagos and were severely enforced. They were removed after about 48 hours as mysteriously as they had appeared.

Gowon, in an exclusive interview with New Nigeria after Banjo revealed himself as the head of an invading army, said he once met Banjo and Ojukwu in 1965 during the crisis that followed the 1964 parliamentary elections. They were discussing the merits of the army taking over governance.

– Next WeeK: Part Two of the Biafran story

—Damola Awoyokun/London


Radio broadcast by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu – announcing Nigeria’s first military coup on Radio Nigeria, Kaduna on January 15, 1966

Major Patrick Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu(1937-1967)was an infantry and intelligence officer of the Nigerian Army, led Nigeria’s 1st military coup on 15th January 1966.

Culled from Vanguard Newspaper on September 30, 2010 ·

IN the name of the Supreme Council of the Revolution of the Nigerian Armed Forces, I declare martial law over the Northern Provinces of Nigeria. The Constitution is
suspended and the regional government and elected assemblies are hereby dissolved.

All political, cultural, tribal and trade union activities, together with all demonstrations and unauthorised gatherings, excluding religious worship, are banned until further notice.

The aim of the Revolutionary Council is to establish a strong united and prosperous nation, free from corruption and internal strife. Our method of achieving this is strictly military but we have no doubt that every Nigerian will give us maximum cooperation by assisting the regime and not disturbing the peace during the slight changes that are taking place.

I am to assure all foreigners living and working in this part of Nigeria that their rights will continue to be respected. All treaty obligations previously entered into with any foreign nation will be respected and we hope that such nations will respect our country’s territorial integrity and will avoid taking sides with enemies of the revolution and enemies of the people.

My dear countrymen, you will hear, and probably see a lot being done by certain bodies charged by the Supreme Council with the duties of national integration, supreme justice, general security and property recovery.

As an interim measure all permanent secretaries, corporation chairmen and senior heads of departments are allowed to make decisions until the new organs are functioning, so long as such decisions are not contrary to the aims and wishes of the Supreme Council.

No Minister or Parliamentary Secretary possesses administrative or other forms of control over any Ministry, even if they are not considered too dangerous to be arrested.

This is not a time for long speech-making and so let me acquaint you with ten proclamations in the Extraordinary Orders of the Day which the Supreme Council has promulgated.

These will be modified as the situation improves.

You are hereby warned that looting, arson, homosexuality, rape, embezzlement, bribery or corruption, obstruction of the revolution, sabotage, subversion, false alarms and assistance to foreign invaders, are all offences punishable by death sentence.

Demonstrations and unauthorised assembly, non-cooperation with revolutionary troops are punishable in grave manner up to death. Refusal or neglect to perform normal duties or any task that may of necessity be ordered by local military commanders in support of the change will be punishable by a sentence imposed by the local military commander.

Spying, harmful or injurious publications, and broadcasts of troop movements or actions, will be punished by any suitable sentence deemed fit by the local military commander. Shouting of slogans, loitering and rowdy behaviour will be rectified by any sentence of incarceration, or any more severe punishment deemed fit by the local military commander.

Doubtful loyalty will be penalised by imprisonment or any more severe sentence. Illegal possession or carrying of firearms, smuggling or trying to escape with documents, valuables, including money or other assets vital to the running of any establishment will be punished by death sentence.

Wavering or sitting on the fence and failing to declare open loyalty with the revolution will be regarded as an act of hostility punishable by any sentence deemed suitable by the local military commander. Tearing down an order of the day or proclamation or other authorised notices will be penalised by death.

This is the end of the Extraordinary Order of the Day which you will soon begin to see displayed in public. My dear countrymen, no citizen should have anything to fear, so long as that citizen is law abiding and if that citizen has religiously obeyed the native laws of the country and those set down in every heart and conscience since 1st October, 1960.

Our enemies are the political profiteers, the swindlers, the men in high and low places that seek bribes and demand 10 percent; those that seek to keep the country divided permanently so that they can remain in office as ministers or VIPs at least, the tribalists, the nepotists, those that make the country look big for nothing before international circles, those that have corrupted our society and put the Nigerian political calendar back by their words and deeds.

Like good soldiers we are not promising anything miraculous or spectacular. But what we do promise every law abiding citizen is freedom from fear and all forms of oppression, freedom from general inefficiency and freedom to live and strive in every field of human endeavour, both nationally and internationally. We promise that you will no more be ashamed to say that you are a Nigerian.

I leave you with a message of good wishes and ask for your support at all times, so that our land, watered by the Niger and Benue, between the sandy wastes and gulf of guinea, washed in salt by the mighty Atlantic, shall not detract Nigeria from gaining sway in any great aspect of international endeavour. My dear countrymen, this is the end of this speech.

I wish you all good luck and I hope you will cooperate to the fullest in this job which we have set for ourselves of establishing a prosperous nation and achieving solidarity.


– See more at: http://www.vanguardngr.com/2010/09/radio-broadcast-by-major-chukwuma-kaduna-nzeogwu-%E2%80%93-announcing-nigeria%E2%80%99s-first-military-coup-on-radio-nigeria-kaduna-on-january-15-1966/#sthash.s77OBtCv.dpuf

Tag Cloud


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,985 other followers