The Nigerian Revolution and the Biafran War…The Aftermath by Alexander A. Madiebo; ArtRelated Limited, Lagos; 2022; 495pp
When this book, The Nigerian Revolution and the Biafra War, was first published in 1980 by Fourth Dimension Publishing Co. Ltd, Enugu, it earned high critical acclaim as a forthright account of the Nigerian tragedies of coups and a war.
The author, Major-General Alexander A. Madiebo, retired General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the Biafran Army, undertook a revision of the book and added an aftermath before his death at age 90 this year.
Madiebo joined the Royal West Africa Force that metamorphosed to the Nigeria Army in May 1954 alongside Yakubu Gowon. He was trained in Teshie, Ghana and in Chester, England before attending the esteemed Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst in Camberley, England.
He offered distinguished service as a member of the Nigerian contingent to the Congo crisis in the early 1960s, and became the first Commander of the Nigeria Army Artillery Regiment in 1964.
Before the first military coup in January 1966, there were about 15 military installations in Northern Nigeria while only three were in the West with just one in the East. The bias of colonial Britain was not hidden from the start.
On January 15, 1966, Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, the Chief Instructor at the Nigeria Military Training College (NMTC), Kaduna, shocked the world with his coup speech as per ousting the civilian regime of the First Republic. Madiebo did not know which soldiers were for the coup or against and had to resort to the somewhat humorous biblical insight of telling the army boys around him to “render to Nzeogwu what was his and to the old establishment what was theirs.”
He courageously drove to the Brigade Commander’s Office where Nzeogwu was presiding “with a heavily bandaged neck, surrounded by soldiers of Northern Nigeria origin”, and learnt from the coup leader “that the aim of his revolution was to get rid of the corrupt and incorrigible politicians and have them replaced with true nationalists.”
Nzeogwu felt Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, the commander of the 5th Battalion in Kano, as a “let down” and was preparing troops under Captain Tim Onwuatuegwu to go to battle in Kano to get Ojukwu’s troops to join the revolution until Madiebo advised against the plan.
General JTU Aguiyi-Ironsi who eventually inherited power, according to Madiebo, was more interested in appeasement of the North and reaching compromises instead of mastering the plots swelling around him. There was the “Araba” Test Riots of May 29, 1966 geared against the Southerners by Northern separatists, an ominous development that Ironsi peppered over until he was murdered on July 29 during the flagitiously bloody revenge coup.
How Madiebo managed to narrowly escape death to return to the East from the North is a spine-chilling account stranger than fiction. It culminated in his discovering his family in Onitsha “still performing the last stages of my burial ceremony.” Realising that the burial ceremony must have cost members of his family a considerable amount of money, Madiebo had to find an equally large sum of money to go through his “waking ceremony”.
The taking over of power by the North through Gowon did not stop the pogroms. Madiebo met with Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe at Nsukka and advised him against leaving Nsukka “before the actual outbreak of hostilities.”
After the reneging of the accord reached in Aburi, Ghana, the declaration of the Republic of Biafra happened. The early morning attack by Nigerian troops on Garkem on July 6, 1967 launched forth the war. Battles then ensued in Obudu, Nsukka, Obollo Afor, Obollo Eke, and Eha-Amufu.
The Biafra dream then started getting undone by accusations of sabotage. Army Commander Colonel Hillary Njoku had to be removed. Col Victor Banjo, Ifeajuna, Alale and Agbam were publicly executed via firing squad after the collapse of the Midwest expedition.
Biafra was indeed a charged affair, and in one instance Onwuatuegwu and Achuzia had to draw their service rifles on each other, and it needed the attention of Ojukwu to resolve.
It was “at 0300 hours on the 11th of January 1970” that Gen Ojukwu took off from Uli Airport to Cote d’Ivoire, and Gen Effiong was left behind to organise the final surrender of Biafra.
According to Madiebo, the French Ambassador Raymond Offroy told him after visiting the Biafran enclave: “Before I came to Biafra, I was told that Biafrans fought like heroes. But now I know that heroes fight like Biafrans.”
Dodgy dealings and multiform disagreements by the leaders of Biafra who fled to exile in Cote d’Ivoire spelt the final death of Biafra.
The aftermath of the war is indeed catastrophic. Madiebo writes: “The Civil war defeat of the Igbos opened all doors and windows of opportunity for their marginalisation and that was exploited by the spate of military regimes that followed at the end of the civil war. The military regimes by Northern Nigeria officers gradually altered the Constitution in favour of Northern Nigeria, to the extent that it ceased to reflect the wishes of all Nigerians.”
They no longer make Generals like General Alexander A. Madiebo. His book, The Nigerian Revolution and the Biafran War… The Aftermath, spells excellence.
-Uzor Maxim Uzoatu is a Nigerian poet, journalist and author