Biafra did not surrender Achuzia

Folks! Achuzia should have been the head of the igbo confab delegates! Biafra dream still alive and a question of time- good omen!!Biafra never surrendered by the lated ojukwu trusted soldier from the ika igbos called air raid!!

Biafra did not surrender  Achuzia

Posted by: Edozie Udeze in Featured, Interview August 11, 2013

Col. Joe Achuzia was one of the major figures that held Biafra together while the Nigerian Civil war lasted. He commanded almost all the major sectors in the Biafran Army and ensured that discipline was enforced throughout the duration of the war. Before the war ended, he was in charge of operations in the whole enclave called Biafra. This position made it possible for him to begin the necessary overtures to end the war. While Ojukwu was away, he took over control of the forces and then made the appropriate contacts to bring the war to an end.

In this interview with Edozie Udeze, he debunks some of the claims made by Gen. Alabi Isama and Gen. Alani Akinrinade in their recent interviews.

Gen. Alabi Isama in his latest book on the war alleged that Mid-western officers were alienated.

Is it really true that as the Commander-in-Chief of the Biafran Armed Forces, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, did not trust some of the Midwestern Igbo officers while the war lasted?

It is not true. Why I say it is not true is that for Biafra to have lasted so long, it was as a result of the efforts of the Mid-western officers. This was because Biafra was really being hard pushed until the mid-west operation began.

And the Midwest officers that were supposed to go across, Alabi-Isama was one of them. Even then my own journey into the mid west when Banjo crossed into Mid west, Alabi too was one of those that I contacted. But somewhere along the line, after our meeting, after we gave him some instructions to follow across, Alabi defected. And he didn’t come back. So, for him to say that Ojukwu didn’t like some Mid west officers couldn’t be true. This was so because it was the Mid-west officers, all the way to the lower ranks, that really held Murtala from crossing over the bridge thereby entering Biafra.

This was when Murtala started his so-called operation to cross the Niger. It was mid western officers who fought and sustained the momentum. These were the 52 and 57 brigades that are also manned by the Mid west officers. It is unfortunate that many people from hindsight now after over 40 years of the war are writing books on the war. This is an after-thought after having read over other people’s works on the war, reading newspaper comments and other people’s statements and interviewing people. Now, they have got themselves in the position as being authority on the war.

I wouldn’t take Alabi’s document as a serious one. The only aspect of his statement that really deserves comment and which shows his inability to appreciate the war situation and reporting it as it were, was his reporting what did not happen in his presence. He talked about the end of the war, mentioning the participants. He is not in the position to say what he said about the end of the war. He wasn’t there.

The first person who was there was General Alani Akinrinade. Also Tomoye. Then Tomoye was not a substantive colonel. The command that reached Orlu was Tomoye’s command. And it was Tomoye’s officer that my men and in a night operation and captured them that made it possible for me to take the step I took by declaring that everybody should lay down their arms. Then I said we could be announcing it until I was able to bring Akinrinade into my headquarters. The narrative by Alabi shows ignorance of what happened that day. That’s what I can say about that. The only person that many a time I look at and say let sleeping dogs lie is General Akinrinade. This was because of his behaviour from the moment we met was officer-like.

And he conducted himself in a way that endeared him to me that up till date, we are still friends.

Alabi, however, was right in one thing that the war had already ended before General Obasanjo came into the picture. And he came on the scene after I allowed General Akinrinade to make a call to him. And he told him that if he didn’t come, he might stand to lose his officers who were under my control then. When Akinrinade came, he came with only a few soldiers. We met at Orlu, I didn’t go to Owerri to look for any of them.

Now, we told Tomoye to phone him because Tomoye stood to lose all his officers and in Brigade they ventured into our territory near Orlu.

We assured Tomoye that we had already started to take steps to bring the war to an end. His officers that were collected were already deposited near my office in Igbo-ukwu. As a result, it wasn’t proper for me to claim that I went to Owerri looking for who to surrender to. Surrender who or what to who? After all, it was in my house while discussing with Akinrinade that we decided that in that instance we were bringing the war to an end. There was indeed no winner, no vanquished. The war had deteriorated into a state of stalemate, whereby we were trading one bullet for another.

By this time our men were crisis-crossing the war front because both the Nigerian soldiers and our soldiers were tired of the whole thing; the whole episode.

Could you please elaborate more on the last days of the war?

Let me also elaborate more on the events of the last days…

I read in the internet Akinrinade’s rejoinder. So I asked for it to be printed out. Akinrinade is the last person I expected to sanction what Alabi-Isama wrote or said about the end of the war. Isama wasn’t there. Akinrinade was there. Tomoye was there. The rest were just junior officers. Those collected that night of 11th were junior officers and they were in charge of a battalion which made it possible for us to move. It was almost a disaster. We could have capitalised on it but we were on the quest to bring the war to an end. Hence, we detained them at the DMI office in Igbo-ukwu, got them to send a message to their commander, Tomoye. Tomoye replied that he would contact Owerri. The officer at Owerri tactical headquarters, Col. Oni who replied that Obasanjo said he would send his chief-of-staff, Akinrinade, to come and negotiate with us.

That was how Akinrinade came to the scene. And we asked when would this be? He said that myself and himself should meet at Orlu. Hence, I left, heading to Orlu with my own escort, while he was coming with his own escort. We met at Orlu, greeted one another and I asked that he follows me to Igbo-ukwu. If it was a war situation and they had the advantage they would have arrested me and held me hostage. But we were already holding their men hostage. That was how we came to my home and I am glad that Alabi confirmed that because Akinrinade told him.

So, I had to do what I did because I was in full control of the situation. There was no way Akinrinade could have reached me in a hostile manner. I was the one who would have shown hostility but my mission was to bring the war to an end.

I would have handed over to Bisala. Bisala’s men were at Awka, which as you know, is closer to my headquarters. When we concluded no winner, no vanquished affair with Obasanjo, treachery came into it. While we were all celebrating at Owerri, Obasanjo came to me and said whether he could talk to General Effiong and I said yes. Anything? He said no, just to discuss for old time sake. And I said okay, you can go ahead with him.

So, they went out to discuss. It was Col. Anwuna who called my attention and said why did you allow Effiong and Obasanjo to meet alone and I said well, they are old friends. He said no, you better intervene. Obasanjo said ah, I am not eating your officer; we were just talking about old times. But the damage had already been done. On our way back to Uga, because that was where we took off from, it was then that Effiong told me and the rest of the people that he had promised Obasanjo that we would be going to Lagos to see Gowon. I said no, you don’t play a record we did’t participate in crafting. He said it was necessary that we senior officers go with him; that they would provide the flight so that we and Gowon could see, that he had the final say for them. I said okay if we must go, all of you must go and put on your uniforms. Then he turned around and told me he also promised him we should go in mufty. So, I said in that case, I will not go. That was why I wasn’t in the entourage that went to Lagos. He said that it was important that I should go; that he even mentioned the names of the officers to go. I said, I will not go, I will not leave my troops undefended.

Col. Ogunewe, he was of the same stature with me, said please colonel you have done so much. Give me your French suit, we are of the same size.

So, he went in my place and that was why he was part of the team. I escorted them all the way to Owerri with reinforced company of soldiers. When we got to Owerri, Obasanjo and his men, with Col. Oni took over. They left from Port Harcourt. Instead, as they left from Port Harcourt, I continued with my company of soldiers all the way to Port Harcourt. Akinrinade will attest to this.

When we got to Port Harcourt, I reported to Col. Oluleye who was the war commander. We booked in at the Presidential Hotel with my men surrounding me. It was in the morning, they had gone to Lagos, finished and Obasanjo brought them back and I was quite sure Obasanjo Obasanjo was monitoring what was happening and had been told by Akinrinade that I was in Port Harcourt with my troops. So, he arrived early hours in the morning with Effiong and the rest and they left for Owerri. Then he sent Akinrinade to call me. He came to the hotel and told me that Obasanjo was back and wanted to see me.

I went with my troops to Owerri and we met and greeted. So, he said to me, was there any need for me to come with my troops?. And I said no. it was necessary for me because it was the cream of my men that you collected. Then we saluted and they escorted me across the Imo River at Owerri Nta. From there, I proceeded back to my home. Now, is that the position of a defeated army? If they want us to tell the truth about what happened, weâll tell the truth. But for a group of people trying to make it look as if Biafra looked like a lily-livered army or a rag-tag army, no. No rag-tag army at all could hold a well-equipped army like Nigerian army to ransom for three years.

The only thing, I repeat, is that the ground strategy adopted by Biafra made it possible for Nigeria to remain till today.

In the face of all this, how did you warm your way into Ojukwu’s heart to become his favourite among other officers from the Mid-west?

I don’t know about being anybody’s favourite. All I know is that each time Ojukwu gave me order I obeyed it. That people consider me his favourite, well why should a commander-in-chief, have a favourite? All his officers were his favourites. For anybody to consider himself not to be a favourite of the commander-in-chief he must have been harbouring some disloyalty attitude in his mind towards the commander-in-chief.

But was Alabi-Isama fighting on the side of Biafra initially?

No! He was one of the Mid-west officers in Benin. He was in Benin at the beginning.

Now, let us look at another issue. Is it really correct to assert that while the federal troops had prisoners of war, Biafran soldiers were busy killing indiscriminately?

Let me ask you, when Nigeria claimed that they won the war, were there any exchange of prisoners of war? Because that would have been the situation. There wasn’t. By the time the matter got to Lagos to Gowon, the war had been over. It was more of war of attrition at a point and so as it was on the Federal side so it was on the Biafran side.

But why did you call for an end to the war when you did?

We did so because of the situation we found ourselves. Certain things were happening at the time which up till now we haven’t told our people. For instance, they said Ojukwu left because the war was closing in on him and the entire Biafra. That also is not true. We had several options then. One of the options was to break out of the Biafra enclave to cause confusion. But we had studiously maintained that we were not trying to create a civil war but we were still being attacked based on the perceived situation that brought about the pogrom.

Good enough, it was the pogrom that chased people out of the North. And when our people left the North, the pogrom continued and this made it impossible for our people to find relief in the West. There was no other alternative than to say, ˜to your tents oh Israel. So, our people left and came home. And even when organising the military defensive activity we still had it in mind that we couldn’t abandon a country we helped to build.

But we couldn’t in trying to maintain the status quo we helped to build allowed ourselves to be exterminated. No. Consequently, we retreated. By retreating, regrouping, we said we will not carry our military exploits beyond our shores. Otherwise, as it were, we had several options. Take a brigade and break into Nigeria and cause havoc. That would have made the war total, but instead under the counsel of our commander-in-chief and our elders, we maintained an operational balance.

It was for us to defend ourselves within our soil so that nobody could accuse us of either precipitating the war or as they try to accuse us that the coup was tailored against the North, an Igbo coup. If such a coup that had a universal acclaim could later change into an Igbo coup, what then would have happened if we had carried the war right into the North. The possibility was there and we didn’t do that.

But then when Igbo officers and men crossed into the West why were they not coordinated, allowing soldiers scatter into different directions?

No! No!! You see the war, Every war produces certain actions and reactions. When it became clear after the second division of Nigerian army crossed over and attacked Biafra, we already heard that they were going to use the Mid-west whom we thought was the buffer zone

between us and them. But the rampaging Nigerian army did not honour that. We were not prepared to allow them because once they did, it meant that they had three-quarters of the totality of the land in Nigeria. And that would have been very difficult for us.

We were also mindful of the fact that during the pogrom in the North, the majority of the soldiers as far as the North was concerned, Midwest was an Igbo land. It was in fact an afterthought when they tried to woo the Benins, the Urhobo’s and so on, forgetting that the Benins and Urhobos were some of those they killed during the pogrom.

So, ranging them against us by pacifying them as they did when they created Cross-River and Rivers States, it was not done to appease the North. No. it was done to range them against the Igbo people by telling them that they were sufficient to be on their own as states. And that they should not be an appendage of the Igbos. They even forgot that we could have done the same by moving into the North, bringing the Middlebelt against the Fulanis.

But we didn’t do that. So, that was what it was like.

Okay, were all these part of the blunders that prolonged the war?

Of course, yes. If we had played the game the way Nigeria played it, we would still be in the battle field today. But our people have a saying that the hen with so many chicks doesn’t know how to run in a battle situation.

At what point did the Biafran high command begin to consider some of the officers as saboteurs and what did it take one to be so considered?

In many war situations, the word sabotage is a constant and recurrent decimal. This is so because not all believe in the cause that brought about the war situation. People have different ideas and ideals. And some people, according to their belief, put themselves in the position where they were either the loyalists or considered anti-war efforts. This was what gave rise to the word saboteur. So it happens everywhere and it occurs everywhere.

You have nicknamed the Air Raid. How did this name come about?

Oh, no, no. I can’t continue to dwell on this.

But youâ’ve not told it to us before?

Okay, why I say so is that soldiers, especially in a conflict situation have the tendency for giving one name or the other to their officers, depending on the situation they find themselves. So, they did that when they wanted.

You didn’t start out as a commissioned officer, but rose to be a force to reckon with. How did it happen?

No, no. you see, people don’t seem to understand that soldiering is an art. Just like engineering or medicine, when a doctor is made to be so. You cannot just go into an operating room, pick up your instruments and begin to work, if you haven’t been trained. So also in a war situation. You cannot go into battle field and carry out all the norms necessary for an officer who had been trained over the years.

A civilian cannot plan war and execute war. It requires a trained military officer to confuse and configure the situation and operate. That is why many a time people say what they like and I don’t care. It doesn’t affect people like me; I am not interested. The situation occured within the purview of my duty and I operated just to show what I was trained for. After that I retired into a civilian life.

What really happened,“ did you actually kill Haliday, the owner of Silver Valley Hotel in the presence of his wife and daughter as alleged by General Alani Akinrinade?

That’s a lie. You see, when the war ended, Nigerian officers didn’t know what to do about me. First, they couldn’t reach me. Every effort made to kill me did not succeed. Haliday was a friend. My house, before the war started, was a stone’s throw from Chief Haliday’s house. If such a thing happened, why was it only at the end of the war that we started hearing that I was the one that killed him?

I commanded; I took over in Port Harcourt, when Port Harcourt was falling. And all that participated there will give testimony that I never picked a gun and shot him. I never picked my gun and shot at somebody. Why should I? I had soldiers who could do that. But instead, they tried to foist the death of Haliday on me. That exactly was what they have been saying; that I had been killing people indiscriminately while the war lasted. That also is not true. It took the way the war ended for most Biafrans to realise that it was really a lie that whenever I saw somebody I d shoot. Shoot for what? For what purpose? And if that was the case, would I lay my life on the line to bring the war to an end? After all, the people who asked that the war be brought to an end are still alive. People like P.K. Nwokedi, a former justice of Enugu. Louis Mbanefo too. These were the people who came to my house and pleaded that I should try to stop the war.

Normally, I would have called for their arrest, because they were members of Biafran Exco. They were party to the last meeting we held with Ojukwu to ask Ojukwu to go to the conference that was to hold in Monrovia, Liberia. That conference was engineered by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe.

It was this meeting that we arranged laboriously for where Ojukwu could stay so that there won’t be any sabotage against us. Hence, Felix Houphet- Boigny was one of those that recognised Biafran efforts. And the French were also partially assisting us.

So, from Liberia, it was planned to move Ojukwu to Gabon and then to Ivory Coast. But we hadn’t settled down in Ivory Coast in readiness for the meeting when members of the EXco came requesting that I should bring the war to an end.

How come then you were the man everybody wanted to see to end the war?

I was the person in charge of operations. I was also visible. Yes, I was.

Do you think because the Yoruba officers were the ones that saw to the end of the war, it has caused any friction between them and the Igbo people?

No, because a day after my declaration, I started the announcement from 9a.m. Every 15 minutes, my broadcast was on. Sir Louis Mbanefo crafted the statement that we gave Philip Effiong to read. After it was read, it became necessary because in my broadcast, we said we had sent emissaries to various Nigerian military formations to inform them that we had decided to end the war.

It is only people with authority who could do that. Any army on the run will not make such statement. So, we did it on a friendly basis. Today Akin is still my friend. We meet from time to time. He visits me here too. No, it has not caused any friction at all.

Why was it possible for the Owerri battle front to be inclusive as it were?

First and foremost, to take over Owerri was impossible. Owerri is the heartland of the Igbo nation. The heart land of our domain. Enugu is our foremost town which was prepared by the colonial masters as an administrative headquarters. Just as Lagos is to the West, even though Ibadan was the heartland of the Yoruba. So, also in the North, they have Kaduna State, which now they have Abuja, even though they have Sokoto, Maiduguiri and those other places.

Nigeria is centered on a tripod, whichever way you push it, all that come to the surface are the Hausa nation, the Yoruba nation and the Igbo nation. Each of these nations has minorities. Today, all that people talk about are the minorities within the East, within the Igbo nation because of economic interest. If oil has not been the main source of income for the totality of Nigerians, nobody would care how the Ijaws, how the Itsekiris, the Ibibios, Kalabairis, the Efiks and so on, are faring. This is so because they’ve been in existence before the arrival of the Europeans.


Posted by: Coummunity Uzinaumu- mgbidi

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