Blunders of the Nigerian Civil War-8


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Federal Nigerian Army Blunders of the Nigerian Civil War - Part 8

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Nowa Omoigui


OWERRI, 1969 [Part 8]




The failure to relieve large isolated battle groups in critical theaters of war often portends devastating military and political consequences.  Classical examples previously noted include Stalingrad and Dien Bien Phu.  Owerri was no different.  The Biafran recapture of Owerri following the breakout and fighting withdrawal of the 16th Brigade resulted in very significant consequences on both sides. 


Biafran consequences


Zdenek Cervenka identified five consequences to Biafra of the recapture of Owerri. They are:


1.        It sent a signal to Nigeria and the world that despite all the reverses of the war to date, Biafra was still capable of significant resistance. 


2.        It destroyed the myth surrounding the federal 3rd Marine Commando Division and its well known commander, Colonel B.A.M. Adekunle, a.k.a. “Black Scorpion”.


3.        It enhanced road and telecommunications links within the residue of Biafra. 


4.        It relieved the threat to the strategic Uli-Ihiala airstrip.


5.        It created a hinge point for subsequent aggressive Biafran probes towards Port Harcourt.



Former Nigerian and Biafran soldiers who bore direct witness to the event have amplified all of these consequences and more.  According to Madiebo:


“The Owerri victory revived the dying Biafra.  All Biafrans who a few days before wanted nothing but an end to the war, now pressed for a continuation of the struggle to the end.  The Umuahia disaster was soon forgotten and the only quarrel civilian military tacticians had against the Army was that they allowed the enemy to escape from Owerri. The enemy left a considerably large amount of ammunition of different calibres, but he managed to take away almost his entire heavy equipment including armoured vehicles and artillery pieces.  The town was completely ravaged and not a single building was habitable without major repairs.  All vehicles not taken away by the enemy were overturned and burnt by him.” 


In addition, Madiebo claims that:


“Mass graves were discovered all over the town and the victims appeared to be civilians and prisoners of war.”


It is more likely, however, that those graves were predominantly graves of the thousands of soldiers of the 16th brigade that died between September 1968 when they first arrived and April 1969 when survivors broke out of the siege.  No official casualty count has ever been rendered, but if Major General Shuwa’s estimate is correct, then it can be surmised that of the approximately 3000 soldiers that confidently thundered into the town in September 1968, about 300 made it back alive in April 1969.  Assuming they were all recovered and buried, the graves of over 2000 Nigerian soldiers killed in action were thus among those the besieging Biafrans “discovered” after retaking the town. In any case several independent international sources confirm that what was left of the 16th Brigade brought along a large number of civilians and prisoners of war out of the Owerri pocket.


That said, favorable and unfavorable reactions within and outside the Biafran military to the victory at Owerri were not without high drama and recrimination.  For example, Madiebo, who had held the rank of Major General since September 1967 when he relieved Brigadier Hilary Njoku as Commander of the Biafran Army, observed in his memoirs that:


“The Head of State put out a long list of promotions to commemorate the recapture of Owerri.  He himself became a General while Okwechime, Eze and Kalu were all promoted to Brigadiers.  Various others were promoted except Onwuatuegwu, the darling of the people, who was left out of General Ojukwu’s list.  That omission became a national political issue.  “Jet 77,” the government sponsored propaganda company of Onwuatuegwu’s “S” Division accused the Army Headquarters of not promoting Onwuatuegwu because it hated him.  The “Jet 77” produced hand-outs for the public in which they revealed that the “S” Division under Onwuatuegwu had cleared the Ugba junction and Owerri and, on each occasion, the gallant Onwuatuegwu got nothing in return but humiliation from the GOC of the Army.”


“I was not worried by this propaganda which I knew was just one of those false rumours deliberately released against various individuals from time to time in order to control their popularity with the masses.  I often disagreed with Onwuatuegwu in the same way I disagreed occasionally with all other commanders under me.  To talk of an Army Commander in war loving or hating officers under his command is being childish in the extreme.  In such a game involving human lives, a commander’s aim is to end it successfully as soon as possible.  Onwuatuegwu, as an individual being the godfather of my first son and the officer closest to my family, knew I was putting the welfare of the people before family ties and friendship.”


Incidentally, newly promoted Brigadier Michael Okwechime, the first indigenous Commander of Nigerian Army Corps of Engineers, was the Adjutant General of the Biafran army at that time.   His last “Nigerian” posting was as the officer in charge of Engineering and Communications in the 4th Area Command HQ in Benin City.   Like Brigadier Conrad Nwawo, he too was based in the Midwest at the time of the Biafran invasion in August 1967, but folded into the Biafran rearguard as it retreated to Biafra.     Brigadier Anthony Eze, on the other hand, was then Commander of the Biafran 12 Division in the Aba sector.  He had served in the Nigerian Army as the first indigenous commander of the Corps of Signals.  His last “Nigerian” appointment was as the Commanding Officer of the Lagos Garrison before the July 29, 1966 coup. 


Interestingly, the recapture of Owerri also led to changes in the way General Ojukwu now proposed to conduct Biafran military affairs.  According to Madiebo:


“After the fall of Umuahia and the recapture of Owerri, General Ojukwu in May, 1969, took two significant decisions for reasons best known to him.  Thereafter I was allowed to see the Head of State on military matters at any time of the day or night without booking for an appointment in advance----a privilege I had not enjoyed before then.  Again the Head of State decided to set up a Joint Planning Committee chairmanned by himself, with the Chief of Staff, General Effiong, and the Commanders of Army, Navy and Air Force as members.  In addition, I was given the privilege of controlling for the first time, a small fraction of the national ammunition holding, but the bulk of it still remained under the control of the Head of State.”


These tepid changes reflected an effort on the part of Ojukwu to signal sensitivity to criticisms of his leadership style that dated back to the beginning of the conflict.  Civilians were often played off against soldiers. He created special units that reported to him and no one else, and regularly subsumed the authority and responsibilities of his military commanders.   As US Marine Major Stafford observed in his Staff College analysis of the war, Ojukwu “established directorates to control the logistical aspects of the war efforts, thus creating a rivalry not only with the military but also with the existing civil service.”   Stafford concluded “the cumulative effect of these special units and extra-organizational control groups divided the direction of the war effort. They took authority away from those most responsible for fighting the war--the military--and institutionalized Ojukwu's actions to mitigate any potential political opposition by producing a fragmented power structure that answered only to him. “


Indeed, long after the war, in an interview a few years ago with the Nigerian Army Civil War Historical Investigative Team, Ojukwu himself said (among other things):


“……I sat in my office as Military Governor, Head of State, whatever it was, Army Commander, I was them all…(Italics mine)…”


“…..Believe you me, nobody went into battle on my side with more than 10 rounds in his rifle. Nobody!  I will go further.  As Head of State, I was the one to allocate mortar shells to various companies. (Italics mine)  Whenever, during the war, you heard of a serious bombardment from the Biafran side, that should be taken as a sign that I personally commanded that front…..I was in personal command so I could call for certain extra ammunition…...” (Italics mine)


It is not surprising, therefore, that “General of the People’s Army” Ojukwu’s proposed collegiate reorganization after the recapture of Owerri was not designed to be implemented.  Madiebo recalled that,


“All those privileges and changes were in effect an eye wash, designed to satisfy civilian and military pressures, which had existed since the beginning of the war, in favour of the establishment of a war council.  Civilians now had the impression that not only did we do joint planning, but also that the Army Commander controlled all ammunition.  The Joint Planning Committee met once a week from May 1969 to the end of the war but not one of the 14 operational plans, which it produced, was ever carried out.  The committee planned all the time without knowing what was available; and invariably at the end of each plan it discovered that there were no resources for such a plan which would then be discarded and a new plan produced.  The Planning Committee under Brigadier Okwechime worked like that until the end of the war.  However, we looked forward to JPC meetings because they were held in the State House, one of the very few places in Biafra where one could get a glass of cold beer.”


Federal Nigerian consequences


On the federal Nigerian side, according to Major General Oluleye (rtd),


“With the loss of Owerri, Benjy’s [ie Colonel Benjamin Adekunle’s] image was both militarily and politically dented. Army Headquarters pressed fanatically that Benjy had to be relieved to save further loss of lives.  The C-in-C did not agree until the rebels came close to Igritta and civilians in Port Harcourt started fleeing back to Lagos. I think the C-in-C was more concerned with political stability in the rear.  Had there been no set backs, relieving Benjy could have been impossible.  Benjy had become spent months before.


It was at this stage that the C-in-C directed me to implement an earlier recommendation of splitting the Division into two.  But I told him I had no resources and went further to state that there was no alternative to the removal of the Black Scorpion.  It was on this occasion that the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral [Commodore] JEA Wey described me as the ‘Ifa Oracle of the Army’ adding that I gave indication of a major disaster occurring sometime in the southern sector but that I could not predict the exact time.  On this note, the C-in-C gave up the idea of retaining Benjy in the front.  He then directed that I should head a panel to recommend the necessary changes.  The panel recommended the reliefs of all the Field Commanders so that tribal meanings might not be read into the changes. (Italics mine)


As at that time, the famous 3rd Marine Commando had been crippled and it required rebuilding through reinforcements of all forms.  The Black Scorpion had become completely worn out. He had become [so] unpopular among the rank and file of his division that he could not safely visit the front again for fear of dear life.”


In fact AHQ received many petitions against Adekunle from some of his own Brigade Commanders and Staff officers.  Others simply abandoned the Division in protest against him, without authority.  Oluleye’s assessment is consistent with that of General Olusegun Obasanjo (rtd).  In his opinion,


“The Federal victory in capturing Umuahia, the next rebel administrative headquarters after Enugu, was almost immediately effectively nullified by the loss of Owerri to the rebels. The rebels, strengthened and emboldened by their recapture of Owerri, swiftly advanced southwards to threaten Igritta, a distance of fifteen miles north of Port Harcourt on the Owerri road. The federal finger-tip hold on Aba was considerable weakened. The morale of the soldiers at least of 3 Marine Commando Division was at its lowest ebb. Desertion and absence from duty without leave was rife in the Division. The despondence and general lack of will to fight in the soldiers was glaringly manifest in the large number of cases of self-inflicted injuries throughout the formation. Some officers tacitly encouraged these malpractices and unsoldierly conduct by condoning such acts or withdrawing their own kith or kin or fellow tribesmen to do guard duties in the rear and in the officers' own houses. Distrust and lack of confidence plagued the ranks of the officer corps. Operations were unhealthily competitive in an unmilitary fashion and officers openly rejoiced at each other's misfortunes. With the restrictions imposed by the Federal Military Government on many items of imported goods and the country in the grip of inflation, the civilian population began to show signs of impatience with a war, which appeared, to them unending. In fact, some highly placed Nigerians started to suggest that the Federal Government should sue for peace at all cost to prevent the disaster that would befall it and its supporters if rebel victory seemed imminent.”


The Biafran high command sensed all of this.  Preparations were, therefore, made for an ambitious “hot pursuit” – which eventually began in mid-July.  With the 14 Division (under Brigadier Ogbugo Kalu) thrusting toward Port Harcourt from Owerri, the 12 Division (under Brigadier Eze) planned to seize Aba and then drive southwards to link up with Kalu in Port Harcourt followed by seizure of Bonny.  From there they would swing eastwards, in collaboration with other Biafran units, with the objective of recapturing Ikot-Ekpene and Calabar, thus evicting the federal army from the Biafran seaboard.


Nevertheless, in the weeks immediately following the Biafran recapture of Owerri, airwaves were preoccupied with news reports of the 3MCDO recapture of Okpuala, Olakwo, Obokwe, Eziama, Umukani and Umuagu.  These reports were punctuated by the subsequent kidnap of Italian oilmen at Kwale in the Midwest by Biafran commandos on May 9, 1969.  On that same day, quietly, behind the scenes, an Army HQ operational order was issued, changing all the federal divisional commanders.  Following an article by British Major General HT Alexander in the Sunday Telegraph of May 11 criticizing the Nigerian military, it was publicly announced on May 12, 1969 that Colonel Olusegun Obasanjo had replaced Colonel Benjamin Adekunle as GOC 3 Marine Commando.   On May 16, 1969, Obasanjo physically took over the Division in the field.  Simultaneously – to avoid ethnic interpretation - Lt. Col. G.S. Jalo relieved Col. Ibrahim Haruna of the 2nd Infantry Division while Col. I. D. Bissala was billed to take Colonel Shuwa’s place at 1st Infantry Divisional HQ. The actual change of command in the relatively well-organized and managed 1st Division, however, was delayed until the end of September.


Hesitation in the High Command: Why Gowon was reluctant to replace Adekunle


It took six months, the Owerri disaster and the subsequent Biafran threat to Port Harcourt to convince Major General Yakubu Gowon – prodded by then Commodore Akinwale Wey - that new leadership was required for the 3MCDO.  Why?


Colonel Benjamin Adekunle (a.k.a. “Black Scorpion”) became a political and folk hero after stunning military successes at Bonny, Warri, Sapele, Calabar and Port Harcourt.  These successes, amplified by his penchant for national and international publicity, made him a household name in his native Western State.   He seemed to emulate American General Douglas MacArthur and likely saw himself as a Nigerian Caesar. Indeed, I recall that as a primary school student in Lagos and subsequently as a secondary school student in Warri, we often chanted songs that extolled Adekunle’s heroic contributions to the war.  In one example, we would chant:


Lead singer:                 “One Nigeria!”


Chorus:                  “Adekunle sector!”


And this would go on and on as if there were no other sectors, divisions and divisional commanders involved in the war.  As young and impressionable children, we were totally ignorant of his military errors and disasters, even less so his curious order directing troops to “shoot anything that moves” once he got into the core Igbo areas of Biafra.


Furthermore, given the initial political prevarication of the Yoruba West in joining the federal effort against Biafran secession (until the Biafran Midwest/West invasion), Gowon, a northern minority, even when privately admonished by senior Yoruba officers, was very leery of burning that ethnic bridge – shaky though it was.  After all, back in May 1967, just before the war began, a delegation of senior Yoruba officers including Colonel Olutoye, Lt. Col. Olusegun Obasanjo, Majors Sotomi, Akinrinade and Ayo-Ariyo had presented a demand to Gowon for northern troops to be transferred out of Lagos and the West.  They were doing this in follow up to a similar demand by Western region Governor, Colonel Adeyinka Adebayo.  Adebayo had not only asked for northern troops to leave the West but also told Gowon to shift the venue of Supreme Military Council meetings to Akure where he felt safer.  All of this was coming after Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s declaration that “if the Eastern region is allowed by acts of omission or commission to secede from or opt out of Nigeria, then the Western region and Lagos must also stay out of the federation.”  Those were difficult days for Gowon and he had not forgotten. During that crisis, his loyal Commander of the Lagos Garrison Organization was none other than Major Benjamin Adekunle. 


To complicate Gowon’s position, the West was not politically stable during most of the war, particularly between 1968 and 1970.  Agitation for the creation of a separate Yoruba central state to include Oyo and Ibadan provinces (Oyo State) was the first shot in the saga and may have been an ongoing factor during subsequent events.  There was also the so-called “Omopupa” riot in Lagos, ultimately crushed by the Lagos Garrison Organization under then Lt. Col Anthony Ochefu.  Then there was restiveness among old farmers and hunters – also known as the “Agbekoya rebellion” – in the West.  Anger was driven by frustration with intrusive, violent and corrupt government tax collectors at a time of bad harvest of swollen shoots, inflation and economic recession caused by low cocoa prices.    Taking inspiration from the Maiyegun league of yesteryears, beginning around Ibadan, the revolt soon spread to Ogbomosho (Adekunle’s hometown), Ede, Ijebu-Remo and Egba areas of the West.  Local government offices were attacked and sacked, necessitating massive internal security operations by the Police and Army – particularly the Ibadan Garrison Organization led by then Colonel Oluwole Rotimi. Indeed, things got so bad at one point that then Western State Governor, Brigadier Adeyinka Adebayo, reportedly had to flee Ibadan for safety and rioters later killed the traditional ruler (Shoun) of Ogbomosho.  At another point insurgents freed prisoners at the Agodi prison in Ibadan.   Because of the government’s initial suspicion that the riots were linked – according to General Gowon - to “causes extending beyond dissatisfaction with the level of taxation,” a compromise was needlessly delayed.  It was not until October 1969 that then Federal Finance Minister and former Western region premier, Chief Obafemi Awolowo negotiated an agreement with the Agbekoya resulting in a reduction of the flat tax rate to £2 a year, accompanied by amnesty for tax defaulters.


With such political tensions in the Yoruba rear, and intelligence reports of Colonel Adekunle’s political and military ambitions, Gowon became fearful of a potential coup d’Etat staged by the “Nigerian Caesar” if he was rendered jobless lurking around in Lagos.  Indeed General Obasanjo (rtd) once wrote that “I knew of people of Western State origin who had felt politically victimized and who saw in Col. Adekunle a savior and told him so, and he believed them.”  


Not until Adekunle destroyed his own name and mythical reputation, therefore, even among Yorubas, was Gowon finally comfortable enough – in the face of overwhelming military justification - to fire him.  Even then, mindful of his services to the nation, he refused to probe serious allegations made against him. Instead he promoted him substantive Colonel and gave him a desk job as Director of Training and Planning at AHQ. He was also careful not to tinker with the “Northern-Western” alliance against the “East” and expose himself to charges of tribalism by replacing ALL divisional commanders simultaneously – irrespective of military effectiveness.  To refine this further, he made sure another Yoruba officer – then Colonel Olusegun Obasanjo - replaced Adekunle at the now famous (some say notorious), albeit battered 3MCDO.


Three additional factors are often cited for Gowon’s ambivalence by Major General Oluleye (rtd), and others, who were in a position to see things at close quarters.  The first is that he was actually fond of Adekunle as a “can do” officer.  The second was that Gowon was basically a “nice man” who never wanted to hurt anyone’s feelings.  Some saw this as weakness, others as a virtue.  Lastly, Gowon – who maintained independent radio links to divisional commanders - was personally liable for encouraging Adekunle to disobey Army HQ back in September and October 1968 when he diverted resources to attack Umuahia after Aba instead of focusing on Uli-Ihiala as ordered by AHQ.  In other words, Colonel Adekunle’s Operation “OAU” was fully sanctioned by the C-in-C. 


The genesis of the situation described in the last paragraph needs explanation.  Nigeria’s first military leader, Major General Ironsi originally formalized the title “Chief of Staff (Army)” [COS (A)] in January 1966 – although plans for such a position were in place before he came to office.  Indeed, Colonel Kur Mohammed of blessed memory was the first COS (A) designate.  This position did not carry the same weight as the “GOC, Nigerian Army” or the current title “Chief of Army Staff (COAS)”.  The COS (A) was basically a Chief Clerk to the C-in-C in charge of Army matters.  He did not really “command” the Army – unless his roll seniority level compelled officers to defer to him.   Thus the C-in-C (or more correctly, Supreme Commander, as it was known at that time) was the real Army Chief.  This was the situation from 1966 until 1975.


Back in July 1967, shortly after the war began, then Chief of Staff (Army), Col. JRI Akahan, had died in a helicopter crash.  With the blessing of General Gowon, then GSO (1) at the AHQ, Lt. Col. Iliya Bissala, assumed the position of Acting Chief of Staff (Army).  Some observers interpreted this move as an act of nepotism since Bissala was from the same Benue-Plateau State as the C-in-C as well as the immediate past COS (A), Col. Joe Akahan.   In fact, with reference to the divisional commanders, Bissala was six months junior to Adekunle and a course-mate at Sandhurst to Shuwa and Murtala Mohammed, all of whom, therefore, decided to ignore him and deal with the C-in-C directly.  Indeed, some other staff and ‘general pool’ officers in the AHQ at that time were senior to Bissala.  They included Lt. Col. Oluwole Rotimi, Brigadiers David Ejoor, Emmanuel Ekpo and Hassan Katsina, among others.  For different reasons, Brigadiers Ogundipe and Adebayo, both combatants, were assigned non-regimental duties.   To compound matters, the man who replaced Bissala as the GSO (1) at AHQ was none other than Lt. Col. Sule Apollo, who had just been relieved of his position for alleged “ineffectiveness” as Commander of 1 Sector in the 1st Division by Colonel Shuwa.  Between Bissala and Apollo, therefore, AHQ was a ‘no go area’ for the Divisional Commanders – until Lt. Col. James Oluleye became GSO (1) in November 1967 and Brigadier Hassan Usman Katsina took over as COS (A) in January 1968. 




Among the many Federal Nigerian military disasters of the civil war, the siege of Owerri embodies many lessons of war and peace, man management in crisis and the endurance of the human spirit, viewed from both Nigerian and Biafran perspectives in that tragic conflict.  It is a fascinating story that I hope will someday be the subject of memorialization, simulated war games, a book, and perhaps even a movie.


This story began with a review of military disasters in history and is one of several in the Nigerian Civil war series.  We can now safely conclude that incompetent command, failure to plan for trouble, interference by political leadership, misplaced confidence and sheer failure to perform were all factors – among others – in the federal debacle at Owerri in 1968 and 1969.  Even then, covered in the ashes of that tactical, operational and strategic disaster, there were heroes.


When men of the 16th Brigade finally linked up with the rest of the 3MCDO at Ohoba, they looked scrawny, bearded, and frazzled – little better than their prisoners of war.  But they had broken out of Owerri with their rifles, trucks, field guns and armoured vehicles, and now stood, in uniform, with ranks, behind their surviving non-commissioned and commissioned officers, with Lt. Col. EA Etuk in front and the lifeless body of the late Major Hamman in tow.  Battered though they appeared, they still projected the image of an organized fighting unit – one that had earned the eternal respect of their adversaries in combat.  As Field Marshall the Viscount Slim recalled about the men of the Burma Corps at Imphal in 1942, “they might look like scarecrows, but they looked like soldiers too.”


In time to come, the 16th Brigade was reinforced, refitted and refurbished, and returned to combat duty near the Ohaji palm plantation and along the Umu Nelu-Umuakpu-Owerri road. 

On January 9, 1970, Owerri was captured once again – for the last time, this time in an all out assault by the 12 Brigade under Captain Isemede, 17 Brigade under Major Tomoye and 13 Brigade under Major Innih - and the war brought to an end.


It is to the memory of all that perished – on both sides - during the siege of Owerri that this article was dedicated.





Notes on key commanders during the siege of Owerri




Colonel E.A. Etuk (rtd)


Throughout this essay I have referred to this fine officer as “Etuk.”  In some publications he is referred to as “Utuk” but I have used “Etuk” because that is what was used in the most recent official Army publication on the Civil War.  Colonel EA Etuk (rtd) [N415] was admitted to the “Boys Company” (Nigerian Military School) in 1954 at age 14.  In 1958, he graduated from NMS and was a soldier at the officer preparatory school at Apapa in Lagos.  He was selected for further officer cadet training at Fort Dix in New Jersey, followed by six months of cavalry and armored training at Fort Knox in Kentucky, both in the United States – as part of the USAAF Officer Leadership Training program of that era. He was commissioned Second Lieutenant in June 1963, underwent further training and was welcomed home in 1964 by then Defence Minister, Alhaji Muhammadu Ribadu.


Etuk served as a subaltern in the 4th Battalion at Ibadan under the late Lt. Col. Abogo Largema.  As a Captain he was deployed to the 2nd Brigade at Apapa under the late Brigadier Zakaria Maimalari.  During the count down to the war he rejected an invitation by Colonel Effiong to return to the eastern region to fight under Ojukwu.  He was subsequently a staff officer (operations), charged with weapons acquisition under Lt. Col. Iliya Bissala at AHQ and went on arms purchasing missions abroad for Nigeria at the onset of the civil war.  In October 1967, Lt. Col. Bissala prevented then Lt. Col. Murtala Mohammed from drafting Etuk to the 2nd Division for the disastrous Onitsha assault river crossing.  However, he was later literally “hijacked” by Lt. Col. B.A.M. Adekunle and deployed to the 3rd Division as the Officer Commanding the 8 Battalion in Calabar.  After battalion operations in the Calabar-Itu-Ikot-Ekpene axis he was redeployed to Port Harcourt as Commander, 16 Brigade.  As a Field Major, he took part in the successful 3MCDO campaign for Port Harcourt along with officers like Lt. Col. Filemon Shande, Lt. Col. Pius Eromobor, Major George Innih, and (initially) Adaka Boro, among others.


After the fall of Port Harcourt, Etuk was tasked (as a Field Lt. Col.) with the capture of Owerri as part of  “Operation OAU”.


As the commander of the subsequently beleaguered 16th Brigade, he emerged among all the Nigerian field commanders of the civil war as the most highly thought of by his Biafran opponents.  According to Madiebo,


“….. the enemy force at Owerri which was the [16] Brigade under a young Calabar officer called Utuk [Etuk], was easily the best fighting unit fielded by Nigeria throughout the war.  Right from Port Harcourt, and particularly at Afam, it had become obvious that the Brigade was a force well led.  Inside Owerri, they fought with extraordinary courage, flexibility and determination.  The withdrawal of the Brigade from Owerri was tactically tidy and well planned and executed.  Without doubt no other Nigerian Brigade could have withstood for more than a month the punishment the enemy [16] Brigade absorbed with patience for over four months.  Only that Brigade could have got out of Owerri under the circumstances.”


After the Owerri debacle, Lt. Col. Etuk was temporarily appointed Garrison Commander for Port Harcourt before returning to command the newly reinvigorated 16 Brigade under the new 3MCDO Commander during “Operation Tail Wind” – the final offensive of the war.  His second-in-command this time around was Captain Buhari, a former NCO and concessional commissioned officer who had distinguished himself during the Owerri breakout.


However, Madiebo is not the only former Biafran military leader to complement Etuk.  When the war finally ended in January 1970, after Ojukwu and Madiebo had fled into exile, Etuk joined then Colonel Obasanjo for a meeting with the Biafran high command, which was going through the process of surrendering.  After the formal introductions, Colonel Joe ‘Hannibal‘ Achuzia, who mostly commanded the Biafran ‘Republic of Benin’ Division but had faced Etuk in battle at various times in Port Harcourt and Owerri, asked,


“Are you the Etuk who gave us all these headaches and all these troubles?”


Etuk later privately hosted former Biafran Chief of General Staff and COS (DHQ) Major General Phillip Effiong for a meal. Effiong reportedly said:


“You, this boy, you gave us headache.”


Colonel EA Etuk (rtd) was retired from the Nigerian Army in January 1979.


Captain (Field Major) ATG Hamman


Ted Hamman, as he was popularly known, grew up in Maiduguri.  He entered the Nigerian Military Training College (NMTC) on December 10, 1962, along with now well-known personalities like Ibrahim Babangida, Garba Duba, Mamman Vatsa etc.  After six months of basic training, he proceeded to the Mons Officer Cadet School at Aldershot in the UK.  He was commissioned Second Lieutenant in February 1964.  


As a subaltern, he served in the 1st battalion at Enugu. He was among the non-eastern officers and soldiers evacuated from Enugu in September 1966 (along with Adekunle, Jalo, Jega, Yar’Adua and others) when there was break down of law and order following the events of the weekend of July 29, 1966.  They went by train to Kaduna and then to Lagos. Upon arrival in Lagos the unit was redesignated the 6 Battalion at Ikeja Barracks and Lt. Ted Hamman replaced Yar’Adua as the adjutant. The Commander was then Major Benjamin Adekunle.  The second-in-command was Gibson Jalo.  Adekunle subsequently moved on to take command of the Lagos Garrison Organization (which had been previously commanded by Anthony Eze).


When the civil war broke out in July 1967, the Lagos Garrison Organization (LGO) was tasked with operations along the Biafran seaboard, beginning with the capture of Bonny, in support of the naval blockade.  Following the surprise Biafran invasion of the Midwest in August, units of the Garrison were redeployed from planned operations against Calabar to clear Biafran troops from the riverain areas of the Midwest.  They concentrated at Escravos and were subsequently christened the 3rd Marine Commando (3MCDO) division. Three battalions, the 32 Bn under Ted Hamman, 31 Bn under AR Aliyu, and 8 Bn under Anthony Ochefu took Koko, Sapele, and Warri, before exploiting northwards to link up with Lt. Col. Murtala Mohammed’s 2nd Division.  


Elements of the 3rd MCDO then disengaged from the Midwest (leaving Yar’Adua, Jega and Jalo behind to merge with 2 DIV) and returned to carry out ‘Operation Tiger Claw’, the seaborne landing and capture of Calabar.  The two lead battalions for the Calabar operation were under Ted Hamman and Anthony Ochefu.  Hamman commanded the 33 Bn that set ashore on the Henshaw Town beach.  When the 16th Brigade was created, Hamman was ordered to move his 33 Bn to form up with two other battalions under Etuk for the assault on Port Harcourt and subsequent “Operation OAU”. 


It was as the second-in-command to Etuk, during the siege of Owerri, that Major Hamman was killed by sniper fire on April 20, 1967. 



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