Raphael Ede, Enugu
Bishop (Dr) Obi Udezuwe Onubogu, former Aide-de-Camp (ADC) to the late Head of State of the defunct Republic of Biafra, General Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, has revealed what his boss told them about Biafra.
Onubogu who is currently the Bishop, Rock Family Church, Rock Cathedral, Enugu, was with the late Ojukwu as the civil war raged, as well as in exile.
In this exclusive interview with Sunday Sun, the former police officer gave an insider information of how Ojukwu felt during the critical moments of the war, his exile, his belief in Biafra and what it stands for. He said that the only thing that will make Nigeria to be one nation was to dialogue and agree on restructuring of any kind. The bishop revealed why Igbo billionaires are reluctant in the support for Biafra, saying that Ojukwu told them that Biafra was the only hope for the Igbo man. Excerpt:
You were the ADC to General Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, the Commander-in-Chief of the defunct Republic of Biafra. What did he tell you about Biafra vis-a-vis the current wave of Biafra restoration agitation. Do you think that the current agitation for Biafra restoration is realistic?
Yes indeed. I was in the police force when the war broke out. In fact, when the national riots and disturbances happened I was serving in the mobile force, MOPOL 3, Enugu. I was a unit commander and we were drafted to Lagos when the situation was very tense and we were there when the coup d’état happened. In fact, my unit was assigned to disarm the leaders of the coup. We went to the cantonment in Ikeja and the officers and the men were released to us. We took them to be detained at Apapa. So, we could have been attacked, there could have been a clash. When I look at my life today, I begin to see that God saved me and showed me something about this nation early. So, from all the problems at that level we were on the sideline doing the arrest and seeing what was happening until the crisis increased and we were asked to comeback. I was serving in Port Harcourt when I was posted to the Biafran Government House and then the declaration has happened. The state of Biafra was already born. The civil war has started far away at the boundaries till the pressure came close to Enugu and the sit of the Biafran government moved from Enugu to Umuahia; that was when I was transferred and I joined the service with Biafran authorities at Umuahia. So, you can see also that I experienced a lot about the beginning. I knew the pressure and I saw the suffering of the people. I saw the air raid. I saw the victims of kwashiorkor in the camps all over the place. The hunger the world council of churches activities; relief programmes and all that. So coming to what you said you know very well that at that point our people had no choice than to hold on together to see a way of defending ourselves. We were hunted. We were hunted in the North that every crisis that happened we were victims. There were massacres nobody could remember ever not losing a relative. It was terrific and yet we sat there not as administrators, but we sat there as security officers watching and beholding what was happening. There were consultations, people were coming in for marathon meetings and so on, military, the navy and what was left in the air force, the politicians, the civil service, but we were just witnesses. We saw the visit of the international communities from all parts of the world, they had meetings and so on. How do you think all these things could have happened if not a resolution of the people? The people who are hunted, the people who have suffered, some of them have lost everything they helped to build. I am dealing with the foundation of a nation called Biafra, something else happened later that everybody came out not having a gun, not having ammunition, but still wanting to defend what they believed they stood for. Today, if you go to the net you will find the soldiers with sticks. They were practicing with sticks as riffles so that when the riffles and arms arrived they will be used to it. They never had weapons. So, that was the original concept on which Biafra was built. Everybody agreed that no we can’t live like this again, we will fight for what we will leave for our children, we will fight to defend it. Many people didn’t ask how are we going to fight, do you have the way to import arms and ammunition, how would you pay for ammunition and all that. How would you even survive, most people didn’t think about that. The deep feeling was that since we are not wanted we better stay together all alone, that was it and that was what the leadership pushed out to the people and they bought that idea. If you don’t stay together they will slaughter you. You better stay together to organize your survival.
What happened then?
The war was fought, but it became very disastrous and very painful. There were unimaginable loses, air raids, hunger, and sickness, there was disease, death. I saw people dying in their thousands not just from the events at the war front, but the situation was tough. The refugee problem was beyond the control of what we had and I know that the international bodies were helping and sending reliefs. How many planeload of relief per night do you think will solve the problems and take care of the refugees? It just trickled, one planeload a night for the entire Biafra and so on. But the World Council of Churches and the rest of the international bodies that were helping did their best to provide food, to provide medicine, some of them risked their lives to bring, but in spite of that the territory was shrinking and the pressures were more and more and then, people were less enthusiastic in rushing to the war front and, of course, the situation became more realistic. I remember certain incidents during the war today as a servant of God and they made me shed tears. I was sent to Owerri, there were locations we secured as Biafran government houses and establishment. There was a bomb attack. A plane flew over Owerri and dropped several bombs that exploded and killed people and as a security officer on duty I was sent to inspect the scene and make a report for the government. I went there, it was around Shell Camp Owerri and the casualty had been cleared and the fire was just fading when I arrived and I had to speak to our people to encourage them and to bring down the fear. You wouldn’t believe what I did. They said there were at least eight huge bombs that were dropped around the area, but they heard only explosion of five; there were still three unexploded bombs. As they were showing me the place we located one which is not totally buried, half of it still showed outside and people rushed to see it and some people were asking people to go away. I went there and stood at that bomb and called people around and address them and what I said was; well the God that has saved you that same God was still working with you. I want you to go and continue your local affairs and know that in this trouble God is with us and that is it. Our people were showing me round, we checked what was lost and how many people that were involved and we left. Two hours after leaving there the rest of the bombs exploded. As a man of God, I said God I am foolish. You saved me. You saved me at the time like this because I would have died there. I would have perished there. There were other incidents. Our troops had contacts with the enemy troop – Biafra troops had contact with the Nigerian troops and they made a deal not to fight again. They became friends and they were exchanging things. On the other side they brought drinks and scarce commodities and our people organized party for them and invited local girls and that kind of things; it was going on until at some point our own people tricked them to come into the Biafra territory and arrested them. They brought them to the Biafran Government House; I was on duty and they were lined up and when we went to report this incident to the Biafran leader – you see these are some untold stories which people like you should go back to dig out more facts about it. He said to us; how is it possible that you said about 175 to 200 were brought out there for my inspection? How were they captured? What were the casualties on your side? He said there was something fishy about this, but I don’t know, let’s go and inspect the parade and he went there. As he was inspecting the parade one of the persons that came saluted him, it was his back man in the North, it was full of emotion then, of course, at the end the story was told. There was no fight, there was no battle, there was a deal, Gowon was safe in his bunker, Ojukwu was safe in his bunker and you people were dying at this place at no man’s land and we were dying every day, why not we stop dying and see what they will do. But our own people pulled back on the agreement and arrested them and brought them forward. You know why I am telling you all these because you can go ahead and say all manner of rubbish about Ikemba; he was a wicked man; who told you that he was a wicked man? Who said so? Have you had any dealing with him? Do you know that he had friends up to when he came back from exile? He had friends from the North. Do you know that while he was in exile, I was there, some of his friends; Nigerian rulers and Emirs visited him in Ivory Coast.
Then what happened?
We came back and the war ended. I can even tell you another story about the end of the war. Before he flew out of Uli Airport, but first of all we headed to Uga and we were there at Uga when we received signal that the plane was landing at Uli and we pulled back to Uli. It was a sudden decision because the fronts were collapsing and there was danger, confusion and everything was just falling apart like that. So they decided that we to go for peace meeting. Myself being one the persons that will go with him, a special appeal was made to ask me will you come and I said I will go. I talked to my parents they said go, we don’t know what will happen; if we all died you are out, then we went. When we came to Uli the army commanders were having their meetings there and when we arrived they pulled out to talk with him and we were trying to load personal things we had and we discovered that there was Biafran soldiers inside the plane. I went to meet them, they said you are not going to anywhere. You are leaving us in this and we are going to blow-up this plane. It was one of my toughest challenges to speak to them, plead with them, and explained to them that we need to keep alive in other to forge ahead with the struggle. As God will have it they heard and then, they allowed us to load, of course, we rewarded them with reliefs and so on for themselves, their friends and their troops and then we boarded the aircraft that had no seats. We sat on the floor everybody, including the head of state and that was how we departed. But then the question was still what happened? After the war we were in exile. People tried to return to where they came from, some succeeded, some didn’t succeed. You know the story about 20 Pounds. Everybody was leveled with that and looking back today we just thank God for His miracles He did in the lives of our people about recovery and the prosperity He released. People don’t like to talk about it or even to analyze it, but for me as a man of God that is a miracle. All these industrialists you see and all these rich people you see, all started with 20 Pounds.
So, we recovered some of our things and built businesses and went back again to the place where we first started and made friends. People were good to us, some people even took the rent of houses belonging to our people and kept it for them and they looked after their property and so on. Immediately we began to develop a new class of Ndigbo; those who fought and died and those who fought with injuries and pains, but recovered. They went back and started building; they built industries, they built commerce, they built churches, and they built all manner of things in this nation. Is it the same people you are saying to abandon that and come back to fight for what? I am being honest with you. Some people cannot imagine losing again or abandoning again what they have in this land. They can’t. They are so rich that coming back without what they have there is like asking them to commit suicide. So you have a class of growing young people that didn’t witness the war or who were told somewhere like my children; for example, made me to sit down for a whole day to tell them the story. The eldest told me father, people came referring to you, tell us what happened. We don’t know which story to believe and many people too love the concept of Biafra; self-determination, independent and free to develop ourselves and our potentials; the young people love it, but they didn’t know what happened and now they said that the things they heard were the ideal thing and they want it. They need it and they must have it. Now the older people said, but you don’t know what that will cost you.
If you ask me what I will do, I am right in between the two. I witnessed what happened and I know more than an average person and I can see the point of those who went back to rebuild themselves and businesses, they are reluctant to come back. But I also understand that I wouldn’t like my children to go into slavery in this land. I like my children to develop their potentials and I wouldn’t like them to be second-class citizens. Therefore, we are in a place of balancing that. Wherever or whatever you chose to call it, is it restructuring or reconstituting or repairs or refurnishing or refurbishing whatever RE. I know that RE is a word that belongs to God. In the Bible you see a lot of RE. RE is a word that brings you to the foundation of a certain wall. Restructuring is to structure again. Rebuild is to build again. Revive means to give live again. Reeve is a French word that means to live, so revive means to live again. I like the word RE not as a politician, I am just a preacher of the gospel. If there is anything that will make the RE to work, therefore, to benefit our people then we are in for it. Don’t ask me about the details, but as we are talking within the agreement of one nation. That is what you are looking at this time.
Do you think the call for Biafra is something that is realizable one day?
The big question is what will be our expectation in the restructured Nigeria. It is left for our people to negotiate. It is left for our people to know what we want and go in for it considering the rest of the other nations around us. Yes, this is the way I see it I have a balanced view of it. I know that war is horrible, it is horrible you don’t go into war, I have learnt that when you are not equipped you don’t go into war, you don’t go to war when you have not checked how to mobilize your forces, you don’t go to war with empty hands, you don’t go to war when you are not fully organized, both civilians and so on. War is simply not the answer now, you can have Biafra in your concept of life and know that if it be the will of God someday it could still happen. That someday maybe that the people in power in this nation will see that it is better for the various people to be free to run themselves and to run their affairs and manage their resources and have a connection that brings us together. And I will put a pulse to that and tell you about something that is burning in my heart. Haven’t you seen the football team called the Supper Eagles? Check their names, they don’t come from one area. I think that their standard is, do you play the game well? Can you be a force to settle this team? There qualification is not whether they come from any part of the nation; and they were able to practice together; stay together; eat together; learn together and then they faced their enemies in the field together and they worked together; they plan together on how to beat the enemy and score the goals. I put a post today on Facebook and said: ‘Eagles: Supper Eagles Go! Go!! Go!!! Supper Eagles. Bring us our first victory tomorrow Saturday when you play your first match. Bring us home the first victory’. When I go down the line and I find that other people from other areas of this nation are saying the same thing. Unity is important for us to achieve anything about nationhood. And then, having a standard, whatever standard you chose it becomes a standard by agreement for a position in the running of the nation. For employment, for recruitment into the armed forces, for appointment into government posts, judges, military and so on. Super Eagles wouldn’t have made it to Russia if they said every person bring your relative or your preferred person and they will form this team and go, no.
What is your message to Biafra agitators?
IPOB and MASSOB, these are people who love Ndigbo maybe to a fault. They are like me, but everyday my eyes open. They have been unjustly treated. When I was interviewed in this office some time ago on the solution to the troubles in this nation, there is killing in the nation, Nnamdi Kanu was on his side blaring and they asked me, give us what will bring solution to this problems that will appeal to IPOB, MASSOB, the government and the military. I thought about the questions and God gave me an answer and I still stand on the answer till today and these are three things that are necessary; halt the killings, halt the level of marginalization, disaster, hunger and hatred. Three things and these are dialogue, dialogue and dialogue. Why cannot you talk to someone you are accusing of something and get that person to see the reasons to come round and we talk about it, maybe you will understand yourselves better. The answer to it all is dialogue. In 2016, we refused to dialogue, we refused to talk and if you check from then till now we will see what it cost us and in the future I don’t know how near it is; what will solve this whole thing is a word called dialogue. We will sit down together and talk. There will be a generation that will know that we have to talk about this. They have to listen to themselves. It is not dialogue in the Senate or House of Representatives. It is dialogue of leaders on various sides to take a decision on what they want. I say to IPOB, MASSOB and to groups that are agitating now that the God we serve will bring us and the people opposing what you are doing to a dialogue table. If you fight and leave, you will live to fight again.
As a man of God what do you see about the 2019 general election?
It is in the hand of God. The God we serve is an awesome God, you can’t deceive Him, you can’t blind fold Him, you can’t bribe Him, you can’t elect Him, and you cannot disqualify Him. He is a God that has built first of all our potentials and then our destiny. The destiny of every nation is in the hand of God. Right now, 2018 and beyond are in the hands of God and all of you listening to me and all of you politicians and all of you young people and all of you market women and all of you children you are becoming what God has already made you to be. 2019 is already decided by God and it will come to pass. If you are waiting for me to announce name or political party, no, I am not God and it’s not my duty to do that. You will be making a big mistake if you ever think that the Almighty God is not involved in the expectations we had for this nation at this time.
What did Ikemba Nnewi tell you about Biafra?
He said so many big things about Biafra and he taught us. He used to teach us at very special times. He believes in Biafra. What he said that we heard is that Biafra is the hope for the survival of the Igbo man and he hammered on it from time to time even when we were in exile. He believed on the survival of Biafra. He didn’t have a time frame because we also discussed about what could happen if certain things happened and those certain things, of course, did happen and we saw the result. He mentioned and I think one personality in this nation also mentioned it, that is, don’t toy with the idea of concepts of Biafra. You can’t kill it. You can’t destroy it. It is a concept that is built within a people and that is it. In summary what he said to our hearing was that if you go up or down Biafra is the only hope of the Igbo man, which God will give to them.
Don’t you think that the South-east governors are like a cog-in-the-wheel of progress as they collaborated with the Federal Government to proscribe IPOB as a terrorist organization?
I don’t think that our governors are our problem. That statement is an over-statement and our governors are in their place and dealing with the challenges of governance. They are not our problem. They could be our blessings. They are dealing with challenges they find themselves. These men called governors are under severe pressures. There is an English adage that says that ‘he who pays the piper calls his tunes’ that is the reality of the situation, there is a limit to what they can do. They have the laws of Nigeria, they have constitution of Nigeria and they are expected to operate within the laws and the constitution of Nigeria. They are not independent; I am sorry for them, sometimes when I look at what they are faced with I begin to feel for them. So, it will take every governor God’s wisdom, intelligence and he must be full of God to take decisions on situations in which the Federal Government is interested. They don’t have the police, but they call them the chief security officers they are not. Their security can be withdrawn and so they are attempted to play to the gallery. So, are they Ndigbo? Yes. These are sons of Igbo land. Do they know what our people are facing? Yes they do. They know in details what our people are facing. They are labouring to find a way to bring the lesser problem and pressures on the people. They didn’t declare IPOB a terrorist group, it was the army that did, but it might be possible to say that their opinions where sought. Those people want how to get peace in their regime. They want to build their states, but they have a problem not with our people, but with the decision they make or take and that will anger the Federal Government. This is the reality of the situation. They still love our people and our people love them.