General Alexander Madiebo (rtd) was a commander in the Biafran Army and fought in the Nigeria-Biafra civil war. He had his military training at the Regular Officers’ Special Training School in Teshie, Gold Coast, now Ghana.
From there he proceeded to Europe where he studied at the Eaton hall officer cadet school in Chester, England and was in December 1956 commissioned into the Nigerian Army Artillery with the rank of a Second Lieutenant.
The elder statesman who was Zik’s ADC in 1960 is one not gifted with so much talk, but action and enticing wisdom.
He took Sunday Sun reporter to memory lane, confronting the Nigerian story boldly and squarely, situating the reason for the civil war, the problem ahead, its solution, the struggle to restore Biafra and what Ndigbo should be doing in today’s Nigeria among other sensitive issues. Excerpts:
As a retired General, let’s start with the issue of security challenges in the country and call by some citizens that President Muhammadu Buhari should sack the Security Chiefs?
I commanded the Biafran Army and we were losing the war gradually over two and half years, yet (Chukwuemeka Odumegwu) Ojukwu did not change me. You know why? Rightly or wrongly, he believed there was nobody better than me. He also knew that we were not equipped to fight the war, so changing individuals will make no difference. If you have a General with a rifle and a private soldier with a machine gun, the private soldier will win. You have to have a standard Army with the equipment they need before you start judging the commanders. I say all this because the failure or otherwise of the security in the country can either be blamed on field commanders or the government. The government in that they haven’t provided what is needed to tackle the challenge, and commanders not using what is available properly. But the third force is that there appears to be divided loyalty in the area. If everybody were true Nigerians, the rebels, the fighters, I mean the Boko Haram fighters, are not spirits, they are living with people in the areas and you cannot say that you are living with Boko Haram and you do not know. They know them, the people living around them know them too well. People are harbouring them, so they are well known, they are not ghosts. It is just that some of them seem to have divided loyalty either because of money or because of religious affiliation. The government has to improve not only on armoury and so on, but on intelligence. You must train people who must get out facts on those responsible. As I said these are human beings and somebody/people know them, so there must be sufficient intelligence gathering. Why is it that people that know those individuals are not reporting to the authorities, that is what should be found out. So, you need more intelligence gathering, there is the need to infiltrate the group, of course, the military should know the tactics, the strategy on how these things are done. Security chiefs have had enough they must be tired, but if you change them don’t expect anything to change in the field. It is one single person in command of the Army (Chief of Army Staff), one single person in-charge of the Navy and so is the Airforce and others. So, removing one person can’t change performance overnight, so, my view is that they must improve on their intelligence and they must make sure they have basic equipment because one man does not fight a war. If you remove the person, say (Chief of Army Staff) he may even be happy. If I was removed as the Commander of the Biafran Army, I would have thanked God, but you cannot in the middle of the war you say that you don’t want to continue, that you want to leave. First of all, you will be arrested and maybe killed. But those who are doing it now, having done it four-five years, maybe they need to rest, but that rest does not mean any automatic improvement in the battlefield. They must ensure they have basic military essentials to prosecute such an assignment. Is not even the basic essential most times that matter most, but you must know; who are the Boko Haram? What is their drive? What is crucial and more important at some point is intelligence service/gathering on Boko Haram as I said earlier. You must fish out people among them who are sabotaging the fight. Some are there to gather information and give back to Boko Haram on where you are, your strategy etc, and they will come and attack you unexpectedly and finish you. Fish out those that are doing a double standard job, infiltrate the entire group and place. As it is now everybody is talking about the commanders and that they don’t have or lack ideas; what ideas do you have in guerilla warfare except to go and find out who the guerillas are? Then you use your strategy to take them out.
If you are to reflect back to make a comparison with today’s Nigeria, what will be your random thought?
Then and now seem to be different, but a lot of injustice is still being perceived in the political system. It was due to the unfavourable condition for the Southeast region that needed to be changed, but which was met with resistance that led to the Biafran journey. A lot of things must be done; certain critical changes need to be embarked upon for the country to get to where all will feel a sense of belonging. Leadership as it is, has not delivered for our people and these are part of the sources of conflict and underlying frustrations that are yet to be adequately addressed.
What exactly do you mean because there is this resolve to get the Republic of Biafra by the people of the region?
The context under which we fought for Biafra has changed and this is a fact that our people must know. It was not Ojukwu’s intension to secede from Nigeria, but it was the circumstances of the time. It was public knowledge. In fact, the entire world was aware of the pogrom against Ndigbo in the North. Our people were being killed, pregnant women, children etc, none was spared in the killing. All genuine diplomatic efforts made hit the wall. Hope you remember the Aburi Accord and when we came back it was not honoured by the General Yakubu Gowon-led Federal Government. Since the Igbo were being killed and faced with genocide there was no other alternative, but to seek resistance through secession. This is because you cannot be part of the country, Nigeria, and be able to protect your people from the massive killings, you needed to have your own country to secede so as to be able to acquire, secure, have access, or buy arms and ammunition from other countries which will help you to protect your people, your territory from extermination. There was no way you could be part of Nigeria and have contact with countries that will provide what you need to prosecute the war, the arms and ammunition, and other war essentials. It was the situation that warranted the bid for secession. But I think that what the Igbo needs now is not secession. They should join forces with other groups to push for a constitutional amendment that will bring about true restructuring. If there is equity, fairness, justice, the Igbo will always fly high. What they (Igbo) need is fair-play, level playing ground simple and they will showcase the stuff they are made off because they are hard-working, enterprising, and can dare. The truth is that anywhere you go to and there is no Igbo doing business just run away, but there is nowhere you won’t find them. They will come to your place and join to develop the place. In fact, even when you are lazy to develop your place they will not relent to do the development for you. That is who they are, a people, a great race with a great destiny, talent, and passion to love others. Look, Ojukwu on his own never contemplated to secede from Nigeria, but he had no choice with what was on the ground, it was even the people that beckoned on him, and urged him to take that giant step so as to save the East from the pogrom. You can say that what happened was a child of circumstance, a necessity, and the people keyed into the vision because the mandate was from them. Biafra was not the single vision of Ojukwu and nobody would have thought of Biafra if not for the mistreatment of Ndigbo, the massive killing of a people, a pogrom, and that could have been avoided. We need to think more, plan better and talk less because battles are better fought and won through wisdom and strategy than through making inflammable pronouncements, which we do these days. Biafra was born out of an act of self-defense against possible extermination. The massive killings then saw the end of thousands of Igbo lives. Then Ojukwu (the military governor of the Eastern region) after a meeting of the Advisory Committee of Chiefs and Elders at Enugu in May 1967 was mandated to declare Eastern Nigeria, a free sovereign and independent state. Most people these days agitating or fighting for Biafra, do not really understand what they are fighting for. Biafra was formed to fight against the Igbo marginalisation that got to the stage that threatened their human existence. I have escaped death very narrowly more than 10 times or more. I have seen death inches away. It took me 18 days to travel from Kaduna to Enugu by foot, by train, so when I talk about what happened then that warranted Biafra, it was not child’s play. Biafra was total resistance against possible extinction of the Igbo and that was not a joke, it was survival. Because of the genocide, pogrom against Ndigbo all we needed was to form resistance and you can’t form resistance as part of Nigeria. The Biafran breeze is now dangerously turning into a major storm that may constitute an existential threat to Igbo. No war ever got won by emotions, preparation and strategy does. We should not attract avoidable conflict to our region hoping that the international community will intervene. What we are suffering today is part of a British agenda as they did it so that the North will permanently be on the advantage as far as the leadership of Nigeria is concerned. The British skillfully did it in such a way that they see power with birthright mentality. The problem is marginalisation and this should be addressed through the constitution, there is need for a review for a constitution that will be put in place, acceptable to Nigerians, the people’s constitution. Of course, you cannot say that what we have today is the people’s constitution. There is this blame-ride everywhere so we must sit down to address issues squarely. Look if you are marginalized as it is today try and get or insist on your right back. War is not the answer as it is today. If you are going to fight for marginalisation you need the cooperation of other people/groups who are also complaining and fighting against it and that means, fighting against the present constitution. The West, South-south, Middle Belt etc, all are fighting against marginalisation everywhere at varying degrees, so all that is needed is to join forces together and press for the right things to be done. It may not come easy, but press on. Today’s Biafra I think is different from Ojukwu’s Biafra and my own Biafra.
There is still this demand that a Nigerian President of Southeast extraction should emerge in 2023?
My worry is that even if an Igbo emerge president of Nigeria in 2023, what positive impact will that have on the people of the region? You cannot change anything as long as we are still operating with the present constitution. Your hands will be tied. In fact, you will simply be an errand boy because you cannot take any decision outside what is provided for in the constitution. Part of the reason it appeared as if President Goodluck Jonathan was weak was because of the constitution in operation. You simply run with the constitution and as far as this constitution remains you cannot achieve anything. The constitution has been tailored for the benefit of a group, so you can’t change that fact unless you review the constitution to reflect equity, fairness for all, justice etc, if not, forget it, you will just be there to do the bidding of others because you lack the power to do otherwise. The people must insist, put pressure and ensure that this constitution is reviewed, if not we will continue to work in circles because the status quo will remain. Getting Igbo president is not the issue, but what change can you bring with it, except for yourself and family and your cronies.
Looking at President Buhari-led government what is your assessment or what do you think he is not doing well?
I believe that not being a politician on this type of sensitive question my views may not be rarely important at this stage. The president is not as good as his age; things are not going as smoothly as they ought to be because people have lost faith in our election process. And if you have leaders you think are Supreme Court leaders you don’t understand them as much as if they are genuinely elected leaders because it will show. Now, I think we are getting more and more of court leaders, I mean judgment of court leaders and less of voters’ leaders (those who are the choice of the people). Some people are even talking about APC being Armoured Personnel Carrier leaders rather that All Progressives Congress, once they become All Progressives everybody wants to be a progressive, but if you are becoming Armoured Personnel Carrier leaders, I don’t think people are queuing on that, at least not everybody will want to queue on that of Armoured Personnel Carrier. But if you ask me, I will tell you that Buhari has done very well to keep Nigeria one honestly. On the quality of leadership, I may not be in a position to provide the best focus, but anybody who can keep Nigeria one, for now, something good must be said about him. I think the difference I am trying to make is that basically keeping Nigeria one and being the people’s leader. You might not achieve both at the same time because if you want to be the people’s leader in Nigeria very soon the people will be too strong for you to lead, but if you decide to keep Nigeria one, which is your aim, then you need the Army, Police, Navy, all the Armed Forces and talking of changing them is a waste of time. You know that everybody has their aim for being in power; if your aim is to keep Nigeria one and you have succeeded when somebody else takes over he can have another aim. The truth is that with power, we have failed to give the people the needed opportunity, education and resolve conflicts through regular democratic processes.
So, what is your advice to Ndigbo looking at how Nigeria stands today?
Let the children ensure they go to school to acquire knowledge and not to lie waste. Let the Igbo youths develop themselves, get education and the right skill that will enable them to compete in this highly technological and advanced world economy. When they acquire the education they can even start by developing their own small businesses not waiting for the government. We must stop lying to ourselves as a people because the current realities are grim. The youths may be bitter on the situation they find themselves in today’s Nigeria, but they must not be emotional about it rather they should stick with the best option that will pay off on the long run. This is the bitter truth. We must face reality, wrong is wrong no matter who says it. Ndigbo must join other groups to ask, insist and pressure for a new constitution, it is the beginning, wanting to secede may not be the best option. Nothing good comes easy, we must persist in our call for a justiceable country, where there is equity, fairness, equal opportunity, fair play, where rule of law strives, and the deepening of democracy. The Igbo will stand out if you provide fair play in the system. There is a huge army of unemployed youths everywhere and this is sad.