Going back to my roots, my father was a very religious man who converted from his traditional religion to Christianity. He was a great believer in God and in the words of the Lord. He tried to bring us up in way of the Lord. There is always something we take from our parents. And of course, there is the mission where my father in the end worked and we grew up in Wusasa, Zaria. The people that brought us up, that taught us at school were teachers from various parts of the country. We had Ibo teachers, we had Yoruba teachers, we had Hausa teachers and other teachers all bringing us up in the proper and true Christian way of how to behave.
Then later on came my military training which certainly didn’t teach me to be bigheaded, to be haughty and naughty, but I can assure you that I am trained to be a soldier. If I have to fight, I will fight. I will not be afraid. This is a joke. I am told that Ojukwu told people at one time when this crisis was going on that he knows that Jack will not fight. That Jack is most of the times going on courses. He has not commanded a unit or a battalion as some of them have done or as he has done. The first thing Jack carries in his suitcase, his only weapon, is the Bible. So with that one they thought I will not fight, but I can assure you that the strategies that we used in order to contain Ojukwu were the strategies I learnt at the various Staff Colleges—one of them which Ojukwu also went to. I was just coming back from the Joint Services Staff College with all the knowledge of how to employ all the services—the army, the navy, the air force in an operation. And the opportunity came and I gave a directive on how all these things should be done, irrespective of the command of Obasanjo.
We started to lose grounds in Owerri
Obasanjo may have written his memoir, My Command but he was also under my command. Whatever he did in his command was commanded by me, even though my system of command is that I give you instructions on what to do and you do it. I leave it to you because you are on the ground and you determine how you carry out that operation. Let me ask once again: Who appointed Obasanjo to his command? I did. Not because anyone asked me to. I decided to do that when his predecessor Benjamin Adekunle was battle fatigue and there was need for change. There was need for change and rejuvenation because this great winning division of Third Marine Commando all of a sudden started to lose the battle. They got right up to Owerri, they were almost at the gate of Uli Ihiala but I had to tell them to stop. Because we didn’t have enough weaponry and ammunition to be able to do battle.
My thinking was: Assuming that became the final battleground and they had more weaponry than you have and your weaponry failed you, what would be the outcome? Great disaster! And that was what really happened. We started to lose ground in Owerri, Oguta, then going right down back to Port Harcourt. We lost Aba as well. So I thought something needed to be done. And so I had to change command and I had to think: With whom do I replace Adekunle? I had to replace him with somebody from that particular area so that it would not be seen as the war is being fought by only northern officers and no one else. So I sent him there with instructions on what to do to regain the winning streak of that division and then to return to Aba and Owerri.
Final operations and lessons of history
After that, we would organize the final operations whereby one division from the North and then the Third Marine Commando from the South would be able to move between Aba and Umuahia. And then from there, once they got the rebel forces cut into two, then I would give instruction on who is to go where. All through the war, I called them rebels, not enemies, because they rebelled.
The good news about the operation was that Obasanjo really obeyed my instructions with his very capable young men who were really doing the ground operation. They were able to do the linkup between Aba and Umuahia. One of the things that I told him was: “Once you get the rebels on the run, lesson of history, don’t follow up.” Because after Enugu, if we had followed up after the capture of Enugu on the 3rd or 6th of October, probably the war may not have lasted three or six months at the most. But we had to halt until we were able to get sufficient reinforcement, both material and men. So that we do not go on follow-up operations and in the end you have nothing to fight with. If that happens, lesson of history: those boys would have started running and not only evacuating Enugu but even Nsukka and probably running back to Benue across the bridge—the only railroad bridge there in Makurdi. Because probably they would be chased. So there we are. Lessons of history.