It was William Shakespeare, in his book, Macbeth, who wrote: “Life is but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour on the stage and then is heard no more, a tale by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
So, Brigadier-General Joseph “Hannibal” Achuzia, one of the greatest spirits behind the Biafran resistance against genocide and national cleansing, has gone the way of all mortals. Bowing out at the ripe old age of 90, his exit calls for celebration throughout the Igbo nation of Nigeria and the land of the defunct Biafran republic, which he defended as a patriot till the end.
The Jewish prophets of the old, while foretelling the coming of the Messiah (Yahoshua or Jesus Christ), predicted that His coming would lead to the rise and fall of many in the land of Israel. So, it was with the tragic events of 1966 that led to the Nigeria-Biafra war, 1967 to 1970.
The war threw up uncountable challenges on the beleaguered people. The Biafran resistance threw up new super-patriots who offered their lives, took great risks and dared death to come forward. This was to ensure that their people were not wiped away from the surface of the earth.
One of such super-patriots was Joseph Hannibal Achuzia, the Ikemba of Ahaba (Asaba), who, like the Jewish (Massada) defenders of the temple in Jerusalem in 70AD against the onslaught of the Roman general, Titus, preferred to fight till the end rather than surrender. Achuzia, even at near 80 years of age, became the secretary-general of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo under Prof. Joe Irukwu as president-general. He was very proud of his Igboness and Igboism till the end.
Not many people in Biafra knew that Joseph Achuzia was not in the old Nigerian Army before 1966. With his restless spirit as a young man, after World War II, Achuzia found himself in Indo-China, where the Vietnamese, Chinese, Cambodians, Koreans, etc, were engaged in a wars of independence, liberation and national survival. His imagination was fired by the spirits of Ho Chi Minh and Mao Tse Tung, who were in the forefront of armed struggle in Vietnam and China, respectively, at the same time. The Vietnamese fought their French colonial masters from 1946 until the French capitulated at Dien Bien Phu in 1954.
When I met Achuzia as secretary-general of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo in 2006 at the Okpara Auditorium, Umuahia, he told me he went into the Korean war, which ended in 1954. This was after the armistice that divided the Korean Peninsula into Communists North and Capitalists South Korea. While in Indo-China, Achuzia qualified as an electrical engineering technologist.
On coming back to Nigeria, around 1965, he chose to settle in Port Harcourt. While lodging at the then famous Silver Valley Hotel, along Aba Road, he came across the hotel proprietor, Mr. Rogers Sonime Halliday, who recognised Achuzia as he was whistling a war song that was popular in Indo-China in the 1940s. Achuzia and Halliday’s paths had crossed each other in Indo-China. They struck into renewed friendship immediately. In his usual generosity, Halliday helped Achuzia settle in Port Harcourt, where he registered as an electrical contractor with oil companies and the Port Harcourt Municipal Council. Francis Ihekwoaba was the mayor, with Sam Mbakwe as a councillor. Jas Emenike of Okwelle was the deputy mayor of Port Harcourt Municipality.
At the outbreak of the Nigeria-Biafra war, Achuzia, at 37, in 1967, joined the Biafran Militia. With his experience in Indo-China, he was given the rank of Major. With reports of his exploits getting to the General of the People’s Army, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, he was given field commission to the rank of Lt. Colonel into the Biafran Army, when Ojukwu addressed Achuzia as “my Colonel.” Achuzia was a terror to cowardly Biafran officers and soldiers running way from the war front or going AWOL. He suffered them gladly, especially those ‘Kampala’ officers. Achuzia was also giving automatic field commissions to gallant Biafran soldiers who won his heart in the war fronts.
Biafran soldiers gave Achuzia the name “Hannibal” in remembrance of the Great North African (Black) General of Ancient Carthage who fought the Greeks of the Mediterranean Sea. Today’s Tunisia occupies the ruins of Ancient Carthage and Hippo, where one of the greatest theologians of Christianity, St. Augustine of Hippo, was born. Hannibal and St. Augustine were black Africans before the Arab conquest of North Africa with the rise and spread of Islam in 632AD. Caesar, Alexander, Napoleon and Hannibal were the recognised world’s greatest soldiers.
Achuzia was also given the name “AIR RAID” because he was an itinerant commander who was where the battle was hottest. He instilled both fear and courage in ill-equipped Biafran soldiers facing better-equipped Nigerian soldiers. Nigerian foreign-made Leopard and Centurion tanks did not frighten Achuzia.
At the first attempt by Colonel Murtala Muhammed’s 2nd Division to take Onitsha in September/October 1967, Hannibal, with Colonel Festus Akagha’s 11th Battalion, beat back the enemy’s amphibian landing into the Niger city. The disastrous attempt almost decimated the 2nd Division of stubborn Murtala Muhammed, said to have been warned by Dodan Barracks against frontal attack on Onitsha. Among those announced to have been killed by Radio Biafra with Biafran shore-batteries and Ogbunigwe at the Onitsha waterfront were Captains Ignatius Obeya and C.C. Jorodan. Ignatius Obeya, an Idoma, survived the war and retired as a brigadier years later.
As beleaguered Biafra was losing territories (1967 to 1970) Achuzia was almost in every sector to halt the advance of the Nigerian Army. On October 7, 1967, his hometown, Asaba, now in Nigerian hands, suffered one of the worst genocide in history. The “Angel of Death” and “Joseph Mengele” of the Nigerian Army in Asaba, Captain Ibrahim Taiwo, was at the head for the genocide.
On March 26, 1969, the then British Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, whose government was arming Nigeria, came on a state visit to war-time Nigeria. The head of the Lagos Junta, General Yakubu Gowon, to impress on his visitor that Biafra had almost been vanquished, ordered the 1st Division of the Nigerian Army in Enugu, under Colonel Mohammed Shuwa, to go and capture Umuahia, the last break-away republic’s stronghold.
Achuzia, again, was handy. Alongside Colonel Emeka Ananaba’s 4th Commando Brigade and Ginger Brigade, they constituted the “Rock of Gibraltar” at the disastrous battle of Uzuakoli for the advancing 1st Division. With the forward surging and backward manouvering of Biafra’s “CORPORAL NWAFOR” armoured car driven by Sasa Kalu, the 1st Division was pinned down for almost one month at Uzuakoli, just 14 kilometres from Umuahia. Captains Ibrahim Babangida with his 44 Rangers Battalion and M.B. Haladu were some of the young hawks in the lead of the 1st Division’s offensive to capture Umuahia.
In the recapture of Owerri by Biafra from Colonel Benjamin Adekunle’s 3rd Marine Commando Division in March/April 1969, Achuzia was also there in support of Colonel Ogbugo Kalu’s 14th Division and Colonel Timothy Onwuataegwu’s ‘S’ Division’s march into Owerri with Adekunle’s men retreating towards Port Harcourt. Adekunle, the “Black Scorpion” lost his command after the fall of Owerri. Then came Colonel Olusegun Obasanjo as the new GOC, just seven months before the war ended. Colonel Lambert Iheanacho of the Biafran Army, a native of Ngor-Okpala, Imo State, with his brigade, was one of the heroes in the recapture of Owerri from Colonel Utuk, an Ibibio, of the Nigerian Army. Iheanacho, went back to the Nigerian Army in 1970 with his pre-war rank of 2nd Lieutenant. He was retired in 1990 by General Ibrahim Babangida as a Colonel after commanding in a United Nations mission in Lebanon.
With the Biafran collapse in 1970, Achuzia was detained for four years. He was released in October 1974 by General Yakubu Gowon. Reason for Achuzia’s detention had to do with reports of his alleged brutality as ‘AIR-RAID’ during the war. There was also the report of the unfortunate death of his bosom friend and benefactor, Rogers Somine Halliday, in detention in Port Harcourt in May 1968 on the alleged order by Colonel Achuzia.
Released alongside Achuzia and other Biafran top brass was the 64th Brigade Commander, 15th Division, Okigwe sector, Major Goddy Onyefuru, from Achi, Oji River, Enugu State. Onyefuru, according to reports, as a 2nd Lieutenant, was innocently among the officers that Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu took along for “Operation Damisa” on January 15, 1966, in Kaduna.
Achuzia went home to Asaba in 1974 to rehabilitate himself and his family. During the 2nd Republic, (1979 to 1983) Hannibal was at a time appointed the chief security officer of the NPN in Benin by Brigadier Samuel Ogbemudia and Chief Tony Anenih in preparation for the August 1983 gubernatorial election. Although Ogbemudia touted much of his “Bininess” during his lifetime, he was actually born in Igbanke, an Igbo town, formerly known as Igbo Akiri, in Orhiorwhon East LGA of Edo State.
Despite all he had lost because of being an Igbo and former Biafran defender, Achuzia, was proud of his Igboism and defended it till his last breath. The climax was his election as secretary-general of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo. Another great Igbo son from the Anioma area of Delta State who lost his ambassadorial posting because of Biafra, Chief Ralph Uwechue, also became the president-general of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo with Dr. Joe Nworgu as the secretary-general.
Until his death, Brigadier-General Joseph Hannibal Air Raid Achuzia was the chairman of the Supreme Council of Elders of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), without minding whose ox was gored.
The Ohanaeze Ndigbo has already gone to Asaba, led by Chief Nnia Nwodo, to pay condolences to the family and promised that the Igbo apex body would participate fully in his burial. The governors of the South-East zone, together with Governors Ifeanyi Okowa and Nyesom Wike should bankroll the burial expenses.
Achuzia’s remains should be brought to the Heroes Square, Owerri, and Okpara Square, Enugu, for thousands of Igbo to come and pay their last respects to him as they did to Ojukwu in 2012.
The South East Forum of Traditional Rulers and their Anioma Delta State brothers should confer a posthumous title of OCHIAGHA NDIGBO, equivalent of AARE ONAKAKANFO OF YORUBALAND, on Joseph Hannibal Air Raid Achuzia in recognition of his patriotism, to see that the Igbo nation of Nigeria take its rightful place under the sun. Achuzia should be the 2nd Aare Onakakanfo (Ochiagha) of Igboland with Ojukwu as the first.
• HRH Eze Ogbonnaya is a veteran journalist and historian. 08073770915, 09035047566