Paul Osuyi, Asaba
If you ask Generals Yakubu Gowon, Olusegun Obasanjo and Muhammadu Buhari, they may likely tell you that they do not remember what his face looks like. No thanks to the great gulf that now exists between them, occasioned by misfortune, poverty and differences in social and economic statuses. But armed with facts and figures, Capt. Amos Iyari Monye (retd.) has not forgotten that he once served under them as a dutiful and trusted army officer.
Perhaps, he would have become one of the state military administrators, post-the Nigerian-civil war. Or, even head of state, who knows. But that conjecture and its glory now belongs to the past as conspiracy of circumstances combined to truncate whatever fate that destiny had in store for him when he was unceremoniously dismissed from the army for what he claims and still insists was no fault of his.
Today, a pauper, he is poorer for the alleged act of injustice as he goes about begging for food and money to keep body and soul together. He survives on alms and charity. He lives in abject poverty without a house of his own. He later Iost his wife and four of his children to untimely deaths. Owing to the pervading poverty and hardship, he regrets that he could not provide good medical attention to them when they fell sick. Pathetic!
He fought on the side of the Nigerian army during the 1967 – 1970 Nigerian civil war. He took the bullets, risked his life and youthful pleasures for the unity of the country. Incidentally, the three superior army officers under whom he served, later became military heads of state at various times, with Obasanjo and Buhari, transforming into civilian presidents at the return of democracy. But for his unceremonious dismal, Monye strongly believes that his association and relationship with these military-politico demigods would have impacted positively both on his career and life. He was dismissed from the Army as a Captain, without benefits. His offence, they claimed, was having the guts to complain that monies meant for them as soldiers were allegedly embezzled by their superior officer. He insists and strongly denies that he was a party to the alleged petition letter.
Tucked away in his ancestral homeland of Owa-Alero in Ika North East Local Government Area of Delta State, the dejected Army Captain who struggled to speak on his experiences in the army, the civil war and relationship with the trio of Gowon, Obasanjo and Buhari, later capped the conversation with a save-my-soul message.
Sojourn in the Nigerian Army
Born in 1944, Capt. Monye (NA/1239) enlisted into the army in 1963 after elementary and secondary education, and a bit of teaching experience. He was sent to the Nigeria Army Depot for recruitment training. While there, he underwent a six-month recruitment course. He passed out in April 1964 and was posted to 2nd Battalion, Abeokuta. But in August of the same year the whole battalion was moved to Ikeja Cantonment, Lagos.
In 1964, shortly after the general election, 38 soldiers and one officer from 2nd Battalion, Ikeja, took them to Benin City, Agbor and Asaba respectively for football matches. As a formidable football player in the military, he was among those selected to play in Benin, Agbor and Asaba. After the match in Benin, they were moved to Agbor for the next match. There, he pleaded with his superior officer to be allowed to visit his home, which is a stone-throw from the venue so he could see his parents but his request was turned down. He managed to send a message across to his father to come to the primary school where the football match was taking place at Agbor to see him. The man, who was there to watch him play, called him aside after the match to discuss and pray for him. Monye seized the opportunity to introduce him to the soldier in charge of security in the barrack, Ahmadu Finger who hailed from Maiduguri.
Narrow escape from death during the countercoup
On January 15, 1966, the coup led by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu took place. The same year on July 28, there was a countercoup led by the Hausa, spearheaded by Lt. Col. Murtala Mohammed, then Inspector of Army Signals, Lagos. There at the barrack, the Hausa soldiers began to shoot and kill their Igbo counterparts.
“Because many of them regarded me as an Igbo man, I was shot at in my hand and taken to the guardroom. There were many of us in the guardroom, the Igbos, Yoruba and soldiers from other tribes were tortured and brutalized,” he recalled. On the 10th day of their incarceration while waiting to be executed, Ahmadu Finger took it upon himself and convinced other soldiers that Monye was not an Igbo but a Mid-Westerner. Shortly afterward, Lieutenant Malami Mahe Nasarawa (of the 2nd Battalion, Lagos) came to the guardroom and called out names of those to be released and Monye was among them. After their release, Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon visited the 10 of them and admonished them not to run away but stay and work with other soldiers.
“The next day, nine out of the ten of us that were released ran away. They could not trust them due to the inhuman treatment meted to us. But I decided to stay back because of my love and zeal to work for my fatherland,” he narrated. Some months later, he and some other soldiers were taken to Kaduna but he was not comfortable being alone in the midst of people who wanted him dead.
So, he pleaded with his then commander, late Capt. Isa Bukar, of the Federal Brigade of Guards, who was later executed during Dimka’s coup, to give him an official posting to Benin but he was denied with a stern warning never to make such request again or risked being treated as an Igbo man.
They were still in Kaduna when Gen. Yakubu Gowon created 12 states to replace the four regions in 1967 by a military decree. Within the same period, Ojukwu declared the Republic of Biafra. Along the line, Monye became sick and was taken to the Military Hospital where Army and Air force doctors attended to him but he never got better. He was then taken to one Dr. Oshodi who diagnosed his condition to be psychological and recommended in a letter to the commander that he should be posted to a more convenient place. The commander called to commend him for his courage and assured him that he would write to the record officer at Apapa, Lagos to re-post him officially to Benin.
While waiting for his posting, it was announced that his battalion would be moved to the boundary. He expected to be among the ‘Rear Party Men’ (aged and sick soldiers who normally guard the barracks when the soldiers were out for operation) but when the list of Rear Party Men came out, his name did not make it.
He approached Muhammadu Buhari who was the adjutant then, and told him that he was sick and was awaiting his letter of posting. But he told him that it was too late. So, he had no choice than to move with the battalion to the boundary between North and South and the battalion was settled in Adikpo village located in the present-day Benue State.
Working under Buhari
On the 6th of July 1967, the war started. On the first day, Monye had Buhari as his company commander. After the liberation of Abakaliki in November 1968, Buhari recommended him for an examination that would qualify him for a short service course at the Nigerian Defense Academy (NDA) as an officer not only because of his GCE qualification but also because of having gained his trust.
When Gen. Gowon wrote a letter stating that soldiers should be given two weeks break to go home and see their families and come back to the warfront, army authorities were reluctant to grant the same for Monye for fear that he may desert. But he gave Buhari his word that he would return at the end of the two weeks break and he fulfilled his promise. He later posted him to 1 Division, Enugu, from where he was taken to the regional headquarters at Abakaliki. There he took the first exam and passed. He was then taken to Enugu for the second exam.
Military sojourn with Obasanjo
After passing the exam at Enugu, he was taken to Lagos for the final exam, which was organized by Olusegun Obasanjo. He also passed. With this result, he was admitted into the NDA in 1968 to begin the Officers’ Course. He passed out in August 1969 and was commissioned as Second Lieutenant. Thereafter, he was posted to 3 Marine Commando in Port Harcourt where he met Olusegun Obasanjo as his General Officer Commanding (GOC). Then Obasanjo was a Colonel.
Second Lieutenant Monye was later posted to the 12th Brigade at Azummiri in present Abia State, which was under the charge of Major Isamade. After few months at the 12th Brigade, he was made a Battalion Commander. He was asked to command a battalion of about 1,200 soldiers because it was war period and the number of battalion soldiers was very high whereas, there were only 25 field officers available with no knowledge of war as none of them attended the NDA. “So, everything was on me and in that vein, I was ordered to conquer Ogbor hills in Aba to Umuahia, which was 35 miles circumference with those officers,” he stated with nostalgia.
After seven days of battle, they got to his former Battalion at Umuahia from where he left for the NDA. Trailers were sent to pick him and his soldiers and they were moved to Ochokocho near Port-Harcourt. When he got there, Obasanjo was still the GOC. He gave him another assignment to conquer all the villages from Ochokocho to Owerri Nta Bridge. He fought through those distances and got to Owerri Nta Bridge. Monye and his battalion crossed the bridge at Owerri Nta and entered Aba and continued to fight until he conquered all the villages in that area up to Ogugu village, which was located between Owerri and Umuahia.
On the 10th of January 1970, as he was fighting to conquer Orlu Amakire, he was shot under his arm and was taken to the hospital. Few days later, the war ended. After that day, he and his battalion were moved to Aba and camped at Girls’ College, Ovom 1, between Azummiri and Aba. As the Commander of the battalion there, Obasanjo visited him twice to inspect the battalion and also commended him for work well done.
Later, he was posted to another battalion at Aba. In May 1973, his battalion was moved to Taku, a village after Kastina river. He was there for few months and was later posted to Makurdi to be the Deputy Assistant Adjutant Quarter Master General (DAAQMG) of the 31 Brigade. In October 3, 1973, he was promoted to the rank of Captain at Makurdi.
Alleged unjust dismissal
He said: “there was an allegation of embezzlement of funds meant for the soldiers leveled against the Brigade Major of the Battalion, Captain Omoniyi, who was our superior. It was via a written petition by some soldiers claiming that he embezzled the money given to him to share to the soldiers.
“A panel which comprised Late Capt. Mamman Vatsa, Late Capt. Dada and Late Capt. Ojokojo was set up to investigate the allegation. Without proper investigation and for inexplicable reasons, Capt. Omoniyi was exonerated in the report of the panel which claimed that no money was given to him.”
Monye alleged that three officers from the South-South including himself from Delta State and his two other colleagues, late Major Mayi (Bayelsa State) and Second lieutenant Akpan (Cross River State), who had nothing to do with the said embezzlement were dismissed from the Army unceremoniously in 1975. According to him, they were sacked on the insinuation that they may have instigated the soldiers to petition their boss, Captain Omoniyi, for embezzling the money meant to share to the soldiers.
“The money in question was supposed to be shared to us who were officers under Captain Omoniyi and the soldiers. Surprisingly, Omoniyi who was accused of embezzling the money was exonerated and we who were supposed to be given the money were dismissed. This was one of the greatest injustices I have received in my life from a country I risked my life for. We had no godfather to back us up on our appeal. We had no other choice but return to our various homes without compensations or support of any kind,” he lamented.
Life after dismissal
Battered by war expeditions, judicial brutality, injustice and denial, Capt. Monye is dejected and depressed. He begs to eat. He said Gen. Buhari was the closest to him of all the military top-shots that he served during his sojourn. When he was the Head of State, 1983 -1985, Monye said he made efforts to see his former boss but before he could raise funds for the visit, General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida coup sent him out of office.
Not deterred, however, he visited him in Kaduna where they discussed at length in his living room. During that visit, according to him, Buhari who knew his labour, efforts and the truth about his unjust dismissal, urged him to keep the communication channel open by visiting him regularly as he would love to work with him in future. Since then however, he had not been able to visit him for lack of funds and connection.
Ordeals at home
The man who got married October 1, 1971 had six children comprising three male and three female. But he lost all his three sons for lack of funds to provide them the necessary healthcare. He also lost his first daughter to high blood pressure. In October 2019, his wife, Elizabeth who hailed from Ngwa, Abia State, passed on. Without a house of his own, Monye lives in one-bedroom apartment given to him by a benefactor. With no bed, he sleeps on a couch, the only piece of furniture he has. At 76, he lives on alms. His two surviving children are said to hold degrees in engineering and computer science but right now they are yet to secure jobs.
In his closing remarks during our conversation, he appealed to the three generals he served – Gowon, Obasanjo and Buhari to come to his aid, bearing in mind that they knew all they went through at the battlefront to keep Nigeria one. He insists he was unjustly dismissed without a penny or any reward for risking his life while most of his mates in the army retired as Major Generals. He appealed to well-meaning Nigerians to come to his aid and not allow him to die in his present condition.
His words: “I am appealing to well-meaning Nigerians, His Excellencies, former President Yakubu Gowon, former President Olusegun Obasanjo and President Muhammadu Buhari to come to my aid. I risked my life for the love I have for this country. I took bullets so that my country could be saved from disintegration. The reward I got was unjust dismissal. I feel dejected and abandoned.
“Currently my eyesight is impaired as I cannot dare cross the road without being aided. I need an eye surgery, which the doctor said would cost me N800,000 but I can’t afford it. Even money to buy eyeglass, I don’t have. I live by begging. I don’t even have a bed to lay my head on. Look at me at this age; I sleep on the chair every day. As I speak with you now, I do not have hope for the next meal. Please, I am begging them and people in the name of God to help me and rescue me from this suffering.
“President Buhari assured me when I visited him many years ago that he would help me. I know that if I have the opportunity to see him today, things will change. My problem now is the connection and fund to reach him.”