By Johnpaul Anih, 10/2/2021
I would not agree completely with the notion that Biafra was defeated in the Nigeria-Biafra war. I am not saying that Biafra won the war. But they gave a good account of themselves, considering the overwhelming arms and logistic advantage Nigeria had over Biafra.
So I stand by Gowons’s declaration at the end of the war that the war ended on a note of “No victor, No vanquished.”
- At the beginning of the war, Biafra had only 150 rickety rifles. Nigeria had the entire country’s pre-war military paraphernalia in troops and weapons.
In spite of this, in the first few weeks of the war, Biafra troops surprised the world by advancing as far as Ore, a few kilometers to the Nigerian seat of government at the time.
- This move forced Nigeria forced to place an embargo on all categories of shipping, with the exception of oil tankers, suspecting that Ojukwu was importing arms.
- The Biafran pressure continued. The Nigerian government was forced to extend the blockade to oil tankers, believing that Ojukwu was using oil money to buy weapons.
The blockade spurred more Biafran support for the war. Thousands of Biafran youths left their parents, traders closed their shops while secondary and university students left their schools and trooped into the streets chanting war songs and begging Ojukwu to give them more guns and machetes to face the enemy.
“Ojukwu nyem egbe
Kam gbagbuo Gowon
“Ojukwu nyem mma
Kam gbuo Hassan.”
But there were no guns to give them.
Poor boys. You won’t blame them. They thought that the war was a war between two African nations, – Nigeria and Biafra.
- At this point, Biafran local blacksmiths from Awka, Ebenebe, Ezeagu, Dikenafai, etc embarked on mass fabrication of dane guns and local canon guns for Biafran boys. With these local weapons, Biafran troops continued making waves.
In panic, the Nigerian government quickly ran to Britain and America who are inseparable allies for weapons which they quickly arranged for them.
- As soon Nigeria took delivery of the foreign weapons, Gowon chided Ojukwu that if Biafra failed to surrender immediately, Igbos would be wiped out from the face of the earth within one month.
- After the threat, Biafran troops became more resolute and swore to swim and sink with Ojukwu. Knowing that in war, death was inevitable and knowing the new capability of the enemy, they were ready to die as captured in an emotional but defiant war chant:
“Save my bullet when I die
Save my bullet when I die
Alleluia, if I happen to die in the battle field
Save my bullet when I die”
Ha enweghi ike imeli Biafra”
- Touched and inspired by these songs, Biafran scientists rose to the challenge.
i. They manufactured Biafran armoured personnel carriers nicknamed Biafran Red Devils.
ii. They converted local canon guns, “mkpo nani” (the Igbo traditional burial gun fire) to land mines.
iii. Later perfected it to the famous ogbunigwe (mass killer). Nigerian soldiers nicknamed it Ojukwu bucket while their foreign mercenaries called it Biafran wonder. Since that time, I don’t think any country in Africa has achieved this feat up till today.
iv. Later upgraded the ogbunigwe to the flying ogbunigwe, a rocket-propelled missile which became a terror to Nigerian troops. The flying ogbunigwe became the first rocket propelled missile to be wholly designed, developed, mass-produced and launched in Africa.
- When Nigeria perceived that Biafra could match them artillery for artillery on land, they switched to sea battle with a fresh supply of modern warships from Britain and America.
Biafran scientists went back to the drawing board and came out with the famous shore battery, a sophisticated naval equipment that destroyed scores of Nigerian warships.
- In October 1967, the Nigerian 2nd Division under the command of Murtala Mohammed invaded Onitsha through Asaba and tried to cross the River Niger but were severally prevented by Bifaran shore battery. They eventually entered Onitsha but were quickly routed by Biafran troops under Major Joseph Achuzie and Col. Assam Nsudoh, capturing and killing most of the Nigerian soldiers.
- In December 1967, the Nigerian 2nd Division and the 6th Battalion re-crossed the Niger River at Idah and made their way again to recapture Onitsha, but were again held up in a gruesome battle by Biafran troops.
On 31st March 1968, the division with over 6000 troops, supported by over forty trailer loads of weapons and armoured cars attempted to link up with the 1st Division at Enugu. How that attempt was completely devastated at Abagana is now history and a story for another day.
This drove the Nigerian government into another panic resort to air battle with the aid of Russian war planes and professional mercenary pilots from Egypt.
- As Russia joined the war with her highly sophisticated MIG jets and professional pilots hired from Egypt to pilot the machines, Nigerian troops were thrown into jubilation, certain that the Russian air raids would finally seal the fate of Biafra.
Biafran soldiers reacted very emotionally to this new situation, again expressing their readiness to pay the supreme sacrifice for Biafra in spite of all odds.
“My Father, don’t you worry
My mother, don’t you worry
My brother, don’t you worry
My sister, don’t you worry
If I happen to die in the battle field
Never mind, we shall see again”
10.Touched by this heart-rending song, Biafran scientists went back to the laboratory and fabricated the Biafran Babies – Biafran locally manufactured military aircrafts which dealt several hits on Nigerian military bases in Makurdi, Kaduna and Kano. It was the first instance of black pilots manning war planes without expatriate accompaniment.
Enough of this brief history of the Nigeria-Biafra war for now, even though history has been banned from our schools. But there is no law yet to that effect, so I am on the safe side. Should we also ban reading of the bible in churches and reading of the Koran in mosques since a large portion of both books are history in religious robe.
In any case, we know the reason for removing history from our schools, just to prevent the younger generation of Nigerians from knowing about the Nigeria-Biafra war, and future generation of Igbos from imbibing the Biafran spirit and ingenuity manifested during the war.
However, I have no intention of inciting anybody to war as war cannot achieve anything as I believe that dialogue is the best approach to resolving issues. My write-up is just for historical purposes.
The second and concluding part of this write-up will follow shortly.