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90-gun Salute For Madiebo

By Emeka Obasi

Thank Heavens for Gen. Alexander Atta Madiebo whose documented account of the Nigerian civil war remains a global intellectual reference point. Much of what transpired in the various theatres did not escape his memory.

What Madiebo did firstly as battalion commander, then brigade commander and majorly as Chief of Staff, Biafra Army was to put everything down, everyday, in his diary. That should not come as a surprise because he attended Government College, Umuahia (GCU).

GCU gave the world such fine writers as Chinua Achebe, Vincent Ike and Kenule Saro-Wiwa. The school also produced Nigeria’s first indigenous Chief of Air Staff, George Kurubo and Brigadier Anthony Eze, one of the prominent fighters on the Biafran side.

Historians are still following Madiebo. He is an everyday study in military strategy. The man is also a course in management. How he was able to face a better equipped Nigeria Army with his hungry and ill clad troops continues to draw attention all over the world.

It was so bad that his soldiers were made to share assault rifles. Bullets were rationed in such a way that fighters did not pull the trigger unless they were sure of hitting target. One bullet par combatant a day became the norm.

As an Awka man, Madiebo did not give up. To show frustration was treasonable. Suicide sounded like cowardice. The Army chief looked inwards and relied on Biafran engineers who came out with home made rifles, bombs and even armoured cars.

As the most senior Sandhurst trained combatant during the war, Madiebo made the difference. His seniors: Zakari Maimalari,Kuru Mohammed, Abogo Largema and Yakubu Pam were killed in the January 1966 coup. Kurubo ran away from Biafran and was sent to the Soviet Union by Nigeria as envoy.

David Ejoor had no command. Victor Banjo was wasted in the early days of the crisis. Madiebo’s mates, Yakubu Gowon, Mike Okwechime and Patrick Anwuna were not so prominent in the battle field.

It is remarkable that the first shot of the war was fired by Lt. Gado Nasko, one of Madiebo’s boys in the Artillery Regiment of the Nigeria Army. That was in Garkem. The senior officer was there as commander of Biafra’s 51 Brigade.

One take away from Madiebo’s book, ‘The Nigerian Revolution and the Biafran War’ is that some of the young majors who executed the January 1966 coup had personal scores to settle with the senior officers they assassinated.

Don Okafor told Madiebo that Maimalari wanted to get rid of him, simply because he punished a Northern soldier. Chris Anuforo condemned Anuforo for dealing ruthlessly with Tiv rioters and Nzeogwu planned to sedate senior officers in Enugu.

Beyond the facade, some accounts say Okafor was indeed, spared dismissal by Maimalari after a supposedly unlettered NCO discovered that  money under his (Okafor) care had been tampered with. 

Maimalari, the first Sandhurst trained Nigerian officer was loved by  many. According to Madiebo, it was the Kanuri officer that advised Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa to appoint Gen. Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi Army Chief in 1965 ahead of his course mate, Brig. Samuel Ademulegun.

Ifeajuna had an axe to grind with Maimalari. One account says it had to do with matters of the heart. The Brigadier lost his wife in a shooting accident in Col. Adekunle Fajuyi’s house and had finished welcoming a new wife when his Brigade Major, Ifeajuna shot him.

Anuforo was  alleged to have been disciplined by Pam in Tanzania as a member of the Nigerian mission to quell a mutiny there in 1964. The younger officer was sent back to Nigeria as a result.

Madiebo was good to officers who served under him. He helped fasten the promotion of Abdulazizi Wya, from second lieutenant to captain. The gesture was to help the Ankong, Jaba man maintain his Irish wife, Marie Bernadette Carr and their two children, Mustafa and Fiona.

Madiebo also offered his place on a course outside Nigeria to Wya in 1966. Unfortunately, ten years later both husband and wife died. Wya was shot after the February 1976 coup. His wife died in August 1976 following a crash on the road to Kano.

Yesterday, Madiebo turned 90 and is being celebrated today by lawyer turned historian, Ed Emeka Keazor. The general’s book will be relaunched too. Mrs Regina Ifeyinwa Madiebo who was working as a nurse when one young officer was brought for care, found love. She is 92 today.

One good deed by Gowon was not to sack Davidson Madiebo from the police. His friend’s elder brother rose to the rank of commissioner. Gowon is N/21. Madiebo follows as N/22. I doubt if the former will see his old buddy today. Madiebo’s son, Richard Nwora Madiebo is not sure either.

“ He is not in regular contact with Gowon to the best of my knowledge. I know that he called my dad about two years ago to wish him a happy 88th birthday, but I  do not think that they have spoken since then,” the younger Madiebo said.

First published in April 30, 2022 in Vanguard

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