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Ebubeagu: South East Governors, Good Morning O!!

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By Comfort Obi

It is late in the night. But I think it is in order to say Good morning to South- east Governors. So, Good morning Your Excellencies.

In case you want to know why, the Governors have just woken up from an anastasia-induced sleep. It was a sleep so deep that their counterparts had since eaten lunch, waiting for dinner. And Their Excellencies from the South-east are just getting ready for breakfast.

We must thank whatever and/or whoever woke them up from that deep slumber. On waking up, they saw that the referee had since blown the whistle. The race had started without them. So, they scrambled to Owerri to start from where others had since left.

On Sunday, April 11, the five of them met at the Government House, Owerri, to take a look at the disaster that has become their Zone while they snored. They had company – Heads of Security Agencies in the Zone, and a couple of other stakeholders. The leadership of the apex Igbo socio-cultural organization, Ohanaeze Ndigbo was, also, there.

The main agenda: The terrifying security situation in the zone.

The meeting must have been very important to them. It should. There is so much disillusionment in the zone, so much disappointment. So much loss of confidence in them. The anger of their subjects has boiled over. Anything could happen. The once peaceful Zone is on edge. The Governors know. Which was why, for the first time in many months, all of them were present.

There is a huge fire on the mountain, a fire they had ignored for a long time, and a fire some of them had, atimes, stoked by their undiplomatic utterances in the name of politics.

The highlight of the meeting was the announcement that, finally, the Zone has set up a Security outfit code-named Ebubeagu.

I don’t know if the Governors expect congratulatory messages from their subjects for “this feat”. In our dear country, everything attracts congratulatory messages. It is a country where when people put obituaries in newspapers, they also put their own photographs, alongside that of the dead – for the attention of the members of the public. It will, therefore, not be a surprise when we begin to see adverts, congratulating the Governors for a good outing in Owerri.

But let me start by thanking Governor Hope Uzodinma for having the courage to host the meeting. He didn’t have to. Owerri is not the Headquarters of the South-east. That honour belongs to Enugu. He is not the Chairman of the South-east Governors Forum. That office is, currently, occupied by Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State. So the meeting could have been held at either Enugu or Abakaliki. But, perhaps, it was deliberately fixed for Owerri because of the recent unprecedented attack on the Correctional Centre Service, and the Imo Police Command Headquarters.

South East Governors and Stakeholders
During that attack where sophisticated weapons, including explosives, were generously used, 1,844 prisoners, many of them, dangerous criminals, were released and unleashed on the South-east as a whole, and Imo in particular. At the Criminal Investigation Department, CID, Imo police Command, 600 detainees were, allegedly, released. Why so many prisoners and detainees were packed like sardines in those facilities is a question for another day. So, I was talking about Uzodinma’s courage to host the meeting.

Uzodinma and Imo will be remembered for the founding of the Security outfit. But perhaps, it spells danger. Here is why.

The Indigenous Peoples Of Biafra, IPOB, and its leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, cannot be happy that Imo hosted the meeting where Ebubeagu was founded. After the formation of the Eastern Security Network, ESN, by IPOB, Kanu had warned that no other Security outfit, outside ESN, will be tolerated, or allowed to function. Therefore, by hosting this meeting, Uzodinma may have put himself and the State on the firing line. But, no matter.

The questions however are: Why did it take the Zone this long to set-up this outfit. Leadership deficit? Sabotage? Ambition? Conflicting allegiance/Interest? Self preservation? Or a combination of all? What pushed the Governors to, suddenly, set up a unified Security outfit?

A couple of weeks ago, Governor Umahi, the Forum’s Chairman, reportedly said it will not be possible for the SE to set up a unified security outfit. So what changed? There are more questions.

Were there any consultations across board? If so, who and who were consulted? Which other groups bought into it? Or was it strictly an exclusive of the Governors and the Professor George Obiozor-led Ohanaeze Ndigbo? How will it operate, especially, alongside the ESN? How will the members be recruited? Will they be strong enough to face and/or withstand ESN operatives? Or, will they incorporate them, and work with them? Will the leaders of Nigeria’s Seurity Agencies in the SE, who were at the meeting, and who will definitely have a hand in the recruitment and training of Ebubeagu operatives, work with the ESN? Will it enjoy the people’s confidence? Not likely.

Here are why
Ebube Agu, laudable as it is, already suffers a credibility deficit. Not a few people dismiss it as ad-hoc. They say it was hastily cobbled together, without proper planning, in response to recent security problems in the Region, especially the Owerri attack. Already, Ebubeagu is being looked at with suspicion and scorn. A campaign to discredit is already on. One of the points being hammered on: “It is an extension of the Federal might meant to persecute the Igbo.” Of course, this claim is not likely to be true, but it is a price those who set it up are paying for not consulting broadly, for dilly-dallying, and for taking their subjects for granted.

Here is a teaser of how difficult it will be for Ebubeagu to operate, or even take-off:
The IPOB, in a statement signed by its Spokesman, Emma Powerful, has ordered SE youths not to register as members of Ebubeagu Any youth who does that, the statement warned, “should be prepared to meet his ancestors”. IPOB insists it is meant to spy on the ESN. Scary? Sure.

Yet, another group, the South East Revival Group, SERG, in a statement signed by its President/National Coordinator, Willie Ezugwu, dismisses Ebubeagu as another jamboree by Governors. It is a “convenient political outing aimed at pleasing the Federal establishment rather than the people.”, SERG said
The ESN is a baby of IPOB, a group hastily proscribed by both the Federal and South-east Governments. It was labelled a terrorist group.

I take pride, no matter how inefficient Nigeria is, in being a Nigerian. And I am very proudly Igbo. I believe in one Nigeria (which will be) based on equity, justice and, the rule of law. So, I cannot but ask why nobody has declared the Bandits, or the rogue herdsmen, moving about with dangerous weapons, from the North to the South, terrorist groups. Or did I miss it? If not why?

Their Governors led by the new Northern Champion, Zamfara Governor, Bello Matawelle, Katsina’s Bello Masari, and Borno’s attack-prone Governor, Babagana Zulum, pamper them. Supported spiritually and otherwise by Dr Abubakar Gumi, an Islamic Scholar adept at locating Bandits in forests, these guys sit down and dialogue with heavily armed bandits. They negotiate the way forward with them. You know, like a kindred meeting. And they pay the Bandits handsomely.

The other day, Abubakar Sani Bello, Niger State Governor, and son-in-law to former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, lamented that Bandits deceived them,(the government), took huge sums of money from them, and used same to buy more weapons. “E shock you?”

Until this Governor’s confession, I almost, believed that nobody in Government was paying the marauders. You would, also, recall, dear Readers, that Bauchi State Governor, Bala Mohammed, had forcefully defended herdsmen who carry Ak 47. They should, the Governor submitted.

Eastern Security Network, ESN
The questions are: Why are SE Governors and Clerics and Elders not dialoguing with IPOB members?
Why is IPOB which was,still is not, by any stretch of imagination, as deadly as the bandits, proscribed? Why are the bandits not officially labelled terrorists? Why is IPOB labelled a terrorist organization, and rogue Fulani herdsmen, free to roam around?

In the South-west, the new Sheriff in town, Sunday Igboho, has become a celebrity. He is called a freedom fighter, a hero. He is wining and dining with South-west Governors, Afenifere, top politicians. They are consulting and dialoguing. He does what he likes. This other day, he called the bluff of former IGP, Mohammed Adamu. He taunted Adamu, and refused an invitation to see him. Igboho is still going about his business, hailed by his people. Why is the case of IPOB and its leadership different? Why doesn’t anybody invite them to a roundtable?

The truth is that South-east Governors, for reasons they need to explain, failed their people. They failed their Zone. They disappointed the people. And put their zone to shame. In the process, they ridiculed themselves. They presented themselves as weaklings, as cowards incapable of protecting the people against criminals – armed robbers, kidnappers, cultists and rogue herdsmen. They were walking as if on egg-shells, afraid to break the eggs. They presented themselves as incapable of speaking for the people. What were they afraid of?

For almost two years, these Governors watched as the insecurity in the zone blossomed. Kidnappers and cultists held sway. They still do. They were on the prowl. They still are. Then, enter, rogue herdsmen, invading farms with their cows, destroying farmlands, raping women and girls. They graduated to kidnapping, and then a killing spree.

The first ports of call were parts of Enugu and Ebonyi States. Gradually, but surely, it spread to the other parts of the Zone. These crimes were also, at the same time, being committed in the South-west. It was not an exclusive of the South-east.

But here is the difference:
South-west Governors, excuse this cliche, took the bull by the horn. They decided to set up a Security outfit – Amotekun. And they did it in style, defying subtle threats from Abuja. They adorned the Operatives in attractive uniform, rolled out Operational vehicles, equipped them. The people were in support.

Abuja was forced to accept Amotekun after an altercation with, especially, the Chairman of the South-West Governors’ Forum, Rotimi Akeredolu, SAN.

It is not yet uhuru in the South-west, but Amotekun’s impact is being gradually felt. The people know they can reach them in times of distress – when the Police delays. They work with the Police and hunters.

Not in the South- East
In the face of the daunting insecurity at the time, a delegation from Ime Obi, the highest Ohaneze organ, was sent to the Governors to ask them to set up a security outfit for the South-east.

Surprisingly, the Governors buckled. At a meeting with then IGP Adamu, where other stakeholders were, also, present, they disappointed. Instead of insisting on the setting-up of the outfit, they began to thank President Muhammadu Buhari for the second Niger Bridge, for nominating Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to the WTO job. Well, why not? But they failed where it mattered most. They discarded the idea of the Zone’s Security outfit, and endorsed Community Policing.

That was where the Zone was – confused, when, IPOB, not surprisingly, struck with ESN.

Nature abhors vacuum. It doesn’t matter how illegal anybody thinks the ESN is. It doesn’t matter to the people what its intent is. It suits the mood of the people. It assuages their yearnings. It gives them a sense of protection. As far as they are concerned, where the Governors failed, IPOB has stepped in, and took the thunder from the Governors.

The ESN, unlike Amotekun, has not, however, made any impact on the insecurity in the South-east. May be because of the way it was formed, the outfit cannot quite operate freely and publicly. So, insecurity has worsened. The South-east, once noted for its safety, has become notorious. It is gaining grounds as one of the unsafest zones in Nigeria. It is competing with the North-east and the North-west. People are killed and kidnapped, almost every hour. Security personnel – Soldiers, Policemen, even Prison Warders, etc – are being slaughtered in broad day light in all the South-east States. Police Stations and Divisions are being sacked and set ablaze.

Like in the North-east and North-west, whole communities are being invaded, and sacked, and people killed in their scores. It happened in Ebonyi State a couple of weeks ago. It happened again in Ngbo, Ebonyi, on Sunday, April 12.

Until the inexplicable bloody attack on the Ebonyi Community two weeks ago, which drew justifiable outrage from a number of Stakeholders in the zone, and threats of reprisal from IPOB, Umahi had been neither here nor there.

For the records, Umahi’s elder brother, Obi Umahi, a Major General, a former GOC, 81 Division, Nigerian Army, a gentleman and an officer, and one of the few Igbo Officers, to have been trusted with that position, but sadly, prematurely retired, was appointed the Chairman of the Security Committee by Ohaneze. General Umahi’s Committee was to fashion out how to deal with the insecurity situation in the South East. Till date, the Committee never met for one day. Hand of Esau and the voice of Jacob?
But for the first time, Governor Umahi, after the attack on Ebonyi Communities, behaved like Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State. He spoke up, strongly, for his people. Until then, he was, almost pampering rogue herdsmen.

This other day in Abia state, explosives were planted at a primary school in Afara, Umuahia. Governor Okezie Ikpeazu closed down the school.

The climax of the horrifying state of insecurity in the zone took place in Owerri on Easter Monday when both the State Police Headquarters and the Correctional Centre Service were invaded and attacked. The outcome was maximum. 1,844 Prisoners freed. 600 detainees freed. Building blocks at both the Correctional Centre Services and Police Command, razed. 50 vehicles, including Police operational vehicles, burnt.

Since then, more Police Stations have been sacked, razed, and detainees, released.

Till date, the arguments are still raging over who and/or which group carried out the horrendous attack which unleashed dangerous criminals on a peaceful people. The truth is, now, enmeshed in bitter politics.

Like play, like play, the South-east is going. It is not an exaggeration. That is why the Governors suddenly woke up. Their reign over their Empire is threatened. They woke up a year after Amotekun was launched with fanfare by their more serious South-west counterparts.

All well and good. Better late than the late. “Tagboo” ( Today is early), the Igbo would say.

But it is still morning. Announcing the setting-up of Ebube Agu is just a beginning. It is likely to take months before it takes off. There is no framework yet. The House of Assembly in each State has to approve it. Recruitment has to begin. But of who? Many of the youths would rather listen to IPOB than the Governors. Meaning: the Governors have so much work to do. They need to get back the trust of the people. The politics of bitterness between the APC and the PDP, especially, in Imo, will be a big obstacle. Caution should be the word, because nobody – APC or PDP – will be safe when the doom wished and yearned for, everyday, unfolds.

I have read the communiqué issued at the end of the SE Governors’ meeting. There was nothing particularly new, nor particularly exciting. They say open grazing has been banned. We have heard that before. But where are the Ranches? Herdsmen and their cows still roam the roads, villages and farmlands and forests in the Zone. They still harass the people. They still rape and kill and kidnap.

The South-east Governors do not, yet, have the will to get them to comply, or be arrested. They don’t have the courage of Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, and his colleagues in the SW Zone. They don’t have the courage of Kano State Governor, Dr Abdullahi Ganduje. This guy uses Hisbah, the Shariah Police, to destroy the businesses of Southerners dealing in alcohol beverages.They lose hundreds of millions of Naira periodically. Yet, Ganduje’s Kano State shares in VAT from alcohol. That’s inappropriate. By sharing in that VAT, Ganduje is committing a sin.

But back to Ebubeagu. I have my fears. How will it operate alongside ESN? Is it possible for them to work together, along with the Police? Or will the ESN, Ebubeagu and Security Agencies reduce the Zone to a war zone, a rubble? It would be nice if they could work together. Afterall, they all claim they want to secure the South-east.

It is important for them to meet and sort issues out. The Governors should rise above all petty talks, propaganda and playing to the gallery. They should do what their counterparts in the North and South-west are doing. There must be people in the zone who IPOB and its leadership respect. Reach out to them. A roundtable will go a long way into arresting the situation. By all means, look for peace. Find it.
Don’t reduce the South-east to a war zone. There will be no winner. Everybody will be a loser. “Gra-gra” serves no purpose.

______

Obi is the Editor-in-Chief/CEO of The Source (Magazine),
Email: comfortobisource@gmail.com,
comfort@thesourceng.com

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The Life of Exile And the meaning of Redemption (5)

By Fr. Dr. Gilbert Alaribe

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The Life of Exile And the meaning of Redemption (1)

And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labour under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them. They share their meals, but not their wives. 

They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law. Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonour, but that is their glory. They are defamed, but vindicated. A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult. For the good they do they receive the punishment of malefactors, but even then they, rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life. They are attacked by the Jews as aliens, they are persecuted by the Greeks, yet no one can explain the reason for this hatred.

To speak in general terms, we may say that the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body. As the soul is present in every part of the body, while remaining distinct from it, so Christians are found in all the cities of the world, but cannot be identified with the world”.

The Christian life is a pilgrimage of faith. The nomadic existence of a Christian is not like the wayfaring of a perennial wanderer, of the man or woman who has opted for the open road, of willed homelessness. The Christian does indeed incarnate/instantiate home ‘in the world’; yet he is not ‘of the world’. 

The Christian as a resident alien

The theme of the continuing exile of God’s people in the world was one that the author of the New Testament book, The Letter to the Hebrews, gives renewed attention and urgency. The author – like possibly many Jews of his time – rereads Israel’s history, from Abraham up to the time of audience under Greek and Roman influences, as one of incomplete possession of the land (cf. Thiessen, 2007). Israel’s history is thought to have been frozen in the period of the exile, as evidenced by the continuing subjugation of God’s people to foreign nations. Though Joshua led the people of Israel to the Land of Promise, he did not succeed in leading them to the Land of Rest (Hebrews 3 – 4). Through a radical explication of Psalm 95 the author is certain that while the promise of the land was fulfilled, the blessing of rest was denied as a result of the disobedience of the people. The envisioned end of Israel’s continuing exodus and wildereness wandering (Hebrews 11:1 – 12:3) will be when God’s people draw near to the heavenly Jerusalem (Hebrews 12:22 – 29). As a result, a rest-less-ness, a condition of ongoing exile and persistent search for the road homeward, remains an ongoing existential experience for God’s people in all generations.

Hauerwas and Willian, evoking mostly the sentiments of the anonymous author of the Letter to Diognetus, and as well the words of Paul in his Letter to the Philippians, describe the conditions of the Christians in the contemporary world as that of resident aliens. At the personal level, Paul had enjoined the Philippians: “work out your salvation in fear and trembling. It is God who, for his own generous purpose, gives you the intention and the powers to act” (Philippians 2:13). At the collective level, and because the Christians in Philippi were surrounded by a deceitful and underhand brood, Paul commands them to ‘shine like bright stars in the world, proffering to it the Word of life.’ (v.15). As residents, and yet lacking in citizenship rights, the Christian community was not to model itself according to the world, but must continually raise its sight heavenward: “Our homeland is in heaven and it is from there that we are expecting a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 3:20). The description of the life of the Christian minority in Philippi as a ‘colony of heaven’ was something that Paul knew his hearers will understand: “A colony is a beachhead, an outpost, an island of one culture in the middle of another, a place where the values of home are reiterated and passed on to the young, a place where the distinctive language and life-style of the resident aliens are lovingly nurtured and reinforced” (Hauerwas & Willimon, p….).

In our mostly secular world the Church no longer dominates social life, nor is it ascribed any fundamental role in the society. There is always the temptation for some Christians to hide and withdraw into some cocoon where they may feel ‘secure’ and ‘aloof’. But – even as resident aliens – can the Christians really dispense with the world, any more than the soul dispense with matter? Just as the soul is never so enfranchised as to be able to reject matter, so the Church must continue to seek out ways to become a contagious force, ‘the salt of the earth’ and ‘the light of the world’ (Mathew 5:13 – 16). And, accordingly, Hauerwas and Willimon occupy themselves extensively with the question about the models of exchange between the Christian Church and the world around it. How best can the Church relate with the world around her in a way that is unapologetic but credible? How can she witness to Christ in that world, and become a leaven for the transformation of culture? What does it mean for the Church to be a ‘colony of heaven’ in the mainstream world around it, with all the changes in social living, and the vast array of languages and cultures encountered in the mostly secular, plural world of today? What adventures of faith and outreach await the Christian community as it attempts to embody Christ’s model of living that is credible in the world of today?

Church and culture: Faith Journeys

The intention here is not to delve into philosophical debates, but to recognize the spectacular journeys of faith, and the extraordinary mission, the Christian Church in every age must undertake in order to become a leaven for the world around it. In my Volume One (Alaribe, 2015), I commented on the words of Gorres about the two awakenings that must happen in today’s world: the awakening of the church in the souls of men (Gaurdini), as well as the awakening of the world in the souls of men, and in the heart of the Church (Gorres). Both awakenings are faith journeys requiring encounters with the wilderness at various levels. For the Church to reach out to the world, it will require that the shells in which previously the missionary zeal of Christians had slumbered, be burst open with a new vision and a new ardour. When the Church awakens in the heart of men, and brings to fruition in their lives the virtues of heaven, then the kingdom of heaven – long the object of prayer – will make its entrance in the affairs of men. Again, when the world awakens in the souls of men and in the heart of the Church, then piety will no longer be something otherworldly, but a reality that takes seriously the ebb and flow of daily life.

To allow for the possibility of believing at the same time and fundamentally – believing each through the other – in God and in the world, was one of the major themes captured in a letter of Pere Teilhard de Chardin to Pere Victor Fonoynont: “I would like to be able to love Christ passionately (by loving) in the very act of loving the universe. Is it a wild dream or a blasphemy? Besides communion with God and communion with the Earth, is there communion with God through the Earth – the Earth becoming like a great Host in which God would be contained for us?” (p. 245 of The Religion of Teilhard de Chardin).

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The Nigeria-Biafra War (5) The Battle Begins – Year 1967

By Prof. Peter Okorie
Culled from “Nigeria Too Hard to Hold,” By Prof. Peter Okorie
(Copies available at Assumpta Bookshop Owerri, OCS Building,
IMSU. Cost N3000. Contact: 07036465863, 08037061402)

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The Nigeria-Biafra War (5) The Battle Begins – Year 1967

By July 1967, Nigeria was battle ready with over 8,000 soldiers massed around Makurdi-Oturkpo axis, armed to the teeth, and supported by dozens of ferret armoured cars and heavy artillery. Biafra barely had three battalions, albeit poorly equipped, when the war started. On July 6, the Nigerians attacked the barely one month old Republic, predictably from two main axis: Ogoja and Nsukka. In the Ogoja sector, three Nigerian battalions attacked Obudu and Gakem. There was one poorly equipped Biafran battalion to stop them. Similarly at the Nsukka sector there was one poorly equipped Biafran battalion to stop two Nigerian battalions.      

In some professional armies, there is a joke shared with young army recruits that God usually fights on the side of the bigger battalions. This statement is not borne out of any atheist inclination. Very far from it! The joke is a way of warning soldiers that the outcome of battles is determined by the quality of weaponry and training, not righteousness of one’s cause, or luck. In such armies, when a soldier sends a radio message to his commander that he is in trouble, the usual reply is: trust in your weapons and training. Yes, there may be occasional lucky breakthroughs where a chance direct hit on a strategic enemy target could change the course of battle, as was the case in Abagana in Biafra. But these were occasional events. As children say: not everyday is Christmas.       The attack at both Ogoja and Nsukka sectors followed a similar pattern: prolonged artillery bombardment of Biafran positions, next advancing ferret armoured cars spitting fire 180 degrees arc, followed by the infantry, often in compact phalanx and chanting war songs. A defending army, without bazookas or any anti-tank weapons under this circumstance, has no option than to allow the heavy frontal armoured column to pass and thereafter engage the infantry at the flanks. In both sectors the Biafran forces inflicted heavy casualties on the Nigerian Army and captured considerable military supplies from them. A captured Yoruba officer confessed that their intelligence reports grossly under-estimated the Biafran defences. However the Nigerians continued to reinforce and advance. In about a week of fighting it looked as if the Biafran resistance had collapsed. The defenders, already outrageously out-gunned, now also ran out of ammunition. Ogoja was lost on 12 July followed by Nsukka on 14 July. A long awaited shipment of weapons to Biafra mysteriously arrived Port Harcourt but the much needed artillery and bazookas listed in the manifesto were not there. Aware of the precarious shortage of weapons and ammunition, the Federal forces opened up new fronts to thin out and exhaust the Biafran defenders. They landed three battalions in Bonny with only one platoon of Biafran soldiers there to stop them.      

In a manner, akin to the German style Blitzkrieg (lightning war) the supposedly ‘dying’ Biafra took over the Midwest region of Nigeria on 9 August, 1967. The expeditionary brigade of 3,000 soldiers and militia fanned out in three axis: one north-wards towards Auchi to protect the northern flank; a second battalion southwards to take over seaports in Warri and Sapele; and the third battalion, the main force, to move straight to Ibadan where they would be joined by local forces for the onward march to their final destination – Lagos.

The expeditionary force, called Liberation Army, was led by Brigadier Victor Banjo, a Yoruba. Brig. Banjo was one of the Nigerian army officers detained in Enugu in connection with the January 15 coup. It was assumed that, as a Yoruba, Banjo was bound to appeal more to both the Mid-West and West, including Lagos, thus making it feasible to galvanize forces to remove Gowon from Lagos. If the expedition was led by an Eastern officer, the old narrative of Eastern (Igbo) domination would re-surface. The Chief of Staff of the Liberation Army was Lt. Col. Adewale Ademoyega, one of the five majors of January 15 coup, who was also detained in Enugu. Like Brig. Banjo, Col. Ademoyega was one of the first six graduates that enrolled as an officer in the Nigerian Army. He earned a degree in History in the University of London. Both Banjo and Ademoyega were soldiers of outstanding intellect and bravery.      

For inexplicable reasons, rather than follow the initial battle plan of going straight to Ibadan and thence to Lagos, Banjo paused in Benin for several days where he made speeches. In some quarters this was seen as a deliberate sabotage. In other quarters it was argued that he needed the break to ‘connect’ properly with the West and that the speeches were meant to assure the West that he (Banjo) was the person leading the Liberation Army. It took several days of persuasion and, eventually, a meeting with Ojukwu before the Liberation Army continued its westwards advance. By 16 August, they had crossed Ogosu River after inflicting a defeat on the Federal army there. Despite resistance by the Nigerian Army, the Biafran forces continued to advance, capturing Ore on 20 August. The defeat of the Federal forces at Ore led to the Yoruba slogan – ‘O le ku, Ija Ore’ (it was tough at Ore battle). The Nigerian army had to blow up the Shasha bridge at Mile 82 Lagos-Ore road to stop the advance of the Liberation Army. Thus the element of surprise had gone. The federal forces re-organised and started fighting back.

Over two thousand years ago, Sun Tzu in The Art of War wrote: 

The condition of a military force is that its essential factor is speed, taking advantage of others’ failure to catch up, going by routes they do not expect, attacking where they are not on ground.

This means that to take advantage of the unpreparedness or lack of caution on the part of opponents, it is necessary to proceed quickly, as hesitance would spell doom. The Liberation Army hesitated at Benin and lost the initiative. Had this expeditionary force followed its initial battle plan, Col. Gowon would have fled Lagos, and the One Nigeria project would have either been abandoned or made much more difficult, if not impossible altogether. Biafra would have been an illustration of Sun Tzu’s dictum of the classic ‘To win without fighting is best’.      

 The quickly mobilized 2nd Division of the Nigerian Army led by Col. Murtala Muhammed was charged with the responsibility of re-capturing the Mid-West. It promptly attacked from two sectors: Ore and Okene. The Ore sector remained stable but the Okene-Auchi axis collapsed. Fearing being cut off from the Auchi direction, the Biafran force at Ore eventually had to withdraw eastwards. Enugu fell on 4 October, 1967. Two days later, the Nigerian Army took Asaba and would have crossed into Onitsha if not for the partial destruction of the River Niger Bridge. Nevertheless the Nigerian Army still decided to attack Onitsha.

Emboldened by its successes so far the 2 Division under Col. Murtala planned a frontal attack on Onitsha by crossing the River Niger. The invasion commenced on 12 October. After intensive artillery bombardment as usual, which was assumed to have thoroughly weakened Biafran defensive positions, the Nigerian armada left Asaba all headed towards Onitsha. The boats were systematically sunk one after the other by Biafran defenders resulting in heavy casualties on the invaders. A senior commander of the Nigerian army at that period described the tactics of a frontal attack on the enemy at the opposite end of the river as one of the blunders of the Nigerian Army during the civil war. It was reported that a home made Biafran rocket had its first ‘kill’ of a Nigerian naval boat.

But a large number of Nigerian troops still managed to land in Onitsha. Instead of pressing their military objectives, they started celebrations in Onitsha market. This gave Biafrans time to organize a counter-attack led by Joe Achuzia and Major Assam Nsudoh.

oe Achuzia from Mid-West was at that time a volunteer militia while Major Nsudoh was a regular soldier from the so-called minority areas of Biafra. These officers were admired for fighting alongside their men. It was the kind of man-to-man fighting Biafran soldiers craved for. Almost all the invading troops were either killed or captured. Onitsha was completely cleared. Biafran troops captured a lot of Nigerian stores including a brand new Panhard Armoured Car, a badly needed fighting vehicle in Biafra then. The armoured car was later named ‘Corporal Nwafor’ in honour of the brave Biafran soldier who died after immobilizing the vehicle.

 The victorious battle at Onitsha was highly significant. It was the first time Biafran troops recaptured a Biafran city. The 2nd Division lost so much in men and materials in the first invasion and it was assumed they would not try it again. But they went ahead and tried two more times and they were again defeated in the two attempts. At the end of the battles, a majority of the estimated 5,000 attacking force were either killed or captured. After the battle Joe Achuzia was commissioned into the Biafran Army as a Major, thereafter rising to a Brigadier at the close of the war. He later became one of the most successful Biafran commanders and was nicknamed Hannibal for his exploits. He was known for his versatility in asymmetric confrontation, his passionate desire to fight shoulder-toshoulder with his men; and intolerance for cowardice among his men. Prior to joining the Biafran Army in May 1967, Achuzia had been an engineer with the Shell Petroleum company based in Port Harcourt and married to a British wife. He was a founder of the Militia in Port Harcourt.

Over ten years after the civil war, ever loyal to his former boss, Achuzia was a conspicuous figure in the super mammoth crowd that came to welcome Ojukwu from exile in June, 1982. He was also present in most events which this author helped organize for Ojukwu’s burial ceremonies in 2011/2012. Seeing the calm looking veteran, it was hard to reconcile that this was the fire spitting warrior who was ‘Hannibal’ to some or ‘Air Raid’ for others. Hannibal was a Carthaginian General and statesman who commanded Carthage’s main force against the Roman Republic during the second punic war. He is still today widely considered one of the greatest military commanders in world history. Hannibal the Carthaginian was a familiar character to the ‘boys’ in the Biafran Army, as the primary school history textbook in use at that time had a spectacular drawing of Hannibal crossing the alps to battle using elephants as carriers. 

While Biafra was still savouring the victory at Onitsha, the Nigerian Army entered Calabar on 18th October. It was again a case of one poorly equipped Biafran battalion against six or more well equipped Nigerian battalions amply supported by over half a dozen ferrets, saladin armoured cars, mortars and artillery guns. At the end of 1967, Biafra had lost Nsukka, Nkalagu, Enugu, Ogoja, Bonny and Calabar. Biafra had also lost the whole of the Mid-West. But while the Federal soldiers stayed in the main towns, Biafran fighters were all around them in defensive positions. The deadlines on ‘crushing’ Biafra had not materialized. Though a lot of grounds had been lost, the fighting morale remained high. There was an all-pervading optimism that once Biafra secured a steady source of weaponry from a world power, she would recapture all lost grounds.

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The Life of Exile And the meaning of Redemption (4)

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The Life of Exile And the meaning of Redemption (1)

Redemption remains always a difficult enterprise that engages individuals and groups at several levels. Not a few of the slaves living then in Goshen, groaning under their burden, and crying out for help from the depths of that slavery (Exod.2;23), trusted that hope was still on the horizon. Even Moses was uncertain of his suitability for the job: “Who am I to go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Exod.3:11). The cumulative of critical encounters, actions and reactions of the principal actors in the drama affirm the truth that human agents can always cooperate with divine grace to create in human history outlets of revitalization, reversals and accelerations.
Israel on a journey homeward

The books that capture the story of liberation of Israel from exile, and that make available to future generations of God-seekers the challenges on the homecoming journey, are especially Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy and Joshua. When God initially announced his intention to Moses of rescuing the enslaved people from Egyptian bondage in Exodus 3:8, it was with a promise that Moses will lead Israel to a country rich and broad, to a land flowing with milk and honey. Canaan was the divine destination for God’s people. Its beauty and attractiveness are pictorially made evident by using the imageries of milk and honey. In some sense these imageries evoke the picture of Eden, the garden of abundance, pure delight and enjoyment that harboured our First Parents – Adam and Eve.

Any ordinary reader would expect the ensuing journey from bondage to redemption to be an upbeat experience brimming with excitement. The people had great dreams and high expectations at the delights of Canaan. But redemption was a costly enterprise. Redemption remains for every generation an altogether dramatic and tenuous experience. To negotiate the journey to Canaan, Israel had to spend 40 long years wandering in the treaterous wilderness. There were many reversals on the journey of Israel’s redemption: At Sinai the loose multitude that left Egypt with Moses underwent a wholesale transformation of identity to become ‘God’s people’; yet no member of that generation that witnessed the sacred events on the mountain survived the bewildering conditions of the wilderness. At emergency junctures throughout the journey the people witnessed many mighty works of God; yet stories of disappointments and failures abounded in almost equal measure. Many times Israel was in awe of the wonders of God in the wilderness; but as often, Israel grumbled against God and showed lack of faith. We are left to wonder: why did God not make the story of redemption easier for Israel, so that God’s people could just stroll into the land of their dreams and settle? How could a journey to the Promised Land almost turn into such a national disaster?

Such was the portrait of the journey of redemption by the books of the Pentateuch. The journey homeward for many people in our time may not be evolving any differently. For many the path to their own freedom winds through roads that open up to frontier experiences where the wayfarer becomes altogether a pathfinder. For others the personal and collective sacrifices needed for the journey will entail the discarding of the medley of inessential details and surface charms that encumber the soul. For every believer the journey will ever remain a formative experience shaping both personal life and destiny.

The two Tensions of Human Existence: the dweller and the wayfarer
Between the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy Israel made about 42 stopovers on their way to Canaan. A journey that looked so straightforward at the beginning became increasingly long and circuitious. Seldom was Israel allowed to travel in any obvious, direct, path (Exod.13:17 – 18). Indeed every journey of redemption remains hazarduous, and as the wayfarer veers off into uncharted territories, innumerable trials and tribulations test the limits of courage. Occasionally Israel was fickle and short-sighted, and so complained and revolted against God and Moses (Numbers 11:4; 14:1 – 2; 21:5); other times, disheartened because of the challenges on the way, Israel was tempted to stay rooted in one place, to attempt no further progress, and even to turn back in terror (Exod.14:10 – 12). But again and again the command was prompt: march on (Exod.14:15), move on from here (Exod.33:1). Other stop-over stations for Israel served as resting posts, places for refuelling, for resolving communal disputes, for awaiting guidance from God. And so the entire exodus itinerary consisted of periods of halting, and of wandering: “Whenver the cloud rose from the Tent, the Israelites broke camp, and wherever the cloud halted, there the Israelites pitched camp. At Yahweh’s order, the Israelites set out and, at Yahweh’s order, the Israelites pitched camp. They remained in camp for as long as the cloud rested on the Dwelling” (Numbers 9:17 – 18). Two generations of Israelites spent their lives on the road, pilgrims living between the stations of resting and the experiences on the open road.

Kohak (1996) has rightfully noted that the ‘dweller’ and the ‘wayfarer’ are among the more perennial metaphors of our humanity. Both are metaphors of incarnation, of human presence. On the one hand, life becomes actual only if it consents to dwell, to commit itself to flesh, to a time and a place. To be human is to be in the world, to be a dweller. On the other hand, to be actual life must equally learn to transcend the present in memory and imagination, to transcend space in love and vision.

Both metaphors are captured in the Bible: In the words of Jesus, his disciples are to be ‘in the world’ but not ‘of the world’ (John 17:14 – 15). The disciples of Jesus must be ‘in the world’, citizens of a country, at home within their particular historical time and place. Nonetheless, Life will cease to be meaningful if it is submerged in its embodiment, a slave to the fads and fashions of the times. To be meaningful, the Christian life must stand ‘out of this world’ and be able to feel the seduction of the horizon. And so the Christian must be ready, every moment, to transcend sedentary existence: “Anyone who comes to me without hating father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes and his own life too, cannot be my disciple. No one who does not carry his cross and come after me can be my disciple” (Luke 14:26 – 27).
The strategy for living differs for both the dweller and the wayfarer:

“Dwellers are strong in sinking roots, wayfarers in travelling light. Dwellers seek to stay with their love, wayfarers know the task vain and cut their anchor rope before time and tide can drag them down. Perhaps their respective ways of experiencing time are the key. The dwellers’ time is as cyclical as the eternal return of the seasons. There is nothing new under the sun, and unto its circuits the wind returneth. There each end is also a new beginning, each death a new birth. The time of the wayfarer is linear, as the endless open road. There are no returns; there are no replays. Time is irreversible, ever new. What is left behind is gone forever. Wayfarers must travel light and never look back. Their strength is detachment as the strength of the dwellers is rooting” (Kohak, p.38 – 39).

The Christian life displays these two tensions of human existence. The Christian is in the world, has a home somewhere, and at some point in time; and yet the Christian is not of the world – his or her place is not exhausted by his or her belonging to a particular tribe, nation or place, at any particular point in time. The anonymous author of the Letter to Diognetus captures these two tensions of the Christian existence in the world:

“Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries inspired by the curiosity of men. Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine. With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign.

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LEAD STORY JUNE 13

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