The Igbo Generals That Fought On The Side Of Nigeria During The Civil War
On May 30, 1967, The Republic of Biafra was declared. What followed was a bloody civil war that consumed more than four million souls. Nigeria was in turmoil and peace efforts failed. The most prominent was the Aburi Accord reached.
Ironically, there is a crop of men whose kith and kin were either part of Biafra or identified with the movement but still chose to fight on the side of Nigeria. Among them are the likes of Godwin Alabi-Isama, Ike Nwachukwu, Cyril Iweze, George Kurubo, Isaac Boro, Alfred Diette-Spiff, Emmanuel Ekpo, Okoi Arikpo, Godwin Ally and Kenule Saro-Wiwa among others.
One of the most prominent of these men was Ike Omar Sanda Nwachukwu. His mother was from Katsina, his father an Ovim, Isuikwuato man. He was born and raised in the north. Nwachukwu joined the Army and was under the protection of Brigadier Hassan Katsina, a Katsina Prince and Army Chief during the war.
He was a lieutenant at the break of the coup and was moved to army headquarters provosts, and later redeployed to join Lt Col. Muritala Muhamed’s division. There he became a company commander. He commanded a company battalion all through Ore road and confrontations to the banks of Niger to Onisha. Not only that he fought against his people, Nwachukwu was one of the principal actors from the Nigerian side during the war.
According to him “I fought in the Nigerian Civil War as a Federal Army officer, principally because I believe in Nigeria´s unity. That belief remains my conviction that all Nigerians regardless of ethnic, religious or regional origin have the right to live, work and prosper anywhere and everywhere in Nigeria”
He was later appointed military Governor of Imo State. From 1986 to 1987 he was Minister for Employment, Labour and Productivity and from December 1987 to December 1989, he was Minister of Foreign Affairs. In September 1990 he was re-appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs. He retired as a Major General
Talk of those who fought for Nigeria, Alabi-Isama, a Lt.Col.in 1969, was a prominent actor. He did not really know he was from Ikilibi, Utagba Uno in the Igbo-speaking part of Mid-West. He lost his father as a kid and followed his Yoruba mother.
He was a Principal Staff Officer in the war fighting on the side of Nigeria and was moved from the Second Division to Benjamin Adekunle’s Third Marine Commandos and ended up with Col. Olusegun Obasanjo. He retired as a Brigadier in 1977.
Cyril Iweze also fought for Nigeria and much later he was posted to ECOMOG in 1990 as Chief of Staff.
Major Isaac Boro, on his part, led a group of Niger Delta militia that declared the Niger Delta Republic on February 23, 1966, and fought with federal forces for twelve days before being defeated. Boro and his men were jailed for treason. However, the federal regime of General Yakubu Gowon granted him amnesty on the eve of the Nigerian civil war in May 1967. He then enlisted and was commissioned as a major in the Nigerian army. He fought on the side of the Federal Government but was killed under mysterious circumstances in active service in 1968.
General Kurubowa, who was the third Commander of the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) and the first indigenous Chief of Air Staff joined Biafra but later defected to Nigeria. Kurubo’s grouse was that Ojukwu whom he did not recognize as a superior officer put him in charge of logistics. Serving as the Eastern commander of logistics, Kurubo defected from Biafra to the Federal Government. He was later made Nigerian ambassador to the Soviet Union.