Great Commanders Of The Biafran War Part VI : Major Joe Achuzie
War is a terrible thing. Anybody who has witnessed it will agree with the Latin saying that War is sweet to those who haven't experienced it. One such war was the Biafran conflict and while somethings are better left alone, others need to be revisited if not for any other reason, then for the mere fact that we should not try and repeat such an event. Man must celebrate his humanity and not his inhumanity and learn from his mistakes.
Bearing this in mind the Awareness has gone back in time and picked 10 major players from the Biafran war and has attempted to review their performances and what made them such dominant characters in that vicious confrontation.
We have both villains and heroes on our list.
Our first was EA Etuk, our second was the German Born, but Biafran naturalised Lt. Col Rolf Steiner our third Major Timothy Onwuatuegwu and our fourth, Major General Alexander A Madiebo, our fifth General Muhammed Shuwa and our sixth is now Major Joe Achuzie.
Joe Achuzie without a doubt was one of the more colourful and controversial figures of the Biafra war. He was hated and loved by both friend and foe and till his death continued to be the focus of many a conversation.
But let us start at the beginning and what we do actually know for fact.
Achuzie was a successful businessman with a British born wife whose area of concentration was both electrical engineering and civil construction.
He excelled at both before joining the Nigerian Army, who was always on the lookout for native engineers who understood the Nigerian terrain and weather patterns. It was here early in his career that he would meet Obasanjo (below), also an engineer, for the first time.
After the pogroms started in the North, Achuzie was a first-hand victim of anti-Igbo sentiment shown to Igbo officers in 1966 despite being from the Mid-West, and subsequently pitched his tent with Biafra, joining its Army in 1967.
By the time the Biafrans soldiers were forced to retreat across the River Niger Bridge into Onitsha on September 20, 1967 Achuzie who had previously excelled wherever he had been sent, had risen to the rank of Major, had also been given full command of the Biafran 11th Battalion, was introduced into the Onitsha Theatre of war.
He immediately made his presence felt by deploying the very tactics that his namesake, the great Hannibal of Carthage had successfully deployed against the Romans decades ago.
Alongside the Biafran 18th Battalion under Colonel Assam Nsudoh who had been in retreat, Achuzie and his troops hooked up and swivelled into a perfect pincer move with the 18th swinging down the Old Market road and the 11th up on the New Market Road and catching the Nigerians flat-footed.
It was a total rout and the Federal Army lost most of its 5000 troops, much to the glee of Achuzie who had lost relatives in the Asaba massacre and hated Murtala Mohammed and his men with a passion.
But this was not to be Achuzie's greatest triumph and opportunity to get back at Murtala.
That would be at a place called Agbagana (below)
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On 31 March 1968, a convoy consisting of hundreds of vehicles belonging to the Nigerian 2nd Division transporting 6,000 soldiers, as well as armour was en route from Onitsha to Enugu.
Biafran intelligence picked this up and passed it on to Achuzie who alerted Major Jonathan Uchendu and raced in to support thwarting that move.
The rest as we know is history.
Uchendu successfully ambushed the convoy when homemade Ogbunigwe rocket missiles were launched by the Biafrans at a tanker truck carrying gasoline which caused an enormous explosion destroying many of the convoy's armoured vehicles and killing a large number of Nigerian troops instantly.
350 tons of Nigerian Army equipment were destroyed or captured by the Biafran troops. After the rocket attack, the Nigerians broke and ran straight into Achuzie's troops who mowed them down.
It was the greatest victory of the war for Biafra and not since Rommel faced Montgomery in Egypt had one army lost so many resources in one battle on African soil.
General Murtala Mohammed subsequently had to be evacuated by helicopter near Nawfia minutes before Achuzie's men got to him. He was relieved of his command and never commanded a division again.
Achuzie that night, we are told smiled even in his sleep.
A mere 6 days after Agbagana Achuzie was transferred to Port Harcourt which had been literally encircled by Adekunle and his 3rd Marine Commandos and made commander of all Biafran soldiers within the city.
The morale had been low and the Biafrans on the back foot but Achuzie immediately changed this.
During five days of heavy fighting, Port Harcourt's airport and army barracks changed hands on numerous occasions but by the end of most Biafran troops had been pushed out of the city into the surrounding areas.
Despite this Maj. Achuzie stubbornly continued to fight against the Nigerians before narrowly escaping death after almost being run over by an armoured car.
Achuzie went on to remain a thorn in the federal side including leading the Biafran crack Guards the |S Division temporarily. He so frustrated Adekunle that the Nigerian launched his ill-fated Operation OAU ( Owerri-Umuahia-Aba) to boost the morale of his troops.
On January 9, 1970, President Odumegwu Ojukwu officially placed all remaining Biafran soldiers under the command of Maj. Achuzie and gave his vice president Philip Effiong his title of President before leaving for the Ivory Coast.
Three days later on January 12 Effiong, Achuzie, and other Biafran officers made their way to Amichi and later Owerri to broadcast their final surrender to General Olusegun Obasanjo with whom Achuzie already had an existing relationship as for mentioned.
As we also pointed out in addition to Onitsha and Port Harcourt, his role in Aba, Owerri, Oguta and Mbaise axis of the war is just as noteworthy.
Colonel Ojukwu found in Achuzie an especially useful field commander and a source of good propaganda to the people of the ever-decreasing enclave of Biafra. Critics argue that he was guilty of playing to the gallery with Achuzie's exploits and despite his many successes, news about Achuzie's victories was often a distraction to Army headquarters.
Achuzie's brigades were always having the highest casualties, the price of his successes was often too high because he used out dated tactics in a modern war. Many will point out that Achuzie who promptly executed any deserter regardless of age, was not loved by his men, but feared.
Achuzie died on Monday 26 February 2018 in his native town of Asaba, true to military fashion at 8 am prompt when most morning Parades start. His traditional Chief title was the Ikemba of Asaba.