Great Commanders Of The Biafran War Part VIII: Lt. Col. Anthony Okoro Eze
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 to some and heroes to others 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 Mohammed Shuwa, our sixth Major Achuzie, our seventh the American born Juan Correa aka Johnny (Onye) Ocha, and our newest entry is now Colonel Anthony Okoro Eze
Eze again was a product of the famous Government College Umuahia Man of war programme which by 1966 had produced thirteen mid-level and Senior Officers in the Nigerian Armed Forces.
At the start of the war, they also became officers in Biafra. These include but are not limited to as already detailed Madiebo, Onwuategwu, Eze himself , Captain August Okpe of the Biafran Airforce (BAF), Lieutenant Achike Udenwa, who later became governor of Imo state as well as many others.
In February 1956, Eze joined the Officer Cadet Training at R.O.S.T.S., Teshie, Accra, Ghana till September 1956. He was also one of the select few from the Nigerian Military to attend the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, United Kingdom. This he did from January 1957 to December 1958 when he was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the Nigerian Army. He was then posted to Signal Corps of the Nigerian Army. From 1960 to 1961 he was at the Royal Signals Training School Catterick Camp, Yorkshire, United Kingdom. Thereafter he was posted to the Congo from February 1961 to August 1961 and was Commander of Nigerian Army Signal from 1964 to 1966.
By far, Eze (above at a NIM award ceremony) would be remembered in history for his heroic war efforts in Biafra. As a well-trained and experienced military officer in Nigeria, it was only natural that being an officer later in the Biafran Army, he had to play a key role in the war. Their number led to speculations both in the Nigerian Armed Forces and Biafran Armed Forces about the existence of the “Umuahian Mafia”.
In any case, it was Eze that received Madiebo from Kaduna at the Ikeja Airport, Lagos at 1500 hours on the 19th of June, 1966 and drove him in his private car to see the Head of State, Major General J.T.U. Aguiyi – Ironsi wherein Madiebo in the presence of Mobolaji Johnson (then Governor of Lagos State) warned Ironsi of an impending coup against him. As we know the coup eventually took place in July 1966.
In Biafra from March 1967, before the start of war hostilities, Eze and Madiebo to improve the intelligence gathering of Biafra, acting on their initiative, visited various parts of Northern Nigerian border almost every night in an attempt to get information from friendly natives. They undertook this dangerous task without carrying weapons.
Initially, Eze was the Commander of 52 Brigade of Biafran Army with its headquarters in Calabar and responsible for the defence of the 75 miles of coastline between Ikang on the Cameroun border and Opobo on the Imo river basin.
However, he had gone to help out at the Nsukka Sector when war broke out at Calabar. With the Nigerians forces gaining the upper hand in Calabar, Nsukka and later Onitsha sectors where he operated at different, times, he was branded a saboteur by some of the civilian populace, just like some senior officers were unjustly accused in Biafra.
This was absolutely not true as the Biafran citizenry simply failed to comprehend and admit that despite the gallant and brave efforts of Biafran troops in many battles, the truth was that the balance of resources tilted heavily in favour of the Nigerians with strong backing from a slew of major powers.
To tender proof is a desperate last-minute signal sent to the Biafran General Officer Commanding by Colonel Akagha of the 56 Brigade. He sent it as Calabar was being sacked by Adekunle and he was being encircled at the Calabar Prison where he refused to surrender forcing a young Colonel Buhari, Adekunle's second in command, to raze it to the ground (below) and kill all defenders on November 13, 1967
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