Great Commanders Of The Biafran War Part IX: Captain August Okpe
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.
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, next was Colonel Anthony Okoro Eze and today we will visit with Captain August Okpe.
Captain August Okpe, was a founding member of the Nigerian Air Force, Head of the Tactical Arm of the Biafran Air Force (BAF) and, later, chief pilot of Nigeria Airways and director of Air Accident Investigation at the Federal Ministry of Aviation.
In 1963, when Nigeria had been a sovereign nation for a mere 3 years Okpe was a teenager and after an excellent education at Government College Umuahia, Okpe was plucked out of his university studies in mathematics and physics to train as one of the first 30 Nigerian air force pilots.
His contingent of 12 completed their training in Canada, and then he continued his training in the United States as an air accident investigator. Back in Nigeria as a captain in the Nigerian airforce, he continued to excel to nobody's surprise as his father fought in the World War II, while his eldest son, August Okpe ll, was a decorated US Army combatant officer in Operation Desert Storm showing the warriors blood in the family.
Captain Okpe and wife
That same year the Nigerian airforce had its first fatal crash, a small plane controlled by 2 of the newly trained pilots. Okpe’s first task as an air accident investigator was determining what killed his friends. He graphically describes scraping his friends off the plane dials.
Okpe was a mere 22.
At the beginning of 1967, the genocide of Igbos had started and resulted in a mass exodus of Igbos from the northern third of Nigeria to the eastern third of Nigeria, the Eastern Region. As the genocide continued, Captain Okpe and other Igbo airforce officers were targeted for murder, and Captain Okpe was only able to escape from the Northern region to the Eastern region of Nigeria by hiding in the water tank of a steam train just as Madiebo did.
Captain Okpe became part of the Biafran Airforce, and until he flew the last flight of the Biafran War in January 1970, went on frequent and often successful bombing raids of Nigerian military targets and watched while one by one his Biafran colleagues were killed in plane crashes and the few planes in the Biafran airforce were destroyed
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