Great Commanders Of The Biafran War Part I : Colonel EA Etuk
By Iwedi Ojinmah 1 month ago
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 picked five from the Federal side and five from the Biafran. We have bot villans and heroes on our list.
Our first is the Nigerian Colonel EA Etuk sometimes spelt Utuk.
Born in Calabar, Etuk was arguably the best soldier of the entire war and certainly the best on the Nigerian side. Quiet and effervescent he was loved by his troops and respected by his enemy. He was held in such high esteem that one fo the very first things General Effiong, after being named VP of Biafra, attempted to do was to woo his fellow tribesman to join the secessionist side.
As we know he failed and Etuk would remain a painful thorn in the Biafra side, till the war ended.
Etuk was admitted to the “Boys Company” (Nigerian Military School) in 1954 at age 14. In 1958, he graduated from NMS and was a soldier at the officer preparatory school at Apapa in Lagos.
He was selected for further officer cadet training at Fort Dix in New Jersey, followed by six months of cavalry and armoured training at Fort Knox in Kentucky, both in the United States – as part of the USAAF Officer Leadership Training program of that era.
He was commissioned Second Lieutenant in June 1963, underwent further training and was welcomed home in 1964 by then Defence Minister, Alhaji Muhammadu Ribadu.
Etuk served as a subaltern in the 4th Battalion at Ibadan under the late Lt. Col. Abogo Largema. As a Captain, he was deployed to the 2nd Brigade at Apapa under the late Brigadier Zakaria Maimalari. He was subsequently a staff officer (operations), charged with weapons acquisition under Lt. Col. Iliya Bissala at AHQ and went on arms purchasing missions abroad for Nigeria at the onset of the civil war.
In October 1967, Lt. Col. Bissala prevented then Lt. Col. Murtala Mohammed from drafting Etuk to the 2nd Division for the disastrous Onitsha assault river crossing.
However, he was later literally “hijacked” by Lt. Col. B.A.M. Adekunle and deployed to the 3rd Division as the Officer Commanding the 8 Battalion in Calabar.
So, in reality, the highly trained big-wig Sandhurst officers were looking at the young American trained soldier to save thei respective days for them.
After battalion operations in the Calabar-Itu-Ikot-Ekpene axis, he was redeployed to Port Harcourt as Commander, 16 Brigade. As a Field Major, he took part in the successful 3MCDO campaign for Port Harcourt along with officers like Lt. Col. Filemon Shande, Lt. Col. Pius Eromobor, Major George Innih, and initially Adaka Boro.
After the fall of Port Harcourt, Etuk now a Field Lt. Col., was charged with helping the capture of Owerri as part of “Operation OAU”. Because of Adekunle's hot-headedness though, this would prove to be a disaster and end up being the Black Scorpion's Waterloo. It would also almost annihilate the Marine Commandoes, if not for Etuk.
As the commander of the subsequently beleaguered 16th Brigade, he emerged among all the Nigerian field commanders of the civil war as the most highly thought of by all Biafran commanders he faced.
According to Madiebo,
“….. the enemy force at Owerri which was the Brigade under a young Calabar officer called Utuk, was easily the best fighting unit fielded by Nigeria throughout the war.
Right from Port Harcourt, and particularly at Afam, it had become obvious that the Brigade was a force well-led.
Inside Owerri, they fought with extraordinary courage, flexibility and determination. The withdrawal of the Brigade from Owerri was tactically tidy and well planned and executed. Without doubt, no other Nigerian Brigade could have withstood for more than a month the punishment the enemy Brigade absorbed with patience for over four months.
"In one instance over 50,000 rounds of ammunition, 300 mortars, 200 howitzer shells, and 20 anti-tank weapons were fired by the Biafrans during a two-day bombardment of Nigerian defensive positions in and around Owerri.
Only that Brigade could have got out of Owerri under the circumstances.”
After the Owerri debacle, Lt. Col. Etuk was temporarily appointed Garrison Commander for Port Harcourt before returning to command the newly reinvigorated 16 Brigade under the new 3MCDO Commander during “Operation Tail Wind” – the final offensive of the war.
His second-in-command this time around was Captain Buhari, a concessional commissioned officer who had distinguished himself during the Owerri breakout. He had lost his other second in command Field Major Hamman earlier to Biafran sniper fire in the same theatre of operation.
Further research will reveal that Madiebo is not the only former Biafran military leader to complement Etuk.
When the war finally ended in January 1970, after Ojukwu and Madiebo had fled into exile, Etuk joined then Colonel Obasanjo for a meeting with the Biafran high command, which was going through the process of surrendering. In one of the very few photos of the notoriously camera-shy Etuk (below), he is seen witnessing the signing of the end of the war agreement between Effiong and Obasanjo on January the 13th 1970 in Owerri a day after Effiong had announced that the war was over
Related: Great Commanders Of The Biafran War Part VII: Officer Juan Correa Aka Johnny (Onye) Ocha
After the formal introductions, Colonel Joe ‘Hannibal‘ Achuzie, who mostly commanded the Biafran ‘Republic of Benin’ Division but had faced Etuk in battle at various times in Port Harcourt and Owerri, asked, “Are you the Etuk who gave us all these headaches and all these troubles?” Etuk later privately hosted former Biafran Chief of General Staff and COS (DHQ) Major General Phillip Effiong for a meal. Effiong reportedly said: “You, this boy, you gave us a headache.” Colonel EA Etuk was retired from the Nigerian Army in January 1979 and despite overtures to join politics or come and instruct at the NDA, he chose to become a secondary school teacher till his death. Till his very last breath, he remained humble, shunned the limelight and swore never to fight again as he had seen too much horror during the war. Next Series: Lt. Col. Rolf Steiner Commander 4th Biafran Kommando
After the formal introductions, Colonel Joe ‘Hannibal‘ Achuzie, who mostly commanded the Biafran ‘Republic of Benin’ Division but had faced Etuk in battle at various times in Port Harcourt and Owerri, asked,
“Are you the Etuk who gave us all these headaches and all these troubles?”
Etuk later privately hosted former Biafran Chief of General Staff and COS (DHQ) Major General Phillip Effiong for a meal. Effiong reportedly said:
“You, this boy, you gave us a headache.”
Colonel EA Etuk was retired from the Nigerian Army in January 1979 and despite overtures to join politics or come and instruct at the NDA, he chose to become a secondary school teacher till his death. Till his very last breath, he remained humble, shunned the limelight and swore never to fight again as he had seen too much horror during the war.
Next Series: Lt. Col. Rolf Steiner Commander 4th Biafran Kommando