Great Commanders Of The Biafran War Part III : Major Timothy Onwuatuegwu
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 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 and our third is now Major Timothy Onwuatuegwu.
Timothy Onwuatuegwu was a Biafran Officer who played a vital role in the fighting as well as actively took part in the 1966 military coup which overthrew Nigerian Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa while also killing many other Northern senior army officers including Brig. Samuel Ademulegun and his wife, whom Onwuatuegwu executed personally.
It would be something that would remain a blotch on his stellar reputation as a good professional soldier.
Although the coup was stopped by General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi both Onwuatuegwu and his superior Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu were able to control the northern portion of Nigeria for a few weeks. Both Onwuatuegwu and Nzeogwu were arrested by Nigerian police officers in early February but were not executed which outraged many Northern civilians. For an entire year Onwuatuegwu was in an Enugu prison until May 30, 1967, when he was freed by Biafran Head of State: Odumegwu Ojukwu.
It would form an even tighter friendship between the two.
Onwuategwu received his commission into the Nigerian army after graduating from the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, in the United Kingdom in 1961, where he was course-mates with other officers such as Murtala Muhammed, Muhammed Shuwa, and Illiya Bisalla. Before that, he attended Government College Umuahia whose fabled Man Of War program (below) also produced the likes of General Madiebo and a slew of other famous Biafran officersRelated: How The Igbo Flavoured Jamaica
In 1967 he jumped ship to the Biafran side of the fracas and Ojukwu made him a Major in his Army. Onwuatuegwu didn't initially see much action because he was heavily involved in the formation of the Biafran units.
That changed in March 1969 when he was put in charge of the Biafran's S Brigade, it's Special Division and Ojukwu's Pretorian guard which distinguished itself throughout the war.
S Brigade Trooper displaying special insignia on sleeve of BDU
He was ordered to of recapture Owerri from the Nigerian Army and on March 15, 1969, Onwuatuegwu led an assault on the Nigerian 16th Division, who had been occupying Owerri since October 1968 but was forced to halt after suffering heavy casualties.
Onwuatuegwu subsequently placed half of his men under the command of the short-fused Maj. Joseph Achuzie, who managed to get within 1km of the city. Achuzie demanded total control of the S Division but was refused by Onwuatuegwu and the two men started one of the most famous showdowns of the war by soldiers in the same Army with both drawing their pistols and almost shooting each other.
Eventually, Ojukwu stepped in and gave Achuzie command of the S Division for 1 week. However, Achuzie's full-frontal attack ultimately failed and he was forced to retreat and Ojukwu restored Onwuatuegwu (below) as head of the S Division.
Onwuatuegwu moved on to be something of a stopper leading the defence in various theatres of the war as the Nigerian noose continued to tighten around the separationist state. On January 9, 1970, Onwuatuegwu escorted the Biafran Head of State , Odumegwu Ojukwu, to Uli Airport from which he and General Madiebo flew to Abidjan.
He would die within days of that last act though the details of his exact death is masked in controversy. One account by his former co-conspirator Maj. Adewale Ademoyega states that he was tricked into attending a meeting at a hotel with federal officers of the 3rd Marine Commando Division. At this meeting, that was said to have occurred on January 15, he was summarily shot dead by vengeful officers personally aggrieved by the assassination of the for mentioned Brig. Ademulegun and his wife during the coup d’état.
An alternative account given by Obasanjo states that during the process of surrender, Onwuatuegwu unsuccessfully attempted to ambush him near Amichi. After this, he made for the Cameroon border and was later killed in a firefight with Nigerian 1st Division soldiers.
Regardless of how he died, the fact to the matter is Onwuatuegwu remained one of the major players of the war and was a tough competent officer till the very end.