Great Commanders Of The Biafran War Part IV : Major General Alexander A Madiebo
By Iwedi Ojinmah 27 days 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 our third Major Timothy Onwuatuegwu and our fourth is now Major General Alexander A Madiebo.
Alexander Madiebo joined the Nigerian Army in May 1954, He had just finished from the Government College, Umuahia, where he had emerged as one of the most promising students. The college, located in the present Abia State, became a genius-making factory under the influence of the colonial teachers. It produced a large chunk of the country’s future leading economists, historians, poets, novelists, politicians, physicians and many high-powered figures.
But it was also renowned for its Man O War programme that churned out top military officers for not just for the Nigerian Army and Biafran one, but also for a slew of other West and Central African armies as well.
In our third part of this series on Timothy Onwuategwu, who also went to GCU, and was Madiebo's best friend and God Father to his first son, we touched on this briefly.
While friends and acquaintances on graduation from the Government College Umuahia were drawing up career choices, a young Alexander had already made up his mind to enlist in the army, then known as The Nigeria Regiment, Royal West African Frontier Force.
“ I just liked the army ” he would reveal when asked about his motivation for heading in the direction of the barracks.
“I was in Government College Umuahia, influenced by Europeans a lot, and most were white teachers who had served in the Second World War. They encouraged the students to join the army. I was impressed, so I joined.”
At that time, the army was a new profession and people regarded it as the last and most terrible choice."
For someone who had been judged to be one of the best graduates in his class in a highly respected colonial college, the idea of joining the army to many people, he recollected, was simply crazy.
“People were coming to pay their condolences to me,” he would reveal.
“I wasn’t reckless; I thought it was a good opportunity to go abroad and go round the world.”
He was right.
His military training was held at the Regular Officers’ Special Training School in Teshie, Ghana. Afterwards, he proceeded to Europe where he studied at the Eaton Hall Officer Cadet School in Chester, England.
The December of 1956 must have been a memorable one for the young Madiebo for that was the month he was commissioned into the Nigerian Army Artillery with the rank of a Second Lieutenant where he served with distinction and eventually was the first Regimental Commander of the Nigeria Army Artillery Regiment before being promoted to be the first Nigerian Governor-General, Nnamdi Azikiwe's ADC in 1960.
3rd Row Standing: Lt Hillary Mbilitem Njoku, 2nd Lt Macauley Nzefili, 2nd Lt David Oguniwe, 2nd Lt Shadrack, Lt Alexander Madiebo, 2nd Lt Anthony Eze, Lt Yakubu Gowon, 2nd Lt Sylvanus Nwanjei, Lt Yakubu Pam, 2nd Lt Hassan Katsina.
Then came the coup and a life-changing event when he was able to escape the gauntlet set up by Northern soldiers executing all southerners trying to escape, as he was, the bloodletting in the North to the safety of the South. His narrow escape across the Markurdi bridge in the bowels of the water tanker of an NRC train affected him deeply, especially so when two of his accompanying comrades were spotted, killed and tossed into the Benue River.
Madiebo's brilliance on the actual battlefield came to the forefront when he faced Major General Mohammed Shuwa's 1st Division in the north of Biafra. As we know the Nigerian Army's 1st Division was its best because the Sandhurst trained Shuwa himself was sound and methodical in tactics, and it was heavily composed of professional soldiers trained by the Crown. At the onset of the war, before Adekunle and Murtala Mohammed installed their procurement officers independent of each other, it was also the best armed.
Within two weeks it had rolled over Nnsuka and Enugu because the Biafrans simply were not ready for, and grossly underestimated the strength of the invading force.
Ojukwu promptly sacked his first Commander Brigadier Hilary Njoku, whom he never saw eye-to-eye with in the first place, and replaced him with Madiebo who rallied the Biafran 7th Battalion at Akagbe and now matched the invading army blow for blowRelated: How The Igbo Flavoured Jamaica
He would continue this stiff resistance with astute intelligence despite the preponderance of the enemy's resources throughout the war-making him a most valuable player for the Biafrans and a respected opponent by the Nigerians. Both Shuwa and even the genocidal Adekunle called him a master of the art of war.
The accolades were not just from the military because after he published his book The Nigerian Revolution and the Biafran War, launched by the Fourth Dimension in Enugu in November 1980 Chinua Achebe had this to say:
“Madiebo’s account of the civil war will maintain its superiority for generations and generations to come because the General confronts our recent history boldly and squarely. He is dispassionate in his analysis and quite merciless in exposing our hypocrisy, our ineptitude, our cruelty. In this process some cherished illusions are knocked on the head; some popular idols are sent tumbling down from their pedestals of deceit and chicanery; some reputations that were unfairly damaged by jealousy, spitefulness, ignorance, misunderstanding and mass hysteria are rehabilitated.”
To piggyback on this, it is also this authors personal opinion, with no disrespect intended, that only one other book, namely John de St. Jorre's The Brothers' War can stand side by side with this eloquent yet factual narrative when it comes to the Biafran War. They are both masterpieces.
Brothers in Arms - Ojukwu listening to Madiebo giving battle orders
Madiebo served with distinction till the end of the war and remained a constant pillar on which Ojukwu leaned on repetitiously. He was there till the very end even flying out with him from Uli On January 9, 1970, to asylum in the Ivory Coast. While he never regretted that move, despite the tongue-wagging, which he called necessary as the belief that the struggle would still continue remained intact.
He, however, tears up when he remembers that Onwuategwu's last act before being killed by the Nigerian Army, was to make sure he and Ojukwu got to Uli safely.
Madiebo (above) today lives a quiet life and remains within the bosom of his people, beloved and cherished as he should be.