Great Commanders Of The Biafran War Part V : General Mohammed Shuwa
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 both villans 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 and now our fifth is General Mohammed Shuwa.
Mohammed Shuwa was the first General Officer Commanding of the Nigerian Army's 1st Division. during the Nigerian Civil War.
He was born in Masharte, Borno State on September 1, 1939, and attended Kala Elementary School (1946-1947), Bama Central Elementary School (1948-1950), Bornu Middle School (1950-1952), and Barewa College, Zaria for his secondary education (1952-1957). He was classmates with Gen. Murtala Muhammed at Barewa and at subsequent military institutions such as Sandhurst.
Shuwa joined the Nigerian Army on September 19, 1958, and pursued his preliminary cadet training at the Regular Officers Special Training School in Teshie, Ghana.
He received his commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in July 1961 after completing officer training at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.
Shuwa being decorated by Gowon
Then Lt. Col Shuwa was Commander of the 5th Battalion in Kano during the Nigerian Army Mutiny of July 1966 where many Igbo military officers were systematically murdered by their northern counterparts for what the northern officers perceived as retribution for the January 15, 1966 coup which was led by mostly Igbo officers.
Shuwa's deputy at the 5th Battalion, then Major James Oluleye took the initiative by asking his company commanders to lock up the battalion armoury and hand over the armoury keys in Olulye's armoury safe. As a result of Shuwa and Oluleye's leadership, the lives of many Igbo officers during the July mutiny were saved.
In late September 1966, Shuwa and Oluleye were serendipitously posted away from the 5th Battalion and were replaced by then Major Abba Kyari and Captain Auna. On October 1, 1966, 5th Battalion troops mutinied and opened fire on the parade ground as they were addressed by Major Kyari.
The mutineers murdered Captain Auna and their Regimental Sergeant Major Dauda Mumuni while Major Kyari was able to escape and hide off base. The rampaging soldiers broke into the armoury and murdered Igbo civilians in Kano including some Igbo refugees about to board a southbound plane.
Lt. Colonel Hassan Katsina, military governor of the Northern Region intervened with the assistance of Lt Colonel Shuwa, Major Martin Adamu, and Lieutenant Garba Duba to suppress the mutiny. The quartet was initially overwhelmed by the mutineers and subsequently enlisted the assistance of the Emir of Kano to quell the mutiny.
The Igbo never forgot this act of bravery that spared so many of their kinsmen and always had a special place in their heart for him regardless of the fact that they soon would be fighting each other.
As General Officer Commanding of the Nigerian Army's 1 Division during the Civil War, Shuwa opposed Murtala Mohammed's disastrous 2nd Division Onitsha river assault almost to the point where both men exchanged blows. Shuwa dismissed Mohammed as a lumbering oaf who never wrote down battle orders and who used his troops, many of them from Shuwa's own area, as expendable cannon fodder. He got tired of facing the weeping mothers of the fallen soldiers at funerals and mortuaries and demanded more accountability from Mohammed while the Army HQ in Lagos sat on its hands. After the Asaba massacre , all communication literally ceased to existRelated: How The Igbo Flavoured Jamaica
November 11th 1968 Shuwa addressing his officers before battle
Upon Major Kaduna Nzeogwu's death , then a Biafran Lt. Col, at a battle with Nigerian troops in Nsukka, it was then Col. Shuwa who informed Head of State Major-General Yakubu Gowon about Nzeogwu's demise and played a pivotal role in securing the Lt Col's mutilated body and flying it to Kaduna to be buried with full military honours, something that was never replicated by either side throughout the war. Some also claim that he also returned the body of Ojukwus half brother, Tom Biggar, who died along with Nzeogwu in the Red Devil armoured car to the Red Cross, though we cant authenticate that fact.
Again these acts were not lost to the Igbo and their fellow Biafrans.
Throughout the war, until being replaced by Brig. I.D. Bisalla Shuwa as Commander of the 1st Division he remained a dedicated and astute commander known for his meticulous attention to detail and going by the book.
This helped save many Nigerian lives especially so when the Federal troops faced kilometre after kilometre of heavily mined and booby-trapped roads prepared by the retreating Biafran sappers who were known for their ingenuity and resourcefulness. There is no doubt that had this arm of the NA been commanded by less composed Commanders like Murtala Mohammed or Adekunle the Biafra Ogbunigwe mines would have claimed much more lives than they did.
General Shuwa was by all accounts a first-class officer, a first-rate gentleman and a very humane and compassionate man prompting Ojukwu to call him a true mensch.
After the war, Mohammed Shuwa served as Federal Commissioner for Trade and Works from 1975 to 1979, He retired from the Nigerian Army on October 1, 1979, when the military administration of General Olusegun Obasanjo handed over the reins of political power in Nigeria to the democratically elected government of President Shehu Shagari.
On Friday, November 2, 2012, this pious and quiet general (above) was gunned down by Boko Haram insurgents in Maiduguri.
He was grieved throughout Nigeria, including by the Igbo and other Biafrans whom he once fought, but also tried to save from the senseless bloodletting that occurred in the North at that time.
He was known to have lived a modest life after his retirement. He was 73 at the time of his death.