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Monday 2 July 2018




By Nwafor Somtochukwu Aloysius
For Family Writers Press

In what appears like a movie, "Operation Thunderbolt", August 1967, a carefully prepared mobile brigade of three thousand men of the Nigerian Federal army,  unleashed attack on the Western axis. Same month, the brigade swept through Warri, Sapele, Ughelli, Agbor, Uromi, Ubiaja and Benin-city of the old Midwestern region.

Chukwuemeka Odimegwu Ojukwu had hoped that alliance of the two out of the three Southern regions, would swing the West (the Yorubas) into agreement, thereby forcing the federal government to the negotiating table.

Victor Banjo, then a Major in the Nigerian army, was imprisoned by J.T.U Aguiyi-Ironsi for allegedly plotting against him. But Ojukwu got him released at the outbreak of the civil war and offered him a commission in the Biafran army. Victor Banjo was so close a friend to Ojukwu. This relationship developed to an implicit trust that Ojukwu had on him. What a misplaced trust this could be!

Having grown to the rank of a Brigadier, Victor Banjo was entrusted with the responsibility of commanding "S" Brigade when it moved to the Midwest for "Operation Handshake Across the Niger".

On the 20th of August 1967, Biafran "S" Brigade stormed Ore, a town on the crossroads, thirty five miles away into the West and one hundred and thirty miles away from Lagos. Another thunderbolt (lightening) push at that time along any of the three major roads available, would have put the Biafrans deep into the Yoruba heartland and at the gates of Lagos. Such was the strategic order Colonel Odimegwu Ojukwu gave.

At this point however, sources inside American Embassy confirmed that Western leaders were teetering on the verge of going over to a policy of appeasement to the Biafrans to save their skins, as Yakubu Gowon had already ordered that his private aircraft be made ready for a take off flight to Zaria in the North. It was stated that the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Sir David Hunt and the American Ambassador, Mr. James Matthews had a long serious talk with Gowon in Dodan barracks, as a result of which the nervous Nigerian Supreme Commander agreed to stay back in Lagos and carry on. This decision of Yakubu Gowon to stay on, saved his government from collapse and ensured the continuation of the war. Had he fled from Lagos, the slippery Yorubas undoubtedly, would have swung to the Biafran side.

Yakubu Gowon accepted to stay back in Lagos based on the pledge of the British and American aids which were promptly and comprehensively delivered from the 20th of August, 1967.

Victor Banjo stopped the "S" Brigade of hard fighting Biafran combatants at Ore and ordered subsequent withdrawal of the troops. On 12th September 1967, Banjo issued orders without Ojukwu's  authority, to evacuate Benin-city without any threat. Murtala Mohammed whose battalion was hurriedly put in place against the incursion of the "S" Brigade, did not enter Benin-city until the 21st of September 1967, with absolutely no confrontation.

Victor Banjo followed up with orders to withdraw from Warri, Sapele, Auchi, Igueben amongst other important sections/positions with no fight. The junior Biafran officers were extremely baffled by such developments. Simultaneously, the Biafran defenses, South of Nsukka collapsed and the federal forces pushed several miles down the road to Enugu, the capital city of the old Eastern Nigeria, just forty five miles away from Nsukka.

At this point, Brigadier Victor Banjo, having rubbished Ojukwu's place of taking the West surprisingly, decided to strike directly at Colonel Chukwuemeka Odimegwu Ojukwu.

The assassination plot was billed for perfection in Enugu on the 19th of September 1967, but the "cat was let out of the bag". On his arrival with his armed troops, Banjo was arrested with other conspirators namely: Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna, Major Philip Alade, Mr. Sam Agbam of Biafran Foreign Service, who carried out some of the negotiations.

According to Brigadier Banjo's confessional statement, he decided to immediately after 9th of August 1967, enter into talks with the leaders in the West amongst whom were Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Olusegun Obasanjo and others. He reportedly approached Colonel David Ejoor in his hideout in Benin-city, without informing Ojukwu who personally wanted to have a talk with Ejoor. Banjo wanted Colonel David Ejoor to act as an intermediary between himself and Awolowo but Ejoor bluntly refused to take up the risk.

Brigadier Victor Banjo later relayed some messages by the help of the British Deputy High Commission in Benin-city which finally got to Gowon.

The plot Banjo revealed was typically Yoruba in it's complexities amongst others viz:

(1) He (Banjo) was to cause the ruin of Biafra by withdrawing the troops from the Midwest on a variety of pretexts.

(2) Arrest and assassinate Ojukwu and end the war.

(3) As a hero, he would enter the Western region with his past, forgiven and forgotten.

(4) He and Awolowo were to rally the newly recruited Yoruba army to his standard and dispose Gowon.

(5) Banjo himself, will become the President of Nigeria and make Awolowo, Premier of the West.

Brigadier Victor Banjo with his other fellow conspirators were tried, sentenced to death for high treason and shot dead by firing squad on the 22nd of September, 1967.

As at then, the injury has been done.

Ironically though, the bulk of casualties on the Nigerian side were taken by the Yoruba soldiers in the second division of the Nigerian army, while attempting to cross the Niger River into the Igbo heartland, until their commanders raised objection for further crossings.

Leaving the Yorubas to keep watch at Asaba, Colonel Murtala Mohammed took his fellow Hausa soldiers Northwards for easy advancement into Biafra via the Northern axis.

The failure of the "S" Brigade to capture the West and particularly Lagos, was a fatal blow to Biafra. With American and British full scale aids, Yakubu Gowon became ruthless and declared a full blown war, with no holds barred!!

Biafra never regained the Midwest till the war eventually came to an end on the 12th of January, 1970.

Moreover, Igbo speaking parts of the Midwest precisely Asaba, Okpanam, Agbor, amongst many other villages and towns, had their children, women and  mostly their men massacred in their thousands, courtesy of Banjo's betrayal and tribalistic tendencies/sentiments.

Conclusively, the roles of this trio namely: Obafemi Awolowo, Colonel Benjamin Adekunle and Brigadier Victor Banjo (all Yorubas) in the Nigeria-Biafra war, the statement of Mayo Angelou, an American poet and author, becomes handy: "I have learnt that people can forget what you said, people can forget what you did, but people will never forget how people make you feel".

To Biafrans both at home and in the diaspora, my candid advice is that of the great sage, Nelson Mandela: "There's no easy work to freedom anywhere and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death (Wadi Kelt) again and again before we reach the mountain top of our desire".

Until then, peace be unto you all BIAFRANS!

Like the pinnacle, always stand tall, wear a crown and be sweet on your side.

Here, I rest my case!!
God bless BIAFRANS real good!!!

To be continued...

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