By Emmanuel Aziken (15-08-2016)
Erstwhile military governor of the Midwest Region and later governor of the equally defunct Bendel State, Brigadier-General Samuel Ogbemudia, was at the onset of the civil war, one of the highest ranking officers from the Midwest Region. Once the Biafran Army overran the Midwest Region, Ogbemudia was dispatched to Kaduna with a DC 3 plane to procure arms from Kaduna by Major-Gen. David Ejoor who held command of the Federal Forces in Benin. Samuel Ogbemudia However, in Kaduna, Ogbemudia was to his dismay only given 30 guns and some ammunition to fight the Biafran Army that had already taken control of the Midwest Region.
In this narration Ogbemudia told Vanguard of the subtle strategies and structures employed to defend the region including the valuable role of young Midwest girls in the liberation.
Ogbemudia, presently, a member of the Board of Trustees of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP is the patron of the Edo Mass Movement, EMM, a body aiming to position a worthy successor to the outgoing governor of Edo State, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole.
Without arms what did you do?
The girls were told to go to the Biafran troops and get for us some arms and ammunition. And everyone they brought, we paid for it. Remarkably, they did. There was one girl, I saw her a few months ago and she is now an old woman, she brought twelve rifles and about 20,000 bullets. I said to her, how did you get these? She said somebody organized a get together, so she attended and incidentally, the leader of the Biafran troops was interested in her.
So, she told the man, I don’t want any money from you, my brother wants to be a hunter and wants to kill elephants, so I need weapons and ammunition to do this. The young man said that is simple, he was a major in rank. So, he told her to bring a taxi, and it was in that taxi that they loaded the rifles and ammunition. So we started.
Exit from Benin
My wife was a policewoman, and whenever we wanted anything, she would dress up and pass the roadblock without any issue. The day I left Benin, she took me up to the village near Ekiadolor. I slept there because I had a relation and wanted to stay about two, three days there, and I told my relations ‘I don’t want anyone to know that I am here.’
They said no problem. Not quite fifteen minutes after, about eight persons came and greeted, ‘domo sir we won’t tell anybody,’ and they left. Not quite another twenty minutes, another group came and greeted, ‘we won’t tell anybody,’ so after about four different groups had come, I told my wife, this place is not safe, so I left for the next village.
A few days after in that village, I tried to get Lagos and the phones that were in that area were not working. I later found out that you could get to Owo via Ogbesse instead of the Owan road. So, I told my sister that she would have to go with me. She followed me, and we got to Egbeta after Okada and some soldiers came out from the bush and said halt! I raised my hands, and they said who are you? I gave a name.
One looked at me over and over and over. He said we won’t let you go, can you come and see our senior officer, and I asked what is the name of your senior officer? He said Chukwuka and that Chukwuka was my boy. I said to my sister that if I get to that place, then I am finished, I must find a way out. I had a pistol which the boy didn’t bother to find.
When he was in front, my sister was following him, and I pulled out my gun and looked at the ammunition inside and there were thirteen, and I said good, this is enough to get out, and I put it back. Then I walked straight up to him and his friend, they were two. They made one mistake, and they flung their rifle and held the sling, and they were walking.
If you are going to shoot somebody, you have to remove it from your shoulder, cock the gun and by which time if the person is a fast runner, he would have done about 50, 60 meters. The rest is now history. I got to Owo with my sister and from Owo Post Office, I phoned Bissalla, who was the Chief of Staff. Bisalla phoned Gowon, and they said I should come and so, I went to Lagos.
Arrival in Lagos
On arrival, I saw Gowon, I went to the Chief of Staff, I went to the head of the Intelligence who debriefed me, and Gowon told me that there was a committee for Midwest Liberation headed by Chief Udoji and that I should go and see them. So, I went. In the evening, the place was full. All Midwesterners were there and started asking me the story of how I left, and I told them that I would never tell them how I left and that it was sufficient that I was there with them.
Their conclusion was that I should go to the hospital for the doctor to look at me because I had lost weight and after that, come and prepare to go back to the Midwest. I told them, sorry, I have lost some weight in my body and that nothing is wrong with my spirit and that ‘I have come here to ask Gowon to give me troops to go and liberate the Midwest.’ They said how many troops do you want?
I said a minimum of 600. They asked whether I don’t want to go to the hospital? I said no, that there were people worse than myself in the Midwest and that unless the doctor would be willing to go there to take care of them, and that for me, my spirit was quite high and that they should not bother about what they saw in my flesh.
So, I told Gowon, and he approved. But the Chief of General Staff went to Gowon and told him, ‘you know Samuel (Ogbemudia) right from training that he could be an Ojukwu man and that if you give him 600 troops he could overrun all of us,’ and Gowon was taken in, and he told me, ‘we cannot find all the troops you want now, but I want you to go and join Murtula Mohammed who is already organized with some troops, and they are about to enter the Midwest.”
I said yes and so, I took a vehicle and straight to Ibadan, and when I got there, Obasanjo was there and I went to him and told him that I had been asked to go and join Murtala Mohammed and that I don’t have guns and ammunition.
Before he could say anything, I asked him, ‘where is your own gun,’ and he said it was inside in the office, and I said I will have it. I asked what of the ammunition? He asked what was he going to use himself? And I retorted that I did not come for him to ask me questions, let me have all the ammunition that you have, and he packed them for me, and I took his gun and dashed for the Midwest.
Partnership with Murtala Mohammed
Eventually, I found myself from Sabongida-Ora to Ehor and after a meeting we decided on breaking into two- one group would go to Agbor and follow Agbor to Benin and another group would take Ehor straight to Benin. I knew all the routes back and forth. Murtala asked what I wanted to do? I said I needed the heavy guns, 101 recoilless and the 81 millimeter. He said ok, and I did what I had always taught in the Army training school, what they call predicted shooting.
Take a map, identify where you want the bomb to land, take the bearing and let the gun on that bearing, estimate the range and set the range on the gun. I did that. We were still a little after Ehor, and somebody told us that he saw Biafran troops somewhere not too far and that they were planning to occupy both sides of the road so that they could ambush us.
But one remarkable thing was that everybody we met sympathized with us and they didn’t like the Biafran soldiers. So, I took my map and said, let me drop some few bombs into that area and see whether we can scare them away. We worked out the bearing, the distance and set the gun, and I ordered them to fire. The bomb went straight through the roof and landed in the sitting room, killing about 35 Biafrans who were holding a conference. I think that was when their backbone was broken.
Use of Chemical Weapon
The other group had moved towards Agbor and they too had had some few successes before they arrived at Agbor. So, when we got to Eyaen, we saw smoke and the smell of the smoke gave indication that the opponent was using white phosphorus, so we reported to the headquarters that the Biafran troops were using chemical weapons and that they should immediately intercept them.
In the meantime, we were getting near to Oregbeni junction in Benin. It occurred to me that if the Biafrans were doing what they were supposed to do, that they would blow up Ikpoba Bridge, and then there won’t be a place for us to pass to enter Benin. I then took the decision to start ranging (shelling) areas around the bridge so that nobody can come near to prepare it for demolition.
When we came about four, five hours later, they told us that one of those who were priming the bridge for demolition was hit, and so the others ran away. That was how the bridge was saved.
But at Ikpoba Hill, we saw a lorry coming with some people inside, so the soldiers halted them and I said, ‘don’t shoot let us I identify all those that were inside the vehicle.’
It was when they came down that we found out that they put their weapons on the floor and were standing on it so that the police will let them pass. So, after they realized that we had gotten them, some of them said in Bini, ‘I am Bini, I am not Biafran.’ We found out that quite a number of them were boys who volunteered to fight along with them. We separated them and sent the rest to the headquarters for further interrogation.
So, when we arrived Ikpoba Hill, we broke into two and asked a group to go straight to Sapele Road and follow Sapele Road to ensure that there was no incursion from that end. Some moved to Sakpbonba Road, Ekenwan Road, and Siluko Road. Those who were sent to Sapele Road were ambushed opposite the General Hospital and the shooting lasted almost one hour and they killed quite a lot of the Biafran soldiers, and then they went to the prison and brought out Nzeogwu’s group who were detained there.
By the time we tried to stop them, they had done the harm that we were trying to prevent. Following that, we said that there was no need to go to Lagos, let us stop at Ore and make sure that Ore to Benin is safe, Owo to Benin is safe and that the Midwest is safe.
We stayed at Saint James’ opposite Agbado and made our headquarters there for two days. It was there I was appointed the temporary administrator and the permanent secretaries came to brief me.