Captain Ben Gbulie played a key role in Nigeria’s first military coup of January 1966. He is one of the few surviving officers who plotted that coup. He put in prison when the coup failed, went to war on the side of Biafra, survived a gun wound and ended up in prison again at the end of the war. He wrote a book on the war but today tells us more about the war and speaks from his Trans Ekulu residennce in inEnugu on Gowon, Ojukwu, Obasanjo, Yar’Adua, his position on the new agitation for Biafra and more. It’s a weekend delight. Enjoy it
Sir, let’s meet you
MY TRAINING My name is Ben Gbulie, I am from Nimo in Njikoka local government area of Amanbra state. I joined the Nigeria army in March 1960; I was one of the pioneer trainees at Nigeria Military Training College, NMTC, in Kaduna in 1960. By July 1960 we completed the course and by September 1960, just before independence, those of us who were selected to go abroad were already in England. I was there at Mons Officers cadet school at Aldershot preparing to go to Sandhurst. By January 1961 I entered Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and I became an officer cadet at Sandhurst. I trained in Sandhurst for two years, got my officers commission, then went over to Royal School of Military Engineering Chatham in Kent England to do Engineering officer course. After one year of the course I was asked to come back to Nigeria because at that time, the white people in the military were leaving Nigeria in large numbers and we had to take over. So I went back to Nigeria to join the Nigeria army engineers and by 1964, I was sent to America to do Engineering officer course from that 1964 to 1965. That was in Virginia. I came back home and I was asked to go back for another course and so I trained with other captains because I was a captain at that time in Abeokuta and we did what was called battle group course. It was a course to prepare officers to be able to command battalions.
MY INVOLVEMENT IN NIGERIA’S FIRST COUP I finished in Abeokuta and went back to my unit in Kaduna where I got involved in the coup of January 1966 for which I have written a book titled Nigeria’s Five Majors. I got involved in that coup which was not successful in Lagos. I was at Kaduna with Nzeogwu (Chukwuma Kaduna) and Onwuatuegwu and Udeh. It was all successful in Kaduna but it was not in Lagos because an Igbo man called Ironsi (Aguiyi) who was the garrison commander actually thwarted our plans in Lagos. So he quelled the coup in Lagos and Ifeajuna (Emmanuel) who was actually in charge of Lagos ran away to Ghana seeking refuge in Ghana because Kwame Nkrumah never liked the government in Nigeria which was Tafawa Belewa’s government and so Nkrumah accepted Ifeajuna. That was why some people believed that Nkrumah was part of the Nigerian coup of 1966 but eventually the coup in Nigeria caught up with him and Ifeajuna was repatriated to Nigeria by Ironsi. From that time onwards I was being detained with others because our coup was a failure. Ironsi held us in prison even though we had given him a dossier and five point pre conditions for our surrender to him. He accepted the conditions but then detained us. Our coup was said to be an Igbo affair but it wasn’t. Anybody who is in doubt about it should read Ademoyega’s Why We Struck. So we were detained and there was a counter coup in July 1966 masterminded and carried out by Northerners and there was the emergence of Yakubu Gowon. When Gowon came up on the air, he said there was no basis for unity but the same Gowon turned out to be the architect of Nigeria unity, Go On With One Nigeria, GOWON, which is antithetical to what he stood for in regional matters, but we know! The British prevailed on him to ensure that the north did not secede in Nigeria.
WHY OJUKWU RELEASED US FROM DETENTION Because of Gowon’s emergence Ojukwu (Chukwuemeka Odumegwu) released all detainees in the Eastern region because Ironsi made him Governor of the East just as David Ejoor was governor of the Mid-West and Fajuyi for West and Hassan Usman Katsina was governor of the northern region. So Ojukwu did not take kindly to Gowon’s emergence, two of them were at logger heads and so he released those of us in his area of influence. I was in Abakaliki prison then.
ABURI AGREEMENT In January 1967, Ojukwu and Gowon went to Aburi in Ghana to talk peace and they did say in Aburi that military leaders in Nigeria should not resolve the problem by force of arms which again is an antithesis when Gowon used troops to settle the problem of Nigeria. Ojukwu released us and those of us released got involved in the fight (Biafra/Nigeria civil war). It would seem as if Ojukwu released us to fight for him, because initially it looked like it was Ojukwu’s war with Gowon. Those released by Ojukwu included Victor Banjo, Chukwuma Nzeogwu, me, Ben Gbulie, Udeaja and all those people who were around. Those in the north were eventually released by Gowon because the northerners that were in the military in the East were used as bargaining chips to be able to release our people from the north. One of the people released from Enugu was Shehu Yar’Adua who was then a lieutenant. While Ojukwu allowed northerners to go with their weapons, our troops who were in the north were just bundled into the train and brought down to Enugu.
WHEN THEY SHOT ME So we fought the war and the war dragged on and on and I was wounded in combat. I fought from Okpo (a border town ) Enugu-Ezike in Nsukka down to Ukehe through the Opi Junction to the 9th Mile (Corner near Enugu). I was wounded at Abor just beside the 9th Mile and this was when we were doing flanking operations to ensure that Nigeria troops would not enter Enugu. So I was shot there and so I was hospitalized at Achi in the hospital ran by the Red Cross. At Aba I had to undergo surgery for three times because my fibula was shattered and that is where I give credit to our doctors who ensured that the surgery was okay and that I was not amputated. As I was recuperating, I asked Ojukwu if there was anything I could do to help because as at that time, Calabar was about to fall and he said yes that I should rest but I was not resting at all.
I WENT TO ABA TO STOP NGWA PEOPLE FROM EATING HUMAN BEINGS He later made me the military administrator of Aba providence. I went to Aba because Ngwa people were eating human beings. Yes! I am saying this because I want to prepare the minds of my readers on what I am about to say; to what is going to come. I am going to advise our people against a lot of things they are doing. They have not sought my advice but I am going to give it to them without asking for any gain. I went to Aba to stop cannibalism, eating of human beings, it is just as bad as our people here today kidnapping our own people. We fought a war to protect lives and properties but our own people are now kidnapping our own people. Does it make sense? That is really my problem with our people; young people are all over the place saying whatever they wanted without consulting anybody. As soon as the war ended, I was bundled back to prison, this time by Gowon’s government. Gowon said “No Victor No Vanquished,” yet he set up a board of enquiry whose head was General Adeyinka Adebayo and the board recommended I should be detained because the enquiry was to determine what each and every one of us did against the Nigerian government during the civil war. I was detained in January 1970 when the war ended. Gowon should count himself lucky because we were the ones that prevailed on Philip Effiong to read a dissertation to show that we wanted the war to end, because our people were no longer fighting, they were throwing their weapons down and flying into the bush and so we tried to get sanity to prevail because Ojukwu had run away to Ivory Coast and told us he was going for immediate peace and up till now we’ve not heard of immediate peace coming to fruition. There is not even peace here now in peace time. Why did you say Gowon was Lucky? Gowon was lucky because we were the ones who brought about the end of the war, otherwise they would have slaughtered our people ooh! Gowon was lucky. We were lucky, that was why by 12th of January 1970 we prevailed on Effiong to read what we had written.
HOW GOWON DISAPPOINTED US I was the secretary, I was the one that wrote it, Nwawo was our chairman; to state that the war was over, that we were calling for “cessation of hostilities,” we didn’t say surrender, we said cessation of hostilities, stoppage of hostilities and Gowon swallowed our own bate hook line and sinker because on the night of that 12th of January, by about midnight, he replied. He made broadcast on radio, that was when he talked about no victor no vanquished and talked about the three Rs and none of those things he has done till tomorrow and he is praying his prayer for the nation (Nigeria Prays). This is the antithesis of the whole thing. Why I am saying this is to prepare my readers’ minds to what I am going to say next. I have now told you about myself to show that I’ve always been in the vortex of the crisis in Nigeria-the military crisis. The political crisis I am not interested in but in the military I can tell you much and I can advise these young ones on Biafra or no Biafra. Don’t you think that your youthful age moved you guys to organise the first military coup? I was born 1939; we did our coup in 1966, so you can calculate how old I was (27). We were not only young we were also impressionable; we were called kindred spirits, people who were thinking alike. There were those who went to the universities before joining the army, they were at that time about five or 10; they went into the university to ensure that they would rule Nigeria; that they would change things in Nigeria. Ojukwu was one of them, in fact, outside our own coup, he had tried his own coup in 1964. If you like read a man called Professor Eliagwu on Gowon, you will see how Ojukwu tried to get them think about overthrowing the government of Abubakar Tafawa Belewa in 1964. If you may recall , Zik had refused to acknowledge Abubakar as the prime minister of the country because UPGA had boycotted the general election and NNA had won landslide. So Ojukwu was talking to senior officers in Lagos about a coup and this Gowon reported him to a White man called Major-General Welby Everald who was still the GOC of the Nigeria Army then. Gowon reported him saying Ojukwu was planning a coup and Everald called Ojukwu and said, ah! I heard you are planning a coup and typical of Ojukwu he made nonsense of Gowon and the rumour. He said look there is this trouble in Nigeria and that he has been sensing people’s views so that we can come to you sir and to tell you to tell us where we should stand. Should we support the Prime Minister or the President in this matter? And Everald swallowed the matter and exonerated Ojukwu and that was why Ojukwu was not court-martialled. Then some two years later we struck. So I was telling you that those who went to the university and wanted a change because most of these people who were in government that time, apart from Zik and a few others were just half-baked school teachers and next to them were those who went to Sandhurst. I was one of those. I was impressionable and I can tell you this much to prepare your mind about me. There were those of us the young ones who wanted change and you know there was this tribalism, there was nepotism and all sorts of isms in Nigeria and we wanted to change all that and if you read my book, you would see when Ahmadu Bello came to Sandhurst to visit the school. He asked us, who were holding parade for him, where do you come from? That was an unfortunate. It was a sad question that I could hear from anybody and we had anticipated he would do that and so every one of us said we came from Nigeria. This is a Nigerian leader asking us where we came from in front of a white man. It’s like you are not sounding repentant, as if you have your way you will do the coup all over again? You see, this question is uncalled for. I hold no ill-will against anybody, including those who did their coups and slaughtered our people because they are entitled to their views because they must have a cause why they did it. I am not suggesting it’s good to kill people. Not repentant? I am not guilty of anything! In fact they are the ones who have not repented, that is those who were actually taking this country for a ride, alright? It was not just the politicians; they also had their agents in uniform, surrogates who were always at the behest of the politicians. If you check my book, one of the officers was carrying ballot boxes in the West during the western elections and you want me to repent for somebody else, ooh no! I am not that kind of a person. I was itching for a Nigeria where everybody will be competing with one another, what we are doing now with the people in the west, competing and not fighting. We can make it in this country if we really try to be nation-oriented but if we are thinking about my father, my mother, my sister, my nephew only then we will not get better. Its absolute nonsense! It doesn’t behold anybody with broad mind, no matter what people say because I’ve been reading what they say in the papers. Has the issue of restoring ex- Biafran soldiers’ entitlements, who were in the Nigeria army before the civil war, been fully resolved? I am on pension today because when Olusegun Obasanjo was in power as civilian President, he had good grace to effect no victor no vanquished by granting us presidential pardon. It was Obasanjo who did it, Gowon couldn’t do it because he was hanging on to what the northerners would tell him. So he didn’t do it but Obasanjo came and did it. Don’t bother about the reason he did it because all along he had been giving the impression he was not part of us in the January 1966 coup but you have to read books to know whether he was part of it or not. Tell us; was Obasanjo part of the January 1966 Coup? Laughs! Don’t say I told you. Let me tell you, Obasanjo was the officer we sent, those of us in Kaduna sent to Lagos, to convey to Ironsi our conditions for pre surrender. He was the one, he was at the Brigade Headquarters because he just came back from India and we were always discussing together, agreeing on the modus operandi. So, whether he was part of it or not, if you were with us, you could not be against us. So the question doesn’t arise at all. All I know is that there is more to it than meets the eyes. It’s just like now, if you are discussing corruption and you don’t talk also about Obansanjo’s administration then you haven’t started fighting corruption. Some people put this country down. Somebody who made billions of money for presidential library while in office, not after he had left office but when he was in the office and people contributed and we are talking about fighting corruption. Anyway, that is another matter.
OBASANJO GRANTED US PARDON, YAR’ADUA PAID US PENSION Now, that pension for the ex-men is an uncompleted project. When Obasanjo’s proclamation that he was granting us presidential pardon came, we were so happy that we went to him to talk about our entitlements and he said “we never said anything about money.” You could see how fair he was. The same man said he never talked about money and so we were not paid anything. Ojukwu was still around and we decided to ensure that what Obasanjo said was gazetted and it came out with our names on it. Now watch this, Obasanjo had said no payment and after Obasanjo came Umaru Yar’Adua. We approached the Senate Committee and from there we approached Yar’Adua who wrote on the page “Pay them.” It was Yar’Adua who got us paid but the question is how much are you being paid but I told my people it doesn’t matter and that it is good enough for me. What is more important is that we have now come back into the full stream of officers’ corps of the Nigeria military. So I am now a member of Retired Army, Navy and Air Force Officers, RANAO, and its likely when I am dead they will have a parade for me and that is something.
OJUKWU SUPPORTED UWAZURIKE Are you satisfied with the integration of the rest of Biafrans into Nigeria? Ojukwu never believed he had finished as head of state. He was head of State of Biafra no doubt but he wanted to continue to be head of state and he knew how we felt about the whole thing and so he was behind Uwazurike, which is why I am going to talk about this Uwazurike fellow because it was Ojukwu who introduced me to Uwazurike. When Ojukwu was leaving at Independence layout, I came into his house one day for a meeting of veterans and Ojukwu said Ben come and meet Uwazuruike and I said are you the man I hate so much? Even Ojukwu opened his mouth steering at me. I said I hate you so much because you are an Igbo man but you are not behaving as one. I asked him by the way how old are you? How old were you during the war? Did you fight? I showed him my wound (revealing this fractured fibula); show me your own. I said listen, Igbo are known for something and let me tell you what they are known for: number one, they said akpaa akpaa, alaru na ute. With whom have you discussed this thing and caused all these nonsense that you are doing, a lot of our youths are being killed by the police because of you. Ojukwu was there watching me, listening to me. And I said I don’t know who led you into all these, you are Uwa..zuru..zuru what? Anyway! Another thing is that Ndigbo use to say: Onye na akaro aka ju ife mere nnaya, ife mere nnaya emeya (when a weakling goes in search of the tragedy that befell his father, the same tragedy would likely visit him as well). Have you asked anybody how we fared during the war? Why was the war necessary? Why did we fight it? How did it end up that way? I said let me tell you, I hope you are not just making money with this Biafra because it is a very topical issue. People from abroad will be sending you things and you use them to enrich yourself, that is blood money! So I finished talking and said to Ojukwu, sir! (saluting) permission to leave! I didn’t go to that meeting, I turned and left. Oh yes, that was why when Onyiuke died, I was the MC and so I was reading something when Ojukwu arrived with Arthur Nzeribe. I totally ignored both of them.
WHEN I IGNORED OJUKWU Why? Because, you see, I don’t like people who play to the gallery, who want others to recognize them; they should recognize others first. That is how to be a leader. I am trained in leadership and at SandHurst for that matter. So I ignored two of them and Ojukwu told somebody that it was only Gbulie who could do this to him (laughs) and I did it deliberately. So I am talking about Uwazuruike. It was Ojukwu who actually discovered Uwazuruike and Uwazuruike was working for Ojukwu. Let nobody gag us! In your view, has the old Eastern Nigeria territory then known as Biafra, not just the soldiers, been properly reintegrated into Nigeria? I cannot answer that question because most of the time I was in detention. I spent years in Port Harcourt prison, then kirikiri prison in Lagos, Sarki, Broad Street and then eventually ended up in Ilorin prison. How many Igbo people have asked Ben Gbulie, how did you fare in prison? What happened after the war? Nobody will ask you, you are always on your own. If the going is good, they will be here celebrating with you but the moment you are in trouble, you are on your own. The people from south-south reintegrated themselves by playing up to the north, anything in Nigeria, they will take the stand of the north.
MIDDLE BELT SHOULD APOLOGISE AND UNITE WITH IGBO It is just like the people of the Middle Belt. There should be some kind of inter- relationship between them and Ndigbo for a change. They should apologize for headless bodies sent to Ojukwu before the war and all the killings along the railway line in the north. We should have been treated much better and I hope that my readers including the youths are realizing what I am telling you that no matter how you fight, in the end you are on your own. I am not suggesting that people should not agitate for what they deserve because this country is owned by all of us but there is something called brinksmanship, that means-thus far and thus no further. There is a place you reach and you know that if you go a little further you fall into a ditch and so you start to get back and nobody should start cheating his fellow Igbo man; not anymore. Alright! What is your view on the issue of the renewed agitation for Biafra? Let me address this issue by saying that I am calling for restraint on the part of youths of Ndigbo. We have had a raw deal from Nigeria. By Nigeria I mean those who are not Igbo because we have enemies all around us. Whether we like it or not even some of our people are our enemies, so I call for restraint. We have to be very careful how we move. We should go for dialogue as opposed to insurgence. All these carrying of arms and all that is not the answer; death is something that concerns everybody even if you are the governor or the Prime Minister you will die one day so what is this for? What we need is to put our own acts together. We fought a war to protect lives and property but why are we kidnapping our own people; why are we seeking the down fall of our own people, why don’t we do onye ahana nwanneya (be our brother’s keeper). If you go to Abuja and you are given a job, you allow your brother and come in there and speak Igbo and not when he speaks Igbo you will say mba, no, don’t speak Igbo here. We must relate to one another in a manner that shows we are together. We must put our acts together, we must ask questions, find out from those who have experience. English people said experience is the best teacher but they also say experience is a teacher of fools. Fools learn by their own experience. Those who are wise learn from other people’s experience. The history books are there to guide you. It was Napoleon who said that God is on the side of stronger battalion. By that he meant that if you are not strong, don’t go to war; don’t ride on the back of a Tiger. Our young men and women should prevail on our governors to hold conferences where we can discuss our affairs; where they can be told which way forward. It is amazing that I keep hearing of IPOB (Indigenous People of Biafra) and all manner of titles and all of a sudden herdsmen started killing our people at our boarder here and where were the IPOB people? They vanished; these are the people who want Biafra, people who are going to rule themselves? You cannot rule by words of mouth, you have to have strong battalion. QUESTIONS FOR IPOB When Ojukwu was here and he declared Biafra, he was a governor of the East, he had a territory he could control, he had provisional secretaries and all that under him but all these boys talking about IPOB or whatever, what do they have? They even tell you they have supporters but who are their supporters or are they keeping it secret? Let me tell you, let it not be like the support France gave to Biafra. France will never come out in the open to say we support Biafra, they never even recognized Biafra in the United Nations. So if you are not strong don’t dare anybody and even if you are strong, the best thing is to use your might and negotiate. There was a time Ojukwu could have negotiated and got something, he would have got a confederation. During that conference Ojukwu said Biafra was not negotiable and that is why the things fell apart. It was he who said no power in Black Africa can destroy Biafra and when the chips were down he was on his way to Ivory Coast, leaving us to die. So you can see! Let no body be taken for a sucker; that is what I am telling the youths. Where is the land, the terrain you will put your troops on? Where are the people you are going to lead out of Nigeria? Is it Ebonyi people who most of them don’t believe they are Igbo to start with? There is only one snag about it, if Abuja will stop this nonsense about unitary system of government. When Ironsi was in power he had decree no. 45 by which he made Nigeria unitary government not federal government and the north killed him because of the unitary but no sooner than Ironsi was out of the way, the same north under Gowon started practicing unitary system. All these states were created by the northerners; you can’t see anybody from any other place that created any state, its northerners, so they can give one village a state and nobody will care because you could be scorched. Our people don’t know that these things that are happening are for a purpose. Some people are waiting for an opportunity to kill Igbo. I am asking my people not to give anybody that opportunity. If you think you are ready to fight, well, consult us let us see your might. Let us see your artillery, your mortars, your Ogbunigwes because at least Biafra had Ogbunigwe. I don’t know what these boys have or is it all these machine guns, rubbish! Machine guns can kill alright but they are not strong weapons that can hold sway, so that the place becomes a sovereign state. That is why we have to be extra careful, that’s all I am trying to say and if necessary if we can get what we want through dialogue so be it. Are you not aware that the present agitators are talking about using non-violent means to renegotiate for Biafra? Good. Then why are they provoking the Federal Government? How do you mean; provoking? If the Federal Government army and police are killing our people on the pretence that they are doing demonstration and it could be peaceful demonstration but you know in Nigeria today you need to go to the police to obtain permit to be able to have that kind of demonstration and police will supervise it and if they refuse and you do it, obviously you have offended the law. I have already said it that Biafra is already there. There is no removing the idea of Biafra, it’s a fact of history. My Biafra is in the mind, it is a Biafra that remains forever. It is in the history books.
Read more at: http://www.vanguardngr.com/2016/10/bizarre-people-ate-human-beings-war-capt-gbulie/