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Tuesday 15 May 2018

#BiafraFallenHeroes: Remembering The Exploits Of Gen. C. D. Nwawo (1924-2016)

By Chukwuemeka Chimerue, Chief Editor, The Biafra Times

May 15, 2018

General Conrad Dibia Nwawo of the Biafra fame war from all indications was a soldier’s soldier and the most senior commissioned officer in Biafra who passed away at the age of 92 and whose exemplary life of service to his people is worthy of emulation by all.

Born in 1924 in Onicha-Olona in Aniocha Local Government Area of Delta State, Gen. Nwawo of blessed memory was one of the most distinguished and highly decorated military officers in Nigeria before he joined the Biafra army.

Gen. Nwawo belonged to the generation of pioneering military officers like Nigeria’s former Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon and former governor of Western Region, Maj-Gen. Robert Adeyinka Adebayo, who took over from British colonial officers before independence.

His exploits as a commander of some of the fiercest Biafran forces, the 11 Division, the 13 Division, and the dreaded Biafra Commando Forces, are also, for a generation that lived through that era, nothing short of the heroic – the source of much myth. Conrad Nwawo was a warrior, born as he himself once acknowledged, of the lineage of warriors. But he was not “eaten” by war; he lived a long and storied life. He gave a patriotic and unflinching commitment to the development of the Biafra nation.

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Nwawo was educated at the Aggrey Memorial School in Arochukwu, run by the legendary Dr. Alvan Ikoku, and at the Ilesha Grammar School. From 1944-46, Conrad Nwawo trained at the School of Agriculture, Ibadan. He began his working life as a civil servant at Moore Plantation, and thereafter worked as an Assistant Agriculture Officer Grade III in Ibadan and briefly in Cameroon. He transferred to the colonial Civil Administration as clerk in the Accountant-General’s office in Kaduna in 1948, while also taking private tuition for the University of London degree in Economics, passing part II of the Inter B.Sc. in Economics in 1950. In December 1950, Nwawo resigned from the Civil service and proceeded to join the then Royal West African Frontiers Force (RWAFF), and was posted to the 3rd Battalion of its Nigerian Regiment.

He enlisted in the Nigerian Army as an infantry soldier in 1950. Later, he went for officers training at the prestigious Mons Officer Cadet School in Aldershot, the United Kingdom. Nwawo was commissioned 2nd Lieutenant in 1954 in the then Queen’s Own Regiment, as the colonial Nigerian Army was then called. He was also the 10th officer (NA/10) to be commissioned.

He later had officer training at the West African Command Training School, Teshie, Ghana, and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in 1953, after completing his training at Eaton Hall Officer Cadet School, Chester, England. Conrad Nwawo was subsequently posted on secondment to the British Army of the Rhine, in Germany. This was a very tactical posting as the Second British Army on the Rhine formed the tactical forward command of the British contribution to the NATO alliance in the event of war with the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. From there, after his brief stint, Nwawo was posted to the 4th Battalion of the Nigerian regiment in 1954. It was a crucial moment of decolonization and expansion of the officers Corp of the Nigerian regiment. Conrad Nwawo was one of those real, and very few pioneers Nigerians to be selected and given officer training in an essentially British Army. He was number 10. His experience as a military officer was varied: he began as a platoon commander at the 4th Battalion; trained in military logistics and intelligence, and was an instructor in tactics and Military law at the Nigerian Military School Zaria. In 1963, Nwawo was awarded the prestigious Military Cross (MC) for bravery by Queen Elizabeth II following his actions as part of the Queens own Nigerian Regiment of the United Nations peace operations in the Congo. After Katanga, Nwawo attended the United States Army Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and thereafter posted to the Nigerian Army’s 5th Battalion, and from there, sent to the Nigerian Military Training College, Zaria, as Chief Instructor. Among Nwawo’s many students in Zaria include Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida, and many others who became Generals, and ex-these and that’s in Nigeria.

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He was part of the Nigerian contingent to the United Nations Peace Keeping Mission in Congo in the 1960s under Gen. JTU Aguiyi-Ironsi. Accounts of his numerous exploits as part of the United Nation’s Peacekeeping forces in Katanga, Congo, led by General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi are legendary.

In 1965, Nwawo was promoted to Lt. Colonel and sent to London as Military Attaché to the Nigerian High Commission at the Court of St. James. He was in that post on January 15th when Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna led the first coup to overthrow Nigeria’s first republic. That coup, now generally known as the “Nzeogwu coup” on account of the remarkable role played by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu possibly changed the trajectory of Nwawo’s life. Nzeogwu had held out in Kaduna after the collapse of the coup in Lagos, and announced himself in charge of the North, and by many accounts was mobilizing to march on Lagos from Kaduna with his troops to complete the failed coup, and take Lagos now under the firm grip of General Ironsi. To avert what would have been the first civil war, Ironsi reached out quickly to Conrad Nwawo in London, who was summarily flown down and sent to Kaduna to get Nzeogwu to stand down. It was known that Nwawo who had been Nzeogwu’s instructor at the Military School Zaria in 1960 was close to him and that Nzeogwu had the highest regard for him. It was indeed Nwawo who got Nzeogwu to abandon his plans, surrender, and agree to go with him to Lagos to meet with Ironsi. In the military reorganization that took place as Ironsi assumed power, he appointed David Ejoor, Military Governor of the Midwest, and Conrad Nwawo, the Military Commander of the Midwest Area Command.

The period between January 15, 1966 and July 6, 1967, were bitter and terrifying times that challenged the basis of Nigeria as a nation, and tasked the loyalty of individuals and groups following the events that defined those moment. People had to take stands, and assert loyalties, and so it was with Conrad Nwawo. The wave of killings of Igbo officers following the July 1966 counter coup drove many Igbo officers to seek refuge closer home. Igbo officers from the Midwest like Gabriel Okonweze and Chris Emelifonwu, for instance, had been prominent casualties in the event. The Midwest Area Command under the leadership of Colonel Nwawo soon became the refuge for these officers as they returned to safety. Nwawo led good men – Trimnell, Ochei, Okwechime, Nzefili, Igboba, Ogbemudia, and so on, with Ejoor as Military governor of the Midwest. The Nigerian civil war was brewing heavily, and began with the first shot fired by the Federal forces at Gakem and Nsukka on July 6, 1967. By 9 August 1967, the Biafran Liberation Army commanded by Brigadier Victor Banjo with Emmanuel Ifeajuna as his chief of staff overran the Midwest on their way to capture Lagos. It has been said that this lightening operation had the silent support of the majority of the Igbo officers of the Midwest Area Command, who merged forces with the Biafrans, and allowed them safe passage. We may not yet know the full details of that campaign until, perhaps Nwawo’s unpublished memoir is set to print. But what is clear is that Nwawo and his colleagues took a stand. The idea of the Midwest as a neutral buffer to the East was mostly an illusion, particularly as Gowon had set up a combat force led by Murtala Muhammed set to cross from Idah through Auchi and Agbor towards the Niger, circumventing Benin-city.

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The Biafrans acted on collaborative intelligence provided by the Nwawo-led Benin Area Command. The failure of the Midwest operation made Nwawo’s position, and the position of the Igbo officers untenable in Benin, especially with the wave of the massacre of Igbo-speaking Biafrans in Benin and on to Asaba, following the entry of the federal forces into the Midwest by September 20, 1967. Nwawo fought on the Biafran side and distinguished himself as a military commander. He stopped the crossing of the Federal Forces at Onitsha, and he fought through a messy ambush in Umuahia, and cleared the Biafran capital of the Nigerians, before it finally fell. Nwawo was a General of the Biafran forces, and in his interviews was unambiguous about his choices. For Nwawo, it was an inexorable call to duty. He had few choices.

At the beginning of the Nigerian Civil War in 1967, Nwawo was the Commander of the 4th Area Command, Benin-City, Mid-West Region. But, after being accused of aiding Biafran troops to take-over the Mid-West Region through the Niger Bridge at Onitsha, Nwawo fled to Biafra and fought on his people's side as Federal troops took control of Mid-West.

As one of the commanders of the People’s Army trusted by the Biafran leader, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, Nwawo’s military exploits in the civil war, from 1967-1970, are legendary. Of great note were his gallant military campaigns in the Onitsha, Abagana and Umuahia sectors. Some of the positions he held in the Biafran Army include Administrative Officer, Biafran Army Headquarters and Commander, 11th and 13th Divisions of the Biafran Army, as well as the Guerilla Commando Unit.

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At the end of the war in 1970, Nwawo was among the Biafran Commanders who travelled to Lagos for final negotiations that led to the formal surrender of Biafra and the end of hos­tilities. While many of those who fought the war went about their normal duties thereafter, the same cannot be said of Nwawo. He and a few other officers who fought on the Biafran side were found guilty by the Board of Enquiry which evaluated the role of specific officers in the January 15 coup and the Mid-West invasion of 1967. Most of these officers, including Nwawo, were detained until 1974, when they were granted amnesty during the October 1, Independence Anniversary.

In all, Colonel Nwawo was a disciplined and brilliant officer. In retirement, he lived a quiet and contented life but remained a hero among his people. He was a well-loved military leader, a courageous and brilliant war tactician, and he was, in the end, one of those who made peace possible, and of whom it must be said, never stood at the sidelines while history passed them by. He will be particularly remembered for his services to the Nigerian and Biafran Armies. He will also be remembered for his strong commitment to the Nigerian nation since the end of the war.

May God grant his soul eternal repose as we remember him today as part and parcel of our gallantry, strong and courageous heroes.


Published by The Biafra Times

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