Achuzia: Requiem the gallant warlord
by CHUKS OLUIGBO
March 4, 2018 | 1:41 am| | | Start Conversation
Brave. Fearless. Gallant. Legendary. Patriotic. Joseph O. G. Achuzia, ex-Nigerian soldier and Biafran war commander, who died on Monday, February 26, no doubt fits into all of the above epithets, even though they do not capture the full essence of the man. The tributes that have been pouring in – and glowing tributes are in order for a man of Achuzia’s standing – perhaps tell a fuller story.
Ohaneze Youths Council (OYC) described him as “a role model and a mentor to millions of Igbo youths and Biafrans” and “one of Biafra’s indomitable commanders” who, beyond fighting “gallantly for Biafra during the civil war, especially at Oguta, Abagana, Okigwe and Port Harcourt sectors of the war”, was a champion of the unity of the Igbo race.
Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) called him “our leader, mentor and hero”, “the people’s general”, “a father, a motivator and a true Biafran leader”, and “commander of commanders of Biafran Army” who “led Biafra commandos units to recapture many sectors that fell” to the enemy.
The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) described him as “our icon, hero and great Biafran warrior of our time”, a man who “marched his footsteps on the hallowed soil of Biafra during his youthful days for the liberation and betterment of Biafra”, “an extraordinary and exceptional charismatic personality and finest battle-field commander of towering repute” who, alongside “his wartime colleague Timothy Onwuatuegwu most represented the spirit of bravery and patriotism which characterized the military campaign” that saved the Igbo from extermination.
“Col. Joe Achuzia will be remembered by history as one of the finest and bravest soldiers the world had ever seen. Though his exploits, as a soldier, were in a quickly forgotten war in black Africa, the magnitude of his accomplishments put in context ranks amongst the greatest military feats of the modern era,” IPOB said in a statement.
“From his heroics in the famous Abagana sector victory over Murtala Mohammed, to his recapture of Owerri, Col. Achuzia left an indelible mark that will be acknowledged by every generation of Biafrans until the end of time. He is our icon and all-time hero,” it said.
Ifeanyi Okowa, Delta State governor, called him “a brilliant and dedicated military officer who served his people selflessly”, “one of the finest military officers of his generation”, a “patriot and nationalist who has left behind an impressive legacy of discipline, honesty, integrity and hard work in military service”, “an illustrious and dedicated elder statesman” and a man who “will be long remembered for his dedication and passion for a just and equitable society”.
Willie Obiano, Anambra State governor, who spoke through Tony Nnacheta, his commissioner for information communication strategy, said Achuzia “was a man of service and deep convictions whose exploits in the sands of time can never be forgotten by our people, both young and old”, and described his death as a “monumental loss”.
Peter Obi, former governor of Anambra State, said he was one of those not afraid of their own voices.
Goddy Uwazurike, president emeritus of Aka Ikenga, described him as a titanic leader who did not tolerate cowards and who was known to pull his gun on war deserters.
“He was such a fanatical leader that his troops believed that bullets could not kill him. Indeed, bullets did not kill him. To the average Igbo person, Achuzia was a demon in battle. He could have run away at the end of the war, but he did not,” Uwazurike said.
Born in 1929, Achuzia, who had his maternal root at Ezza in Ebonyi State and paternal root at Asaba in Delta State, was a soldier in the Nigerian Army before the outbreak of hostilities in May 1967 following the declaration of the Republic of Biafra. He thereafter fled to Eastern Nigeria and joined forces with Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, the Biafran leader.
Achuzia’s heroic exploits in the 30-month civil war are the kind of stuff movies are made of. It was his fearlessness, bravery, and often suicidal exploits at warfronts that earned him the sobriquet Air Raid. He was also called Hannibal for leading successful attacks against the Nigerian Army in Nsukka and Onitsha sectors.
An entry on him on Wikipedia says that after Biafran soldiers were forced to retreat across the River Niger Bridge into Onitsha on September 20, 1967, Achuzia was promoted to Major and given command of the Biafran 11th Battalion, responsible for defending the area between Atani and Ndoni from an imminent Nigerian attack. Achuzia’s 11th Battalion would eventually link up with the18th Battalion under Colonel Assam Nsudoh in a coordinated Pincer movement in which “the majority of the 5,000-man Nigerian 2nd Division stationed in Onitsha were either massacred or taken prisoner by Achuzia’s men”. A combined team of the 11th and 18th Battalions stationed in Onitsha successfully thwarted two separate counter-attacks launched by the Nigerian 2nd Division in the days following the Biafran assault.
Achuzia was later given total control of the Biafran 11th Division by Ojukwu and eventually transferred to Port Harcourt and made commander of all Biafran soldiers within the city. In the ensuing five-day heavy fighting, Port Harcourt airport and army barracks kept changing hands between Biafran and federal forces. Even when most Biafran troops had been pushed out of Port Harcourt into the surrounding areas, Achuzia stubbornly kept fighting and narrowly escaped death after almost being run over by an armoured car.
Achuzia commanded the Biafran S Division for one week following a misunderstanding between him and Major Onwuatuegwu over control of the division. On January 9, 1970, Ojukwu officially placed all remaining Biafran soldiers under Achuzia’s command. Achuzia would eventually participate prominently in the reconciliation process that led to the end of the war, alongside Philip Effiong and other Biafran officers.
When the civil war ended, he was imprisoned and later released. Thereafter, he officially retired from military activities. Outside the army, Achuzia remained relevant in the Nigerian political space, fearlessly expressing his views on burning issues in the polity.
He was one of the few who openly identified with IPOB, even though he disagreed with the methods adopted by Nnamdi Kanu, the group’s leader. When in November 2015 former President Olusegun Obasanjo described pro-Biafra agitators as miscreants, Achuzia did not mince words in telling Obasanjo off, saying he was a pot calling the kettle black.
“The issue of Biafra is something we can never forget, neither our children nor our great, great grandchildren after our time, because it is part of history,” he had said.
In an interview with Sunday Sun published on May 22, 2016, Achuzia said Nigeria had continued to wobble and had never got things right since after the first coup in 1966.
“Democracy means a political arrangement by the people, for the people. In other words, there must be a concord or disagreement between the led and the leaders. In this instance, since the 1966 coup took place and the military came on board, the military introduced a system of government where aspects of development are arrested and the majority of those being led are at the bottom. Within that system, it is the person at the top that gives the order. What he wants, with his cronies around him, is what takes place. But in a democracy, it is supposed to be the wishes of the people, and for democracy to work, the top hierarchy must be weak enough to derive its strength from the lower bottom, where the masses are. It is the wishes of the masses that make for democracy, not the autocracy of the person on top,” he had said.
And to those who keep saying Nigeria is indivisible, he had this to say, “No country is indivisible. If a country like Britain with four component parts – English, Welsh, Scottish and the Irish – can split after so many years, then that argument can’t stand… [I]t is only a fool-hardy person with a colonial mentality, and who wishes to replace the colonial master, that will be working under the mantle of an indivisible Nigeria.”
Besides mastery of war, Achuzia was also intellectual, one of the very few key players in the civil war who had the discipline to document the events as they saw it. His Requiem Biafra was among the earliest Nigeria/Biafra civil war literature that I was exposed to, alongside Alexander Madiebo’s The Nigerian Revolution and the Biafran War, Adewale Ademoyega’s Why We Struck: The Story of the First Nigerian Coup, Frederick Forsyth’s Emeka, Ola Balogun’s The Tragic Years, Fola Oyewole’s Reluctant Rebel, among others.
Achuzia was a major stakeholder in the traditional affairs of Asaba, having held the title of Ikemba Asaba, akin to that held by Ojukwu in his native Nnewi. He was also a good family man. “My father was the best dad ever. I was so sad when he gave up, and I can’t help it,” his son, Onyeka, said of him.
Achuzia died defending the Igbo cause and seeking for a just, equitable and fair Nigerian state. May his gallant soul find rest.
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