…Biafran war veteran, Corporal Nwafor, fumes over state of the nation …Recalls how Ojukwu provided security for Northern soldiers and why women liked the Biafran warlord …Speaks on Rochas Okorocha, South East governors, insecurity and why he likes Ghana BY ANAYO OKOLI, EDITOR, SOUTH EAST REGION.
Remember Sasa Ugwumba Kalu Nwoka?
He was popularly known as ‘Corporal Nwafor’. He is a Biafra war veteran. He earned the name ‘Corporal Nwafor’ because of his exploits during the Biafra war.
He specifically earned the name after he gallantly led Biafra soldiers to seize an Armoured Car, APC, from Nigerian troops at Ugwu Nwasike, Ogidi. That a APC was maximally used to attack Nigerian troops.
The Ohafia, Abia State born war veteran has written his war memoir, a book he entitled ‘Corporal Nwafor’. According to him, what ‘Corporal Nwafor’ did for Biafra was exactly what David did for the people of Israel. He said If not for ‘Corporal Nwafor’, Biafra could have been capitulated in 1968 and humiliated.
Ugwumba, himself, would be quick to tell you that Corporal Nwafor has tripartite personality. One, is the ‘Corporal Nwafor’ who (himself) manned the Bazoka Gun, 73 MM anti-gun that was used to blow the Saladin from Onitsha end at Ugwu Nwasike, Ogidi, recovered the armoured car. The Saladin is presently at the War Museum, Umuahia. The second is the Armoured Car itself and third is those that operated it, particularly the Ikom Cross River State born Pampas, who died three years ago.
In this interview with Sasa Ugwumba Kalu Nwoka, he spoke passionately about Ojukwu, Biafra war and Nigeria. Excerpts:
You were active in Biafra war, the record is clear, everybody was talking about you. What was the thing about you during the war?
It is something you cannot discuss in a day. What I am saying is that God used Corporal Nwafor as I was called during Biafra war to deliver Ndigbo, as He used Moses and David. Of course in Biafra, God used Ojukwu, Col. Achuzie, Timothy Onwuachu, Col. Emeka Ananaba (former Abia state deputy governor who served with TA Orji in his second term), Philip Efiong, Maj. Archibong and Corporal Nwafor, basically to make sure that we were not humiliated during the war.
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It was a war we had to win. We had to win the war but we lost it. We lost the paradise. And when I met with Ojukwu, I told him that we lost the paradise. The attention was on Corporal Nwafor in the lost paradise. But Ojukwu told me that we lost the war but not the paradise. An Igbo man will understand what this means. I tried to explain why I chose the title of my book, and he told me to try another title, like “Corporal Nwafor battled for Biafra”. Everywhere then was Corporal Nwafor. There is nowhere in Nigerian Army that a corporal is made relevant, it was only in Biafra that a corporal fought like a field Marshal. We engaged in a serious and terrible gun battle during the war.
God used these names you mentioned to save Biafra from humiliation. Have Ndigbo appreciated them, more especially those that are still alive?
Basically, the Igbo people could disappoint in this regard. They are a disappointment. The only thing is the recognition. What they know is, this is Corporal Nwafor! They are not ready to give you anything like, land or house. The worst thing is that because of rent they chased me out from warder quarters. They chased me out due to inability to pay rent. Nobody remembered me or tried to help. After the war, I had to go on my own to look for a way to survive.
Years after, I went to look for Pampas, the driver of Corporal Nwafor. I had to travel to Ikom and in the process I was intercepted by blood suckers and I told them that I am from Ohafia and that Ohafia people are killers too. I asked them to please let me go; I got there and eventually found Pampas. While searching for him, his people said that I was not an Igbo man; that Igbo man doesn’t remember anybody. They said if you are an Igbo man you couldn’t have taken the risk to come looking for him. I wanted to know his whereabouts.
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If Ojukwu was not from a wealthy family, they would have rubbished him. I used to hear people make allusion to Ojukwu as a womanizer and I kept quite because I am a noble man. The truth is that Ojukwu was a great man and women ran after him. My wife used to tell me that I worship Ojukwu and I countered it. I told her that I didn’t worship Ojukwu but he earned my respect and anybody that earns my respect, I give it to him. If you don’t earn my respect, even if you are a billionaire, you will not see me around or get close to you. Those people that think they are rich and keep doing what will not benefit Ndigbo are thieves. They are making mess of Ndigbo and black race. As I am talking to you now, there is no light(electricity) here.
Is it right for someone to say, Ndigbo owe Corporal Nwafor and others?
It is an understatement. What Corporal Nwafor did for Biafra was exactly what David did for the people of Israel. We were recruited to Biafra war without training and we went and defended Biafra. If not for Corporal Nwafor, Biafra could have been capitulated in 1968 and of course we would have been humiliated. It was Corporal Nwafor that God used to wipe our tears and saved us from humiliation at the early stage of the war.
Some years back, one Calabar woman known as Nwanyi Calabar called me and said why didn’t you call me to tell me that Rochas bought you a car. She said it was on Television news at Owerri. She said that, on the news he promised to buy you a car, build you a house and rename Hero’s Square after your name, to be known as Corporal Nwafor Square. I waited for one year, two and three years, but nothing happened. That is the same way Igbos treated us.
By the way, I was able to reach Pampas who died three years ago wretched. When I came back, I couldn’t see him. I went to Ikom and met three medical doctors and Jimmy Ndoma Egba of Cross River State Broadcasting Corporation, Ikom and asked them about Pampas but none of them knew his whereabout. So Jimmy kept making announcements on the radio from time to time, looking forward for people that could bring information on Pampas.
So, after one year, during Christmas period, Jimmy called me and I said Jimmy happy Christmas. He told me that this is more than Christmas; I have a surprise for you. He told me they have found Pampas. I didn’t believe him; I told him to stop pulling my legs. He said, I am with him at the studio now and I asked him to give Pampas phone let me talk to him if he was not deceiving me. Immediately he gave him phone and I called him Pampas, he replied me with Ugwumba. I was dumbfounded, overexcited and convinced he was the one because there was nobody at Ikom that knows me with that Ugwumba. He said what a great name! I love that name very much, the pride of a Nation. So, I stand as the pride of Igbo land. Take it or leave it. Do your own.
Everybody is interested in making money, building houses, buying cars and having women. At the end of everything, we are still slaves to this useless and rich country. If God were not God, I would have questioned Him to know why he brought me into this country.
Some people are saying that Ojukwu made a mistake during the war. Do you agree with that?
Well, Ojukwu had advisers like Akanu Ibiam, Dr. M.I Okpara, Mbadiwe (K. O), Muojekwu and was listening to them. Some of them misled him. Some of them, when Ndigbo contributed money and sent them to England or London to buy food or guns, they diverted the money and used it to buy houses. This is true. Ojukwu used his money and staked his life to prosecute the war. Personally, Ojukwu fought at Oguta.
In law, there are two kinds of mistakes, fraudulent mistake and innocent mistake. Ojukwu never made any fraudulent mistake. I saw Ojukwu and fell in love with his ideology. When he says yes, it remains yes. Ojukwu is a human being, he could have made one or two mistakes, it’s allowed.
He was also said to have played a good role by saving the Hausas in the east, not considering what their people were doing to Igbos up there in the North.
Nigerians can never give anybody credit particularly Igbo man. I remember what happened in Enugu, early in the sixties. At the wake of the pogrom in the North, Igbos wanted Ojukwu to give them order to finish the Hausas in the East. They wanted reprisal attack. Ojukwu said no, we are Igbos, we don’t shed blood. He assembled Hausa soldiers at coal camp and addressed them in Hausa language and asked them to gather everything they had, up to sweeping broom. He told them that he couldn’t guarantee their safety anymore because Igbo people were on him due to the massacre of Igbos in the North. They wanted to remain in Enugu and he advised them to gather whatever they had to leave on a specific date so that he could provide security for them. He ensured their safety. He paid them two months advanced salary and equipped them to go. Ojukwu brought long vehicles that accommodated all of them, escorted them to Markudi, Benue state.
Instead of them to go home and take care of their families and let their people know about the Ojukwu gesture, they joined their people to massacre Igbos. I don’t know what else to say about Ojukwu. He earned my respect. I have never seen a man buried the way he was buried in Nigeria and don’t think anybody will be buried like him till the end of the world. He was a freeman; never did I see Ojukwu walk along the street with security men because he owed nobody. Anybody who didn’t like Ojukwu was jealous. If Ojukwu was passing anywhere along the street, he would be hailed even by his enemies. Ojukwu was blessed by Jah Rasterfara.
The insecurity in Nigerian is alarming, with your experience in Biafra how would you handle the situation if you were in a position of leadership?
Insecurity! We have been talking for more than 20 minutes and no electricity. I grew up in Enugu and never experienced power failure. A nation without power is powerless. Nigeria is not living effective life both on economy and power. They are powerless. You can see them carrying gun and shooting innocent people. How can you be talking about security when you can see soldiers molesting civilians? I keep telling them that any idiot can carry gun but not every man can write his name.
Intellectuals should help in building this nation, so that there will be no insecurity. At the local level before going to state or national, you could see a local government area chairmen; all of them are in tainted glass cars. They are afraid because they have stepped on toes. They don’t pay salaries; they kill people for power and cheat them. How can you have security in a situation like this? Security may not be ensured where there is so much injustice.
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I have no interest in Bokoharam, Bokoharam rubbish. I told Colonel Muhammad (a friend) that Bokoharam could not take root in Biafra. I will just organize 5 crazy boys and train them within 3-5 hours and we will wipe them out. I am not a politician but a soldier with difference. We fought the war without salaries. You know what it means to fight a war without salaries. We wanted to build a nation where Jesus Chris could visit. God doesn’t leave in Nigeria.
I met a Ghanaian girl friend, Nana in 1990s, all of a sudden I was in her house when Eight Ghanaians came and started speaking their language. Every Ghanaian spoke Twe. So I was there alone. When I got up to go, one of them said something bad about Nigeria and when it was translated to mean that God is not in Nigeria. I had to sit down because I never heard that before. I asked myself, God is not in Nigeria? I shook hands with all of them and told them that they were very right. If God wanted a place of habitation, it could never be in Nigeria because God said I am holy and can’t be hold in inequity.
Everyday people are being slaughtered, suffering is an understatement; people are destitutes. I see girls roaming around and with N200:00 you can sleep with 12 of them because they just want to eat food. As a historian, I chatted with the Ghanaians and they told me what they were doing on Agriculture and I said how I wish I were a Ghanaian. I have respect for them and love Ghana. You can say I am proud to be a Ghanaian and nobody can say, I am proud to be a Nigerian. They talked about Ghana with pride. Ghana became good through one man after Nkuruma.
Ghana brought a captain, Jerry Rawlings into the helm of power and he made everything to start working in Ghana. . The Paris Club fund sent four experts to Ghana to help provide fund assistance to them. He asked for $50 million and they promised to give him $300 million which they later approved. The Ghanaian President told them not to send the cash because Ghana had lists of projects to invest the money on and the money was invested directly to the project. After two weeks, the money was invested on the projects and they all moved to the farm, including Rawlings. In one year they had first bumper harvest in 20 years. This people called Nigeria have been here talking about agriculture for more than four years and nothing, absolutely nothing has happened.
If, I were God, I would have wiped some people away. What government could do was to open poultry farm.
Can you offer advice on how to move Nigeria forward?
My advice to Nigerians is let them move back to Jah Rastafara; return to God, Jesus Christ. Leaders need to make sacrifices. You can see people wearing Bob Marley vests and hair styles but you cannot see anybody wearing vests with pictures of our leaders. Bob Marley died at the age of 38. Why are people still wearing his vests? They do so because of what he did. As a historian, before I discuss anything, I must be sure of it. I saw Bob Marley just once in 1986 at the gate of London, Rainbow Theater, very close to Arsenal stadium. I saw him when he was excited and was saying Jah Rastafara gives me big dollar, I will make my country Jamaica proud. After that he travelled back to Jamaica and built hospitals and schools and donated all of them to his country. He did it three times before he died at the age of 38 while our own people are approaching 80 years and nothing has been done.
When I say nothing has been done, I mean nothing. So no party can speak for you; no testament, nothing for you. So we have to return to God and he will forgive and pardon us.
What do you have to say about the South East governors? How do you rate their performance?
That is another area my heart bleeds. Nobody learnt lesson from the war. They have disappointed. Some of them made so many billions as governor for 8 years and went to senate without any tangibly achievements. For instance, look at Umuahia. Umuahia since 1968 I came here till date nothing has changed.
I expected them to act like Dr. M. I Okpara but they didn’t do anything. Bob Marley used his own money to build hospitals, schools and many other things for Jamaica and these people refused to change their city with our own money. That is why people wear Bob Marley shirts till today. Once they see it written Bob Marley, they will buy it. Like me, I have some and will buy more. Bob Marley built Mecca with his money and if he would have been alive today, Jamaica would have crowned him President of Jamaica like Nelson Mandela. Dr M.I Okpara was a genius.
I grew up in Enugu and saw him build many things around the states in Southern region. He didn’t have any plot of land in Enugu but he continued building for public. Just to mention a few people that have contributed to the development of the region; Dr. Mbakwe, Ngige, Peter Obi, Jim Nwobodo tried, Dave Umahi is doing well and needs to continue, Ugwuanyi could do better and should wake up. I wish they could continue doing well to make our zone better. Igbo people don’t forget the work of any leader. Rochas started well but he later became the corn man and was finally disgraced. Igbos are special species but these set of leaders, I don’t know where they belong.
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I could remember the Tiv riot, Joseph Tarka, where the Nigerian Army was ordered to go and wipe them out. Many in Nigerian Army before the war were Igbo people and we told them that we didn’t come there to kill them but to keep peace. Igbo soldiers preserved their lives. In 1965, the Yorubas, Awolowo and Akintola camps were slaughtering each other and Igbo people in the army and some leaders played big role to restore peace. Two years later, the Yorubas joined the Hausa and Tiv people to fight Biafra people. Well, the war had to be fought.
But rather than build this nation, they turned Nigeria into a lacking nation. If you tell anybody that you are a Nigerian in any part of the world, nobody will talk to you anymore. If you ask anybody about Nigeria, they will tell you, it’s the country where money is always missing. That man whom they saw as an intellectual, a visitor in their country, all of a sudden they will just avoid him because you are from the country where money is always missing. Up till now, money is still missing. They bring money and squander it. Like Onyeka Owenu played in her music, “squandering in riches”.