Thursday, September 25, 2014 12:02 pm
By Akin Owolabi
When I, even I, look at the Nigerian socio-political scape that has bred scores of super-billionaires of civilian-military hues, my heart cannot but bleed profusely for retired Brigadier Benjamin Adesanya Maja Adekunle, Nigeria’s most unsung civil war hero. This epic man maintained an extremely low profile since he was shoved aside from his primary job on 20 August, 1974 in largely unsubstantiated circumstances. Whao! Adekunle, on Saturday, 13 September, 2014 permanently closed his eyes, succumbing to death – mankind’s most trenchant enemy. He, being a man of valour, died nobly, without having to cry out at the tail end of his life over his weak finances and failing health; never asking to be flown abroad at government expense. He stoically refused to blow off the roof but casually remarked 40 years ago when he was compulsorily retired: “If this is what Nigeria will pay me after I have done a job for this country, that’s alright.”
Adekunle maintained a dignified silence ever since and vehemently refused to be dragged into the murky waters of Nigeria’s high-wire politics and economic rat race. Only a man of monumental dignity would suffer in golden silence the way Adekunle did, more so that the united Nigeria he so much believed in and strenuously fought for prospered greatly thereafter, thus enabling upcoming generations of the military brass and their civilian lackey to develop pot bellies through mindboggling treasury looting.
Who was Adekunle and how did he come into prominence?
Adekunle, nicknamed The Black Scorpion, was the pioneer General Officer Commanding (GOC), 3 Marine Commando (3MCDO) of the Nigerian Army, who won over 60 per cent of the Nigerian Civil War battles but became too war weary at the point of taking the winning crown of the war. He was the lion on the Nigerian side, literally tearing down the Biafran buffalo only to prevaricate, nay, abdicate, thus enabling less fancied jackals to feast on the succulent flesh of the huge herbivore. Without Adekunle and the likes of Godwin Alabi-Isama, Alani Akinrinade, E. A. Etuk, Pius Eromobor, Ted Hamman and several others effectively combing the south-eastern flanks of Nigeria, the Nigerian Civil War would have dragged for several more years.
It is on record that Owerri was assigned to the Second Infantry Division of the Nigerian Army while Aba and Umuahia belonged to Muhammadu Shuwa’s First Division but Adekunle, under operational code OAU, liberated those core Igbo cities shortly after capturing vast geographic areas now stradling Rivers, Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom, Cross River states and significant parts of Delta State in spite of the largely marine terrain of operation.
In fact, there would have been no war to win if Adekunle’s team had not exceeded its briefs and resoundingly won the major battles. Sadly, though, this diminutive man of valour was denied all the appurtenances that should go with national heroes of his epic proportion. The civil war hero was viciously torn away from his first love – the military – an action that precipitated his descent into financial paucity in retirement. We are not let into the pittance Adekunle was being paid as pension but we can safely guess that it was truly ludicrous, laughable for a man who never held political office, however lacklustre.
I caught a cursory but distant glimpse (first and last) of the then dreaded Colonel at the Opobo Jetty shortly before the campaign for the liberation of Port Harcourt sometime in May 1968. The red-necked (rank insignia) army brass was chatting animatedly with one of his field commanders as 14 Brigade troops filed into speedboats that would take them seven miles upstream to a fishing post near Bane in Ogoniland. Morbid fear ran through our spines. One soldier, clutching a small bag containing garri, hurriedly dropped the excess luggage for fear of being picked for improper dressing. In fact, the fear of Adekunle was at the root of resounding 3MCDO’s successes during the civil war.