Wednesday, December 24, 2014 11:20 am
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo and his then friend, Godwin Alabi-Isama continue with their verbal war over their involvement in the civil war
If there is one man that is almost interminably irritated about Nigeria’s former President Olusegun Obasanjo, it is retired Brigadier- General Godwin Alabi Isama, a former Principal General Staff Officer of the Nigerian Army and Chief of Staff of 3 Marine Commando Division during the country’s Civil War. His anger is not concerning the person of Obasanjo, the Ota, Ogun State farmer. No. His anger stems from his allegation that the former President is attempting to re-write history and even do this turning the truth upside down.
The duo was both in the military at one of Nigeria’s trying times. They were close friends and both fought in the war, on Nigeria’s side against the Republic of Biafra that was then led by the late acclaimed war veteran, Ikemba Odimegwu Ojukwu. But the levels of their involvement in the war which began on 6 July, 1967 and ended on 15 January, 1970, as well as their level of experiences during this period have remained major points of contention between them for some time now. While Obasanjo has been churning out literary materials in what some analysts call an attempt by the former President to put himself in a positive historical position, Alabi-Isama, like an invigilator in an examination setting, has shouted to high heavens on each occasion to inform the public that these materials by Obasanjo are fraught with lies. He therefore sees his former bosom friend as one of Nigeria’s biggest liars. He also has one advice for Obasanjo – the retired Army General must stop lying before he dies.
Alabi-Isama’s most recent outburst against Obasanjo twigs from My Watch, Obasanjo’s three-volume book that has enjoyed expected levels of controversies and if one may add, sales. Presented in Lagos on 9 December, 2014, the book has Obasanjo throwing punches at notable Nigerians. Some of these punches were soft on some leaders including Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, the national leader of the All Progressives Congress, APC, and a few others, but deadly in the case of the Atiku Abubakar, former Vice President of the country and recently a contestant for the presidential election in 2015 under the APC, President Goodluck Jonathan, Uche Chukwumerije and Professor Wole Soyinka, Nigeria’s only Nobel Laureate.
Then, Obasanjo hit the wrong chord in Alabi-Isama. While the others are yet to personally reply the former President and also expose some of the possible secrets they have of him, Alabi-Isama, not known to be silent for long where issues of image denting are involved, has fired back in full doze at Obasanjo, his senior in the military.
This is the second time the two former Army officers would clash. The first was when Alabi-Isama, using The Tragedy of Victory which he presented in 2013, replied Obasanjo, who had given what he called his personal account of the civil in his book, My Command, which he said he wrote in 1980. Obasanjo is highly rated as the one who brought the war to an end and he never fails to relish this heroic mention or even attribute to himself some praises where the civil war becomes an issue of debate. This he had repeated in My Command.
While replying Obasanjo, Alabi-Isama, in an interview he granted this magazine just days to the presentation of his book last year, called the former President a weakling who was so scared of death that he never wanted to be part of the war. Where he became part of the war, he did everything to evade being at the battlefront. He also pooh-poohed claims that Obasanjo ended the war as he could not see how such a lazy man, picked by General Alani Akinrinade to lead the troop after Benjamin Adekunle was dropped as commander on allegations of unethical conduct, could now attribute the victory of ending the war to himself.
Hear Alabi-Isama: “Gowon was not sure that Obasanjo would want the job of replacing Adekunle because he was an engineer…Gowon said we should contact him. When we met Obasanjo, we told him our mission and gave him a comprehensive briefing on the situation at the war front. We went with maps and explained to him the defects of Adekunle’s plan to attack the Igbo heartland. We also told him about Operations Pincer 1, 2 and 3 and explained that if Pincer 2 was adopted, the war would end in 30 days. We spoke for three hours without food or drink. Obasanjo simply listened. And when he spoke, he said he was an engineer and he was not going to the war front. He also said we wanted to have him killed by nominating him for a spot at the war front.”
He recalled that out of anger, he had slammed Obasanjo and reminded him of how weak he was and how, despite being an engineer, he could not blow up the bridge in Ore when he was told that the Biafran army was advancing to Lagos and how the situation was salvaged by one Mr. Akinde, who was a civil servant at the Public Works Department in Ibadan at the time of the war. Though Obasanjo claims he ordered the bridge blown up, Alabi-Isama says it was the wife of then Governor Adeyinka Adebayo who suggested the blowing up of the bridge to Obasanjo. In Alabi-Isama’s account, Obasanjo finally took over as Commander of the 3 Marine Commando, but refused to listen any advice that came from Alabi-Isama or Akinrinade because he haboured the grudges of the previous encounter. As a result, his first battle was a disaster.
“He ordered an attack on Ohoba, some 40 kilometres from Owerri, just four days after taking over from Adekunle. He did not even know that we had to plan,” Alabi-Isama said adding that this made Obasanjo loose an unprecedented number of 1, 400 men in the attack and that Obasanjo ran away from the scene of another attack with claims that he was heading for Port Harcourt, an eight hour journey, to get ammunition for the same battle when he could ordinarily radio the army headquarters.
Since that reply by Alabi-Isama, Obasanjo kept the provocation to himself until the release of My Watch where he recalled how his then junior officer criticized his book. This time, he came with a damning description of Alabi-Isama as clever but dubious, unreliable, and arrogant. Obaasanjo wrote: “Following a cursory look at the book, I realised Alabi-Isama had at least two objectives for writing it: one, to denigrate Obasanjo and rubbish his achievements as a military leader. Two, to try to make money from the book as he complained that most of them who participated in the civil war were wallowing in abject poverty. True to his character, he wrote a book of fiction, which he wanted people to believe as factual. If Alabi is complaining of abject poverty, one wonders what the families of our colleagues who died in the civil war should be complaining of.”
Obasanjo adds: “Alabi-Isama’s position that the war had ended before I got to the war front could not be supported by writings and reports from all sides of participants and journalists during the civil war. If the war had ended before I went to the war front, Alabi-Isama would not have unceremoniously withdrawn himself from the Third Marine Commando War Front, claiming unbearable atrocities by his own commander, my predecessor. When, on assumption of command, I investigated reasons for the unilateral and unceremonious abandonment of the war front by Akinrinade and Isama, I found Akinrinade’s case excusable and I called him back and appointed him my Chief of Staff.”
In furtherance to this, Obasanjo said Alabi-Isama saw mercantilism in participation in the war and that it was this mentality of his that partly disqualified him from being on Obasanjo’s team. “In Alabi-Isama’s case, his actions were an offence against military conduct and discipline, and he was not found worthy to be a member of my team, which ultimately brought the war to an end. He did not change and it was no wonder that his own course mate, Yakubu Danjuma, as Chief of Army Staff took appropriate action to get him out of the army as he was a bad egg.”
Obasanjo goes further: “I have known Alabi since he was an officer cadet at the Nigerian Military Training College, NMTC, along with Akinrinade, Obeya, Danjuma and others. That class as a group was fairly exemplary. At first Alabi claimed he was from Ilorin, as he felt that saying he was from the North would bestow some advantage for him. When that did not work, he claimed he was from Ibadan. Being from Midwest was his last claim and he added Isama to his name. What is this if not fraud? As an officer, Alabi was the only one in the military that I played a game of squash with who cheated on the court by counting more points for himself. What a character! Alabi’s reputation was notorious when I took over the 3 Marine Commando. He could be in bed with a woman and yet radio his commander to say that he was in pursuit of the rebels.”
Alabi did not have the patience to wait for long to reply Obasanjo. “It is said that a lie may travel for a thousand miles, but it takes just one step of truth to catch up with it. I’m alive to stand up to him on the lies he has told on the war because I was a major participant in it. I kept records. With facts and figures at my finger tips, I have debunked Obasanjo’s lies in part three of my book, consisting of one hundred and sixty five pages, sixty nine pictures, thirteen military strategies and tactics, maps and documents. This was the same Obasanjo who published a fake Federal Government gazette that I was found guilty by the Army when I was never tried. I have proved that Obasanjo was an incompetent commander. I have proved that he was a wily and cunning fellow, and an incredible opportunist who reaped where he did not sow,” he maintained as he said he had proven Obasanjo to be an ingrate and a hypocrite.
He continued: “more importantly, I have proved that he was a coward, who ran away from the war front to go and look for phantom ammunition. Rather than respond to my claims the way a gallant officer should, he has now responded like a motor-park tout, impugning my person and questioning my ethnic lineage. I never said I was from Ibadan. I only schooled there. General Obasanjo, this bolekaja style is so demeaning. You live in a glass house, so stop throwing stones. We, who have facts, pictures and documents, meticulously kept over the years, can tell the whole world one or two things about you.”
Recalling how he kept records of the war, he told Obasanjo: “you should be honest enough to tell the world the story of the man who was your father. I told you and wrote in my book that any person who does not appreciate the efforts of women has had no good mother. Please, don’t go beyond military tactics and strategies when dealing with me. You say in volume three of your book : My Watch that I could be in bed with a woman while radioing my commander that I was in pursuit of rebels. Hundreds of thousands of those who have read my book The Tragedy of Victory – a six hundred and seventy-page book, complete with four hundred and fifty pictures and thirty nine military strategies and tactics, maps and documents – will call you a liar. I am so surprised and even embarrassed that a man of your status is still trading in gutter rumours. An elder with a filthy mind, a leader who lacks wisdom of age, does not deserve any respect.
“I’m the same Godwin Alabi- Isama that commanded the troops that liberated today’s Cross River State in thirty days of battle from Calabar to Obubra with no single casualty. This is the same Alabi- Isama that advanced 480 kilometres in 30 days from Calabar to Port Harcourt, liberating today’s Akwa Ibom, Rivers and Bayelsa States with 35,000 men and women with 15,000 on logistics, building roads and pontoons, with eight men and two officers as my casualties. Obasanjo ordered the attack of Ohoba, a mere 24 miles from Owerri, in one hour of battle, more than 1,000 Nigerian soldiers were dead.”
Concerning allegation that he cheated in a game of squash, Alabi-Isama said witnesses to that game were still alive and could testify against Obasanjo who he called an incredible liar adding that he only played squash with Obasanjo once and would not be one of those sycophants who would allow him to win just to massage his ego. He mocked Obasanjo’s protruding stomach saying the former President never exercises and that his tummy was always the subject of a joke to other officers of the Army.
“Obasanjo says I only wanted to make money that was why I wrote my book, after all I was broke. I thank Obasanjo for unwittingly giving credit that I did not steal money in the Army. I believe that this country Nigeria ought to know by now all the crooks parading themselves as saints. Now I know why Obasanjo was surprised at my financial successes abroad, and then sent his wife Stella of blessed memory to me. She was my guest in Houston Texas for a week. We have video and pictures of the visit with witnesses like Jack Gonsoulin, Rod Anthony, and Tom Britton,” he added demanding a debate with Obasanjo on military tactics and strategies on the Nigerian Civil War.
“He (Obasanjo) wrote about his team. Who were they? George Innih went the wrong way to Arochukwu when Akinrinade needed reinforcement for the final battle to capture Uli Ihiala airport. Akinrinade told him that he would shoot George Innih anytime he showed up. Where was Obasanjo’s fake Apollo Battalion that operated behind enemy lines, when he could not capture Ohoba? When Akinrinade called him that Biafra troops had surrendered to him and the Pincer team, Obasanjo, who was coming from a party, got lost looking for them, as he did not know where to go and did not know the way to Amichi…As for how he has treated his family shabbily, his wife and children have openly made their comments. Those comments are in public domain today and forever, even though Obasanjo cleverly brushes them aside in his current book.”
This may not be the end as other materials to support and oppose claims of successes and failures would, hopefully, surface. The history of the Nigerian civil war may never end.