Sunday, October 27, 2019 1:01 am
By Ademola Adegbamigbe
He was just a Form 5 student of Ibadan Boys High School when his zeal was fired to join the Nigerian Army. Godwin Alabi-Isama loved the soldiers’ starched uniforms, music, berets, jungle boots, guns and swagger sticks. What further fascinated him as he peeped out of the window of his school, situated at Oke Bola, close to Pa Obafemi Awolowo’s residence, was the manner the soldiers marched in lock-steps. Their legs, as if bound by an invisible locomotive rod, would move back and forth with millipede’s legs unison, even as their hands cut the air with a whistling slash.
Like a boy sleep-walkinig, Alabi-Isama would follow the soldiers, hoping that one day he would be like them. His dream as a teenager came to fruition; he joined the Army and rose to become a Brigadier-General who, before he retired, was the Chief of Staff, 3rd Marine Commando, during the 1969-1970 Nigerian Civil War.
But he did not intend to join the Army as an officer, but enlist as a recruit. The day he pressed his nose to the recruitment officer’s door, he met a European officer called Captain Scamper. After sizing up the small boy, the officer asked whether Alabi-Isama could speak English. The officer received more than a “yes” or “no” answer. Alabi-Isama reeled out his subjects in school; those he had passed and those he was yet to.
“All I asked you is, do you speak English?” Scamper fired back. He was satisfied with the boy, though!
“You qualify to be an officer,” he told Alabi-Isama who, with enthusiasm, asked “You mean, like an Oyinbo (whiteman)?”
When Scamper answered in the affirmative, the young boy said he was ready. The Army, thereafter, gave him a warrant to go to Apapa, Lagos for other tests.
When he finally joined the Army, his mother almost gave up the ghost. There were reasons. One, Alabi-Isama was her only son. Two, the Army, at that time, was considered the exclusive preserve of never-do-wells and aimless vagabonds. In other words, it was considered a taboo for serious minded people to join the Army, or have a family member doing that. For this reason, Alabi-Isama’s mother was apprehensive. She started consulting marabouts and begging God to forgive her. She actually thought she had (because of her son’s career choice), at one time or ther other, committed a sacrilege!
Born in Ilorin, Kwara State, to an Ukwani (Delta State) father and a Yoruba (Ilorin) mother on 24 December 1940, Alabi-Isama attended Ibadan Boys High School. He thereafter joined the Army, in 1960, and trained at the Mons Officers’ Cadet School in the United Kingdom and the Senior Tactics School and Staff College in Quella, Pakistan.
Before the civil war, he served as tactics instructor at the Nigerian Military School Zaria and Nigerian Military Training College (now Nigerian Defence Academy), Kaduna.
When the war broke out, he was the commander of the troops that kept watch over the Niger Bridge at Asaba, from where the Army Headquarters catapulted him to the 3rd Marina Commando, 3MCDO, Calabar war front.
It was there that the combatant in Alabi-Isama manifested. It was as if he read his Carl von Clausewitz’s ‘On War’ from cover to cover. In conformity to the German/Prussian military theorist’s position that war “is an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will and…it is the continuation of policy by other means,” Alabi-Isama contributed his best to the federal government’s quest to “Go-On-With-One Nigeria” – GOWON. In other words, he led forces against the break-away Biafran Republic, liberating Odukpani, Ikot-Okpora, Iwuru, Akunakuna, Itigidi, Ediba, Ugep, Obubra, Afikpo, Oban, Ekang, and, according to his new book, The Tragedy of Victory’, “closed” the international border against Biafra at Nssakpa. In “April 1968, he led his 3MCDO men out to reclaim Creek Town, Itu, Uyo, Ikot-Ekpene, Oron, Eket, Opobo, Abak, Etinan, Bori-Ogoni, Akwette, Afam, Aletu Ekene, Elelenwo, Okrika and Port-Hacourt, accomplishing the task the following month.
After the war, Alabi-Isama served as Principal General Staff Officer of the Nigerian Army and in 1973, the Acting Governor of Mid-Western Region who, according to his book, “received the first group of the National Youth Service Corps members”. After retiring from the Army in 1977 as a Brigadier-general, Alabi-Isama traveled to the United States, where he engaged in telecoms business.
On Monday 10 June 2013, TheNEWS’ Executive Editor Kunle Ajibade; Editor, Ademola Adegbamigbe, Associate Editor, Bamidele Johnson and Photo Journalist, Emmanuel Osodi, met Alabi-Isama in Ibadan, Oyo State capital. For three hours, he fielded questions at the Ring Road, Ibadan headquarters of Spectrum Books Limited, which is publishing his book.
That day, the retired brigadier-general spoke on his childhood, career in the Army, his exploits during the war and the controversial circumstances of his retirement. Above all, he punched holes in the civil war accounts rendered by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, the man who “received” the instrument of surrender from Biafra’s General Philip Effiong.
Expect the interview on Monday, 28 October
-Originally entitled “Diary Of Combatant”, this preface to cover interview was first published in TheNEWS hard copy in 2013