Will Ojukwu Ever Be Forgiven In Ijebu?

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I was in Ijebu over the weekend so I decided to step out to get something to eat at a local restaurant, I saw some men discussing about how Ojukwu was one of those that obstructed the progress of Ijebu, I asked how and they took their time to narrate the death of Lieutenant Colonel Victor Banjo which was ordered by Ojukwu and it was said that if he (Col. Victor Banjo) is alive then he will be one of those that would have brought civilization to Ijebu land. I decided to look well into the matter and I realised there are two sides to the story. I will be sharing the one I got from Ijebu today and the other side probably before the end of the week.

Victor Banjo was a Colonel in the Nigerian Army. He fought in the Biafran Army during the Nigerian Civil War. He was executed by firing squad by the regime of Col. Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, on trumped up charges of planning a coup against the government of Biafra, on September 22nd, 1967.

When the brouhaha began between Ojukwu and Gowon over secession question, Ojukwu urged Banjo to join his government. At that time the Nigerian crisis was mainly between the Ibos and the Hausas. The Ibos had accused the Hausas of carrying out genocide on their people in Northern Nigeria.

The Hausas claimed the 1966 coup was an Igbo coup targeted at killing their Sardauna and other key Hausa leaders. The country was boiling, killings were being carried out every day in every part of the country. The ibos felt vulnerable and were returning in droves to the East. Ojukwu was playing with the idea of secession. Banjo advised he delayed announcing it. Ojukwu announced the secession of the nation of Biafra on the 30th May, 1967, Civil War broke fourth in Nigeria.

The mid-West, now delta and Edo State, at first took a middle position as far as the crisis was concerned. Ojukwu sent Victor Banjo and an army of soldiers to take over the mid-West.

The mid-West fell to Biafran soldiers in August 1967. It was a major military tactical move that many have credited to the intelligence of Banjo. Not a bullet was shot to take over Benin and its environs. But on getting to Benin, things fell apart between Banjo and Ojukwu. The plan had been that 24 hours after taking Benin, the Biafran soldiers were to be en route to Lagos and Ibadan to take over those cities. In another account by Victor Banjo’s elder sister, she said that Banjo invaded the mid-west at his own initiative, leading a liberation army. The neatness of the invasion and take-over took everyone by surprise. But Banjo may have made the mistake of announcing his presence in Benin by making a broadcast to the Western people, asking them to prepare to receive the liberation army.

This action jolted Gowon from sleep but incensed Ojukwu. Ojukwu recalled Banjo to Enugu and placed him on house arrest. Banjo was so popular with the troops in Benin that Ojukwu had to trick him back to Enugu. Subsequently the invasion of the mid-West began to suffer disorder and Ojukwu was forced to return Banjo to command the Benin front.

On the side of the west, there was mixed reaction in the minds of Yoruba people when the news of the Biafran take over of the mid-West reached them. On one hand, they saw the Biafran brigade led by a Yoruba, as a liberation army and they looked forward to their coming.

But as news of the atrocities being wrought on the non-igbo of the mid-West by the Biafran army reached the west, the Yoruba’s became less convinced that the igbo were really coming to liberate them from the shackles of colonizers – the Hausas. Banjo’s sister wrote of how he called her requesting to know the feeling in town. Fact is that the Yoruba elders of that time were not decided and Awolowo as number two man to Gowon made matters more difficult. Soyinka wrote of how he drove around Ibadan trying to convince Obasanjo to permit Banjo a smooth sail through Ibadan into Lagos. Obasanjo, the head of the military in Ibadan, would have none of it. Banjo could have rolled into Ibadan successfully but he would not invade Ibadan without the cooperation of his people. His sister reminded him of Afonja and the Ilorin Emirate and he said he remembered. He would eventually be felled as another Afonja of the 20th century.

Banjo had also reached an agreement with Ojukwu to take over the government of Gowon and allow the Easterners to go their way, with a possible secession of the North too but Ojukwu had reneged on an agreement he had with Banjo not to sack the government of the mid-West. The mid-West was meant to be a passage through and not a destination.

The two of them argued this matter for days on the phone in Benin, giving the Nigerian government sufficient time to recover from the take-over of the mid-West. Murtala Mohammed was sent by Gowon to recover the mid-West and invade Biafra itself. The Nigerian Army Successfully pushed their Biafran counterparts out of the mid-West. This was the period the famous “Ogun Ore Olekun” occurred. The Biafran army blew up a part of the Niger bridge, therefore impeding the Nigerian army’s surge into Onitsha.

Ojukwu welcomed his defeated army back to Enugu with open arms. He had mended fences with Banjo and had promised him a greater task ahead. But in a few days, trumped up charges of a coup were levied against Banjo. Banjo had made Ifeanyi Ifeajuna his Chief of Staff, Ifeajuna had acted as a go between Banjo and Ojukwu at Benin. However, the charges of plotting to overthrow the government of Biafra was levied against Brigadier Victor Banjo, Lt. Col. Emmanuel Ifeajuna, Major Philip Alale and Mr. Samuel Agbam. At their court martial, it was Brigadier Victor Banjo that stood as counsel for himself and the three others.

Banjo state reasons for his actions but the highest authorities of the Biafran government did not believe his story. The officers hearing the court martial of these four officers found them guilty of plotting to overthrow the government pf Biafra which Ojukwu headed.

They were sentenced to death. It was said that all four men walked to the site of their death with head high. Banjo, without his glasses, stood erect as he was tied to the poles. Their executors took position and opened fire on them. After the first round of fire, all three men were dead except Banjo, he let out a cry “I’m not dead yet…I’m not dead yet…” This time all executors directed their rifles at Banjo alone. After the second round of shots, Banjo is still screaming defiantly: “I’m not dead yet…” However, the third rounds of shots silenced him.

At the end Biafra lost the war because it was ill-prepared and because one man, Ojukwu, was chasing a pipe dream, if only he had taken Banjo’s advice maybe they would have won the war.

Banjo sacrificed for his people and even after Ojukwu’s death they still find it hard to forget his role in Victor Banjo’s death……S££ MOR£

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