By Emeka Obasi
We must learn to keep records in a country where history sounds like taboo in the minds of the younger generation. There is this photograph that may be used in future to distort the books of the Nigeria Army. It is a group gathering of about 30 officers with the British head of the military.
Conspicuously missing is the quartet of Major Babafemi Olatunde Ogundipe, Captains Kuru Mohammed, Francis Adekunle Fajuyi and Victor Adebukonola Banjo. They were not ordinary soldiers that should be forgotten or dismissed with a wave of the hand having done the country proud.
Ogundipe, joined the Army in 1943 as a Private. He saw action during the second World War in Burma and India respectively, and was commissioned as a Lieutenant in 1953.Officer cadet training was in Chester, England. His number remains N.6. That means officers like Wellington Duke Bassey, Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi, Samuel Adesujo Ademulegun and Raphael Adetunji Shodeinde were commissioned before him.
History has been unfair to this brave man who as first Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters could not take charge following the assassination of Aguiyi-Ironsi in July 1966. A Northern NCO, possibly Paul Dickson, refused to take orders from him. As a Brigadier, he was not in
command of any troops.
Ogundipe did the right thing by escaping to the United Kingdom where he became High Commissioner until death in 1971. He did not want to serve under Lt. Col. Yakubu Chinwa Gowon who was a subordinate officer. The mutinous troops were going to kill him if he did not flee. They had murdered Ironsi and Fajuyi.
Kuru Mohammed enlisted in 1952. Two years later he became an officer. That was also the year Conrad Chukwujimje Dibia Nwawo was commissioned. So he was senior to Gowon who joined on July 28, 1954, and was commissioned Second Lieutenant in December I956, alongside Alexander Atta Madiebo, Arthur Chinyelu Unegbe, Patrick Anwunah and Michael
Fajuyi, like Ogundipe, enlisted as a private in 1943. Like Kuru Mohammed, he was commissioned in 1954. At the Officers Cadet School, Chester, he emerged as the first Nigerian under-officer. By 1955, Fajuyi was part of the British forces on the Rhine, Germany. The officer also saw action with the United Nations in the Congo, and received the Military Cross for bravery. When the group photograph was taken in 1959, Fajuyi was a captain.
Banjo became a soldier in 1953. From the rank Warrant Officer, he rose to Lieutenant in July 1956. The young man also picked some good education to become the head of Nigeria Army Electrical and Mechanical Engineers ( NAEME ). The engineer was commissioned same time as David Akpode Ejoor. While the former is N16, the later is N17.
Banjo and Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu were friends. The Ikemba was a graduate when he enlisted in 1957 and caught up easily with other officers. That friendship ended when Banjo was shot in Biafra on allegations of plotting against his buddy. Also executed were Emmanuel Arinze Ifeajuna, Philip Alale, Ojukwu’s in-law whose wife, Julie, later became Madam Rangers, and Sam Agbam.
The Banjo family is so informed that the Nigeria Army should not allow distortion to stand. His elder sister, Adetoun Ogunseye was the country’s first female professor. His younger brother, Adesegun, is our first PhD holder in Ultra structure and Microscopy. The younger Banjos are also well versed in military tradition.
Some other officers who did not appear in the picture include Okwechime,Gabriel Okonweze,Rudolf Trimnell, Michael Ivenso, Festus Akagha, Chukwuma Nzeogwu, Alphonso Animam Keshi, Emmanuel Folusho Sotomi, Louis Chude Sokei, Albert Nwazu Okonkwo, Olufemi Olutoye and Israel Okoro.
Another blunder is adding the name of Joseph Roland Ityowua Akahan in the photograph. At the time that photograph was taken in June 1959, he was at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. Akahan was commissioned on July 23, 1960 with the number N98. It was therefore impossible for him to be among the first 30 Army officers commissioned in Nigeria.
The photograph was taken after Maj. Gen. Norman Foster had taken over from Keneth Exham as Army Chief. It also tells of the rot that became the Nigeria Army under Gowon. Ejoor was four years ahead of Akahan yet the latter was made head of the Army. After he died in a chopper crash, the position went to Iliya Bisalla of Sandhurst Intake 27 that graduated in 1961. After him came Hassan Usman Katsina, a man who left Sandhurst in 1958.
Gowon was junior to Philip Effiong, George Kurubo, Adeyinka Adebayo, Nwawo, Bassey and Ogere Imo. Ojukwu was below all these officers too. And both young officers were in charge when the nation went to war.
The first Nigerian commissioned officer was Lt. Louis Victor Ugboma, 1948. Bassey who wore both N.1 and WA.1,followed on April 30, 1949. The duo of Ironsi and Ademulegun emerged on June 12, 1949. However, Zakariya Abubakar Hassan Maimalari, was the First Sandhurst trained officer. Member of Intake 10, with King Hassan of Morocco,Charles Buah of Ghana and compatriot Umaru Lawal, he was commissioned in 1953.
If Ojukwu was the first to join the Army as a university graduate and the first Quarter Master General, Anthony Okoro Eze was the first Signals officer. Okwechime was the first to head Nigeria Army Engineers (NAE). Madiebo, the first Sandhurst trained Artillery officer. Gowon, first Adjutant General. Ironsi, first GOC. Sylvanus Nwajei, first head of Supply and Transport (SandT).
Perhaps not many remember that Tanimose Abioye Bankole Oki,the lawyer, was in the army as N.107. Kurubo ended up in the Airforce. Abdulsalmi Abubakar joined the army from the Airforce.