Col. Conrad Nwawo, one of the greatest commanders in the Biafran war effort, from Onicha-Ugbo, Aniocha North LGA of Delta State, died on Saturday February 27, 2016. He was 84 years old.
As a Major in the Nigerian contingent of the UN peace-keeping mission to Congo in 1963, only he and the late Col. Adekunle Fajuyi who as Military Governor of the Western Region was murdered in the July 1966 counter coup, received the Military Cross decoration.
He came into public reckoning in the aftermath of the January 1966 coup when he returned to Nigeria from his post as Military Attaché at Nigeria’s High Commission in London, travelled to Kaduna and flew down to Lagos in the same aircraft with the late Major Patrick Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu. He had convinced Nzeogwu to abandon his plans to march down on Lagos.
When the Nigerian Civil War hostilities resumed in 1967, he commanded the Mid-Western Region troops, and so was accused of granting Biafran soldiers easy access in his region – from the bridge across the River Niger at Onitsha. When the Federal Forces rolled through the Mid-West, he fled into Biafra and began fighting on the secessionist side.
He Commanded 11 DIVISION of the Biafran Army before handing over to Colonel Joe Achuzia Joe (Air Raid) and later Brigadier Patrick Amadi before taking over the command of the 13 DIVISION from Brigadier Patrick Amadi.
But his toughest test came when he assumed the Command of the COMMANDO DIVISION – the brigade of last resort who was called in at the last moment to retrieve lost efforts and impossible cases or somebody put it, to pull out victors from the jaws of defeat.
He faced down Murtala Muhammed’s Second Division; he was at the Onitsha side and Murtala was at the Asaba side. So he commanded the troops that “peppered” the Nigerian side as they tried to cross the Niger into Onitsha.
He was also right there at Abagana when the Biafrans scored their unforgettable victory over Nigerian troops by destroying columns upon columns of Second Division’s supplies. After that Murtala simply returned to Lagos. His war efforts had ended.
Nwawo, as a Brigadier, was among the Biafran commanders who travelled to Lagos for the final talks that led to the formal surrender of Biafra and the end of hostilities. But while others walked home after the war Nwawo and few found guilty by a Board of Inquiry to evaluate the role of specific officers in the coup of Jan 15 1966 and the Midwest invasion of 1967 Gen. Yakubu Gowon instituted.
Most of these officers (from the Igbo part of the Mid West) were detained until October 1st 1974, when they were released in an Independence Day amnesty. They included: . Lt. Col. A. B. Nwajei , Major Albert Okonkwo (the Governor of the Republic of Benin), Major A. Asoya, Major Adewale Ademoyega (Jan 15 coup), Captain Ben Gbulie (Jan 15 coup),
Captain E. M. Udeaja, Captian G.N. Okonkwo, Captain J. N. Isichie, Lt. F.M. Okocha, Lt. F.O. Amuchienwa, Lt. B. A. O Oyewole, Lt. N.S. Nwokocha, Lt. G.B. Ikejiofor, Lt. G.G. Onyefuru, Lt. A.R.O Egbikor, Lt. A.N. Azubuogu, 2/Lt. C.G. Ngwuluka, Lt. J.C. Ojukwu, Lt. J.O. Ijeweze. All were dismissed (without benefits) except Ojukwu and Ijeweze who were retired.
Col. Achuzie, though not a former member of the Nigerian Army and so could not have been indicted under any law, was found guilty and jailed for “his sadistic behaviour during the war”. He was a civilian Electrical Engineer based in Port Harcourt before the war began. He spent seven years in prison. But he is said to have fought in the Korean War – as Africa’s first mercenary.