#BounceExclusive: We Must Learn From Our Past – Biafra War Survivor
Major Isaac Kolawole (Rtd) was a platoon sergeant who led at the forefront of the Biafran war and fought gallantly during the battle to reclaim Benin, Auchi and Ore for Nigeria.
Now 70 years old and quietly enjoying his retirement, Isaac considers seeing this age a great privilege and sees himself as one of the luckiest men on earth.
When he joined the Nigerian Army in 1967, he did not see the war coming. Things started like mere agitation, almost similar to what Nigeria is currently witnessing from the likes of IPOB and MASSOB.
Imagine telling your mother just after finishing your training as a young soldier that you would be heading to war. It was all sorrow, regret, tears and more tears.
“Just immediately after I completed my training and joined the army, war broke out between the federal government and the Biafran troops.
“It is an ugly story but I thank God that I have the grace to tell that story today. Many of my colleagues were not as lucky,” he said.
With an emotion-laden voice, he recalled the fierce battle to reclaim Benin which had been taken by the Biafran troops with then Governor of the Mid-West, Samuel Ogbemudia already overthrown.
“We left Ibadan with full complement of the infantry battalion straight to the battle field. My unit moved from Ibadan through Ile-Ife with no shot fired but we almost got to Ore when we discovered that Biafran troops had already taken Benin and were advancing towards Lagos.
“We used the same tactics, same trainings, same orientation and same weapons. So, it was a bit difficult to uproot them from Auchi but at last we did,” he recalled.
The memory of fighting against men who were supposed to be their colleagues still lingers in his mind. He remembers the pathetic sight of ill-trained child soldiers who were only thought how to “aim and shoot”.
“The orientation they received was just to be very stubborn and ruthless. Even when their weapons got faulty, they didn’t know what to do, they ran away,” he said, still wondering why such evil idea was sold to those children.
Meeting With Death
Isaac came face to face with death after the recapture of Benin when they were unexpectedly attacked. He lost many friends. He got shot too, the bullet ripped through his left thigh, and he had only God to look to for help.
“Immediately after Ogwashi-Ukwu, on a quiet morning while regrouping in the harbor, we were attacked. It was a horrible battle with heavy casualty on both sides.
“I was a platoon sergeant and I controlled the frontline with the platoon commander. Unfortunately, I was fired but luckily, I was recovered and taken back to Benin.
“From the Benin hospital, I was referred to the military hospital because it was a very serious gunshot on my left thigh. It was a narrow escape for me.
“Each time I remember, I just continue to thank God because not many people were as lucky as I was at that time,” he says.
He recalled how much destruction fell on the country; thousands of lives that were lost, the destruction of facilities; road and ridges, schools, hospitals, commercial banks and many more.
To him, Nigeria has not completely recovered from the civil war.
Fast-forward to the present Nigeria and the ongoing agitation for Biafra among a section of southeasterners, Isaac wonders why the elders who saw the damage done by the civil war from 1967 – 70 are watching.
He believes that the Biafra agitation is being fuelled by politicians who are simply using ignorant youths to achieve selfish interests while their own children are kept safe.
“The youths agitating for Biafra today should ask their fathers what they gained from the Biafra war after fighting for three years.
“General Gowon was magnanimous enough to declare the war ended with ‘no victor and no vanquished’ but we all know there were victors and there were vanquished.
“These youths don’t know but the big politicians are just using them. They are capitalizing on the lack of trust that has engulf us as a nation since the end of that war civil war.
“That trust is not there anymore. We believe that the brothers from southeast are still against the reality of our political situation.
“But we need to put that behind us in order for this ongoing Biafra agitation not to degenerate into another damaging experience as it did from 1967 to 70. We must learn from our past,” he warned.
Isaac Kolawole rose through the ranks, leading several missions locally and internationally until he retired meritoriously from the Nigerian Army in 1999 with a grateful heart.
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