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Last Friday was a sad day for many Nigerians from the old Eastern Region as the news of the death of foremost Biafran nationalist, Army Chief, and author, Alexander Madiebo became public knowledge.
For those who knew the nonagenarian and what he represented, the news came as a rude shock but sadly, that is what life is all about, we won’t stay here forever.
Madiebo was born in 1932 in his hometown Awka, the present-day capital of Anambra State. As a young ambitious lad, he attended the Federal Government college Umuahia, Regular Officers Training College, Ghana, and the prestigious Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, England. His experiences in these places not only helped to shape his mind, it also built him up as a person for the roles he would later play in life.
Following his education abroad, Madiebo returned to Nigeria in December 1956 along with Yakubu Gowon, Arthur Unegbe, Mike Okwechime and Patrick Anwunah, where they were all commissioned as officers of the Nigerian Army. Given their background and the strong character they managed to inculcate in themselves abroad, it was not unsurprising that distinguished themselves in the Nigerian army which earned them prompt promotion.
In 1966 when the first coup happened in January, Lt Colonel Madiebo was briefly imprisoned in Kaduna by Major Nzeogwu after he tried to dissuade Nzeogwu from taking some actions which could lead to further bloodshed. When the second coup of that year occurred on the 29th of July and Nothern Soldiers were looking for Igbo officers to kill, Madiebo managed to escape from Kaduna back to the East, hiding inside the water tank of a train.
Back in the East his fatherland, Madiebo was promoted to Brigadier General and given command of the 11th Brigade, Abakiliki a position he remained in till Biafra was declared by Odumegwu Ojukwu on the 30th of May 1967. A few months into the bloody war, Ojukwu promoted Madiebo to Major General and appointed him General Officer commanding the entire Biafran Army after he removed Major Njoku from the position.
Shortly after the end of the war in 1970, Madiebo went into exile just like Ojukwu. In 1980, he managed to return to Nigeria and went on to pen one of the greatest books of the war ‘The Nigerian Revolution And Biafran War’. This book today is a reference point for many authors who are interested in writing unbiased work on accounts of the civil war.
It is instructive to note that Madiebo put all his experiences in his diary; everything that happened while he served as battalion commander, the brigade commander, and later as Chief of Staff, of the Biafran Army with so much tact. Well, this didn’t come as a surprise to many because he attended Government College, Umuahia (GCU). GCU is an institution that gave the world such prolific writers as Chinua Achebe, Vincent Ike, and Kenule Saro-Wiwa. The school is also notable for producing Nigeria’s first indigenous Chief of Air Staff, George Kurubo, and Brigadier Anthony Eze, who is one of the prominent fighters on the Biafran side in the genocide which many people prefer to refer to as ‘civil war’ for political convenience.
During the war, despite the heavy odds stacked against the Biafran side who were clearly the underdogs, Madiebo did not give up! One of the things the Biafrans had going for them was their never say never attitude which saw them survive 30 months of heavy bombardment by forces supported by world powers including, UK, Russia, Germany, and many others. Throughout the duration of the war for Madiebo, to show frustration was treasonable. Suicide sounded like cowardice and the only way forward was to defend his fatherland. His ingenuity and intellect came to bear as Army Chief and this saw him often looking inwards and relying on Biafran engineers who came out with home made rifles, bombs, and even armoured cars to withstand the heavy onslaught against them.
It is true that many of us would have loved him to hang on with us a little longer while offering directions, we however take joy in the fact that he lived a life of service and accomplishment. His immense contributions to nation-building and the development of his immediate environment would remain strong reference points in patriotism and nationalism.
Today, we celebrate Madiebo, a man who put his life on the line in protecting his people when it mattered most. We will surely miss his wise counsel and exemplary life of service to his fatherland. Rest in Power great man!