year of fraternizing among boxing aficionados amid the convivial setting of the
Dick Collins Hall in North West London. Chas Taylor’s Annual Boxing Memorabilia
Fayre run for more than a decade and a half now, brought out boxing figures
such as John H. Stracey, Britain’s former world welterweight champion; Sylvester
Mittee, former British Commonwealth welterweight champion; Winston Spencer, former British Southern Area champion at lightweight and welterweight divisions and Rocky Kelly, former British
Southern Area welterweight champion.
Book I purchased on the tragic Freddie
And another; the autobiography of Henry
Cooper, Britain’s much loved heavyweight
Nice photo of a young Smokin Joe
Frazier which I purchased from Chas
With the man who makes it all possible,
Adekunle as a colonel during the Nigerian Civil War (PHOTO: Getty Images)
Brigadier Benjamin Adekunle,
the 'Black Scorpion' of Nigerian Civil War fame was a man of great complexity
and as a military leader he generated fierce, polarized controversy among both
his federal army colleagues and the Biafran opposition which included the
European mercenaries who came up against him in the battles which raged among
the creeks and mangrove forests of the southern Nigerian terrain with his Third
Marine Commando Division.
He provided a lot of ‘copy’
for the foreign journalists who covered the conflict which officially endured
from July of 1967 to January 1970, but which was an extension of the concatenation
of violence which had racked the former British colony in 1966. Two army
mutinies and a succession of pogroms against mainly members of the Igbo ethnic
group led to the declaration of an independent state of Biafra by Colonel
Adekunle was the commander of
a Garrison at the time of the onset of the troubles.
Born in the largely Muslim
northern Nigerian city of Kaduna to a bi-ethnic marriage –his father, Thomas
Adekunle was a Christian from the Yoruba Western Region while his mother,
Theodora, also a Christian, was from the northern Bachama group –the 22-year-old
Benjamin Adekunle enlisted into the colonial administered Nigerian Army in
1958. He was trained in England at
Mons Officer Cadet School and at the prestigious Royal Military Academy,
Sandhurst and after graduating was commissioned as a second lieutenant.
His early army career included
stints in the troubled central African republic of the Congo where as part of a
United Nations peace-keeping mission, he served as a platoon commander in the
Queen’s Own Nigeria Regiment. In 1962, he served as the aide-de-camp to Sir
Francis Akanu-Ibiam, the governor of the Eastern Region.
Back in the Congo in 1963, and
newly promoted to the rank of captain, he was appointed as the staff captain of
the Nigerian Brigade Headquarters.
He returned home where he was posted
to Army Headquarters to serve briefly as Adjutant General until his appointment
on the eve of war at the Lagos Garrison.
The expansion of what was a
small garrison of troops into two battalions to form the Third Infantry
Division under Adekunle’s command, was due to the prevailing
political circumstances of the day.
The fractures in the Nigerian
Army had occurred along ethnic lines; this, the result of a wider rivalry between
the Hausa and Igbo tribes. As events shaped into a confrontation between the
Igbo-dominated Eastern Region and the rest of the federation, it was felt
necessary to establish a larger presence of the Yoruba group in the army, an
institution within which they were underrepresented.
The great level of personal
drive and single-mindedness that were his signature traits played a significant
part in the successful exploits during the war of this military group which
would later be dubbed the ‘Third Marine Commando.’
But first he effectively built
up the division from scratch by actively involving himself in the recruitment
of a largely Yoruba pool of infantrymen from a range of civilian backgrounds:
tradesmen, students, street thugs and even former prisoners.
It was this division which was
charged with the seaborne assault of the town of Bonny in July of 1967; a
strategic necessity in the overall federal objective of encircling Biafra.
The significance of this
operation cannot be underestimated. As the Nigerian political scientist, B.J.
Dudley wrote in his book Instability and
Political Order: Politics and Crisis in Nigeria (1974):
After Nsukka, the only other
notable success of the federal troops in July was the capture, on the 26th,
of the oil terminal in Bonny in an amphibious landing which was described as
“brilliantly planned and executed” and the first of its kind ever to be
attempted by African troops. The fall of Bonny to federal forces commanded by
Lt. Col. Benjamin Adekunle was important. It not only gave the Federal
Government control of the main river leading to Port Harcourt, but it also
deprived the rebels of one of their principal counters in any bargaining with
the oil companies that they might have envisaged.
Adekunle proved himself to be
a talented and quick-thinking battle commander who combined imaginative
planning with a boldness of execution.
The success at Bonny was
repeated three months later with the capture of the city of Calabar. The
liberation of the whole of the south eastern area was completed by April of the
following year and in May of 1968, the fall of Port Harcourt, a coastal city in
the delta area effectively cut Biafra from any access to the Atlantic
Adekunle’s management of the
war was accompanied by much commentary in the media. His conduct as head of
Three Marine Commando typified the belief held by those covering the war that
the divisional commanders wielded absolute power and authority in their
prosecution of the war; much to the extent that the man who was nominally their
supreme commander, General Yakubu Gowon had enormous difficulty in controlling
The extent of such autonomy
was illustrated by the fact that each division had its own international arms
buying representative. Adekunle himself was consistent in his quest to secure the
best in terms of materiale for his troops; tenaciously overseeing acquisition
and payment to the minutest detail.
His commitment to the welfare
of the men under his command was also matched by an almost tyrannical form of
leadership. He inspired both fear and respect from his troops.
His detractors have
continually alleged that Adekunle bore responsibility for the commission of war
crimes and point to his now notorious comments to a Dutch correspondent in 1968
as evidence that he sanctioned indiscriminate killing and genocide:
I don’t want to see no Red
Cross, No Caritas Aid, no World Council of Churches, no pope, no missionary and
no United Nations delegation. I want to prevent even one Ibo from having even
one piece to eat before their capitulation. We shoot at everything; even at
things that don’t move.
They were words which were
redolent of the harsh invective frequently employed by military leaders such as
U.S. Admiral William ‘Bull’ Halsey’s famous wartime exhortation to “Kill Japs,
kill Japs, kill more Japs. You will help to kill the yellow bastards if you do
your job well.”
They were also suggestive of a
mean-spirited relish at the brutal subjugation of an enemy on its knees as was Air
Force General Curtis LeMay’s recollection of having “scorched and boiled and
baked to death more people in Tokyo on that night of March 9-10 (1945) than
went up in vapor at Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined.”
Yet, there is much evidence
that Adekunle acted humanely and with gallantness when dealing with the
populaces of the territories that he had conquered as well as with the
treatment of Biafran prisoners of war.
Markets, hospitals and schools
were re-opened and orphans taken into care. And the fate of many captured
Biafran soldiers was not that of the firing squad or the kerosene-drenched pit
but absorption into the ranks of Three Marine Commando.
After he had secured the
southern and eastern borders of the secessionist state, his division began
moving into the Igbo heartland with the capture of the cities of Aba and
His battle-field successes
accompanied by his media relations management turned him into something
approaching a national hero. Both man and exploits became mythologized.
feisty character which accommodated much in the manner of braggadocios
statements and other ill-considered comments before the international press did
not bode well for his future.
A remark to a foreign
correspondent about how he expected one day to fill the mantle of (supreme)
army commander alerted Gowon, whose tenure at the top was consistently
threatened by his rivalry with another divisional commander Colonel Murtala
Muhammad, to the possibility that the mercurial Adekunle, who as leader of
Three Marine Commando controlled a great swathe of Nigerian territory might
attempt to overthrow him.
This, along with the general
difficulty Gowon had in keeping his main commanders in order, were the underlying
reasons why on May 12th 1969 he removed Adekunle and Colonels Ibrahim
Haruna and Mohammed Shuwa from their command posts. The re-capture of Aba by
Biafran forces was ostensibly part of the reason for his redeployment.
However, it is likely that
Adekunle was the main target and that the two others were sacrificed so as not
to make it appear to be a tribally motivated act against a soldier who was
enjoying an unprecedented level of popularity among his Yoruba kith and kin.
Gowon replaced him with
another officer of Yoruba origin, Colonel Olusegun Obasanjo, a future Nigerian
ruler as military head of state and civilian president. It was Obasanjo who accepted
the instrument of surrender from Colonel Phillip Effiong, the soldier who
succeeded Ojukwu as Biafran head of state after Ojukwu fled into exile, in
January of 1970.
Adekunle’s division had been
responsible for the capture of an estimated 70% of Biafran territory and had he
remained in his post would almost certainly have overseen its eventual
capitulation. It was a blow from which many insist he never recovered.
In 1972, Adekunle was promoted
to the rank of Brigadier. His problem-solving skills were put to good use by
the military regime who appointed him as the administrative czar tasked with
relieving Lagos port of appalling levels of congestion; a mission at which,
according to John de St. Jorre, he was “immensely successful”.
He nonetheless continued to
have problems in the army where he was impeded, Adekunle claimed, by “rivals”.
This alluded to a group of officers who laid the basis for the future
domination of the higher echelons of the Nigerian Army by those of northern
In any case, his penchant for stepping
on toes and according to a declassified U.S. State Department dispatch from
1976, his tendency to “excesses that have turned many against him” led to his
compulsory retirement from the army in 1974.
Adekunle’s name had been
mentioned in the London trial of a Nigerian society woman, Iyabo Olorunkoya,
who had been tried and convicted for smuggling marijuana into the United
Adekunle, who had been
suspended prior to his retirement, claimed that he had been set up and not
given a fair hearing by the army authorities who were influenced by an
“Adekunle must go” campaign orchestrated by his rivals in the service.
In later years, he privately
admitted to a journalist that he had been involved in a plot to overthrow the
government of General Gowon. This claim has not been corroborated.
However, it is accurate enough
to state that rumours of anti-Gowon coup conspiracies involving Adekunle were
common at the time and the ‘Iyabo Scandal’ provided an effective route by which
his enemies could effect his downfall.
Adekunle drifted from the
spotlight, only coming into public view when the ever thorny subject of the
Nigerian Civil War was debated in the national media.
He did continue to maintain
high-level contacts in the military regime which succeeded Gowon. In February
of 1976, he appears to have played a part in negotiating the sale of jet
aircraft, military equipment and also massive quantities of food to the MPLA
faction in Angola.
But as time went on, his
contacts within successive civilian and military administrations diminished. He
did not enter the political arena and was not appointed to any prominent public
position, instead he lived quietly dividing his time between homes in the
Surulere district of Lagos and in his hometown, the northern Yoruba city of
Many continue to vehemently insist
that he was a “hater” of the Igbos. An interview conducted by Randolph Baumann for
the German Stern magazine which was
published in August of 1968 put his infamous wartime comments into context:
I don’t dislike Igbos. But I
learnt one word from the British and that is “sorry.” I did not want this war.
I did not start this war-Ojukwu did. But I want to win this war. So I must kill
To the best of anyone’s
recollections, Adekunle had not betrayed any hint of an antipathy towards
Igbos. In fact he put himself in danger when during the brutal purges of Igbo
soldiers by their Hausa counterparts in the counter-coup of July 1966 he
promised safe passage to a group of Igbo army officers.
An ambush had already been set
for these unfortunates, several of whom were eventually murdered, and the then
Major Adekunle was himself saved only by the intervention of a northern
officer, Captain Gibson Jalo.
Ever candid and forthright in
his views, Adekunle surveying the contemporary circumstances of a perpetually
dysfunctional and corrupt state, and doubtless ruing the manner in which he had
been continually marginalised during and after his army career, opined that he
regretted fighting to keep Nigeria together as one nation:
Personally, now and for some time,
I feel so ashamed to have killed people to sustain the unity of Nigeria. I feel
so sad to have shed blood for the unity of Nigeria. While some of us were dying
in the battlefield for the restoration of one country, some people have their
eagle eyes on one particular subject: oil; the livewire of the economy; the new
fulcrum or pendulum of power. While we fought for one country, some people have
been reaping where they did not sow. They have been reaping from bogus
population figures fashioned to suit their selfish purposes.
This thinly veiled attack on
northern Muslim domination, albeit vastly reduced since the return to civilian
rule in 1999, did not win him many friends. Not from the north and certainly
not from many Igbos who like the late Chinua Achebe, whose reminiscences in the
civil war memoir published shortly before his death, remain hardened in their
views on the man.
It was typical Adekunle, although
whether representing a final, settled view on the matter of Nigerian unity is
debatable. He was from all accounts as ever the provocative, cynical and
impulsive man in his later years as he had been as a young man.
At Sandhurst where he admitted
to making only one close friendship among the three hundred cadets during his
two year stay, his debates with the officer-instructor of the political science
module; based on Adekunle’s objections at what he felt was the over
glorification of Western culture and the denigration of Africa, were considered
acts of insubordination.
They led to him receiving
sixty four days of restrictions with hard labour, a punishment record he
continued to believe for second year cadets.
Adekunle was on many occasions
theepitome of cheekiness and effrontery. When after the first
military mutiny, the Nigerian ruler, Major General Aguiyi-Ironsi who had been
targeted by the mutineers had called him to his office to enquire whether he
had been among the plotters, Adekunle had replied: “Sir, if I were part of the
coup, you would not be seating where you are seated now, because I don’t like
While on a visit to Nigeria in
March of 1969, Prime Minister Harold Wilson made a request to visit Adekunle at
his headquarters in Port Harcourt, and true to form, the ‘Black Scorpion’ took
the opportunity to reproach Wilson for not having sent British troops to the
then Rhodesia to crush the rebellious government of Ian Smith.
His cynical and biting wit was
often on display. Adorning the walls of the offices which he inhabited during
the war years was a quotation from Dante’s Inferno: “Abandon hope all ye who
His hard-as-nails demeanour
was broken only a few times. He once offered the revelation of having cried for
the last time in his life at the funeral of a young officer who he had been
mentoring in his division during the civil war.
The young man had been buried
in a coffin which up until his death had accompanied Adekunle while executing
his duties on the frontlines; it being earmarked for his own use in the event
of his demise.
But aside from the complex and
eccentrical behaviour of the man was the soldier. The memoirs of many of his
colleagues, even those who did not claim any fondness for him, acknowledged his
vast level of competence as a battlefield commander and his rightful mantle as
the best army leader during the civil war.
His opponents said no less.
Rolf Steiner, the German
mercenary who commanded the Fourth Commando Brigade of the rebel army, admired
his “quick mind” and wished that he could have faced him at the helm of equally
matched armies, while Ojukwu himself paid him the ultimate compliment when
stating that he wished that he had "an Adekunle” on the Biafran side.
Adekunle died on September 13th 2014. He was born on 26th
June in 1936. He was married to Folake Adekunle by whom he is survived along
with their children.
(c) Adeyinka Makinde (2014)
Adeyinka Makinde is a
London-based writer and law lecturer with a research interest in intelligence and
is obviously the case that when one weaves an argument, particularly in areas
shrouded in emotion and controversy, that one will face criticism.
expressed in my essays and interviews are widely disseminated on the World Wide
Web and one cannot police every website or message-board at which an essay or
article of mine is reproduced.
should be said that the overwhelming majority of such re-posts on websites or
links supplied by posters on social media sites such as facebook and twitter
are done by sympathetic organisations and persons.
if a disagreeing party wishes to supply a critique then all is well so long as
it is based on logic and not on an inflexible political mind-set or on tribal,
racial or religious sentiment as a lot of views tend to be predicated upon
whatever the protests of many protagonists.
someone posted a reproduction of a report by the Russian news agency, RIA
Novosti about my recent interview on the Voice of Russia radio international
regarding my views of the Ukrainian crisis, onto a Nigerian message-board.
different poster then followed by posting a link wondering if 'Adeyinka Makinde
is one of those opinions-for-hire - a modern version what Lenin called
term, coined, it is said by Vladimir Lenin - although the precise evidence
justifying this is lacking- is used to denigrate those who supposedly
propagandize someone or something without being cognizant of the full
objectives of the person, cause or ideology.
will re-produce the poster's comment later and my riposte further down but
first things first.
person who is corpus mentis and who has read my essays on the Ukrainian crisis,
NATO policy in the Middle East and on Israel-Palestine will be aware of the
factual justifications which I outline.
approach is based on an objective collection of historical and contemporary
data which is then synthesized into an argument.
facts and the arguments I put forward are clearly not proselytizing any form of
ideology or validating, in this case, every action and policy undertaken by
I have noted, for instance, that there are indications that he
has amassed a large fortune inconsistent with his presidential salary. I have
also written about suspicions of his government's perpetrating a false-flag
atrocity in order to prosecute a brutal war in Chechnya.
contemporary Russia, the rule of law continues to be severely challenged,while the gangsterism which had its
underpinnings in the Soviet system and came to full-blown glare in the wild and
reckless years of the Yeltsin era continues to undermine the evolution of a
genuinely civil society.
is one therefore compelled to assent to the reckless, aggressive actions by the
US-NATO alliance -directed by neo-con agitators such as Senator John McCain and
Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland- to which ANY sane and competent
leader of the Russian state would react?
critics of those who rationalise Putin's reactions in regard to these specific
matters themselves betray their own psychological hang ups as well as their
not least, they often betray a certain amount of pre-existing anti-Russian
have been duped by the incessant anti-Putin propaganda that has been the
standard fare of much of the Western press for some years now. They are swayed
by tribal-nationalist attitudes and motivated by anti-Russian sentiment held
particularly by those who were under the domination of the old Soviet Union.
Also, their blanket disdain for Putin's reactions is ideological: a resentment
of Russia based on its role as the standard bearer -China notwithstanding- of
thread of thinking bubbling in my mind is that a lot of anti-Russian sentiment,
understandable to a degree because of Tsarist and then Soviet dominance of
their nations, is that the resentful 'tribes' and nationalities in central and
eastern Europe, never got to exact revenge against Russians in the manner that
they did against German populations after the Second World War.
irony is that those who blame Russia and Russians to this day for 'inflicting'
communism on their nations may be the first to object to those who spin the
thesis that Jews were the overwhelming force behind the political leadership of
early communism and the barbarities perpetrated against what they term
"Orthodox Christian Slavic" communities by the state security and
gulag system of the Bolsheviks.
fact, many of these eastern European and Baltic states were complicit in the
Nazi persecution of the Jews precisely because of such identification. This
includes the sort of people the US-NATO have put in power in Kiev.
were pogromized, ethnically cleansed and raped on masse; the fate of the
Sudetan Germans being one example. The Red Army itself perpetrated the mass
rape of millions of German females as it conquered German territory from the
Eastern parts of the Nazi state.
any sane, rational and objective person can fault Putin for his actions over
Crimea after the US sponsored a coup which put into power a government composed
of neo-Nazis and ultra-nationalists is truly beyond me.
any sane, rational and objective person can fault Putin for his draconian acts
against certain oligarchs and actually venerate criminals such as Mikhail
Khodorkovsky as pro-democracy 'victims' of a dictator after the likes of
Khodorkhovsky LOOTED Russia in the post-Cold War era with the aid of
businessmen and academics from the US and other parts of the West is also
empathy, rationalization as well as an objective and pragmatic approach to
specific issues ought to be the order of the day.
to Putin in the West is simply down to Russian resistance to attempts to
destabilize and balkanize it; make it more pliant to the military and economic
supremacy of the United States.
Anglo-American world fears the rise of an independent set of powers in Eurasia
which would end its lengthy global domination. It is as simple as that.
have tried to sign into the website but it has such an inefficient mechanism
and terrible administrative support that I have been unable to post this reply
which I prepared a few weeks ago.
would be interesting to find out just who "Cammy White 1878" is.
intended response (I had wanted to sign up, tongue-in-cheek, as 'Nikolai Vatutin', a
World War 2 Soviet generalassassinated
by Ukrainian partisans):
that the EU might do to Ukraine can ever exceed the horror of the Soviet era.”
is the logic of this entry?
Russia of today is not the Russia of the Stalinist period or the Russia of the
the contrary, the economic deal between Ukraine and Russia allows for a range
of state subsidies; most importantly in the area of gas. Removing this will
make the cost of gas double or even quadruple. And Ukraine has been a deadbeat
so far as paying its dues to Russia is concerned.
austerity would lead to a cut in pensions, a cut in childcare, devaluation of
the currency and so on.
the result of an austerity program will lead to old people dying of
hypothermia, increases in the child mortality rate, less spending on education,
unemployment and so on, what good will all of that do?