Read The Tragedy of Victory and think

Title: The Tragedy of Victory
Author: Gen. Godwin Alabi-Isama
Publishers: Spectrum Books, Ibadan
Year of Publication: 2013
Reviewer: Alfred Ilenre

The Tragedy of Victory is a book written by Brigadier General Alabi Isama, providing the inside knowledge and information about the separatist war in Nigeria from 1967- 1970

TragedyMany books have been published on both sides of the war, since the combatants laid down their weapons in 1970. Yet, non has provided vital information about the conception, execution and end of the Nigeria- Biafra war, backed by facts, evidences and witnesses, illustrated with photographs, maps and monuments like the Tragedy of Victory.

What made a great difference in Alabi- Isama’s book is his ability to provide new information backed with hard facts, by refusing to make use of the already over-worked and over-played press releases, resumes, newsletters, interviews, opinion and views produced by both the Nigerian federal government and the Biafran side, made popular by the Nigerian media. The book is the work of a man who is not only just scrupulous but meticulous to the minutest detail in rendering on – the – spot account of the Nigeria – Biafra war in the Atlantic theatre.

As one traverses the pages of the Tragedy of Victory, it becomes very clear that the military, in 1966, plunged head long into the Nigerian political crises of the immediate post – independence era, without realising the gravity nor the complexity of the issues involved. It soon discovered that ethnic bias, tribalism and sectional feelings were not exclusive to the political class; that the pervading societal vices were equally prevalent within the small but unique population of the Armed Forces.

Brigadier – General Alabi Isama was an officer at the 4th Area Command of the Nigeria Army in Benin City, the Midwest capital before the Nigeria – Biafra war broke out in July 1967. He had a stint in the Biafran Army during their two months, occupation of the Midwest from August 9, 1967, until he had an escape route to join the federal troops, taking all forms of dangerous risks:

After the liberation of the Midwest by the federal troops, he was summoned to Lagos by the then Head of State, General Yabubu Gowon, only to find himself at the Kirikiri prison. He was later released and posted to the newly established third Marine Commando Division (3MCDO) as the Chief of Staff under the Command of Col and later Brigadier Benjamin Adekunle. He remained at the war theatre throughout the three years duration of the war. Retired from the Nigerian Army in 1977, Alabi-Isama now lives in the United States of America as a communication consultant.

The Tragedy of Victory is compartmentalised into three parts. In part one, the author in a chronological order narrated the story of his early life. The only son of a mother in a polygamous inter-tribal marriage. His mother from Ilorin and his father from Ukwuani, an authentic ethnic minority tribe, linguistically related to the Igbo tribe and culturally linked to the Edo tribe. He decided to join the Nigerian Army at the age of 20, on leaving the high school against his mother’s wish.

The author tabled the records of his military trainings in Nigeria and overseas and his service in the Congo during that country’s national crisis of the early 1960s as a member of the United Nations peace keeping force.

Having a vast knowledge of Nigeria’s pre-and post independence political history, he touched on the contradictions in the Nigerian geo-political system; the beginning of the national political crises; the military coup of January 1966; the rumples within the Armed Forces, the vengeful counter coup of July 1966 that followed; the eventual blood bath and the pogrom against the Igbo race and other southerners in Northern Nigeria and the Igbo exodus to their original homeland in Eastern Region. The blood letting led to the break away of the former Eastern Region from Nigeria, becoming the Republic of Biafra led by Col. Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu.

The outcome of the declaration of Biafra was a war between the two sides which started in July 1967.Things started happening in sequence as Biafran soldiers invaded and occupied the Midwestern region. Most of the Midwest Igbo military officers defected to Biafra, while Alabi-Isama made good his planned escape to the federal side on the liberation of the Midwestern region by the Nigerian Army, 2nd Division commanded by the late General Murtala Muhammed, then a colonel.

On joining the 3 MCDO in Calabar after his brief Kirikiri experience, he suggested the idea to attack Port Harcourt from Calabar.The wisdom of the strategic plan to march from Calabar for the liberation of Port Harcourt, a distance of over 400 kilometres, instead of Bonny which was nearer, was a subject of long debates for many days by the war commanders, and at last the Alabi-Isama proposal prevailed.

In part two, Brigadier – General Alabi – Isama related in details the strategic plots and all the ordeals experienced in the liberation of Port Harcourt and all the rivevine cities, including Oron, Eket, Obubra, Ugeb and other major points in the old South Eastern and Rivers states. The role of the Navy and the Air Force in the battle for the capture of Port Harcourt added strength to the exercise.

The book traced the politics behind Brigadier Adekunle’s replacement by the then Brigadier Olusegun Obasanjo. On Obasanjo’s assumption of office at the 3 CMDO, political intrigues came to the war front. Obasanjo was not very good at listening to genuine advice and this led to many wrong orders which claimed the lives of thousands of troops at the Owerri sector.

With both sides tired and exhausted by the fatigue of a baseless war, the final push and fall of Uli- Ihiala, the Biafra last strong hold, hosting the Biafra Headquarter, the Airport and Radio station was a dramatic encounter led by the self-assured General Alani Akinrinade, then a Colonel. His meeting with the sensational Colonel Joe Achuzia, the rugged Biafran Army all-rounder, was a graphic, solemn and sombre affair as both sides laid down their weapons, after over two million people have been killed in an unnecessary war.

At the end of the war, the military embarked on re-organisation, involving itself everywhere into civil administration. Thus intrigues penetrated the Armed Forces as many officers took over the civilian functions for which they were least qualified. The authors talked of the attempt made to blackmail and dent the records of his long years of service in the military and the design to frame him up in the Dimka attempted coup of 1976. He finally withdrew his service from the army by resigning his commission in 1977.

By the time he left the army 36 years ago, the military had been divided into two groups, the group that believed in professionalism and the political group that believed in coup making festivals and the hustle to amass wealth.

In part three, Brigadier General Alabi-Isama simply made a critique of “ My Command” a book written in 1980 by General Obasanjo who took over the command of the 3CMDO after Brigadier Adekunle, six months to the end of the war. After his review and analysis of the book, backed up with documents, memos, and pictures, “My Command” looked more like a package of made-up stories and fibs told for self esteem

Demonstrating with maps and statistics, the author observed the inherent incompatibility in the Nigerian formation created by the British. The northern regional government occupied a land area and population, bigger than the whole area occupied by the governments of the Eastern, Midwestern and Western Nigeria put together.

The author no doubt was very emotional while relating certain aspects of the events that happened during the war, which is understandable. One cannot help being emotional while relating a situation where you see colleagues you had just spoken to or even shared the same dinning pit shot dead the next moment, from bullets, fired by fellow Nigerians turned enemy in a war that was virtually needless. How the Ijaw nationalist Adaka Boro died was particularly a painful incident, evoking emotion.

Alabi- Isama highly elevated, valued and commended the role played by the Nigerian womanhood during the war. So many of them, young and old, volunteered as intelligence gatherers between the war borders. Some lived to tell the story, while so many others paid the supreme sacrifice.

The author paid a merited posthumous tribute to the late Ken Saro – Wiwa, the matyred Ogoni self determination and environmental rights intellectual and activist, who he mentioned worked hard effectively to organise the civilian population in support of the federal troops in the liberated areas throughout the war.

At the launch of the book on July 18, 2013, which was attended by many important persons at the NIIA in Lagos, the sight of many of the retired soldiers and officers was very pathetic, some came on wheel chair, many looking frail and many others struck by total or partial stroke, shaking with the wasting ailment of Parkinson diseases, abandoned in misery, after fighting a bloody war for ‘unity.’

Said Alabi-Isama, “Sometimes I begin to wonder if the Nzeogwu/Ifeajuna January 1966 coup was worth it and when we all got there, what good came out of it for the people other than to some opportunists at the expense of the masses.”

The book is coming at a time military rule all over the world has been condemned and discredited, even by the military rulers themselves.

The whole narrative portrayed the military adventure into politics in 1966 as a mission in self annihilation. Lacking the basic skills for civil administration, as soon as the coup plotters succeeded in dismissing the politicians from power, the hard core civil servants seized the rein of authority from them and started creating wealth for themselves and their favourites. The Tragedy of Victory published 43 years after the end of the Nigeria- Biafra war is a book for the younger generation who were not born or were toddlers during the war; many of them now holding responsible positions in the private and public sectors of the Nigerian establishment. They deserve to know about what happened in order to avoid past mistakes in planning for the future.

Before the military intervention in 1966, members of the Nigerian political class had sufficiently discredited themselves. Once again, Nigerian politicians are behaving in a way that suggests to members of the public; “get what you can, today, for there may be no tomorrow”.

What the Alabi- Isama book has eloquently told the Nigerian nation in the Tragedy of Victory is the cold fact that Nigeria is working but doing the wrong job; that the country is solving the problems of its socio-economic theory base but arriving at answers with the wrong formulas; that we are moving but advancing on the wrong road, leading to a wrong destination

Rich in details, the book did not just reel out only grievances by telling readers about what went wrong in Nigeria, but it also produced an outline on how to get about solving the problems, stressing on restructuring. The Tragedy of Victory is a book any body that cares about the future of Nigeria should read and think.


•Ilenre is Secretary General, Ethnic Minority and Indigenous Rights Organization of Africa (EMIROAF)

Anthony-Claret Onwutalobi
Anthony-Claret is a software Engineer, entrepreneur and the founder of Codewit INC and CEO of Portia Web Solutions. Mr. Claret publishes and manages the content on Codewit Word News website and associated websits. He's a writer, IT Expert, great administrator, technology enthusiast, social media lover and all around digital guy.

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