By Emeka Obasi
They nicknamed him ‘Air Raid’ simply because Col. Joe Oseloka Achuzia probably killed more Biafran soldiers than some Nigerian troops. He so believed in Biafra that soldiers who ran away from battle were summarily executed by him.
According to Biafra’s Army Chief, General Alex Atta Madiebo, the name Air Raid came on a day Administrator of Okigwe Province, Sam Onunaka Mbakwe, visited the frontline. Mbakwe’s official car looked exactly like Achuzia’s so when the soldiers saw the vehicle approaching they scampered for safety thinking it was the latter.
Mbakwe, wearing the rank of colonel found out that the shout of air raid was not to dodge enemy jet fighters but to run from Achuzia who was fond of shooting his boys without any restrictions.
One soldier who escaped Achuzia’s bullets, Sasa Nwoke, of the Eighth Commando Brigade under Major Juventus Ojukwu and a crew of the Armoured Vehicle, Corporal Nwafor, would later eulogise the officer.
Nwoke wrote: “The man, Air Raid Achuzia, was a soldier to the core, a Spartan who would rather commit suicide than surrender. To him retreat was tantamount to surrender or worse still to cowardice. The man simply loathed cowards. In him I saw a soldier who had no respect or regard for bullets in flight and he seemed to have married a heroine of a wife, the daughter of a German general, I presume.
I remember seeing her, a couple of times, arrive in the company of her ten-year-old son adorned in a colonel’s apparel in the thick of battle. She would stand and chat with her husband and son for a while oblivious of the raging battle, a hair’s breath away.”
Achuzia actually tried to kill teenage Sasa in Uzuakoli, where Major Ibrahim Babangida got a bullet in the leg and was replaced by Maj. Mamman Vatsa. At the end he said the boy was lucky not be turned to Uzuakoli manure.
Achuzia also earned another cognomen, Hannibal. His Land Rover with registration number, BA[Biafra Army] 7 was very well known by troops. He began with the Biafra Militia and ended up as Commander of 15 Division. At the end of the war, Achuzia was the one who led Nigerian Army officers to the peace table before the formal surrender.
General Emeka Ojukwu was the power behind Achuzia, using him to check and balance regular and more seasoned officers. And the colonel played to the gallery effectively. He fought all over Biafra, from Onitsha as a company commander to the Midwest, to Owerri and to Okigwe as commander of a division.
He single handedly changed the 13 Division to 15 Division on the grounds that the number 13 carried along with it some ill luck. Achuzia also took over the “S” Division from Col. Tim Onwuatuegwu. Both officers never saw eye to eye and once tried to kill themselves in the presence of Madiebo.
One of the seasoned Biafran soldiers and a member of the “S” Brigade, Richard Magana,[Nwa Lawyer] believes Achuzia did not do so much to win the war. It was alleged that due to his inexperience, Maj. T.I. Atumaka, was lost in Owerri. Atumaka was the first commander of the “S” Brigade which grew to a division.
Achuzia was not the only Hannibal in the Biafra Army. There was a younger officer, Hannibal of Carthage, Okpani Nkama. An all round sportsman at the Government Secondary School, Afikpo, he was also at the Nigeria Military School[NMS] Zaria.
His Afikpo mates included Reverend Precious Omuku and Tete Mbuk. The quartet of Herbert Obi Eze, Paul Ndimele Omeruo, Bernard Akpunonu and Lorderick Emejuru moved to Afikpo from Zaria when war broke out and distinguished themselves as young officers.
Achuzia claimed to have fought for the British in the Korean war from 1950-1953 using the name George Taylor. Some accounts say he arrived Nigeria on July 29, 1966 during the counter coup and was indeed saved by Lt. Col. Murtala Mohammed.
In Korea, the United Nations raised troops led by US General Douglas MacArthur. Most of the UN soldiers were Americans who pushed beyond the 38th parallel before they were beaten back by communist backed North Korea in a war that cost about 4.7 lives.
It was under that circumstance that Achuzia, an engineer, survived although records of his involvement have not been tendered publicly. Madiebo did not see Achuzia as one of the best officers on the Biafran side.
Achuzia was commissioned Major by Madiebo based on the recommendation of Brigadier Conrad Nwawo. Strange enough, the same Achuzia with no formal military training became one of Ojukwu’s trusted officers and was even placed above Nwawo.
Madiebo said:”Achuzia realized as soon as he got into the Army that the two vital requirements needed by an officer to win the admiration and respect of the people of Biafra were publicity and playing to the gallery. He, in short, saw the vital need for doing and saying what the people wanted to see or hear whether those things impeded the war effort or not. Like a few others, he discovered the magic of speeches of glorious intentions among the Biafran public, even if these were not followed up by action.”
Achuzia remained an Ojukwu loyalist until the Ikemba passed on about seven years ago. He also became actively involved in matters of Igbo interest speaking not just as an Igbo from Asaba but as Secretary Genearal of Ohaneze Ndigbo.
He also took the title of Ikemba Asaba and spoke out against marginalization of his people by successive Nigerian governments. At almost 90 years he remained a strong defender of Igbo interest and was willing to fight again if the opportunity offered itself. Achuzia lived, fought, survived the war and died 48 years after.