Colonel Adokwu led the first ever ECOMOG battalion that landed at Seaport in Liberia in the 80s from Yola, the then Gongola State capital, to confront Charles Taylor, the war lord who had torn Liberia into bits and pieces.
ECOMOG was General Ibrahim Babangida’s creation, a brilliant idea in crisis management in independent Africa. It was a multinational force put together by ECOWAS to stop the anarchy and human waste going on in Liberia. Never had independent Africa tried this way to sort out its problems. And here was Colonel Adokwu taking the lead to fight a kind of warfare that was not tried in Africa before.
For the months that followed, many of Charles Taylor’s men fell, over a hundred were his prisoners of war and yet the Col lost not one soldier, a record he maintained till he heroically brought his soldiers back to Yola.
On the last day of last year, I sat with the unsung hero Colonel Adokwu under a cocoa nut tree at his country home in Otukpo, Benue State. We have been friends since we met in Yola in the mid 80s. He was the battalion Commander there while I was an operative of the Military Governor’s Office.
My son, Ken and his daughter, Ene attended the Command Primary School in Yola. Twenty years later, they got married and gave us a grand son whom Adokwu named Colonel, the rank at which he retired. There could be no greater evidence of the love Adokwu has for soldiering and his grandson.
As we sat at his Otukpo home, me holding tightly to my farm fresh palm wine bottle (he does not drink) we got talking about Nigeria’s latest global scandal; a rag tag army overrunning battalions after battalions of ‘Africa’s best Army.’
“What the hell is going on with Boko Haram Colonel?” I provoked him as I enjoy doing. A spark in his eyes and then he started a long and interesting story. “An army marches on it’s stomach,” he said. “When I was appointed to lead the war in Liberia, the first thing that came to my mind was food. What are my men going to eat? I got in touch with Army Head quarters and a shipload of foodstuff was already on its way to Liberia.
“Then the arms and ammunitions which we selected after a careful study of the terrain of war and the kind of war we were to be engaged in over there.”
Those were the problems with the army headquarters. Colonel Adokwu had a bigger problem with the men he was to lead. How was he going to inform them? What would be their reaction, mood etc. How about their wives, their children?
He tackled all the problems with a bold headlong approach. The day he got the signal, he never gave room for a leak. He wanted to tell his soldiers about the movement to Liberia himself. By close of work, the bugler blew and all men and officers were assembled at the parade ground.
“I’am taking you to war. In war, some people get wounded, some get killed. But I can assure you that I will bring all of you back alive,” he thundered to his men. Amazingly, all the men responded by cheerfully singing war songs.
Then he summoned their wives. There and then he announced to them that he was taking their husbands to war. There were expressions of murmur and shock but he went on regardless. He warned them that any of them who got pregnant or procured an abortion during the period of war would be in serious trouble with him because all their husbands were going to come back alive. End of parade.
It was a day of endless celebration, the day he brought all the men back alive to the Yola barracks months later.
That was not Adokwu’s first experience in international peace keeping operations. He had been to Lebanon before in 1979 and the experience was scary. He particularly remembers the night one terrorist group tried to demolish his battalion. They never got away with it. With one of his men missing and one wounded, he made a tactical detour and then went on rampage. He opened a kind of fire on the group that he said was never seen in Lebanon before!
Before daybreak, his missing man reappeared.
Back to Boko Haram, he said, he had not been at the war front and could not say exactly what is happening. But from the information he got, Boko Haram people were using unconventional warfare while our men were using conventional tactics. It will not work for our troops.
Suddenly, the soldier in him returned as I broached the topic of condemned mutineers.
“How can you send our boys to war in Nigeria without food, without uniforms and without arms? I took boys to Lebanon. I took boys to Liberia. What the commanders are doing is criminal. Those so called mutineers shall not and will not be executed!”
He then banged the table, sending my precious palm wine bottle tumbling down. Emmanuel Okala couldn’t have been a better goalkeeper. I caught it.
On my way to his house, I had stopped at the railway GRA junction to pick some newspapers. A tall, disheveled and melancholic looking man in his 60’s approached me for alms. He spoke good English and I asked him his problem? He said he was an ex service man who fought in the Nigerian civil and has not been paid his pension for four months. I gave him the 200 Naira change from my newspaper vendour.
Col Adokwu never fought in the Nigerian civil war but the ravages of that war are all over Otukpo and his Idoma land which shares boundaries with Iboland, the heartbeat of the war. And as you move up from Otukpo up north to Tivland – Makurdi, Gboko and Vandeikya, where the civil war actually broke out at Gakem, there is nothing but poverty to see. Forget about David Mark, the veteran Senate President, Otukpo itself is a dusty, dirty town without running water and electricity. The state and Federal Governments have done nothing there. I hate the town but love the Idomas.
There is hardly any Idoma or Tiv family that did not lose a member in the war. Thousands of the tribesmen signed up in the 60’s to fight the Ibos and defend Nigeria’s unity. Today, they have nothing to show for it. The Ibo’s they fought and defeated are even better off than them.
Back to Abuja and after my mysterious illness that kept me in hospital for four weeks, I now read in the media that Chad is fighting hard, to liberate Nigerian towns from Boko Haram. I want to ask Col Adokwu a question but he is too far away in Otukpo. The only Col here is Col Yawe with his chain of computer games. He will not be able to answer my question.
Where have all our soldiers gone? [myad]