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BARRACKS: THE HISTORY BEHIND THOSE NAMES

(PART 7 – EPILOGUE Section 2)

“Between Orok Edem and Theophilus Danjuma”
continued from http://www.dawodu.com/barrack6.htm

 

By

 

Dr. Nowa Omoigui
nowa_o@yahoo.com

 

June 14, 2003

 

 

Comments on the Mambilla Barracks

 

As the Minister noted, the former Yakubu Gowon Barracks is to be known as “Mambilla Barracks”, apparently after the Mambilla Plateau in the Minister’s home Taraba State – “in recognition of the vast potentials of the Mambilla”.   This is a rather interesting reason to name an Army Barracks.  As with the “Niger” the military significance of “Mambila” or “Mambilla” would have been useful to clarify, and so this author decided to carry out some investigations. 

Mambilla can also be written as Mambila.  The ‘plateau’ was originally named after the Mambila tribe or nationality which is split between Nigeria (mainly Taraba State) and Cameroun.  It is not really a plateau, as anyone who has been there can testify to its undulating hills and valleys.   The term "Mambila", sometimes spelled "Mambilla" (as the MOD has done), is probably a Fulani adaptation of "Mabila", a local phrase, alleged by some authorities to be related to the term 'Mbula', a title meaning "The Men." 

 

From a military standpoint, the Mambila nationality is historically reputed to have been uniquely armed with a scimitar-like short blunt cutting sword not seen anywhere else in Nigeria.  Until the arrival of immigrant blacksmiths - and the advent of iron - the Mambila used fiber-strings for their bows and wood to carve pointed arrows.  They also used shields made from palm branches, reinforced by a wooden cross-piece, designed to absorb the force of a blow from an enemy spear or arrow. Within their shields small holes were created to enable periscopic vision and enhance mobility during maneuver. On the inner side of a typical Mambila Shield there were porcupine quills intended for use during tactical withdrawals, hastily deployed into the ground against enemies in pursuit as an anti-personnel "foot-cutter".   Before the arrival of Islamic and Christian influences, the Mambila practiced (and still practice) family ancestral worship and a variety of agrarian rites.  Although also described as occasional peace-time activity, cannibalism was partly a war related ritual reserved for enemies killed in battle.    Young military conscripts were compelled to partake in it in order to make them fearless, presumably because the consumption of a dead warrior transferred his courage to his predator.  Soldiers also drank beer from the skulls of their enemies as part of their 'commissioning' ceremony.

 

General Danjuma said:

 

a.     “The following barracks and cantonments though named after deceased individuals, did not follow purely military considerations; they are to revert to their locational names:

 

(1) Adaka Boro Barracks - Elele

(2) Emmanuel Ekpo Barracks - Ikom

(3) Godwin Ally Barracks - Ogoja

(4) Patrick Dan Archibong Barracks - Calabar”

 

The MOD went ahead to name the Mambilla Barracks  “in recognition of the vast potentials of the Mambilla” and the said potentials, although strategic, were not military in nature.  Therefore, I found it curious that the same Ministry revoked the names of some Barracks because the names  “did not follow purely military considerations.” All the listed names in this section are deceased military (or paramilitary) figures.  Was the MOD merely being diplomatic?  Is it that the persons concerned did not deserve memorialization in their home areas on the basis of actual military records of performance?  If so, the MOD should say so clearly so that the criteria for “purely military considerations” can be understood.  The reasoning needs to be explained, particular with regards to late Brigadier Godwin Ally (see below). If a decision was made – on principle - not to memorialize any individual for their civil wartime roles or because they were retired compulsorily, then that should be stated clearly because some compulsorily retired civil war figures have obviously been memorialized by the MOD.

 

Let us go down the current list.

 

I have previously written about the late Isaac Jasper Adaka Boro, at http://www.dawodu.com/barrack4.htm.

 

 

Late Major General EO Ekpo of the Efik nationality originally trained at the now defunct Eaton Hall Officer Cadet Academy in Britain from March 1957 until March 1958.  He was the Military Secretary at the AHQ in Lagos during the civil war.  To the irritation of his colleagues, he attended Evening Law classes at the University of Lagos while the war was in progress and eventually graduated with an LLB degree.   He was a one time acting Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters.  However, his last posting in the Army was to the Nigerian Defence Academy as Commandant from February 1974 to July 1975.  He was compulsorily retired on July 30 1975 when General Gowon was overthrown. 

 

In 1954, the late Brigadier Godwin Ally, who hailed from Obudu in Ogoja province,  was in the first set of young boy soldiers to attend the Nigerian Military School in Zaria (then called “Boys Company”).   He trained at the ROSTS in Ghana, MONS OCS in the UK and the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst from March 1959 until August 1962 when he was commissioned as a regular combatant along with Ibrahim Haruna, Musa Usman, Emmanuel Ikwue and Okpo Isong.    In August 1967, following the Biafran invasion of the Midwest, then Lt. Col. Godwin Ally took command of the newly created 7 Brigade between Ore and Okitipupa. He was responsible for pushing Biafran troops toward Benin along the Ore-Benin road as the main 2DIV force descended from the north to cut them off.  After the federal recapture of Benin, he was tasked with the central axis in the advance to Abudu enroute to Asaba. Because of the destruction of the bridge over the Ossiomo (Orhionmwon) river, he had to execute a single envelopment via a detour through Owa Elero, emerging behind Biafran troops at Agbor in the process.  He exploited toward Umunede, and then drove toward Asaba via Isele-Ukwu, taking the Asaba after bloody fighting at St. Patrick’s College, along with elements of the 6 Brigade under Lt. Col. Alani Akinrinade. [Ally’s 7 Brigade was not involved in the Asaba massacre.  That incident was carried out by elements of the 8 Brigade under Lt. Col. Francis Aisida].  While troops under Akinrinade and Aisida were involved in the various disastrous Onitsha river-crossing operations, Ally’s 7 Brigade was tasked with rear stability operations in the Asaba area.  In September 1968, he was transferred to the 3MCDO where he became 1 Sector Commander with responsibility for the 15 and 16 Brigades.  Subsequently, he was appointed the Chief of Staff of the 3MCDO Division initially under Colonel Adekunle, but later under Colonel Obasanjo.  It was with then Lt. Col. Godwin Ally that the beleaguered 16 Brigade linked up in April 1969 after their break out from the siege of Owerri.

 

One of the members of the Barracks Panel, Maj. Gen. MC Alli once served under the late Brigadier in the 2nd Division during the war.  In his book “The Federal Republic of Nigerian Army” he said of the late Brigadier,

 

“The 7 Infantry Brigade Commander…Colonel Godwin Ally, a fiercely courageous, swashbuckling, highly committed officer and gentleman who led his troops from the front or amongst them at critical times.  …. In a different environment, but within the same calling, he would be regarded as an example of a classical warrior or warlord…..He would drive off to any sector of his command that ran into a stiff, tricky situation, extricate and stabilize the situation, give a word or two of advice to the Commanding Officer and like a whistle, he was gone to some other troubled area….He lasted the war, though with a couple of bullets to constantly remind him of Biafra….He was a warrior lost in the crowd after the war…..he treated his captives with compassion and understanding. He was one of the most enduring officers and gentlemen for all times…”

 

Ally was the Commander of the Lagos Garrison Organization when the coup against General Gowon took place on July 29, 1975.  He opposed the coup, expressed his displeasure, and was later retired on January 21st 1976.     According to retired Major General Oluleye, Ally was particularly unhappy with the appointment (and subsequent double promotion) of then Brigadier (later Lt. Gen.) Danjuma as Chief of Army Staff.                    

 

Late Brigadier Daniel Patrick Archibong was admitted to the Nigerian Defence Academy in January 1964.   He did not initially complete the course with his original mates because of the crisis of 1966.  However, he returned after the war and was commissioned in August 1970 – with loss of seniority.

 

He was appointed Military Governor of Cross River State in January 1984 following the Buhari coup and held the position until 1986.   He died in March 1990.

 

General Danjuma said:                  

 

 

b.       Dalet Barracks, Chindit Barracks and Bonny Camp are to be renamed Dalet Cantonment, Chindit Cantonment and Bonny Cantonment.

 

This seems reasonable.  This author had previously commented that ‘the word “Cantonment” is specifically derived from the word “Canton” which means “to quarter soldiers”. It has a more permanent connotation than the word “Barracks”. ‘  It is possible to have several Barracks inside a Cantonment, which is a much larger entity.

 

 

c.       Nagwamatse Barracks Kontagora may be retained subject to detailed research and composition of an appropriate citation.

 

I am very pleased with this decision because it indicates that some level of consciousness now exists officially for pre-colonial military figures in Nigeria.  However, I am troubled by the comment “subject to detailed research and composition of an appropriate citation.”  Is the MOD saying that after six months of committee deliberation, an ‘appropriate’ citation could not be composed for the well-known warrior, eulogized in numerous Hausa songs, who founded Kontagora? A summary of his life and career is available at http://www.dawodu.com/barrack4.htm.

 

It may be – for reasons that are unclear - that there was some disagreement about Nagwamatse’s case until the very end when a political compromise was reached at higher levels.  However, this is speculative.  What does need to happen is detailed research and composition of appropriate citations for pre-colonial military figures drawn from all over the country.

 

 

d.       Niger Barracks Lokoja is to be renamed Chari Maigumeri Barracks.

 

I concur – although the reason for transferring the “Niger” Barracks in Lokoja to Abuja is unclear.  Perhaps it might have been considered demeaning to rename a Barracks named after a General (IBB, Abacha or Nasko) in Abuja to one named after an RSM.    This author strongly recommended late RSM (Honorary Captain) Chari Maigumeri for memorialization. http://www.gamji.com/amnews9.htm

 

e.       Odogbo Cantonment Ibadan is to be renamed Adekunle Fajuyi Cantonment

 

His prior military record and the nature of his violent death meets with one or more of the criteria I had suggested in http://www.dawodu.com/barrack5.htm .  Originally a clerk, the late Lt. Col. Francis Adekunle Fajuyi of Ado Ekiti joined the Army in 1943 as a soldier.  As a Non Commissioned Officer he was awarded the British Empire Medal in 1951 for helping to contain a mutiny in his unit over food rations.  He was trained at the now defunct Eaton Hall OCS in the UK from July 1954 until November 1954 when he was short service commissioned Lt, backdated to March 1952.     In 1961, as the ‘C’ Company Commander with the 4QONR under Lt. Col. Price, Major Fajuyi was awarded the M.C. for actions in North Katanga and extricating his unit from an ambush.  On completion of Congo operations Fajuyi became the first indigenous Battalion Commander of the 1st battalion in Enugu, a position he held until just before the first coup of January 1966 when he was posted to Abeokuta as Garrison Commander.  When Major General Ironsi emerged as the new C-in-C on January 17, he appointed Fajuyi the first Military Governor of the West.  In this role he came to be suspected of complicity in the January 15, 1966 coup by some of the soldiers who later had him killed during the counter-coup of July 29, 1966.  Indeed, one of the January coup plotters (Ademoyega) has openly stated that the late Lt. Col. FA Fajuyi was sympathetic to the coup and gave helpful advice for its planning and execution, although he did not take part physically.  Clearly such considerations did not prevent him from being memorialized, likely because of the manner of his death.

 

The decision to rename Ibadan’s Odogbo Cantonment in particular was sensitive to the fact that not only was Fajuyi assassinated in the Ibadan area, he was the Military Governor of the Western region at that time, with its capital at Ibadan – and the Western region was his home region. The Barracks at Akure, capital of Ekiti State, could theoretically have been renamed Fajuyi Barracks but present day Ekiti State (which is where he actually comes from) did not exist then and is a much smaller entity.  Interestingly, Major General Ironsi, who was killed alongside Fajuyi at Ibadan, does not have a Barracks named after him in Ibadan.  He was from then Eastern region and was Head of State at the time.  However, Ironsi Barracks was left as is in Abuja, the new capital, far away from Lagos (then federal capital) where he functioned as Head of State and Umuahia from where he originated (maternally) and where his grave lies.  These observations should be kept in mind when the locations of other individually named Barracks are considered.

 

f.        Rukuba Cantonment Jos is to be renamed Maxwell Khobe Cantonment

 

This is no surprise. The former Field (Task Force) Commander ECOMOG peacekeeping force, and later Chief of Defence Staff - Sierra Leone from August 1998 to April 2000, is widely revered in contemporary military circles.  Rukuba Cantonment, near Jos, is the home of the Army’s 3rd Armoured Division, and the late Brigadier Maxwell Khobe was an Armoured Officer of middle belt vintage.  It fits.

 

Born on January 1st, 1950 at Zeku, in Adamawa State, he attended the Native Authority Junior Primary School, Dong from 1958 to 1961 and Native Authority Senior Primary School, Numan, from 1962 to 1963. He later attended the Church of the Brethren Mission, Waka Secondary School, Biu, in Borno State from 1964 to 1968.  In September 1969, in the dying months of the civil war, he enlisted as a soldier.    He was subsequently enrolled in the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) Short Service Combatant Course 11 from March 29, 1971 until September 13, 1971 when he was commissioned 2/Lt with seniority effective from March 29, 1971. He was initially posted to the Infantry. He was awarded the Nigeria Defence Service Medal in 1973, promoted Lt. in 1974, and awarded the Republic medal in 1975. 

 

 

Following a heroic role during the Dimka coup attempt of 1976, he was encouraged to apply for transfer to the Armoured Corps as a Captain (which he became in 1977), having already attended the Young Officer’s Course (Infantry) and a number of support weapons courses at the School of Infantry.    After joining the Armoured corps, he attended the Armoured Officers Basic Course at Fort Knox, Kentucky (USA) and later, the Advanced Armour Officer's Course.   He also attended a Gunnery course at the Royal Armoured Corps School, Bovington Camp, UK.   His area of specialization was Gunnery.    

 

Khobe was 2ic of 245 Recce Battalion Ikeja under Capt. Martin Luther Agwai (the new Chief of Army Staff) and was responsible for coordinating the training program of that battalion.  He did all this under some pressure because the unit was constantly under close security surveillance, especially in the months leading up to October 1979 when General Obasanjo handed over to President Shagari. 

 

According to a former Army Officer,

 

“He played a very key role in the deployment of Duty Officers to Radio Nigeria and State House Dodan Barracks. His claim to fame was his appetite for" the job". Throughout my years with him I never saw him in No. 4 Dress. He was forever in anklets and 99% of the time engaged in practical soldiering instead of staff work. He was not cast in the same mould with other Armour officers like the late UK Bello, Buba Marwa or Friday Ichide who were highly skilled staff officers and were literally adored by very senior officers. Khobe's magnetic pull for senior officers came from his practical ability and endearing qualities towards junior officers, NCOs and soldiers alike.”

 

He attended the Staff College in 1983 and was promoted Major in 1984.  In August 1985, he led a unit of Tanks in Lagos during the palace coup that removed Major General Buhari from power, ushering in fellow Armoured Corps officer, Major General Babangida.   He was awarded the Forces Services Star in 1986 and became a Lieutenant-Colonel in 1989.

 

Always leery of a political appointment, the outbreak of the Liberian crisis in 1990 provided him an outlet for his martial inclinations.  He eventually served four tours of duty there, getting ECOMOG Liberia medals for each one.  In addition he won the coveted Nigerian Army Chief of Army Staff Commendation Award and became a Colonel in 1994. 

 

According to another ex-Army officer,

 

“Bachama by tribe, (from the Numan - Demsa axis), Khobe was the archetypal warrior. Without a doubt, he was the most outstanding Nigerian soldier throughout the Liberian war. Some of the feats he performed are story-book like.  He was extremely fearless and motivated very many Nigerian troops who kept lobbying for postings to his unit where casualties were minimal.   In short, as the Commander of the 221 Tank Battalion (and later a Brigade Commander), he was the Etuk of the Liberian war. After his return from Liberia, he was personally asked by the late General Abacha to work out details for the establishment of a military task force which would be specifically tasked to bring an end to Armed Robbery in Nigeria. Of course when he submitted his requirements to "Baba", money matters "kpafukad" the plan as usual. It was after that he got the Sierra Leone job.  He was a completely detribalized Nigerian.”

 

On February 12, 1998, he led the ECOMOG Ground Task Force assault that removed Major Koromah from power and restored the elected government of President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah.  He was promoted Brigadier and later assumed the position of Chief of Defence Staff of Sierra Leone.  In December 1998, after evasion measures, he slipped out of encirclement when the RUF attempted to take Freetown, barley escaping being captured at Hastings Airport.

 

On Tuesday, 18 April 2000, Khobe died of Encephalitis at the St. Nicholas Hospital in Lagos one week after being evacuated back home from Sierra Leone.

 

Although highly respected, Khobe had his detractors.  Some criticized the success of the retraining program for the new Sierra Leone Army.  But the most prominent of them was   Indian Major General Vijay Kumar Jetley whose allegations fueled an international defence diplomatic spat. 

 

 

g.       NAF Base Benin is to be renamed Shittu Alao Base

 

Colonel Shittu A. Alao attended the ROSTS, Teshie, Ghana, MONS Officer Cadet School, Aldershot, UK, and the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst from September 1959 until August 1962 when he was commissioned as a regular combatant.  However, in 1963 he transferred to the embryonic Nigerian Air Force and proceeded abroad for training as a Pilot.  He qualified as a Pilot on light aircraft but never underwent formal jet conversion.  

 

Then Major Alao was an active participant in the Lagos area during the July 29, 1966 northern counter-coup.  Although paternally from Ogbomosho (like SL Akintola) his mother was from Shendam in modern Plateau State of Northern Nigeria.

 

When Colonel George T Kurubo (Nigeria’s first indigenous Air Force Commander from January 1966 to August 1967) emerged as the first Biafran Air Force Commander designate, Shittu Alao was asked to assume command of the Nigerian Air Force.  Kurubo later returned, but the job was no longer vacant so he was sent to the Soviet Union as Nigeria’s ambassador. 

 

As a “converted soldier” Chief of Air Staff, Alao had command problems because he could not direct the younger pilot officers who had been trained on jets.  Although Alao supervised a massive wartime expansion of the NAF, the young jet Pilots (and mercenaries) did not take him seriously because he could not do what they did.  Therefore, to enhance his credibility, he learnt how to fly jets locally in Lagos. When he felt sufficiently comfortable with his private lessons, he undertook a solo flight from Lagos to Enugu on October 19, 1969 as the civil war was drawing to a close.  Unfortunately, he got lost and overflew Enugu.  He was able to turn around, crossed the Niger River and tried to head for the Air Base in Benin.  He got lost and crash-landed on a football pitch at Uzebba in present day Edo State.  He died in the cockpit of head injuries and bleeding from a fractured thighbone.

 

Emmanuel Ikwue replaced him in December 1969 as Chief of Air Staff. 

 

As I indicated at the beginning, the renaming of the Benin Air Base after Alao has raised some eyebrows.  He never served there.  He is not from that region.  He never lived there.  He was not married to a local. He did not contribute anything to that area specifically.  As a former wartime Chief of Air Staff, some feel he ought to have had the Base in Lagos (where the NAF HQ was at that time) named after him.  In any case, the thinking goes, that is where he took off from on his last, ill-fated flight.  However, that Base had already been deservingly named after late Group Captain Sam Ethnan (see below).  Others felt, therefore, that the Air Base in Abuja should have been named after Alao, in recognition of his status as a former Service Chief.  Or barring that, either the Air Force Station at Ibadan or Ilorin (near Ogbomosho where his father comes from) or the one in Jos (near Shendam where his mother comes from).  Another opinion is that the Air Base at Enugu should be named after him since that is where he was originally going from Lagos.  The latter suggestion, however, is likely to be controversial.

 

When I was approached about it by a group of eminent personalities, my reasoning (and explanation) was that the Base in Benin was probably chosen because that is where Alao was heading (and may have had radio contact with) when he eventually crashed. Further,  he did crash within the borders of present day Edo State.  There is some precedent in other countries for Air Bases to be named after deceased aviators who crashed nearby.  It may also be that the naming of the Base after a former Chief of Air Staff would enhance its prestige. 

 

However, what troubled some commentators was that by some coincidence, except for those with Barracks named after them in federal Abuja (and Lagos), individually named Barracks and Bases do tend to reflect the locality or region of origin of those concerned.  That Ironsi died in Ibadan did not embolden the government to name a Barracks after him there.  Maimalari, Kur Mohammed, Ribadu, Khobe, etc all died in Lagos.  Barracks named after them are located back in their home region.  One obvious exception is Sam Ethnan who died in Lagos and is memorialized with the NAF Base in Lagos.  On the contrary, Ademulegun, Shodeinde, Unegbe, Pam and Largema all died under the same circumstances as Maimalari, Kur Mohammed etc…But no Barracks are named after them anywhere.  Obienu Barracks in Bauchi suddenly became Hassan Katsina Barracks.

 

My reading of the frustrations of this group from that part of the country is that it likely reflects some local civil-military tensions with the Air Force and Army.  Back in 1984, one reminded me that the Tactical Air Command HQ was suddenly and unceremoniously moved away from Benin.  It never returned.  When the new 81 Division was being considered for the Army, many presumed that it would be located halfway between Ibadan and Enugu in the center of the southern part of the country.  In fact, one newspaper (Vanguard) said as much.   Instead, on May 26, 2002, it ended up in Lagos (as an upgrade of the Lagos Garrison Command), less than 100 miles from another Divisional HQ at Ibadan and within the same geopolitical zone.   It would appear that an explanation of the official reasoning behind the ‘Shittu Alao Base’ in Benin and more evidence of consistency across the board (elsewhere in the country) would be useful.   In a country where the threshold for reading meanings into things is so low, decisions do need to be explained.

 

 

Sam Ethnan Air Base, Lagos

 

While on the subject of Air Bases, this is what a very senior Air Force Officer had to say about the late Group Captain Ethnan.

 


"Group Captain Sam Ethnan was one of our finest officers who literally died on active service on 3rd April 2001. A native of Numan in Adamawa State, Sam was born sometime in 1955. He was a graduate of the Nigerian Military School Zaria and a member of the Nigerian Defence Academy Course 15. He initially qualified as an Air Traffic Controller and later went on to become one of our few qualified Fighter Controllers.

Some of the appointments which he held in the NAF include:

Commandant, Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano

Deputy Defence Attache - India

Deputy Director Air Traffic Services - NAF

Commander NAF Headquarters Camp - Lagos, and

Commander NAF Base (Now Sam Ethnan Air Force Base) -
Ikeja.

A sharp dresser and a man with fine taste, Sam left his mark in each of those appointments. Before his appointment as Commander, NAF Base Ikeja was a sight for sore eyes. But with dedication and hard work, constantly leading by example, Sam turned the Base into the envy of all barracks in Nigeria. Infact, though he lived in far away Victoria Island, Sam was often at work as early as 6am to remain as late as 9pm most days.

The night he died, Sam was rushed to the Base hospital from his office at about 7pm complaining of chest pain and was pronounced dead before 11pm in the same evening. It was in appreciation of the dedication to duty of this fine officer that the then Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Isaac Alfa, took the unprecedented step of naming NAF Base Ikeja after Group Captain Sam Ethnan in order to serve as an example to others and immortalise his name."

 

 

 

h.       The following Nigerian Navy Barracks are to be renamed as follows:

 

(1) NNS OLOKUN - NNS BEECROFT

(2) NNS UMALOKUN - NNS DELTA

(3) NNS URHIAPELE - Nigerian Navy Engineering College (NNEC) Sapele

(4) NNS KAMANU - Nigerian Navy Finance and Logistic School (NNFLS) Owerrinta

(5) NNS AKASO - Nigerian Navy Basic Training School (NNBTS) Onne

(6) NNS ONURA - NNC ONNE

(7) NNS ANANSA - NNS VICTORY

(8) NNS OKEMINI - NNS PATHFINDER

(9) Naval Medical Centre - Obisesan Naval Medical Centre, Apapa Mobil Road, Apapa

 

 

 

 CONTINUED

 

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