My Memorable Encounters With Col Patrick Anwunah

 (…30th November 1934 – 16th September 2022)

By Tony Adibe

As a curious journalist, who is always interested in reading the history of the Nigeria-Biafra  War, and also eager to meet face-to-face with  the heroes from both sides of the war, I was privileged to have had several unforgettable encounters with Col., Barrister, Sir Patrick Anwunah, a pioneer Nigerian Officer, General Staff Officer (GSO) 1, Nigerian Army and also the Quartermaster General and Chief of Logistics, the defunct Biafran Army, who joined his ancestors on Saturday September 16, 2022, at the age of 87.

I recall that although I have always come across the name Col Patrick Anwunah in several of the Nigeria-Biafra war books which I have read but I had never met him one-on-one until perhaps in 2007 or 2008.

My very first encounter with the late humble, soft-spoken, gentleman officer was sometime after the Spectrum Books Limited, Ibadan published Col Anwunah’s   memoirs entitled, “The Nigeria-Biafra War: My Memoirs.” It’s a fat, 381-page book. The forward of the book was written by the then Biafran Head-of-Staate, General Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu. I learnt that it was Ojukwu that introduced Anwunah to the Spectrum Books. Remember that Ojukwu’s book entitled, “Because I’m Involved” was also published by the Spectrum Books.

It was my colleague, then of The Nation newspaper, Mr. Chris Oji who arranged for my first meeting with Col Anwunah.  Mr Oji had told me that Col Anwunah had written a book on the Nigeria civil war and needed someone to write a review of it in a national newspaper. Oji said he told Col Anwunah that “Tony Adibe is the only person I know that does book review.”

However, my joking reply to Oji was: “I’m afraid I won’t suffer the same fate I suffered while I was working on the Sunday Times desk in The Daily Times at Agidimgbi, Ikeja , Lagos. I had a passion for writing reviews of books, music, art, movies, etc while working on the Sunday Times desk. Sadly, except Dr Tolu Ajayi, a trained medical doctor, who is a prolific writer, none of the other authors, or musicians or artists I reviewed their works ever bothered to even express their feelings about the reviews. Dr. Ajayi drove all the way from his office in Yaba to Daily Times, Agidimgbi to thank me for my review of his poetry collection. I told Dr. Ajayi that Jesus Christ healed many people, but only one person came back to thank him. So, where are the rest? That memory has stuck. However, Chris replied: “Believe me, the way Col Anwunah sounded, he is a gentleman.”

Having gotten Col Anwunah’s contact, we spoke on the phone and agreed on a date to meet. It was Chris who drove me in his Opel car to Col Anwunah’s residence at the Independence Layout, Enugu. We were ushered into a well-kept, big, moderately furnished sitting room by one of Col Anwunah’s sons, Mr. Chike, who went upstairs to inform his father about our visit. Later, Col Anwunah came down and joined us.

With a simple smile which revealed a set of white teeth, Col Anwunah exchanged greetings and had a handshake with us as we stood up to show respect. “Sit down, please, gentlemen,” Col Anwunah said as he gently motioned us to sit down the way a traffic warden would flag down a vehicle. After we were served soft drinks, the soldier-lawyer said: “Tony, your friend Chris has told me almost all I needed to know about you. There’s this book, my account of the Nigeria-Biafra War. I did the public presentation of the book here in Enugu. But I also want to do the book launch in the USA where some of my children are living. However, I learnt that the white people are asking them: If truly your father had written such a nice book, how come no newspaper in Nigeria has reviewed it?”

It was on the grounds of the white man’s argument, that Col Anwunah needed a book reviewer who would also publish the review in a newspaper. He excused himself, went upstairs and brought a clean copy of his account of the civil war. He handed it to me with a smile. I thanked him so much because that book was an addition to my several literature books on the civil war.  At that time, I was working as the Enugu Correspondent of the Lagos-based National Mirror, published by Prince Emeka Obasi (now of blessed memory).

After reading the voluminous book and writing the review, the National Mirror published it full page. Thereafter, the publisher, Prince Obasi asked me to interview Col Anwunah for a separate question and answer publication. That was also published. Prince Obasi believed that if the Biafrans don’t tell their own account of the civil war, others would narrate it the way the Igbos/Easterners might not like. He encouraged us to keep reaching people like Col Joe Achuzie (Air Raid), and others like him who fought in the war for interviews.

Upon seeing the National Mirror edition that published the book review, Col Anwunah bought about 20 copies. He told me that he would send some copies of the newspaper to his children abroad who would show the white people the book review. I think it was after the publishing of the review, that the author travelled abroad to do the public presentation of the work.

“Tony, the launch of my book was a huge success. I made some money from the book,” Col. Anwunah told me upon returning from his trips abroad. “It is only overseas you will see people who are enthusiastic about Biafra. And the people abroad spend more time reading books unlike here where many are still struggling to have their daily meal,” he further told me.

Another encounter I still remember as if it was, yesterday was when Col Anwunah wanted to make a donation of what he called “my widow’s mite” to the Biafran war veterans camped at Oji-River in the Oji-River Local Government Area of Enugu State. “It hurts me each time I remember those our compatriots – the wounded Biafran veterans who hardly get help from the public. I wonder how they manage to survive. I would like a few of you journalists to accompany me to their settlement while I make this my widow’s mite donation to them,” he said.

On that fateful day, Col Anwunah , his son, Chike, and a few journalists drove to the  Oji-River settlement of the war veterans but it was as if the place was deserted. We were told that the veterans were staying somewhere along the Oji-River flank of the Enugu-Onitsha highway to beg for alms from road users/travelers. Therefore, we drove to the highway where we saw some of the veterans who were on their wheelchairs.

They showed excitement when they realized that one of their former ‘ogas’ (superior officers) during the war had remembered them. The veterans narrated their tales of woe; how the five governors in the southeast – Abia, Anambra, Enugu, Ebonyi and Imo States had abandoned them to die of hunger and starvation and diseases; how even when few prominent individuals like Col Anwunah would make donations to them, the Igbo criminal young men  would descend on them and rob the veterans of all the donations. “You call yourselves Biafran heroes, but now we are the lions of Biafra. The lions are looking for what to eat, so bring out all that was donated to you today,” the war veterans, quoting the criminal elements, told us.

It was on the grounds of such a strong allegation that they begged Col Anwunah to appeal to us the newsmen NEVER to announce in broadcast media or publish about the donation in the newspapers. We pitied the veterans and cursed the Igbo young men whose stock in trade was to rob those helpless old and sick ex-soldiers of the defunct Biafran army.

The other encounter I had with Col Anwunah which I still recall as if it was yesterday was in 2008, when I had the first surgery on my right eye. As soon as I informed him about my being booked for eye operation at the JEC Optical Services (Clinic), Enugu, Col Anwunah, in his kindness, assisted me with some cash  (which I must not disclose the amount). However, I must confess that his financial assistance helped me tremendously in settling the bill. He repeated the same kind gesture when I went for another eye surgery.

As time went on, I became friendly with Col Anwunah to the extent that on one occasion when my elder brother visited me in Enugu I asked him to accompany me to Col Anwunah’s residence so that he could see personally  the author of the fat book I gave him to read the other day. On one occasion, I took my wife along so that she would at least see one of the Biafran heroes who, alongside my own father, Pa Anthony Chimezie Adibe (who is now 91 years old) spent about three harsh and agonizing years in the jungle to defend the old Eastern Region, particularly the Igboland during the most unfortunate and avoidable war. My father fought as a gallant infantry in the “S-Brigade” which, I learnt, was formed personally by Ojukwu.

While engaging in conversation  with him during some of those visits, Col Anwunah would delve into history, telling me his impression of his friend and colleague, General Yakubu Gowon, Lt. Gen Olusegun Obasanjo;  General T.Y. Danjuma, Maj-Gen Muhammadu Buhari ; Maj-Gen J.T.U. Aguiyi-Ironsi; Col Usthman Katsina; his opinion of the real ‘trouble shooters’ that eventually snowballed into the war, some of the costly mistakes Emeka Ojukwu made during the war, the reason the Nigerian Army has Arabic inscription on its flag, the covenant Britain had with Northern Nigeria, which might not be known to millions of Nigerians on the southern part; why Nigeria can hardly be united again, as it was  before the January 15, 1966 Major Kaduna Nzogwu-led coup.

I recall that he also spoke about religion factor and how certain selfish, blood-thirsty elements both within and outside Nigeria have been using religion to cause endless bloodbath in the country; he told me the only solution to the killing of Christians by Muslim fundamentalists in Nigeria, and many other burning issues in the country.

I recall just as if it was yesterday, how during one of my visits, Col Anwunah brought out his android handset and clicked to show me a trending video on social media at that time. The video showed how armed men wearing military fatigue were using daggers to cut the throat of civilians while dumping their lifeless bodies into one large grave.

“Tony, tell me, how can this be happening in a country with a so-called government? How can a country with a government allow its innocent citizens to be captured by armed Boko Haram and slaughtered in this most barbaric and humiliating manner? How can this be allowed to continue in the Northern part of Nigeria and yet nobody, not even the government of the day has had the boldness to arrest and prosecute the inventors of Boko Haram?” Col Anwunah asked.   

 In fact, there were certain sensitive issues Col Anwunah told me concerning Nigeria and some Nigerians which I will not and cannot disclose here as he, in his wisdom, NEVER disclosed them in his very comprehensive account of the Nigeria-Biafra war. I realized that of all the civil war books I have read, Col Anwunah’s account seemed to be the most comprehensive.

This is apparently because of the administrative perspective he added to it, considering his peculiar background as an officer in charge of training of soldiers. The soldier-lawyer further told me certain interesting and revealing things about former Enugu State Governor Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani, his late father, pa Ferguson Anike Nnamani.  Col Anwunah told me why he pulled out of the Roman Catholic Church where he worshipped for many decades and worked as a Mass Server and joined the Anglican Church (Nigeria).

He further told me about his sadness when he realized that the development of Awka, capital of Anambra State has literally ‘swallowed up’ all his family ancestral land, even without the government paying compensation. “Tony, I tell you, it’s not a blessing to have a state capital located in your ancestral home. Before you know it, the government would take away your family land without informing you,” he said.

There was a particular manual script which he said was written by Maj-Gen Alexander Madiebo, the Commander of the Biafran Army – detailing how Biafra’s coffin was, one would say, finally nailed in Ivory-Coast. This is considering what happened between Ojukwu and some of Biafra’s top officials who went on exile with him in that country. Col Anwunah said he told Madiebo about me and that Madiebo wanted to know my opinion of the manual script on Biafra.

He promised to facilitate the process for me to interview Madiebo. I was excited and I told him my view and suggested that it would be better to publish the manual script as a separate book, a kind of follow-up rather than as an addendum to Madiebo’s first book on the civil war entitled, “The Nigerian Revolution and The Biafran War.” I still regret that up till the time of his passage, Col Anwunah was not able to link me with Madiebo for the interview. Madiebo, himself, joined his ancestors a few months ago.  I think it might not have been Anwunah’s fault that I never met with Madiebo!   

Born at Awka in the former Eastern Region, Patrick Anwunah attended Government College, Umuahia 1948-1954 and directly from school, was enrolled as an Officer Cadet.

Upon his graduation from the Eaton Hall Officer Cadet School, Chester, England, Col Anwunah proceeded to the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, England, and was commissioned in 1956 in the Nigerian Army as a Second Lieutenant as N19.

He subsequently became the General Staff Officer 1 in the Nigerian Army Headquarters where he played a major role in halting the January 1966 coup.

The uprising of 1966 forced him to come home to join in the defence of his people in the Nigeria-Biafra war. In Biafra, he would later become the Quartermaster General and Chief of Logistics at the Biafran Defence Headquarters. Col Anwunah was a member of the delegation that went to Lagos in 1970 to sign the Peace Accord that ended the Nigeria civil war.

Now you can imagine my shock when the news of his demise hit me. I remember that on the 18th September, 2022 or thereabout, I received a telephone call from Mr. Chike Anwunah. “Ah Chike, it’s been quite an age since I heard from you last. How is daddy, our Colonel?” I asked and there was a few minutes silence before he said: “Oh, daddy just passed on. That was on Friday 16th September. I was scrolling through his phone and saw your name and number. I decided to inform you about his passage.”

“O, my God. We’ve lost another important Biafran hero. May God have mercy on him. May God Almighty console you and other members of the family he left behind and those of us who were close to him,” I informed Chike on phone. I promised I would visit the bereaved family.     

A release later issued and signed by Chike on behalf of the Anwunah family, indicated among other things, that the funeral arrangements will be communicated later to members of the public. Chike left his contact number in the statement: 08153198892.

I pray that God Almighty will have mercy on Col Anwunah and grant him eternal peace for, in my own thinking he was a man of peace.

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