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Joseph Achuzia departs

•A war hero dies at 90

His alias, Hannibal, spoke volumes about his military prowess. The original Hannibal was “a Carthaginian general, considered one of the greatest military commanders in history.”

Joseph Achuzia earned the nickname based on the heroism he displayed fighting on the Biafran side during the Nigerian Civil War from 1967 to 1970. His death at the Federal Medical Centre, Asaba, Delta State, on February 26, reignited a public debate about the civil war that was fought to keep Nigeria united. His family said he was 90. Achuzia had left the Nigerian Army to join the secessionist army of Biafra in the east where he became a Major and played a major role in the tragic conflict that consumed millions of lives.

It is a striking coincidence that Achuzia died at a time when the unity of the country has become a subject of intense public debate, with various stakeholders calling for restructuring. It is noteworthy that Achuzia was chairman, Supreme Council of Elders, Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). His link with IPOB, a controversial organisation that resurrected the Biafran struggle for secession, suggested that he was passionate about the separatist project till he died.

Achuzia’s exploits on the battlefield were legendary and spawned stories about him that created a mystique. A revealing account said: “After Biafran soldiers were forced to retreat across the River Niger Bridge into Onitsha on September 20, 1967, Achuzia was promoted to Major and given command of the Biafran 11th   Battalion, responsible for defending the area between Atani and Ndoni from an imminent Nigerian attack. After the Biafran 18th Battalion under Colonel Assam Nsudoh was forced to retreat from Onitsha after eight days of bloody house-to-house fighting, the 11th Battalion under Maj. Achuzia linked up with the 18th Battalion east of the city and made plans to counter-attack. The 18th Battalion swung south along the Old Market Road while the 11th Battalion under Maj. Achuzia swung north along the New Market Road in a coordinated Pincer movement. The majority of the 5,000- man Nigerian 2nd Division stationed in Onitsha were either massacred or taken prisoner by Achuzia’s men.”

The account continued:  ”Achuzia was given total control of the Biafran 11th Division on January 19, 1968…On May 19, 1968, Achuzia was transferred to Port Harcourt and made commander of all Biafran soldiers within the city… Maj. Achuzia stubbornly continued to fight against the Nigerians before narrowly escaping death after almost being run over by an armored car.”

It is a measure of Achuzia’s stature in the Biafran Army and his loyalty to the rebellion that towards the end of the war the Biafran authorities ”officially placed all remaining Biafran soldiers under the command of Maj. Achuzia.” Indeed, Achuzia was among the important Biafran actors who eventually surrendered to the federal army in January 1970. The end of the war marked the end of Achuzia’s military activities, but not the end of his Biafra consciousness.

His son, Onyeka, who announced his death, said: ”My father was the Ikemba of Asaba. A 21-gun salute has been fired in his honour and to announce to Asaba indigenes that he is no more.” It is notable that although Achuzia hailed from Asaba, which is outside the Igbo heartland, his heart was with his ethnic group.

Achuzia’s death 48 years after the civil war meant that he had enough time to reflect on that bloody chapter in Nigeria’s history. It is ironic that after the war, he lived and died in a country he had fought to break away from. It is worth noting that he lived with the memory of military defeat but lived undefeated.

Culled from :Here

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