BENJAMIN ADEKUNLE: THE HERO NIGERIA DOES NOT DESERVE
The death of Brigadier General Benjamin Adekunle provides a stark contrast between the great potentials of the past and the bleak future of the present. His death provides a timeline that shows two pictures: that Nigeria is not progressing due to its inability to preserve and replicate patriotism and that its life is ebbing away with every death of past heroes announced.
Nigeria faced in 1967 the same internal threat to corporate existence it faced today, with few differences in semantics and prevailing circumstances. Then the threat was termed 'secession' from down South but now it is called 'insurgency' from up North. Then, Nigeria was neither as rich as it is today nor prepared for such high level combat, having only few trained personnel. Today, the country commands enormous resources and has a reputably strong army, as could be seen in its peacekeeping efforts.
Yet, this insurgency has not only lasted more than the civil war, from all indications, it is getting stronger, while the army sinks deeper into controversies ranging from mutiny to protests. Adekunle's death therefore begs the 'why' question and it forces a conclusion that the labour of past heroes is being laid to waste, instead of being built upon.
Adekunle's heroism could be summed up by one saying that where there is a will, there will be a way. He took over an army command largely made up of volunteers who had no prior military training and turned them, within months, into brave soldiers with the most humane records. His attention to details could be seen when he renamed his command, officially called 'Third Infantry Division', to the 'Third Marine Commando.'
As a good manager of men and resources Benjamin Adekunle threw his soul, knowledge and body to the prosecution of the Nigerian civil war, leading the 3rd Marine Commando through the sea to rapidly capture the city of Port-Harcourt and the total liberation of the parts of eastern Nigeria that are now known as Rivers, Cross Rivers and Akwa-Ibom States respectively. This descendant of Ogbomoso warriors fearlessly fought side by side with his soldiers at the war front, sharing their pains and experiences.
It is on record that Adekunle's feat came with minimal loss of human lives, a testimony to his deft tactics. Many of those captured by his command were either absorbed into the Nigerian army or rehabilitated to take up other dignifying jobs. So, while the 'Black Scorpion,' as he was fondly called, gave a tough posture in the media as someone who wants to kill all 'enemies,' he was quietly rehabilitating them and winning them over, as revealed in recently published accounts of the civil war.
If casualties recorded by his command's onslaughts are compared with especially the one led by late General Murtala Mohammed, Adekunle instantly comes across as a thoroughbred officer and gentleman, a Nigerian Military nationalist and a Yoruba illustrious son, who gave the art of modern warfare in Africa a unique place in the history of humanity.
His exploits in the Nigerian civil war put him in the elite class of military commanders who led from the front; legends such as General George S. Patton of the US Army in World War II, Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, the 'Desert Fox' and the exceptional General (Later Field Marshall Viscount) William Joseph Slim, commander of the British Army in Burma in World War II. Audacious and unpretentious, Benjamin Adekunle was a commander's commander in the best sense.
Adekunle, according to historical accounts, was a product of Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in the UK and he was commissionedas a 2nd Lieutenant on December, 1960. He served in Kasai Province of Congo with the 1st Battalion, Queen's Own Regiment, been his first ONUC UN peace keeping duty. In 1962, Lt Adekunle became Aide-de-Camp to the governor of the eastern region, Sir Akanu Ibiam. As a Captain he was posted back to the Congo as Staff Captain (A) To the Nigerian Brigade HQ at Luluabourg under Brigadier B. Ogundipe. In 1964, Major Adekunle attended the Defence Services Staff College Wellington in India. He was appointed Adjutant General briefly in May 1965 to replace Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon, who was proceeding on a course outside country. He later handed over the position to Lt. Col. James Pam and posted back to his old Battalion (1st Bn) in Enugu as a Company Commander. He later assumed command of the Lagos Garrison as a substantive Lt. Col.
When the Nigerian Civil War broke out in July 1967, Adekunle was tasked to lead elements which included two new battalions (7th and 8th) – to conduct the historic sea borne assault on Bonny in the Bight of Benin on 26 July 1968 (carried out by Major Isaac Adaka Boro's unit). This happened after the federal government gained confidence of most south western ethnic groups as a direct result of Biafran push to mid-west state and probe into Western region. Adekunle was promoted to Colonel after the Bonny landing.
The 6th (under Major Jalo) and 8th (under Major Ochefu) battalions of the Lagos Garrison subsequently took part in operations to liberate the Midwest following the Biafran invasion of August 1967. The 7th (under Major Abubakar) stayed behind to hold Bonny. Because Major Jalo's Unit was seconded to Lt. Col. Murtala Mohammed's 2nd Division, Adekunle was left with only the 8th Battalion at Escravos. He, therefore, protested to Army HQ and got the Lagos garrison upgraded to Brigade status through the creation of the 31 and 32 Battalions (under Majors Aliyu and Hamman, respectively). This formation, combined with elements of the Lagos garrison along the eastern seaboard, was officially designated the 3 Infantry Division. However, Colonel Adekunle did not think the name was sensational enough nor did it project the nature of the unique terrain in which his men had to fight. Therefore, without formal approval from Army HQ, he renamed it the “3 Marine Commando (3MCDO).”
The “Black Scorpion” was easily the most controversial, celebrated and mythologized figure. Benjamin “Adekunle's boys in the Midwest seized Escravos, Burutu, Urhonigbe, Owa and Aladima. They captured Bomadi and Patani, Youngtown, Koko, Sapele, Ajagbodudu, Warri, Ughelli, Orerokpe, Umutu and Itagba”
The name of Benjamin Adekunle will continue to resonate as a great son of Africa forever for the role he played in the contemporary history of Nigeria, feats that are lacking in the Nigerian Army today, a rare willpower that is sorely needed. One therefore wonders whether Nigeria deserves its heroes. Nigeria recorded great feats that were unmatched even in European countries in its early years.
We will continue to miss him, as long as we are unable to produce men like him. it is in this regard that Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG) commiserate with the entire family of the late Brigadier General Benjamin Adesanya Maja Adekunle, the Soun Of Ogbomoso Oba Oladuni Oyewumi, the Oyo State Governor, Senator Abiola Ajimobi, the good people of Oyo State and Nigerians in general on the loss of this illustrious son of Oduduwa and a national patriot of the highest order. He is gone, but his life is still with us as a lesson, as a fountain from which we can drink forever.
Adieu! 'The Black Scorpion'
Kunle Famoriyo, is the Publicity Secretary of Afenifere Renewal Group.