By Valentine Obienyem
Just like Saul (Later Paul) studied at the foot of Gamaliel, I stayed many times at the foot of Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu seeing the world from the perspective of wisdom. At one of the encounters, he told me that if he had three Achuzies, that the narratives of the war would have taken another trajectory.
Achuzie is gone, but we must continue to remember his exploits during that war that was essentially to prevent the extermination of the Igbo race.
Achuzie was to Biafran what Adekunle was to Nigeria. He was a top Biafran War commander who prayed fervently before any battle but always fought like a lion. He was exceptional because he was conversant in using all the weapons of war and in each rivaled the best. He used the machine proficiently, drove the amoured tank and piloted bombers for sorties into enemies camps.
I usually accompanied Mr. Peter Obi to see him in Asaba now and then. Lest you interpret the visits wrongly, they were filial one, to find out how an ageing father was faring. It was just a simple trait of a well brought up child who understood the Igbo concept of filial respect and responsibility.
Why was Chief Joseph Achuzie named Hannibal?
Those of us at home with history must have heard about the “Punic Wars”, how Carthage and its generals were a thorn to Almighty Rome. After Hamilcar, his son Hannibal took over, at twenty-six, as the Commander of Army of Carthage.
Even though Carthage, the present day Tunisia, was eventually destroyed by the Romans, under the command of Hannibal, Rome saw hell.
Hannibal, history tells us, was a good and ruthless soldier who disciplined his body to hardship, his appetite to moderation, his tongue to silence and his thought to objectivity. History goes on to tell us that he could run with the swiftest, hunt or fight with the bravest. Writing about him, Livy, hostile to Hannibal, was frank about him: “He was the first to enter the battle and the last to abandon the field.”
His Army loved him because he wore no distinctive dress, never rested till he had provided for them and shared with them their sufferings and gains.
His arch enemies, the Romans, accused him of avarice, cruelty, and treachery, for he honoured no scruples in seizing supplies for his troops, punished disloyalty severely, and laid many snares for his foes. But all he did was justifiable according to the international law at that time.
The Romans could not readily forgive him for winning battles with his brain rather than with his men. The tricks he played upon them, the skill of his espionage, the subtlety of his strategy, the surprises of his tactics were beyond their appreciation until Carthage was destroyed.
Hannibal took war to Rome and was outside Carthage for 36 years. He had the scares of all the ammunition used for that war and had to lose one eye. He was recalled to Carthage when it was unbearably under threat. Thereafter, he met face to face with Scipio who commanded Roman troops at Zama. Hannibal fought like a lion but he suffered defeat for the first time but eluded capture and escaped to seek refuge in Carthage. The Romans continued to haunt him as a dangerous man. His people of Carthage were not comfortable with him, they thought that a man with surplus energy like him was infinitely capable of mischief. They sent words to Rome that Hannibal was plotting to renew the war with them, thereafter they hounded him relentlessly.
Even when he fled to Antioch, rather than keep the peace, he advised Antiochus of Antioch to embrace war with the Romans, when he was defeated, the Romans insisted that the only condition for peace was for the dangerous Hannibal to be turned over to them. Eventually he escaped to Crete them to Bithynia. We were told that Roman army surrounded the his hiding place, but Hannibal who preferred death to capture said before drinking the poison he carried: “Let us relieve the Romans from the anxiety they have long experienced, since they think it tries their patience too much to wait for an old man’s death.” This was in the year 184 BC and Hannibal was sixty-seven then.
Now that Biafran own Hannibal is gone, people like me are looking longingly to comments about him from veterans on the other side such as Generals Gowon, Obasanjo, Buhari, Babangida and their remnants, for man shall not live forever.
On the other side, we look forward to hearing the verdicts of the likes of Nwaobosi and Ben Gbulies and their own remnants, if the grace of good health will allow them, for, again, man shall not live forever.
Shall they entertain us with incredible wartime tales of Achuzie using the skull of enemy soldiers to drink water, or the body of fat ones to grease his ammunition, or the bones of already decayed soldiers to fence the camps of his soldiers, or his love for the quote of a Roman General that said that “the corpse of enemies smell sweet?
Whatever is said about him will not diminish the fact that Igbos loved him so much and will continue to love him for his sacrifices for them at their trying times.
Mr Obienyem wrote from Lagos