Ndubuisi Kanu: Odyssey of Biafran-Nigerian Admiral

There are certain people one prays to meet in life, to relate with or be friends. Admiral Godwin Ndubuisi Kanu was one of such persons. Who would not want to have a handshake with Abraham Lincoln, Nehru, Kwame Nkrumah, Mother Theresa, JF Kennedy, Akanu Ibiam, Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Olusengun Obasanjo, Lee Kwan Yew, and such other world leaders? The aura of great lives attracts to them relations, friends and foes far and wide.

That was the reason when Jesus Christ while on earth between 6BC and AD 33 was so popular in his sublime simplicity (lifestyle and teachings) that the low, high and mighty sought after him to be either his friends or enemies. Both ways, none ignored him! He was “man of the people’ going about doing good by acts of kindness, healings from diseases and ignorance.

Those who swallowed their pride to seek after him to tap from his divine knowledge and wisdom such as Nicodemus who went to him by the cover of the night or the other publican who had to climb the Sycamore tree to behold Jesus and his entourage were not disappointed.

The aura of a great man is simply infectious, magnetic and attractive! So it was with Admiral Kanu. Admiral Godwin Ndubuisi Kanu belonged to the circle of the greats that are sought after by others for friendship or relationship and from what I know about this great man, he did not court publicity to advertise his greatness but the deep call to the deep – and so great minds courted his friendship which he easily obliged those that were sincere in that quest. I did not personally set out to court the friendship or make the revered admiral a relation. Our friendship was the product of fortuitous circumstances.

Sometime in 2015 as the din of the presidential election’s campaign was drowning the voice of reason and crowding out commonsense and even the very elect were deceived as the conscience of the nation was being submerged especially when Professor Wole Soyinka weighed in with his declaration of support for General Muhammadu Buhari against President Goodluck Jonathan who had disappointed many Nigerians who had hoped that President Jonathan was a ‘breath-of-fresh-air’ that would not fall into the Nigerian trap of pursuing shadows encompassed in the failed socio-economic and physical infrastructure instead of tackling the failed state and dysfunctional legal order, the very root-cause of Nigerian problem.

The disappointment and despondence this Soyinkaic declaration induced in the polity made many youths and elders of conscience to resign to fate believing that the national tragedy has occasioned and one could like our Lord Jesus Christ proclaim: “it is finished.” It was in the din of that Soyinkaic endorsement of General Buhari as the All Progressives Congress presidential candidate that I became disillusioned about Nigerians’ sense of history but most especially with Nigeria’s so called intelligentsia. So, I wrote an open letter to Wole Soyinka as one of the ‘fathers’ of Nigeria that I respect.

The kernel of that letter was not about Wole Soyinka’s exercise of his private opinion which that endorsement signified but about the betrayal of public trust. Wole embodies conscience of the nation in public opinion or public morality, the reason so many people look up to him for guidance on any public issue. So, I wrote an open letter to Soyinka which the Guardian on Sunday published on 17th May, 2015.

The letter went viral and attracted thousands of responses from readers through e-mail and phone calls/messages. In consequence of this letter, when I travelled to Lagos and visited Professor Anya O. Anya, my cousin Chief Ogbonna Solomon who is now the President of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Lagos asked me to accompany to see Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu at his residence at Victoria Island, Lagos. We arrived his modest building and the Admiral received us, especially me like an old acquaintance.

A good listener and conversationalist, his questions were quite probing and search out substance out of your answers. Brilliance was written all over his entire being and from that interaction I easily referenced the stories one of his trusted commissioners in Imo State Government (1977–1978), Dr Agom Eze, now the traditional ruler of Igboezeonicha of Ebonyi State used to regale me with.

One of those stories explains better the statement Lagos State Governor Jide Sanwo-Olu made at the Ndigbo Lagos Night of Tributes for the departed Admiral. In that report (‘Ndubuisi Kanu’s Night of Tributes’ Vanguard, 30/10/2021) Governor Sanwo-Olu declared: “He was able to start the development of Owerri. It was because of his excellent performance in Imo that he was transferred to Lagos as a military administrator.” The fact contained in Governor Sanwo-Olu’s statement could well be true but the story Admiral Kanu’s Commissioner in Imo State government, Dr Agom Eze told me gave another reason for Admiral Kanu’s transfer from Imo State to Lagos.

Admiral Kanu as x-rayed in the Vanguard Editorial (30/10/2021) was a detribalized Nigeria, and a brilliant officer who fought for Biafra, was reabsorbed after the Biafra War into Nigerian Armed Forces from where he grew to become a Navy Commander at which point he was appointed a member of the Supreme Military Council under General Murtala Mohammed and military administrator of newly created Imo State in 1977. Admiral Kanu set about helping the people to gather together their shattered lives after the Biafra War. General Gowon had appointed Mr. Ukpabi Asika from Onitsha the administrator of East Central State.

He did his best in the circumstances he found himself for the confidence was not there to assert himself to offer creative remedial measures to resuscitate the fallen Igbo psyche, moral tone, economic and sociocultural gravitas or else he would be suspected of promoting some kind of Igbo renaissance. So he played safe to survive the peace imposed on the Igbo by making Enugu his capital city the playfield and watering hole for the victorious generals until he was sacked by General Murtala Mohammed alongside other military governors of General Gowon era.

Admiral Kanu had on assumption of office as Military Administrator of Imo State deployed hislatent energy like Biblical Nehemiah of Jewish restoration of Jerusalem to rebuild Imo State on a totally progressive template especially in fixing the social and physical infrastructure that were destroyed during Biafra War.

The amount of success achieved by Admiral Kanu in his short stint as military administrator of Imo State got him into trouble not promotion or praise as Governor Jide Sanwo-Olu’s tribute would have us understand. General Obasanjo was the military commander who concluded the war on Biafra from Southern Sector covering present South-South zone terminating at Owerri (Imo State) and Nnewi (Anambra State) and by virtue of his wide tour of the conquered territory he was aware of the amount of devastation his troop wrecked on the area.

So, as Head of State, on a tour of Imo State in 1978, General Obasanjo was amazed at the rate of recovery the people have achieved within a short space of time after Ukpabi Asika and Gowon. Most of the destroyed roads, schools and hospitals have been miraculously fixed that Obasanjo could hardly recognize Owerri, Umuahia and Aba and he expressed surprise.

The turmoil in General Obasanjo’s mind as he toured the state with Commander Kanu was still active when they visited Aba where a reception was held for him. The address the Chairman of Aba Division, Chief Nwanganga, presented had pointed to the Federal Government’s neglect of these areas.

At this bombshell, General Obasanjo could barely hide his anger at the temerity of these ‘conquered people’ who still have the audacity to confront the victor/conqueror with accusation/ complaint of neglect and he was livid. Commander Kanu, a subaltern to General Obasanjo was a brilliant and intelligent person and he received Chairman Nwanganga’s bombshell with equanimity. Instead of panicky reaction, Kanu while addressing the Head of State, carefully summed up the complaints by Chief Nwanganga into a soft, sweet and digestible whole by pointing out to General Obasanjo that the people were not angry with the government but were rather pouring their souls out for him to appreciate the anguish the Biafra War caused them while hoping that as a father he would assuage their pains and sorrows. According to Dr. Agom Eze, this Chairman Nwanganga bombshell made Commander Kanu to detail him (Dr. Agom Eze) to Umuahia to vet the welcome address of that Division’s Chairman.

At Owerri during the State Reception, General Obasanjo while responding to the address by Commander Kanu did not gloss over the offending statement of Chairman Nwanganga as he by innuendoes cast aspersion on the military administrators who would not rein on wild imaginations of their subjects.

To Obasanjo, Admiral Kanu was sent to administer and control the people but he chose to give them confidence and galvanise the creative forces of the society to pull themselves together to do for themselves what Nigerian State could not do.

The Nwanganga irritation was Admiral Kanu’s sin and barely weeks after Obasanjo’s visit to Imo State; Kanu was transferred from Imo to Lagos State for close monitoring to obviate further security breaches and irritations. Admiral Kanu until death represented core Igbo values of industry, honesty, truth, universal justice and love of mankind. As this Admiral set sail for Heavenly Seas, we say: Adieu the people’s commander! Adieu the Biafran fighter!! Adieu Admiral of Nigerian Navy!!!




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