How I Escaped Death Covering The Civil War – Sobowale


He is a man of many parts. But his contributions to educational development, especially Journalism/Mass Communication, have etched his name on timeless marble. Welcome erudite scholar and accomplished journalist, Prof. Idowu Akanbi Sobowale. Widely celebrated as a “teacher of teachers”, the multidisciplinary journalist who turned 80 recently is credited with producing hundreds of scholars and journalists. In this interview with EVELYN OSAGIE, he recounts how he escaped death covering the Civil War, his take on succession calls, Imo attract among others.

My Nigerian civil war experience

As I’ve said, I don’t think secession is an option. It shouldn’t be. I also don’t think going to war is an option. It shouldn’t be, because those who have seen war or worse would pray that it never occur again. Throughout the Nigerian civil war, I was an active participant as a war correspondent. I operated in the three divisions of the war. The first division that was taken over by late Brigadier General Shotanmi; the second div., and Marine Commando, third division headed by Benjamin Adekunle. And in fact, I escaped death by whiskers at Ore, the day the Biafrans came and destroyed Ore. And we left just about five minutes before they routed every soldier that were there. They had stationed the soldiers that were to be taken to the front which had been taken from the various training centres and camped there so that they would be hearing the sound of gun. So that when it was time for them to move they would not be afraid. On this day, we (Yusuf Oladele, my photographer and I) had written our stories and given them to somebody who was coming to Lagos. Then, we went to Ondo, when we came back, we decided to go to Lagos with my motorcycle. We rode it at the first div. And as soon as we left, the Biafrans came and exterminated all the soldiers there. There was no way we would have escaped. In fact, we had not gotten to Ijebu Ode when news came that we got the news; and that they were on their way to Lagos, Abeokuta and Ibadan. And when we got to Ijebu Ode, it was said that the Biafrans were on their way to Ikorodu. Such were the stories until we got to Lagos; and the whole place was in panic.

At the third Marine Commando, I saw death face to face . And at the first div., we went to – I think it was either Ogboloeke or Ogboloafo that was a spot for long and protracted conflict between the Biafrans and the Nigerian troops. This day, they said they had left there for a while; then Shotanmi asked Yusuf and me to accompany him to see what the place was like. Not long after we got there and we were going round, we were in an abandoned school when a soldier came to tell Shotanmi that the Biafrans had returned. Then Shokanmi looked round and saw a jute bags and asked Yusuf and I to enter, cover ourselves and remain still. He said they would do their best to defend us and if they didn’t succeed, it would not have been for lack of trying. He, then, went out with the soldier, and later somebody else came and said that they had repelled them. We were asked to come out of the jute bag.I had never been so afraid in my life like that day because that would’ve been the end. A time was when we were going to the war front with a bammy wagon, a big lorry, loaded with soldiers supply. We had to stand at the tail end with soldiers. We just got to a point and heard the explosion of a riffle. I think the cocked gun of soldier standing next to me triggered off when we got into a bump , and its bullet went pass me by inches. It could’ve entered and blown off my skull but God saved me. There are so many instances like that.

When we got to Oron and wanted to take the pontoon to Calabar, we saw the pontoon someway off on its way to Calabar. And we were thinking of what to do: where to sleep, when we saw the speedboat that Major Isaac Adaka Boro used in crossing from Calabar to Oron. It was on the last day he would go to the front. And that was his last journey to the front because the following day he was announced dead. It was the same boat we took back to Calabar. Then in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, there was this storm which turned the boat and off into the air I went. Yusuf and others had thought that was the end, but when it moved and I landed, I landed on the edge of the boat and then they pulled me inside. There is no way anybody can forget such.


My first assignment in the North


I was in the North when the first coup started. And the first assignment I covered in the North was the visit of Ladoke Akintola to Sir Ahmadu Bello. It was the day I got to Kaduna on my way to Kano as the correspondent in Kano for the Daily Times that the first coup occurred. I was tired because we went by road for the Daily Times distributing paper. I was tired and sleepy when asked to go for sightseeing round the city for me to see how the city in the car. And as soon as we entered the car, I slept off. Then all of a sudden, the car came to a halt. I saw everybody crouching on the floor, chanting Rakandede Rakandede Rakandede at another car. And when the car sped off, they said that was the late Bello seeing Akintola off to the airport. So we went back home and slept. At 2am, we started hearing the sound of guns, and, the people I was staying with(Alhaji Mustapha, the northern editor of Daily Times and some others) said the thugs from the West had come. And that no Westerner in the North was going to go safe. That heightened my fear because I had just left the comfort of my state and region to come in that. Later at about 6am, we decided to go round and see what had happened.


When we were going, we saw the military or police in training with their white singlet and khaki shorts, standing in strategic places. We went to Bello’s house and when we got there, we saw a tall individual rapped with blood soaked white linen on the ground. That infuriated my host the more that the thugs had come with boldness to kill Bello, that: “everybody must be killed”. Still in the morning, about 7 O’clock, we went round again and the trainees had been replaced with stern-looking soldiers, manning even the offices that were not manned before. Then we went back to file our stories to Lagos. We got to the teleprinter; it was dead. We picked the phone to dictate the story; the lines were dead. Then, we decided to go to Ibadan; we got there and it was the same. Daily Times then had teleprinters in each of its regional headquarters – Ibadan, Enugu, and Kaduna. We contacted Enugu, and still nothing. Then not too long after, we saw military patrol vehicles with stern-looking soldiers. They stopped to disperse people anywhere they saw three persons standing. And everyone was still wondering what was happening when a little after seven, Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu came on the line to say that a coup had occurred; and they had killed all the leaders of the regions. That was when everybody heaved a sigh of relief until later when people got to know that the death occurred only in the North and then in Ibadan with Akintola.


My take on the IGP saga


That would not be the first instance in Nigeria; they are too numerous. In the past, many had heard of their removal from office from the radio. I’m not sure it should be strange to Adamu himself, because he would’ve gone while the ovation was loudest.


My thoughts on the attack in Imo


It would not be the first time: in Abuja, they had done it, taking it to the Police headquarters and the UN office. It only shows there is no security in Nigeria at all.


My view on the way forward


I think Nigerians should now decide to take their destinies in their hands. We have been too dozy in this country. We are even afraid to ask questions, not to talk of taking actions. I’m not advocating violence because I’m scared of violence either because of what I saw during the war or because of what I have seen after the war. But it appears to me that we have not learnt anything; or we have not learnt enough from the occurrences of the past.

However, the major focal point is the leadership of this country: they should now be thinking of how to distribute the bounties that God has given this country, equitably amongst the various groups. The lawmakers in the various houses are supposed to, and I’m using my words advisably now, as supposed to be representing us. How much representation are they making? But unfortunately even those who didn’t know anything or have a hand in what happened or is happening are going to share from the repercussions of the neglect.


Why Lagos mourned Jakande


It couldn’t have been otherwise. When he was arrested by the military after the coup, market women and men in the state got together and went to the military. They said they knew that politicians were thieves; and Jakande being a politician must have been a thief, but they wanted to know how much he had stolen because they wanted to pay it back. If people could do that when he was alive, you can imagine how people would feel when they learnt that he had transited to the world beyond.

Let me give you more examples of how mindful of the ordinary person he was: he worked very hard. He never left office earlier than 8pm. Then when he got home – I’m giving you his schedule on a daily basis – when he got home, there was not moment for rest because scores of people, if not, in hundreds, would have been waiting for him. It was his habit of holding court every day. And that was why his commissioners, special advisers and permanent secretaries didn’t like going to his house in the evenings. Once you got there, you would not be able to leave until when the last person had left. And he would listen to everybody, whatever the complaint and would take copious note and send to the official directly in charge of that complain that was present, saying he wants a response in 48hours. And he would have told the complainant to come back in 48hrs for the feedback. He did that consistently throughout his administration. So if people who had benefitted from that, got emotional when he passed, it should not be a surprise.


Lessons for today’s leaders in Jakande’s example

Men like him cannot die. He would live forever. The examples are there for anybody who wants to learn to see. After his death, some media enumerated the things that he did in four years – only four years, because his administration was terminated the third month of its second term. If you put all the things they listed together, without exaggeration, they surpassed those of the governors that worked for eight years. So if you’re seeking office, seek it for the purpose of service. Do not do it because you want to benefit from it. Jakande was never one minute late for meetings (in the ones I attended with him). And the meetings usually ended late but Jakande will not stand up once to say he was going to toilet. He would lick his sweets and nothing more.



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