The Last Flight

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Daily Independent (Lagos)

Chief Anayo Goddy Uwa- zurike

3 July 2010

book review

The book, The Last Flight, has more than 100 photographs. The foreword is written by the Chief of Defence Staff, Air Marshal Paul Dike CFR . The Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the defunct state of Biafra, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumuegwu Ojukwu, wrote the introduction. It is significant that this book is coming 40 years after the end of the civil war.

The book is written in a free flowing easy to follow narrative. The human nature of the dramatis personae is made explicit. The reader is easily absorbed into the accounts beginning from the author's training as a pilot under Stanley of Canada Airfora and ending with the air battle of Captain Allwell Brown and company.

Chapters 2-9 dwell on the making and the progress of the author. It was not all work and no play for the author and his colleagues such as Lt. Danyinma Ato, Usman Jibrim (who later became the Governor of Kaduna State), George Jebak, Tony Makpo and Bob Aleyideino. They enjoyed their lives to the fullest. They partied, rode in their sports cars and had their brush with the Royal Canadian Mounted police for their youthful exuberance.

Chapters 10 and 11 give graphic details of the author's further training, the development of the Nigerian Air Force and the involvement of the United State Air Force. The frosty relationship with the German Air Force NCO on a training mission was highlighted with the example of Klaus, a non-commissioned person trying to use the colour of his skin to intimidate the Nigerian officers. The author promptly put him in his place.

Chapters 12, 13 and 14 give the reader the step-by-step development of the Nigerian Air Force and the often mutual suspicion between the various officers. Major U.J Esuene harassed the author for allowing his beard to grow. Esuene became the first military Governor of Cross River State.

Most of these officers were to become major players in the destiny of this country and the decision that ended his military calling. The author also gave a narrative of his Government College Umuahia Old Boys in the military in page 178 as follows: Major General Alexander Madiebo, Brigadier George Kurubo (late), Brigadier Tony Eze, Brigadier Pat Anwuna, Brigadier E.Udeaja, Brigadier Tim Onwuatuegwu (late), Colonel Pat Anakwe (late), Colonel Ifeanyi N.C. Aniebo, Major Emelifonwu (late), Captain P. Okoye (late), Captain P. Ibik (late), Major Ben Iloabachie, Squadron Leader August Okpe, Colonel Emma Iheanacho, Colonel Inyang and Major Aloysius Akpuaka.

He described Onwuatuegwu in the following terms in page 179:

"Onwuatuegwu was a good choice considering that he was contemporaneous with me as far as the Umuahian time frame was concerned. A bold officer, who was usually a good speaker, he used to tease me as to how awful it was for me to be the only Umuahian that was a pilot and, for that matter, alone in the Air Force. When I went to see him, he received me with his usual expansiveness and bonhomie. He could instil confidence in a condemned man! The important thing was that he expressed his willingness to be a defending officer and, in fact, gave me additional briefing on what is usually expected after which he advised that we meet again on the 11th of January for a rehearsal. He had carefully taken notes on what happened with regard to the flight and the German interest after which I left him the transcripts to study."

Chapters 15 and 16 give the details of the 1966 coups and the deadly lack of trust among the officers that led to the Nigeria - Biafra war.

Chapters 18 - 22 give details of the circumstances that led to the exit of the author and the officers and men from the various parts of Nigeria to the then Eastern Region. The commencement or the formation of the flight activities in the Eastern Region are clearly documented.

The hijacking of a Nigerian Airways plane by a group that included the indomitable university students leader, Mark Odu (now Prof. Nze Mark Odu) from Benin Airport to Enugu Airport is narrated here. This very aircraft will be used six months later for an attack in Lagos that earned Mark Odu detention in Nigeria until the end of the war.

Chapter 23 and 24 give an account of the teething problems after the declaration of the Easter Region as the Republic of Biafra by the then Governor of the Region Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu. The author at this time also married his heartthrob Patsy Mgbafor and he was expected to settle down to a normal married life but his military spirit continued to soar.

This narrative in page 250 gives a lucid account of how pilots toast their babies.

"I was not insensitive nor indifferent to those tested and proven words of my wise teachers, but in an extra-curricular bias, especially after bomb practice runs with Correa, I discovered that I had also perfected flying extremely dangerously low and fast over a particular house- Mr. Godwin Okpalor's at Obiagu Road near the Hotel Presidential. I had nothing against Mr. Okpalor, but I was interested in his daughter Patsy, and my stunt flying or barnstorming over that house was my noisy and flamboyant was of informing her that I was back from a mission and that she was being invited over to join me for dinner. And, maybe, I was also trying to pressure and harass her father into letting her go. I, nonetheless, stopped this silly escapade that was threatening to destroy (by way of an unplanned contact or an inadvertent bomb drop) the Okpalor house, not to talk of the potential danger to my person, when on the 20th of June 1967, the old man, well let me marry her."

Chapters 25 - 46 give a meticulous account of the Biafra war, the losses, the gains, the deaths and the harrowing experience of the survivors. War is indeed an evil wind that blows no one any good. A young poet, the inimitable Chris Okigbo died quit early in the war.

Chapters 47 - 50 give an account of the despicable role of some countries that led to the death of many people, the selfishness of some leaders, the saving grace of relief agencies and some dedicated individuals. The Red Cross, the Caritas International, e.t.c. Count Von Rosen etc are mentioned for their good deeds.

This section also gives a philosophical view of war and what drives some people to become soldiers of fortune and others who deal with both sides. The role of the Biafra Babies (special military aircraft) and their brave crew was graphically narrated.

The exploits of the pilots such as the author Adindu Njoku, Obinwa, John Chukwu, Ifeka Onuora Allwell Brown, Ukeje, Johnnie Carson, Hagland, Norgren, Willy Bruce, Sgt Ex Coffin Nwagbara and Agbafuna are well documented throughout this book. So is the departure of Kurubo from Biafra. At the end of the war, the cream of the Biafran soldiers was not re-absorbed.

Nigeria lost a chance to integrate battle-tested pilots who would have replaced the Egyptian and Eastern European pilots who operated the NAF Mig jets. Most of the Biafran pilots converted to commercial air liners. The mercenaries moved on to other areas of conflict, such as Congo.

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