Who is General Benjamin Adekunle?

General Colonel Benjamin Adesanya Maja Adekunle was a Nigerian army brigader and civil war commander. He was very instrumental in winning the war against the Biafran soldiers and took extreme measures to make sure the war ended. He was nicknamed Black Scorpion and was known as the icon of the Nigerian civil on the subject of patriotism.

Benjamin Adekunle’s Early life

Benjamin Adekunle was born on June 26, 1936. He was born in Kaduna, but his father was an indigene of Ogbomosho in Oyo state, and his mother was a member of the Bachama tribe in Adamawa State. He earned his School certificate from Government College, Kogi State.

Benjamin Adekunle’s Military career

After rounding up his school certificate examinations, Benjamin Adekunle joined the Nigerian Army in 1958. He wrote and passed the army selection examination and was sent to the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in the United Kingdom, which functioned as the British Army’s officer entry Academy.

On December 15, 1960, he was commissioned as 2nd lieutenant. He also served in the Kasai Province of Congo. He was a platoon commander with the 1st Battalion in the UN Peace Keeping Agenda. Benjamin Adekunle also became the Aide-de-Camp to the governor of the Eastern Region (Sir Akanu Ibiam) in 1962.

In 1963, he was transferred back to Congo as a Staff Captain to the Nigerian Brigade Headquarters at Lulubourg. In 1964 Benjamin enrolled in the Defence Services Staff College at Wellington, India.

In 1965, when he returned to Nigeria, he was temporarily sent to the Army Headquarters as the Adjutant General to replace Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon, who was on a course abroad. Before long, he was posted back to his former Battalion in Enugu, which made him hand over his office to Lt. Col James Pam. While in Enugu, he served as a Company Commander.

Adekunle’s roles during the Nigerian civil war

As a dynamic Lt. Colonel, Adekunle was chosen to take control of the Lagos Garrison. In July 1967, when the Nigerian Civil War erupted, Benjamin was given a task to lead elements which consisted of the 7th and 8th Battalion on an assignment. Their mission was to carry out the historic sea-borne assault on Bonny in the Bight of Benin in 1968.

This event occurred after the federal government gained the trust of the majority of the south-western ethnic groups as a direct result of the Biafran push to the mid-west state and probe into the western region. After the Bonny landing, Benjamin was promoted to Colonel.

After the Biafran invasion in August 1967, General Benjamin Adekunle was left with only the 8th Battalion- the 6th and 7th, Battalion were all engaged in liberating the Midwest from the war. Adekunle then protested to Army Headquarters and made efforts to get the Lagos garrison upgraded to Brigade status by creating the 31 and 32 Battalions under Major Aliyu and Major Hamman, respectively.

This formation, joined with elements of the Lagos garrison along the eastern seaboard, was officially called the 3rd Infantry Division.

However, Colonel Adekunle changed the name from the 3rd Infantry Division to the 3rd Marine Commando (3MCDO). He did this because he felt the initial name did not adequately capture the experience he and his colleagues go through to fight. And he made this change without formal approval from the Army Headquarters.

Benjamin Adekunle and his gallant soldiers fought bravely and took Escravos, Burutu, Urhonigbe, Owa, and Aladima. And also captured Koko, Sapele, Warri, Ajagbodudu, Oreeokpe, Umutu, Itagba, Bomadi, and Patani.

Some of the gallant soldiers who fought were; Lt. Col Godwin Alabi-isama, Lt.Col. Alani Akinrinade, Major Alimi Ogunkanmi, Major Yemi Alabi, E. A Etuk, Pius Eromobor, and Ted Hammanetin. 

Colonel Adekunle, who was quick and skillful, ended the civil war by cutting off every route through which the Biafran soldiers might get any form of assistance. The strategies he used were, blocking Bonny Town, which is the entrance to Port Harcourt from the Atlantic Ocean through the Gulf Guinea and the Bight of Benin. 

Colonel Adekunle fearlessly led his men through the Bonny Bar to Abonema and Port Harcourt, thereby cutting off any external access to Biafra. Adekunle was quoted to have said that:

“In the section of the front that I rule—and that is the whole south front from Lagos to the border of Kamerun—I do not want to see the Red Cross, Caritas Aid, World Church delegation, Pope, Missionary, or UN delegation.” 

At this point, the Biafran soldiers had no access to weapons, ammunition, food medical aid, and without them, victory was far off. The blockade affected women and children, leading to an intense famine. The Biafrans could no longer bear the harsh treatment, and this brought the war to an end.

The strategies employed by General Adekunle made him a dreaded warrior and earned him the nickname “The Black Scorpion.”

He was described by premium times as the most controversial, celebrated, and mythologized figure in the war of attrition that laid the foundations for Nigeria’s contemporary crisis; and threw a wedge into the national fabric.

History has placed Benjamin Adekunle in the rank of the above powerful personalities. His name will continue to resonate as a great son of Africa forever for the role he played in the history of Nigeria.

Benjamin Adekunle After the civil war

In 1972, Benjamin was promoted to Brigadier and was to decongest the Lagos port, facing a severe problem of clearing imported goods. He remained in this position until he was compulsorily retired in 1974.

However, After his retirement, he stayed away from the shady business and dirty politics that is common in Nigeria today, making him rich like his colleagues today.

Benjamin Adekunle sickness and death

Benjamin Adekunle fell ill in 2009, and said that the Nigerian government, whom he has sacrificed himself for, abandoned him at that critical time. Nonetheless, he spent his last days with his family, relaxed and joking with them, until September 14, 2014, when he died quietly in his bedroom.

Despite his weak finances and failing health, Benjamin Adekunle never chased after wealth or asked to be taken abroad by the government. He refused to cause a scene or gather up dust or draw attention to himself. This was something rare and uncommon among the elites in Nigeria. Benjamin Adekunle was a man of courage and died a noble death.

Benjamin Adekunle remains one of the rarest soldiers ever produced in the continent of Africa. “In character, thoughts, and visions he stood like a colossus. A Napoleon who did more than Napoleon” (Olagunju, 2014:2)

Benjamin Adekunle Personal life

Benjamin Adekunle was married to Comfort Adekunle, and the marriage is blessed with children, among whom are Mrs Bukola Olagunju and Abiodun A. Adekunle.

Benjamin Adekunle co-authored a book with his son Abiodun titled: The Nigeria Biafra War Letters: a soldier’s story.

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