blame military intervention in Nigerian politics for the country’s underdevelopment
93-year-old retired captain, Timothy Ibelegbu has blamed military intervention in Nigerian politics for the country’s underdevelopment. In this interview with Joe Akwarandu and Udo Ogbonna, the nonagenarian speaks on the fall-out of the 1966 coup d’etat and military administration in the country, among others.
When did you join the civil service?
I started teaching after I passed the standard six. I didn’t quite like the teaching job. So, when the Second World War broke out, I was seeing battalions of soldiers who were being conveyed by train at Mbawsi, where our school was situated. That moved me to join the military.
At what point did you join the Nigerian Army?
I joined the Nigerian army in 1945 and was trained as artillery personnel.
What was your rank then?
I rose to the rank of lieutenant and attended many courses, at Sandhurst in the United Kingdom, USA for military courses and later became an artillery instructor in the Nigerian Army. I left the army after serving for 23years and joined the Biafran army at the outbreak of the Biafran/Nigerian civil war where I was promoted to the rank of a captain.
You were in the army during the coup of 1966. Did you play any part?
I was in the Nigerian army during the coup and played active part. If you have a copy of the publication by Ademola Ademoyega “WHY WE STRUCK,” you will see that I was mentioned in the book. I am sad to remember that coup by the five majors.
It was un-called-for. And to remember that, because of my involvement in the coup, I was arrested and imprisoned along with some military officers.
But, thank God today, that I am still alive. The coup caused a lot of confusion and problems which Nigerian is still suffering till today.
That coup was unnecessary and was badly executed by the plotters.
In fact, the coup and its subsequent outcome – series of military administrations - which lasted for over 33 years brought about wasted years that have dragged the country backward till date. The Nigerian military should apologise to the nation for usurping power in the way they did.
What, in your opinion, might have caused the coup?
The coup, which I have already condemned earlier, I am still condemning even at my old age. I suspect it was caused by ethnicity, tribalism and mistrust among the military officers. Tribalism crept into the military hierarchy. I would say the young military officers lost confidence in themselves and decided to put a spanner in the works. That was my opinion.
When did you retire from the military and why?
I retired from the army in 1974 after the civil war in 1970. My people, in my community, Umuakaka Nkata of Ibeku, in Umuahia North local government area of Abia state during my return, after my incarceration in1966 refused my going back to the army.
I told them that there was no way I could sit down in the village when the war between Nigeria and Biafra broke out and watch Nigerians slaughter my people, the Biafrans. So, when the actual war started in 1967, I quickly joined the Biafran Army and continued as the artillery officer until its end in 1970. I didn’t regret my role in Nigeria or Biafra because it was service to my fatherland.
Sir, I have seen a very big compound said to belong to the Ibelegbu family. How many children do you have and how many wives have you?
Ibelegbu is a very big family and I can happily say that I have two wives with 13 living children, to the glory of God. Though due to old age, I am now bed-ridden with illness, I still thank God that I am still alive as the oldest man in Umuakaka Afarata Nkata Ibeku village. This village can boast of prominent men like Chief Benjamin Apugo and others who still seek advice from me from time to time.
At this juncture the first son of captain Ibelegbu, Mr Okechukwu Kenneth Ibelegbu lent his voice to buttress the points his father had made so far with the correspondents.
My father was an agile and respected soldier both in the force and Nkata community. We are proud of him even now that he cannot move about because of illness and age. During his days in the military we had the opportunity of living in many parts of Nigeria like Abeokuta, Kaduna, Lagos, etc. My father can speak almost all Nigerian major languages like Hausa, Yoruba, English, and French languages. My father is a social man who does not believe in ethnicity. He is a detribalised Nigerian who loves his family, community, state and Nigeria.
Captain Timothy Anyaogu Ibelegbu is a Christian of Anglican communion and still worshipped in the church until his sickness. He is also a traditionalist and the secretary of Okonko group. He also had many titles bestowed on him.
(Back to Pa Ibelegbu). What do you say about the agitation for Biafra?
What I have to say here is that the Biafra issue is a good idea at a bad time. The way the agitators are going about it is not encouraging. Agitations are not followed with militancy. I would advise that they jettison the struggle now and wait for God’s time.
What advice do you have for Nigerians, Abians all and sundry?
My advice is that everybody should love one another. They should unite as a nation to develop the country. They should eschew tribalism, religious intolerance, corruption, hatred and help to build a solid nation where nobody is oppressed. That way Nigerian would be great again