GENERAL Benjamin Adekunle, who died at the weekend, was one of the authentic heroes of the most tragic phase in Nigerian history, the Nigerian Civil War, 1967 to 1970. He was the Commander of the Third Marine Commando which played arguably, one of the most central roles, in the defeat of the Biafran secessionist project.
As controversial as they come, Adekunle was nevertheless recognized by his contemporaries as a brilliant military commander, dedicated to the unity of our country when it was at the brink. He was a colourful character by all accounts, and I think General Gordon Alabi Isama’s recent book is a very good platform to understand the place of the Third Marine Commando and General Adekunle in the war effort and by extension, the politics of the period.
It seemed obvious that there was a generous dollop of the showman in the Adekunle persona; he was full of surety about his own intellectual capacity, military knowledge and prowess. It seemed that his success and visibility as a war commander would become the basis of his eventual fall from grace and early retirement from the Nigerian Army.
It must have been a most painful outcome for a man who certainly was far more capable than a lot of the people who eventually became lionized in the aftermath of the war and who would cream the most important positions and privileges into the future of Nigeria. General Benjamin Adekunle certainly did not get the rewards that his labour for the nation deserved.
I noticed that General Alani Akinrinade, who also served in the Third Marine Commando, said that General Benjamin Adekunle died an unsung hero; not even a national award was given to the man and he literally lived in penury and away from the limelight that he enjoyed so much as a flambuoyant war commander. General Adekunle lost out in the internecine battles within the military elite that dominated Nigeria from the Civil War, up to the transition to Civil Rule in 1999.
It was shameful that those vicious rivalries and internecine battles blinded them to the extent of refusing to reward the man’s contributions to the making of Nigeria.
It is a pity that he died unsung, unrecognized and unrewarded by a country that seems to enjoy trampling upon its very best; and who can deny that General Benjamin Adekunle was one of the best of his times? He gave his best for the preservation of our country’s unity but was denied a significant place in the pantheon of heroes of his generation and was not rewarded as he should have. He nevertheless was an authentic hero of a tragic phase in Nigerian history!.