by Godwin Akanfe
Benjamin Adekunle, a retired Civil War hero, popularly known as ‘Black Scorpion’ is dead.
According to his wife, Folake, he died this morning in Lagos.
Born in 1937, the Asipa of Ogbomosho, Brigadier Benjamin Adesanya Maja Adekunle underwent secondary education at the Government College Okene (in present day Kogi State).
He joined the Nigerian Army on March 15th, 1958. After basic training at the ROSTS in Teshie, Ghana, he proceed to the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst in the UK. He was commissioned 2/Lt on December 15, 1960. As a platoon commander, he served in the Kasai province of Congo with the 1QONR (1st Battalion) during his first tour of duty with UN Peace-Keeping operations in that country (ONUC). In 1962, Lt. Adekunle became Aide-de-Camp to the Governor of the eastern region, Sir Akanu Ibiam. The following year, as a Captain, he was posted back to the Congo as Staff Captain (A) to the Nigerian Brigade HQ at Luluabourg – under Brigadier B. Ogundipe. In 1964, Major Adekunle attended the Defence Services Staff College at Wellington, in India. When he returned he was briefly appointed Adjutant General at the AHQ in May 1965 to replace Lt. Col. Gowon, who was proceeding on a course outside the country. However, he later ceded the position to Lt. Col. James Pam and was posted back to his old Battalion (1st Bn) in Enugu as a Company Commander.
Adekunle came to public attention, when, in August 1966, he led a unit of soldiers of non-eastern origin who were then part of the 1st battalion by train out of Enugu in the east, en-route Lagos in the south west via Kaduna in the north. This was prompted by a recommendation by the regional conference in Lagos (following the bloody chaos of the July 29 northern counter-coup). The recommendation was that not only were military personnel to be posted to Barracks in their regions of origin, but “for security reasons, the Supreme Commander should take charge of peace and security in Lagos.” The mutinous 2nd and 4th Battalions at Ikeja and Ibadan, respectively, were ordered to move to Kaduna and other northern cities while non-eastern elements of the 1st Battalion in Enugu were deployed to Ikeja in Lagos to replace the notorious 2nd battalion.
When the civil war broke out in July 1967, Adekunle was tasked to lead elements of the LGO – which now included two new battalions (7th and 8th) – to conduct the historic sea borne assault on Bonny. He was promoted temporary Colonel after the Bonny landing. The 6th (under Major Jalo) and 8th (under Major Ochefu) battalions of the LGO subsequently took part in operations to liberate the Midwest following the Biafran invasion of August 1967. The 7th (under Major Abubakar) stayed behind to hold Bonny. Because Major Jalo’s outfit was seconded to Lt. Col. Murtala Mohammed’s 2nd Division, Adekunle was left with only the 8th Battalion at Escravos. He, therefore, protested to AHQ and got the LGO upgraded to Brigade status through the creation of the 31 and 33 Battalions (under Majors Aliyu and Hamman, respectively). This Brigade, combined with elements of the LGO along the eastern seaboard, was officially designated the 3 Infantry Division. However, Colonel Adekunle did not think the name “3 Infantry Division” was sensational enough nor did it project the nature of the unique terrain in which his men had to fight. Therefore, without formal approval from AHQ, he renamed it the ” 3 Marine Commando (3MCDO)”.
Adekunle’s boys in the Midwest seized Escravos, Burutu, Urhonigbe, Owa and Aladima. They captured Bomadi and Patani, Youngtown, Koko, Sapele, Ajagbodudu, Warri, Ughelli, Orerokpe, Umutu and Itagba Uno. They moved in force into Kwale, eventually linking up Murtala Mohammed’s 2nd Division as he charged down from Owo through Sabongida Ora, Uzebba and Iruekpen, eventually arriving at Umunede and Ogwashi-Uku after taking Benin City through Ekpoma, Ehor and Oluku. Another one of Mohammed’s Brigades advanced directly along a west-east axis from Ore.
Adekunle’s next task was to take Calabar – Operation Tiger Claw – the success of which made Adekunle internationally famous. He quickly gained a reputation for fearlessness, daring, and tactical innovation. There were reports of him leading troops into battle – from the front. He even climbed into Air Force aircraft to personally supervise bombing runs or go on recce. However, Air Vice Marshall Yisa Doko (rtd) seems to recall that Adekunle did not find it funny when they flew into anti-aircraft fire on one occasion, frantically demanding to be taken back to base. Aware of his growing reputation, he began to court the Press. The popular musician, Sunny Ade, even waxed a record in his name.
Then he took on targets in the Uyo, Annang and Aba provinces. Although Port Harcourt and Owerri were initially part of the 2nd Division area of responsibility and Obubra under the 1st Division assignment, Adekunle took them all on under the wings of the 3MCDO. Witnesses say he often carried a club that he used to urge soldiers on in battle. By May 19th, 1968 he had taken the strategic city of Port Harcourt oblivious to a few disasters along the way like Onne, Arochukwu and Aletu. It was at Port Harcourt that he made his infamous promise that he would seize Owerri, Aba and Umuahia within two weeks (Operation OAU).
Following the disaster at Owerri and near-mutiny among his troops, he was recalled to Lagos in May 1969, promoted substantive Colonel and appointed Director of Training and Planning at the SHQ, a position he held until the end of the war.
After the war, Adekunle was promoted Brigadier in 1972. On August 20th, 1974, along with Brigadier Sotomi, he was compulsorily retired from the Army following an international hemp trafficking scandal involving a businesswoman called Ms. Iyabo Olorunkoya.