Late Gen. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, Head of state of Biafra
On the 13th of April, 2020, a gentleman, Franklin Ekechukwu announced the transition of his uncle, Dr. Ebenezer Oluchukwu Ekechukwu.
This was on Twitter. His exact words: “My Uncle, the man in-charge of Research and Production (RAP) during Nigeria/Biafra war, The Founder and First Director of PRODA Enugu died yesterday 04/12/2020 Easter Day in Charlotte North Carolina May his soul and the souls of faithful departed rest in perfect peace. Amen.”
There were varied reactions on Twitter, most of them eulogizing the departed gentleman, but a few tried to correct some of the claims he had made. Mine was one of them.
On the 16th of April, he insisted that “The first Ogbunigwe ever was designed, built and tested by my uncle in my village river and it worked before it was taken for mass production. The design was still with him till his death. He was the head of RAP throughout the war no one else.”
I rebutted his claims that his uncle designed and built the Ogbunigwe and that he oversaw the Research and Production Unit of the Biafran military. I also did not agree with his claim that his uncle was the FOUNDER and First Director of Projects Development Agency, Enugu (later renamed Projects Development Institute), PRODA.
My father was in both organisations, but he has been dead now for 15 years.
So I decided to call up some of his colleagues who were in RAP and others who were in PRODA. I needed to get the facts right. I must state here that with Dr. Ekechukwu’s death, we have lost another iconic scientist who contributed immensely to the survival of many during that unfortunate war. May his soul rest in peace.
A LITTLE INTRODUCTION BEFORE I STATE THE FACTS AS I HAVE COME TO KNOW THEM.
During the civil war, the Biafran military assembled a cast of core engineers, scientists, agriculturists, strategists, and technologists etc to produce food, weapons, defence systems and equipment for civil and military uses.
They also had the mandate to produce other useful items that would help the people to survive and to give the military a better chance to win the war. This group assembled under the RESEARCH AND PRODUCTION (RAP) unit of the military.
There were many branches of this important unit including those who refined petroleum. The war lasted three years. It probably would have been shorter if RAP had not existed and the resilient spirit of Biafrans was low.
When the war ended, the East Central State Government under Ajie Ukpabi Asika, tried to bring back all these engineers and scientists under a research institute called Projects Development Agency (PRODA) later to be renamed Projects Development Institute.
The story of these geniuses, exceedingly inventive men and women who showed they were among the best in Africa has been written in several articles and books in the last 50 years.
Some of the stories have been bewildering in their claims, while some have been quite concise. My earlier countering of Franklin’s claims were based on information that my father gave me and some of what I witnessed during the war.
My father was in RAP and I had the singular privilege and honour of meeting some of the people who were in RAP at the time, including the gentleman, Dr. Ebenezer Ekechukwu, whose nephew presented some wrong claims about his uncle’s roles in RAP.
I am also able to correct even my own earlier positions because I have in the last few days spoken to surviving members of RAP and PRODA who were there when both organisations were started.
I am compelled to place the facts as they are because it would be thoroughly unfair to the memory of those who have died and the sacrifices of those living today, who gave their best for many of us to survive today. And of course,to debunk other fallacies making the rounds of the internet.
The battle of Abagana and the devastation caused by Biafran Ogbunigwe
After the war, many of these scientists in RAP ended up in the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, (UNN), where I lived and again met them because my Dad was there too.
Now some of the key people who were in RAP and I will tell you what I have found out about what they did. Ben Chukwuka Nwosu, nuclear physicist, – he was the overall head of RAP, not Dr. Ekechukwu; Willy Achukwu, scientist – he was in charge of RAP in Umudike Sylvester Akalonu, engineer, – he was part of the team that developed the Ogbunigwe, Charlie Okafor, chemist – he was one of those who helped to name it RAP and the team that compounded solid smokeless rocket.
The initial rockets fired had trails of smoke. Ngozi Okafo, chemist, Agu Ogan, biochemist – helped to design some of the weapons and some antidotes for any eventual chemical attack on Biafra; Gordian Ezekwe, engineer – he was the head of the team that produced the explosive weapons and rockets, especially Ogbunigwe.
The weapons development revolved around this soft spoken gentleman. Clifford Ezeilo – engineer, specialist in thermodynamic, he worked on the rockets; Mark Chijioke, engineer – together with Ezekwe made solid fuel for the rockets. C.O. Chiori, pharmaceutical scientist Edmond Kaine, engineer – rocket and weapons design, Oleka Udeala, pharmaceutical scientists, helped in creating pharmaceuticals and other drugs as well as antidotes, Ebenezer Ekechukwu – engineer, he was the prime mover for the creation of the salt lake in Uzuakoli. He helped to source the brine and salt cakes for that project.
Eddie Mbadiwe, biochemist Martin Nwaji, chemist, designed the incendiary weapon that burned through tanks. FEMIT Sam Agogbua, biochemist, synthesised writing ink from herbs with F. U Ekezie, Emmanuel Anosike, biochemist, Chimere Ikoku, chemist – was the head of the Uzuakoli group of RAP, Fabian Ekezie, technologist – rearmed spent bullets, synthesized vehicle fuel from alcohol and created laboratory glassware for the scientists and engineers. Also built silencers for guns with Agogbua F.N.C. Oragwu – nuclear physicist headed a unit in RAP and were at the core of producing war machines for the military.
Willy Achukwu – technical scientis,t whose input helped in building Ogbunigwe, Fred Ozoh – chemical technologist, ensured the laboratories worked at prime.
Now, there are many others that I cannot remember fully because there were quite a number of great men and women who made RAP what it was. RAP was big. It had many branches. I am more concerned here with the Uzuakoli unit. It is evident here that Ekechukwu, though a key member of RAP was not its head and reported to some people.
I knew the man personally. He used to visit my father when we lived in Methodist College Uzuakoli where RAP had one of its operating units.
PRODA The Projects Development Agency was the idea of the then Administrator of the East Central State, Ajie Ukpabi Asika. It was set up under a state edict and had Professor J.O. C Ezeilo, an eminent mathematician and one-time Vice Chancellor of the UNN as its founding Chairman. Dr. Ebenezer Ekechukwu was the first Director for a while before leaving for the US. He did well in providing leadership at those initial times.
The draft document setting up the Agency had some deficiencies, key of which was setting the tenure of the Director. When the document was finally corrected, Ekechukwu’s term ended abruptly.
When he left, Professor Gordian Ezekwe, came on board to run PRODA as Director. So Franklin is right that his Uncle was the first Director, but not correct that he founded the place.
Of course, there were others like Engr. E.O. Kaine, Harry Okolo (eminent chemist), Vincent Iwenofu, Ferdinand Obodo (technologist) F.U. Ekezie (my Dad, who was consultant to PRODA for over ten years), Prof Nduka Okafor, and many others.
I am putting the records right so that these people who worked so hard do not get pushed out of memory because of some wrong information.
I must state here that Nda Ekechukwu (that was what I called him during the war) was a fine gentleman and astute engineer, but he was not all that his nephew claimed him to be.
Finally to the memory of the great men who have gone the way of all flesh, I pray you to remember them, our fallen heroes: Gordian Ezekwe, Ben Nwosu, James O. C. Ezeilo, Ebenezer Ekechukwu (recently), Martin Nwaji, C.O. Chiori, Agu Ogan (recently), A.N. Njoku-Obi, Sam Agogbua, Fred Ozoh, Fabian Ekezie, Ferdinand Obodo of PRODA, Vincent Iwenofu and others.
May the Lord continue to grant them rest.