General Godwin Alabi – Isama’s “The Tragedy of Victory”: Reflections 0f an ordinary reader.

General GA Isama’s “The tragedy of victory” is an in-depth look at the conduct of the 3rd marine commando division (3MCD) during the 30 month Nigerian civil war. The book meticulously chronicles the tactics and overall strategy of 3MCD while also touching on the socio-cultural challenges that gave rise to the conflict. By putting his story on the record, General Isama has done a great service to his motherland and except for the poor editing, “the tragedy of victory” is truly a captivating read with a ton of incredible stories.

The book begins by portraying how a young school sports Icon found his way into the Nigerian armed forces to the dismay of his family, especially his mother. It then shows how the young Alabi Isama developed himself and effectively came of age during his early days in the military. The story progresses to explain the early deterioration in Nigeria after the first coup and how the young Officer Alabi had to escape the north for fear of being killed by northern militias who saw him as an Igbo sympathiser. Officer Alabi who was at the time know as Abdurrahman, given that he was raised by his northern Muslim mother, then rediscovered his father’s people of the Niger Delta and changed his name to Godwin Alabi-Isama.

 He was captured by Biafran troops at the begening of the war, and we are told of how he escaped from his captors to re-join the federal war effort with the 3rd marine commando division of the Nigerian Army. The writer then proceeds to give an intricate account of the battle plans and strategic manoeuvres of 3MCD which he was not only privy to by virtue of his proximity to the commander, Col Benjamin Adekunle, but was also central to the development and implementation of the strategies. We are then briefed on the events that led to the sad exit of Adekunle the war hero and the entry of Obasanjo who is largely described as a clueless and confused commander. The story then explains how General Isama was unceremoniously kicked out of the force due to issues surrounding the Dimka coup and how history was apparently high jacked by lazy glory seekers.

On a general note, although the narrative of the book leaves the author looking like a saint and war hero, the motives do not appear to be self-serving and the author comes across as open and sincere. Although I considered myself quite knowledgeable on the topic of the civil war, I was surprised to not have been able to recognise most of the names mentioned which proves that much has been lost about the history of the war, especially the military history. The book is somewhat a song for the many unsung heroes of the war; the forgotten gallant commanders, the effective female intelligence operatives and spies, all the gallant men and women who contributed in their little ways to the oneness of Nigeria; this story is for them. The book does exactly what one would wish for every history book to do; tell a story not known to many and then allow the pundits to take over the debate. I am curious to know General Isama’s take on the current security situation and how he will grade the counter insurgency efforts of the Nigerian Military today. I hope the likes of Col Adekunle and Gen Danjuma will be pushed to also tell their stories to clear the air on the issues surrounding them.

In the end the question is always the same; which way Nigeria? We fought for our unity in 1967 and we are still fighting for our unity today. I am amazed that general Isama was just 27 years old at the height of his activities with 3MCD and I am the same age as I write. Unfortunately, the opportunities that allowed that 27 year old to thrive in service of his nation more than 40 years ago are almost non-existent today. Thus this 27 year old drowns in the culture of the times that has hampered our progress and left us looking to the past instead of the future … Which way Nigeria? Which way?


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