By Onoja Johnson.
As it remains truthful and very unfortunate, how Nigeria and our state governments quickly forget the labours of her heroes, the unsung military living legends like Master Warrant Officer Michael Otuwe (rtd) would remain valid security resources for our society if incorporated into the system.
The Olamaboro-born Otuwe was the orderly to the late General Murtala Mohammed who was assassinated in a failed 1976 coup de’tat and the only survivor of the attack that claimed the lives of the General, his Aide-de-Camp and the driver.
Michael Otuwe attended Ankpa Primary School and Ankpa Model Secondary School before he joined the profession he cherished most, the army. He joined the army on September 11, 1967, at Ikeja Military Cantonment in Lagos and that is where he underwent the mandatory six months training on the eve of the Nigerian Civil War. After the training he was posted to the Nigerian Army Signal Corps and incidentally, Muratla Ramat Mohammed was a Colonel then and the Inspector of Signals.
Otuwe who was made an orderly by late Murtala when the late General noticed how immaculate he was in the army dress during master parade. He was a Lance Corporal in the Nigerian Army then. According to him, he was young and just had to be clean. He was with Murtala in all his posting and during the civil war as he was made the first General Officer Commanding Two Division of the Nigerian Army and beyond.
Retired Otuwe worked with Murtala till he was killed and that was 11 years and within the period he had only three children – Aisha, Zakari and Fatima.
While narrating the secret behind their success in the civil war, Otuwe said his late master was gifted. He said there was an occasion when Biafran soldiers encircled them, his late master did a wonderful tactical manoeuvre and retreated that baffled even they the soldiers that were with him. When many wanted to surrender, he made a quest to fight and to win for Nigeria to continue as a united country. He added that the late General had a good retentive memory and did not forget anything.
Otuwe explained how they encountered many ambushes and attacks but one of the most memorable one was when they were encircled at Ukpo Junction in Abbagana where Murtala did a tactical manoeuvre and withdrew and prepared for a defensive attack that led to the capture of many towns and cities. But all the Nigerian soldiers that captured Onitsha fell into a trap as they were encircled and fell to the fire-power of Biafran troops. They went to Asaba in speed boats and down to the northern region in Idah in present day Kogi State to prepare for attacks that eventually lead to the capture of more cities. In 1968 there was a reshuffle that took General Murtala back to Lagos as Minister of Communications an Inspector of Signals. That mean he was doing two jobs at the same time.
Otuwe who never enjoyed family life while defending the nation said what saved his marriage was an understanding wife he married. He said she knew she was married to a soldier and she had become part of the system as when she saw them at home, it meant they were off duty.
He said most of his children almost forgot him as he left home at dawn and came back late in the night. They saw him only on weekends even though he used to go to the house of the head of state even during weekends and even before he became the head of state.
On how the Late General Murtala was assassinated, Otuwe recalled the memory on how he was assassinated on July 29, 1976 after ruling for six months from July 29, 1975 to February 13, 1976.
“He was a very good man as he did not allow the goods (personal effects) of General Gowon to be thrown out but to be removed gently and for the house to be renovated before he relocated from Dodan Barracks. That was why he was shuttling from Ikoyi without pilot cars, motorbike outriders, armed military and security bodyguards among others. He only rode in the official Mercedes Benz car with two flags the national flag on the left and the armed forces flag on the right.
“On that fateful day, we passed through Federal Secretariat in Ikoyi which was undergoing renovation and covered with zinc. When we reached Alagbon Junction the traffic man did not notice the flags, he would have allowed the traffic in our direction to continue moving, but he stopped the five or six cars in front of us then I saw some people in agbada (Babanriga) and when they lifted them up they brought out AK-47 rifles and fired at us. Already a masked man had got the driver, Sergeant Adamu Michika, in the head and he feel on the arm-rest where the suit case containing the General’s mufti was. I took cover and fell on the driver.
“The General and the ADC also took cover. When the assassins left and were heading to National Broadcasting Corporation – Radio House – to announce the takeover, one of the Majors turned and saw when the ADC opened the door to help the General, the Major shouted and notified his colleagues that they were alive. This made them to turn and rush back and emptied there bullets in us. I was the only survivor as I was shot in the arm and the hip.” Otuwe recalled.
He further narrates, “the troops loyal to General Murtala came after the soldiers and they took us to the mortuary. I recovered from coma when the breeze from the air conditioner and the pain woke me up. A mortuary attendant notice that I raised my hand and he alerted a doctor who said I was alive and they took me to Dodan Barracks and then to a hospital on Awolowo Road Ikoyi,” he recalled.
Otuwe spent six months to recover from the attack and resumed work with the Nigerian Army Signal Corps where he worked with Generals Adenaju, Raji Rasaki and lastly Tanko Ayuba.
Otuwe who lamented that he has been forgotten without a honour from the government. He is currently living in a rented two bedroom apartment in Maraba in Nasarawa State.
He retired from service on the December 31, 1999 as a Master Warrant Officer.
Today, it is disheartening that this patriotic individual who has played a vital role in keeping, uniting and defending Nigeria is living as a commoner at the outskirt of Abuja where we visited him.
Having worked with a military proficient like Late General Murtala Mohammed, fought the Civil War and also as the only one who escaped in the assassination of the Late General, Otuwe remains the most experienced retired living military legend across the Middle Belt of Nigeria. He stands as a useful security tool for his state Kogi and the nation at large, if called upon.