“If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either, write something worth reading or do something worth writting.” – Barrister P.O. Balonwu quoting Franklin; Toast of DMGS Old Boys Association on their Golden Anniversary Onitsha Nov. 3 – 9, 1975.
“I got to know willy through the Asikas, and I took him home for an extended weekend during which he let me in on the secret of making organic fertilizers on my own farm with my animal and other farm waste. It was an inexpensive down – to –earth way to farming. – Ahmed Joda, former Super Permanent Secretary. Foreward to Evergreen Thoughts to Agriculture, Yola, 2011.
Willy O. Achukwu was the copamaestro who exerted profound influence on the Biafra Science and Technology propelling d outstanding, challenged innovators who went to labour or locked up inside the laboratories, to produce for Biafran the arsenal to resist annihilation, to produce food to survive the genocide and find the vaccines and plants to counter the diseases during the Nigeria civil war.
Willy O. Achukwu was like Benjamin Franklin, a multi-faceted genius, a scientific experimenter, inventor, a carpenter, an iron fabricator an architect and a consummate engineer.
Willy’s birth into a distinguished Onitsha family has been given its historical status (pse Sylvia Leith Ross… Mighty Tree…? Referendum 2020] Willy whose father had worked for the UAC Octopus during the colonial era was a noted Leopard hunter. He was equally exuding with lots of technical gifts. From that well written account the Achukwu sponsored his son to England hoping that on his return he would join his workshop and continue in the flourish family technical business. Willy returned to pick up appointment as an Agric engineer posted to Abakaliki where he single handedly transformed Abakaliki. When Will arrived Abakaliki as a junior engineer in the Ministry of Agriculture 1956, there were only five houses with corrugated iron sheets and the so-called township road was littered with naked women. By 1956 to 60 Abakaliki was transformed to urban town with several storey buildings as the farming community was able to procure paddy from all corners of Nigeria which it processed to a finished product. As a result, Agric business boomed.
Subsequently, the need for uninterrupted intercourse between the universities and the industries was encouraged by Dr. Okpara, Premier Eastern Nigerian. In 1963, he appointed a Committee for the co-ordination of Science and Technology for the benefit of the Universities and the industries. Willy and Dr. Ekechukwu of the industrial chemical Laboratory Enugu, then civil servants were appointed by the Premier to laise with the Universities on all matters relating to industrial problems of the region. It is on record that invaluable services were rendered to the of the few industries in the Eastern Region by the Committee. It was this Committee that initiated the Science Group which was directed by Engr. Willy Achukwu for the period of the war. Indeed, this is the period Eastern Nigeria raced to the most developing region outside Europe and America.
In his own authoritative narrative, Col. Ejike Aghanya, Supervisor R.A.P and the military laison; of the RAP acknowledged in his book “Behind the Screen: that Col. Ojukwu had asked him to meet Engr. Achukwu in 1967. Before he was released from detention Aghanya had designed a garri producing machine and Ojukwu sent him for Achukwu to put heads together for the improvement in the design to meet massive production for the relief of the Igbo refugees. The Governor’s recognition was not the first. Before the Military Governor, the Premier Dr. Michael Okpara had written to Engr. Achukwu. In that letter of 8th, May 1964 Dr. Okpara acknowledged the ingenuity of William O Achukwu when he stated “In point of fact Your New Project has become a point of reference for then Nigerians who look up to governments to supply the industries – Industrialization as it is well known, follows specific factors, the absence of which makes industrialization impossible. The best that can be done is to try smaller scale industries… you have now started. It now becomes you to demonstrate that given the place to stand on even the African can lift the industrial world.
Engr. Willy Achukwu’s Iron Bridge industrial venture which innovative concept involved the 1956 integration of Agriculture and industry in the mechanization and massive production of Rice not only became a subject of a World Conference organized by the Massey Ferguson Ltd. in collaboration with the Food and Agricultural Organization in Warwickshire England 1966 (where Willy read the lead paper); his iron bridge venture had other significant commendations.
Kenneth P. Sheldon of the USAID, stated that “The Iron Bridge concept is well carried out to show the great need for Agricultural industry to work together in the development of all people in Nigeria. In his own remarks, S.R. Kubicky Polish Commercial Office, Lagos noted that the mill is well organized…
Having made his name in the science of food production, in agric engineering Engr. Achukwu was therefore in the list of the Scientists and University of Nigeria Academics when the Nigeria civil war broke out.
In his memo to the Biafran head of State, Major. General Effiong, then a senior Ordinance officer in the Nigerian Army had before the declaration of war written that the Biafran Army had no sufficient military weapons to wage any meaningful war (See Philip Effiong, Nigeria – Biafra War).
Also in his own detailed examination of the military hardware on ground in Biafra May 1967, Professor Felix N.C Oragwu in his book “…Scientific and Technological Innovation in Biafra itemized the following chilly statistics as the main Biafra’s military arsenal;
i. Nine pieces of riot containment bombs in Enugu barrack
ii. Few Riffles of the West African Frontier Force, with few rounds of bullets, hardly enough to equipment an army platoon.
iii. Few Grenades used mainly by military men as personal weapons
iv. Few tear gas canisters and wooden batons for use by the police in riot prevention
v. One or two civilian helicopters rehabilitation with few rounds of 90mm shells abandoned by the military Barracks at Enugu by d departing Northern Nigerian dominated infantry.
vi. One ground to air-aircraft gun of second World war vintage possibly meant as a demostrastion or training weapon, but later to serve as a major air defense arsenal of Biafra
vii. One “Mysterious” B.26 air craft of the first or second world ar vintage, the source of which nobody was willing to tell.
viii.Locally made “Dane” guns used by hunters in Eastern Nigeria and some bows and arrows smuggled into Eastern Nigeria by the refugees of Igbo origin fleeing from northern Nigeria during the “Pogrom”. As Biafra was dazzled by the flights of the B.26… etc, and progagana, the Nigeria Government wasted no time in reaching military defense agreement with the Soviet Union and with the British.
Initially Col. Ojukwu had assigned Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna to coordinate the Science Group. This group were mainly hand-picked University of Nigeria few Academics who later were joined by Scientists, Engineers & technologist from other towns heard of the inauguration of the group they formed similar groups, thus emerged the Port Harcourt Science Groups. In P.H there emerged the Shell B.P Engineers, Umenyi who later became the Deputy Governor, Anambra State. Col. J.O.J., Achuzia, Engr. Odiwe who were private Engineering technical businessmen, were the P.H Leaders. The science Groups Technological improvisation of this time, involved mass production of equipment machinery engineering tools, scientific measuring and control devices and military devices. The extension of these tasks required a viable and functioning scientific Engineering & industrial manufacturing infrastructure; such as faculties as engineering design, metal and tool fabricating workshops foundry research and testing laboratories, industrial manufacturing facilities were facilities that were new to so many off those invited academics but not the experienced Scientists like Achukwu, Engr. Kaine.
Achukwu was with Kaine when he set up his Iron Bridge ventures in Abakaliki and when he moved into the Railways workshop at Enugu he set up to maintain the revolutionary vision of bringing together the thinkers men of books, and researchers together with the practical, gifted hands of production, development & industry innovators. Biafra needed him to push forward and foster his Abakaliki success, muster the Science groups to cancelled out the Biafra disadvantages in weaponry and food production. Hence, Prof. Oragwu in his book; Scientific and Technological Innovations in Biafra with the Moniker; The Ogbunigwe Fame, intimated us on how Engineer Achukwu manufactured the new weapon named the OGBUNIGWE.
“Between late July and early September, 1967, Biafra enjoyed air superiority over Nigeria by her possession of the old 1939 war vintage – B.26 Bomber. One early September morning, 1967 the old B.26 packed at Enugu Airport was suddenly attacked and its tyres deflated. That was the end of that air superiority and that attack announced the Russian massive military aid to Nigeria. Later in d evening the Commander of the Biafran Air-force after recovering from the shock and humiliation of the incident summoned his officers including the Biafran Commander of the engineers and some of the Scientists for Advice on what to do to bring down the Russian MIG fighter as d Biafran ground to air anti-craft guns was no longer relevant.
At d end of d Meeting only the S&T Engineer Willy Achukwu volunteered to design a system that would bring the Russian Mig down. He would bring his design for trial the following day.
On the trial day, Achukwu brought a contraption that looked more like a wooden waste paper bucket used in office. It was found that primed with juxtaposition of cortex, detonator, and explosives appropriately arranged within d debris of dust, light pebbles etc in the bucket with its base on d ground, would on detonation from a distance accomplish the task.
The Air Force Commander, the Military personnel present, and mentoring of the S&T Group present who witnessed the feat achieved were very excited and went into jubilation. The S&T group were directed to produce many of the devices to be used not only at the Airport but as Air defense cover for all over Biafra. The devices were later named Air Defense Dust Mines.”
On October 1967, haven captured Enugu, and was on its way to Onitsha, the Federal Army encountered a poorly equipped Biafran battalion at Ugwuoba Unable to withstand the Federal offensive the Biafran Commander ordered his tired troops to try the Air Defense Dust Mines on the attacking Federal Forces. Instead of vertical laying of the devices the effect of the horizontal detonation of the Air Defense dust mines was very devastating, leading to losing of many Federal troops at Ugwuoba. The devastation was very extensive with some shock waves generated by the unexpected explosives. The mass water from the River below the bridge was thrown up and widely spread by the generated waves thus adding to the trauma of the advancing troops. At Amansi, Awka the people of the neighbouring village were called out to the scene to help bury the dead. An elderly man on seeing the large number of the dead soldiers along the bridge exclaimed OGBUEFA NA IGWE meaning they have been killed in masses, that is how Achukwu AIR DUST MINE came to be known as OGBUNIGWE and S&T Group came to be generally called the OGBUNIGWE PEOPLE!
From the Ugwuoba incident an anti craft dust mine had suddenly been useful as a ground to – ground weapon with devastating impact beyond imagination. Achukwu after Ugwuoba became the toast of the Air force, the Army and the pride of the Science Group.
Achukwu’s crowning achievement which lay in the manufacture of fire works transformed his agric engineering expertise. Among the foreign mercenaries pilots who fight for Biafra, Willy Achukwu was described as the “Biafrans Artificer” Willy’s bombs were marvels of ingenuity & even included delayed action devices. Zumbach describes one creation having a base containing phosphorus suspended in an insulating liquid. A Bickford fuse ran from this compartment through a partition plugged with wax, into a second stage. This is compartment contained gunpowder. The third crammed with scrap metal. The big nails protruded from the base of the thing. The impact of d resulting punctures and the air gets in. It sets the phosphorus alight, the heat melts the wax and the Bickford fuse detonates d gunpowder.” Willy was a master of improvisation. (See Jan. Zumbach, on the Wings of War” My Life as a Pilot Adventurer).
Achukwu was indeed the Copamaestro inventor who perfected d construction of bombs, casings for the Biafra Air Force. The bombs were naturally small sized ones because after the loss of the old B.26 plane, the Biafran Air Force resorted to the use of helicopters for air raids at Nigerian Army locations inside Biafra.
In his own account Shadows another Biafran Pilot wrote, that the Nigerian Frigate NNS Nigeria during the Nigerian amphibian attack on Bonny and after was constantly under the ferocious attack of Willy Bombs. The Nigerians described the bombs as closely resembling oil barrels and which damaged the Frigate when d Nigerian Navy attempted to attack P. Harcourt from Bonny it was Willy Achukwu’s improvised dinghies primed in delayed times that gave hell to d Frigate and other Nigerian ships eventually discouraging Nigeria’s Naval attack from Bonny to Port Harcourt.
In his own account, titled the “The BIAFRAN SCIENTISTS, Prof Eugene Arene, acknowledged that the versatility, fecundity of Achukwu’s Scientific mind infected every formation of the Biafran organizations in their desperate struggles to survive the war. When the Biafrans were hard pressed, unable to generate ideal containers for their delayed time grenades; delayed time bombs, and thermite grenades.
The Author explained that Imo state in which Orlu is situated is a rain forest area with a lot of trees which include the bamboo trees. Bamboo trees grow very tall indeed with the stem hollow and segmented” In no time Will Achukwu and his team this time having moved from Umuahia to Ihitenansa descended on the bamboo stems carving them up as containers for “thermite” grenades and moved in hundreds to the BOFF BIAFRA ORGANIZATION FOR FREEDOM FIGHTERS.
Before he catapulted his innovations and guiding his group to inventing the Biafra’s dreaded deterrent weapon, the Flying, Ajuala” or flying Ogbunigwe it was clear that towards the end of the war, Willy Achukwu the paragon of the of the Science Group success was the supreme embodiment of the profound flourish of the Biafra scientific and technology undertakings. Either way this is our Albert Einstein. As in the “50s’ transforming our agriculture establishing industries, exciting governments who saw the need to team up with indigenous small scale venturers. When the war broke he knew where to find his fellow practical Scientists and how to reach and use the egg heads, pulling all together to cement the prodigons R.A.P. For those who would blame Ojukwu for going ahead to fight a war without arms; it is not a complete story if without that experiment how would we have known the unknown? The Achukwu, the Copamaestro…
Biafra was on d edge of epochal transformations … but for a Nigeria victorious Army Commander’s limited cosmology & education.
At the end of the shootout, Willy Achukwu leading his tested scientists and innovators went to Col. Bisalla Commander of the Nigeria first Division in Enugu with him were invaluable, prototypes, sketches, drawings of the different inventions of the R.A.P. Bisalla lacking exposure, stunted by a limited cosmology collected the sketches asked for some petrol and matches and put the whole materials on fire! The Scientists were lucky he did not burn them together with those materials.
After the devastation of the second War, the US & the equally victorious Soviet Union were racing all over Germany looking out for the German Scientists. There was the outstanding Dr. Von Braun & his collaborators who had helped Adolf Hitler develop the V rockets that rained destruction on G. Britain. The huge rockets launched the US space program and eventually landed the US on the moon. That program was developed by Dr. Von Braun and his Team. Bisalla’s pigmy education and his Commanders’ shared vindictiveness on the Biafra technological ingenuity blinded their judgment and when the Commander burnt those invaluable prototypes & designs, his manifest illiteracy killed the spirit and put the Biafran Scientists on the retreat. They never recovered from that leprous treatment.
(see TELL April 8, 2002; “Biafra Was Technology Driven” Special Report, Anayochukwu Agbo, p.35)
By WILLY O. ACHUKWU
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