Ogbunigwe: The Biafran Wonder of the Nigerian Civil War

Ogbunigwe, the deadly mass destruction missile that made the federal troops jittery, was a product of the scientific feat of the defunct nation of Biafra. It was the first technology to be wholly designed, developed, mass-produced and launched in Africa. It was used in combat in 1967 and at the height of production, about 500 units were being produced per day in Biafra.

Ogbunigwe, also known as Ojukwu’s Bucket (named after Biafran Warlord, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu), was based on the physics of the “Munroe or Neumann effect”. It killed and maimed by wave effect percussion and dispersal of shrapnel. It was shaped either as a cone or cylinder and could be used as a land mine, a ground to ground projectile against troop concentrations or ground to air anti-personnel “air burst” cluster bomb.

With the economic blockade of Biafra having a telling effect, the people turned inwards, devising survival strategies and apparatuses. Apart from extracting and refining their own petrol; they also had improvised armoured tanks and piloted their planes. The renowned Professor Gordian Ezekwe led a team of scientists in what was known as the Biafran Research and Production Unit, RAP. This think-tank group was tasked to develop rockets, bombs and telecommunications gadgets.

The Ogbunigwe mines and warheads generally had a killing range of between 180 meters and 800 meters, an effective shrapnel radius of a 90° arc and could easily wipe out a company of enemy troops. The self-propelled rocket versions had a missile range of 8 kilometers. The weapons were annihilating for enemy infantry and armored vehicles.

Unable to withstand the superior firepower of the federal troops, they began to run for their dear lives carrying along with them their air defence ‘mines’. Their commander, bold and stalwart, ordered them back and commanded them to fire the mines on the approaching federal troops.

In October 1967, the federal troops, having captured and secured Enugu, the capital of Biafra, were on their way to Awka and Onitsha, the commercial nerve centre of Biafra, through the old Enugu-Awka-Onitsha road. The well armed, heavily equipped federal troops, with their superior fire power, encountered a battalion of poorly equipped, out-gunned and virtually exhausted Biafran troops at the Ugwuoba Bridge, few kilometers into Awka.

Image of Abagana ambush
Aftermath of the Abagana ambush, 1968.

However, the Biafran troops had on hand some of their air defence dust mines. Unable to withstand the superior firepower of the federal troops, they began to run for their dear lives carrying along with them their air defence ‘mines’. Their commander, bold and stalwart, ordered them back and commanded them to fire the mines on the approaching federal troops.

The command was promptly carried out. Indeed, the federal troops could not understand what hit them. The effect of the detonation was very devastating leading to loss of many federal troops, as well loss of large quantities of arms and ammunitions some of which got completely burnt.

The Nigerian troops were so mortally afraid of the Ogbunigwe that each advancing battalion was preceded by a herd of cattle. Many cows lost their lives.

The Abagana Ambush

March 25, 1968 probably remains one of the most memorable events of the war. It was the day the Nigerian side suffered the heaviest single loss in the war.

Known as the Abagana Ambush, the Second Division of the Nigerian Army led by Colonel Murtala Mohammed had finally crossed the Niger Bridge after failing in the first attempt (having been repelled by the Colonel Joe ‘Hannibal’ Achuzia’s guerrilla army and suffering heavy casualties). Having crossed into Biafra, the plan was to link up with the First Division led by Colonel Mohammed Shuwa penetrating the Igbo heartland through the north from Nsukka.

With a 700-man team, led by Major Jonathan Uchendu, a counter-attack plan was hatched that essentially sealed up the Abagana Road while the troops laid in ambush in a nearby bush waiting patiently for the advancing Nigerians and their reinforcements.

Image of Abagana ambush
Soldiers assess the damage of the Abagana ambush, 1968.

Major Uchendu’s strategy proved highly successful as his troops destroyed Muhammed’s entire convoy within one and half hours with about 500 casualties on the Nigerian side. There was minimal loss on the Biafran side. It was probably the most resounding battle ever won by the Biafrans in the entire war.

The Ogbunigwe was the most effective Biafran weapon during the war and the Nigerian forces were not able to find an efficient defense against it. Well placed mines or rocket salvos coordinated by few determined soldiers were often enough to stop an entire Nigerian advance. The Ogbunigwe in its various forms was able to influence the outcome of many battles. It was indeed a weapon of mass destruction.

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Ayomide Akinbode

Unbowed! Unbent! Unbroken! A Perfect Gentleman...

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