THE BIAFRAN CHIEF PILOT BREAKS OVER 40 YEARS SILENCE TO REVEAL ALL
A Nigerian Air Force aircraft executing military flight manoeuvres and violent aerobatics crashes over Ibadan, Nigeria and sets off unprecedented accusations, recriminations and suspicions of acts of sabotage, treachery and betrayal perpetrated by the German Air Force Technical Assistant Group in Nigeria.
Guided by the military intelligence, a clutch of aggrieved Eastern Nigerian patriots boards a Benin – Lagos flight and diverts it to land at Enugu airport in a quick well coordinated broad day light skyjack. It was the first violent airplane snatch in Nigeria.
The Czechoslovakian Ambassador receives a human trunk that crashed through his living room window courtesy of an exploding Biafran bomber over the Lagos airspace.
A German Corporal, ignoring military protocol because of irreconcilable prejudice fails to salute a Nigerian Lieutenant thereby provoking intra-service hierarchical chaos in the German-run NAF.
These are but a few of the multitude of expose and revelations the author copiously chronicles in his “THE LAST FLIGHT”. Writing from the vantage position of being a part of the nucleus and foundation member of the Nigerian Air Force and later an active air combatant in the Nigeria-Biafra air-war, Captain August Okpe has given a robust and exciting account as well as some incredible perspectives of the political and military intrigues on both sides of the divide. He left nothing to the imagination in giving the account of the genesis and inception of the NAF while highlighting subsequent activities – the routine, the awesome or the spectacular, as the case may be - of the corporate body in its formative years right up till the beginning of hostilities. Then, he commences to treat the air-war most impressively.
Revealing facts and figures the world did not know of before have been painstakingly chronicled while pictures never seen before are also colourfully depicted.
• How were Nigerian military pilots trained in the USA, Canada, Germany, India and Ethiopia?
• Why would a German Corporal not salute a Nigerian Officer - a Lieutenant?
• Flight Safety, Corpses and Mink Coats!
• A full account of the first air disaster of the NAF in 1965!
• What role did NAF play in the coups of Jan 15 and July 1966?
• Did the Easterners take steps to stock up on arms in anticipation of the Nigerian attack? What is the connection between a professor cum Poet Laureate - Christopher Okigbo - and airplanes and weapons in the Nigerian Crisis?
• A full account of the first Skyjack in Nigeria. The dramatis personae and their reasons! And Photographs!
• The first Biafran Air Crash - victims, time and place!
• Full fledged account on how the Biafrans used helicopters to bomb the Nigerian front lines!
• NAF pilots and their exploits in the Nigeria-Biafra air war
• The exploits of the notorious B25 and B26 - their effect on Nigerian forces! And Photographs!
• A full and comprehensive account of Flight 101, the Biafran bomber that exploded over the Lagos metropolis - crew composition, armament, briefing, etc.
• Operation “Jefta” - the deliberate destruction of our (Biafran) airplanes to preclude their falling into Nigerian hands!
• A scorched Earth Programme which virtually called for wholesale suicide!
• Did the Portuguese Air Force Pilots fly for Biafra?
• Did Russian and Egyptian pilots fly with NAF during the war?
• Power play within the Biafran Air Force!
• The Last Flights
• The last Biafran pilots to be shot down only two days before Biafra capitulated!
About the Author
Captain August Okpe, who hails from Ihiagwa, Owerri in Imo State was born in Port Harcourt, Nigeria.
He enjoyed the privilege of academic and professional training at Government College Umuahia, Nigeria; The Central Officers School, Royal Canadian Air Force, Centralia, Ontario, Canada; The Royal Canadian Air Force Flight School, Penhold, Alberta, Canada; The Royal Canadian Air Force Flight Instructors School, Moose-Jaw, Saskatchewan; University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California, USA. The United States Air Force Flight Safety Centre, Valdosta, Georgia; The Boeing Airplane Flight School, Seattle, Washington; The Airbus Flight School, Toulouse, France; The British Airways Flight School, Gatwick, UK; and Cranfield University, Bedfordshire, UK.
Captain Okpe was part of the nucleus and, indeed, foundation member of the Nigerian Air Force which was established early 1963. But the NAF along with the country went through a serious upheaval in the Nigerian Crisis of 1966 that led to the flight of Easterners to the East and the subsequent establishment of the Eastern Command component of the Nigerian Armed Forces in Enugu, in Eastern Nigeria. In addition to his appointment as the Chief Flight Safety Officer & Air Accident Investigator, Nigeria Air Force Headquarters 1966, Captain Okpe operated a variety of aircraft for the NAF, the Eastern Command and later Biafra before and during the war.
As the de facto Biafran Chief Pilot, he later commanded the Tactical Air Command that won world-wide acclaim in its attempt to tip the balance in the war, which the Biafran regime unfortunately could not sustain for too long. For that and other meritorious services in the course of his prosecution of the war through unconventional military aviation tactics, Biafra honoured him with all the national awards possible at the time including the prestigious Military Cross.
In consideration of Captain Okpe’s spectacular aerial campaigns and punitive missions (economic damage and strategic bombings of military installations) against Nigeria, the Military Tribunal set up by the Federal Military Government of Nigeria mid 1970, understandably, did not recommend him to be recalled to the Armed Forces of post war Nigeria along with some of his peers.
Captain Okpe, however, has been granted a Presidential Pardon vide Government Notice Gazette No. 40 Vol. 90 of 18th May 2006, whereupon his dismissal from the Armed Forces of Nigeria got commuted to retirement with full benefits, rights and privileges with effect from 29th May 2000.
The Okpe family is very military to the core. Captain Okpe’s father fought in the World War II, while the Captain’s eldest son, August Okpe ll, is a much decorated US Army combatant officer of the Operation Desert Storm fame. His grandson, August Okpe lll, is expected to become a Sub-marine Commander some day! After leaving the NAF, Captain Okpe went for further training in the UK and USA soon after which he was later appointed fleet captain, and susequently, the Chief Pilot.
By the time he retired from Nigeria Airways and later as Director and Specialist Air Accident Investigator for the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Captain Okpe had flown as Captain or Instructor Pilot, in war and peace, a large number of the aircraft types the Western World had produced including but not limited to the T33, T37, DC3, F27 F28, B737, The Airbus A310-200 wide-body jet and the, Douglas DC-10-30, Jumbo Jet and had recorded over 15,000 hours of Military and Civil flight time to destinations domestic, regional or intercontinental as far afield to Europe, Africa, the Middle East, North and South America, and Asia.
The Captain, in a well articulated synergy of Flight Operations and Corporate Affairs, optimized command and control in a multi-faceted aviation administration as a senior member of the airline management. Not surprisingly, therefore, he headed the Nigeria Airways Implementation Task Force while also juggling with the additional responsibility as the Chairman Disciplinary Committee, Nigeria Airways.
A published poet and an ardent classicist, Captain Okpe, who is a widower with four grown children and grand children, is a member of quite a few professional Aviation institutions and organisations including IFACPAN . He subscribes to a lot of charities (Veterans Welfare, The Legion, Global Foundation For Orphaned Children), enjoys tennis, classical music, the beaches and, when possible, quality socializing.