Africa

Ojukwu, the People’s General Lives On

Ojukwu_ikemba2While reflecting on why Biafra lost the war of survival against Nigeria, in which about 3 million Igbos died, some non-Igbo critics of Ojukwu are of the view that he led his own people tactlessly into what was clearly a foreseeable disaster. Others claim that due to his passion for power, he paid more attention to the politics of the war than to the one basic question of security. Yet, there are others who blame him for not securing the support of any of the world super powers before going to war with Nigeria, etc. Though, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu who, like every human being, may have his weaknesses, obviously must have made some mistakes in life, given a lot of reasons.

Unlike the typical corrupt African politicians averse to steadfastness, Odumegwu, for instance, did not betray communist East Germany educated Chuba Okadigbo, who engineered his return back to Nigeria from exile in the Ivory Coast. As a one-time special adviser on political affairs to the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) Dr. Okadigbo advised the Shehu Shagari government that granting Ojukwu a state pardon would ensure appreciable level of Igbo support for NPN, which prior to that time was seen by Igbos as a `Hausa party` and therefore had feeble presence in Igboland. How people connected with Ojukwu was evident in the hero’s welcome he got when he set his foot in Nigeria after 13 years of exile. Prominent politicians from various political parties in the land wanted to tap into the NPN investment, holding out before him some goodies, promising to add the heavens to the earth being dangled by the NPN, if he could throw the NPN pact into the nearest dustbin. Indeed, he was tongue-lashed by some of his Igbo people, who felt he had broken ranks, and might cut into the Nnamdi Azikiwe-led Nigeria Peoples Party’s (NPP) electoral advantage in the East. At that time, NPP controlled the only two Igbo states in Nigeria – Anambra and Imo, and Plateau state, which is outside Igbo land. Therefore, NPP was where much of Igbo loyalty lay. But Ojukwu firmly stood his ground, as he dutifully maintained the political pact with the second republic government.

Ironically, he found himself being the centre of intrigue by the NPN, which had a capacity to trivialize even the most serious issues. Concerned about Ojukwu`s enigmatic influence, they did not only abandon him, but rigged him out of a senate seat to a little known state commissioner called Dr. Edwin Onwudiwe, who was in then Governor Jim Nwobodo’s cabinet. Ojukwu would later jokingly refer to himself as Onwudiwe’s ID, meaning the man’s only way of identifying himself was to say, “Am the man who won Ojukwu in an election.” The path home for Ojukwu was laced with treachery, as he was, for instance, restrained by successive military governments from laying down his head in his father’s house at 25 Queens Drive Ikoyi, Lagos. The government had used the excuse of rebellion against the state of Nigeria to confiscate the property. Nigerians stood by him out in the open, and with the awkward walls within which he had anything being an old rickety bus, all that in the rainy season. It was from there that he fought to reverse an eviction. According to him, as an old soldier, he could adapt to any condition. The military government’s arm was eventually forced by public anger it couldn’t stand any longer, to let go of the man’s property, but not after series of court rulings. Also, Ojukwu’s military pension which was also one of the conditions for the state pardon didn’t start coming until 41 years after the end of the civil war.
Ojukwu has held many important positions in the country. His first job was to oversee colonial affairs as a district officer in the town of Udi. He had also worn the UN helmet as a peace keeper in the Congo Crisis of the 1960s. Ojukwu was to hold forth as the first Quarter-Master-General of the Nigerian Army, and later discharged himself satisfactorily as the commander of the 5th battalion of the Nigerian Army in Kano. His next posting was as the Military Governor of the old Eastern Region in Nigeria. He moved with the circumstance in Biafra to become a four-star general and head of state of that country. He threw his heart into the political arena once again in 2003, founding the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and contesting the Nigeria presidential elections as the party’s flag bearer. 
At no time in his public service has Ojukwu been swayed by corruption, something to which his contemporaries look kindly. This is an excellent record in a country like Nigeria. It is believed that part of his father’s wealth was channelled into the Biafra war effort. Ojukwu is guided by the principle of contentment. You don’t look any further for a true and astute leader. When he was once addressed as a chief by an interviewer, he replied, saying, “I am not a chief; it rhymes with thief.”
Intellectually, and among his contemporaries, Ojukwu is one of the brightest. Not surprising, Ojukwu’s father was Sir. Louis Odumegwu Ojukwu, a Hope Waddell Institute educated-parliamentarian in Nigeria’s first republic. Ojukwu senior was a business mogul and said to be one of the richest men in Nigeria in his time. He was also founding president of the Nigeria Stock Exchange, as well as president of the African Continental Bank (ACB), and was in the boards of most of the powerful companies in Nigeria at the time. The senior Ojukwu made no mistake of what he wanted his son to be, sending his son to the elite Kings College in Lagos. At 13, Ojukwu was on his way to Europe to enrol at the elite Epsom College. Ojukwu proceeded to the famous Oxford University, where he obtained a Bachelor’s as well as a Master`s Degree in History. But Ojukwu will downplay these academic acquisitions, and tell you that “Education is not elitism, education actually, to me, is more a question of sharpening one’s choices and consciousness. The value in it is the effect one has on one’s people.”
Ojukwu is a highly talented man who can strike it out with you in various Nigerian languages. The English author Frederick Forsyth recollects that Ojukwu made the atmosphere in the flight that brought him back to Nigeria from exile very cordial, as Ojukwu freely cracked jokes and interacted with all the delegations sent to receive him in their original languages of Yoruba, Hausa and, of course, Igbo. He also interacted in French with the Ivorian delegation sent by his host president late Félix Houphouët-Boigny of Ivory Coast.
Also, unbeknownst to many people, Ojukwu learnt how to speak Yoruba language first before his own native Igbo language. The early sign that Ojukwu would not grow up to become a weakling but the defender of people against injustice and oppression started when he was only 11 years old. He was briefly imprisoned by the colonialists for assaulting a white British colonial teacher, who had humiliated a black woman at King’s College, Lagos. The incident generated widespread coverage in local newspapers. The second incident was at the age of 13 at Epsom College in Surrey, United Kingdom, where a naughty white boy caused Ojukwu’s African accent to make his colleagues shake with laughter. One day, at the hallway to the chapel, he heard one of them call him `monkey` and another tripped him and his books were all scattered on the floor. The boy had no idea he and his colleagues had been provoking a sleeping lion by always intentionally and contemptuously stepping on its tail, hence the boy got the beating of his life and a three-day admission in the hospital to go with. Ojukwu would be among those who would eventually be at the boy’s bedside, and they became friends thereafter. These incidents serve to prove the Igbo adage which says that “the sign of a pear that would darken to maturity starts with a dark spot at the head.”
As one of the detribalized leaders in Nigeria Ojukwu played an outstanding role in neutralising the first coup in Nigeria, even though he had to confront the coup leader and a fellow Igbo officer, Major Chukwuma Nzeokwu and other officers from mainly southern and, especially eastern Nigeria. It weakens the argument of people determined to justify an assault on a people by claiming it was an all-Igbo coup. The coup was largely seen as successful in the North and partly in Lagos as Lagos was then the seat of power, and both the prime minister of the country and the premier of the North had been killed. But it lost momentum as Ojukwu refused to cooperate with the coup plotters in the North and pitched loyalty with Gen. Aguyi-Ironsi, the legitimate commander of the Nigerian army, who ensured the coup plotters wouldn’t accomplish their aims in Lagos. Then, came the unrestrained killings of Igbos in the North led by mainly northern military officers among whom were, Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon, Lts ADS Wya, Ibrahim Babangida, Garba Duba, Lt. Col. Murtala Muhammed, Lt Col. Shehu Musa Yar`Adua, Capt. Ahmadu Yakubu, Capt. Daramola, Lts. Buka Sukar Dimka, Lts. Shelleng, Hannaniya, Muhammadu Jega, Sani Abacha, Saleh Dambo and many others.For instance, over 20 Igbo officers were executed at the Brigade HQ on 29 and 30 July 1966. Some of the eastern and southern officers killed during the first batch include Major O.U. Isong, Major Ogunro, Lt. Col. I.C. Okoro, Capt L.C. Dilibe, Major C.C. Emelifonwu, Capt. I.U. Idika, and Major A. Drummond. In accordance with the spirit goading the killers, Lt. Col Mohammed Shuwa, the commandant of the 5th battalion would preside over the massacres of Igbos at both the Kano airport and the main railway station in Kano.
Earlier, on July 29, 1966 in this on-going northern counter-coup, Theophilus Danjuma, Sani Bello, Martin Adamu and other Northern military officers had taken General T. Aguiyi-Ironsi the military head of State of Nigeria and his host Col. Francis Fajuyi to a location outside Ibadan and shot them to death. In the face of the madness, Ojukwu pursued a peaceful course. He had held onto the concept of one Nigeria. It caused him to make the tactical mistake of asking Igbos to return, after the first killings, to their former stations in other parts of Nigeria, following assurances by various individuals and groups. But the northern and other counter-coupists couldn’t resist a second round of bloodletting. Igbos killed in the two waves of attacks had totalled about 50,000. This is coupled with the fact that Ojukwu and Lt. Col. David Ogunewe for days had been pushing back against Igbos who wanted to go into and cut down northern soldiers at the barracks in Enugu. According to Nowa Omoigui, quoting Lt-General JS Jalo, the same “Northern soldiers who left Enugu unmolested got themselves involved in molesting departing Igbo refugees and looting their property in Ikeja barrack. The Igbo were going away and looting set in and some senior officers, I must confess, encouraged this to happen.”  In fact, 90% of officers from the East and some from the West were massacred in the North. Just a handful escaped to their home regions.
Regrettably these killings in the North are still continuing nearly 50 years on, though modified as religious riots. It is unfortunate that the Nigerian youth today would need special education to remove the image of death associated with the North, a place where petrol is poured on homes, fire lobbed in and the occupants consumed by raging fire. Where innocent people, including infants, are hunted and hacked to death with flimsy excuses. If it is not Zango-Kataf massacres, it would be Kano Maitatsine, numerous other Kano, Kaduna riots, Gombe Riots, Tafawa Balewa Riots, Kafanchan Riots, Bauchi Riots, Bulumkutu Maiduguri Riots, renewed Maiduguri Riots aka Boko Haram, Abuja Bombings, then the festering Jos Riots and Bombings. The list is endless, killing, killing and killing, every now and then! Interestingly, the culture is to keep your mouth shut and not openly frown at these silly acts, otherwise you would be seen as fanning the embers of disunity in a nascent democracy. Long live One Nigeria! May Allah and God help us all. Hey, what set off these two names simultaneously from my mouth? I digressed.
Following the slaughters in the North before the war, steps were taken to revert to normalcy. However, after series of meetings, including the one in Aburi, Ghana, some northern elites and Britain instigated the Gowon government to renege on the Aburi Accord. Gowon unilaterally split Eastern Nigeria into three states contrary to the federal structure agreed upon in Aburi, while Ojukwu, after consultations with leaders in the East, responded after three days by declaring the whole Eastern Nigeria as a sovereign state called the Republic of Biafra on 30th July 1967.

For effective results, natural resources are relied on in the prosecution of wars around the world. For example, Kuwait pays America with oil. In the Angolan war, UNITA traded in diamonds to obtain weapons, MPLA exchanged oil for weapons. See Diamond Fact Also, see Worldbank. The Taliban fighters and Al Qaida in Afghanistan are handing out raw, hard drugs for weapons. Even Charles Taylor of Liberia traded raw diamonds from neighbouring Sierra Lone with weapons.  See Naomi Cambel ordeal Likewise, Hamas in Palestine and Hezbollah in Lebanon are supplied with weapons by Iran and Syria. For the weapons it got, a country like Nigeria has an arrangement in which some advanced countries own and suck the oil in the country till it perhaps runs dry.  Foreign countries are given the free hand on projects like the sport the Russians made of Katsina, Itape, Jos and Ajaokuta rolling mills. It was only the Ojukwu-inspired Biafran scientists and inventors, notable names among whom were, the science genius Roy Umenyi, Ben Nwosu, Godian Ezekwe, Emma Osolu, Sam Orji, Njoku Obi, and so many others who during the Nigerian civil war, continued to dazzle with invention and manufacture of their own weapons. They wouldn’t stop at pulling off weapons like surface to surface missiles, ground to air missiles, rocket launchers, rocket-propelled grenades, assault rifles, but kept the world gaping with gun boats for amphibious attacks. There was also the famous Biafra Bomb popularly known in Igboland  as either `Ojukwu Bucket` or ‘Ogbunaigwe,` meaning the mass killer. The Biafran Shore Battery easily devastated marine craft, like the Oguta feat masterminded by Ojukwu. In Biafra, lorries that rolled into underground warehouses rolled out as armoured vehicles. Refining crude oil wasn’t a preserve of any refinery. It got domesticated, and was plentiful. Attempts were also made to build war airplanes, they tried virtually everything they could, but the starvation policy and the economic blockage by Nigeria and their western supporters crippled the new republic. What is interesting is that all this was achieved in the midst of the chocking hold on Biafra through blockade by the advanced countries, including the neighbouring Cameroon and Nigeria. That was also the time Nigeria signed off the oil rich Bakassi Peninsula which was on Biafra territory to Cameroon for their kindness in starving infants in Biafra. In fact, the Nigerian Santa Claus did really come to town after the victory over Biafra, throwing largesse anywhere one looked.

The elder statesman’s benefit to the country and Igboland in particular is even becoming more and more invaluable by the day. For example, his APGA has succeeded in giving Anambra State headed by the resourceful and amiable Governor Peter Obi a democratic, stable and meaningful government. Apart from the ex-Nigeria Information Minister Prof. Dora Akunyili who has resigned from both her office and her party PDP and joined Ojukwu`s APGA to contest a senatorial seat, there are many other prominent Igbo politicians who are abandoning their parties, mainly PDP, to  join in the APGA queue. With this trend, I foresee Ojukwu’s APGA taking over all the Igbo states in Nigeria. And, with the success of APGA so far and given the current situation on the  ground, it appears that what Ojukwu could not achieve militarily, he has succeeded in achieving through democratic means, by giving the Igbos a party they can call their own, at least in Anambra State and, with time, this will happen in all states in Igboland. Only time will tell. Also, see Nigerianelite Forum

Anthony-Claret Onwutalobi
Anthony-Claret Onwutalobi
Anthony-Claret is a software Engineer, entrepreneur and the founder of Codewit INC and CEO of Portia Web Solutions. Mr. Claret publishes and manages the content on Codewit Word News website and associated websites. He's a writer, IT Expert, great administrator, technology enthusiast, social media lover and all around digital guy.
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