WHAT PEOPLE DON'T KNOW ABOUT OJUKWU -NWOKEDI
Barrister Joe Nwokedi is the principal partner of Interveners and Kedjoe Solicitors, a Lagos based law firm. An author and social crusader, he was also the leader of Igbo Law students during his days at the Nigerian Law School, Lagos.
In this interview, Nwokedi says the late Biafran war lord, Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu was first Hausa, then Yoruba before becoming an Igbo. According to him, someone was rented to tutor the Eze Igbo Gburugburu how to speak Igbo well in Enugu Government House when he became the governor of the Eastern Region. He also speaks on other national issues.
What is your reaction to his demise?
Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu death is a great loss to Nigeria as a whole and not the Igbo nation alone, as some people perceive it. Ojukwu was a man who frowned at injustice throughout his life. As a student at Kings College when he was still 11, he exhibited inherent ability to defend the poor and oppressed. So, he attacked a British Colonial Teacher that insulted a black woman who worked at the school as a labourer. His death is a colossal loss to Nigeria. So, nothing done in his honour would be too much.
How Nigerian was he in your opinion?
You see, Ojukwu was not an Igbo as many Nigerians think. Just like late Nnamdi Azikiwe, Ojukwu was first a Northerner because he was born there. He learned Hausa before any other Nigerian language or culture. Then he later moved to Lagos where he also learned Yoruba because he had both primary and secondary education there before travelling out to perfect his academic pursuit. So, as far as I am concerned, he was more of Hausa-Yoruba than Igbo. And by implication, he was a complete Nigerian -a wazobia. It may interest you to know that Ojukwu's surgeon in the East started when he was approaching thirty years.
That was when he was appointed the Military Governor of Eastern Nigeria. So, when I say he was more Nigerian, you should understand what I am talking about. He saved the life of the Emir of Kano Ado Bayero during the bloody coup of 1966, by stopping the coup from being executed in the north. And when he emerged the presidential candidate of the All Progressive Alliance (APGA) in 2003, he again picked Ado Bayero's son as his running mate. So it was just the circumstances of the Biafran war that made some people to view him as a tribal individual, which he never was. It was actually oppression, tribalism and sectionalism that he waged war against, at that time. So, according to a version of his history, a teacher was employed to teach the Ikemba Igbo language at Enugu Government house so he would not mess himself up while addressing Igbo elders. So, Ojukwu was tutored Igbo as an adult, after he had perfected in other major Nigerian languages. Don't forget that his father did not live in the east then but at Ikoyi.
How Ojukwu would have reacted
As the Ikemba we know him to be, he would have gone to the north, personally, to intervene. Remember he speaks Hausa so well. He would also have gone to the President to advise him on how to stem the tempo of the incessant massacre and destruction of property there. You know he was not a violent man. Just like he did during the crises that led to the Biafra war, he would have explored amicable ways of ending the hapless orgy of violence there. He did it, as a young person before the civil war broke out, so he would have repeated same feat as an elder. Remember that during the Sabon-Gari, Kano crises, he did not ask the Igbos there to quit the city. He only urged them to get equipped and fight back because Nigeria belonged to all Nigerians and that everyone should live freely as a Nigerian wherever he was. So, he would have intervened professionally. I am sure he would have approached the emir and even the sect. He was not a violent man. I'm sure he would have broken the ranks of the Boko Haram to dialogue with them. He was a man of dialogue.
ome notable Nigerians recently called for Sovereign National conference. As a lawyer, do you think such is desirable at this point in time?
Yes, it is. And if I may quote from Christian book of law, the Bible, it says that two cannot live together except they agree. And in law, what constitutes rape is when the use of force is involved. But where there was mutual consent between the parties involved before the exercise, even if a hundred women agree to you, it is not rape because of the agreement. So, SNC, yes because Nigeria is presently at a point where some people are viewing it as if the country was forced on them. You know the amalgamation story. So, there are agitations everywhere because some sections are not comfortable the way things are. We need to gather and reason together so that all discomforting issues would be trashed once and for all. You know since the military incursion into politics, we have not really sat together as people that were brought together by the colonial amalgamation. We need to have a convergence that is devoid of government, politics, gerrymandering and all that and sit down, in a neutral place, off camera, and talk. It is very necessary because it would enable us to sincerely, model the form of government that can work for us. The British or America that we copy are not multi-tribal and poverty-ridden like us.
Considering that the arrowheads of the agitation constituted a good spread in the nation's geography, do you think that such demand lends some credence to the belief in some quarters that we are now witnessing what Ojukwu saw before the civil war?
That's right. You see there was a particular incident that happened somewhere, in the east. They had lost someone and when Ojukwu attended his burial, rather than telling the deceased's people sorry and take heart like it is traditionally done in the east, he greeted them Good evening, in the morning. And he went further to tell them that it was what he saw in the morning they were seeing in the evening. So, what Ojukwu opted for in the popular Aburi Accord was dialogue and amicable settlement. He was neither against the north nor the south. But unfortunately, his stand was misconstrued due to the high level of suspicion that was occasioned by tribal distrust at that time. So, what he saw in the sixties, people are just realizing it now. And I can tell you that unless we talk over our bounds like the differences in religion, culture, income generation et cetera, it would be difficult for there to be political peace and tranquility in Nigeria. You may discover that at the end of the day, the respective agitators, which cut across north and south may be, peacefully allowed to take a leave to run their affairs their way, as against the pre-civil war era.
Now that many Nigerians have realized that he did not actually fight an unjust course at that time, what is the way forward?
Our leaders should do more than what is obtainable now. Why can't we have a policy where it would be mandatory for students to learn the three major Nigerian languages in at least, primary and secondary school levels? The existing policy where a person seeking university admission is expected to pass just one major Nigerian language is not helping matters as everybody would readily choose own language. It should be made like the National youth Service (NYSC) where corps members are made to serve outside their geopolitical zones. Even in the civil service, it should be made a law that anyone seeking employment should be able to speak the three major Nigerian languages. It may sound impossible but once it becomes law, people would adjust to it within months. And that would enhance national unity and coherence.
What is your reaction to Mallam Nuhu Ribadu's new appointment?
Well, to be frank with you, I was disappointed when he accepted the offer. You see, one problem with Nigeria is recycling of people at the helm of affairs. We are a country of over 150m people and there is need for fresh hands to be given a try. A situation where you continue to hear the same name you were used to, as a kid makes mockery of the country's rich human endowment. So I wept for Nigeria because as someone who contested against Goodluck Jonathan in the last presidential election and lost, accepting an appointment from the president would weaken the ability of the opposition party to checkmate the ruling party. That was why the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, his party rose to disown him immediately. I'll be surprised if he performs appreciably there. The oil sector is not like EFCC. I pray the cabals and the professional crooks he is going to fight there don't bamboozle him or rubbish the integrity he had built for himself over the years.