Obiano’s 7th Anniversary Countdown: Obiano’s Response To Sensitive Issues. Day 10: Ozoemezina; The Biafra War Memorial
A great leader is not one who only shows character and strength in war and conflict but one who is adroit in managing the sensitive issues that make his people shed silent tears in peacetime. Governor Obiano has shown amazing sensitivity to the issues that keep his people awake at night. He has demonstrated a keen appetite to listen to the heartbeat of the people and take their pulse every now and then to find out their silent pain.
The most remarkable of Obiano’s show of concern on the issues that matter to Ndigbo is Ozoemezina (Never again!). Ozoemezina was that day when time stood still, took a deep breath and bid the Igbo world to mourn the havoc it had wrought on them. It was on January 12, 2015. Obiano was barely nine months in office then. But he showed the courage to hold a historic memorial for three million Igbos claimed by the genocidal war. No other governor of any state in Igbo land had shown open recognition of the unhealed wounds of Biafra before then. But Obiano felt convinced that there was a need to pay attention to the sacred tenets of the Igbo culture which prescribe that every human being deserves a proper burial (Ikwa Ozu) regardless of the circumstances of their death, and that as a corollary to this, the Igbo nation must free itself from its indebtedness to their loved ones who died that they might live.
At the time, there was a niggling concern about how the federal government would react to any official activity that would bring the Igbo together for the simple purpose of invoking the spirit of Biafra. It was a serious concern. And I remember that on the morning when Ozoemezina was to take place, Governor Obiano had taken an urgent call from the presidency which sought to be assured once again that the event had no surprise elements for Nigeria. He had deftly handled the anxieties of Aso Rock and assured them that the event was not a call-to-arms in disguise.
And so, it was an epic moment that January morning, when Governor Willie Obiano mounted the podium at Alex Ekwueme Square, Awka to deliver a landmark speech entitled “Ozoemezina: Memory and the Quest for Igbo Renaissance.” Ndigbo from different parts of Igboland had gathered at Ekwueme Square. Veterans of the Biafran War were all in attendance. Heroes like Major Joe ‘Hannibal’ Achuzia, General Alexander Madiebo and a handful other legends and survivors of the War were all in attendance. A tent tagged “Ndi ife melu” was set up where Obiano and Alex Ekwueme, Arthur Eze and Emeka Ojukwu Jnr sat down to receive condolences from sympathizers in the typical Igbo tradition. There was also an interdenominational service where some Bishops with a gift of astonishing oratory had chronicled the Igbo experience during and after the war and invoked the Almighty God to finally heal Igboland. The huge crowd at the venue was swayed to emotional cliffhanger. Some shed tears openly. It was okay to cry. It was the first
public mourning of our loved ones, wrenched off our grips by a cruel interplay of fate and man’s inhumanity to man!
But the atmosphere took a new colouration when Obiano’s voice rang out with opening draft of his speech thusly: “My brothers and sisters, today is a great day in our collective memory. Today, we begin the symbolic effort of casting a long look backwards, beyond the immediate horizon of our national experience, to honour the memories of our loved ones who lost their lives to the various dark chapters of our national history. In doing this, we are guided by our belief that life itself is an unbroken stream of experiences stitched together by memory. Without memory, life assumes the attributes of a futile gaze into the void of time.”
Choosing his words carefully, Obiano began an illustrious gaze into the future through the corridors of the past. “Memory occupies a pr-eminent place in the Igbo worldview. Our ancestors believed that a people without memory have no future. To underscore the significance of memory, they handed us the concept of Ncheta ka – ‘recall is supreme.’ They silently nudged us to realize that life presents us with a diversity of experiences, and out of this menu are touchstones that should guide us into the future.” He likened the Biafran experience to the Jewish Holocaust and the Rwandan Genocide and argued that in both instances, the people had risen in one historic moment to hold a memorial to watermark their experiences. “In the Jewish example, we see a firm resolve by world Jewry to ensure that the tragic history of the Holocaust is permanently etched on human memory; that the world never forgets!” he recalled. He also cited the Rwandan example where a Genocide Memorial Centre was opened in April 2004. “Sadly, although we share a similar experience with the Rwandese, our attitude to the memory of that sad experience has lacked boldness and organized response,” he further wondered.
Indeed, Obiano’s moving speech chimed in with the prevailing mood and drove home a profound sense of loss among Ndigbo that had never been felt since the end of the war. Ozoemezina was an idea waiting to happen. But until Obiano, no one had shown enough pluck and courage to bring it to pass. It drew encomium from Ndigbo worldwide and firmly established him as a man who touched his people where it counted most.
Oh sure… Ozoemezina has earned a respected place in Igbo memory. And so has Governor Willie Obiano!