'Nigeria Will Make It' - Dim Odumegwu Ojukwu At His Best
"A man is worthy of praise and insult only with respect to those things that are in his power to do or not to do" - Aristotle: Third Book of Ethics Preface: Like him or hate him, Dim Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu would forever remain an enigma in the Nigerian
political horizon. One easily forgets that this great Nigerian was a career Civil Servant starting out as an Administrative Officer in the then Eastern Region and joined the Nigerian Army after only about one year. He was one of the few Nigerians who joined the military with college education around Nigeria's Independence in 1960. He was an "aje-butter" (born with silver spoon in his mouth) his wealthy father (a famous Lagos transporter) haven sent him to Oxford where Ojukwu obtained an M.A. in Philosophy. (To date Dim Ojukwu does not speak "broken" English but his Yoruba is impeccable! "Omo Eko ni!") Odumegwu Ojukwu was indeed one of Nigeria's finest Officers and easily got appointed a Military Governor at the inception of Military Rule in 1966.
Ojukwu's oratorial skills were just awesome. My political mentor and adopted Mom Chief Mrs Meg Nwachukwu (a Lagos Princess but Ndiigbo by marriage) who served in Radio Biafra used to relate to me and my associates the communication exploits of the Ikemba Nnewi. Biafra's war time propaganda machinery was far superior to that of Nigeria. Inspite of the failed Biafran campaign Ojukwu never ceases to amaze me as an individual. Dim Ojukwu is in fact a Lagosian having been bred in Lagos although born in the North. He attended Primary and Secondary (CMS grammar School) Schools in Lagos.
I have been privileged to meet a number of Lagosians who "played soccer" with him in Lagos Mainland and I attended University with some of the most brilliant officers of the defunct Biafran army. But If I were to meet the Eze Igbo Gburu Gburu today I would ask him the following questions: Why did you grow a beard in violation of Army Regs in 1966? What informed some of your action leading to and during Biafra? Why did you inflict socio-political agony on your self and your family by contesting for SENATE under the NPN and the humiliation of poll defeat in the hand of late Dr Onwudiwe when it was our Party the UPN that spearheaded your pardon and safe return to Nigeria from Ivory Coast in 1982? Were you sincere when you stated that Chief Obafemi Awolowo is "the greatest President Nigeria never had"? Why did you say on TV that at 66 you were out of politics only to contest unsuccessfully Nigeria's Presidency in 1999, 2003 and 2007. Why did you accept Abacha's appointments including the anti-June 12 overseas campaign? Is it true that you "dealt with" Umaru Dikko in the National assembly Restroom? What was the relationship between you and Baba Rt Hon Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe? etc etc
Few personalities in the whole wide world have been as blessed as Dim Ojukwu. Nigerians have been cooking food with his skull since 1967 ("Agbari Ojukwu" - cooking pot named "Ojukwu's Skull") and this is 2008! By the hand of God almighty Dim Odumegwu Ojukwu was spared the fate that befell rebel leaders like Jonas Savimbi. Few people are privileged to outlive their youthful errors, watch their dreams fizzle before their very eyes or even sit at dinner with their wartime enemies.
I was deeply touched by the excerpts below from the characteristically powerful intelligent speech from this very talented Nigerian of the "wasted generation". Hence I suspended again my proposed piece on Ojukwu in favour of this short Preface as the inspiring content, sobriety of the tone and the professionalisn of the speech were irresistable. Nigerians and Biafrans in the diaspora including members of Ikemba's "invisible army" I thought might also find these observations of interest.
It is a message of HOPE and strength for our great Nation and future generations coming as it does from a former secessionist. It is a powerful message of reconciliation. It is comparable only to that given by Rt Hon Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe at the Innaugural Retreat with the pioneer Students of Nigeria's first indigenous university - University of Nigeria Nsukka. The belated response to General Gowon's reconciliation mantra is timely, pungent and historic. The sincerity of the speaker is both patent and latent. It was General Patton of the US Army who asked "When a man has done his best, what is left?" Ojukwu has done well for Ndiigbo, it is time for Nigeria to benefit from one of the few remaining multi-talented historic figures of our time. Thanks to "Baba Iyabo" President Olusegun Obasanjo for decreeing the payment of pensions to ex-Biafran soldiers, President Umar Yar'Adua for approving the processing and to Bianca who had graciously approved us "borrowing" "Baba Ibeji" (Father of Twins) for this historic event on Nigeria's MEMORIAL DAY 2008.
Excerpts from General Odumegwu Ojukwu's speech at the Ceremony marking the Payment of Pensions to Military veterans in Abuja January 15, 2008:
"This is one of the rare occasions, but it is one of those occasions that makes one really feel proud to be part of this country. We have come together again as a body and we cannott fail mentioning the singular honour that I have been made subject of comments throughout this morning here. The way everybody has spoken has given a lie to the whole concept that this is the public enemy number one. The way everyone has taken care of my movement up and down has indicated that once you put on that uniform you remain brothers forever. I want, on my own part, to assure all of you that despite the problems and pretense we remain brothers."
"I particularly remember as I sat down listening to the military music; as far as I am concerned this is the day and I thank you for giving me the opportunity, but more than anything I thank you for remembering. I say this because it is not everyone that remembers. I say this because in actual fact when I was coming in this morning I was working in my mind what bombshell shall I throw here in the characteristic Ojukwu fashion. Distinguished Senate president, you have done another thing, you probably didn't realize but you diffused that bombshell. Listening to you talk one can only be proud to be your brother and I thank you for that.
"I joined the Army and I think most of us did in search of two things, glory and honour. At the time we were joining, nobody thought of silver and gold, but glory and honour. In my own way I don't want this episode to end with the passage of silver and gold. Yes, I am glad I can earn a pension, I am glad that I can have all the package, but what is the greatest thing is that when I walked in here and I looked at somebody in uniform and he salutes immediately, there is nothing better than that and that is what we entered this job for. Let us continue to help each other.
Let us know that as human beings we are not perfect. But above all, I want to remind every member of the legislature, of the Armed Forces, that we are not unique in our predicament. Yes, we fought a war, nobody can deny it. When I had the opportunity I dare say there are many areas that we are still failing in representing that war but the passage of time will heal most of it. I want to remind all the people in authority in Nigeria that we are not the first to have fought a civil war and we are not the first to end it. In ending our civil war, all I ask is for everybody to live up to the poignant expectations of Gowon's saying about this war: that there is no victor, no vanquished.
Those who think that we have been vanquished, I ask my colleagues on this side to forgive them because on our own part we have forgiven everybody.
I want everybody to remember that the leader of the Confederate Army in the United States that we always choose to copy, Gen. Robert Lee, was made a General on the Confederate side. Ever since that time, until the present day, he is referred to with honour for those of you in uniform as Gen. Robert Lee. It gets a bit annoying to see a little boy look up at you and call you Lt. Col. It is a pity. I am a General four starred in the Biafran Army.
Agreed it is not the Nigerian Army, but a Biafran Army, four starred. Anybody who had worn that uniform knows what that means. There is no way you listen to certain things and you don't feel that there are deliberate insults and if deliberate insults continued to be heaped on you reconciliation becomes very difficult. But I promise my brother officers, particularly the authorities here that you will always find in me not just a friend but a supporter because what you want for yourself I had wanted, I still want and I will always want. I thank you.
What does one do with a cheque? I don't know because ever since I joined the Army I have not known how much I was paid, so this will be the first payment I will really study, but I promise you it will be for the benefit and progress of Nigerians and not just for myself.
I want to thank the authorities that in dealing with the officers they have not forgotten the other ranks. We will continue asking questions because we still have residual responsibility for the welfare of the officers and men we commanded. All of you here, listen to me, you are listening to a sincere person. I believe Nigeria has long way to go. I believe we will make it with the type of people who are now serving and who make today possible."
By Adebayo Adejare