OJUKWU: BEFORE ANOTHER LEADER COMES
That resolve shows how lowly some from outside the Southeast rate the Igbo leadership to vie for the highest office in the land. To them, the Igbo can crown the king, but can never be king. The drama on Igbo leadership in the country, resides in the poor execution of a war, in which the opponent took advantage of poor preparation to defeat a universally acknowledged resourceful race.
After the first and second coups, none of which Igbo, as a people was mastermind, the enemy chose to eliminate a tribe they viewed as powerful and major threat to their dominion And the Igbo played into their hands.
After the Aburi, Ghana negotiations that failed, Ojukwu assembled prominent easterners through the Eastern Nigeria Constituent Assembly in Enugu. May, 27, 1967. At the occasion, he, as governor of the region, gave three options on the resolution of the crisis with Nigeria.
Ojukwu listed the options as follows: That the East remains in Nigeria, a painful option considering that mangled and dead bodies were being ferried by train to the East from the North, with pregnant women opened up and unborn babies slit in half.
The second option was that the East continues to drift in the Nigerian enterprise, irrespective of how long and how painful. A third and last option was to secede from Nigeria with a declaration of a sovereign state of Biafra. And there was a proviso: Should the Constituent Assembly accept the third and last option, 'there is no power in Black Africa to subdue the East by force', the governor had said.
In 1967, people were not as smart as today. When a soldier spoke, people believed. So people believed that actually the young state could defend itself from any outside aggression. But everyone later realised, it was propaganda, probably to frighten the enemy. And it backfired.
In my father's compound in Port Harcourt in 1967, there were about 17 young and able bodied men who swore to defend the new sovereign nation. They went through trainings, in civil defence and later joined the Biafra army. The chant across the city was the same across the new nation: 'Ojukwu give us gun to go and kill Gowon', and they meant their song.
So one breezy Monday morning, the call to duty came. All 17 were ferried along with thousands others, by train to Enugu to confront Nigerian solders who had now declared war on the new nation. On arrival, they were moved into camp before deployment at the early fronts of the war around Nsukka.
On deployment, these young men, routing for action were handed blunt machetes that had been confiscated from the wharf in Port Harcourt. These were the weapons they were given to confront a well trained and better equipped Nigerian military force that had just seen action in the Congo. Till my father joined the Biafra Army as instructor, being a veteran of the Second Wold War and my family returned to Idima Abam, now in Abia State, none of the 17 returned alive.
Another miscalculation that sank the new state was the invasion of Bonny which eventually led to the collapse of Port Harcourt. It provided effective blockade by sea and fastened the death of the new nation. My elder sister, Nko, was a business woman living in Bonny with her family then.
Her account was that, very early one morning, a submarine accompanying a vessel that regularly called to lift crude oil owned by Shell Petroleum, suddenly surfaced from the high seas and directed its big guns on the island of Bonny.
The platoon of soldiers deployed there was overwhelmed by the attack, so while some died in the swamps struggling to escape, others simply disappeared. My sister was caught in the cross fire while preparing breakfast for her family.
That Biafra was sustained in bitter confrontation with Nigeria for 30 months resides in the courage and resilience of the Igbo, particularly after the other tribes in the region jumped ship. For instance, the initial gains by the Biafra Army to recover territories captured by Nigerian forces was executed with weapons captured from Nigerian troops themselves.
And then the legendary weapon of mass destruction, (WMD) Ogbunigwe that eventually prolonged the conflict was the ingenuity of Igbo engineers and others who, even to this day, are capable of re_enacting such feat, should duty again so call.
Like has been variously discussed, the Biafra conflict was a mismatch. The Igbo went to war unprepared. Nigerian soldiers that were already poised to eliminate the people took advantage of the secession call. At the end of hostilities they took hostages, even married women. They would have done more but for the Christian, General Yakubu Gowon.
Ojukwu meant well for the Igbo, but he hated opposition particularly from other Igbo leaders. For instance, I was at Government House, Umuahia, when former Abia State Governor, Orji Uzor Kalu, made peace between Ojukwu and Dr. Alex Ekwueme.
The two most powerful Igbo statesmen had been at daggers_drawn before the former governor decided to call a truce. Not only had the twosome been students at Kings College, Lagos together, they were classmates, but never saw eye to eye. They made peace that night at an age when they both had nothing further substantial to contribute to Igbo unity.
With Ojukwu gone, it may be difficult to interpret the Eze Igbo Gburugburu title. The title has since been bastardized across the land that some traditional rulers in Igbo land had to cry out. The Gburugburu angle was to distinguish from the crowd of Eze Igbos.
The Biafra experience should teach leaders to exercise restraint and think through a project like secession before jumping into major conflicts, particularly those that can involve human lives. One agrees that Nigeria declared war on the new nation, but they used the secession bid to justify their action.