…IGBO NATION WITHOUT HIM
It is very hard to contemplate an Igbo nation without Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, the Ikemba Nnewi and Eze Gburugburu of Igboland.
But death, the great leveller, had made such contemplation not only a possibility but also a reality. After all, the Holy Book said that there is time for every thing; a time to be born and a time to die. For Ikemba, it is time to exit the secular stage. This is, indeed, the last Ofala for the people's General and leader of men. The type of Ojukwu comes once in a while for a race. The possibility of another Ojukwu in our time is very remote.
How did Ojukwu describe himself?
'I am a Nigerian. But I am also an Igbo. It is my being Igbo that guarantees my Nigerianness as long as I live. Consequently, my Nigerianness shall not be at the expense of my Igboness. The Nigerian nation must therefore work for all ethnic nationalities in Nigeria.'
Ojukwu's demise in a London Hospital following a cardiovascular accident otherwise known as stroke has robbed the Igbo nation one of its most idolized and cherished leaders. The Ikemba came into national reckoning following the January 15, 1966 military coup de tas that introduced the first military rule in Nigeria under the leadership of Major-Gen. JTU Aguiyi-Ironsi. As a result of that coup, Ojukwu, then a Lieutenant Colonel was appointed the Military Governor of Eastern Region, comprising the present South East and parts of the South South geo-political zones.
The coup came when the politicians failed to hold their acts together and acted in flagrant disregard of the laws of the land. The civilian regime was accused of corruption, nepotism and ineptitude amongst other ills by the coupists led by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu. The counter coup of July 29, 1966 which brought Lt-Col. Yakubu Gowon to power led to the death of Nigeria's first military ruler Major-Gen. Aguiyi-Ironsi and many senior military officers of Igbo origin and mass massacre of Igbo civilian population in Northern Region thrust on Ojukwu's shoulders the challenge of safeguarding his people in the East.
The sight of headless and disemboweled victims of the pogrom and genocide carried out by Northern officers and their civilian collaborators stirred rage and anger among the peoples of Eastern Region that most felt that their security cannot be guaranteed by government outside the Eastern Region.
Following the failure of diplomacy and some peace talks to settle the Nigerian crisis of 1966 between Ojukwu and Gowon and their followers, Gowon unilaterally divided the country into 12 states in May 1967 which Ojukwu followed some days later and declared Eastern Region an independent Republic of Biafra. Due to the impasse, Nigeria went into a thirty months bloody civil war with its debilitating consequences from 1967-1970. The rest is now history that it is needless recounting the entire grueling events here again. Over time, the eloquent and charismatic leader had risen to the Igbo consciousness by fate as well as by dint of hard work. He was like the proverbial child that had washed his hands clean and dined with the kings and elders of the land.
It was the war that brought out the sterling qualities in Ojukwu and it was the war that undeniably made him so popular and very important in Nigerian and Igbo history. No chronicler of Nigeria history can deny the Ikemba a chapter or more. He saw an opportunity and made good use of it. He stood by his people and fought for their cause. Ojukwu was one leader that the Igbos don't joke with. Any attack on Ojukwu is an attack on all Igbos. To the Igbos, Ojukwu was a god, a superhuman, an enigma. No wonder, he was lionized by the Igbos. The numerous titles bestowed on him can testify to this assertion.
There is no doubt that Ojukwu was the quintessential leader of the Igbos. Before him were Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the foremost nationalist and first President of Nigeria, Dr. Michael Okpara, the former Premier of Eastern Region, Dr. Akanu Ibiam, former Governor of Eastern Region, and other notable Igbos.
At the end of the civil war, the Ikemba went on self exile in Ivory Coast. After 13 years, he was granted state pardon by former President Shehu Shagari. Ojukwu came back and plunged headlong into Nigerian politics and in the bid to bring the Igbos back to the mainstream of Nigerian politics. His outing then was not so impressive; he continued and finally founded the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and became its leader and presidential candidate.
All his life, the Ikemba championed the cause of the Igbos and defended them` whenever their rights are trampled upon by other Nigerians. He urged the Igbos to think home in their investments after witnessing the massive investments Igbos heaped outside Igboland.
When the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Anambra State wanted to force Andy Uba after the Supreme Court had nullified his election, through another ingenious means, Ojukwu rose to the occasion and warned of the danger ahead. According to the Ikemba, 'In my mind what we are playing at is not anything short of playing with the possibilities of another civil war. I say this because whenever the term civil war is used everybody remembers me. Well, I am still alive. I don't want to be part of a second civil war but sadly I see us playing this children's game, 'koso' with our affairs in Anambra State.'
On Igbo marginalization, Ojukwu expounded thus: 'Compounding the Igbo predicament are the after-effects of their post civil war political and economic emasculation by the Federal Government of Nigeria. Their shrill cries of marginalization were ignored by others and by the Nigerian government, and they have come to terms with the reality of their present position in Nigeria.'
But on a note of optimism, the Ikemba charged, 'But we Ndigbo will never give up. It is not in our character to succumb to inequality. Being a very major ethnic group in Nigeria, we will not accept our present marginalized status as permanent and we shall continue to seek and struggle for justice, fairness and equity in the Nigerian politics.'
His mission: 'My commitment, because I am seriously involved, is to work with all well-meaning Nigerians to bring about the Nigerian society as promised by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. When this happens, and all glass ceilings and other unwholesome practices designed to keep Ndigbo, or any other ethnic groups in Nigeria marginalized are dismantled, I shall feel fulfilled. When this happens, Ndigbo shall regain their political and economic relevance in a fair, just and egalitarian Nigerian society.'
During the last gubernatorial election in Anambra State, Ojukwu made one request to his people to return Governor Peter Obi to power for a second term. This he regarded as his last wish. And the people religiously complied because such came from the revered Ikemba.
Igboland without the Ikemba can hardly be the same but life must go on. Another Ikemba may come again in Igboland but I do not know when and how.
Let Igbos do a rethink on everything Ojukwu told them and make necessary amends. There is the urgent need for the Igbos to unite and pursue their common destiny within the Nigerian federation. It is time to bring Igbo wealth home so that the impact will be felt on the homestead. The greatest tribute the Igbos should pay the revered Ikemba is to imbibe all his virtues and his numerous words of exhortations on various issues and problems that plague the Igbo nation.