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On Ojukwu and war

By Obi Nwakanma
WHEN Odumegwu-Ojukwu sneezes, the nation catches cold. That is to be expected. General Ojukwu showed his paces in war. He led one of the most famous wars of the late 20th century. General Ojukwu led the people of the former Eastern Nigeria with its majority Igbo population in a war in self-defence when they became targets of a genocidal rage.

Easterners declared secession and founded the Republic of Biafra; and for three years, fought for their lives and proudly defended their republic, but exhausted by the onslaught, lost Biafra and returned to Nigeria after the treaty that declared “no victor no vanquished” by the federal government led by General Yakubu Gowon. Nigeria, I daresay, has never fully recovered from that enterprise.

All men of conscience who fought in that genocidal war recoil from its memory. War is sweet music only to those who have never witnessed it. Only this past week, General Akinrinnade, one of the field commanders on the Nigerian side of that war publicly confessed his regrets for fighting the civil war. As a child of war myself – a war survivor – war is nightmare.

The Igbo say, “Oji oso agbakwuru ogu, amaghi s’ogu wu onwu” – simply put: those who hurry to war never stop to think that war is death. This is axiomatic and so true. General Ojukwu knows this axiom, and indeed has frequently cautioned against war and recoils from the experience. But the same Igbo, true to their dualist episteme also say, “anaghi aso mgbagbu eje ogu!” – again to put it simply: the fear of death and self-sacrifice does not prevent one from fighting a just war.

In other words, only a just war, and not a war of blame is worth the act in the Igbo cultural unconscious, because for the Igbo, war by all its implication is a great violation of the sacred law of the earth, at the end of which a necessary rite of cleansing – “ikpu aru” must be performed.

I am of course speaking about the “true” Igbo – not this generation of the Igbo who neither understands nor perhaps even values what it means to be truly Igbo, and have thus abandoned the ancient and sacred ways of the Igbo. This, of course, is a different question. But let me return to Ojukwu. Recently the General uttered what ought to be seen by all people who have ears as a timely warning.

Ojukwu used the metaphor of war. He would lead another just war, he says, in defence of the legal and democratic rights of the people, and in defence of the ethic of freedom enshrined in the notion of democracy and the ballot box.  General Ojukwu was quoted on this matter after he addressed a press conference on what he perceived was an emergent shenanigan in attempts to use all manners of intrigue to undermine the democratic rights of people in Anambra state following Andy Ubah’s case, and arising from what people like Ojukwu perceive to be a potential abuse and corruption of the court process.

While some have called this use of the courts “ridiculous” others have seen it as within Andy Ubah’s constitutional rights to appeal to any court at anytime to seek interpretations and legal clarity. This right is precisely what Ojukwu vowed to defend in another war if it came to it: the right of a wider constituency and not for self-seeking politicians or processes that put to risk the foundations of the commonwealth. Ojukwu’s use of the terminology of war drew immediate reaction.

His adversary in the last war, Yakubu Gowon for instance, suddenly found his tongue, which everybody thought had been swallowed by the cat, except when he prays for Nigeria and such matters. He would, he told reporters, meet Ojukwu square feet by square feet on this matter of another war. Well, up yours Jack Gowon! That’s what Ojukwu is likely to say on this matter of meeting Jack Gowon again at war.

I think what we should have between Ojukwu and Gowon is a properly refereed boxing match at the national stadium. But on this matter of leading another resistance, Ojukwu is again right. He has called attention, in very prescient ways once more, about the dangers of using might to upturn the democratic will of Anambra people.

His synecdochal use of the terms of war merely reflect the mood of people, particularly in the East, but generally in Nigeria who have watched as their electoral rights have been abused by the use of force.

What General Ojukwu is telling Nigerians clearly is that Anambra state is a flashpoint in the emergent electoral scenario; that the PDP which since 1999, has used all kinds of illegal methods to retain power in Nigeria, through electoral fraud, intimidation, the use of corrupt judges, gerrymandering, violence, and so on, may finally bite more than they could chew with the current mood in Anambra state.

Among Ojukwu’s traducers are people like Ilochi Okafor, a former Law professor and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, who has boldly called Odumegwu-Ojukwu “a security risk,” and who has followed in the lockstep of other cheerleaders in calling Ojukwu names and threatening him, and blackmailing him with history: perhaps it is all politics.

But in the incendiary mood of Nigerians, and in their anger towards the government and the ruling party, and the endgame politics of certain participants who call themselves “stakeholders” in Anambra politics, the politics of Igbo land, and the politics of Nigeria, something is about to give, and Ojukwu has again courageously given voice to this possibility.

Instead of knee-jerk responses to Ojukwu, perhaps it is time to listen carefully to his considered views. A summary of that view simply is for all these ambitious men to take a look around them and read the tea leaves: things are not likely to remain as simple as in the past in these coming elections. Anambra state is likely to prove the first test of will between Nigerians who want a transparent democratic transfer of power and a political Mafiosi which wishes to use methods of intimidation to arrive at power.

The situation in Anambra might prove to be the catalyst to some uncontainable force of anger; indeed much repressed anger by people who have been long restrained because the last war took an incalculable toll on their will for another war. But there comes a time when people, irrespective of their disdain for violence are compelled to rise and say, “No! in Thunder.” That time, says Ojukwu may just be here and now. We better listen.


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