By Jude Njoku & Charles Kumolu
WHEN in 1980, Fourth Dimension Publishers published General Alexander Madiebo’s The Biafran Revolution and the Nigerian Civil War, many saw it as the most comprehensive account of what transpired, particularly on the defunct Biafran side, during the ill-fated civil war.
After the publication of Madiebo’s account of the 30-month civil war, many others have also ventured into writing books of the war, either to strengthen what he wrote or deny some of the accounts.
Although we have a plethora of books written on the war, many Nigerians and indeed all lovers of history, had waited patiently for the man who called the shots on the Biafran side, Dim Chukwuemeka Odimegwu-Ojukwu, to write his own account of the war.
The expectation was heightened when Ojukwu promised to write his war memoirs to be titled The Book. The Book was expected to straighten the records and uncover the mysteries surrounding many events that took place on both the Biafran and Nigerian sides.
Second hand material
His friend, Frederick Forsyth had earlier in 1969, tried to put down an account of The Biafran Story but the book was a second hand material, not written directly by Ojukwu.
Unfortunately the expectation of those who had waited anxiously for the “Ezeigbo Gburugburu” to put down his war memoirs was dealt the tragic blow on Saturday, when Ojukwu bowed out of the scene. Many have dubbed the legend’s inability to write The Book as one of his unfinished projects. But his close associates are quick to debunk the assertion.
A close confidant and contemporary of Ojukwu in the Biafran Army, Col Joe Achuzia popularly called “Air-Raid” by Biafran soldiers, told Vanguard Features that Ojukwu did not write his memoirs in order to protect his close friends. But with Ojukwu out of the scene, the onus is now on his friends to write some of the things which were not written about the crises.
Ojukwu stirred widespread interest when he wrote Because I am Involved, published in 1989 by Spectrum Books. According to Achuzia: “A lot of things happened then and people have been saying that he did not write his memoirs maybe because of people under his command.
Being human, I am now more constrained into saying what happened and putting into record what transpired.. But I am not in a moral position to say that now. Ikemba was a national hero. That was why he was given a heroic welcome when he came back and was subsequently pardoned by President Shehu Shagari”.
A kinsman of the late Dim Ojukwu, Mr Godson Moneke described the Ikemba as a phenomenon, adding that legends like Ojukwu hardly write their memoirs. According to him, although Ojukwu promised to write his memoirs of the civil war which he said would be titled, “The Book”, he ended up not doing so.
“People like that hardly write about themselves; it is like everything about them is spiritual. As a human being, he would have wanted to personally write his memoirs but an unseen hand restrained him. That should now be a subject of serious research. People can even write doctorate degree dissertations on the subject. Our Lord Jesus Christ did not write, yet books about him are everywhere and he is the author and finisher of our faith,” he said.
Moneke who called for the setting up of an Ojukwu Foundation, explained that the “Foundation would now be able to document these things so that we can have something that is robust and complete”.
“That Ojukwu didn’t write his war memoirs shouldn’t be seen as an unfulfilled dream. If he was an ordinary mortal, I would say yes, but Ojukwu was like an elephant. All the people that have learnt from him should now research and write from various angles of his life. Memoirs are for people at a lower level, but the level at which Ojukwu operated, it would have been difficult for him to write,” he said.
End of the Biafran dream?
Does Ojukwu’s death sound the death knell for the Biafran dream? Achizia had this to say: “The Biafran dream lives. We are in Nigeria now, but Biafra lives as an ideology in the heart of every Igbo man”.
Achuzia, who was to the Biafran side, what Major Adekunle aka Black Scorpion was to the Federal troops, added further that “every Igbo man will always remember Biafra beyond this generation”.
But he cautioned that the Oxford-trained fallen soldier, should not be seen as an ethnic hero, adding that Ojukwu was a national hero, who had good dreams for Nigeria.
Great dreams for Nigeria
“He believed in Nigeria, it is unfortunate that his great dreams for Nigeria have not become a reality. He lived for this country. I am still sad, I am in shock, we were very close; Ikemba was a colossus,” Achuzia noted.
To Moneke: “Biafra is in every Igbo man. Biafra is a spiritual thing. People thought that our Lord Jesus was an earthly king and so struggled for ministerial positions but Christ knew he was a spiritual king, much higher than the earthly king. Ojukwu’s death cannot stop the spirit of Biafra, rather it will fire it on. The Igbo man today knows that if you are pushed to the wall, you can react. The Igbo race is a phenomenon recognised all over the world.
It is only the Igboman that can go through what they did and still recover in record time. Go to Abuja, Lekki and you will discover that most of the houses there are owned by the Igbos. Almost all the hotels in Abuja are owned by Igbos. That is the dogged spirit that the Igbos are known for”.
Ojukwu, a patriot
Senator Uche Chukwumerije who was referred to as the “Voice of Biafra” during the war told Vanguard Features that Ojukwu did not court controversies. Said he: “Dim Ojukwu passionately believed in equity and justice, diligence and merit, mutual trust and confraternal bond, as the veins and arteries of the Federation.
“No citizen of this Republic ever lived Nigerian so fully, spoke Nigerian so eloquently and embraced so fearlessly the path to Nigeria’s greatness as Ojukwu. With iron will he defended these prerequisites not as lingua of governance and political rule but as the practical irreplaceable hinges of federal union. Eloquent in Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa and English he personified the feasibility of this oneness.”
Achuzia who is the immediate past secretary-general of Ohaneze-Ndigbo agreed with him. “That kind of colossus would never be found anywhere in Igbo land. He wanted the best for his people. We schooled together at King’s College and also in England, I am still trying to digest the shock of his death. Like I said, I should be left to mourn my friend. He was a national champion, it was people who thought he was an ethnic leader.”
Continuing, he said: “Ojukwu’s dreams for better Nigeria would never die. This nation has lost a great man and that vacuum will be difficult to fill. Men like Ojukwu are rare to come across. I am still coming to terms with his death”.
Pulse of Umudim Nnewi kinsmen
Moneke, a Lagos-based construction cost expert who hails from the same community with the late Ikemba Nnewi, typified the grief of Umudim Nnewi people but insisted that the ideals Ojukwu stood for, can never die among the Igbos.
“Although death is a necessary end for all mortals, this one is different because of the personality involved. Ojukwu stood like a shade, a symbol of Igbo unity – self confidence, intelligence and bravery. His death is a very sobering moment for all of us especially his kinsmen.
“It is a very big loss because here was a man that was consistently assertive of his Igboness and would not compromise those ideals. He epitomised all the virtues that the Igboman is known for. The poignant question is: Who can replace him? Such people come once in a generation.
Pain from Ojukwu’s death
Ojukwu’s death becomes more painful because there is no replacement for him from his children, his kinsmen or his friends. God drops such people from heaven to play a role and it happened that he dropped him in the Ojukwu family of Umudim Nnewi,” he said.
Ojukwu, an advocate of distributive equity
Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State noted that with the death of Dim Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, Nigeria has lost a major personality and “an advocate for distributive equity” in the governance of the nation.
In a condolence letter to the Governor of Anambra State, Mr Peter Obi, Oshiomhole said Ojukwu’s death is more painful to those Nigerians who found inspiration in his aversion to the opportunistic politics of the ‘mainstream’.
“By his death, Nigeria has lost a major personality, who played a unique role in its modern history. We have also lost a well-acknowledged advocate for distributive equity in the governance of our federation. His voice resonates with clarity and authoritative distinction on matters of federalism and the management of our diversity.
“Although he had rather strong reservations about the overall governance of the Nigeria union, Dim Ojukwu’s commitment to a united country was not in doubt. Indeed, he made sustained efforts in the later years to strengthen forces of genuine federalism though his weighty voice and profound insights.
“He was a remarkably forceful personality who cannot be ignored or taken for granted on any matter, even by those who disagreed with him. Gifted with a prodigious capacity for logic and cultivated articulation, the Ikemba had all that it took to make his voice rise above the pack, the Edo State Governor said.