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Odumegwu Ojukwu and truths we owe the dead

By Is’haq Modibbo Kawu
“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act”— George Orwell

The former leader of the secessionist ‘Republic of Biafra’, Colonel Odumegwu Ojukwu, died in a London hospital over the weekend, at 78 years. As is the wont, there has been an outpouring of emotional tributes in the wake of the passing of one of the most controversial figures in Nigerian history.

Death becomes the opportunity to photo-shop individuals’ lives, because we should not speak evil of the dead. For individuals who played significant historical roles, we lose the opportunity to draw lessons from a balance of the positive and negative in their lives; and which socially-lived life does not carry that balance? Whatever the personal morality of a life should not, strictly speaking, be our business; but the social impact of actions of historical individuals should be open to interrogation.

In the tributes of recent days, people lined up to present Ojukwu as one of the best things that ever happened to Nigeria. I grew up in the context of the events of the 1960s: the coup and counter-coup; the tragic killings of Easterners in the North and the mass movement of people from other parts of Nigeria back into the East; the subsequent declaration of secession and the Nigerian Civil War which led to the tragic death of about two million Nigerians; mass starvation, dislocations and tremendous suffering.

Ojukwu was an ambitious military officer in the context of the coup and counter-coup. He was, however, able to seize the moment and manipulate the deeply-felt anger in the East to consolidate a demagogic power as governor of the Region and subsequently, the leader of the ill-fated Biafra.

It can be argued that given the total collapse which Nigeria faced in those difficult years, and the backdrop of anger in the wake of the mass killings of Easterners in the North, Ojukwu had no choice but to rally for the cause of Biafra. Nigeria’s ruling class consensus broke down completely in the wake of those events and as each side dug into its position, it was almost inevitable that war would be the denouement that would offer the blood and iron to eventually provide a basis for the re-configuration of the consensus. That consensus was to suffer a new blow in the annulment of the June 12, 1993 election.

When President Shehu Shagari pardoned the ex-rebel leader, Ojukwu returned home and was sucked into the cloak-and-dagger world of Nigerian politics. His effort to launch a spectacular political career suffered a mortal blow when he was defeated in his effort to enter the Senate as member of Shagari’s NPN.

The opportunism of the politics was carefully crafted as part of the reconciliation which his pardon was expected to engender. But it did not fly with voters in 1983. The last significant political ‘victory’ he scored was a pyrrhic one, when he was elected into Abacha’s Constituent Assembly and he vainly boasted that his was a ‘superior’ mandate, vis-à-vis the annulled June 12 mandate.

I saw Ojukwu once in Ilorin, during the 1980s at a book launch to commemorate Chief J.S. Olawoyin’s role in the Zikist Movement in the 1940s. The late Mokwugo Okoye was the Guest Speaker, while Ojukwu was chairman of the occasion. He was eloquent as ever with his British accent and the expressive gesturing. I think all through his post-exile years, he had an ambiguous relationship with Nigeria.

He was too much of the rebel to accept his defeat, yet he was the outsider who naturally felt he should be a central figure in the affairs of the Nigerian ruling class.

After all, was he not the talented scion of a very rich family who had a very impressive education and a leading officer in the army at a point when most of his contemporaries were barely educated? But having led a rebellion he could not really be admitted into the inner recesses of power. That was a sore point for him to the end of his life.

It was a source of deep-seated frustration which deepened his Nigerian ambiguity and made him the spiritual inspiration of the neo-Biafran revival of recent years. A romantic narrative has emerged, played out amongst sections of Diaspora Igbo petty-bourgeois intellectuals, supportive of a Biafran solution to Nigerian problems and in the anarchically-subversive activities of MASSOB.

To describe Odumegwu Ojukwu a “Nigerian” patriot, in the wake of his death, was to tell a blatant lie because he was not. That he played a very controversial role in Nigerian history cannot be disputed. It is precisely because Nigerian history and politics remain viciously contested terrains that make Odumegwu Ojukwu such a potent expression of the contradictions which continue to dog our country.

The hypocritical outpouring of tributes is the worst expression of the philistinism which reigns in our country. As a young boy in the 1960s, fully-bearded persons used to terrify me, because they seemed to be replicas of the ‘rebel-leader’ Ojukwu, whose rebellion we were made to recite verses of the Qur’an against!

Much later in life, I knew better, that the individual makes his history, as Marx said, but he does not have the luxury of a choice of conditions. Dim Odumegwu Ojukwu was very much a part of the tragic history that has continued to condition our lives.

Farida Waziri never really had a chance

Forty-two months after her appointment, Mrs. Farida Waziri was last week sacked as Chairperson of the EFCC. President Goodluck Jonathan did not even have the courtesy to inform the woman before hand; she heard the report on television like other Nigerians. Mrs. Waziri never really had a chance with the poisoned chalice of the EFCC, in my view.

The first issue that dogged her was the controversial removal of her predecessor, Nuhu Ribadu. Umaru Yar’Adua’s administration seemed to have pursued a personal vendetta against Ribadu, and the untidy manner of his ‘exile’ to NIPSS and subsequent removal, did not go down well with a broad section of Nigerians, especially the Lagos activist crowd, that Nuhu Ribadu pandered to, throughout his tenure.

This vocal crowd has very strong links in the media and used it to utmost advantage, not only to construct a positive image for Nuhu Ribadu, but to also rationalize the over-zealous, often gung-ho manner that he carried out his anti-corruption fight.

As WIKILEAKS recently affirmed, Ribadu also had a cozy relationship with imperialist embassies in Nigeria, regularly singing like a bird in the residence of the American Ambassador. His posture therefore received the endorsement of the imperialists.

Waziri, however, came with the baggage of having been allegedly nominated by James Ibori and Bukola Saraki, at a time the two were most influential people in the Yar’Adua period. That ‘original sin’, as well as perceived closeness to the generally-loathed Attorney General, Mike Aondokaa, and belief that she was protecting certain individuals haunted her tenure sufficiently, almost as if she had actually come to end EFCC’s effectiveness.

Ironically, her refusal to continue the handcuffing of individuals; preference for conclusive investigations before arrests; a move away from gangster-like assaults of the previous, Ribadu era, were portrayed as a weakness. There were allegations of cozying up to politicians and rumours of car gifts which were regularly posted on Ribadu-friendly internet sites.

In the long run, Waziri attempted to be an effective anti-corruption Czarina by reaching for elements of the political elite: leaders of the National Assembly, PDP governors facing an insecure presidency and her running battle with the Attorney General. She got caught in the vortex of politics and became mortally wounded. Her removal was, therefore, inevitable. She really had no chance from the beginning!

 

 


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