It was an interview that had to be conducted. After the declaration that the late Chief Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, Ezigbo Gburugburu’s Will had been announced and a lion share had gone to Bianca Odinaka Olivia Ojukwu, the deceased’s wife, Sunday Vanguard set out to get all sides of the story, especially after the statements by Emeka Ojukwu, one of the children.
Last week, we published the CODCIL verbatim.We bring you an extensive interview with Chief Debe Ojukwu, the disinherited first child of the late Biafran warlord. He spoke about the Ojukwu Nigerians and Igbos never knew, just as he spoke about Bianca, his father’s wife, and her role as a small mother in the house. This is a first part.
By Charles Kumolu & Gbenga Oke
How was it like growing up with you father, Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, at the time when he was the leader of Biafra, particularly given that he had multitude of challenges to contend with as the leader of the Biafran nation?
My name is Chief Debe Ojukwu, I am the eldest child of the late Chief Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu. I am a lawyer. I am a community leader.
I did not stay with him during the war just like every other person.
Where were you at that time? Because it was reported that you had to change from the school you were attending in Lagos to Government College Afikpo?
That was not what happened. I schooled in Lagos.
I had gained admission into some elite school in Lagos at a very young age of nine. Then the war interrupted that progress and we all had to relocate to the East.
I am telling you about 1965. I was born on August 3, 1956. By 1965, I was nine years old and had taken the common entrance examination. Because of the crisis that broke in 1965, I could not carry on with that, we had to relocate to the East.
You would have lost some years
Yes. Most of us lost three years because of the war.
Most of us did not go to school between 1968, 1969 and 1970.
Where were you all these while?
I was all the time with my mum in Enugu.
Why your mum?
Yes because it was safer to be with her. Being with her shielded me from my father’s personality, because it would be easy to attack the son of my father during the war.
After the war?
When the war ended in 1970, I got into Saint Mary’s Uwani. After that, I entered Government Secondary School Afikpo. Then the school was temporarily quartered in Enugu at the Institute of Administration, which is now Enugu State University of Science and Technology, because soldiers were living at the premises of Government Secondary School Afikpo. We were there until 1973 when the soldiers left there. I left and traveled to see my father, who was in exile in Ivory Coast. I visited him a couple of times. He asked me what I wanted to do; I told him I wanted to go to Harvard. I applied and they said I met their criteria. I took my London GCE in class three because I had lost three years because of the war and I wanted to regain those three years. I was always the first in my class. When I took it (London GCE) in class three, I entered for only five papers, which were English, Physics, Maths, Chemistry and Biology. Then in Afikpo, our pride was reading the sciences. My father okayed my going to Afikpo, after spending some time with him in Ivory Coast, I came back to Nigeria and discovered that I made four papers out of five. That was what hindered my going to Harvard. Since I couldn’t proceed along the line I’d wished for, I decided to join the Nigeria Police Force.
Police Force? How were your days in the police?
The aim of joining the police was to make money and pay for my private tuition because I felt that one could make it by dint of hardwork, instead of the stereotyped way. It was an adventure. I trained at Police College, Ikeja, after which I was posted to Aba. From there, I was posted to Afikpo. After that, I was called back by the Force to do the Inspector course because my four credits qualified me to join as a cadet Inspector rather than constable. I went to the college and had people like Hafiz Ringim, Saleh Abubakar, Audu Abubakar, Abinu Shawa and others as course mates. I could have stayed back with the four credits, but I went to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka,UNN, to study law in 1981. I got my LLB after four years as the first known name to do that without troubles. I finished my studies at the appropriate time. I went back to the police after graduation and at the expiration of my study leave.
How did the Force treat you? Were there prejudices?
The Force was very cagey, I lost promotions on certain occasions because certain interests felt I was there to finish what my father could not accomplish. Because of that I was drafted to go for cadet training, which I should not have gone for because I was already an officer. However, I proceeded and graduated as the best student. I was the first police officer that got a presidential commission because of my performance. We were the first set of the Police Academy.
I was in police until I was now invited to come and manage my grandfather’s properties. Actually it is the management of the properties that is the cause of the whole hoopla.
Before we get to the issue of the hoopla, you just told us that you visited your dad in Ivory Coast on many occasions. Can we know how your father’s family operated while he was in exile in that country?
When he went on exile, he had a woman who was with him.
That was Emeka’s mum and people took her as the First Lady of Biafra. Her name is Njideka.
But while they were in exile, they fell apart and she came back to Nigeria.
She did not come back with her children. Emeka and his siblings remained with my father in Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast.
It was when she left that Stella Onyedor stepped in.
He came back from exile with Stella.
He stayed with Stella and, after her, Bianca came in.
I had always stayed with my mum. And we occasionally visited dad.
Ideally, when a child is small, the custody is granted to the mother until the child becomes an adult. I always visited and stayed with my father in Ivory Coast, he stayed in Cocoordi and Benjaville. Then my grandmother was staying in Gwake. The family had always been there. It was like a war situation, the family was scattered like that until he came back in 1982 and started bringing the family together in Nigeria.
Coming back, can you recollect how it was for him in the early days of his return?
When he returned, he found out that most of his family things and issues were not well organised. You know what it means for a man to be away from home for thirteen years under those circumstances. That was why his children lived at variance – scattered.
What was the relationship between you, your siblings and your father before Bianca came into the family?
It was a very cordial relationship. I did not suffer because my mother shielded me and that is why I am very level headed. For the other children, my father started playing mother and father’s role until Stella stepped in.
Stella will pretend to play mother but it could not be like their own mother.
There could always be friction under such circumstance. But my father has always been overtly protective of his children. So, I can figure that when Bianca came in, I was too old to start expecting maternal care, because I was like a big brother to her. When she came in there was this war of attrition.
Please give an instance of this?
The first one happened with….
Read the full interview in tomorrow’s edition of Sunday Vanguard.
Click here to read Ojukwu’s Will.