BY CLIFFORD NDUJIHE, DEPUTY POLITICAL EDITOR

HATE him or like him, the late Biafran Leader, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu was fond of the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. The fondness arose from his perception of Awolowo’s vision, politics and welfarist ideology that sought and pursued the betterment of the citizenry.

Without doubts, Pa Awolowo concretised his vision in Western Region, when he superintended the area as premier in the 1950s. Having made his mark in Western Region, Awolowo’s attempts to replicate good governance at the centre, beginning from Independence in 1960 to May 9, 1987 when he died, did not yield dividends.

At various times, he sought the headship of the country on the platforms of the Action Group (AG) and Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN).

When he died in 1987, a sad Odumegwu-Ojukwu described Awolowo as “the best president Nigeria never had.”

Like Awolowo, the late defunct Biafran leader also had fine ideas on how to turn the fortunes of the country around having equally shown what he could do as the military governor of former Eastern Region. He also on many occasions sought the presidency and failed and may as well be regarded as the best Igbo president Nigeria never had.

As the governor of the Eastern region comprising nine states in today’s Nigeria, namely, Abia, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Bayelsa, Cross River, Ebonyi, Enugu, Imo and Rivers, Odumegwu-Ojukwu harnessed the mental and physical capabilities of his people.

Odimegwu- Ojukwu

The area bust out with a blistering economy, which was then regarded as the fastest growing economy in the Third World. With time, following the discovery of crude oil in commercial quantities, it was not surprising that the region metamorphosed into the economic backbone of Nigeria.

The first graduate to be enlisted into the Nigerian Army, Odumegwu-Ojukwu, an Oxford University-trained Historian rose through the ranks to become a lieutenant colonel and was appointed governor when the military, after a partially successful coup by Igbo-dominated officers, took over reins of power in 1966.

However, the Major General J.T.U Aguiyi-Ironsi-led military government lasted just six months. Misgivings from other parts of the country especially the North, which lost more than the other regions a cream of her political and military leaders to the first coup, led to another coup.

From the second coup emerged Lt. Colonel Yakubu Gowon as head of state. In the order of hierarchy, there were senior officers who could have become head of state ahead of Gowon. Odumegwu-Ojukwu kicked against the side-stepping of seniority in the selection process and frosty relations ensued between him and Gowon.

Coupled with the mass killings of Southerners especially easterners in the North as reprisals for the first coup, the stage was set for the worse. The Ironsi government introduced unitary system of government and eroded the powers wielded by the regions or federating units.

Gowon ‘reversed’ the unitary system and divided the four regions of the country into 12 states. He carved out a state (Southeastern) for the minorities out of the Eastern Region, leaving the core Igbo states as East Central.

The East felt increasingly isolated and alienated from the Federal Military Government under Gowon. However, Ojukwu opposed these moves and sought empowering of the regions through confederacy. His main proposal to end the ethnic strife was the creation in Nigeria of a weak federation-type government, which would allow the federating units to have substantial political and economic autonomy. The federal government tentatively agreed to this solution at a conference in Aburi, Ghana in January 1967 but rejected it on returning to Nigeria.

Therefater, the matter worsened with continued killings of innocent citizens. Ojukwu responded in March–April 1967 by separating the Eastern Region from those of the Federal Government. Following secessionist pressures from his fellow Igbo Ojukwu, with the support of Eastern leaders, on May 30, 1967 declared Republic of Biafra as an independent country.

The outcome was a 30-month civil war (1967 to 1970), which the Federal troops won. Ojukwu went on exile in Cote d ‘Ivoire on the eve of Biafra surrender where he stayed for 13 years until President Shehu Shagari pardoned him and allowed him safe return to the country in 1982.

Odumegwu-Ojukwu’s politics

Shortly after his return, Odumegwu-Ojukwu joined full-blown politics. In January 1983, he linked up with the ruling National Party of Nigeria (NPN) that granted him reprieve and sought a position in the Senate on its platform to the chagrin of most of his Igbo kinsmen, who were in the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe-led Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP). Thus, his bid for the Senate representing Onitsha Senatorial District (Anambra) was unsuccessful.

Having taken part in the ‘fouled’ politics of Second Republic, Ojujkwu was among a host of politicians that Major General Muhammadu Buhari-led military government hauled into detention when the military seized power On December 31, 1983. He was detained for 10 months.

Undaunted, the Ikemba also took part in the General Ibrahim Babangida botched Third Republic transition programme. In 1993, declared his intention to run for the presidency. He said the surest way to show that the civil war had ended and the Igbo fully integrated into the affairs of the nation was to allow the Igbo become president.

Aside full integration of the Igbo into the governance of the country, Ojukwu also enunciated far-reaching plans to halt the country’s slide into decay. But the Nigerian government was not yet ready for an Ojukwu presidency. He was promptly disqualified from running for president along with other old breed politicians by Babangida.

As an astutepolitician, Ojukwu kept himself relevant in the scheme of things. He was one of those elected to the National Constitutional Conference (NCC) of 1994 to 1995.

Under General Abdusalami Abubakar, he was among Nigerian leaders the government consulted to ensure hitch-free transition programme. He was to join the All Peoples Party (APP), which emerged as the main opposition party to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 1999.

On the road to the 2003 general elections, he joined the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and was nominated as its presidential flagbearer. He fought the polls against President Olusegun Obasanjo, General Buhari and other contenders and came third. He repeated the quest in 2007 and came sixth, an indication that he might never get the plum job. Having ruled the entire Eastern region, he is arguably the highest ranking Igbo man to vie for the presidency apart from Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe.

Determined to improve governance in the country, he fraternised with civil society groups and pressure groups such as the Ethnic Nationalities Forum (ENF), urging convocation of a sovereign National Conference (SNC) to restructure Nigeria into a true federal state.

As his political career reached the end Ojukwu made an unusual request in February 2010. He begged the Anambra electorate to grant him his last wish. And what was the wish? Return Governor Peter Obi to Anambra Government House. Indeed, his wish was granted as amid unassailable political arsenal amassed by the PDP in Anambra State, Governor Obi emerged victorious at the February 6, 2010 polls.

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