IN this world, most people are not famous at all. Some people’s fame is ephemeral, some are famous for 5 minutes and are hardly remembered again. Most persons are not remembered at all a year after their corpse is interred. Remembrance becomes enduring only when one’s life’s work has relevance for many future generations.
Why do we mourn Ojukwu’s death? Why should we keep fresh our memory of him? Let us tell the world, as well as remind ourselves, of the man, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, and of his struggles on our behalf, and let us note some of the brave services he rendered us in a period of more than 60 years; selfless services for which we are indebted to him and should hold him in highest esteem.
Ojukwu lived a life filled with such deeds as legends are made of. Here are some: Consider the case of the Zulu hero, Shaka. When he was 13, Shaka attacked and killed a black Mamba snake that had killed a prize bull he was guarding. Like Shaka, Ojukwu as a boy exhibited the bravery and protectiveness that would win him fame as an adult.
Ojukwu: Anti-colonial Defender of the Racially Oppressed
In 1944, when he was 11, Ojukwu was briefly imprisoned for assaulting a white British colonial teacher who was humiliating a black woman at King’s College in Lagos, an event which generated widespread coverage in local newspapers.
For a schoolboy to fight a teacher is unusual, and requires great courage. For any black person in a colonial society ruled by all-powerful whites, a society which practices racial discrimination, such behavior required extreme provocation or extreme folly. For an 11 year old black schoolboy in such a society to fight a teacher belonging to the master race required extraordinary audacity.
And for him to do so in defence of another black person, and not of himself, showed a precocious race consciousness and a meritorious sense of racial solidarity. Marcus Garvey would have been proud of the lad and recognized him as one destined to do great deeds for the black race. Here was a boy to watch. And, when he grew up, Ojukwu did not disappoint such expectations.
After this event, his father, Sir Louis Odumegwu Ojukwu, a millionaire businessman and one of the richest men in Nigeria, packed him off to England to an elite boarding school. From there he proceeded to Oxford University. After earning his Master’s Degree in History, he returned to colonial Nigeria in 1956 and joined the colonial administration as a District Officer. After serving a year, he made an extraordinary career move.
He resigned and enlisted in the Army in 1957, not as an officer cadet, but as an ordinary soldier. Nevertheless, he rose rapidly from the ranks and in 1964, became a Lieutenant Colonel, and was appointed the Quartermaster General of the Nigerian Army. All this he achieved within 7 years in a peace-time army, not in a wartime army where a high attrition rate accelerates promotions.
Soon thereafter political events pushed Ojukwu into political leadership when the coup of January 1966 led to his appointment as the Military Governor of Eastern Nigeria. That was the platform from where he performed the great deeds that have made him famous.
Ojukwu: Hero of Aburi
Biafran leader, Lietenant Colonel C. Odumegwu Ojukwu, military governor of East Nigeria in this 1966 file photo. The first of these deeds was his brilliant performance in the negotiations at the Conference of Nigeria’s military rulers that was held in Aburi, Ghana, in January1967.
Beginning as a minority of one in a Supreme Military Council with eight other members in attendance, he prevailed on the SMC, first to renounce the use of force to resolve the crisis that had brought them to Aburi; and, secondly, to agree on a confederation arrangement for governing the country until a new constitution could be agreed.
Getting his colleagues to agree to the Aburi Accord was Ojukwu’s seminal contribution to Nigeria’s survival and to the security and progress of the entire population of Nigeria. However, the fruits of this fundamental contribution were not to be harvested. When the signatories returned to Nigeria, Gowon and his officials in Lagos refused to implement the terms of the Accord. This deepened the crisis and eventually provoked the secession of Eastern Nigeria and its quest for self-determination as the sovereign state of Biafra.
Ojukwu: Founder and War Leader of Biafra
The next great deed that Ojukwu did was to proclaim the sovereign state of Biafra on 30 May 1967. Before the new state could find its feet, Gowon, in repudiation of yet another part of the Aburi Accord, resorted to force and sent the Nigerian army to invade Biafra to bring it back into Nigeria. When the Nigeria-Biafra War began in July 1967, Ojukwu became Biafra’s war leader.
He led Biafra in a just war of self defence, a war of resistance to Nigeria’s aggression, a war to defend the Biafran People’s right to self-determination and to protect their very lives. With no resources to speak of, Ojukwu still managed to organize the Biafran people and the Biafran Army to resist the Nigerian invaders for 30 harrowing months until Biafra fell and surrendered in January 1970.
In those 30 months, Ojukwu did two other great deeds. To sustain the struggle, he mobilized the scientific manpower of Biafra into the Science and Technology Group (S&T Group) that achieved great things. Secondly he produced a Blueprint for a just Biafran society.
Ojukwu the war leader of Biafra:
Finding itself blockaded by land, sea and air, Biafra had to be self-reliant to survive. Its Science and Technology Group (S&T Group) rose to the challenge and, among other things, conceived and produced a type of air defence dust mine for use against MIG jet fighters. In October 1967, when Biafran troops at the Ugwuoba Bridge, near Awka. fired it horizontally on advancing Nigerian troops, its devastating effect earned it the name Ogbunigwe (mass killer).
On March 31, 1968, a Biafran army unit ambushed and, using Ogbunigwe, destroyed a 96-vehicle column of Nigerian soldiers. The humiliating Abagana defeat to Nigerian soldiers prompted General Yakubu Gowon to remove Col. Murtala Mohammed as the General Commanding Officer of the Onitsha sector.
In addition, Biafran engineers built airports and roads; designed and built petroleum refineries; designed and built light and heavy equipment. Biafra’s Research and Production (RAP) unit did research on chemical weapons as well as rocket guidance systems. It invented new forms of explosives, and tried new forms of food processing technology.
The Biafra coastline was lined with home-made shore batteries and with remote controlled weapons systems and bombs. Under Ojukwu’s leadership, and in less than three years, a Biafra that was being starved by blockade, achieved a great leap forward in black African science and technology. [see Wikipedia article on Ojukwu]
This achievement remains unique in Black Africa. In their half century of “independence” thus far, no other state in Black Africa has created any Science & Technology organization, let alone one to compare with the one created in Biafra’s 31 months existence.
This Biafran achievement remains an inspirational beacon for the Black World in this 21st century. It shows that if Black African states are still not industrialized today, the fault is not in us the people, not in the stars, not in our race, but in our neo-colonialist leaders and their chronic misleadership.
Ojukwu: Proponent of a New Social Order
Even in the midst of war, Ojukwu encouraged the Biafran intelligentsia to investigate and articulate their people’s aspirations for their post-war society. This effort produced a document which Ojukwu presented to the nascent Biafran nation on June 1, 1969 at Ahiara village.
It became known as The Ahiara Declaration .The document eloquently and totally rejected the Nigerian social order for its neo-colonialist iniquities and inequities, and outlined the principles on which a radically different and just society would be constructed in Biafra. Ojukwu’s Ahiara Declaration invites comparison with Nyerere’s Arusha Declaration as a blueprint for a just and egalitarian Black African society.
Unfortunately, despite these achievements, the proposed new society was not to be. A Biafran cartoon of the period, captioned “The Truth about the Nigeria-Biafra War”, gave an accurate picture of the war situation: it showed a trio consisting of President Lyndon Johnson of the USA, Prime Minister Harold Wilson of Britain and Premier Alexei Kosygin of the USSR holding Ojukwu immobilized for Nigeria’s Gowon to use as a punching bag.
Given that fundamental situation, it was no wonder that Biafra collapsed, after 30 months of fighting a just war. And to save him from almost certain execution by vengeful Nigerian soldiers, Ojukwu’s followers packed him off to exile in Cote d’Ivoire in January 1970, in the expectation that he would live to fight for them another day.
Ojukwu, the war leader of a defeated Biafra, spent 12 years in exile before he was pardoned and allowed to return to Nigeria in 1982. He arrived to a tumultuous hero’s welcome by his people and he plunged into Nigerian politics to champion the struggle for improvement in the hard lot of his defeated people.
Alleviating the condition of Ndi-Igbo within Nigeria became his mission until his death in 2011. To do that he joined the NPN, the governing party of that time, and contested for a seat in the Nigerian senate. However, after a vigorous election campaign, he was declared defeated. Undaunted, he continued to be a voice for Ndi-Igbo in Nigerian affairs despite a stint as a political detainee during the Buhari period.
In 1994-1995, at the Abacha Constitutional Conference in Abuja, the Ndi-Igbo contingent, led jointly by Ojukwu and a former Vice President of Nigeria, Dr Alex Ekwueme, introduced and persuaded the Conference to adopt the concept of six geo-political zones in which the 36 states of Nigeria are now aggregated. In 2003, Ojukwu joined the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and became its Presidential candidate in the 2003 and 2007 elections. This was all in a further effort to give Ndi-Igbo a suitable presence in Nigerian politics and to promote the interests of Ndi-Igbo within Nigeria.
Ojukwu the APGA presidential candidate.
Former Biafra leader Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu (L) who emerged as the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA)’s presidential aspirant for 2007 elections after their national convention in Enugu is pictured with Chief Victor Ume, APGA Chairman and Mrs Virgy Etiaba, Deputy Governor of Anambra State during the APGA convention held in Enugu, Nigeria, 04 December 2006. (Nwakamma/AFP/Getty Images)
Ojukwu and PRONACO
In the continuing search for a peaceful and better Nigeria, Ojukwu was among the leaders of thought who, in 2005-2006, in consultation with Chief Anthony Enahoro, initiated the Peoples’ National Conference through the platform of the Pro National Conference Organizations (PRONACO) –an alliance of 164 ethnic organizations that believed that a Sovereign National Conference ( SNC) had become imperative for transforming Nigeria and ending its people’s woes.
That People’s National Conference, which was a comprehensive revalidation of the Aburi Accord by the ethnic nationalities, produced a Draft People’s Constitution which has been overwhelmingly endorsed across Nigeria as a credible path to a sustainable basis for Nigeria’s survival. As the conference rotated its sittings across various geo-political locations (including Lagos, Port Harcourt, Enugu, Jos and Kano) Ojukwu hosted that conference twice in Enugu, in February and in March 2006.
Ojukwu at home with his wife, Bianca.
Upon the conclusion of the conference, Ojukwu actively mobilized for the informal referendum to which the Draft People’s Constitution was subjected, resulting in its endorsement by various ethnic blocs. As a part of the process for actualizing this written wish of the peoples of Nigeria, Ojukwu volunteered to be one of the plaintiffs, alongside Wole Soyinka, Anthony Enahoro and Bankole Oki, in a lawsuit before the Federal High Court, Lagos, challenging the legitimacy of the 1999 constitution. This is Suit No. FHC/L/CS/558/09. It is still in court till today. The suit is to dismantle the fraudulent and military-imposed constitution of 1999 and make space for a new order.
All of this shows that while Ojukwu contended for a place within the Nigerian political space, by joining the NPN and running for the senate in1983, by participating in Abacha’s Constitutional Conference in 1994-1995, and then by joining APGA and running twice for President on the APGA ticket, he devoted even more energy towards resolving the fundamental distortions that have brought Nigeria to the dark valley where it is languishing. That, in brief, is an outline of the life and struggles of Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu.
Ojukwu: Unfinished business
No person dies or leaves office without leaving behind some unfinished business. Hero that he was, Ojukwu is no exception. There is the business of transforming Nigeria, a project which is being ably carried on by his younger PRONACO colleagues. While that project is for the benefit of all Nigerians, there is another unfinished business of his which concerns Ndi-Igbo exclusively. Let me now draw your attention to it.
Ojukwu did not finish the vital business of creating an institutional embodiment of the Ndi-Igbo nation, a paramount cultural-political institution for Ndi-Igbo, their counterpart of what the Ooni of Ife is for the Yoruba; and the Asentehene is for the Ashanti of Ghana; and the Kabaka is for the Baganda of Uganda; the Sultan of Sokoto is for Shariyaland, a.k.a. Nigeria’s Far North or Arewa.
Or take the example of what the Dalai Lama institution is for the Tibetans, namely, a central focus of Tibetan cultural identity, a symbolic embodiment of the Tibetan national character. Such are the cultural and non-partisan institutions to which a people all give their allegiance and look to for decisive guidance in their affairs. By joining the NPN and entering partisan politics on his return from exile in 1982, Ojukwu skipped his chance to become the nucleus of a neutral institutional arbiter in the world of Ndi-Igbo.
However, he made a belated attempt to correct his error, but did not succeed. His Eze Igbo Gburugburu title, with its notion of monarchy, was probably in the wrong cultural idiom for Igbo republicanism to accept, and so it never gathered widespread or deep acquiescence.
With Ojukwu’s joining of the ancestors, the task of creating this sorely needed paramount institution, and in some effective and culturally appropriate form, is now left for the next generation of Ndi-Igbo, and especially for the leadership cadres that will emerge among them. And it is for the elders of today to guide them to accomplish that vital task.
Ojukwu is physically dead, but for as long as we keep fresh our memories of his deeds, the legend lives on. Let me sum up:
At the age of 11, Ojukwu burst onto the scene as a defender of black people when he physically defended a black African woman from humiliation by a white colonial racist teacher.
Then at age 33 he became the warrior defender of all Eastern Nigerians when they came under mass murderous attack by their fellow Nigerians. Then after the collapse of Biafra he settled into the role of political warrior defending Ndi-Igbo in the neocolonial dungeon called Nigeria.
By the example of his deeds, the Ojukwu legend will live on wherever people, and black people especially, look for an inspiring role model of selfless defence of the humiliated and oppressed; or for a model of when an injured and defenceless people must say “enough is enough” and embark on a struggle for self determination; or for model leadership for scientific and technological advancement; or for a model of how to obtain a Blueprint for a just and equitable social order.
Ojukwu: The People’s Assessment.
Let me end this assessment of Ojukwu’s life by quoting some excerpts from what ordinary Nigerians said of Ojukwu after his death, on a website discussing the seminal Aburi Accord:
“Aburi can again help us avoid another Biafra. MIDDLE BELT people are clearly being pushed & provoked without cause.”
“Love him or hate him, he was one politician that stole no money- check the records.
Adieu, Lion of the Tribe of Biafra!”
“Ojukwu is gone but his life is full of lessons for us to learn: He stood for the truth, fought for the truth and in truth he died. He saw what others could not see – self determination of his people. It took another 40 years for Nigerians to latch on – clamouring for autonomy.”
“We will miss your courage and hatred for injustice. You gave your all for the emancipation of your people.”
“He was distinct, patriotic and fearless. He was synonymous with justice and equity. He distanced himself from the pandemic corruption that has ravaged prominent politicians of his time.”
“He was able to tell us that you can be rich and principled, you can be rich and honest, you can be rich and be a friend of the poor, you can be rich and be a friend of the needy, you can be rich and sacrifice for humanity, you can be rich and remain modest. The list is endless. Ojukwu used his money to pursue people’s course, while our present day thieves we call rulers use our money to persecute us, can you see the difference?”
“Though you are dead, your fighting spirit is still alive to actualise your dreams, and your children in their generation will immortalise and celebrate you in their new nation.”
And to that, permit me to add my voice and say:
Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu!
Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu!
Ikemba Nnewi, Laa n’udo!
Ikemba Nnewi, Go in peace!
Eze-agha Ndi Biafra
War chief of Biafra
Dike n’aluru ndi ike adighi ogu
Champion who fights for those without strength
Onye nchedo ndi an’emegbu emegbu
Protector of the exploited
Onye n’ebulite onodu onye an’eleli eleli
The one who raises the status of the despised
Laa n’udo, Ikemba, Laa n’udo!
Go in peace, Ikemba, Go in peace!