Ojukwu's Burial

February 27, 2012

The enigmatic Ikemba

THE birth of the man, known much later as Ikemba in Zungeru (present day Niger State) was a remarkable event. Even more remarkable was the arrival of Sir Louis Phillip Odumegwu Ojukwu, the then richest man in Nigeria in his Rolls Royce, to take him away to Lagos.

The man, Ikemba, was given the name  Odumegwu Ojukwu at conception, given the name Chukwuemeka at birth and then at his own time he acquired the names: Ikemba Nnewi, Dikedi Ora Mma Ndigbo, Dim Ezeigbo Gburugburu, Amumana Egbe Igwe, Udo Eji-Akpu Agu, Asika Agbalu  Agbala, Ikenga Ngwo, Ogwu N’ Okilika, etc.

Ikenga was a man who stood out right from his childhood. Prof Kalu Ogbaa, the author of the book, General Ojukwu, gave an account of how Ikemba’s father did not as a habit pay his children’s school fees on time. When Ikemba and his siblings will go to demand for their school fees every one of them would hesitate because they knew what to expect. Ikemba would summon courage to go to his father’s office to make the demand. Ikemba’s father would grab him and give him six strokes of the cane before giving him the school fees for everybody. As a full grown man, he asked his father why he was flogging him before paying their school fees. Ikemba’s father, Sir Ojukwu, said that was to teach you that money is not easy to come by. He had enough money to “spoil” his children but he wanted them to know that “money hard O!”

As a student of Kings College Lagos, he stood up against injustice and paid the penalty. He went to England where he got the best of the British Education (Oxford).

Remember that the British Colonial Masters expelled him at Kings College but unwittingly exposed him to the best  liberal university education in the world. Ikemba’s father had wanted him to read law but he chose to read the type of course the upper class read in Britain. It is important to understand that he was doing what his Epsom College class mates were doing since they were the children of the rich and the blueblood.

Ikemba, on return to Nigeria, joined the then Colonial Service. He was a district officer. But he was not satisfied with the humdrum nature of her Majesty’s Colonial Service. He quit and to the consternation of all joined the Colonial Nigeria Army, not as an officer trainee but as a bloody recruit.  Ikemba had suspected that his rich and influential father would block his admission as an officer in training, so he opted to become a recruit like any lightly  educated young man. An incident occurred when he arrived the recruitment ground in his sports car.

The welcoming sergeant saluted him and inquired what his mission was. Ikemba parked his car and introduced himself as a recruit reporting for training. The sergeant promptly ordered one of his assistants to march this “bloody recruit” to the assembly point. The turning point came when the training officer, a sergeant, was teaching them the names of the various parts of a rifle. He pointed at one part and called it “Sepulka”.

All the recruits chorused “Sepulka” except one- Ikemba. He asked Ikemba to do the same. Ikemba pronounced it as a “Safety Catch”. The training officer promptly marched him to the White colonial officer for punishment for insubordination. The officer, out of curiosity, asked Ikemba his level of education.

Ikemba told him Masters Degree from Oxford. The astonished White officer promptly moved him to the officer training Academy where he became the first graduate to enrol into the Nigerian Army. That was how a grammar war became the opening for joining the army officer corps. in 1957.`

I will dare to suggest that the man Ikemba was conditioned by his childhood experience and military training for the role he played in the affairs of Nigeria, Biafra and Nigeria again. The other important development in Ikemba’s life was that his father accepted and approved of his choice to join the army when he became a major. Sir Ojukwu respected anybody with the rank of “Major” because when he, Sir Ojukwu, was a young boy he witnessed how a White man, Major Morphet in the colonial army flogged and humiliated well respected men in the town for not paying the tax he demanded.

Sir Ojukwu was extremely proud of his son, Major Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu and indeed popped some bottles of champaign in his honour.

The calamitous events that threatened the young Republic of Nigeria are too well known for me to recount here. The key events are the misrule, the military coup, the counter-coup, the various pogroms directed at Ndigbo and the Biafra war.

These events had tremendous impact on the developments that shaped the cause of the history of Nigeria. Suffice it to say that Ikemba was the Military Governor of Eastern Region in 1966 and early 1967. The drums of war, injustice and secession were too loud to be ignored. The drums were beating too fast for the dancers to march. With young military actors on both sides of the divide in their 30s, war was inevitable. Remember the youth form the core group in war, sports and entertainment. I hold the firm belief that the Biafra  war would not have taken place if the decision makers on both sides were in their 50s. One of the great Igbo philosophers, Omenuko, 200 years ago, said: “Oji oso agbakwu ogu, amagi na Ogu bu onwu (A person who runs towards a battle does not know that war means death).

Ikemba Nnewi was a charismatic figure. He was so enigmatic that I can only compare people’s hero worship of him to that of Chairman Mao Tse Tung of China. In Biafra, to be called an enemy of Ojukwu was unthinkable. He spoke in measured tones.

He had some characteristics which some of the Biafran military officers had imbibed and exhibited to all and sundry. Captain August Okpe of the Nigerian and Biafran Air Force gave a good description of this syndrome in his book, “The Last Fight”.

The Biafran scientific group was known as RAP- Research and Production. The scientists believed in Ikemba and produced spectacular results which were destroyed at the end of the war. Some of these feats and the men and women involved are recounted in the book, Technological Innovations In Biafra” by Felix N.C Oragwu.

Mr. GODDY UWAZURIKEe, a  lawyer, wrote from Abuja.