BY TONY EDIKE
ENUGU— PRESIDENT Goodluck Jonathan, Thursday, acknowledged contributions of the late former Biafran warlord, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu towards the unity of the country, describing him as “a rare patriot and humanist.”
The president, who was represented by Vice President Namadi Sambo, at the national inter-denominational funeral rites and lying-in-state for Ojukwu at the Michael Okpara Square, Enugu, said he had no hesitation in describing the Ikemba Nnewi as a rare patriot because his life epitomized enduring love for his country.
Ojukwu was rare patriot —Jonathan
“Ojukwu was indeed a rare patriot because his life epitomized enduring love for the country he belonged to and a special place of Nigeria, a relentless critical love. Critical, because he wanted to be the best he could be, a civil, just, prosperous and a united nation where no one is oppressed and a rare humanist because his love for humanity was particularly defined by self sacrifice,” President Jonathan said in a special tribute in honour of the late Igbo icon.
According to him, Ojukwu’s contribution in the nation’s political sphere cannot be overlooked, stressing that after his ordeal, he (Ojukwu) continued to play a major role in the advancement of the Igbo nation in a democracy.
“Ojukwu has played significant role in Nigeria’s return to democracy since the Fourth Republic began in 1999. He has contested as the presidential candidate of his party, the All Progressive Grand Alliance, APGA, for the last three elections and until his illness he remained the party leader, the party that was in control of two states and largely influential among the Igbo ethnic area of Nigeria.
The president said he was committed to ensuring that all the wounds of the past were healed completely and that “we do not ignore the lessons of the past as we strive to build a great nation that justifies the labour of our past heroes, Ojukwu inclusive.”
Jonathan said the achievements that set Ojukwu apart and which had made him subject of “edifying posthumous commentaries,” though undeniably solid, were far from personal.
He said: “They were solid altruistic achievements of a man whose life epitomized love and self sacrifice. For only such love could explain his preference for the great risk involved in the leadership role he assumed in his lifetime to the privileged background into which he was born.”
Recalling how Ojukwu sailed to leadership limelight and how “he reluctantly accepted the role that perhaps most critically defined his place in the history of our country,” the president also noted how the late Biafran leader, “despite his reluctances, acquitted himself quite historically, heroically while fulfilling that role not withstanding the difficult odds that stood against his side” during the civil war.
He loved Nigeria so much —Gowon
In his tribute, former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, said Dim Ojukwu would ever be remembered for “his courage, focus, boldness and unwavering desire to fight for justice, equity and fair play for his people.”
Gowon whose tribute was delivered by Prof. Benjamin Marere, Coordinator of Nigeria Prays, said: “Dim Ojukwu loved Nigeria so much, he merely wanted to opt out over perceived injustice to his people.”
Praying that God grant Ojukwu’s soul eternal rest, Gowon promised to pay a special visit to the bereaved family when he returns from his trip to the United States.
His exit, a huge void — Anyaoku
In his tribute, former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, said news of the death of Ojukwu struck him not just on account that his exit means a huge void in the lives of many Nigerians he touched, but also because he was a personal friend.
“All his entire life, Emeka Ojukwu was devoted to the pursuit of excellence in whatever he engaged himself. He was a witty administrator, a consummate soldier, an astute politician and unmistakable patriot. He was also a dignified epitome of stoicism, having endured his years in exile with complete equanimity and resilience that saw him excelling in his family’s tradition of hard work and industry,” he said.
Ojukwu stood for unity —Rawlings
Reflecting on the life of Ojukwu and the Nigerian civil war, former Ghanaian president, Mr John Jerry Rawlings, who led an official delegation from Ghana to the funeral rites, said the late Biafran leader was a man who stood for equity, peace and justice.
Rawlings said Nigeria today still faced serious challenges and as the entire nation broods over the unity and political future of the country, the citizens should take a cue from the greatest examples of “General Ojukwu who in the midst of adverse circumstances chose using reconciliation as a first option.”
The former Ghanaian leader who was guest speaker at the night of tributes held at the Enugu Sports Club, however, explained that Ojukwu did not hesitate to defend his people militarily in pursuit of the ideals of equity, peace and justice. He stressed that the circumstances that led to Biafra and the subsequent civil war were very disturbing.
The ex-Ghanaian leader said some of the events that caused the Biafra war have similarities to today’s socio-economic disparities in Nigeria, emphasising that it was only when Nigerians appreciated the “sacrifices persons like Ojukwu and General Yakubu Gowon had to make in securing peace and unity that they would put in place a proper conciliatory posture for Nigeria.”
He noted that while Gowon fought on one side of the war to save Nigeria’s unity, Ojukwu fought on the other side to protect his people.
Nobel Laurite, Prof. Wole Soyinka also showered praises on the late Ikemba Nnewi whom he described as his childhood friend and urged Nigerians particularly Ndigbo to emulate his leadership qualities.
He stated that Nigeria’s history would not be complete without the role of Ojukwu, saying rather than mourning his exit, Nigerians should celebrate the fact that in his life, bitterness gave way to reconciliation.
Fall of a great iroko tree —Gov. Obi
Chairman of the South East Governors’ Forum and Governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi, thanked the Federal Government for according due respect to Ojukwu and likened the demise of Ojukwu to the “falling of a great iroko tree.”
He urged Ndigbo to continue with Ojukwu’s fight for “justice, peace and love for Nigeria,” adding that the death of the Ikemba Nnewi should be seen as an opportunity to unite the Igbo so that they collectively agitate for whatever is their right.
A rare enigma —Chime
In his tribute, Governor Sullivan Chime of Enugu State said: “This great hero lying before us today, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, is one of those rare enigmas, the discussion of which can never be exhausted or caused to expire. The story of his life is actually a huge collection of stories. It is a massive montage and kaleidoscope of dramatic and historic events.
“Larger than life while alive and even more so, in death, Ojukwu is at once, a historical and iconic personage, an enigma and myth who bestrode his times like a colossus, and who responded to all emergent circumstances in his environment with typical candour and valour.”
The lying-in-state which was turned to carnival of sort by a huge crowd of people from all parts of the South East and beyond, was attended by who is who in Nigeria.