By Pini Jason
ONE can rightly say that anybody who, in his or her lifetime, witnessed a blackman, Barack Obama, become the President of the United States of America and who also witnessed the glorious burial accorded Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu has had a fulfilled life.
The lives of these two men show that men and women could be created for specific ends in life. Destiny brought Ojukwu to power as Military Governor of the Eastern Region at an opportuned time to raise the necessary question about our country Nigeria. Death took him at another critical time to serve as a referendum on the enduring contending issues about our country.
By rallying behind what Ojukwu stood for, lived for and fought for in his lifetime, Nigerians from every corner of the country voted for the direction they believed the country ought to take towards nationhood. The verdict was crystal clear; unless, of course, we all lied about all those eulogies and elegies.
For the records, Ojukwu, by declaring the Republic of Biafra on 30 May 1967 was not the first or the only one to have questioned or confronted the lie called Nigeria. Before Ojukwu, those who staged the Araba coup of 29 July 1966 had questioned the integrity of Nigeria. Major Gideon Orkah and his associates put a question mark on Nigeria during their coup of April 1990 when they kicked out of Nigeria the very same states which are today the strongholds of Boko Haram.
In June 1993, Nigerians rose above the ethno-religious machinations of military hegemonists and voted for MKO Abiola and his fellow Muslim running mate. But his victory was voided by those who believed that they had a birthright to reign supreme over the rest of us. That act of infamy also questioned the integrity of the Nigerian union. Indeed, the totality of the bloody campaign by Boko Haram today is a question mark on the integrity of Nigeria.
Many Nigerians are conveniently forgetful. People make it sound as if the first time confederation was suggested as solution to Nigeria’s problem was by Ojukwu at Aburi. Fact is that at the Conference of Regional leaders held in Lagos by the four Regions in September 1966 to find solution to the crisis, the North and the East insisted on loose confederation.
The West insisted on complete national sovereignty for each region, including control of armed forces. It was only the Mid-West Region that insisted on a strong federation with the creation of more regions (states). But under pressure from Gen. (then Lt Col) Yakubu Gowon, the North changed its position overnight.
It must not be forgotten that at the time the Easterners resolved to defend themselves in a safe haven called Biafra, Nigeria had become a mere killing field. It has remained so ever since. Understandably, the surprise to the villains was that Ojukwu dared to question their bestiality and right to massacre 50,000 unarmed civilians.
That genocide seriously questioned the raison d’etre of Nigeria as Boko Haram is doing today. But even then, Ojukwu tried to stem the drift to separation by asking Easterners to return to the North only for them to be killed with more sanguine relish on 29 September 1966!
Some times it is fun to watch people bury their heads in the sand like the proverbial ostrich. The fun part is that they feign unawareness that their back is showing with all its ugliness! And so when the idea of a State Burial for Ojukwu was first mooted, some uninformed elements jumped to objection on the grounds that he “tried to dismember the country”.
“They are trying to break the country” has become shorthand for those who want to demonise others or shoot down ideas they find difficult to understand! When Major-Gen Johnson Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi was killed in the quest to regain power, they called him a drunkard, an illiterate, a tribalist who surrounded himself with only Igbo. They called Ojukwu, ambitious, arrogant and stubborn rebel. When they removed Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe from office for standing up for Nigeria’s constitution, they called him arrogant, rigid and proud.
Ojukwu evokes love/hate emotions
As I wrote here some time ago, you cannot be neutral about Ojukwu. The man evokes emotions. You either love him or hate him. It will be naïve to believe that his traducers have changed their minds or to expect that they will ever change their mind. But those who demanded a state burial for Ojukwu did not need to beg for it.
Nigerians simply transcended those who elected to live in the past and gave Ojukwu a hero’s burial. It is, therefore, not what Ojukwu’s traducers say that defines him but the adulations from Nigerians.
Even when Nigerians want to pretend, deep down they know truth. This time, it took Ojukwu to pull Nigerians out of their pretension. One may ask, what changed? How did a living “rebel” become a national hero at death?
At the time Ojukwu “waged war against his country” the internet was not popular. So many Nigerians did not have accurate information about what led to the civil war. They were fed with lies by the “victors”.
They were not given the details of the Aburi Accord. All they were told was that Ojukwu was ambitious and wanted an empire for himself. Now through information technology, Nigerians heard Ojukwu; they read Ahiara Declaration; they read Aburi Accord.
And they found out that the very ills Ojukwu fought against still gnaw at the thin ligature binding Nigeria together. They now know that Aburi Accord remains the best option for Nigeria’s peaceful development. So they had no option than to reconsider their opinion about “the rebel”.
Voting with emotions
But those who lived off Nigeria’s misery frustrated Aburi Accord and nudged Nigeria into a needless civil war. Nigeria was not better for it. It simply degenerated. Today, Nigeria is a terrorist haven! By rallying behind Ojukwu, Nigerians are saying they are tired of a country founded on lies and where injustice reigns.
Nigerians no longer want a country of unequal citizenship. Nigerians no longer want a country of master race and serfs. That was why they ignored the hypocrites and rallied behind Ojukwu to vote with their emotions on all matters concerning the country.
That was why a man who Nigeria did not think deserving of a national honour during his lifetime was given a state burial with full military honours. It was as much an honour done to Ojukwu as it was a propitiation rite for Nigeria. Those who still habour contrary views about his place in Nigeria’s history are in infinitesimal minority.
It is a matter of historical accuracy that Biafra did not attack Nigeria. Ojukwu did not take up arms against Nigeria, as the “victors” who exercised their privilege to write our history after the war asserted. Biafra did not even have the arms to attack Nigeria. It was Nigeria that fired the first shot at Gakem on 7 July 1967! Biafra only responded in defence of their values.
The National Assembly and FRSC
HONESTLY, I don’t know if Nigerians understand what the tiff between the National Assembly and the Federal Road Safety Corps is all about. Last week, both the Senate and the House of Representatives passed resolutions to stop the FRSC from further issuance of the new drivers’ licences and car identification number plates. That was the second time the National Assembly was ordering the FRSC to stop action on the National Uniform Licensing Scheme.
The first time the House of Representatives passed a resolution ordering a stop, the Lagos State Government ignored it and went ahead to issue the new licences and number plates to Lagosians, indicating that, perhaps, the House of Representatives did not fully understand the role of the FRSC in the whole scheme. The National Assembly based its actions on the cost of the new drivers’ licences and number plates. They said they were too exorbitant for ordinary Nigerians. It has turned out that the amounts bandied about were exaggerated. The cost of the new drivers’ licence is N6000 and the number plate costs N15,000.
Unless we redefine the ordinary Nigerian, this should not cause a national upheaval. The cheapest Belgium (Tokunbo) car today is between N800,000 and N1.8 million. What is extra N21,000 to such ordinary Nigerian? Without a driver’s licence and a number plate, this ordinary Nigerian stands the risk of his car being stolen without any identification!
The other issues are the accusation that the FRSC stands to make N2 billion from the deal. I don’t know what crime that is. The FRSC is already making that for the Federation account from fines. So what is the issue? They say it has no right to build a data base of registered vehicles in Nigeria. Do the Hon. members of the National Assembly really know what the FRSC does? On what ground did a member of the House of representative declare as fake, vehicle number plates and licences he was not the issuing authority? I think that cheapened the debate!
I hope whatever is the matter is resolved quickly. Many ordinary Nigerians who bought new cars are already being inconvenienced. They cannot register their cars and they cannot drive them. The real ordinary Nigerians who use their drivers’ licences for identification in banks etc are inconvenienced because they cannot renew their expired driver’s licences.
People are already insinuating what they think the brouhaha is all about. And such insinuations do not do the National Assembly any good!