’Life without the Ikemba and the many battles with the family’
Speaks on why she won’t remarry
Let me thank you dear readers for the overwhelming reception you accorded the maiden outing of this column last week. Today, we continue serving you the exclusive details of the interview with the delectable and deeply intellectual Nigerian Ambassador to the Kingdom of Spain, Mrs. Bianca Ojukwu. Enjoy and please don’t forget to visit my blog: www.EkereteUdoh.com for other exclusive stories.
The text message was promptly replied: “Absolutely, even though I have not granted an interview on the issues you wish to discuss with me, I will break the rule and grant your request. I am, however, in the middle of a campaign (the APGA campaign that elected-Willie Obiano to succeed Mr Peter Obi as governor of Anambra State). So let me know if you wish to do this by telephone, or if you may wish to fly down to Enugu.”
That was Bianca Ojukwu, the wife of the former Head of State of the Republic of Biafra, leader of the Igbo and one of the most prominent figures in Nigerian post-independence struggle for nation-building-Dim Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, responding to my interview request.
I had sent the interview request and specifically asked her to talk on a number of issues that had not yet been explored in the media- issues that were, to say the least, pretty private, and the response I got was very reassuring. And so, last November, I boarded a flight to Enugu. True to what she had told me, I had to spend two days before she was free from the campaign that she had to make to convince the Anambra people, among others, on why Obiano was the right person to succeed Obi. “I should be back to Enugu from Awka tomorrow-(Nov, 18, 2013) and would be ready for the interview at 11 am”, she texted me.
And so, exactly 11 am on November 18, I was at CASABIANCA- an imposing and beautiful edifice appropriately named after her in the Government Reservation Area (GRA). In the ante room of the living room, Bianca and I sat down for what scheduled to be a two-hour interview but which eventually lasted over five hours. It was a reunion of two great friends who had not seen in more than 15 years.
I count myself as one of those privileged to have been accepted by Bianca and her late husband as a member of the family, with unrestrained access to their home. Our friendship started in 1989 when she was then the Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria and, after interviewing her, an enduring friendship developed between us. That friendship came in handy when in 1990 , I was able to secure an interview in which, for the first time, Bianca and Ojukwu spoke about their romance, their plans for marriage, the opposition Bianca had encountered from her late father- a former governor of the old Anambra State, C.C. Onoh-and all other issues that had dominated the junk and mainstream media. I was then the editor of HINTS magazine. That interview, and the manner it was reported, created a bond of friendship between Bianca, her husband and myself, and it was that friendship that I invoked again to get the interview you are about to read.
There was no aspect that Bianca was not willing to talk about, including the very painful story that was broken last year by a former Aviation Minister- Chief Femi Fani Kayode, where he stated that he once was involved in an intimate relationship with Bianca. She spoke on that and, for the first time, on what it was being married to Ojukwu, the manner of a man he was, the battle to secure her children’s inheritance and why she will never remarry. The story.
It has been over a year now, since your dear husband-Dim Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, passed on. Knowing the level of love and passion that existed between both of you, and the moving tribute you wrote, how has life been without him?
The exit of a man of his caliber means that things would never be the same because of the huge vacuum that is created by the exit. As I said in my tribute, God gave me a year to prepare, even though I had a lot of faith that he will pull through, it was an emotional roller coaster, which eventually culminated in his demise. It was almost another full year of condolence and commiseration, and when that was over, you now had to ease yourself into a new life, and I consider myself particularly lucky, because it was a transition into a new life, new opportunities, new experiences because, after the mandatory period of mourning, I now took up the appointment as the Ambassador of Nigeria to the Kingdom of Spain, which has been particularly rewarding.
Spain is a beautiful country, very rich in culture and traditions and where the people have a very strong sense of identity. It is a very welcoming society, and so my transition to Spain made things much easier, it made it easier for me to come to terms with my husband’s demise. Sometimes, the emotional trauma that comes with losing a loved one that your life has been so intertwined with- someone that was irreplaceable-can be difficult to bear. Now, having to assume a lot of responsibilities- and it is a very packed role, because I am not just the Nigerian Ambassador to the Kingdom of Spain, I am also Nigeria’s Permanent Representative to the World Tourism Organization, which involves a lot of traveling.
So, joggling the responsibilities of these two roles has made it a lot easier to cope. I consider myself lucky to have had him; he loved me tremendously. As I said in my tribute, he was not just a husband, he was also a friend, a mentor and I was very protective of him. Whereas people would think that the role ought to be reversed, I was very protective of him. I was worried more about certain situations that I felt might endanger his life. We had such a strong bond and I was involved in every aspect of his life, it was like two people living one life.
I remember when doctors were asking me to leave the room when things got quite bleak and I told them I could not leave, they thought I was getting too emotional. I told them if I didn’t leave him during the best of times, I couldn’t leave him now. I told them he was not going anywhere as long as I was holding his hands. The most traumatic point was when he could no longer hear me. Even when he was struggling to stay alive, whenever he heard my voice he would look up and smile, but when he could no longer hear me, I knew it was over, and that was very traumatic. I didn’t quite expect that the exit would be so swift.
When they wanted to take him away, I refused and asked them to give me some time alone with him. I had some hours to reflect on our lives and it was difficult to imagine that he was gone. Even to the Igbo nation itself, they are finding it difficult to believe that he is gone. While he was on exile, they knew he would be back at some point, but, unfortunately, this is a final exile, and it is hard to endure. It has not been easy, because my role was almost like an appendage.
It had been very challenging, but I would say that having known him so well, being able to decode, identify and to predict what his reactions would be to any circumstance made it a little easier for me, because a lot of the organizations and communities that he was so deeply involved with feel they can count on me and expect me to play important roles – organizations like the Biafra War Veterans, among others ,the Ofalas, the Igwes, the new yam festivals, I always endeavor to attend, and, of course, same of the institutions and research centers that he was linked with, especially those abroad, because there are so many Igbo groups abroad.
I keep telling them that I am the Nigerian Ambassador to the Kingdom of Spain, and thus cannot be attending events every week, but they will tell me, ‘but you are the wife of our farther.’ I mean it has been very helpful the overwhelming show of support and belief in what he stood for. It has been quite challenging, but I would say that he (Ojukwu) was always keeping his eye on the bigger picture. He was very concerned about the party. He always believed that the greatest interest of the majority was paramount.
When I saw him operate, I realized that he was cast in the mould of the revolutionaries- people like Che Guevara, Fidel Castro- he was very Spartan in his way of life. He would always say to me; money is not something that you keep as a form of luxury but something you spend when you need it. He was not materialistic, money will come and go, but one’s ideological beliefs and core values remain sacrosanct. He was very much concerned about the enthronement of the ideology in the party. I thank God that one has been able to keep the legacy alive.
Given that you are still very young, beautiful and as the famed American poet-Robert Frost said, you still have a long road to travel. Do you plan to remarry?
People marry I think not just because they need to come together, live together, raise family together, it is a rite of passage and I think I have fulfilled my part. Why I said that, is, I have gone through marriage, lived with what I consider a wonderful man who gave me 23 years of happiness, of fulfillment, I literally felt I was the luckiest woman to have had a man who gave me utter dedication and, above all, wonderful children. So my pledge to him is that I will devote my life to taking care of our children, raising them properly, teaching them those ideals that he cherished and held very dear and trying to carry on his legacy. So I don’t have any compelling need to remarry and, in any case, my time is very limited; so I am trying to channel it properly towards raising my children.
How do you contain advances from men, who may nurse some romantic thoughts about you?
Nigerian men are not aggressive; they may be aggressive in business, in their career pursuits, but in that particular area of aggressively pursuing a romantic interest, I have been very impressed by the level of decency and decorum they project. I mean, it might be just my own experience. They have treated me with a lot of respect, deference-they have been protective in a way as if to say this is a treasure that we must protect. I get on flights, and I see people stand up, take my luggage to my car, they have been amazing. I haven’t encountered that sort of pursuit and I have been very touched and humbled by the way they have treated me.
My husband’s friends call me regularly to see how I am doing- I mean a lot of widows complain that that they have issues with people proposing to them. But in my own case, I must say that I have been lucky to have wonderful support system based on respect and a sense of protection. If that is a function of the respect they had for my husband, I don’t know.
When I travel abroad, I also meet Nigerian men who are respectful. I also believe that it also depends on the woman’s attitude-sometimes we lay blame at the doorstep of the men— but the fact is that if you are engaged in your work, if you are a woman who have a sense of purpose, regardless of the fact that you operate in a terrain that is dominated by men, once you can hold your own, it will be difficult to fall into that quagmire where you feel you are being propositioned or your gender is playing a derogatory role.
Once you are not making excuses for bad performance, or once you are not looking for a man to cover for you, for your inadequacies, once you are able to let you work speak for you, it’s a lot easier to survive and live a life of dignity, and once you don’t present yourself as a weak and defenseless woman- one to be pitied and really cuddled by a man just by a virtue of being of a weaker sex – then it’s much easier to live a life that is not being truncated by those pressures.
Since you husband passed on, there have been stories about your in-laws concerning the family estate. Some even went to the extent of saying you were not legally married to Ojukwu. How have you been able to cope with these issues?
I came into a deeply divided family- a lot of my husband’s relatives, I never saw physically before he died. Ojukwu Transport Company issues have been in court, they still have not resolved the issues concerning their father’s wealth, and this was an issue that started in 1966. So they have been in and out of court since then. And I came into their family knowing that, literally every month, one brother had one case or the other. So those issues are not strange- they are still to be determined- the issues of Sir Louis Ojukwu’s estate.
What we are seeing now is a form of transferred aggression- bitterness, resentment vitriol-towards a brother that they are exhibiting which, of course, in his lifetime, they were not able to succeed. What they had expected was a docile widow who would quietly retreat into the shadow and let them have their way. I am very comfortable if not for anything, for being the daughter of Chief C.C.Onoh, and my father took care of me; so the issue is not just about their family.
But my husband was also a very serious person, so he anticipated all what is happening now by making sure that most of my inheritance is bequeathed to me by the Deed of Gift. So, prior to his death, most of those gifts had already been registered under my name. So I am so grateful that he was able to legally take care of that because, quite honestly, I didn’t expect this level of vitriol. He ensured also that any interest outside of the country was also taken care of- because he had a Will outside of the country as well, and I didn’t have problem with the probate on such a Will.
But I will say that, at the end of the day, it’s not a question of acquisition. All I am saying is that I am the only wife that he wedded, first and foremost, at the Kaduna Registry as witnessed by his friend, the late Clement Akpamgbo, and we had a small reception after the event at Apo Quarters, Abuja. After the registry marriage, we went through the Catholic marriage at Our Lady Queen of Nigeria Catholic Church, Abuja, and it was officiated by the then Archbishop Onaiyekan- then the Archbishop of Abuja Dioceses.
We finally went through the full traditional marriage in my father’s compound that literally had all the traditional titled chiefs, paramount rulers of the community were in attendance, alongside the five governors of the South-east states at that time. The Abuja wedding, for instance, was almost a state wedding. So the evidence is there for all to see, and, when you are faced with that situation, and you have been properly married, and you have offsprings from that union, but purely because they want to cheat your offspring of their inheritance, in addition to other things, by virtue of their being the youngest, any mother would do all she can to protect them.
My husband was quite specific in wanting to protect their interests; that was why he ensured that I would be in the Board. When the Will was read, and they realized that my husband had protected my interests and those of his children, they came up with all kinds of subterfuge. For instance, they said they don’t allow women to be on the Board, or that for one to be on the Board, you had to be an Ojukwu. Any right thinking person will see that they had no provision for the children, so I was left with no option than to pursue legal means in order to ensure that my children were not cheated out of what rightly belongs to them.
In doing so, I was aware that a lot of mud and ridiculous assertions would be thrown my way, and they have not disappointed. They have hurled all sorts of vitriol and outlandish claims about me- the most laughable has been what they claim that I was not legally married to my husband. I mean, this is a marriage that took place in 1994 and not 1884; so the evidence: the videos, media reports are there for everyone to see.
I mean these people who are making these outlandish assertions were also present, not just at the wedding, but at the wine carriage, wearing uniforms, so that was just laughable. People have called me to say they have descended to a ridiculous level. But the good thing about all these is that battles are not won or lost on the pages of newspaper, the courts will determine the outcome. But as I said earlier, my interest in all this is to ensure that my children are not cheated out of what rightly belongs to them- I have no personal interest in all of it, because no one can take from me what rightly belongs to me, as my husband took time to ensure that my personal interest was well taken care of.
Next week :
Bianca says : My husband was hopelessly romantic. How he spoilt me with love and affection. Femi Fani Kayode needs help