Colonel Ojukwu at Aburi peace Conference
Biafra was declared on May 30, 1967
Colonel Odumegwu Ojukwu takes Oath of office as head of state of Reuplic of Biafra.
Dim Odumegwu Ojukwu with is wife Bianca by his side.
Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu
Ikemba of Nnewi, Ezeigbo Gburugburu; Courageous and Visionary Leader of Ndi Igbo
“Amuma na Egbeigwe edelu juuuu; Udo eji akpu Agu agbabie; Odenigbo Ngwo anabago; Ikemba Nnewi a gaba goo; Dikedioranmma nweru ka osi noru kitaa, Ezeigbo Gburugburu , ewooooo! Obu inaba ka anyi mezie gini? Onye ga na-ekwuru anyi? Onye ga abamba ka Agu ma oburu na ana emegbu anyi? Ewoooooooo! Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, ewoooooo!”
Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State
“Lightning and thunder have been silenced; the rope used for dragging the lion has snapped; the Odenigbo of Ngwo has retired to bed; the hero loved by all is ill at ease, the overall King of the Igbo ewooo! If you retire to bed, what shall we do? Who will roar like the lion when we are oppressed? Ewoooooooo! Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, ewoooooo!”
Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State
On November 27, 2011, the family of Ojukwu announced to the people of Nigeria that Ikemba of Nnewi, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, the beloved leader of Igbo people has died. He died at the Bupa Kensington Nursing Home, London, England at about 2.30 am local time.
Several people would describe Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu in many different ways, for example, “warlord”, “Rebel leader”, “the people’s General”, “Freedom fighter”, etc, but Igbo people around the globe mourned and continue to mourn Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu the visionary, courageous leader who stood fast to save them from genocide against them and mass extermination.
As Expected, Ojukwu’s death has opened a floodgate of tributes, with President Goodluck Jonathan describing him as one of the greatest contributors to the evolution of modern Nigeria.
The President of Nigeria was quoted to have said that
“Ojukwu’s immense love for his people, justice, equity and fairness which forced him into the leading role he played in the Nigerian civil war, as well as his commitment to reconciliation and the full reintegration of his people into a united and progressive Nigeria in the aftermath of the war, will ensure that he is remembered forever as one of the great personalities of his time who stood out easily as a brave, courageous, fearless, erudite and charismatic leader,”
In the traditional Igbo society, the death of Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu would not have been announced by words alone, it would have been announced by beating of the famous Igbo Ikoro drum, which is reserved for special events or announcement of the death of an outstanding person in the society. The Ikoro drum will carry the message of a great happening in the Igboland to far away places.
With Ojukwu’s death, the entire Igbo race in Nigeria and in the Diaspora as well as Nigerian as a whole have lost a treasure. He believed in a Nigeria where justice and equity should reign and devoted his life to the pursuit of that ideal. He spared nothing to stand up for that ideal. Who is Ikemba of Nnewi, Dim, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu some would ask.
His Early Life & Education
Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu fondly called Emeka was born on 4 November 1933 at Zungeru in northern Nigeria to Sir & Mrs Louis Phillippe Odumegwu Ojukwu, a businessman from Nnewi in south-eastern Nigeria. A successful business man of his time, Sir Odumegwu Ojukwu wanted to give his children the best education that money can buy and indeed, he achieved that. He sent Emeka, to St. Patrick’s Primary School, Idumagbo, Lagos, and Church Missionary Grammar School (CMS) and King’s College, both in Lagos and among the best schools in Nigeria at the time. In 1944, 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 admiration in local newspapers regarding his action.
At 13, his father sent him overseas to study in the UK at Epsom College in the County of Surrey. He later transferred to Eton, Britain’s most exclusive public school. The college inspired the talented Emeka with a great love for history. Like any child with his disposition, he equally learnt a great deal of the virtues and vices that go with growing up in Great Britain.
Emeka later gained admission to Lincoln College, University of Oxford in 1952. Oxford, as expected, was full of pageantry of learning and the excitement of independent thought. His Father, playing his role of a father strongly wished and advised his son to study Law with the hope that he would make a good lawyer and legal director of his vast business.
The insistence of the father that Emeka studied Law was the first serious conflict between father and son. In a compromise, Emeka enrolled to study Law; but as a student of Law, the prospect of studying modern History and observing the lives of heroes held a secret fascination for him. After having studied Law for one year, Emeka made up his mind that law was not for him, he burnt his law books, and followed History his passion. In 1955 he obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree and returnrd to Nigeria. He soon returned to Oxford to study and received his Master of Arts degree. With these degrees, and his desire to contribute to the development of his country Nigeria, he returned to Nigeria in 1956.
On his return, excited, proud and happy with his son, Sir Odumegwu presented Emeka a lavishly furnished office complex in his business offering him a life of ease and pleasure. Emeka had a vision or something else; he rejected the cozy path cut for him by his father, gave him back the keys and decided to cut his own path. He join the Eastern Nigerian Public Service as an Administrative Officer. Highly displeased that his son took what he considered the ridiculous job of an administrator, his father made every efforts to persuade him to change his mind. It also became clear to his father that Emeka had no interest in his wealth.
Ojukwu Joins the Nigerian Army
The dust generated by Emeka’s administrative career choice had hardly settled down when, in search of an organization that would escape his father’s influence, he generated another controversy that threatened to separate him from his father. In 1957 the Ikemba Nnewi joined the Nigerian Army as one of the handful of university graduates to Join the Nigerian Army. (He is first or second graduate to join the Nigerian Army (internet)). Ojukwu was among the 15 Nigerians’ officers out of the 250 officers the Nigerian Military Forces had then.
In his book, ‘Because I am Involved’, he wrote about his enlistment in the military:
“My enlistment into the Nigeria Army, to say the least, startled everybody in Nigeria who heard of it. I went to Zaria and enlisted. I did that mainly because I didn't want any interference from the well-meaning influence of my father”.
He enlisted in the Nigerian Army when the Nigerian Army was merely a part of an all-embracing British West African army called the Royal West African Frontier Forces (RWAFF). These forces included the armies of Nigeria, Gold Coast (now Ghana), Sierra-Leone and Gambia.
His father made one more effort to bring his son to his senses by enlisting the help of his friends; Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe (Zik) and others who tried to convince Emeka to resign from the army and take up a more sensible job of managing his father’s wealth. Emeka refused stating that his father’s offer would make him perpetually delineated as Ojukwu.
The new Cadet attended numerous training in Teshie, Ghana; School at Eaton Hall in England Infantry School at Warminster; Small Arms School at Hythe, and Joint Services Staff College (JSSC) at Latimer. Having successfully completed his military training, Emeka distinguished himself as not just a University graduate Officer of the Army but also as a well trained Soldier.
Back in Nigeria, Ojukwu served with the First Battalion in Kano, before his appointment as an instructor at Royal West African Frontier Forces Training School Teshie, Ghana (1958-60). Ojukwu returned to Nigeria in 1961 and served as staff officer in the ‘A’ Branch of the new Nigerian Army Headquarters in the Defence Ministry building in Lagos. He had no problems carrying out his assigned duties and adjusting to the life of a soldier. Six months as a Captain, Ojukwu was promoted to a Major. Father and son celebrated this success together as a gesture of reconciliation. Soon after, he was transferred to Kaduna as a Staff Officer with the First Brigade. While in Kaduna, like his contemporaries, he served with the United Nations Peace Keeping Forces in Congo in 1962. From 1964 – 1966, Ojukwu was appointed the commander of Fifth Battalion, Kano. By now, Ojukwu has been promoted to Lt Colonel and his was now popularly known as Ojukwu.
While he was the commander of the Fifth Battalion, the first attempted coup spearheaded by Major Kaduna Nzeogwu an Igbo) took place. He unlike some other commanders did not abandon his command or post. He opposed the coup; however a few days after Major General Aguiyi-Ironisi (an Igbo) took over the reins of power, Aguiyi-Ironisi named four officers to head the nation’s four regions. Odumegwu-Ojukwu became military governor of the Eastern Region. Eastern Region refers to the southeastern part of Nigeria, though it is dominantly occupied by Igbo people, it also inhabited by other ethnic groups such as Ijaw, Efik, Ibibio, Oron, Eket, Annang, Mbo, Ibeno, Ikwere, Rivers, kalabari, etc.
Ojukwu: The Military Governor of Eastern Region.
His tenure as governor portrayed him as a master in the art of governance, and an eloquent public speaker. None who heard him speak could forget the cadence of his speeches, his mellifluous tones, the eloquence of his words. He has the rare capacity for dramatic poses, clenched fist, jutting jaw and captivating theatrical action for emphasis.
The government of General Ironsi, was short lived because on 29 July 1966, the northern military officers who felt that the first coup was an Igbo plot to get rid of the northern leaders, executed their own counter coup. They killed Aguiyi-Ironsi while on a state visit to Ibadan, along with his host Colonel Fajuyi (a Yoruba), Governor of the Western Region, who refused to save his own life by giving Aguiyi–Ironsi up for slaughter.
After the demise of Aguiyi-Ironsi, Odumegwu Ojukwu insisted that the most senior military officer, Brigadier B.A. Ogundipe (a Yoruba), should take over the leadership of the nation so that the culture of military hierarchy could be preserved. The counter coup plotters (Hausa/Fulanis) rejected Ugundipe (a Yoruba) and chose Lt. Colonel Yakubu Gowon (a northerner-Hausa) as the head of state.
Massacre of Igbo People
With the murder of Ironsi in the counter coup organized by the northern soldiers, an organized genocide was carried out against Igbo people in northern Nigeria. The killings of Igbo people and other easterners spread all over the northern Nigeria, where organized hoards of marauders hunted down people of Igbo extraction and slaughtered them in cold blood. It is estimated that 30,000 to 50,000 Igbo people were killed in the genocide. The refusal of Gowon's government to stop the killing of Igbo people (soldiers and civilians) by the Northerners led to increasing anti-Nigerian feelings on the part of the Igbo people. Even more surprising was that some of these killings were organized and conducted by northern soldiers, who after killing all Igbo senior military officers resorted to killing and maiming civilians. This spread to the barracks and Igbo quarters. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nigerian_Civil_War
Ojukwu, the governor of Eastern Nigeria and other concerned Igbos and other easterners raised horrified protests with no avail. Ojukwu and the Igbo people then came to believe that their security of Igbo people in other parts of Nigeria cannot be guaranteed and that the security of the Igbo people was only in their own land and then ensured the mass exodus of Igbos back to the south-eastern region. The world looked on as millions of Igbos left the North and other parts of Nigeria in a prolonged and melancholy exodus with nothing but their lives. Even as thousands of Igbo people were being slaughtered in other parts of Nigeria, Ojukwu did everything in his power to prevent reprisals against the northerners in the east even as a second orgy of massacre of Igbo people to continued. This was the genesis of the Nigeria-Biafra civil war crisis.
Aburi Peace Conference
As the crisis deepened, at the age of 33, Ojukwu’s will to protect the Igbos deepened, and his resistance and mistrust of the Nigerian government grew, but Lt. Colonel Yakubu Gowon wanted to retain him in the army. In an attempt to placate him, Ojukwu was offered the job of the Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters with enticing conditions. Ojukwu rejected the offer saying: “I would not have chosen to resist Gowon instead of the easy way of acquiescence chosen by my colleagues.”
Several attempts were made to broker peace in Nigeria, but the most notable being the Aburi Peace Conference. In South-eastern Nigeria, the restiveness arising from the Genocide (pogrom) was yet to abate. Various efforts to douse the tensions failed. As part of the efforts to restore peace in Nigeria, Ghanaian head of State, Lt.-General J.A. Ankrah organized a forum for the Nigerian leaders from the various regions in the country to meet to talk peace. The Aburi Peace Conference was held in January 4 & 5, 1967. At Aburi, for the first time in Nigerian history, the problems of the country were faced honestly and honest solutions sought. From that bitter moment, Ojukwu the Administrator receded into history, and Ojukwu the governor turned his soul to war. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nigerian_Civil_War (Retrieved January 16, 2012). The two warriors and their delegates flew off to Ghana well armed with the problems of the country as if to a decisive battle.
The Aburi meeting was held on the 4th and 5th of January 1967 and Aburi Accord was reached at this January meeting attended by delegates of both the Federal Government of Nigeria led by Lt Colonel Gowon (The supreme Military Council) and the Eastern delegates, led by Colonel Ojukwu. The meeting was billed to be the last chance of preventing all out war. Implementation of the Aburi Accord failed as the parties did not keep the Aburi agreements.
Declaration of the Republic of Biafra
On their return from Aburi Ghana, because of differences of interpretation on both sides the accord finally broke down. On May 30, 1967, the easterners have had enough and Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu declared the eastern region a Republic of Biafra with the following words:
“Having mandated me to proclaim on your behalf, and in your name, that Eastern Nigeria be a sovereign independent republic, now, therefore, I, Lieutenant Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, Military Governor of Eastern Nigeria, by virtue of the authority, and pursuant to the principles recited above, do hereby solemnly proclaim that the territory and region known as and called Eastern Nigeria together with her continental shelf and territorial waters, shall, henceforth, be an independent sovereign state of the name and title of The Republic of Biafra.”
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biafra) (Retrieved January 16, 2012)
Nigeria-Biafra Civil-War Starts
Upon the announcement of the Secession of eastern Nigeria from the Federal Republic of Nigeria on the early morning of July 6, 1967, Gowon (Nigerian forces) lunched an attack on the secessionist Republic of Biafra. This is the start of the 3-year Nigeria-Biafra civil war. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biafra) Retrieved January 16, 2012
As the war which was predicted by Gowon to last six weeks prolonged into months, the Republic of Biafra, led by now General Odumegwu Ojukwu refused to recant, the Nigerian government advised by the then Minister of Finance to apply economic blockade; blocking off food and medicine from entering the Biafran territory. This new and dangerous weapon of war caused massive hunger and starvation causing more death than bullets. For the first time in the history of the World, Food was used as a weapon of war. Biafra was the first and hopefully would be the last to experience this.
In the 30 months of civil war in which Gowon, with support from Britain, (Nigeria’s colonial ruler), Russia, and almost all of the Arab countries, implemented a blockade OF Biafra. The effect of the blockade became quite evident. This resulted in a wide spread malnutrition with the resulting “Kwashiokor” and starvation that the world had never seen. At the time Nigeria’s Minister of Finance boasted that starvation is a valid weapon of war, so the Biafra people starved, starved and starved to death in the thousands on a daily basis. At the last count, it was estimated that about one million Biafrans starved to death. (http://www.google.ca/images?q=biafra&btnG=Search&hl=en&gbv=2&rlz=1R2GGLL_enCA401&tbm=isch&safe=images)(Retrieved January 16, 2012).
When the news and pictures of starvation in Biafra began to sneak out to the rest of the world, several world humanitarian organizations (too many to list) in defiance of Nigeria’s blockade flew food relief planes into Biafra at night to provide food and medicine to the starving people of Biafra. With thousands of Biafrans dying daily, the commander of the People’s army, saviour and beloved leader knew that his people would not survive if the war continued.
Nigeria-Biafra 30-month Civil War comes to an end
On January 9, 1970, General Odumegwu Ojukwu, the people’s General of the Biafran army and Head of State, handed over to his deputy, Major General Philip Effiong, and left to Côte d'Ivoire. The Ivoirian Late President Felix Houphouet-Boigny granted him political asylum. Thus, from 11 January, 1970, Ojukwu’s exile started.
Odumegwu Ojukwu’s Return to Nigeria
Ikemba of Nnewi, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu spent 13 years in exile before President Shehu Usman Shagari, in the Second Republic, granted him official pardon. With his pardon, he returned to Nigeria in 1982, to a heroic welcome.
Upon his return to Nnewi, the people of his native Nnewi gave him the chieftaincy title, Ikemba, meaning “Power of the People”, while the entire Igbo nation gave him the title and called him Dikedioramma, meaning “The Beloved Great One”
His foray into politics during the Second Republic was short lived. About a year after his return, the Second Republic ended following a coup that produced Major General Muhammadu Buhari as head of state. Ojukwu was among politicians detained and subsequently jailed by the military Buhari junta. Freedom, however, came for him about two years later when General Ibrahim Babangida, in a coup in 1985, overthrew General Buhari’s military government. General Babangida reviewed Ojukwu’s prison term and charges and was released.
After the return of democracy in 1999, Odumegwu Ojukwu became the leader of the All Progressive Grand Alliance, a party whose strong sphere of influence remains within his former Biafran enclave, the south-east.
In one of the last interviews that Ojukwu gave, the journalist, during the interview asked
“Do you think you were right to have declared a war in defense of Ndigbo in 1967, was it the right thing to do at that time?” His response was swift “Of course, I was right. Even now, I still believe I was right and I will even go further to say that if I am found in exactly the same situation again, I would wish that I have the courage to be as right as I was then..”
The man, who had fought many battles and survived, early November 26, 2011 lost the greatest battle of all, death.
Although you have left us in flesh, your spirit will eternally live in the hearts and minds of Igbo people.
Given what is happening in Nigeria now, and the problems it continued to face, it is clear to anyone that considering the current and increasingly violent and endemic corrupt situation of Nigeria, it is difficult not to feel that the Ikemba of Nnewi, Eze Ndigbo gburugburu is now wholly vindicated. Forty-five (45) years after the war, many Nigerians young and old are now looking at Ojukwu’s stance and declaration of Biafra as a necessary event with a fond memory of the legacy that he left behind.
“MAY YOUR SOUL REST IN PERFECT PEACE”
Sources of Information
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Half_of_a_Yellow_Sun; Retrieved January 16, 2012
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biafra: Retrieved January 16, 20, 2012
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ahiara_Declaration; Retrieved January 16, 2012
http://www.randomhouse.com/knopf/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9781400044160. Retrieved January 16, 2012
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aburi_Accord; Retrieved January 16,, 2012
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nigerian_Civil_War; Retrieved January 16, 2012
http://www.igbofocus.co.uk/html/ikemba_nnewi-_chukwuemeka_odumegwu-ojukwu-_is_dead.html, Retrieved January 16, 2012
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2007); Half of a Yellow Sun, Publisher: Anchor (September 4, 2007); ISBN-10: 1400095204; ISBN-13: 978-1400095209
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