KWENU: Our Culture, Our Future
Ex-Biafra Head of State, Dim of Umudim, Ikemba Nnewi, Dikedioramma Ndiigbo, Presidential Candidate, APGA
M. O. ENÉ
Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu is 71! He was born on November 4, 1933 at Zungeru in northern Nigeria to Sir Louis Phillippe Odumegwu Ojukwu, a businessman from Nnewi in southeastern Nigeria. Sir Louis was into transport business; he made a wise use of the business boom during the Second World War to become one of the richest men in Nigeria when he passed in 1966. So it could be rightly said that Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu was born into wealth.
Emeka, as he was fondly called, began his educational career in Kings College, Lagos in southwestern Nigeria. He got into trouble by participating in anti-colonial demonstrations with such seniors as Anthony Enahoro. At 13, his father sent him overseas to Great Britain to study at Epsom College, England. He left Epsom at 18 for Lincoln College, Oxford. At Oxford University, he obtained a bachelor’s degree in modern history. After graduate studies, he retuned to colonial Nigeria. This was in 1956.
Expected to take his father's business, he instead joined the civil service in Eastern Nigeria as an Administrative Officer at Udi, in present-day Enugu State, where he was exposed to the beauty of Waawaland. In 1957, within months of working with the colonial civil service, he left and joined the military as one of the first and few university graduates to join the army: O. Olutoye (1956); C. Odumegwu-Ojukwu (1957), E. A. Ifeajuna and C. O. Rotimi (1960), and A. Ademoyega (1962). In his case, he joined as an infantry recruit because the colonial officers would not let him into the officer corps, no thanks to his father's pulling of strings to keep him out of the army. But no one lights a candle and puts it under the bed. Odumegwu-Ojukwu soon got his way and went on to undergo required military training in Ghana and later back in England.
Officer Odumegwu-Ojukwu’s popular background and sound education guaranteed his promotion to higher ranks. Besides, as at 1956, the Nigerian Military Forces had 250 officers and only 15 were Nigerians. There were 6,400 other ranks, of which 336 were British. It is not surprising that he is N/29 and that the army found in valuable training resources in the young man. [W. U. Bassey was N/1, while JTU Aguiyi-Ironsi was N/2; the first Nigerian to be commissioned as an officer, Lieutenant L. V. Ugboma, left in 1948] Odumegwu-Ojukwu has an understandably fast rise in the military, eventually becoming the Quartermaster General.
After serving in the United Nations’ peacekeeping force in the Congo, under the legendary Major General Johnson Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi, Odumegwu-Ojuwkw was promoted to lieutenant-colonel in 1964 and posted to Kano, where he was in charge of the 5th Battalion of the Nigerian Army. He was in Kano, northern Nigeria, when Major Patrick Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu on January 15, 1966 executed and announced the first military coup in Kaduna, also in northern Nigeria. It is to his credit that the coup lost much steam in the north, where it had succeeded. Lt. Col. Odumegwu-Ojukwu supported the forces loyal to the Supreme Commander of the Nigerian Armed Forces, Major-General Aguiyi-Ironisi. Major Nzeogwu was in control of Kaduna, but the coup had flopped in other parts of the country.
It was at this point that paths of Odumegwu-Ojukwu and then Major Olusegun Obasanjo crossed. Odumegwu-Ojukwu recalled the meeting in those heady days cordially, but Obasanjo felt belittled. In any case, with all his fabled friendship with the man of that moment (Nzeogwu) Obasanjo could not negotiate Nzeogwu's surrender; Colonel Nwawo was recalled from overseas to do the job.
General Aguiyi-Ironsi took over the leadership of the country and thus became the first military head of state. On Monday, January 17, 1966, he appointed military governors for the four regions. Lt. Col. Odumegwu-Ojukwu was appointed Military Governor of Eastern Region. Others were: Lt.-Cols Hassan Usman Katsina (North), Francis Adekunle Fajuyi (West), and David Akpode Ejoor (Mid West). These men formed the Supreme Military Council with Brigadier B. A. O Ogundipe, Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters, Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon, Chief of Staff Army HQ, Commodore J. E. A. Wey, Head of Nigerian Navy, Lt. Col. George T. Kurubo, Head of Air Force.
By May 29, 1966, things quickly fell apart: There was a planned pogrom in northern Nigeria during which Nigerians of Eastern Nigeria origin, especially Ndiigbo, were targeted and killed. This presented problems for the young military governor, Colonel Odumegwu-Ojukwu. He did everything in his power to prevent reprisals and even encouraged people to return, as assurances for their safety had been given by his supposed colleagues up North and out West.
On July 29, 1966, a group of officers of Northern origin, notably Majors Murtala Ramat Rufai Muhammed, Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma, and Martin Adamu, led the majority Northern soldiers in a bloody mutiny that was later tagged “countercoup.” The Supreme Commander General Aguiyi-Ironsi and his host Colonel Fajuyi were abducted and killed in Ibadan; officers of Eastern and Midwestern origin were targeted and systematically eliminated across the country. And the Pogrom intensified. All hope for a united Nigeria was lost. In fact, Colonel Gowon, who emerged as the leader of the pack, admitted in a broadcast that there was no longer any basis for unity.
Colonel Odumegwu-Ojukwu never lost faith in a peaceful solution of the crises, even though citizens of Eastern Nigeria were so traumatized they generally wanted nothing more to do with their fellow citizens-turned-killers. Yet he persisted on the path of peace. First, he insisted that the military hierarchy must be preserved; in which case, Brigadier Ogundipe should take over leadership, not Colonel Gowon. But Ogundipe no longer had the stomach to deal with a riotous army; he was easily convinced to step out and into the Nigerian High Commission in London. On September 29, the final phase of the planned Pogrom was executed, marked by its brutal bestiality. Still, while coping with the mass return of maimed and bruised brethrens from the North and West, Odumegwu-Ojukwu persevered; even when it had become obvious to his people that the basis for unity had been irreparably eroded, he still talked with whomever would listen. He never lost faith in seizing the moment to fashion out a lasting legacy for generations yet unborn.
And so they ended up in Aburi, Ghana on January 4, 1967 for a peace conference hosted by General Joseph Ankrah. The brilliance of Colonel Odumegwu-Ojukwu was apparent throughout the talk. He succeeded in convincing his colleagues to sign off on what became known as “Aburi Accord.” Just when everyone thought that Nigeria was back on the path of peace, Colonel Gowon reneged and proceeded to split the Eastern Region unilaterally into three states on May 27, 1967! Three days later on May 30, 1967 and based on the mandate of the Eastern Nigerian Constituent Assembly, Colonel Odumegwu-Ojukwu declared Eastern Nigeria a sovereign state to be known as BIAFRA:
"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."
On July 6, 1967, Gowon declared war and attacked Biafra. And the Nigeria-Biafra War ensued. It was an international war, NOT a "civil war"; Biafra was already a sovereign state. Besides, there was nothing civil about wars. This war was most brutal and even barbaric. For 30 bloody months, the war raged on. Now General Odumegwu-Ojukwu knew that the odds against the new republic was overwhelming, but he preferred to fight for what is right and defend the sovereignty of Biafra against what was obviously an illegitimate regime of General Yakubu Gowon. The unholy Anglo-Soviet alliance, using rogue Egyptian mercenaries fresh from the war with Israel, pounded Biafra and Biafrans with armaments big and small, including the use of hunger as a weapon of war – which resulted in the ravaging kwashiorkor.
Biafra lasted for 30 eventful months during which a potential, indigenous African superpower almost emerged. But the forces against Biafra were enormous. On January 9, 1970, General Odumegwu-Ojukwu handed over power to his second in command, Chief of General Staff Major-General Philip Effiong (now late), and left for Côte d’Ivoire, where President Felix Houphöet-Boigny -- who had recognized Biafra on May 14, 1968 -- granted him political asylum.
By January 12, 1970, Colonel Olusegun Obasanjo -- who was hell-bent on capturing the Biafra leader alive, so as not to make him martyr and to avoid continued conflict, he claimed -- had to deal with General Effiong. Obasanjo accepted the instruments of cessation of hostilities in Owerri. These were ratified at a formal ceremony in Lagos, presided over by General Gowon. Obasanjo went on to become the head of state, following the assassination of General Murtala Muhammed on Friday, February 13, 1976. On October 1, 1979, Obasanjo stepped down for an elected regime.
After 13 years in exile, the Federal Government of Nigeria under President Shehu Aliyu Usman Shagari granted an official pardon to Odumegwu-Ojukwu and opened the road for a triumphant return in 1982. The people of Nnewi gave him the now very famous title of “Ikemba” (Power of the people), while the entire Igbo nation called him “Dikedioramma” (Beloved hero). He was indeed a beloved hero. His foray into politics was disappointing to many, who wanted him to stay above the fray. Afraid of his supposedly overbearing and enigmatic influence, the ruling party, NPN, rigged him out of the senate seat, which was purportedly lost to a relatively little known state commissioner in then Governor Jim Nwobodo's cabinet called Dr. Edwin Onwudiwe.
The Third Republic was truncated on December 30, 1983 by Major-General Muhammadu Buhari, supported by Generals Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida and Sani Abacha. The junta proceeded to arrest and to keep him in Kirikiri Maximum Security Prison, Lagos. He wrote in “Because I am involved”:
In Kirikiri, there is no privacy. Leaders belch and fart sometimes louder than armed robbers. :::: We scratch and pick our noses. In Kirikiri, we are constantly in battle with the animal in us. In this place, there is no justice, there is no beauty, there is no pleasure and there is no satisfaction.
Babangida took Buhari out and sent him to the cooler. His high-handed prison terms were reviewed and many were dismissed or drastically revised. After the ordeal in Buhari's boondocks, Dim Odumegwu-Ojukwu continued to play major roles in the advancement of the Igbo nation in a democracy because, “As a committed democrat, every single day under an elected government hurts me. The citizens of this country are mature enough to make their on choices, just as they have the right to make their own mistakes.” He played a major role in the 1995 Constitutional Conference, which gave birth to the present geopolitical structure.
In 1999, he joined the All Peoples Party (APP, now ANPP) after the party he had floated (PDC) was denied registration. The election threw up Olusegun Obasanjo as the president with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as the ruling party.
General Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu is a quintessential Igbo man: proud, ambitious, and intelligent... even arrogant, as many would accuse. Here is a young man who at 33 had the fate of a nation thrust onto him, and he did not disappoint. He is a rare gem, the unconquered spirit of the Igbo personified. It is not surprising albeit ironic that in 2003 the Igbo once again turned to the same person, who had led them in a war to get out of Nigeria’s gyre, to lead them in a political battle back to Nigeria's now-centralized center in Abuja.
The political foray ended in the now called "4/19" fiasco, a complete corruption of the electoral process. In the aftermath of the rigged elections, Odumegwu-Ojukwu teamed up with other parties, including General Muhammadu Buhari, who had jailed him, to fight the result of the reelection of President Obasanjo in the courts of law. This latest fight still drags on, and the patience of the people is running on low.
Following the sudden success of the 26 August sit-at-home protest by the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), the Federal Government of Nigeria took a harder look at the organization. First, the Attorney General declared the action treasonable. Many legal experts disagreed. The Vice President weighed in and condemned the media for giving the group publicity!
Enter General Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, Ikemba Nnewi, the man who started it all, the man who had declared the breakaway Biafra, and who fought the Feds for 30 solid months. Ironically, it was the present head of state, President Olusegun Obasanjo, who as a colonel in the Nigerian army took the instruments of cessation of hostilities from Odumegwu-Ojukwu’s deputy, General Effiong, now late. In an interview, the Ikemba expressed his support for the neo-secessionist group, a non-violent pressure group seeking to end the marginalization of the Igbo people.
Ikemba Odumegwu-Ojukwu’s open support for MASSOB did not sit well with the federal government presided over by the man who thought he had ended Biafra for ever. Through its State Security Services (SSS) it sought to haul in Ikemba for questioning. At first, it appeared as a routine invitation to Abuja, the federal capital territory. But events soon took a turn for the worse. In a press conference at his home in Enugu, capital of the southeast region, Odumegwu-Ojukwu revealed that the Feds were after him and the founder/leader of MASSOB, Chief Ralph Uwazuruike. He revealed that the SSS had sent him a one-way economy air ticket for the one-hour flight to Abuja. The SSS was quick to counter that the Ikemba must show up for a chat, calling his stance cheap blackmail and labeling him a coward. Odumegwu-Ojukwu and his supporters were quick to remind Nigeria of the many politically motivated murders that remain unsolved. They posit that if the SSS wanted to chat with the Ikemba, they could do so in Enugu or go to court and obtain an arrest warrant. Then again, what would be the charges? For exercising his fundamental right of free speech
But that was the jaw-jaw part. The fact remain that the SSS wanted to interrogate the Biafra hero and that the Biafra leader would not bulge. In fact, Odumgwu-Ojukwu reminded the media that former heads of state Muhammadu Buhari and Ibrahim Babangida had refused to appear before the Oputa Panel of human rights violation and the heavens did not fall. The question on everyone’s lip was: Who wants the Ikemba killed? Why is the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) being subjected to such disrespect from a retired colonel (head of SSS) whose boss (the President) was Odumegwu-Ojukwu’s junior in the Nigerian army?
What next? The SSS waited for him to make his annual trip to the United States for medical checkup. On Tuesday, night of November 16, 2004, on Zik's 100th birthday (posthumous, that is), the SSS seized his passport at Murtala Muhammed International Airport. And so began another phase in endless saga of Emeka vs. State, a rebel with a cause versus a state looking for direction.
Odumegwu-Ojukwu is married to a beauty-full Waawa woman, Bianca Onoh, the Nigerian 1989 Miss Inter-Continental Pageant. He was the presidential candidate of APGA in 2003 presidential elections. He still maintains primary residence in Enugu.
First published in May, 2003
Revised on Wednesday, September 22, 2004
Also in KWENU:
The famous TSM Lecture
(Culled from Igbo-net, 1998)
Rudolf Ogoo Okonkwo: This SSS sef!
M. O. ENÉ: Curious Connection (1): Ajie, Balogun, and Ikemba
Philip Odoemena: "Ojukwu did not do anything wrong"
The interview with Imo State Deputy Governor Ebere Udeagu
Peter Opara: Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu (70) – Leader, Teacher, Icon
|Simply surprise yourself yonder|