HIS was an enigma of sort. His name sparks instant contention whenever mentioned in national discourse. While he lived and died as a hero to many, his life was seen as a textbook in villainy by some others.
A NIGERIAN military leader and politician, who was head of the defunct Republic of Biafra of the 1967 – 1970 Nigeria civil war era. , Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu was born on November 4, 1933, in Zungeru, Niger State. He died on November 26, 2011, in London, England.
AS son and scion of the highly successful Igbo business mogul, Sir Louis Ojukwu, young Chukwuemeka was popular from childhood. Dim Chukwemeka Odumegwu graduated from the prestigious Oxford University in 1955, before returning to Nigeria to become an administrative officer of then Udi Division in present Enugu State. After two years, he dropped the job to join the army against his father’s wish. He began from the low rungs of the military and rose to the top echelon from where he was chosen by history to play a major role in foiling the Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu-led January 1966 coup d’etat.
CALL it fortune or misfortune, vagaries of the putsch saw Major General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi took up the reins as Commander-in-Chief of Nigeria and appoint Lt-Col Ojukwu as military governor of then Eastern Region. A series of power play saw Ironsi’s government toppled in July 29, 1966. A counter coup ensued and Lt-Col Yakubu Gowon became Head of State.
PUNDITS say that whatever military art or political algorithm that made Ojukwu to retain his command of Eastern Region, under Gowon’s rule gave the leopard its claws in the Nigeria civil war as his alleged arrest of three Igbo army officers who were Nzeogwu’s emissaries to 5th Battalion, Kano, which many contend was the last straw that broke Nzeogwu’s back to nail his revolution’s coffin. From that point, events started happening at supersonic speed to trigger declaration of Eastern Region as Republic of Biafra on July 6, 1967. And it remained so until January 15, 1970. The rest has since become history but what has underlined Ojukwu’s role in Nigeria’s history is the three-year-old fratricidal war in which he led the resilient seceding Biafra country which. recorded many feats that marveled the world.
A LOT has been said about Biafra’s feat during the war efforts and none of which goes without Ojukwu’s emblematic trappings. The discovery of homemade artillery and ammunition by Biafran scientists through sheer dint of ingenuity, building airports and airstrips in strategic towns in Biafra, the people’s resilience in the face of economic blockade still surprises the world to date. The ingenuity of the defunct nation’s propaganda machinery gave the then head of Nigerian government, Gowon and his people a run for their money. But many accounts of the war tends to relish in cladding him in the garb of a rebel instead of his true position as saviour of his people in their darkest moments.
PERHAPS, a walk down memory lane right to Ojukwu’s upbringing may offer a compass to navigate to the rights harbour, where his position in history would be better savoured. He not only had the best education and material provision any father could give his son but still opted out of his father’s preferred choice of law as his course of study in Oxford. Rather, he went for a study of history. This did not go down well with the wealthy Louis Ojukwu on discovering that Emeka disobeyed him. He squared up for a fight leading up to disowning his son who picked up the gauntlet. Again, the rest is history. Indeed, Emeka offered himself as sacrifice when it mattered even if stubbornly so.
YET, Dim Ojukwu cannot be constructed or deconstructed entirely by only rebel nature and the war because he sprang to action from another front on returning from exile in 1982. Upon joining the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) and subsequently entering into partisan politics with an unsuccessful bid for a senatorial seat in Lagos, he showed his gift in politics.
THE botched Third Republic saw Ojulwu pitching tent with Social Democratic Party (SDP) in-which he was among those disqualified from running for president. As a member of the Constitutional Conference from 1994 to 1995, his voice was stentorian. In 2003, Ojukwu, representing his political architecture, the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), unsuccessfully ran for president and yet again, in 2007, in an election that was strongly criticised by international observers as being marred by voting irregularities.
WHAT Ojukwu bequeathed on Nigeria through APGA is a strong grassroots-oriented political movement that is unapologetic about commitment to a people’s cultural ethos and social nuances. He left a party with culture-steeped man-mobilisation properties. APGA therefore remains woven around his personalty and a sustained sincere push for genuine Igbo participation in Nigeria’s politics.
Through the APGA system, Dim Odumegwu Ojukwu’s ideologies, principles and political values have given rise to a crop of leaders in the new generation who succeed him, such as Gov. Willie Obiano, Senator Victor Umeh, and others in the Fourth Republic. The party’s success in getting the best for Igbo land is enough to encourage its followers to beat their chest in pride.
ONE THING remains as constant as Ceaser’s northern star in the Dim Ojukwu phenomenon. That is the value of standing up to be counted – no matter the cost. This is what the current crop of leaders produced by APGA are doing to make him proud where he is among the ancestors.