In Nigeria and, indeed, many societies all over the world, it is not normal for bad things to be said about the dead. The simple reason which many lawyers also echo is that the dead is lifeless and can no longer be in a position to respond to the things said about him or her.
This is the current fate of Ikemba Nnewi and Biafran hero Dim Odumegwu Ojukwu. In death, so many good things have been written and spoken about Ojukwu, a man the Nigerian nation loved to hate.
We are today satisfied that Ojukwu and indeed pro-democracy martyrs have been vindicated following the events after his death. Therefore Ojukwu represents in our time, the brightest star that shines in the firmament once in many generations.
National show of sympathy and events around Ojukwu’s burial show that majority of Nigerians and their elites are mere hypocrites and selfish. This is the singular reason why the nation is not growing despite the enormity of human and natural resources available at her disposal. The avalanche of bad eggs in the system has completely emasculated progressive voices.
Backwardness in several areas of national development in Nigeria has reached a dangerous crescendo, forcing many to consider the option of a revolution as the only way out of this quagmire.
If Nigeria had listened to Ojukwu while he was alive, if Nigeria had absorbed the message Ojukwu donated to this nation even as a young officer in the Nigeria Army; if our leaders, past and present, would be more patriotic and confront the issues of national development head on the way Ojukwu pursued his quest for a just society, our nation would be a paradise today.
Present and future generation of Nigerians would not consider Ojukwu a greedy man because his alleged sins have been forgiven by those who didn’t want him. He wore a military rank of general to the grave. The honour that he never enjoyed while alive, Ojukwu got it as he lay lifeless before interment. The message of peaceful co-existence as a nation based on justice and fairness which Ojukwu’s life and travails
represent are the new national compass.
While those who have contributed to bring shame to this country were shedding crocodile “tears” that Ojukwu was gone, the truth remains that inwardly, they are happy that like Gani Fawehinmi, this “troublesome man” is dead and gone forever.
Ojukwu represents Biafra. Biafra, like June 12, represents an idea and no human force can wipe that idea away until Nigeria and Nigerians resort to the path of moral rectitude. If it does not come today, surely tomorrow is another day.
Nigeria is a nation deeply rooted in injustice and inequity. Poor and lack of visionary leadership, corruption, poverty and disease have taken over the entire fabric of our nation and the centre can no longer hold. While other nations that were poorer or at par with Nigeria at some point even after Ojukwu had spoken and acted, are richer today. Meanwhile, our limping giant of Africa is still battling to define itself. If it is not Niger Delta militancy, it is Boko Haram or fuel subsidy removal and epileptic refineries, or National Assembly’s endless and spineless probes of one monumental fraud or the other, etc.
At Ojukwu’s time were notable leaders like Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe and Alhaji Ahmadu Bello and their contemporaries who were older than him and called the shots in Nigeria. Our minds have been agitating as to what went wrong with visionary leadership at that time. How come these great minds and nationalists did not see what Ojukwu, at a relatively younger age saw? Even after that era, our leaders have failed to follow that path of glory till today.
While Ojukwu was in exile, it was good for those who did not want him alive and they are numerous in all the geo-political zones of Nigeria. At a time, the fear of Ojukwu was the beginning of wisdom. When the government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari granted him pardon and Ojukwu returned from Ivory Coast where he was in exile, hatred trailed him.
Ojukwu joined the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) instead of Zik’s Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP), a move many saw as betraying the cause of the Ibos. He explained that it was better to navigate the Ibos into the mainstream than be at the periphery of national politics. This was a time that the NPN had perfected strategies of rigging the 1983.
Former Communications Minister Alhaji Ibrahim Tahir was detailed by the NPN to handle the elections in Anambra State where unfortunately Ojukwu was an NPN Senatorial candidate. The North did not hide their distaste for Ojukwu and his presence in the senate would have been a threat to Shagari and the Northern interest. It was for that reason that after the NPN had swept the other elections in the South East using a sophisticated machine, Tahir cleverly withdrew his machine a few days to the senatorial election and in anger, the Ibos voted for the NPP candidate and Ojukwu again failed.
At that time the same NPN rigging machine also enthroned Chief C.C. Onoh as the new governor of Anambra State as incumbent Governor Jim Nwobodo was rigged out.
It was the same commando style of election rigging as well as the colossal mismanagement of the national economy that paved the way for the overthrow of the Shagari administration by Major General Mohammadu Buhari and Major General Tunde Idiagbon on December 31, 1983.
So the point here really is that many of those who are speaking in glowing terms about the ideals of Ojukwu are merely being hypocritical. They hated Ojukwu and his ideals. His message was an anathema to them.
Unfortunately, no matter how many years it takes, Nigeria must address the issues that Ojukwu’s life and time represented to us. Questions relating to how Nigerians will live happily together in a progressive nation where equality will be respected and no one will be oppressed must be addressed. There is no other option to point the way forward.
My friend Ignatius Chukwu is a journalist of Ibo extraction with a national character. He is one of those we classify as truly Nigerian. Recently he examined Ojukwu’s death as it affects the South East and South-South coalition and the abandoned property issue. We find it relevant here. He said in part: “Today, the face of Ikemba Nnewi adorns two strategic places he could hardly have been free to touch while alive, the Brick House and Isaac Boro Park. Many believe that most of the south-southerners and south-easterners can hardly go to the larger Nigeria in one voice. The politics of the South-south seems to be shaped by a fierce opposition to what the Southeast stands for. The mantra in the South-south is that the Southeast maltreated them and so must be rejected and resisted. This message seems to pass from father to son.
The contrast in the two zones came to a head in the civil war period when Enugu fought for Biafra but Port Harcourt stood for Nigeria. Ojukwu’s desire to fight for one region, one destiny, and one voice in Nigeria was therefore punctuated. The Igbo man views Nigeria as a symbol of oppression, Port Harcourt political club views the Igbo as symbol of oppression. This perception seems to rule the inter-zonal relationship.
Isaac Boro himself confessed in his autobiography that he launched his 12 days revolution because an Igbo man (Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi) became Nigeria’s head of state, and probably because Ojukwu became Military governor of the east. When a northerner took over from Aguiyi-Ironsi, Boro said he dropped his agitation and rather joined the federal effort to keep Nigeria one, a cause he died for. Ojukwu never got Boro’s endorsement while both lived.
Ken Saro-Wiwa, a Niger Delta hero and icon, never spared a pint of love for Ojukwu and whatever he stood for. Ojukwu was to tell reporters in Port Harcourt about seven years ago during his reception that it was Wiwa that always attacked him literally, and never did he (Ojukwu) once attack Wiwa. And when Ojukwu died and the nation, both friend and foe, rose in unison of salute to a misunderstood hero, the only voice that still insulted the Ikemba came from Wiwa’s enclave, one Ben Ikari, who also insulted President Goodluck Jonathan for condoling the Ojukwu family.
The most striking achievement Ojukwu recorded at death is ability to sit atop the Garden City and at the gate of the seat of power in Port Harcourt, the Brick House, from where he must be peeping at his father’s houses. Those who think they know everything say part of the Brick House was Louis Ojukwu’s house, some point at a building at Education Bus Stop as one belonging to him too, but these are all classified as ‘abandoned property’. So, if Ojukwu could not enter into them while alive, his pictures at least got close to them at death.
When he was alive, Ojukwu was regarded as a secessionist-coupist and blood-thirsty aristocrat but now at death, many said he hated the idea of divided Nigeria or using bloodshed to solve the Nigerian problem and so had to handle Kano without bloodshed during the January 1966 coup.
Alive, many said he hated ‘One Nigeria’ but now at death, they say he loved Nigeria and had put forward a sound ideological foundation for a stronger unity through confederacy. In fact, the entire south-south that joined to fight against his vision is fighting for it; confederacy or at least true federalism, resource control, fiscal federalism, or else secession. For the larger Nigeria, Ojukwu put forward a formula for free enterprise, citizenship instead of indigeneship, freedom of movement or freedom of business domicile, respect for capital and reward for enterprise. These were snubbed at or rejected. Today, the federal government is pushing all or some of
This. And social engineers are saying these must be the foundation for a new Nigeria, or nothing.