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PROMINENT Igbo leaders and Nigerians thronged the Presidential Wing of the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, Abuja, to pay their last respect to the ex-Biafrian warlord, Chief Chukuwemeka-Ojukwu, whose corpse arrived in Nigeria on Monday morning.
The body arrived at 5.09 a.m in a British Airways plane, accompanied by his wife, Bianca; Anambra State governor, Mr Peter Obi and other prominent Igbo sons and Ojukwu’s friends. A military parade was held in honour of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) national leader by the Guards Bridage, while the pall bearers were senior army officers.
In attendance at the ceremony were the First Lady, Mrs Patience Jona-than; Vice-President Na-madi Sambo; the Senate President, David Mark; his wife, Helen; Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives, Honourable Emeka Ihe-dioha; Defence Minister, Dr Bello Haliru; the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Minister, Bala Moha-mmed and the United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Terence Mcculley.
First Lady address at Abuja Airport
Other disgnitaries were Chief Tom Ikimi; Senator Chris Ngige; Secretary to the Federal Government, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim; Senator Uche Chukwumerije; Professor A. B. C. Nwosu; Lieutenant-General Chris Obiakor (retd); Dubem Onyia; Dr Kema Chikwe; Chief Jim Nwobodo and others. In an interview with the Nigerian Tribune at the airport, the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant-General Azubuike Ihejirika, said the late Ojukwu was one of the first few Nigerian officers to enlist in the Army with a degree. According to him, his death was a big loss to the nation and the Nigerian Army, adding that because of his love for the service to his fatherland, he enlisted and started his military career at the Army Depot, Zaria, notwithstanding that he was a graduate.
General Ihejirika noted that when the Army had five battalions, Ojukwu was one of the commanders, while his training with a degree helped to show up the image of the military which was then regarded as a profession for drop-outs. In his remark, Senator Ngige noted that Ojukwu’s popular thinking was against regional arrangement and that was why he joined APGA. Ngige said Ojukwu was a national and detriba-lised leader, who thought of others more than himself.
In his remark, the chairman of APGA, Chief Chekwas Okorie, said Ojukwu was a selfless leader who identified with the poor and the downtrodden in the society and never had a house of his own until 2008. The house, at Queens Drive, Ikoyi, Lagos, belonged to his father and that was where he always lived. Other speakers who eulogised the Ikemba of Nnewi were Mrs Jona-than, Senator Mark and Vice-President Sambo. A requiem mass was organised in his honour with the Archbishop of Abuja Diocese, John Onaiyekan, officiating. His corpse was later flown in an Airforce Hercules C130 plane in company with his family to Owerri, the Imo State capital, for another funeral ceremony.
The body of Ojukwu arrived at the Sam Mbakwe International Cargo Airport, Owerri, at about 3.00 p.m from Abuja. The body was received by prominent Igbo leaders, among whom were the Imo State governor, Chief Rochas Okorocha; Governor Peter Obi, while the wife of the deceased, Bianca, accompanied the body form Abuja to Owerri.
It was observed by the Nigerian Tribune that security agencies were finding it difficult to control crowds that besieged the airport to receive the corpse of the late Ojukwu. The body left the airport in a motorcade and accompanied by the host governor and others to the Government House, Owerri. The Hero Square, where the body is expected to lie in state, had been decorated as a mark of honour to give him a befitting burial. Reports reaching the Nigerian Tribune from Owerri had it that Ojukwu would remain in the state until today, before proceeding to Aba, Abia State, before the final burial at Nnewi.
Meanwhile, President Goodluck Jonathan has extended his condolences to the family of late Igbo warlord. Jonathan, on Monday, said the late Ojukwu lived a humble life, despite being the son of one of the wealthiest men in Nigeria, adding that on his return from the United Kingdom, he was at the civil service and later joined the Nigerian Army, where he began his rise in the military.
According to President Jonathan, after the Biafra war, Ojukwu was in exile for 13 years until former president, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, granted him official pardon and open the road for his return in 1982, adding that it was then the people of Nnewi gave him the popular title of Ikemba, meaning “the strength of the people.” According to President Jonathan, no word could adequately describe the nature, character, legacy and lessons left behind by this soldier and gentleman, adding that he believed the outpouring of encomium could not stop coming.
“Let it be said that Ojukwwu died when the country needed his service most, let it be said that he lived and served with all his might when the Igbos and Nigerians needed him most,” Jonathan said. Speaking at the reception for the remains of the former Biafran leader, held at the Presidential Wing of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja, Jonathan, who was represented on the occasion by Vice-President Sambo said “the legacy bequeathed to the Nigerian Army by Ojukwu as its first Quartermaster-General are now the hallmark of military processes and procedures which, till date, are in use.
” Also speaking on the occasion, Mrs Jonathan noted that late Ojukwu, whom she described as an accomplished Nigerian, was not only an icon, but also the pride of his people. The Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Honourable Emeka Ihedioha, said Nigeria lost a political treasure in the death of Odumegwu-Ojukwu. Speaking while paying tribute to the late Ikemba Nnewi during the lying-in-state at the presidential wing of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Ihedioha described Ojukwu as “an avatar that comes once in a generation,” adding that “his place in Nigerian history is already assured.
” According to the deputy speaker, “with his death, the nation has been robbed of the services of a great legend and charismatic patriot.” Ihedioha said with the demise of Ojukwu, Africa had lost a statesman of uncommon abilities, adding that “the death of this eminent soldier-statesman, on Saturday, November 26, 2011 in a London hospital has brought to an end an exciting career and life that were intricately intertwined with the history of modern Nigeria.
” Tracing his career trajectory and political contributions to the evolution of the Nigerian nation, Honourable Ihedioha said Ojukwu would be “remembered for his fearlessness, courage, outspokenness and stoic belief in justice, equity and fairness. And I strongly believe that history will be fair and kind to Ikemba for standing up against injustice of his contemporary times.
” Meanwhile, leaders of the South-South geopolitical zone, at the weekend, stormed Nnewi, Anambra State, to Commiserate with the Ojukwu family and the entire community over the passage of Chief Dim Odimegwu-Ojukwu, the leader of the Igbo nation. Under the aegis of South-South Peoples Assembly, the leaders described the late Ikemba Nnewi as “a man of prodigious intellect and of great courage, who chose a path of honour to protect his people as well as fighting injustice.
” The group, led by former governor of Edo State, Chief Odigie Oye-gun, was received into the expanse Ojukwu family compound by Senator Onyeabo Obi, where members signed the condolence register and used the occasion to see the tomb of Chief Lewis Odumegwu Ojukwu, father of the late warlord. Speaking at the palace of the Igwe of Nnewi, Chief Oyegun noted that what Ojukwu stood for had continued to hunt the nation unresolved which, if ignored, could be at great peril.
He recalled that Oju-kwu tried to accomplish what the nation was still struggling for at Aburi, Ghana, during the civil war, to allow the component parts of the nation enough “elbow room so that each can develop at its own pace, at its own way, while choosing its own priorities.” According to him, it was when Aburi failed that Ojukwu was forced to stand up and fight to defend the honour, integrity and dignity of his people. Responding on behalf of the traditional ruler of Nnewi, Obi Orizu and the chiefs-in-council, the Okosisi Nnewi, Chief Dan Ulasi, recalled the cooperation between the South-East and the South-South regions, which manifested in the election of President Jonathan. Chief Ulasi also gave an insight into how Oju-kwu had, in his military and political life, tried to unite the country.
Also, the Igbo Community Association (ICA), Kano State chapter, said injustice and other vices, which the late Ojukwu fought for in the 60s, were still bedeviling the country’s socio-economic and political development. Making the assertion on Sunday during the celebration of life of Ojukwu, held at the Nnewi hall, Kano, the Eze Ndigbo of Kano, Chief (Dr) Boniface Ibekwe, said the late Ojukwu fought against all these problems then, but the country was still at a cross road because of injustice , marginalization and other vices In another development, the leader of the Movement for the Actualisation of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), Chief Ralph Uwazuruike, has said Biafran flag and other insignias would not be displayed during the burial of Ojukwu.
MASSOB members were also directed to wear only the specially-designed mourning dress, procured by the leadership of the movement, on the burial day. Rising from the national executive meeting of the movement, held at the MASSOB Freedom House, Okwe, Imo State, Uwazuruike said there would be no badges, caps and other uniforms bearing the Biafra logo on the burial date. Also commenting on the development, the Ogirishi Igbo, Chief Rommy Ezeonwuka, said apart from giving Ojukwu the last respect he deserved, the MASSOB leadership was comfortable with the decision of the Federal Government to give Ojukwu a state burial, adding that utmost cooperation would be given to the authorities.
"THEY came in superlative terms. They were all comments used to qualify the late Biafran leader, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, as a man whose courage, excellence, patriotism and selfless service were beyond compare. The event was at the Tafawa Balewa Square (TBS), Lagos and it was organised by the Lagos State government in conjunction with Igbo in Lagos as part of the funeral activities for Odumegwu-Ojukwu. The roll call of eminent personalities at the event chaired by renowned lawyer, Dr. Tunji Braithwaite included Governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Fashola, his predecessor, Bola Tinubu, former governor of Ekiti State, Niyi Adebayo, governor of Imo State, Chief Rochas Okorocha, governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi, former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, Oko monarch and professor of music, Laz Ekwueme and professor of political economy, Pat Utomi.
Others were Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu (rtd), former Chief of General Staff, Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe (rtd), distinguished economist, Dr. Kalu Idika Kalu, Prof. Anya O. Anya, Senator Uche Chukwumerije, Special Adviser to the President on Inter-party Affairs, Senator Ben Obi, Prof. A.B.C. Nwosu, a member of the Odumegwu-Ojukwu Burial Central Committee, Chief Martins Agbaso, Ambassador Musiliu Obanikoro, Gen. Adeyinka Adebayo (rtd), Lagos State Commissioner for Budget and Economic Planning, Mr. Ben Akabueze, former President General, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Prof. Joe Irukwu, Eze Ndigbo Lagos, Eze Raphael Ohazuluike and Chief Christopher Eze. The list included the former Chairman of Diamond Bank, Chief Pascal Dozie, Publicity Secretary of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Joe Igbokwe, the Chief Executive Officer of Chisco Transport Ltd., Chief Chidi Anyaegbu, Senator Chris Ngige and Chie." - THE GUARDIAN NEWSPAPER
Nigeria President Goodluck Jonathan Praises Former Biafra Military Chief of State
Nigeria presidential spokesman Reuben Abati has issued a statement on the death of former Biafra military chief of state Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, characterizing Ojukwu’s death as “a great national loss.” The statement also recalled Ojukwu’s leadership of Biafra and subsequently “his commitment to reconciliation and the full reintegration of his people into a united and progressive Nigeria.”
More than forty years after the civil war, ethnic and religious tensions persist in Nigeria, though the fault lines are somewhat different from those in Ojukwu’s time. Now, it is the North that is discontented and the locus of radical Islamic groups such as Boko Haram, not Ojukwu’s East.
Jonathan’s praise of fellow Christian and southerner Ojukwu can be seen as an effort to “let bygones be bygones” with respect to the civil war. On the other hand, Jonathan’s critics in the North are likely to see it as a presidential effort to consolidate the South and East against their region. In any event, Nigeria’s friends hope that Jonathan will demonstrate similar sensitivity and outreach to the predominately Muslim North that he is showing toward former supporters of Biafra.
Ojukwu was military chief of state of Biafra during the 1967 civil war. The predominately Igbo Biafra sought to establish itself as an independent state following a series of military coups and ethnic and religious pogroms in the North, especially against Igbo Christians. While the U.S. government favored the preservation of Nigerian national unity, many American college campuses hosted fervent Biafra supporters. Among American youth, the cause of Biafra was often linked with support for the civil rights movement in the United States and opposition to the Vietnam war. Nigeria went “over the brink” during the civil war, with deaths predominately from hunger and disease likely numbering more than one million. For many Americans, a starving Biafra child became the poster for the suffering caused by African civil wars.
After the defeat of Biafra, Ojukwu spent thirteen years in exile, returning only when he was pardoned by civilian president Shehu Shagari. Oxford educated and from the late colonial elite, Ojukwu’s critics accuse him of needlessly prolonging the civil war in part to gratify his own ego. Nevertheless, after his return from exile, he re-established himself as an important leader of the Igbo people, though never a national kingmaker.
Following the civil war, the Nigerian federal government pursued a policy of national reconciliation called “no winners, no losers.” Among the major Nigerian ethnic groups the Igbo have done well in business and professional occupations. However, they have never held the presidency and there is a pervasive sense of grievance that they have been de facto excluded from the highest political and military positions in the federal government. The Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) reflects Igbo nostalgia for what an independent Biafra might have been, and its specter on occasion can still keep federal officials in Abuja awake at night, resulting in heavy-handed crackdowns.
John Campbell is Ralph Bunche Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies at Council on Foreign Relations (CFR)
"The death at the age of 78 of Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, former leader of the breakaway Republic of Biafra, removes a charismatic, larger-than-life figure from the Nigerian political scene. Although deeply controversial in his lifetime, he will be missed in Nigeria far beyond his own Igbo people. President Goodluck Jonathan's tribute spoke of Ojukwu's "immense love of his people, justice, equity and fairness which forced him into the leading role he played in the Nigerian civil war". - Guardian UK
Ojukwu, as military governor of Biafra, inspecting some of his troops in 1968. Photograph: Trinity Mirror/Mirrorpix/Alamy
Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, a millionaire's son who led Nigeria's breakaway republic of Biafra during the country's civil war that left 1 million dead, died in a London hospital Saturday after a protracted illness following a stroke. He was 78.
The Biafran war brought the first televised images of skeletal, starving African children to the Western world, a sight repeated in the continent's many conflicts since. Leaders said the war's end would leave "No Victor, No Vanquished" — a claim that has yet to be fulfilled as ethnic and religious tensions still threaten the unity of the oil-rich nation more than 40 years later.
Maja Umeh, a spokesman for Nigeria's Anambra state, confirmed Ojukwu's death Saturday. Anambra state, in the heart of what used to be the breakaway republic, had provided financial support for Ojukwu during his hospital stay.
Ojukwu's rise coincided with the fall of Nigeria's First Republic, formed after Nigeria, a nation split between a predominantly Muslim north and a largely Christian south, gained its independence from Britain in 1960.
A 1966 coup led primarily by army officers from the Igbo ethnic group from Nigeria's southeast shot and killed Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, a northerner, as well as the premier of northern Nigeria, Ahmadu Bello.
The coup failed, but the country still fell under military control. Northerners, angry about the death of its leaders, attacked Igbos living there. As many as 10,000 people died in resulting riots. Many Igbos fled back to Nigeria's southeast, their traditional home.
Ojukwu, then 33, served as the military governor for the southeast. The son of a knighted millionaire, Ojukwu studied history at Oxford and attended a military officer school in Britain. In 1967, he declared the region — including part of the oil-rich Niger Delta — as the Republic of Biafra. The new republic used the name of the Atlantic Ocean bay to its south, its flag a rising sun set against a black, green and red background.
But instead of sparking pan-African pride, the announcement sparked 31 months of fierce fighting between the breakaway republic and Nigeria. Under Gen.nalizing the conflict."
The images fed into Ojukwu's warnings that to see Biafra fall would see the end of the Igbo people.
"The crime of genocide has not only been threatened but fulfilled. The only reason any of us are alive today is because we have our rifles," Ojukwu told journalists in 1968. "Otherwise the massacre would be complete. It would be suicidal for us to lay down our arms at this stage."
That final massacre never came. Ojukwu and trusted aides escaped Biafra by airplane on Jan. 11, 1970. Biafra collapsed shortly after. Gowon himself broke the cycle of revenge in a speech in which said there was "no victor, no vanquished." He also pardoned those who had participated in the rebellion.
Ojukwu spent 13 years in exile, coming home after he was unconditionally pardoned in 1982. He returned to politics, but lost a race for a senate seat. He was sent to a maximum-security prison for a year when Nigeria suffered yet another of the military coups that punctuated life after independence.
He later wrote his memoirs and lived the quiet life of an elder statesman until he unsuccessfully challenged incumbent Olusegun Obasanjo for the presidency in 2003. Obsanajo served as a colonel in the Biafran war and gave the final statement on rebel-controlled radio announcing the conflict's end.
Despite the long and costly civil war, Nigeria remains torn by internal conflict. Tens of thousands have died in riots pitting Christians against Muslims in the country. Militant groups attack foreign oil firms in the oil-rich Niger Delta while criminal gangs kidnap the middle class. Poverty continues to grind the country.
The Igbos, meanwhile, continue to suffer political isolation in the country. While an Igbo man recently became the country's top military officers, others say they've been locked out of higher office over lingering mistrust from the war.
Some in the former breakaway region still hold out hope for their own voice, even their own country despite the cataclysmic losses.
As did Ojukwu himself.
"Biafra," Ojukwu told journalists in 2006, "is always an alternative."