Ojukwu (1933-2011)

Looking at mutilated bodies and hordes of injured souls as the trains creaked the Enugu station, the Ndigbo in horror questioned their place in the patchwork of the British named Nigeria. Since 1950s, the Igbo’s entrepreneurial verve in other lands as embedded in genetic code has always been met with brutal confrontation. The Ibos needed a leader that stamps their resolve to trade within One Nigeria on a balance of fairness and equality.  To look through the eyes of Zik was to find a grand idea of woven around nationalistic intents or even on a grander scale – the Pan African vision. Nnamdi Azikwe was too urban for the quizzical intent of the Ndigbo to guard their ethnic ingenuity.

The burden of the circumstance reminds one of the kind of reverse reaction the Germans gave when slammed with War Debts. This burden fell on 33-year old Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, the Military Governor of Eastern Region. Born in Northern Nigeria in the splendor in a millionaire, schooled among the global elite in Oxford, he snubbed his father’s thriving empire and decided to enroll first in Nigeria’s Civil Service before joining the army.  At the age of 11, he could not stand a British Officer humiliating a black woman, so he took the effrontery to challenge the authority. We went to the warfront in Congo and though being an Igbo man, he led the 5th Battalion in Kano – the Commerce City in Northern Nigeria – in a time when regional embers were stoking the fire of disunity.

When the ‘five majors’ decided a putsch was necessary to fulfill their revolutionary ambitions, he stood firm against the failed coup plotters guarding his battalion in Kano.  His journey back to the East made him the Military Governor but the sudden and brutal pogrom of Eastern Officers in May 1967 was the major straw that sagged the Nigeria national frame. Everyone looked tired of the Nigerian geographical entity and General Murtala Mohammed pushed for the secession for the North. The continuous killing of Ibos threw back emotions within the land. The Zeitgeist chose Ojukwu as the General that leads the Igbo from the convoluted space of Nigeria. As Ibos were being killed unjustly in the North, it was a proof that Nigeria was a mere geographical expression with failing cords of unity. He tried to keep his ethnic space intact with an Aburi Accord. His dream of a single Igbo nation under his command was broken when Yakubu Gowon, Nigeria’s Head of State reneged on his promise of a confederation, pushing Ojukwu’s authority to the brink.

Heavily bearded with ragtag armoury but a willing and ready-to-die manpower, Ojukwu backed with a splinter of known and covert international groups led his people in 30 months war.  Even after quick losses in Umuahia and Aba, the war was in stalemate for months. His father financial fortress was crumbling, the people were starving, and the opposing army was getting stronger aided with large pool of financial reserves. When Owerri, the final bastion fell, Ojukwu took a stride that can be roped in a stride of retreating giant or clay footed coward. On Jan. 11, 1970, he took flight from his own people who had seen vicissitudes of terror and now sought hope under the enemy’s terms.

After 13 years in exile, Ojukwu was granted pardon by Shehu Shagari and later joined NPN to contest for a failed attempt at Nigeria’s Senate. He was jailed when the military took over for one year by Buhari’s regime. Though earlier married in 1964 to Njideka Onyekwelu, he spotted ravishing beauty in Bianca Onoh, a 22-year old beauty queen with Miss Intercontinental Crown. After several years of living with the damsel and finally accepting her father’s consent, he finally married her. He published a compilation of thoughts in a book, Because of I am Involved where he espoused his thoughts on Nigerian leaders, his journey and his great vision of united Nigeria founded on fairness and justice.

He lurched back in politics contesting for the Nigerian Presidency twice. His contest seemed only symbolic to his lost cause as he could not rally support beyond his Igbo tribe. He was an astute rebel leader, a fine orator with a famous rendering Ahiara declaration and till death was a strong believer in the Igbo Cause.

Yakubu Gowon, said in his postwar address that “The so-called “Rising Sun of Biafra” is set for ever”. As Ikemba of Nnewi, takes a bow from the earthly space, Yakubu Gowon words now sounds true; the rising half sun of Ndigbo seemed forever set in the lunar space with Ojukwu’s final surrender. Now that he has written more than a chapter in a nation’s history, may he find peace on the other divide.

A TRIBUTE TO The People’s General, Ikemba Nnewi, Dikedioranma Ndigbo, Odenigbo Ngwo, Ezeigbo Gburugburu, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu

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Nigeria’s Budget: A Gin of Hope

Sit in the Nigerian Bar and take a bottle labeled HOPE.  If one is an addict of the HOPE gin, brewed since 1960, one should be broken in despair roaming listlessly around the edges of the gutter.  All the indices seemed right that can make the nation a great one. Is it a young and energetic workforce, a weather of bliss, a soil rich in nutrients and hydrocarbons, a peaceful neighborhood or the aquatic splendor that opens its trade to the sea?

But we know leadership (and possibly I am getting convinced about the docility of followership) is the bane of the Nigerian crisis. A patchwork of 250 tribes will obviously be a noisy marketplace where all intentions are weighed and unfortunately, Nigeria at its clasp of history has not found the right leader with a mind of steel and a caring heart to bring order and progress into the Nigerian space. For how long shall we drunk in hope? That our young people will be employed, our nation shall be secure, power will be available, agriculture will thrive, refineries will work and new ones built, schools will be world class, and roads will be safe and hospitals will work?

Being familiar with government key financial data by working on the Nigerian Budget, it might be time to quit putting hope in Nigerian federal government.  How do we hope in a developing nation who expenditure for infrastructure is less than salaries for five ministries? One will be drunk to believe that a nation that spends more on ex-militants than national education infrastructure understands the times of the future? N18bn out of N86bn meant for power industry was released in June 2011 yet all salaries and personnel expenses for that period were spent above budget? We need to be sure we are not looking for hope in crumbling places if as at June 2011, only N128bn has been spent on capital expenditure but we have over N1.2trn used for salaries and overhead.  How does the Nigerian legislator earn over N42m Naira per quarter and will possibly earn over N700m in a four year term in a nation that badly needs funds for real infrastructure?

I am not initiating a mass sack but what is the service quality delivery level of the Defence, Intelligence  and Police Ministries with over N600bn as its cost of personnel expenses.  How do we get funds to build the necessary infrastructure to make us competitive or do we keep ballooning our debt profile? What about the petroleum subsidy when NNPC dips its hand into the Federation Account and takes the share of the oil cartel? What of the uncompleted projects which Okonjo Iweala has valued at N8.4trn?

So let us not get drunk with hope that there is a grand plan somewhere by this government to solve our multiple worries because in this atmosphere of thriving corruption and a budget ballooned with salaries, where is the development fund? The PIB bill that is crucial to government revenue is still a pun  tossed in the hands of several interests. We need a change in Nigeria’s fiscal structure because with the state of Nigeria’s finances, to revel in hope or put trust in the stagecraft called government makes a spirit weary. Hope of the great Nigeria lurks somewhere else – possibly the spirit of enterprise in the private Nigerian that thrives in the thick and thin of the Nigerian space?