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