It does not matter, to me at least, who the diverse people of Nigeria choose as their heroes. For all we care, there are turncoats whose heroes are reviewed every now and then depending, on the leadership of the country and the political correctness of the moment. But there should be concerns when people try to alter historical facts or skew/skip them to fit their narratives. Such are the latest scripts, treatises and deliberate untruths about the person of the late Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, the sole architect of Biafra. But because we are admonished not to speak ill of the dead, I’d rather keep quiet, if I do not have any conviction on what to write about the dead, instead of bringing down a man who is already out.
However, with this write-up, this studied silence is being reconsidered because, we are all involved and we owe it a duty to the younger generations and the generations unborn to chronicle history accurately, if it should guide us appropriately. That unfortunately has been absent in most of the materials on Ojukwu that I have come across.
Concerning the palpable gaps in chronicling Ojukwu’s place in history, some things have deliberately been left out. Imagine a young student, who only a few months ago, encountered in his History 101 class: That at a time in the history of this country, some determined, idealistic and revolution-prone young officers rose against the establishment in the first military coup in the country. The five majors, as they were later known, struck and killed the prime minister, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa and the premier of the Northern region, Sir Ahmadu Bello, and most but one Northern leaders at the top echelon were eliminated. The ethnic colouration of the coup was so discernible it was later dubbed an ethno-regional coup. The brains behind the coup were mainly Igbo officers and the main beneficiary, General Aguiyi Ironsi, an Igbo general became the head of state. His famed lame-duck administration, weakness and unwillingness to bring justice to the land by trying the masterminds of the coup led to the unfortunate killing of Igbos which was later dubbed the pogrom. That was (and still) condemnable.
It was at this stage that an Ojukwu emerged, not to judgement, but to demand justice ONLY for the killing of his Igbo brothers even with his silence (or is it culpability?) over the killing of the head of government and his Northern kinsmen.
Now, in death, that rebel with a (regional and ethnic) cause is being eulogised as the best thing to have happened to mankind. He was given a state burial. There is no problem about those who think of Ojukwu as a hero, but most commentators have focused on the pogrom that led Ojukwu to take up arms against his country, without putting that in the context of the coup that started it all, and Ironsi’s inaction and reluctance to wade in.
The problem with Nigeria is that injustice and fairness are defined or viewed from the prism of nepotism. That is why nobody is talking about the first injustice of the killing of the nation’s first leaders as against the event that happened afterwards. So, imagine the dilemma of the student referred to on what to believe—the distorted version of history being dished out today and the historical facts of the coup and the chain reactions that finally led to the civil war? And with the state burial, are we validating Ojukwu’s action?
For this same student, Ojukwu, who knew nothing (?) about the coup but took advantage of the confusion that ensued, declared a state of Biafra and led the nation to a needless war that consumed two million lives; it is astonishing that that nobody is talking about the ambition, the lure of power and the haughtiness of that man. Instead, everybody has joined the political bandwagon to extol Ojukwu.
Yes, there’s nothing wrong in extolling his virtues—and there are many that I personally admire. But why don’t we spare some words for the humanity in the hero, who in fact can’t be a complete hero, without foibles.
Again, why didn’t these hero-worshipers tell the complete story, particularly the wranglings in the Biafra camp which led to a frame-up, and a presumed coup against the leader, Ojukwu who broached no opposition and dissent, but had to kill Emmanuel Ifeajuna and co. for ‘rebelling’ against his ‘government’? Remember Ifeajuna was one of the five majors that planned and executed the first coup, and later aligned himself with Biafra. Why can’t we see the crass opportunism in Ojukwu’s action, to eliminate a potential threat and a would-be hero if Biafra had succeeded? Again, how does the student who read all these in history books now interpret Ojukwu’s demise and the encomiums poured on him without the slightest consideration for the other side of him and the other dramatis personae in the Biafra plot? Is there any hero so deified, but without flaws?
I do not see how a people can forge ahead in unity in an atmosphere of distorted account of history and suspicion, when the past is supposed to serve as a lesson.Why are we portraying Ojukwu as a history figure of immense proportion and profound positive impact when the nation is yet to come out of that unfortunate incident and when the Igbos whom he so loved are yet to take their rightful place in this country?
In spite of these observations, I must say that Ojukwu was, indeed, a lucky man. He came into prominence at a time his people needed a rallying figure and a shoulder to lean on; and he left when an ‘Azikiwe,’ desirous to be authenticated as a friend of Igbos, is in power. Imagine Ojukwu passing on when Obasanjo, who fought to rescue Nigeria from his grip, was in government. He would have given the whole gamut a more realistic perspective.
Zainab is the executive editor of Blueprint Newspapers in AbujaNo tags for this post.