Ikemba Nnewi Goes Home :The Strange Tale Of An Encounter Between General Amnesia And Mass Hysteria By Ola Balogun



In the course of his life time, General Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu (aka Ikemba Nnewi) was a man who had an unmistakable flair for dramatic gestures, coupled with an interesting tendency to indulge in rhetoric, grandiloquence and hyperbole…

If Ikemba could have witnessed the grandiose funeral that he was accorded by the large crowds that gathered to pay him homage as he was being buried last week, he would certainly have loved the drama of the occasion! He would have been even more been delighted by all the display of emotion and the outpouring of rhetoric that his funeral provoked!

Interestingly enough, a much overused quotation from William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” that speaks of comets “blazing in the skies” when  great men pass away kept cropping up like a bad coin in many articles and speeches inspired by Ikemba’s demise.

Apparently, hardly anyone was inclined to remember what might perhaps have been a more apt quotation from a different play by Shakespeare (“Macbeth”), wherein it is reported of the unlucky Earl of Cawdor (who lost out in the bitter power struggle that ensued from his ill-starred rebellion against the king of England) that :

“Nothing in his life

Became him like the leaving it”

The fact remains that whether one liked him or not, none can deny that Ojukwu appears to loom greater in death than in life…

JUSTIFIABLY OR NOT?

Certainly, some of the encomiums that have been heaped on the late Biafran warlord might appear somewhat puzzling to some of those who actually witnessed the events surrounding the Nigerian civil war a few decades ago.

For instance, Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings surfaced from Ghana to declare to the entire world that the late Ikemba Nnewi was a “great African”, even though he willingly confessed that he knew nothing about Nigeria’s civil war years beyond the fact that Dick Tiger (his boxing hero) was said to have fought in the ranks of the Biafran armed forces!

Quite bizarrely, Jerry Rawlings (whose knowledge of contemporary African history appears to be quite sketchy) does not appear to have ever heard that the dauntless fighter whom he generously described as “a great African” somehow managed to maintain an  open-ended alliance with some of the worst enemies of the peoples of Africa at the time of the Nigerian civil war, notably the apartheid regime in South Africa and the fascist leadership in Portugal, who gladly supplied Ojukwu with weapons and ammunition on a large scale, in a somewhat similar fashion to their dangerous romance with the late Jonas Savimbi of Angola (who bore an uncanny physical resemblance to Ojukwu, oddly enough)…

Some have sought to excuse Ojukuwu’s dalliance with the forces of oppression in apartheid South Africa and the fascist Portuguese African colonial empire on the grounds that he was forced to that extremity by the burning desire to ensure that Biafra survived at all costs…

A plausible defence perhaps, even though it is rather difficult to conceive of a supposedly “great African” wining and dining with such clearly avowed enemies of the peoples of Africa!

Be that as it may, while if may be conceded that Ojukwu’s ill-considered alliance with the very people who were torturing and killing millions of Africans in South Africa, Rhodesia, Mozambique and Angola at the time might be overlooked as a case of desperate expediency, it does sound rather jarring to hear an overt fellow-traveller on the apartheid side of the great contest for the liberation of Southern African being described a few decades later as “a great African”.

Ditto for Ojukwu’s secret agreement with General De Gaulle of France to grant the French oil company Elf extensive access to the oil resources of the Niger Delta in exchange for weapons and diplomatic support from a French Government that had only recently emerged from decades of ruthless warfare against the peoples of Algeria and Cameroun.

Thus, under the assumed guise of seeking to aid the “starving children of Biafra”, the same forces that had heartlessly massacred hundreds of thousands of Algerian and Bamileke children emerged to pose to the world as champions of “humanitarian aid” to Biafra, with Jacques Foccart (the ubiquitous head of the French secret services) toiling tirelessly to mix arms shipments with Red Cross supplies that were flown under cover of darkness into the Biafran enclave nearly every night from staging points in Gabon and the island of Sao Tome.

Again, the odd role that was played by Jacques Foccart and his cohort of secret agents and mercenary soldiers in prolonging the Nigerian civil war can quite possibly be forgiven to some extent as another instance of desperation on the part of Ojukwu (who appeared to believe that Biafra needed to be preserved by all and EVERY means available), but can Ikemba Nnewi justifiably be described as “a great African” after all that?

Even more puzzling, President Goodluck Jonathan (perhaps motivated by a futile desire to restore some of his fast dwindling store of luck with the people of Nigeria), came out boldly to declare that the late Ikemba was a great “patriot”!

Well, the lucky accidental President of Nigeria is no doubt entitled to his opinion on the matter, but it does appear rather odd that he totally failed to localize Ojukwu’s supposed “patriotism” :

Can Ojukwu actually be considered a patriot in terms of the Nigerian nation that he actively sought to break up?

Was Ojukwu a patriot in terms of the Biafran nation from which he escaped at the bitter end, allegedly to go and conduct a shadowy “peace negotiation” with invisible protagonists in the Ivory Coast, leaving General Philip Effiong and others behind to sort out the legacy of defeat?

Or could Ojukwu have been better described as a patriot of an entity that can best be defined as Igboland, which he eventually came back to Nigeria from exile to lead as self-proclaimed “Eze Gburugburu” of Ndigbo?

In all objectivity, it might conceivably appear to be more appropriate to define Ojukwu as an unreconstructed igbo patriot who never really thought in terms of Nigeria as a whole, which makes it all the more puzzling to hear some apparently well-intentioned folks declare that “Ojukwu sacrificed himself for the sake of Nigeria” or (in a more extreme formulation) “Ojukwu died so that Nigeria and Africa might be saved”…

Unfortunately, this proposition (no matter in what variant!) appears to fall flat on its face when one compares the late Ikemba’s political trajectory with those of clearly identifiable African leaders like Nelson Mandela, Kwame Nkrumah, Edouardo Mondlane, Steve Biko, Chris Hanni, Felix Moumie etc.

Incontestably, a man like Steve Biko gave his life for Africa, but can the same really be said of Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu?

Although the millions of Ndigbo who gathered on the streets of Awka, Enugu, Onitsha, Nnewi, Umuahia etc. to pay homage to their departed “Eze Gburugburu” ( a rather strange sounding title that has no historical precedence in igboland) were genuinely convinced that Ojukwu was one of the greatest leaders that Africa has ever known, it is highly improbable that this was actually a widely shared perception in the rest of Nigeria, particularly among the peoples of the present Rivers, Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom and Cross River states, who claim to have been unwilling captives in the Biafran entity that emerged from Ojukwu’s ill-fated declaration of secession.

At he risk of appearing to swim dangerously against the tide, one cannot help noting that the vast outpouring of grief among the general Igbo population all over Nigeria on the occasion of Chief Emeka Odumegwu’s demise inevitably presents some puzzling aspects to those Nigerians who were already adults at the time of the Nigerian civil war.

To some extent, one does understand that the genuine sense of bereavement experienced by the quasi-totality of Ndigbo springs from the widespread nostalgia that many continue to feel for the failed dream of Biafra as an independent igbo homeland, with which the late Ikemba is closely associated.

HOWEVER, WAS BIAFRA EVER REALLY A VIABLE PROPOSITION IN THE NIGERIA OF PRE-CIVIL WAR DAYS?

Could an independent  igbo homeland have actually thrived as a landlocked entity, cut off from the oil-rich riverine areas inhabited by hostile minority tribes?    

To what extent were the Ijaws, Annangs, Efik, Ibibio etc. have been expected to buy into the concept of Biafra?

If not, would it have been truly possible to construct Biafra on the basis of massive regimentation and oppression of the minority non-igbo tribes by the majority Ndigbo?

And how long could that kind of situation have been sustained, once the creation of the new twelve state structure by General Yakubu Gowon had given the original COR (Calabar-Ogoja-Rivers) population states of their own?

More intriguingly, one notes with some degree of amazement that the rewriting of history has been carried so far by some people (including a number of prominent non-Igbo citizens) as to suggest that the late Ikemba was actually some kind of proponent of a new revolutionary entity that was supposed to replace the Nigerian state that was in existence of the time on the basis of the Aburi accords (which he apparently suckered his less well educated military colleagues into signing).

The last gasp hodgepodge attempt to provide some form of ideological clothing for the concept of Biafra under the appellation of “Ahiara declaration” has also often been cited in recent days as a pristine example of Ojukwu’s far-reaching political wisdom, which we now hear provides a valid basis for nation building in the whole of Africa!

Might this not be a little far-fetched?

Amidst all the outpouring of heated rhetoric and sentimental hyperbole, the question that really needs to be asked is :

Was Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu actually a reformist leader motivated by a desire to restructure Nigeria for the benefit of all Nigerian citizens, and not  simply a champion of the igbo population?

Although it may not please many who are not conversant with the history of 1960s Nigeria to hear this, the answer to that crucial question does not lead to the conclusion that Ojukwu ever cared about the citizens of Nigeriaas a whole!

In reality, there is a fundamental contradiction that lies at the heart of Ojukwu’s role in history, which is currently mirrored by the largely incomprehensible attempt by a gentleman named Ralph Uwazuruike to achieve what he describes as “the actualisation” of Biafra.

The contradiction is this :

CAN NDIGBO SIMULTANEOUSLY SECEDE TO ESTABLISH AN INDEPENDENT BIAFRAN STATE AND STILL REMAIN NIGERIAN CITIZENS AT THE SAME TIME?

In the present-day context, is Uwazuruike saying that all those of igbo origin who are established all over the Nigerian federation in Kano, Jos, Maiduguri, Calabar, Port Harcourt, Ibadan, Oshogbo, Bauchi, Lagos etc. should pull up the stakes they have built up in various parts of Nigeria, sell all their landed property and businesses and relocate to the igbo heartland?

How feasible ia that?

And how would Ndigbo really stand to benefit from such a wild scheme?

And yet Uwazuruike apparently continues to present himself as a leader of some sort who has something valid to offer Ndigbo! How strange!

IS THERE SOMETHING THAT THE REST OF US HAVE FAILED TO UNDERSTAND IN ALL THE SEEMINGLY EMPTY RHETORIC ON WHICH THE RESURGENCE OF BIAFRA PROGNOSTICATED BY FOLKS LIKE UWAZURUIKE IS BASED?

Travelling back in time to the tragic era that preceded the civil war itself, can one really describe the horrendous massacres to which thousands of Ndigbo fell victim at the time in some parts of Northern Nigeria as some kind of  premeditated act in which the entire northern population took part?

Even though one cannot but sympathize deeply with the many thousand igbo victims of the massacres that occurred  in the north at the time, a balanced examination of all available facts would tend to suggest that the pogrom and rioting to which massive numbers of igbo citizens fell victim in the north in the run up to the ciivil war was actually engineered by some disgruntled northern politicians and a northern military cabal who felt threatened by the impact of the January 1966 coup (which had led to the emergence of General Aguiyi-Ironsi and a mostly igbo clique at the head of the Nigerian Government, even though Aguiyi-Ironsi and his clique in the army and civil service had not actually taken part in the coup that precipitated the collapse of Nigeria’s first Republic).

MOST IRONICALLY, OJUKWU HIMSELF WAS NEVER PART OF THE REVOLUTIONARY GROUP OF MAJORS (LED PRINCIPALLY BY CHUKWUMA KADUNA NZEOGU AND EMMANUEL IFEAJUNA), WHO LED THE MILITARY UPRISING THAT OVERTHREW THE GOVERNMENT OF THE NIGERIAN FIRST REPUBLIC ON JANUARY 15TH 1966.

                   On the contrary, it is on record that, far from supporting the action of the Nzeogu group, Ojukwu initially sat on the fence from the vantage point of his position as Commander of the 5th battalion, an army unit based in Kano!

                   It is also on record that Ojukwu eventually helped Ironsi to foil the revolutionary aims of the authors of the Janury 1966 coup!

Finally, it is a well known fact that as a reward for Ojukwu’s role in blocking Nzeogu’s take over of Northern Nigeria,  General Ironsi appointed Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu to the position of military Governor of the Eastern Nigerian region, catapaulting him over the head of Lt. Col Hilary Njokwu (who was subsequently held in detention by Ojukwu during the entire duration of the civil war).

Nzeogu himself died in mysterious circumstances in Biafra shortly after the beginning of the civil war, while Emmanuel Ifeajuna was one of those who were tried by a kangaroo court headed by Justice Nkemena and executed on Ojukwu’s orders along with Victor Banjo, Sam Agbam, and Philip Alale on the grounds that they had “conceived of an intention” to overthrow Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu with a view to “procuring” the downfall of Biafra…

Clearly, Ojukwu was NEVER a revolutionary or a sophisticated political thinker, either in the context of Nigeria or within Biafra itself!

It is also obvious that those who now seek to bestow this wholly undeserved accolade on the late Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu  are either carried away by sentimentalism or blinded by partisan passion!

From a certain perspective, it is however wholly understandable that Ndigbo should identify emotionally to such a huge extent with the late Ikemba…

During the course of the civil war, it can be estimated that between 80 and 90 per cent of the entire igbo population bought into the concept of Biafra as an independent igbo nation.

What is rather difficult to understand however, is that both then and now, most  igbo people refuse steadfastly to attach any degree of blame on Ojukwu for some of the  shortcomings in leadership that appear to have prolonged their suffering in the course of the ill-fated Biafran adventure.

True, thousands of innocent igbo people were maimed, tortured and massacred by rampaging mobs in some northern cities in the run-up to the war.

The question that however remains to be answered is :

DID THE TERRIBLE SUFFERING OF THE IGBO VICTIMS OF POLITICAL VIOLENCE  IN THE NORTH SERVE AS A CONVENIENT JUSTIFICATION FOR THE IMPLEMENTATION OF A PLAN THAT OJUKWU AND HIS ENTOURAGE HAD ALREADY FORMED FOR THE DECLARATION OF SECESSION?

Was there truly no alternative to Biafra and no hope for national reconciliation at all in Nigeria in the tragic weeks and months that preceded the civil war?

Opinions remain divided on the subject!

What is however clear is that the intransigence displayed by Ojukwu (who stubbornly rejected several opportunities for a negotiated settlement of the war) inevitably led to a tragic prolongation of the civil war, with the resultant multitude of avoidable deaths, and the widespread starvation and destruction that was provoked by the length of the war.

Obviously, it was this factor that led an elder statesman like Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe to eventually abandon the doomed Biafran adventure and declare himself in favour of the federation of Nigeria.

The warmth with which Dr. Azikiwe was welcomed back into the fold by the entire Nigerian nation and the highly laudable policy of “no victors no vanquished” that was applied by General Yakubu Gowon following the end of the war offered abundant proof at the time that the vast majority of Nigerians were tired of the war and its inevitable cortege of horrors, and that they genuinely aspired to live once more in peace and harmony with their igbo brothers and sisters.

Unfortunately however, right up till today, the igbo psyche seems to have been unable to overcome the deep traumatism of the civil war experience…

To this day, (rightly or wrongly), many igbos continue to feel marginalized and unloved as Nigerian citizens, which is perhaps what explains the emergence of a character like Ralph Uwazuruike and his bizarre project for “the actualisation of Biafra”…..

If Ojukwu deserves acceptance as a kind of hero within the context of the lives of Ndigbo, can it be said that his actions following the final collapse of Biafra (when he claimed to have flown to a safe haven in the Ivory Coast in search of imaginary peace negotiations) truly in keeping with the image of a courageous leader?

Whom can Ojukwu be said to have gone to negotiate with in Cote d’Ivoire, especially as he had already handed over power in Biafra to a committee headed by Gen. Philip Effiong, which included elder statesmen like the late Sir Louis Mbanefo?

Would Churchill, Roosevelt or Stalin have flown away in “search of peace” at the hour of collapse of their homelands if their respective countries had been defeated during the Second World War?

The propaganda of the victorious side in the Second World War has consistently depicted Adolf Hitler as some kind of mad man, but mad man or not, Hitler defied his opponents by arranging to take his own life before they could reach him.

In the Nigerian context, it is highly likely that Ojukwu would NOT have been harmed if he had stayed behind to personally participate with his federalist counterparts in the ceremonies to end the Nigerian civil war.

Arguably, that would have been the mark of a true leader!

Since no harm befell the high ranking representatives of Biafra when they were flown to  the federal capital to sign documents marking the end of the war, should Ojukwu not have been with them?

EVEN AT THE RISK OF HIS OWN LIFE,  SHOULD EMEKA ODUMEGWU-OJUKWU NOT HAVE CHOSEN TO STAY BEHIND IN BIAFRA TO SHARE THE FATE OF THE IGBO MEN WOMEN AND CHILDREN WHOM HE LED IN THE UNSUCCESSFUL ATTEMPT TO CONCRETIZE A BIAFRAN NATION?

Strangely enough however, the vast majority of Ndigbo have  never seen fit to criticize the leader of Biafra for flying off with his family at the time of Biafra’s final collapse to attend what appears to be a non-existent peace conference in Cote d’Ivoire…

Be that as it may, there is much food for thought in the fact that the heroes Nigeria seems to have fabricated in the post-colonial era tend to be heroes whose aura is mostly limited to a sectional and tribal context.

Contrary to the situation in South Africa for instance (where Nelson Mandela is revered as a hero by virtually ALL the people of South Africa rather than by only the Xhosa tribe), what we have in Nigeria is a situation where Alhaji Ahmadu Bello is  considred a hero in Northern Nigeria, while Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s status as a heroic leader is mostly limited to Yorubaland.

Thus, even if we accept that  Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu genuinely deserves to be considered a hero, is he actually a hero for ALL of Nigeria?

That is the vital question!

* Dr. Ola Balogun is a film maker and musician who currently resides in Lagos

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(TEXT OF OLA BALOGUN’S REJOINDER, SENT TO “PUNCH” ONLINE … MARCH 24TH 2012)

Dear friends

I have read with great interest the numerous comments that were inspired by my article on the late Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu. I enjoyed reading the diverse points of view, although one regrets that ad hominem attacks seem to have taken the place of genuine debate in some cases. To those who appear to concentrate on mounting personal attacks on individuals whose views they disagree with, I would point out in all humility that the right way to set about these things is to counter points of view you disagree with by mounting cogent and well thought out arguments of your own. In most cases, it’s a sign of immaturity to seek to concentrate on heaping abuse on someone whose views you feel you should counter. Why not take time to explain to everyone why you are convinced that the author of the views you disagree with is wrong?

That being said, I would like to point out to all those who have contributed to the debate that was provoked by my article that the version of the article that was published in “Punch” was considerably shortened and edited by the newspaper editors, no doubt due to space constraints. As a result, a number of key paragraphs were left out which might have thrown more light on my views about the events surrounding Ojukwu and the civil war.

I will endeavour to supply some of the missing links below, for the benefit of those who are genuinely interested in learning more about the issues.

Before that however, I must say that I was deeply disappointed to note that many of those who posted comments on the Punch website or who wrote directly to me by email seem to have reduced the entire issue to one of ethnic politics. Becasue of this warped perspective, some of those who stubbornly insisted on viewing everything I had to say through ethnic tinted lenses arrived at the conclusion that I could only hold the views I expressed because I must somehow be an “igbo hater” of Yoruba origin.

Although I generally dislike having to discuss myself as a person, I think I should reveal that although I am Yoruba by birth, my parents (both Yoruba) lived for nearly nearly three decades in Aba in the former Eastern region. (My father passed away in 1958 and was buried in Aba, which he considered to be his adopted home, while my mother decided to continue living in Aba and only left the East at the onset of the civil war, when Ojukwu ordred all non-Easterners to leave).

Therefore, I happen to have been born at Aba (our home was at 47 St. Michael’s road, to be precise), and I attended primary school at CKS roman catholic school along with many other children from the former Victoria (now Limbe), Tiko etc in the old Cameroon and others from all parts of igboland. After pidgin English, the first language I learnt and spoke was igbo (I still pride myself on speaking fluent igbo). In addition to our Yorunba names, my younger sister and I were given igbo names at birth by one of my father’s closest friends, a gentleman named Chief Ubani Ukoma. My late father had friends from all over Nigeria, but is so happened that his very closest friend (who lived very close to us) was a gentleman named Dr. Alvan Ikoku, father of the late Sam Ikoku. My father was also privileged to count among his friends individuals like the late Sir Udo Udoma (Ibibio), Bellgam (from Opobo), (Dr. Erokwu (from Onitsha), Barrister Josiah Obianwu (from Onitsha), Obafemi Awolowo (from Ijebu Ode) who often stayed with us whenever he visited the Eastern region, Chief S.L. Edu (from Epe) and many others too numerous to mention individually, including a wonderful gentleman of Nupe origin whom we only knew as “Baba Tapa”.

In the course of a lifetime that is currently drawing to a close (I am 67 years old), I myself have been fortunate enough to form friendships with a wide variety of individuals from many parts of Nigeria, as well as from many parts of Africa and from all over the world.

To this day, I remain proud of my igbo roots, and I take great delight in describing myself as being simultaneously a “Yoruba man” and an “Aba boy”.

For anyone to accuse someone with my kind of background of being an “igbo hater” is totally incongrous, to say the least. Ironically, when I left Aba to attend secondary school in Lagos in 1957, I used to be classified along some of my other childhood friends and classmates at King’s College as an Easterner, side by side with other students of Yoruba origin who happened to have grown up in Aba and Port Harcourt, such as Kayode Adeniyi-Jones Tunde Cole-Onitiri. My pal and classmate Winston Bellgam, whose parents and mine were close friends, remains a close family friend till today, while older students like Kalu Idika Kalu have remained my friends and mentors till today. Let me also add that I was privileged to have enjoyed a close personal rrelationship which led to many stimulating intellectual exchanges with Comrade Uche Chukwumerije during the years when he was a strong pan-Africanist.

I hope that the above details about my personal life and background can help to dispel the odd notion that my refusal to pose as an inconditional admirer or Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu (as many insincere opportunists have shamelessly been doing since he passed away) might be due to some latent prejudice I might hold against Ndigbo.

Before saying much more about Ojukwu and Biafra, I would like to draw the attention of Ndigbo to the rather odd that apart from political office holders like the Governors of the igbo states, it has been left to a virtual political nonetity named Ralph Uwazuirike to play the role of mourner in chief at Ojukwu’s funeral. Why were most of tthe igbo elders and statesmen who played prominent roles in Biafra keeping such a low profile all through Ojukwu’s grandiose funeral? Could it be that some of them were hesitant to step forward and reveal certain facts about what actually transpired in Biafra tto the younger generation of Ndigbo?

If some of those who have information to share have been too scared to open their mouths and speak up, I will crave indulgence to do so in their stead.

For starters, young Ndigbo who did not personally witness the civil war years in Nigeria have a right to know that there was a lot of betrayal and cheating behind the facade of Biafra, and that it was definitely not the glorious adventure that folks like Uwazuruike now claim that it was. The war actually began on a false premise. It is obvious that alternatives to a shooting war were not sufficiently explored on both sides because the young military officers who were in power then (both in Nigeria and Biafra) were to inexperienced to forsee the terrible destruction and loss of life that would result from the civil war. If the truth must be told, we were all victims of the callousness of these young and mostly irresponsible military officers, whose thirst for power created great suffering all over the nation. We were all victims!

Interestingly enough, some postulate that the Biafran national anthem and flag had been secretely prepared by Ojukwu and his entourage long before the massacres to which Ndigbo (and many other Southerners) fell victim to during the months of rioting that preceded the civil war in parts of the north, and that the tragic bloodshed in the north merely gave Ojukwu and his cabal an opportunity of carrying out a plan that had been secretely nurtured for reasons that had to do more with political ambition than with protecting Ndigbo. This allegation remains a disputed point in the history of events leading up to the civil war.

Whatever be the case, it is clear that Ndigbo were never given a proper opportunity to debate the options available to them properly in the emotion-laden atmosphere of the weeks and months that preceded the declaration of secession. Most importantly, Ojukwu deliberately misled his kinsmen about the quantity and quality of arms and ammunition that were actually available to fight the war, and that they were virtually led like sheep to the slaughter, given the lack of understanding of the vast disparity of forces.

In addition, Biafra was a concept that was seriously flawed from the outset : What was to happen to be the fate of the minority ethnic groups from the riverine areas in an Igbo-dominated political entity in which the Ijaws, the Efiks, the Ibibios etc had been assigned the role of junior partners and forced participants in an adventure that they disapproved of?

Even more crucially, many of the individuals in Ojukwu’s entourage who were entrusted with the task of travelling abroad to purchase arms simply disappeared with the money or seized the opportunity of become multi-millionaires in dollars by ruthlessly exploiting the terrible suffering of millions of Ndigbo. It is common knowledge that one of the worst offenders in this respect was a gentleman named Mojekwu, who happens to have been …..Ojukwu’s uncle! I publicly challenge Igbo elders like Uche Chukwumerije and Kalu Idika Kalu who were part of the inner political circle in Biafra to come forward and dispute the statement I have made concerning individuals like Mojekwu, if they feel that I am not speaking the truth.

Because the paragraphs I devoted to the issue of the tragic massacre of Ndigbo in the north were left out from the version of my article that was published in the Punch, some commentators appeared to believe that I feel no sympathy for the unfortunate victims of those massacres.

To dispel this erroneous impression, let me quote verbatim below the relevant sections of my original article. After reproducing what Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings had to say about Ojukwu and Biafra when he turned up for the funeral, I disputed his preposterous claim that Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu was a “great African” and then went on to write the following (all omitted from the Punch version of my article) :

“(….) Even more puzzling, President Goodluck Jonathan (perhaps motivated by a futile desire to restore some of his fast dwindling store of luck with the people of Nigeria), came out boldly to declare that the late Ikemba was a great “patriot”!

Well, the lucky accidental President of Nigeria is no doubt entitled to his opinion on the matter, but it does appear rather odd that he totally failed to localize Ojukwu’s supposed “patriotism” :

Can Ojukwu actually be considered a patriot in terms of the Nigerian nation that he actively sought to break up?

Was Ojukwu a patriot in terms of the Biafran nation from which he escaped at the bitter end, allegedly to go and conduct a shadowy “peace negotiation” with invisible protagonists in the Ivory Coast, leaving General Philip Effiong and others behind to sort out the legacy of defeat?

Or could Ojukwu have been better described as a patriot of an entity that can best be defined as Igboland, which he eventually came back to Nigeria from exile to lead as self-proclaimed “Eze Gburugburu” of Ndigbo?

In all objectivity, it might conceivably appear to be more appropriate to define Ojukwu as an unreconstructed igbo patriot who never really thought in terms of Nigeria as a whole, which makes it all the more puzzling to hear some apparently well-intentioned folks declare that “Ojukwu sacrificed himself for the sake of Nigeria” or (in a more extreme formulation) “Ojukwu died so that Nigeria and Africa might be saved”…

Unfortunately, this proposition (no matter in what variant!) appears to fall flat on its face when one compares the late Ikemba’s political trajectory with those of clearly identifiable African leaders like Nelson Mandela, Kwame Nkrumah, Edouardo Mondlane, Steve Biko, Chris Hanni, Felix Moumie etc.

Incontestably, a man like Steve Biko gave his life for Africa, but can the same really be said of Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu?

Although the millions of Ndigbo who gathered on the streets of Awka, Enugu, Onitsha, Nnewi, Umuahia etc. to pay homage to their departed “Eze Gburugburu” ( a rather strange sounding title that has no historical precedence in igboland) were genuinely convinced that Ojukwu was one of the greatest leaders that Africa has ever known, it is highly improbable that this was actually a widely shared perception in the rest of Nigeria, particularly among the peoples of the present Rivers, Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom and Cross River states, who claim to have been unwilling captives in the Biafran entity that emerged from Ojukwu’s ill-fated declaration of secession.

At the risk of appearing to swim dangerously against the tide, one cannot help noting that the vast outpouring of grief among the general Igbo population all over Nigeria on the occasion of Chief Emeka Odumegwu’s demise inevitably presents some puzzling aspects to those Nigerians who were already adults at the time of the Nigerian civil war.

To some extent, one does understand that the genuine sense of bereavement experienced by the quasi-totality of Ndigbo springs from the widespread nostalgia that many continue to feel for the failed dream of Biafra as an independent igbo homeland, with which the late Ikemba is closely associated.

HOWEVER, WAS BIAFRA EVER REALLY A VIABLE PROPOSITION IN THE NIGERIA OF PRE-CIVIL WAR DAYS?

Could an independent igbo homeland have actually thrived as a landlocked entity, cut off from the oil-rich riverine areas inhabited by hostile minority tribes?

To what extent were the Ijaws, Annangs, Efik, Ibibio etc. have been expected to buy into the concept of Biafra?

If not, would it have been truly possible to construct Biafra on the basis of massive regimentation and oppression of the minority non-igbo tribes by the majority Ndigbo?

And how long could that kind of situation have been sustained, once the creation of the new twelve state structure by General Yakubu Gowon had given the original COR (Calabar-Ogoja-Rivers) population states of their own?

More intriguingly, one notes with some degree of amazement that the rewriting of history has been carried so far by some people (including a number of prominent non-Igbo citizens) as to suggest that the late Ikemba was actually some kind of proponent of a new revolutionary entity that was supposed to replace the Nigerian state that was in existence of the time on the basis of the Aburi accords (which he apparently suckered his less well educated military colleagues into signing).

The last gasp hodgepodge attempt to provide some form of ideological clothing for the concept of Biafra under the appellation of “Ahiara declaration” has also often been cited in recent days as a pristine example of Ojukwu’s far-reaching political wisdom, which we now hear provides a valid basis for nation building in the whole of Africa!

Might this not be a little far-fetched?

Amidst all the outpouring of heated rhetoric and sentimental hyperbole, the question that really needs to be asked is :

Was Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu actually a reformist leader motivated by a desire to restructure Nigeria for the benefit of all Nigerian citizens, and not simply a champion of the igbo population?

Although it may not please many who are not conversant with the history of 1960s Nigeria to hear this, the answer to that crucial question does not lead to the conclusion that Ojukwu ever cared about the citizens of Nigeriaas a whole!

In reality, there is a fundamental contradiction that lies at the heart of Ojukwu’s role in history, which is currently mirrored by the largely incomprehensible attempt by a gentleman named Ralph Uwazuruike to achieve what he describes as “the actualisation” of Biafra.

The contradiction is this :

CAN NDIGBO SIMULTANEOUSLY SECEDE TO ESTABLISH AN INDEPENDENT BIAFRAN STATE AND STILL REMAIN NIGERIAN CITIZENS AT THE SAME TIME?

In the present-day context, is Uwazuruike saying that all those of igbo origin who are established all over the Nigerian federation in Kano, Jos, Maiduguri, Calabar, Port Harcourt, Ibadan, Oshogbo, Bauchi, Lagos etc. should pull up the stakes they have built up in various parts of Nigeria, sell all their landed property and businesses and relocate to the igbo heartland?

How feasible is that?

And how would Ndigbo really stand to benefit from such a wild scheme?

And yet Uwazuruike apparently continues to present himself as a leader of some sort who has something valid to offer Ndigbo! How strange!

IS THERE SOMETHING THAT THE REST OF US HAVE FAILED TO UNDERSTAND IN ALL THE SEEMINGLY EMPTY RHETORIC ON WHICH THE RESURGENCE OF BIAFRA PROGNOSTICATED BY FOLKS LIKE UWAZURUIKE IS BASED?

Travelling back in time to the tragic era that preceded the civil war itself, can one really describe the horrendous massacres to which thousands of Ndigbo fell victim at the time in some parts of Northern Nigeria as some kind of premeditated act in which the entire northern population took part?

Even though one cannot but sympathize deeply with the many thousand igbo victims of the massacres that occurred in the north at the time, a balanced examination of all available facts would tend to suggest that the pogrom and rioting to which massive numbers of igbo citizens fell victim in the north in the run up to the ciivil war was actually engineered by some disgruntled northern politicians and a northern military cabal who felt threatened by the impact of the January 1966 coup (which had led to the emergence of General Aguiyi-Ironsi and a mostly igbo clique at the head of the Nigerian Government, even though Aguiyi-Ironsi and his clique in the army and civil service had not actually taken part in the coup that precipitated the collapse of Nigeria’s first Republic).

MOST IRONICALLY, OJUKWU HIMSELF WAS NEVER PART OF THE REVOLUTIONARY GROUP OF MAJORS (LED PRINCIPALLY BY CHUKWUMA KADUNA NZEOGU AND EMMANUEL IFEAJUNA), WHO LED THE MILITARY UPRISING THAT OVERTHREW THE GOVERNMENT OF THE NIGERIAN FIRST REPUBLIC ON JANUARY 15TH 1966.

On the contrary, it is on record that, far from supporting the action of the Nzeogu group, Ojukwu initially sat on the fence from the vantage point of his position as Commander of the 5th battalion, an army unit based in Kano!

It is also on record that Ojukwu eventually helped Ironsi to foil the revolutionary aims of the authors of the Janury 1966 coup!

Finally, it is a well known fact that as a reward for Ojukwu’s role in blocking Nzeogu’s take over of Northern Nigeria, General Ironsi appointed Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu to the position of military Governor of the Eastern Nigerian region, catapaulting him over the head of Lt. Col Hilary Njokwu (who was subsequently held in detention by Ojukwu during the entire duration of the civil war).

Nzeogu himself died in mysterious circumstances in Biafra shortly after the beginning of the civil war, while Emmanuel Ifeajuna was one of those who were tried by a kangaroo court headed by Justice Nkemena and executed on Ojukwu’s orders along with Victor Banjo, Sam Agbam, and Philip Alale on the grounds that they had “conceived of an intention” to overthrow Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu with a view to “procuring” the downfall of Biafra…

Clearly, Ojukwu was NEVER a revolutionary or a sophisticated political thinker, either in the context of Nigeria or within Biafra itself!

It is also obvious that those who now seek to bestow this wholly undeserved accolade on the late Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu are either carried away by sentimentalism or blinded by partisan passion!

From a certain perspective, it is however wholly understandable that Ndigbo should identify emotionally to such a huge extent with the late Ikemba…

During the course of the civil war, it can be estimated that between 80 and 90 per cent of the entire igbo population bought into the concept of Biafra as an independent igbo nation.

What is rather difficult to understand however, is that both then and now, most igbo people refuse steadfastly to attach any degree of blame on Ojukwu for some of the shortcomings in leadership that appear to have prolonged their suffering in the course of the ill-fated Biafran adventure.

True, thousands of innocent igbo people were maimed, tortured and massacred by rampaging mobs in some northern cities in the run-up to the war.

The question that however remains to be answered is :

DID THE TERRIBLE SUFFERING OF THE IGBO VICTIMS OF POLITICAL VIOLENCE IN THE NORTH SERVE AS A CONVENIENT JUSTIFICATION FOR THE IMPLEMENTATION OF A PLAN THAT OJUKWU AND HIS ENTOURAGE HAD ALREADY FORMED FOR THE DECLARATION OF SECESSION?

Was there truly no alternative to Biafra and no hope for national reconciliation at all in Nigeria in the tragic weeks and months that preceded the civil war?

Opinions remain divided on the subject!

What is however clear is that the intransigence displayed by Ojukwu (who stubbornly rejected several opportunities for a negotiated settlement of the war) inevitably led to a tragic prolongation of the civil war, with the resultant multitude of avoidable deaths, and the widespread starvation and destruction that was provoked by the length of the war.

Obviously, it was this factor that led an elder statesman like Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe to eventually abandon the doomed Biafran adventure and declare himself in favour of the federation of Nigeria.

The warmth with which Dr. Azikiwe was welcomed back into the fold by the entire Nigerian nation and the highly laudable policy of “no victors no vanquished” that was applied by General Yakubu Gowon following the end of the war offered abundant proof at the time that the vast majority of Nigerians were tired of the war and its inevitable cortege of horrors, and that they genuinely aspired to live once more in peace and harmony with their igbo brothers and sisters.

Unfortunately however, right up till today, the igbo psyche seems to have been unable to overcome the deep traumatism of the civil war experience…

To this day, (rightly or wrongly), many igbos continue to feel marginalized and unloved as Nigerian citizens, which is perhaps what explains the emergence of a character like Ralph Uwazuruike and his bizarre project for “the actualisation of Biafra”…..

If Ojukwu deserves acceptance as a kind of hero within the context of the lives of Ndigbo, can it be said that his actions following the final collapse of Biafra (when he claimed to have flown to a safe haven in the Ivory Coast in search of imaginary peace negotiations) truly in keeping with the image of a courageous leader?

Whom can Ojukwu be said to have gone to negotiate with in Cote d’Ivoire, especially as he had already handed over power in Biafra to a committee headed by Gen. Philip Effiong, which included elder statesmen like the late Sir Louis Mbanefo?

Would Churchill, Roosevelt or Stalin have flown away in “search of peace” at the hour of collapse of their homelands if their respective countries had been defeated during the Second World War?

The propaganda of the victorious side in the Second World War has consistently depicted Adolf Hitler as some kind of mad man, but mad man or not, Hitler defied his opponents by arranging to take his own life before they could reach him.

In the Nigerian context, it is highly likely that Ojukwu would NOT have been harmed if he had stayed behind to personally participate with his federalist counterparts in the ceremonies to end the Nigerian civil war.

Arguably, that would have been the mark of a true leader!

Since no harm befell the high ranking representatives of Biafra when they were flown to the federal capital to sign documents marking the end of the war, should Ojukwu not have been with them?

EVEN AT THE RISK OF HIS OWN LIFE, SHOULD EMEKA ODUMEGWU-OJUKWU NOT HAVE CHOSEN TO STAY BEHIND IN BIAFRA TO SHARE THE FATE OF THE IGBO MEN WOMEN AND CHILDREN WHOM HE LED IN THE UNSUCCESSFUL ATTEMPT TO CONCRETIZE A BIAFRAN NATION?

Strangely enough however, the vast majority of Ndigbo have never seen fit to criticize the leader of Biafra for flying off with his family at the time of Biafra’s final collapse to attend what appears to be a non-existent peace conference in Cote d’Ivoire…

Be that as it may, there is much food for thought in the fact that the heroes Nigeria seems to have fabricated in the post-colonial era tend to be heroes whose aura is mostly limited to a sectional and tribal context.

Contrary to the situation in South Africa for instance (where Nelson Mandela is revered as a hero by virtually ALL the people of South Africa rather than by only the Xhosa tribe), what we have in Nigeria is a situation where Alhaji Ahmadu Bello is considred a hero in Northern Nigeria, while Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s status as a heroic leader is mostly limited to Yorubaland.

Thus, even if we accept that Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu genuinely deserves to be considered a hero, is he actually a hero for ALL of Nigeria?

That is the vital question!”

I rest my case.

Undoubtedly, part of the tragedy of present day Nigeria is the speed with which history is being re-written, even during the lifetime of those who actually witnessed certain events…

Thus Ibrahim Babaginda now boldly claims to be untainted by aany of the scandals connected with his inglorious reign, which virtually plunged Nigeria into a grave before he and his accomplices went to work sealing our coffin. We are also hearing shameless claims that Sani Abacha was the “best ruler” Nigeria ever had, while the cold-blooded killer Al Mustapha has had the effontry to claim that his actual mission was to save Abiola’s life! Not be outdone, Baba Olusegun Obasanjo now claims that the Third Term agenda was a matter that he knew absolutely nothing about!

All this is possible of course, given the fact that Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s predecessor as Nigeria’s Federal Minister of Finance went to Washington DC during his inglorious tenure and boldly stated during a press conference chaperoned by the usual slave masters from the World Bank and IMF that Nigeria “has the THIRD fastest growing economy in the world”, only slightly behind China and India!

Can you beat that?

And this gentleman has now resurfaced as one of Goodluck Jonathan’s Ministers, a hardly surprising feature in a cabinet that features another brilliant gentleman who, in his official capacity as Nigeria’s Minister of Youth Affairs granted audience to last year’s slightly deranged winner of the nonsensical competition known as “Big brother” and declared that she was a wonderful example to all of Africa!

Obviously, wonders shall never end in present day Nigeria, and we will all have wonderful tales to tell each other when we eventually meet in the hottest part of hell, where Abacha is already waiting to host fools like me…

Ola Balogun

 

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