By Uzor Maxim Uzoatu
Ojukwu: The ‘Rebel’ I Served by Uche Ezechukwu; ThoniMartins Ltd, Abuja, Benin, Lagos; 2012
Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu almost always dominated all discourse in the course of his journey on earth. In death he upped the ante of his enigmatic profile through the release of the book Ojukwu: The ‘Rebel’ I Served written by the irrepressible journalist Uche Ezechukwu who served as Ojukwu’s media assistant and speechwriter for two years following the ex-rebel’s pardon and return to Nigeria.
It is indeed remarkable that the causes that Ojukwu championed are still staring Nigeria in the face. Ojukwu served as a kind of Nostradamus in seeing far into the future well ahead of his contemporaries; whence the reality of some eminences who opposed him in the past are now calling for a Nigerian confederation! As a world figure in his leadership of the Republic of Biafra, Ojukwu graced the cover of the esteemed TIME magazine and forged friendships with distinguished deans such as the bestselling author Frederick Forsyth, author of The Day of the Jackal.
Uche Ezechukwu brings to bear on the book his intimate knowledge of Ojukwu at close quarters. Ojukwu: The ‘Rebel’ I Served is thus a candid encapsulation of a well-rounded life. The book is deservedly dedicated “to Mr. Peter Gregory Obi, ‘the uncommon Governor of Anambra State’ (as the Ikemba himself used to describe him), for the unprecedented care, love and attention, which he extended to the icon, thus enabling him spend his last years on earth in comfort and contentment.” It is noteworthy that Ojukwu’s last wish on earth was the clarion call on voters in his native Anambra State to re-elect Governor Obi. When that wish was granted him through the winning of the election by Peter Obi, Ojukwu saluted the people of Anambra State for “giving me a befitting burial even while I’m still alive.” Then the great man died.
The known truths about Ojukwu’s life such as being the leader of Biafra in the 30-month civil war and consequently going on a 13-year exile in Cote d’Ivoire are given greater muster through the nous of Uche Ezechukwu who was strategically poised to know the issues. In his Foreword to the book, Obinwa Ben Nnaji, the founding editor of the defunct Enugu-based Satellite newspaper where Uche Ezechukwu was a star columnist, writes: “Many regard it as unfortunate that the Ikemba was not able to pen his memoirs in his lifetime. But all hope is not lost. The ‘Rebel’ I Served will definitely serve as an adequate stop gap, which will help fill a yawning gap, and add to the rich collection of the literature on the events of before, during and after Biafra, in which most of us were proud to have played an active part.”
It is a mark of Uche Ezechukwu’s doggedness that he wrote the entire first draft of the book in 17 days flat! Ojukwu died on November 26, 2011, aged 79, and this book on his life and death was ready for the press two months after! Ezechukwu sums up the Ojukwu persona thus: “He was a special, yet a natural person – humane, understanding, fearless, humorous, extremely intelligent, tender, charming and more. He was also a natural person with normal human foibles: he was often over-ambitious, spontaneous, selfish and even rash at times. Yes, he was not an angel…” To that extent, Ezechukwu has not penned a hagiography. The author’s objectivity is very obvious on every page. Ojukwu told Ezechukwu that he did not find being addressed as a rebel appalling because it was only rebels who changed the course of history.
The author happened to be a child soldier in the wilds of Biafra, so he was up there with the Ojukwu phenomenon from the very beginning. It was on a certain Tuesday before the Easter of 1986 that Ezechukwu met Ojukwu in flesh and blood through the introduction made possible by the late Chief Chris Offodile. Ojukwu’s controversial declaration for the then ruling National Party of Nigeria (NPN) and the concomitant rivalry with Nnamdi Azikiwe’s Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP) forms a pivotal anchor as Ezechukwu worked for Satellite newspaper owned by the family of the then Anambra State Governor Jim Nwobodo of the NPP.
There are glimpses of Ojukwu’s war of attrition with the Lagos State government over the ownership of Villaska Lodge, Ikoyi, during which Ojukwu always camped out in the open with Stella Onyeador.
It should serve as a measure of Ojukwu’s spirit of accommodation that he employed Ezechukwu as the editor of his magazine NewGlobe, even as some people had given to the ex-Biafra leader anti-Ojukwu articles written by the author in his Satellite column. Insights about Nigerian leaders such as Murtala Muhammed, Olusegun Obasanjo, TY Danjuma etc abound in the book. There is the bombshell that Murtala Muhammed actually hails from Edo State!
Vistas such as Rev Father Anozie’s deranging attack on Ojukwu in church are enthralling. Ojukwu, according to Ezechukwu, “inwardly rued the fact that neither Zik nor he was able to do for Ndigbo what Awo had done for his Yoruba people” and believed that the “Yoruba nation will one day, at their convenience, pull out of Nigeria, without firing a shot, and that is due to the Awo legacy…” In Ojukwu’s view, “the bane of Igbo politics in Nigeria was that Ndigbo were too emotional and believed that politics was religion where the change or adjustment of their political beliefs with changing circumstances was akin to changing your faith which was apostasy that was frowned at in every religion.”
Ojukwu: The ‘Rebel’ I Served is a remarkable read. Uche Ezechukwu has given the world an insight into the mind of one of the most gifted Nigerians ever. A very insightful book to behold, Uche Ezechukwu’s Ojukwu: The ‘Rebel’ I Served deserves an esteemed place in every library.