Update: Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu Passes away, November 2011
Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu was born on November 4, 1933 at Zungeru in northern
Nigeria to Sir Louis Phillippe Odumegwu Ojukwu, a businessman from Nnewi in southeastern
Nigeria. Sir Louis was into transport business; he made a wise use of the business
boom during the Second World War to become one of the richest men in Nigeria when
he passed in 1966. So it could be rightly said that Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu
was born into wealth.
Emeka, as he was fondly called, began his educational career in Lagos, southwestern
Nigeria. At 13, his father sent him overseas to Great Britain to study at Epsom
College, England. He left Epsom at 18 for Lincoln College, Oxford. At Oxford
University, he obtained a bachelors degree in modern history. Thereafter,
he retuned to colonial Nigeria. This was in 1956.
He joined the civil service in Eastern Nigeria as an Administrative Officer
at Udi, in present-day Enugu State. In 1957, within months of working with the
colonial civil service, he left and joined the military as one of the first
and few university graduates to join the army: O. Olutoye (1956); C. Odumegwu-Ojukwu
(1957), E. A. Ifeajuna and C. O. Rotimi (1960), and A. Ademoyega (1962).
Officer Odumegwu-Ojukwus popular background and sound education guaranteed
his promotion to higher ranks. Besides, as at 1956, the Nigerian Military Forces
had 250 officers and only 15 were Nigerians. There were 6,400 other ranks, of
which 336 were British. It is not surprising that he is N/29 and that the army
found in valuable training resources in the young man. [W.U. Bassey was N/1,
while JTU Aguiyi-Ironsi was N/2; the first Nigerian to be commissioned as an
officer, Lieutenant L. V. Ugboma, left in 1948] Odumegwu-Ojukwu has an understandably
fast rise in the military, eventually becoming the Quartermaster General.
After serving in the United Nations peacekeeping force in the Congo,
under the legendary Major General Johnson Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi, Odumegwu-Ojuwkw
was promoted to lieutenant-colonel in 1964 and posted to Kano, where he was
in charge of the 5th Battalion of the Nigerian Army. He was in Kano, northern
Nigeria, when Major Patrick Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu on January 15, 1966 executed
and announced the first military coup in Kaduna, also in northern Nigeria. It
is to his credit that the coup lost much steam in the north, where it had succeeded.
Lt. Col. Odumegwu-Ojukwu supported the forces loyal to the Supreme Commander
of the Nigerian Armed Forces, Major-General Aguiyi-Ironisi. Major Nzeogwu was
in control of Kaduna, but the coup had flopped in other part of the country.
General Aguiyi-Ironsi took over the leadership of the country and thus became
the first military head of state. On Monday, January 17, 1966, he appointed
military governors for the four regions. Lt. Col. Odumegwu-Ojukwu was appointed
Military Governor of Eastern Region. Others were: Lt.-Cols Hassan Usman Katsina
(North), Francis Adekunle Fajuyi (West), and David Akpode Ejoor (Mid West).
These men formed the Supreme Military Council with Brigadier B.A.O Ogundipe,
Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters, Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon, Chief of Staff
Army HQ, Commodore J. E. A. Wey, Head of Nigerian Navy, Lt. Col. George T. Kurubo,
Head of Air Force.
By May 29, 1966, things quickly fell apart: There was a planned Pogrom in northern
Nigerian Nigeria during which Nigerians of Eastern Nigeria origin were targeted
and killed. This presented problems for the young military governor, Colonel
Odumegwu-Ojukwu. He did everything in his power to prevent reprisals and even
encouraged people to return, as assurances for their safety had been given by
his supposed colleagues up north and out west.
On July 29, 1966, a group of officers of Northern origin, notably Majors Murtala
Ramat Rufai Muhammed, Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma, and Martin Adamu, led the majority
Northern soldiers in a bloody mutiny that was later tagged countercoup.
The Supreme Commander General Aguiyi-Ironsi and his host Colonel Fajuyi were
abducted and killed in Ibadan; officer of Eastern and Midwestern origin were
targeted and systematically eliminated across the country. And the Pogrom intensified.
All hope for a united Nigeria was lost. In fact, Colonel Gowon, who emerged
as the leader of the pack, admitted in a broadcast that there was no longer
any basis for unity.
Colonel Odumegwu-Ojukwu never lost faith in a peaceful solution of the crises,
even though citizens of Eastern Nigeria were so traumatized they generally wanted
nothing more to do with their fellow citizens turned killers. Yet he persisted
on the path of peace. First, he insisted that the military hierarchy must be
preserved; in which case, Brigadier Ogundipe should take over leadership, not
Colonel Gowon. But Ogundipe no longer had the stomach to deal with a riotous
army; he was easily convinced to step out and into the Nigerian High Commission
in London. On September 29, the final phase of the planned Pogrom was executed,
marked by its brutal bestiality. Still, while coping with the mass return of
maimed and bruised brethren from the North and West, Odumegwu-Ojukwu persevered;
even when it had become obvious to his people that the basis for unity had been
irreparably eroded, he still talked with whomever would listen. He never lost
faith in seizing the moment to fashion out a lasting legacy for generations
And so they ended up in Aburi, Ghana in January 1967 for a peace conference
hosted by General Joseph Ankrah. The brilliance of Colonel Odumegwu-Ojukwu was
apparent throughout the talk. He succeeded in convincing his colleagues to sign
off on what became known as Aburi Accord. Just when everyone thought
that Nigeria was back on the path of peace, Colonel Gowon reneged and proceeded
to split the Eastern Region unilaterally into three states on May 27, 1967!
Three days later on May 30, 1967 and based on the mandate of the Eastern Nigerian
Constituent Assembly, Colonel Odumegwu-Ojukwu declared Eastern Nigeria a sovereign
state to be known as BIAFRA:
"Having mandated me to proclaim on your behalf, and in your name, that
Eastern Nigeria be a sovereign independent Republic, now, therefore I, Lieutenant
Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, Military Governor of Eastern Nigeria, by
virtue of the authority, and pursuant to the principles recited above, do hereby
solemnly proclaim that the territory and region known as and called Eastern
Nigeria together with her continental shelf and territorial waters, shall, henceforth,
be an independent sovereign state of the name and title of The Republic of Biafra."
On July 6, 1967, Gowon decalred war and attacked Biafra. For 30 bloody months,
the war raged on. Now General Odumegwu-Ojukwu knew that the odds against the
new republic was overwhelming, but he preferred to fight for what is right and
defend the sovereignty of Biafra against what was obviously an illegitimate
regime of General Yakubu Gowon. The unholy Anglo-Soviet alliance, using rogue
Egyptian mercenaries fresh from the war with Israel, pounded Biafra and Biafrans
with armaments big and small, including the use of hunger as a weapon of war
which resulted in the ravaging kwashiorkor.
Biafra lasted for 30 eventful months during which a potential, indigenous African
superpower almost emerged. But the forces against Biafra were enormous. On January
9, 1070, General Odumegwu-Ojukwu handed over power to his second in command,
Chief of General Staff Major-General Philip Effiong, and left for Côte
dIvoire, where President Felix Houphöet-Biogny -- who had recognized
Biafra on May 14, 1968 -- granted him political asylum.
After 13 years in exile, the Federal Government of Nigeria under President
Shehu Aliyu Usman Shagari granted an official pardon and opened the road for
a triumphant return in 1982. His people of Nnewi gave him the now very famous
title of Ikemba, while the entire Igbo nation called him Dikedioramma
(Beloved hero). He was indeed a beloved hero. His foray into politics was disappointing
to many, who wanted him to stay above the fray. Afraid of his supposedly overbearing
and enigmatic influence, the ruling party, NPN, rigged him out of the senate
seat, which was purportedly lost to a little known state commissioner in then
Governor Jim Nwobodo's cabinet called Dr. Edwin Onwudiwe.
The Third Republic was truncated on December 30, 1983 by Major-General Muhammadu
Buhari, supported by Generals Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida and Sani Abacha. The
junta proceeded to arrest and keep him in Kirikiri Maximum Security Prison,
Lagos. He wrote in Because I am involved:
In Kirikiri, there is no privacy. Leaders belch and fart sometimes louder than
armed robbers. :::: We scratch and pick our noses. In Kirikiri, we are constantly
in battle with the animal in us. In this place, there is no justice, there is
no beauty, there is no pleasure and there is no satisfaction.
Babangida took Buhari out and sent him to the cooler. His high-handed prison
terms were reviewed and many were dismissed or drastically revised. After the
ordeal in Buhari's boondocks, Dim Odumegwu-Ojukwu continued to play major roles
in the advancement of the Igbo nation in a democracy because As a committed
democrat, every single day under an elected government hurts me. The citizens
of this country are mature enough to make their on choices, just as they have
the right to make their own mistakes. He played a major role in the 1995
Constitutional Conference, which gave birth to the present geopolitical structure.
General Chukwemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu is a quintessential Igbo man: proud, ambitious,
and intelligent. Here is a young man who at 33 had the fate of a nation thrust
onto him, and he did not disappoint. He is a rare gem, the unconquered spirit
of the Igbo personified. It is not surprising albeit ironic that in 2003 the
Igbo are once again turning to the same person, who had lead them in a war to
get out of Nigerias gyre, to lead them in a political battle back for
the now-stabilized center in Abuja.
Odumegwu-Ojukwu is married to Bianca, nee Onoh, the 1989 Miss Inter-Continental
Pageant. He is presently the presidential candidate of All Progressive Peoples
Alliance. Is this the second coming of a messiah? Only time will tell.
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