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The Biography of Late General Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu (Ikemba Nnewi)


Encyclopedia » Biography
Nigeria

PERSONAL PROFILE

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 Kings College, Lagos in southwestern Nigeria. He got into trouble by participating in anti-colonial demonstrations with such seniors as Anthony Enahoro. 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 bachelor’s degree in modern history. After graduate studies, he retuned to colonial Nigeria. This was in 1956.

Expected to take his father's business, he instead joined the civil service in Eastern Nigeria as an Administrative Officer at Udi, in present-day Enugu State, where he was exposed to the beauty of Waawaland.  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). In his case, he joined as an infantry recruit  because the colonial officers would not let him into the officer corps, no thanks to his father's pulling of strings to keep him out of the army. But no one lights a candle and puts it under the bed. Odumegwu-Ojukwu soon got his way and went on to undergo required military training in Ghana and later back in England.

 

CAREER

Officer Odumegwu-Ojukwu’s 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.

Ojukwu came into national prominence upon his appointment as military governor in 1966 and his actions thereafter. A military coup against the civilian Nigerian federal government in January 1966 and a counter coup in July 1966 by different military factions, perceived to be ethnic coups, resulted in pogroms in Northern Nigeria in which Igbos were predominantly killed. Ojukwu who was not an active participant in either coup was appointed the military governor of Nigeria's Eastern region in January 1966 by General Aguyi Ironsi.

In 1967, great challenges confronted the Igbos of Nigeria with the coup d’etat of 15 January 1966 led by Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu who was widely considered to be an outstanding progressive and was buried with full military honours when killed by those he fought against. His coup d’etat was triggered by political lawlessness, and uncontrolled looting and lacing in the streets of Western Nigeria. Unfortunately the Sarduana of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello; the Prime Minister of Nigeria, Sir Tafawa Balewa; the Premier of the Western Region,Chief Ladoke Akintola and the Finance Minister, Chief Festus Okotie Eboh (among others including military officers) were killed in the process. The pogrom of Igbos followed in Northern Nigeria beginning in July 1966.Eventually, then Lt. Col. Odumegwu Ojukwu declared Biafra's Independence on 30 May 1967. (Biafra- 30 May 1967 to 15 January 1970).

He took part in talks to seek an end to the hostilities by seeking peace with the then Nigerian military leadership, headed by General Yakubu Gowon (Nigeria's head of state following the July 1966 counter coup).  

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 brethrens 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 yet unborn.

 

And so they ended up in Aburi, Ghana on January 4, 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:

On July 6, 1967, Gowon declared war and attacked Biafra. And the Nigeria-Biafra War ensued. It was an international war, NOT a "civil war"; Biafra was already a sovereign state.  Besides, there was nothing civil about wars.  This war was  most brutal and even barbaric.  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, 1970, General Odumegwu-Ojukwu handed over power to his second in command, Chief of General Staff Major-General Philip Effiong (now late), and left for Côte d’Ivoire, where  President Felix Houphöet-Boigny -- who had recognized Biafra on May 14, 1968 -- granted him political asylum.

By January 12, 1970, Colonel Olusegun Obasanjo -- who was hell-bent on capturing the Biafra leader alive, so as not to make him martyr and to avoid continued conflict, he claimed -- had to deal with General Effiong. Obasanjo accepted the instruments of cessation of hostilities in Owerri. These were ratified at a formal ceremony in Lagos, presided over by General Gowon. Obasanjo went on to become the head of state, following the assassination of General Murtala Muhammed on Friday, February 13, 1976. On October 1, 1979, Obasanjo stepped down for an elected regime.

After 13 years in exile, the Federal Government of Nigeria under President Shehu Aliyu Usman Shagari granted an official pardon to Odumegwu-Ojukwu and opened the road for a triumphant return in 1982. The people of Nnewi gave him the now very famous title of “Ikemba” (Power of the people), while the entire Igbo nation called him “Dikedioramma” (Beloved hero). He was indeed a beloved hero.

General Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu is a quintessential Igbo man: proud, ambitious, and intelligent... even arrogant, as many would accuse. 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 once again turned to the same person, who had led them in a war to get out of Nigeria’s gyre, to lead them in a political battle back to Nigeria's now-centralized center in Abuja.

The political foray ended in the now called "4/19" fiasco, a complete corruption of the electoral process. In the aftermath of the rigged elections, Odumegwu-Ojukwu teamed up with other parties, including General Muhammadu Buhari, who had jailed him, to fight the result of the reelection of President Obasanjo in the courts of law. This latest fight still drags on, and the patience of the people is running on low.

Following the sudden success of the 26 August sit-at-home protest by the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), the Federal Government of Nigeria took a harder look at the organization. First, the Attorney General declared the action treasonable. Many legal experts disagreed. The Vice President weighed in and condemned the media for giving the group publicity!

Ikemba Odumegwu-Ojukwu’s open support for MASSOB did not sit well with the federal government presided over by the man who thought he had ended Biafra for ever.  Through its State Security Services (SSS) it sought to haul in Ikemba for questioning. At first, it appeared as a routine invitation to Abuja, the federal capital territory. But events soon took a turn for the worse.  In a press conference at his home in Enugu, capital of the southeast region, Odumegwu-Ojukwu revealed that the Feds were after him and the founder/leader of MASSOB, Chief Ralph Uwazuruike. He revealed that the SSS had sent him a one-way economy air ticket for the one-hour flight to Abuja. The SSS was quick to counter that the Ikemba must show up for a chat, calling his stance cheap blackmail and labeling him a coward. Odumegwu-Ojukwu and his supporters were quick to remind Nigeria of the many politically motivated murders that remain unsolved. They posit that if the SSS wanted to chat with the Ikemba, they could do so

in Enugu or go to court and obtain an arrest warrant. Then again, what would be the charges? For exercising his fundamental right of free speech

But that was the jaw-jaw part. The fact remain that the SSS wanted to interrogate the Biafra hero and that the Biafra leader would not bulge. In fact, Odumgwu-Ojukwu reminded the media that former heads of state Muhammadu Buhari and Ibrahim Babangida had refused to appear before the Oputa Panel of human rights violation and the heavens did not fall.   The question on everyone’s lip was: Who wants the Ikemba killed? Why is the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) being subjected to such disrespect from a retired colonel (head of SSS) whose boss (the President) was Odumegwu-Ojukwu’s junior in the Nigerian army?

What next? The SSS waited for him to make his annual trip to the United States for medical checkup. On Tuesday, night of November 16, 2004, on Zik's 100th birthday (posthumous, that is), the SSS seized his passport at Murtala Muhammed International Airport. And so began another phase in endless saga of Emeka vs. State, a rebel with a cause versus a state looking for direction.

AFTER BIAFRA

As a committed democrat, every single day under an un-elected government hurts him. The citizens of this country are mature enough to make their own choices, just as they have the right to make their own mistakes".

Ojukwu had played a significant role in Nigeria's return to democracy since 1999 (the fourth Republic). He had contested as presidential candidate of his party, All Progressives Grand Alliance(APGA)for the last three of the four elections. Until his illness, he remained the party leader. The party was in control of two states in and largely influential amongst the igbo ethnic area of Nigeria

FAMILY

Odumegwu-Ojukwu is married to a beauty-full Waawa woman, Bianca Onoh, the Nigerian 1989 Miss Inter-Continental Pageant. He was the presidential candidate of APGA in 2003 presidential elections.  He still maintains primary residence in Enugu.

Odemegwu Ojukwu and Wife bianca

DEATH

On 26 November 2011, Ikemba Odumegwu Ojukwu died in the United Kingdom after a brief illness, aged 78. The Nigerian army accorded him the highest military accolade and conducted funeral parade for him in Abuja, Nigeria on 27 February the day his body was flown back to Nigeria from London before his burial on Friday, 2 March 2012. He was buried in a newly built mausoleum in his compound at Nnewi. Before his final internment, he had about the most unique and elaborate weeklong funeral ceremonies in Nigeria besides Chief Obafemi Awolowo, whereby his body was carried around the five Eastern states, Imo, Abia, Enugu, Ebonyi, Anambra, including the nation's capital, Abuja. Memorial services and public events were also held in his honour in several places across Nigeria, including Lagos and Niger state his birthplace. the former head of state "Chief Olusegun Obasanjo expressed sadness at the death of Odemegwu Ojukwu.

“It is with deep sadness that I received the news of the demise of my friend and colleague.

“He and I were subalterns in the army at Nigeria’s independence in 1960.

“In a way, his death marks the end of an era in Nigeria.

Obasanjo also reminisced over discussions he had with Ojukwu before the latter’s demise.

In an interview in London, Obasanjo recalled particularly that at several times, he discussed the possibility of an expression of remorse from Ojukwu “on the Nigerian civil war which in itself was a culmination of actions and reactions’’.

“I condole with his family and pray for the repose of his soul.’

DEATH, they say, is an acquired trait, and there is no mortal who will not taste of its bitter pill. When it will come, no mortal knows; but like an unrelenting

stalker, it shadows its victims and takes them away the way a hen plucks its feathers. 

And so, Chief Chukwuemeka  Odumegwu-Ojukwu, the Ikemba Nnewi and the undisputable leader of Igbo nation is dead. His death is, nonetheless, a sting in the tail for the former Biafran warlord, who fought with death on several occasions to remain alive, but eventually capitulated to its superior power as he bade the world farewell on Saturday, 26th November, 2011in a London hospital at the age of 78.

Ojukwu, a historian, soldier and politician, was hated and loved by many, depending on which side of  the divide one is looking at his life and times. For larger segment of Nigerians and beyond, he represented the soul of Nd’Igbo, even as some still have reservation on his leadership for leading the Igbo to the ill-fated Nigerian/ Biafran civil war in 1967.

His death marks a watershed, the end of yet another monumental epoch, in Nigeria’s turbulent history. As an Igbo nationalist, soldier, politician and thinker, Ojukwu is unarguably the greatest son of Igboland yet after Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe.

                farewell the irriplaceble hero of Igbo land and Nigeria, your memories will never be erased!

 

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Updated 4 Years ago
 

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