While the body of the late Biafran leader, Dim Emeka Odimegwu- Ojukwu, waits to be buried in the first week of February, the same kind of incidents that led to his being forced to secede over 40 years ago is beginning to rear its ugly head again. Day in day out, scores of Southerners living in Northern Nigeria are being killed by the terrorist group, Boko Haram, and forced to return to their homes. Majority of these are Igbos, the ethnic group of the late Biafran leader. Unfortunately, many Igbo leaders have refused to make meaningful comments of concern about this. However in this exclusive interview, Debe Odumegwu-Ojukwu, first son of the late general speaks extensively about the injustice that led to Biafra in the first place, and how it may ultimately force the nation back to strife, this time, permanently. He spoke to Correspondent Onukwube Ofoelue also concerning the preparations for the burial of Ikemba Nnewi: ‘With Boko Haram killings, obviously Igbos are no longer welcome’
How will you describe your father, the late Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu?
He was a loving father, a consummate administrator, and a very compassionate leader.
While some have described him as a selfless fighter, others chose to see him as an opportunist who took advantage of the situation on ground to seek power for himself. What do you say about his?
Naturally, one would expect me to be on the side of those who see him as a selfless leader. To me, from the beginning to the end, that was what he had always been, and that is what he aptly represented. To me, selfless leader is the most apt, and I think that clichÃ© â€˜selfless leaderâ€™ is the most apposite remark to describe his person. But then, that I not feign ignorance, or be oblivious of the fact that there are people on the other side who might use other, not-so-benign epithets to describe him. They might call him opportunist, they might call him any other thing, but then, we talk of opportunism. What is opportunistic in a young man, who at his age, had had the best of education?
What is opportunistic about a young man who had been at the pinnacle of the local authority administration- he was an ADO, when most of his mates were still leaving secondary school? Then he joined the army- he was the best in the military, among the first graduates to join the Nigeria Army. I donâ€™t see anything opportunistic about it. He was groomed for the position, and he was there at the right time. What is then opportunistic in a man who had gone to England, gone to US an academia, but chose to remain with his people? He could have died during the war. He could have been wounded, but then he decided to brave the odds and vote for this people. I donâ€™t think that is opportunism- rather I will see that as being very chivalrous. Itâ€™s the hallmark of the essential leader
. There are those who see him as one who did not exhaust every means for dialogue before calling for secession of Igbo? Being very objective, would you agree?
Those who say that he didnâ€™t explore pacifism to its stretch are those who are somewhat ignorant of the history of what happened during the war. It is on record and undeniable, that at a point, the pogrom came in waves. The pogrom, the systematic decimation of Igbos in the North came in waves. Here was the one that came in May, then the one that came in July, immediately after the assassination of Major General Aguiyi Ironsi, and then, the bigger one in September- here were three waves.
If I were to have a recourse to history, it is well written and it is accepted, and it was witnessed, that after the second wave, he did appealed to the Igbos to go back to the North. In Enugu for instance, Alhaji Altine, who was the Sarkin Hausawa in Enugu, was escorted to the boundaries of the East and North for him to go home peacefully. Having asked our people, even after the killing of Ironsi to go back, and then that third and most decisive wave of September 1966 now happened, he felt tacitly responsible for the death of those ones.
He felt as a benign human being, as a compassionate leader, but for his insistence that they go back, we would have had those best brains being part of the Igbo nation today. He regretted it and that was it. That was the deciding factor. It was what in war they call â€˜Crossing the Rubiconâ€™.
Given the current crises of Boko Haram and insecurity in Nigeria today, especially in the North, would you say Ojukwuâ€™s move would have been the best for this country?
Undeniably so. In Mathematics, the most malignant aspect of mathematics is what we call recurring decimal. The issue has kept on recurring. Why not we try that panacea which we rejected? There was an alternative, to become a confederation, if not separation, the main thrust of the Aburi Accord. And it was rejected over the years, running to 40 years. Why has it been difficult for us to try the alternative panacea?
There is the Boko Haram problem in the North today, and it is becoming obvious that the target of the sect is the Igbos, just like in the 60s. What is your take on the loud silence of current crop of Igbo leaders?
It is not always good for us to talk about killings in the North. When there is intense heat, the wise thing to do is to go away from the heat, and realign, and reconsider your position. The ideal thing would have been for the Igbos to come home. Come home and let us renegotiate Nigeria. A visit entails a certain element of risk. When you visit somebody, you could meet with accident, or reception, or acceptance. You could equally meet with ejection. But then, when you are rejected, the wise thing to do is to go home. So my belief is that the correct thing could have been for the Igbos to come back home, and renegotiate Nigeria.
That contradicts what Senator Uche Chukwumerije recently said; that Igbo leaders are not in a hurry to conclude on what to do about the killing of Igbos in the North by Boko Haram, and that Igbos should stay back in the North. What do you make of this?
He is entitled to his opinion, but as far as I am concerned, the first law of defence is self-defence. You defend yourself first. You run for safety before you realign yourself, reposition yourself before attack. They are the owners of the place, they are northerners, and that is the bottom-line. Obviously, we are not welcome in their homeland. The best thing we should do is to come back home and manage with what we have at home, while we renegotiate.
Igbos in the North are saying that if we insist that they return to the East, what are they expected to do about the heavy investments they have done in the North?
That is the problem. I have my own view about life itself. You donâ€™t gain in life, you donâ€™t lose in life. It is a continuum. You come with nothing and you go with nothing. The most dangerous thing to the existence of our nation is the inordinate attachment to material wealth. The northerner comes to your house with a mat. He is always ready to go, and that is why in most cases, he is like thin air. You go to England; a lot of people are getting detached from property. The whites enter into a house furnished and he comes with his brief case only, and after a year or two, leaves with his brief case for another furnished apartment. But we like to own everything. Most of the things they are investing in the North, they could have invested in the East. Two major things rivet a human being- marriages and material things.
If an Igbo goes to the North and gets married to a Hausa woman, there is nothing that will make him go home, even if they are cutting off his head. Itâ€™s the same thing, if you go there and you build the biggest skyscraper, you will not go. Of course when they attack you, the thrust is with a view to acquire what you have laboured for. So the wisdom in acquisition is location of your assets in safe areas.
Since the passing on of Ojukwu, a lot of calls have been made for a new leader for the Igbo. Commentators, however, think that there is no one qualified today to step into his shoes, which many believe are too large. What is your take on this?
My fatherâ€™s shoes are obviously very big. But as I have always told people, the shoes were tempered by the extant situation. You cannot produce an Ojukwu during a peaceful time. You cannot produce an Ojukwu at a wedding reception. You cannot produce an Ojukwu during a gala nite. You need a very strong, debilitating, extinguishing crisis, and then an Ojukwu will emerge.
While sitting very comfortably in my house- the Ojukwu in me will not come out becaue I am enjoying air condition, I am watching Sky News. But when people around me are being exterminated, that devil will come up; that warrior will come out. That unique individual will come up. He was the most popular officer in the Nigerian Army. He taught his mates many things. He taught them etiquettes by virtue of being groomed in England. He was the one that told them where to have the best parties in town, and they always looked up to him.
Then suddenly, something else cropped up. You could imagine the shock, when the man they thought they could always buy stood firmly. Is it Emeka they are talking about, no, he is our friend. But now, it became a question of â€˜my peopleâ€™ and your people. The real him came out, and he maintained that till the end. So it will be out of place for anybody then to say he can fit in his shoes. Anybody that tells you he can fill his shoes is a joker. Look at Boko Haram. Who has tried to get into it and wear half of the shoes?
Nobody is talking, that is the issue. Everybody is corseted by contracts, by political attachments. That is why they are not talking. You can only talk when you are free. You cannot talk when you borrowed money from the banks, and the government is aware that you took the money without collateral. You cannot talk.
What kind of man did you perceive him to be during those troubled times?
I did not see much of him during the war. He was always a marshal man, always strategizing. There is no way you could see a general all the time. He was very busy with strategies, conferring with his war commanders, and you know how tasking that could be. Because of the war, the easiest way to kill a general is to bring his family close to him. He would lose focus, and would not go far. That was why it was a public policy that his family should not be close to him during the war. He fought the war alone, on his own.
What do you think about the controversies on whether he should be given a state burial or not?
I think there shouldnâ€™t have been any controversy. He was mini-fes, and that in itself entitles him to that. Mini-fes means he was among the first graduates of the Nigerian army. He was in the public service; he was a military governor, in control of what today could have been about nine states. Then, he led a country- he led Biafra. Whatever pretensions we make about Biafra could not obliterate the fact that the same Biafra was recognized by four independent states that are still existing.
Those independent states dealt with a country. There were exchange of letters of credence between those states and Biafra. So coextensively, he was a head of state, even though some may deny it, who should be entitled to a state funeral. Ivory Coast is there, there is Gabon, Haiti, and France. Are we saying that these people are no longer countries? Are we saying that they are no longer territories within the ambit of the place that was called Biafra? If they recognized Biafra, then Biafra was a country. It was a state, and he died a head of state. He is entitled, and should have been given a state burial. If for anything, at least to douse the tension between the North and the South. The problem we have in the country is the problem of acceptance. Once we entrench truth and justice, most of these problems we are encountering today will be a thing of the past.
There are those who still strongly believe in Biafra. In fact, there are pointers that 80 to 90 per cent Igbo still strongly believe that Biafra will still become a nation, given the state of the nation today. What is your opinion given the fact that your father was the champion of this cause?
I believe in Biafra. I wake up every day a Biafran. But my concept of Biafra today is different from what I had many years ago. My Biafra of today encapsulates injustice. So if you are unjust to me, the Biafran in me rises. If you are just to me, the Biafran in me is doused. The clamour for Biafra today as I extensively discussed with my father is a cry against injustice. If truth itâ€™s fully entrenched in Nigeria, there will be no clamour for Biafra. But itâ€™s the flagrant and perverse injustice in the nation that engenders these pockets of cries for Biafra.
What do you think about the role of MASSOB and other such groups in the South East and South South?
MASSOB is playing a very good role. In French, there is what we call Ã¡vante provacateurâ€™, agent of provocation. I see MASSOB as a catalyst. They are there to make sure that the Igbos are not ignorant of who they are. Without that central body, there will be no voice today for the Igbos. MASSOB is there to remind them; even though some might say that some of their methods are crude. But in the absence of every other thing, MASSOB is a welcome development. MASSOB does not act in isolation- that is still that thing am telling you about truth and justice.
When you talk about truth and justice, MASSOB is a bad organisation. Why is Odua Peopleâ€™s Congress not a bad organisation? Why is Arewa Consultative Forum not a bad organisation? It is always easy to write off MASSOB, to give names to MASSOB. If OPC could exist in Yoruba land and play a very good role for them, there is nothing wrong with MASSOB. It is only when it degenerates into a violent organ that it should attract condemnation. But if all they do is peaceful, I endorse them 100 per cent.
Ojukwu is perhaps the greatest Igbo in modern history. How does it feel like to be son to the greatest Igbo man in our times?
Itâ€™s out of this world. I sit in my privacy and wonder why I became so lucky. I donâ€™t have any other extra qualities to be that. Ordinary me, his son? Check it from all ramifications, not only am I his son, but I am his clone. He gave me all he had- I have never seen that kind of love before. The approximation could be what you see in the Bible- â€˜For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Sonâ€™. You could also say, â€˜For this man so loved his son that he gave him all he had. He gave me his intellect, he gave me his physique- he gave me everything about him. The only question I have never asked him is why I deserve all these. I am the only one he worried about in the whole world, the only person who made him cry when I went wrong. At times, I try to take the liberty of a child playing pranks. He did not allow me. I would do certain things and you would see his eyes redhot, as if he was saying, you did this to me? He took it very personal. That always kept me on my toes, because I never wanted to offend him
via National Mirror