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Dim Ojukwu’s Transformational Death and Burial Rites: Epitaph for Dim Ojukwu (1933-2011)



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Patrick Iroegbu



No doubt, we all can now see that Dim Ojukwu’s death and burial rites have become so transformational and unifying of the Igbo and Nigerians. He is one to be learned from. He fought a war against ethnic injustices not against Nigeria. His legacies will endure in Nigerian story. Apparently, Dim Ojukwu’s ongoing transformational and unifying burial rites occupying Nigeria today are significant for many issues and events. Among them are the resonance of Nigerian unity in his personhood, the upshots of ethnic hate, war, terrorism, sectional militant groups and confusion. Another is the current Nigeria’s insecurity predicament and therefore the unleashing of critical economic and social corruption that must be relentlessly sourced out, confronted and addressed. As such, Ojukwu was a phenomenal Igbo leader and Nigerian who singularly lived and fought against ethnic and religious injustices, the killings of the Igbo in the 1960s pogrom, and more particularly, the debunking of corruption, insensitivity and clumsiness shown for managing Nigerian citizenship and regional residence patterns with none indigenes. Be it known that the Biafran-Nigerian civil war is ranked third in the world among the worst of all ethnic wars sponsored by the Federal government of the people. The Armenian and Nazi pogroms ranked first and second respectively. What is more, Ojukwu engaged with the inevitable Biafran case against ethnic humiliation of his people in order to open up the context of prompting the powers that be to act responsibly for all people’s total inclusion, opportunity and security.

It is special to transform Nigerian unity through Ojukwu’s lived life and death and to show the new dimensions of his beliefs and practices of forging Nigerian unity and progress. What is so special include but not limited to a common place encomium such as “we the Igbo believed so much in him as he relied and confided in us. And now that he is dead, we must give him and the family all the respect and support they deserve as a rite of need. We have organized mass services, rallies, viewing respects, singing, dancing, prayers, galore tributes, symposia and lectures at different places and stadia on the life and times of the late leader. Dim Ojukwu is special because he is a name and persona that gathers people to do their things and be happy. Eze Igbo Gburugburu, the voice and power (Ikemba) of his people which he was and lived out fully can never be re-filled. What a deep vacuum?

By extolling the virtues of Odumegwu-Ojukwu, Dr. Tunji Braithwaite noted that “some people erroneously alleged that Odumegwu-Ojukwu waged a war against his fatherland. He said that what Odumegwu-Ojukwu rather did was to declare war of a historic and special significance against injustice, corruption, deception and lies, adding that what he did would have received wider international blessings if it were to be now” (The Guardian Online Feb. 24, 2012).

It must be noted that the Aburi Accord struck in Ghanain the 1960s to unite and advance Nigerian military political thoughts and structures as a consequence of the ethnic and military uprisings of the time remained one such accord on which Nigeria can stand and learn by taking its issues to the table of discourse and action for all.

From Dr. Waziri Garba Dahiri, NARD PRO, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria we can now read a comment of frustration based on ethnic social disconnect, politics, ignorance and misinformation thus, “Why all these please, don’t we have something better to discuss? Dr. Waziri is referring to the pomp and pageantry around the death and burial rites of Dim Ojukwu occupying Nigeria and Nigerians presently. Such a significant death and burial that has dwarfed any other form of public funeral and organized national events in Nigeria ever is meaningful and symbolic and should be followed, enjoyed and studied. Where would you say you were and participated in transforming Nigerian unity in the likes of Dim Ojukwu of your own time and world?

Dr. Waziri is not happy, and clearly he is in distress much like his types in the North and West of Nigeria. It is often said, that, if you can beat them, join them to be on the safe side. Ojukwu is all these, all that, and all this in the thinking of his structured enemies and haters. He is all Nigeria can be on the question of fighting ethnic and religious injustices, forming Nigerian unity and representing the heart and body of culture of his people. But who can be compared with Ojukwu in Nigeria and why can’t he be all these in the manner and grudges of the ilk of Dr. Garba Waziri? What can Dr. Garba Waziri be for Nigeria? No one knows. But Ojukwu’s being and legacy for understanding and building Nigeria up will live for Nigeria and for his people at all times. That is why he is all these, that is the celebrations and historic tributes he is getting across the cities of the world where his genius and personhood have endured among his people. There is nothing better to discuss in Nigeria today than the Ojukwu of all times, a hero with a difference in Nigerian university of unity and nation building.

By arguing the question, “what is so special about Dim Ojukwu’s death”, an epitaph for Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu was inscribed, noting him as a rebel we should not waste our time celebrating. This is an apparent wrong cue, critically speaking for people like Dr. Garba Waziri of Zaria. Why is it so? It is because, for Waziri, he won’t understand it. I mean Ojukwu’s transformational death. It is a misfit in the history of events in modern Nigeria that educated people like Waziri will be poking face and blood when heroes die and face celebrations of their life and times by the living fans of such heroes and heroines. At least, to fail to understand why Ojukwu’s death is so special correlates with why Dr. Garba Waziri and his Northerners continue to kill Nigerians from other ethnic communities in the North. You won’t get it also due to your apathy to religious and inter-ethnic peace in Nigeria. Neither would you follow Nigerian history, particularly the attempt to wipe Igbo population out and learn the lessons for continuity and growth. Ojukwu stood out to say no to the well criticized folly of the Federal Government biases and mismanagement of the killings of the Igbo and their role in Nigerian unity and development in the 1960s. Ojukwu is the Holy Bible of Nigerian life and cultures particular to unity. If anyone wants to understand the troubles of Nigeria, read Ojukwu, google and facebook him. His verses, chapters, riddles and metaphors of Nigeria have been defined through the powerful words of Ojukwu on the issues bedevilling Nigeria. Good things stand out, and Ojukwu, a body of culture of goodness did of his times.

Following human rights struggles for his people, the Igbo of Nigeria; he invested his education, career, wealth and comfort to shield his people from extinction. It is through the Igbo of today in Nigeria that Ojukwu clearly taught Nigeria what it takes to forge a collective unity. He understood Nigeria more than any Nigerian – dead or alive – and what needs to be done to mobilize Nigeria and defend Nigerian unity. With the experiences of war, Ojukwu opened Nigeria up to be studied, understood and restructured as it is today. Without Ojukwu, there will be no Nigerian development, opportunity and inclusion as it is today. Ojukwu’s death is so special for many significant things. A first class and distinguished Oxford University chap, a brilliant military postgraduate personality Nigerian army had to unfold and layer. He quickly showed the nation that the critical education needed for the military and police forces is part of the curiosity for Nigerian challenges for development.

A leader of a first class genre, orator, fearless, wise, brave, dynamic, gifted genius, and of course a LION of hope and action specially fashioned for Nigeria of his time. He spoke whenever it mattered to speak, acted whenever it mattered to act, rallied people whenever duty calls to do so for solidarity and national unity. Ojukwu was the courageous singular Nigerian who commanded such a collective will of a people more than any other Nigerian in history. He loved his people, Nigeria, particularly the Igbo. He spoke the major languages in Nigeria– Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, etc., he also wrote books, made critical headlines in news and circles of political leadership. He contested elections to become president of Nigeria. He was a highly sought after public person and leader for advice and endorsement.

At a young age of 33, he became a head of state; led Biafran Republic, fought war, went into exile, returned, never got charged nor tried by any court in Nigeria and outside. His sainthood of war action against the mistreatment of his people started with the declaration of the end of the war by Gowon’s No victor, no vanquished.’ Gowon understood that Ojukwu was right to seek palliatives for his oppressed people in Nigeria. With 13 years in exile to calm the anxieties of the war down, he received Federal Government’s unconditional pardon under President Shehu Shagari, begged to return home and indeed was nationally welcomed back toNigeriato rejoin in the formation of its unity and development. While any other could have been charged for treason, Ojukwu was not. He was not because he possessed what others lacked. An asset and resource that must be harnessed rather than destroyed. Why all these, is because, he was wise, fought a just war of survival and stood to be proud of what he did until his death.Nigeriahas come of age to learn and draw from its history, its story of conflicts and resolutions. Nigeria needs to think and probably begin to understand why Ojukwu’s death is so special and will continue to be for decades to come. If anyone cannot make noise for Ojukwu with regard to celebrating his heroism, something is wrong with how that one views history and Nigerian issues which Ojukwu embodied.

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Dr.  Garba Waziri is Osondi, Owendi in Igbo parlance, which literally means some people are joyful, but others are angry, disturbed. But we take solace on how eminent Nigerians are now thinking Nigerian history and Ojukwu together for advancement of his legacies. As reported by journalist Kamal Tayo Oropo, Samson Ezea, Joseph Onyekwere, Chijoke Iremeka (Lagos) and Ezeocha Nzeh (Abuja) in The Guardian Online Newspapers, on Friday, February 24, 2012, Eminent Nigerians have found it so exciting to honour Odumegwu-Ojukwu with superlative terms as never before.  A roll call of comments on Ojkwu and tributes to usher in respect and ally of his being will never be finished.

Honour and tribute rolls being used to qualify the late Biafran leader, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, have attractively turned to show that he was a man whose courage, excellence, patriotism and selfless service were beyond compare. That is why all these and that is why we cannot find a better stuff to talk about. Wise people discuss ideas and approaches to things signified in personalities like Ojukwu, they say, but foolish people concern themselves with frivolities.  That is why all these, please.

Reported experiences around the burial rites of Ojukwu can be drawn from what happened at the Tafawa Balewa Square (TBS),Lagos recently.  The event was organized by the Lagos State government in conjunction with Ndi Igbo in Lagos as part of the funeral activities for Odumegwu-Ojukwu. According to the journal news report, the roll call of eminent personalities at the event chaired by renowned lawyer, Dr. Tunji Braithwaite included Governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Fashola, his predecessor, Bola Tinubu, former governor of Ekiti State, Niyi Adebayo, governor of Imo State, Chief Rochas Okorocha, governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi, former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, Oko monarch and professor of music, Laz Ekwueme and professor of political economy, Pat Utomi. The list cannot be exhausted here.

However, the venue was highly secured by a combined team of security agencies who freaked people coming in from one of the main-gates opened for pedestrians. Inside the venue, combat-ready men of the State Security Services, searched those with bags. The performances of Igbo war songs by Igbo troupes, cadets of Kings College, an orchestra-like musical rendition led by Prof. Ekwueme who also did the National Anthem added colour to the event. Odumegwu-Ojukwu was an alumnus of Kings College. The ceremony, com-peered by the trio of Bisi Olatilo, Emeka Obasi and Paddy Njoku could easily pass as a carnival of cultural displays as various cluster groups, decked in beautiful traditional regalia helped to electrify the event.

Praising the virtues of Odumegwu-Ojukwu, as noted before, Lawyer Braithwaite noted that some people erroneously alleged that Odumegwu-Ojukwu waged a war against his fatherland. He corrected the notion by saying that what Odumegwu-Ojukwu rather did was to declare war against injustice, corruption, deception and lies, and equally added that what he did would have received wider international blessings if it were to be now.

He courageously said that: “What Emeka did, had it been now that the dynamics of international politics have changed, it would have stayed.” Braithwaite warned that unless a national conference was convened to allow Nigerians discuss the basis of their co-existence, prophecies of doom made about Nigeria might be fulfilled. He maintained that the members of the National Assembly on their own could not generate a people’s constitution because they (National Assembly) were the product of the defective constitution. He described Odumegwu-Ojukwu as a great man who loved his fatherland and should be celebrated with Nigerian unity as a focal point.

The host governor, Fashola, went through the nation’s war history and ended up eulogizing the contributions made by Odumegwu-Ojukwu. Governor Fashola asserted that never again would there be war in Nigeria. “I say never again to war inNigeria. Never again! My faith in the future of Nigeria remains enforced by the conviction that myself and my cousin, Ganiyu Okafor will never be separated by injustices that provoked the 1967-1970 confusion,” he insisted. Furthermore, Fashola said he would tell the next generation all he believed that Odumegwu-Ojukwu represented. According to him, the late Biafran leader should be celebrated. His words: “I will tell the next generation that Ojukwu was a man whose courage and sacrifice are worthy of emulation. He had deep love for his people. He was one of the greatest Nigerians who insisted on true federalism. He was resilient, resourceful and committed to his people. He lived for his people and Nigeria.

“He was an Iroko who stood tall above all. He believed in peace, unity, justice and freedom. He had courage and doggedness when he challenged the government of Lagos State. I will also tell the next generation that he was an author of Nigerian unity because he was involved.”

Senator Chukwumerije described the event as a home coming for Odumegwu-Ojukwu who was raised in Lagos. He expressed joy that the love Odumegwu-Ojukwu had for Lagos was being reciprocated, stressing that he was a patriot whose personal life mirrored the life ofNigeria.

For the national leader of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Odumegwu-Ojukwu was a powerful man worth celebrating. “He was a man very powerful in his generation. A great soldier and great thinker.  He enmeshed himself in the service of his people. He served his country in the military after graduating from one of the best universities in the world -Oxford. Highly intelligent, no Nigerian has altered the history of our nationhood as Ojukwu did for posterity aside Awolowo, Zik and the likes.

“He forwent the riches of his family and chose the patriotic lane. His voice was never drawn on issues that concerned him. He never compromised and for the sake of his people, Eze Igbo Gburugburu entered into politics instead of business.” Adebayo described the Biafran leader as a good, hardworking and loyal officer. Nwachukwu said Odumegwu-Ojukwu was against injustice and showed great courage. These entire put together is the more reason why Ojukwu’s death rites is transformational and does matter.

Speaking in the same direction, Prof. Pat Utomi charged the spirit of Odumegwu-Ojukwu to rise and fight injustice in Nigeria, adding that he was a great man. “Ojukwu spoke out. The issues that threw him up, as the leader of Igbos, are still very much with us”, said Dozie. In his own tribute, the national Chairman of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), Chief Victor Umeh described Odumegwu-Ojukwu as a colossus, and inevitable ICON who did so much for his people and Nigeria.

Governor Okorocha of Imo State whose presence elicited cheers from the crowd just as Tinubu, stated that the late ICON was not dead but alive because he died a hero, adding that he did not exit without leaving a legacy. Other speakers included Governor Obi, as well as Anyaegbu, Agbaso, leaders of other ethnic nationalities such as the Hausa community, Igbira and the Niger Delta. Besides, the wife of the President, Dame Patience Jonathan will lead a team of government officials to a grand funeral rally in honour of Odumegwu-Ojukwu.

The rally which is part of the funeral arrangements being put together by the Abuja chapter of the local organizing committee for the burial of the late Igbo leader will also have in attendance, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, Deputy Speaker Emeka Ihedioha as well as serving ministers and government officials as disclosed following the briefing of the press on the activities lined up in Abuja for burial rites of Odumegwu-Ojukwu by the chairman of the Abuja local organizing committee, Nwabueze Obi. He said that the rally, which would begin in the afternoon at the old parade ground in Abuja, would be preceded by a procession of Igbo youths and friends in some selected streets of the Federal Capital Territory. It is all these involving activities that are making all the brilliant and heavy weight noises for a hero, the Ojukwu of Nigeria, the people’s general. That is why all these – to give back to the man who gave his all to his people by the token of his special life and times that made a difference for Nigeria like no other. Deciding on what will be appropriate to immortalize Ojukwu is a big challenge to the Federal government, Eastern States and their Local Governments to feel his spirit and get his legacies out to live for all times. That is why all these, occupying Nigeria today, please; for Dr. Garba Waziri of Ahmadu Bello University of Zaria.

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In Zungeru, Wushihi LGA of Niger State, Ojukwu’s birth place, where the burial ceremonies of Ojukwu was also kicked off by the state governor Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu, the chairman of the occasion, Alhaji Sanusi Ado Bayero urged the citizenry that “in their march to finding peace and a united front, they should always learn the lessons of the history of the personalities of the ilk of Chief Ojukwu on whose laps a lot of responsibilities and inevitable torrents of events were led”. That is equally why all these, please.

Ojukwu stood out for himself and for others in the trajectories of his life and times in Nigerian society. He was well known, yet some people imagine him in Nigeria. He was real like Martin Luther King Junior of America was in the 1960s as a social genius and liberation theologian activist – well founded in his Ahiara Declaration speech for mobilization and unity against injustices and corruption. A ubiquitous mantra of cultural power, which ushered in a dream story and war action for his people to be become liberated. Let us not forget so quickly that Ojukwu was born into a humble and wealthy family, the foremost Nigerian family millionaire in history, late Sir Odumegwu Ojukwu. His father’s connection, fame and wealth earned Nigeria many opportunities during the struggle for independence. Ojukwu’s family and role in Nigeria’s nation building, and more particularly the aspirations of the Igbo and what Nigerian parents would want their children to be cannot be well expressed and understood if we fail to capture what Ikemba of Nnewi’s own father professed and invested in Emeka Ojukwu to be and to live with. That is also why all these social city and community engineering elicited by Ojukwu’s death and burial rites.

Let me emphasize again that tributes to a people’s hero will never be finished. It will live with the people any time and any where Ojukwu will be mentioned and remembered. From the Igboville facebook, where it is encouraged that people can assign their tributes, a statement issued points out that:

“Great people have come and gone, but their deeds remain worthy legacies, for today’s and tomorrow’s generations. Great accomplishments beckon to whoever believes that, dreaming it, is the first step towards achieving it. The passage of time is fast … and tomorrow begins today. For Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, it was love and care for Ndi Igbo as people of Nigeria. Everything he had and did, he offered and did advocacy for their meaningful right of existence, participation and inclusion. So he gave for us all that he had. To thank him enough, we cannot. But we can celebrate and honour him, as well as uphold that entire which he lived for. That is why all of these, please.

On the other side of ‘that is why all these, please’; in 2010, I taught a course – ‘Race and Racism in the Modern World’ in which I had included a topic material by way of a documentary by LAMENT prepared with some artistic perspectives – of which I wrote the preface – to students. The actual topic was on ethnicity and ethnic conflicts in nation building. I was so surprised how Canadians who participated in the course, including my fellow educators on what they saw and started crying for the Igbo with regard to Biafran war episodic experiences and lessons of unity it must have assigned Nigeria to work with. Many said that they thought Rwanda was the craziest ethnic rampage in Africa; not knowing it was the Biafran case. Since then, I have been saying and suggesting that any teacher or professor should add Biafran story into their course topics and highlight the agonies and weapons of this war – a war fought with hunger, machetes and unique guns of Biafra and what sense of thirst for unity Nigeria must learn and grow up with. That is why all these celebrations to capture the capturable capacities and ethnic dynamics from the voices of Nigerians and their allies toward reshaping the psyche and contributions to the theatre of political and economic redirections – for opportunity, security and inclusion of all Nigerians at all times.

At this juncture it is proper to declare by way of tribute that Ojukwu is Nigeria lived out in the life and times we shared Nigerian spaces and challenges of unity and development together – both in peace times of crusade for unity and development and also in war times forged out of ethnic and religious idiosyncrasies, differences and intolerances rather than commonalities and potentials for unity and advancement. That is why all these, for a man of the people – cannot be treated otherwise than stand to be offered a unique hero’s rites of passage of celebrations for the living to learn lessons and truly endure.

Ojukwu occupied Nigeria as Nigeria is occupied in Ojukwu for unity and growth.  The Angels are singing, and so shall we all! Adieu Ojukwu! Igbo kwenu! Enyi Biafra kwenu! Nigeria kwenu! Is deserved solidarity present? Is hope present? Is transformation present? Is security good to go? Is participation present? Is opportunity visible? Is inclusion present and open? Ojukwu endorsed all. That is why all these, without which less will be attained in the Nigerian complex society.

Let no one speak evil against the dead, in particular an elder who showed that life is living it out with impact for the other to better their own lives. Following the famous cliché of the late Fr. Prof. Pantaleon Iroegbu, life is, indeed, about giving out your best, succeeding, helping, not hindering those who want to belong and contribute to society and God. Ojukwu accomplished this mission.

Across major cities in Nigeria and in the Diaspora, Ojukwu’s death has excited prominent Nigerians, particularly the Igbo and their friends to organize lectures and symposia aimed at reflecting and discussing Nigeria namely to account for the circumstances that forced Ojukwu to respond to the calls by his people to declare war on ethnic injustices that humiliated them as well as towards fostering Nigerian confederation – as seen in the eyes of Ojukwuic phenomenon.

What more can I add to your achievements while on earth, your name and vision for Nigeria did just that like many other tributes have glorified. You came, you saw, you got involved, and you fought for justice for your people to earn respect life and dignity. Your legacies will be ongoing, will not be left to die, the great one, Eze Ndi Igbo and architect of mentoring Nigerian unity. You have done in one life-time what many of us cannot do in ten-life-times. Awesome Ojukwu, you were at local, national and international circles of Nigerian transformation.

Eulogizing Ojukwu by Nigerians of all ages has become a common experience everywhere the Igbo people are found. For them Ojukwu is a total embodiment of his people. Some have said the following:

  • Your      life exemplified truth, Justice and Love for your people.
  • We      stand in awe of your convictions and achievements as we mourn your      departure to the great beyond. Your memories would keep alive in us the      unrelenting hopes of a renaissance of the Igbo nation and the emergence of      a strong, virile, and equitable society in Igboland and forNigeria. Adieu,      Ikemba!
  • We      Nigerians are where we were 45 years ago because Nigeria never      believed in you. But now it will. Ikemba you have left a shoe too big for      anyone to wear. But God will return your genius and personhood to us soon;      yes he will.
  • You      may be dead but your spirit lives on with us. It is difficult to say      goodbye. To die a Nigeria might be your greatest regret at the onset but      now you preached it as a goal for unity. We can’t say much but goodbye to      eternal rest. Rest well in Peace, the Great gburugburu.

And, to crown it all, I say and urge you to join me and pray with the alleluia of having Ojukwu to be created in the first place, and indeed, born and delivered to Igboland and Nigeria: May Dim Ojukwu’s gallant body and cultural soul now and forever rest in God’s heavenly peace, amen! Adieu Ikemba of Nigerian dream for unity. You lived for your people, no more, no less. That is, by and large, one can say, why all these, and why so much is going on in honour of Ojukwu to whom it is due, please.

In his own words Ojukwu argued that “I am a Nigerian. But I am also an Igbo. It is my being Igbo that guarantees my Nigerianness as long as I live. Consequently, my Nigerianness shall not be at the expense of my Igboness. The Nigerian nation must therefore work for all ethnic nationalities in Nigeria.” (Dim Emeka Odumegwu Ikemba Ojukwu, Ezeigbo: 1933 – 2011).

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