By Anthony A. Kila
Once a person and above all a personality dies it is common practice to treat him or her with kindness and with more compassion and general understanding. After death, hatchets are buried and hitherto foes are seen through less hostile prisms. The case was not different in the case of the Emeka Ojukwu, but we also saw something beyond mere compassion. In death, Ojukwu was not just buried with compassion and dignity, he was apotheosized.
It must be said at this point that Emeka Ojukwu was neither the first military officer, military governor, regional leader nor politician to die and get a national or state funeral in Nigeria. Many other leaders have held such posts after him and many more have had state funerals before him but I doubt anything can be compared to what we saw for the Biafran leader. No doubt, the National Burial Committee chaired by Justice Chukwudifu Oputa and co-chaired by Senator Uche Chukwumerije did a fantastic job but the Eze Igbo Gburugburu had led a life with an end only few can even dream of.
The glorification of the dead Emeka Ojukwu began in Lagos where he grew up and studied in Nigeria like me. As a big fan of Ikemba, I was there at the Tafawa Balewa Square with some old and new friends to pay our last tributes to this great man and what we met there was a rare enchanting pan Nigerian spirit on display. Protagonists of the occasion were not just the expected Lagosians of Igbo origin shouting “Igbo Kwenu” but a host of well known Nigerians from different parts of the federation there at the occasion as Nigerians and feeling at home at the event.
The process of apotheosis of Ojukwu was initiated by Dr Tunji Braithwaite, the Lagos based legendary lawyer, politician and childhood friend of the late Biafran leader, who in his capacity as chairman of the Lagos event for Ojukwu stunned most listeners when he took the microphone and in an unusual short speech, for Nigerian standards, declared that his friend, Emeka, only waged war against corruption, lies, and injustice not against his fatherland. In his own words he said; “let me correct the wrong impression that Ojukwu declared war against his fatherland, what he declared war against was corruption, lies and injustice. That’s why we would continue to declare war against lies, injustice and corruption so that we can have a united and better Nigeria”! His speech was received and continuously interrupted by the thunderous applause of the square.
The speeches that followed Dr Tunji Braithwaite ‘s oration were by other well known Nigerians of different national descent and their speeches were all in line with the chairman of the occasion’s speech.
Later during the proper funeral rites, former military head of state and commander in chief of the Nigerian armed forces during the civil war, General Dr. Yakubu Gowon, although not physically present at the ceremony was represented and his message amongst other things read that “Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu loved Nigeria so much, he merely wanted to opt out because of the perceived injustice meted out to his people”.
In the last weeks since he passed away, media reports online and in print have been full of reports and testimonies by analysts and observers praising and repositioning Emeka Ojuwku as not just a rebel or defender of his people but a true patriot and champion of justice.
As if not to be outdone by others, the governor of Niger State and chairman of the northern governor’s forum, Dr Muazu Babangida Aliyu was even more direct and went to the point of empathizing with the late Ikemba. Aliyu who spoke at a funeral held in honor of the late Biafran leader at his birthplace in Zungeru, Niger State, said Ojukwu fought for the emancipation of the less-privileged. He said Ojukwu was misunderstood, positing that the former Biafran warlord was forced by the circumstances to take up arms and protect his people. In Aliyu own words “He was forced to take up arm to protect his people. If I was in his shoes I could have done the same!”
I personally love all these but even when we are crying or laughing, we must see through our tears and thus we must ask ourselves as individuals and as a people if Ojukwu is a hero, who then is the villain? If Ojukwu was right who was wrong then? We need to be clear here and avoid any kind of misunderstanding, hence we must emphasize that the ongoing mood of celebrating the great man is fantastic and the logical consequence of reconciliation is highly welcomed. As a people however, for the sake of justice and for the benefit of our future union we must without prejudice ask ourselves a rather simple but pregnant question: which individuals or group committed the atrocities and injustices Ojukwu spent his life fighting? We must ask and answer the questions: who benefitted from Ojukwu’s battles and losses, is there a way for such villain or villains to redeem themselves?