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Sunday, 27 November 2011

Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu is dead. Leader of Biafra, patriot, hero to many.

Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, the Ikemba of Nnewi, Ezeigbo, is dead (1933 - 2011). A colossus among the Igbo people, possibly the most famous Igbo man of his generation and perhaps of all time, he led his people into a struggle to break away from Nigeria. Biafra, the sessionist State he led, survived only 30 months between 1967 - 1970, but the pride, pain and tears created by those years continues to live on over 40years later. Many Igbo people are nostalgic about Biafra and wonder 'what if'. What if the war had been successful? What if Biafra was an independent functioning nation today?

No man is all hero or all villain - most are a unique mixture of many elements. In this giant of a man, I see many qualities - a caring for his people, a dogged determination to keep the war going in the midst of overwhelming odds, a ruthless streak needed to keep sending young men to the front even when the cause was helpless, a desire for freedom for the Igbo people, a naive idealism that the 'idea' of a nation could survive the overwhelming odds of military superiority of arms and men that finally crushed the dream.

Many non-Igbo Nigerians have long forgotten the causes of Nigeria's civil war, it is glossed over in our history books and the concept of a unified Nigeria is fed to all. I cannot claim to understand the place Ojukwu holds in the hearts of his people, the Igbos but I can recognise a patriot when I see one. It is easy to forget today the failed military coup in 1966 and its bloody aftermath that led to one of the first recorded acts of ethnic cleansing in Nigerian history. Over 10,000 Igbo people were slaughtered in Northern Nigeria in a few weeks. In acts of brutal genocide, Igbo men, women and children were wiped out by their Northern neighbours among whom they had lived, worked, and laughed for years.

In the midst of this, after the failed peace talks in Aburi with the Nigerian Government, Ojukwu, then a young man of 33, military governor of the Eastern Region of Nigeria, rose up and called upon his people to take up arms, to carve out a nation where they could live in peace, to break-up the artificial union called Nigeria created by the whim of the colonial British. His bold experiment failed. It is estimated that between 1 - 3 million people died in the devastating war that pitted Nigeria against Biafra. Many died of starvation - photographs of starving Biafran children with stick-thin legs and huge stomachs is still imprinted on the minds of many in the West. The evil of a civil war is that when people who had considered themselves to be of the same nation, turn against each other, the ensuing savagery and brutality is usually worse that a war among strangers.

I am a Nigerian. Nigeria has a lot wrong with it but I am proud to be a Nigerian. If Ojukwu had succeeded, if Biafra had succeeded, there would be no Nigeria today. I would be a citizen of a vastly different nation. Nigeria would have broken up as the Yorubas would not have stayed in a union with the Hausas. We would have 3 separate Nations today with everyone going to war over who controlled the oil-producing Delta areas. Many think maybe that might have been a better solution for Nigeria, however, in many ways, all I can see is an alternate universe fraught with insurmountable perils.

Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, a man whose name has gone down into history has died today. He will be remembered as a patriot, a hero, an Oxford educated historian, a military leader, a fighter, the leader of a short-lived 'nation', son of a millionaire, an idealist who gave up his a life of privilege to try to create a new destiny for his race. Today it is time to say RIP Ezeigbo. RIP Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu. The legend that is Biafra salutes you, the Igbo people salute you, Nigerians salute you.

Nigeria, your country that probably emerged stronger and more unified out of the ashes of the civil war, salutes you.

Farewell Emeka Ojukwu. Farewell Dikedioramma (beloved hero). Farewell.


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