By Emeka Obasi
Nigerian History without Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu is like gun without bullet. Love him, hate him. Rebel leader or General of the people’s Army, there is much to learn from the earthly sojourn of this son of a multi millionaire who though not as wealthy, affected the globe more than his dad.
Emeka Ojukwu was different in so many ways. Born in Zungeru in the North, his early school years were spent in Lagos. His roots, Nnewi, in the East did not get to see much of their son until the Civil War years. And there he rests today, eternally.
Ojukwu came in November and died in November. That is also the month of birth of three other Nigerian leaders : Dr. Nnamdi Nnamdi Azikiwe, Gen. Murtala Mohammed and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan.
Like Zik, Ojukwu was born in Zungeru. Sir Luis Ojukwu and Azikiwe were friends. At the military academy in Teshie, Ghana Capt. Ojukwu taught Murtala Tactics. In 2011 when Ojukwu died, Jonathan was president. The leader of Biafra was given full military burial.
You cannot take his achievements away. Ojukwu was the first university graduate to join the Nigeria Army. He enlisted as a recruit, without letting the instructors know he had a post graduate degree in History from Oxford University.
This same man had served as a senior officer in the Colonial service in Udi. And his mother owned Jubilee Hotel, Zaria. He sneaked into the military training Depot. A smart European drill sergeant was not going to be deceived by one equally smart African trainee.
Ojukwu taught his teacher how to pronounce English words. Sure, the son of a super rich man who lived big in the United Kingdom cruising a Rolls Royce tried to show the instructor that Africans were not inferior to their colonial masters.
Game over, Ojukwu had to be recommended for officers course. Back to Britain he went. Eaton Hall, Chester was the new training ground. More courses at Hythe and Warminster gave him the best he needed.
Ojukwu would later become the first indigenous Quarter Master General (QMG) of the Nigeria Army. His academic background and sojourn in England made him understand the intrigues of colonialism and the place of Africans as pawns.
At 11 in 1944, Emeka did the unthinkable. He slapped a Kings College, Lagos teacher, Mr. Sleigh, for maltreating an African woman. That had nothing to do with his father’s wealth. However, it was enough to take him away from Lagos to Epson College, Surrey.
At Epson, Ojukwu also left a mark. He was the school’s Junior discuss champion and played rugby. He was unlikely to be bullied by anyone because he combined brain with brawn. And money was not a problem at all.
As an army officer, Ojukwu was outstanding. He served with the United Nations in Congo and became attached emotionally to the Fifth Battalion, Kano. His first posting was there, he returned in 1961 and eventually commanded the battalion before Gen. Johnson Aguiyi Ironsi appointed him Military Governor of Eastern Region on January 1966.
If anyone doubted Ojukwu’s love for country, Kano cleared all that. His driver was Yusuf Azi, a Berom. Yusuf Abdulkadir Kanabe, served as orderly. Chief Clerk, Pius Ayegba was Igala. His best friends were Ado Bayero, who later became Emir of Kano and Yakubu Gowon.
The trio of Gowon, Bayero and Ojukwu frequented Samaritan club, Kaduna as well as the home of the Ikes whose father was one of the early Anglican missionaries to the North. Edith Ike eventually became Gowon’s friend and they have a son, Musa Ngonadi.
Ojukwu was the only one who dared Chukwuma Nzeogwu during the January 1966 coup. As the Commanding officer, Fifth battalion, Kano, he detained Captain Chris Ude who was sent to the Junior Nzeogwu to collect money from a Lt.col.
The same Ojukwu talked of restructuring Nigeria when crisis took everyone to Peduase Lodge, Aburi, Ghana in January 1967. Today our politicians are seeing what Ojukwu saw 53 years ago. The Eastern Region declared Biafra in 1967. This is 2020, Biafra is still an issue.
Biafra was necessary in May 1967. Ojukwu did not carry everyone along as from 1968. He lost the support of wise men like Zik and other elders. This did not help as powerful African statesmen who had soft spot for the secessionists because of Azikiwe stayed away.
The war effort also became a mess. Biafran ingenuity was there but Ojukwu did not even trust some of his best officers. He removed Hilary Njoku as Army Chief, sidelined Alex Madiebo until things got really bad. You could imagine sending Brig. Sylvanus Nwajei, a GOC to man a fuel Depot, Brig. Tony Orji, Nigeria’s first Signals commander to the Fire Brigade and Col. Ogboo Oji to the police.
Emeka Ojukwu was not a coward. He fought in Oguta, carrying an MG1, during Operation Now or Never. His half brother, Lt. Tom Biggar, died in battle with Nzeogwu. Ojukwu flew to Abidjan in search of peace, a code for exile. He came back, lost senatorial election to Dr. Edwin Onwudiwe. The man died, in London. And we have not achieved peace here.