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Wednesday, February 29, 2012



Fellow Nigerians, we are gathered here this morning, in our numbers, cutting across all strata of our society, from the north and the south, from the east and the west, representing the length and breadth of our vast and complex Nation, to pay tribute and bid final farewell to a remarkable Nigerian patriot!

The Scottish writer and thinker Thomas Carlyle said that history “is the essence of innumerable biographies.” In that sense we can truly say, with assured certainty that the life and times of the forceful, ebullient Ikemba, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, whose earthly departure we are assembled here to mourn today, will forever form a major essence of Nigeria’s history.

Men and women who make history are born with an inherently complex and intense drive that invariably renders them vulnerable to controversy, whether it be the saintly Mother Theresa of blessed memory or our very own enigmatic, trenchant, Ikemba Eze N’digbo Gburugburu around whose casket we are gathered here today.

I have no doubt that there are commentators and contemporary historians impatiently waiting to put forward their analysis of the eventful, terrestrial journey that Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu undertook in our world. His impact on his immediate society, on our country and humankind will be debated, dissected and intellectualised. Do not expect them all to be generous or kind. But we who shared his generation will require no such teaching. For, we too who lived through the multifaceted, convoluted crises that bedevilled and continued to traumatise our new nation would surely remember the tragic background against which he was called to leadership.

Even at seventy-eight years, we can say that Ikemba’s passing at this time was untimely. Imagine, therefore, how the magnitude of the national problems confronting him and his generation of military officers, still young in their thirties, must have loomed large and presumably insurmountable. The incredible life story of Ikemba began with his birth on November 4, 1933. Born into an aristocratic family of a wealthy millionaire father, Sir Louis Odumegwu Ojukwu, he was educated in the prestigious King’s College, Lagos and Oxford University, England, where he obtained a Master’s degree in History. This man was therefore tailor-made to inherit a colossal business empire, enjoy the benefits of stupendous wealth and all the power and privileges that such wealth could guarantee.

Our nation is today beset with an obsession to give minimally to the country but take maximally from the nation’s coffers! The young Emeka Ojukwu shocked family and friends by opting for a civil service job with postings to some of the remotest locations in Nigeria. In the same vein the irrepressible young man soon abandoned the civil service in 1957 to enlist as a Recruit in the Royal West Africa Frontier Force, thus making instant history as the first Nigerian graduate of a Master’s degree to join the Nigerian Army. As an Officer Cadet he received training in Ghana, Eaton Hall, Warminster and Haythe in England. Among his many appointments in the Army it is of note that he was the first Nigerian indigenous Quarter-Master-General.

Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu’s entry into the Nigerian political firmament coincided with the fall of the Nation’s First Republic in 1966 only six years after Nigeria gained independence from Great Britain on 1st October 1960. The violent overthrow of Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa’s Government unleashed on Nigeria, Military rule of various shapes and forms with social and economic mores now a burden to a second generation of Nigerians.

Lt Col. Odumegwu Ojukwu was appointed Military Governor of the then Eastern Nigeria in 1966, one of the then four regions of the country.

Following a series of occurrences in 1966, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu was saddled with the grim task of the resettlement of an egregious flood of displaced persons fleeing other parts of Nigeria to return home to their ancestral places of origin in the Eastern Region. Further distressed by fears of insecurity he came to believe passionately that his homeland in Eastern Nigeria should pursue a path of self determination and so deserved to be its own country, in a new nation free of borders imposed by the British colonial Masters who on their own carved out a territory and named it Nigeria.

The Republic of Biafra was born. Dike Di ora Nma N’digbo – The Ikemba, had a distinct vision of a culturally monolithic State situated on the banks of the bay of Biafra – a State that included the oil-rich Niger Delta. His hopefulness was symbolised by the Rising Sun emblazoned on a tricolour flag of black, green and red.

A nation that prided itself as the world’s most populous Black nation, whose population provided every fifth African – in Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe’s words a nation handed to us “on a platter of gold” threatened to be ripped asunder.

Since the 11th November 2011, the day that Ikemba transited to immortality, I have taken an interest in the media, both electronic and print, absorbing the many tributes devoted to this departed brave and courageous man, a Comrade hero, an icon of the Igbo race who I came to accept as a trusted friend and ally.

A statement by President Goodluck Jonathan praised Ojukwu for his “immense love for his people, justice, equity, and fairness which forced him into the leading role he played in the Nigerian Civil War. His commitment to reconciliation and the full reintegration of his people to a united and progressive Nigeria in the aftermath of the war” said the President “will ensure that he is remembered forever as one of the great personalities of his time who stood out easily as a brave, courageous, fearless, erudite and charismatic leader.”

I entirely agree with Mr. President. Millions of Nigerians also agree with him.

The overwhelming evidence was evident in the massed crowds of mourners in Zungeru, the Ikemba’s Northern railway town birth place; also in Calabar, In Port-Harcourt and in Lagos, where our nation’s economic capital came to a stand still. Speaker after speaker in all those places mounted the rostrum to give glowing testimony of a worthy Igbo man and a worthy Nigerian in our ethnically contentious nation. The people and leaders of the States that once constituted the defunct Eastern Region have all come together to give a befitting farewell to the former Governor of the Region.

I have some personal memories of the Eze Ndigbo Gburugburu. I recall my days in the University, studying Architecture at Ahmadu Bello University Zaria and one unforgettable afternoon that my friends and I huddled around a radio set to listen to a marathon broadcast of several hours as the inimitable Odumegwu Ojukwu delivered the historic AHIARA DECLARATION. The delivery was flawless in a style that was as matchless in its declamations as it was arresting in its fluency. I have read the document again, now over four decades since its delivery by Ikemba. None of my friends gathered around that student radio set on that fateful afternoon could in their wildest imagination have predicted that some forty three years down the road, it would be me that would be standing by that great orator’s casket to render a few words. But that is the mystery or irony of life. I have just pinched myself and it is me alright and not a dream!!

The further and most staggering irony is that no one can deny that recent events in our country give cause for concern as our people of various ethnic and religious stocks have grave concern for their safety in their desire to reside freely in any location of their choice within the territory of Nigeria. The Nation is held in a vicious grip of unprecedented corruption, we still grapple with the difficulty of establishing a democracy that will ensure a government of the people, for the people and by the people, with a leadership truly selected on the basis of one man-one-vote!

The spirit of Dim Chukwuemaka Odumegwu Ojukwu must be smiling as he hears the cry and demand for a true Fiscal Federalism in a deafening sea of leaders calling for a National Dialogue or Sovereign Conference. For I know that these were the principal principles on which Ikemba’s reformed political platform was built in later years.

My personal and close encounter with the Ikemba occurred in 1999 when we were both leaders in the APP – the All People’s Party. I had the opportunity to interact closely with a quintessential gentleman of profound intellect who turned out to be a trusted ally. I cherished those moments that we both shared a drink or two in my residence in Benin City and of course the return gift of choice cognac he gave to me when I visited him at Enugu. Some call him a Warrior others say he is a Warlord. While not gainsaying the fact that he was a rare example of a courageous soldier, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu was very Soft and Human.

I recall with fond memories his visit to me at my country home at Igueben – Edo State – some ten years or so ago, upon my invitation to him to participate in a fund raising event towards erecting my New Parish Catholic Church building. When he appeared towards the venue from the horizon escorted by a small delegation, the crowd noticing him, broke into a frenzy of joyous cheers Ojukwu!! Ojukwu!! He made his donation and requested that he wanted his name recorded on the project.

All guests present at the reception at my country home in Igueben on that occasion are not likely to forget the majestic steps of the Ikemba who took to the floor when the band intoned the popular “Ije-enu.” His large piercing eyeballs gazing at the cheering ecstatic crowd with approval.

Ikemba Odumegwu Ojukwu retired gracefully to his homeland in his twilight years where he continued to play pivotal roles in the politics of his native Igboland. His successful creation of the APGA political party is also in fulfilment of his continuous quest for a rallying point for his people as an integral part of the Nigerian Nation.

It is now over! The Holy Bible says in Ecclesiastes 3.1-3
There is a given time for everything and a time for every happening under heaven
A time for giving birth, a time for dying; a time for planting, a time for uprooting
A time for killing, a time for healing; a time for knocking down, a time for building
A time for tears, a time for laughter; a time for mourning, a time for dancing

This is the time chosen by the Almighty God for the Ikemba to return to his maker. It is fitting and proper that before his body departs to its final resting place that he has paid a last farewell visit to the Federal Capital. If any doubt remained in the minds of some about his commitment to Nigeria, this is the unwavering evidence that in life as in death Ikemba Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, Eze Ndigbo Gburugburu was fully reconciled to the fatherland. Later today his casket will make its journey southward.

Farewell dear friend and fellow countryman. Make well the journey to the eternal place. You have played well your part here on earth and left your foot prints on the sands of time.

May the Lord grant you a merciful judgement and admit you into his heavenly kingdom.

May you soul rest in God’s perfect peace.

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Item Reviewed: KEYNOTE ADDRESS; CHUKWUEMEKA ODUMEGWU OJUKWU 1933-2011 Description: Rating: 5 Reviewed By: SEGA AWOSANYA
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