“When beggars die there are no comets seen;
The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.”
Julius Caesar (II, ii, 30-31)
It was with an admixture of relief and sadness that I received the news that Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu has passed on to glory. I am relieved because towards the latter end of his life, it was painful to watch this courageous man’s health deteriorate steadily to the point that many happily pronounced him dead week in, week out—even as he was struggling to recover from a stroke. Did he have the best possible medical care at a time he needed it most? Is it possible to imagine a scenario in which the Ikemba Nnewi successfully received treatment and recovered from the stroke? Would he have fared better in another medical facility? At this time, it is impossible to answer any of these questions definitively. Perhaps there is just no way to know these things. The only certain thing is that at long last the Ezeigbo Gburugburu has finally gone to meet his maker.
In life—he was larger than life. He had many haters and detractors. Nevertheless, he was a man that was deeply cherished and admired by his people. Here was a man that commanded the grudging respect or even fear of his adversaries. Love him or hate him, it cannot be denied that Ojukwu was a man of destiny and clear vision, and that his love and devotion to his Igbo people and to Nigeria as a whole has simply been unparalleled. He will most certainly be missed. As a matter of fact, I make bold to say that in time history will remember him kindly. His dogged commitment to the liberation of the black man sets him apart; his prophetic insight into the future fate of the country (as per the Ahiara declaration) has been borne out severally even in his lifetime. I daresay that whenever the history of Nigeria is written in years to come, Ojukwu will play a prominent role.
Now, I do not wish to open afresh the painful wounds of the Nigerian civil war neither have I elected to write any condescending or disparaging commentary against people who have for one reason or the other chosen to denigrate the man or his politics. Even without my adding anything to the discussion, tomes have already been written on the Nigeria-Biafra civil war, so I realize that a lot of people already have had a number of sources influence or shape their perception of that war and the role Ojukwu played in it.
It should be noted however that a lot of the derogatory perceptions of Ojukwu are founded on deliberate misinformation or willful exaggerations. This is understandable because in war, there is almost always a propaganda or perceptions war going on as well. Nevertheless, the war ended over 40 years ago and in those 40 years, Ojukwu conducted himself as a model law-abiding Nigerian citizen—even contesting for the presidency of the country. This at once puts a lie to the injurious speculations that Ojukwu was hell-bent on carving out a country of his own. Any fair and knowledgeable person analyzing the war should clearly surmise that the main cause of the war – at least that which motivated the Igbo – was the general feeling of insecurity prevalent in the then Eastern Region because of the frightening wave of genocidal pogroms against the Igbo that occurred all over the country.
Unsurprisingly the corrosive bile, resentment and antipathy directed against Ojukwu in some areas are of such frightening and sickening proportions that they simply boggle the mind. It is therefore imperative that I remind anyone reading this that my main aim of writing this post is simply to recognize a truly iconic character and further to commiserate with the friends, family and well-wishers. It is not, I am afraid, to rehash the ugly and dark days of the civil war.
As with all larger-than-life personalities, he had his own generous share of human frailties, but the one thing that cannot be said about Ojukwu is that he lacked the courage, will or the strength of character to act upon his convictions. It is this commitment to fairness, decency, the rule of law, and a sense of history that saw his meteoric rise to prominence in the army—a calling to a position of trust and influence; one which would uniquely equip him to stand up for his people during the dark days of Nigeria’s anti-Igbo pogroms.
Now, as you can probably tell, there is a lot to the civil war that a mere blog post cannot do adequate justice to. I’ll leave you with one thought however. All through his life, Ojukwu has kicked against inequality and unfairness whether in his career or his personal life. Evil, it is said, thrives only when good men and women refuse to do anything about it. Ojukwu was content to lose not only his material possessions, nor indeed to sacrifice personal comfort, but was moreover keen on standing up for the defenseless. He stood for transparency, integrity and accountability which is why his military record when compared with most of the consecutive looting generals that lorded over the Nigerian estate is simply unrivalled.
It is left for Nigerians of today (especially Nigeria’s visionless and incompetent leadership) to eschew shortsightedness, blind hatred, corruption, ethnocentrism or nepotism, the craven worship of mammon over mettle, the feckless devotion to pennies over principles, if there is ever to be any hope that Nigeria as currently constituted will be a shining beacon of progress and prosperity on the African continent. If this does not happen, the spirit of Ojukwu—that indefatigable spirit that demands justice, fairness and self-determination—will continue to inspire and enervate the disenchanted, dispossessed and disenfranchised masses until a time comes when the Nigerian center cannot hold: and then indeed, things will fall apart.
Fare thee well Dikedioramma (November 4, 1933 – November 26, 2011)