As Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, Dikedioramma, Eze Igbo gburugburu returns to the timeless terrestrial, the Ndigbo will forever be awed and serenaded by the aura, bravery, charisma, confidence, defiance, intellect, mythology and vision of Ikemba. They will forever worship at the altar of his Biafranism and romanticise its good, bad and ugly legacy. Today he remains in our memory for making a courageous stand and shouting “Who Dares Wins”. He was a visionary and a prophet’s prophet. When he saw our salvation and speedy freedom from servitude, we rejected his call for solidarity. When he saw the lies and sins of our high priests, we saw hope in their sermons just as we now embraced the platitudes of a Jonathan transformational agenda. When he saw the stark dichotomy between the North and the South, the measureless odium and vexations, Ikemba made for a defining moment and confronted all the seeming oppressive tendencies with total determination. And like Frank Sinatra, he ‘did it in his own way’ through the shattering power of his ‘ogbunigwes’.
In spite of his silver-spooned background, urbanity, lady-killer-good looks, charisma and ivy-league education, he soiled his princely hands in the Biafran struggle with notorious, not to say, demonic zeal. And because Ojukwu hated behind-the- scene, softly-softly approach to the sufferings of his people, he embraced the direct action orthodoxy as we now see in the Occupy this, Occupy that revolution.
By any standard, Ojukwu was a fine soldier and confident combatant. He was an enigmatic warrior and conscience of the common masses of Nigeria. God had prepared him before he was born as a liberator, a Mosaican deliverer and a prophet from Nnewi. Ojukwu harboured no faithless timidity in his pursuit of an authentic Igbo republic. His famous apocalyptic Aburi rhetoric was a document of emotional grievances. Ndigbo’s fascination with the man is precisely the index of how he is revered. Ojukwu gave the Igbo a sense of Brifranness.
This is the classic case of how tribal identities are created and re-created through the struggles, statements and actions of our leaders. And Biafranism gave rise to identity affirmation among Ndigbo. The struggle for the birth of Biafra later became the mean machine that articulated the vision of the Ndigbo. It was the Iroko tree they once perched on in their ceaseless quest for destiny-driven self determination.
Contrary to the impenetrable logic of Ndigbo concerning Awo’s role during the war, millions of Ndigbo still believe that Yoruba did not supported the spirit of Biafra. Millions of us supported his mission of rescue contrary to the voices of few Igbo leaders. Ojukwu was a Lagos boy and spoke the Yoruba language fluently and had many Yoruba friends. The argument for Yoruba reflex rejection of the Biafran war may be forgivable. What is unforgivable is the strand of unpleasant populism that surfaces from time to time in gratuitous references to the Biafran war from the pro war camp. Watch this…there is this tragic emblem still being worn by Biafran paganists i.e. the Neo-Biafranists who grind out greasy judgement, condemnation and canting rebuke of the role of the Pan-Yoruba universe in the war.
What then now? Awolowo had long gone home. Ikemba, the hurricane, is on his way to meet his maker. Awo and Ojukwu the duo contestants for our tribal loyalties may have departed, what still remains among the Yoruba and Ndigbo is the yawning clannish intolerance that really threatens our mutual bond. Liberty and freedom are the agendum of the Biafran war. The Yoruba are still searching for this twin Holy Grail in our polity almost on daily basis. Consider the fights of Soyinka, Bakare, Falana, Braithwaite, Fela, Fawehinmi, Beko Ransome-Kuti and many other Yoruba warriors still screaming on the streets. The sharp division, injustice, intolerance and corruption of 1966 are still with us and in far more savage forms but where is the Ojukwu or the messiah to call us to arms?
Today, pacifists, saboteurs, oppressors and anti-Ojukwu are restigmatising the Biafran war as needless and a mistake. For embracing an iconic paradigm, enemies called him arrogant and impatient. In many pathetic, cack-handed attempts to denigrate his warrior oeuvre, implacable critics like Olusegun Obasanjo, Ibrahim Babangida and Yakubu Gowon are calling his resort to armed rebellion as sheer exercise in delusion and military infantilism. These critics reasoned that the honour, bravado and machismo of the Biafran war left unhealable scars and lingering wounds without achieving the Biafran project. The enemies of the Biafran war see no contradiction in projecting countercultural statement. They are unafraid to call the war an unpopular disaster from the crazed soul of a war mongering fantasist. Ikemba is accused of going for the sweepstakes of warfare without pausing to map alternative lines of peaceful separation before choosing his own track. These roaring lions and the evening wolves will not allow his body to rest without feasting.
Thankfully, Dr. Tunji Braithwaite has fired the first salvo to debunk Babangida, Gowon and Obasanjo’s claim that he fought against his fatherland. Hear Braithwaite: ‘Ojukwu fought against injustice, lies and corruption. We are still fighting against these things till date. And the fight will continue until victory is achieved.’
An anti-Biafran purge may be on the rise in the minds of some demented leaders and revisionists, but the idea of Biafra will never die in a badly managed entity of many nation-states called Nigeria. However, I have to warn that Ndigbo too are becoming anti-Ojukwu through the loss of their spirit of defiance, a spirit that rested on Ikemba to the end. Now that Boko Haram is rolling out heavier dice of genocide against the Ndigbo, where is an Ojukwu to save his clan from extinction? The emerging prosperity of the Ndigbo and their creative renaissance are becoming tied to the imperfect unity of one Nigeria while the resurgence of a future Biafra recedes into oblivion. The human suffering of the Biafran war can never be forgotten. That is why we all share in the continual remembrance of departed ones which the war enforces.
But can the Ndigbo continue to affirm their conceited valour of the Biafran war while fastening their helplessness on political marginalisation? The immediate challenge for the Ndigbo or freedom loving Biafrans is to reinvent an Ojukwu icon that will embody the approving qualities of valour, tenacity, industry, genius, long suffering and hardwork commonly associated with an average, hardwired Igbo modern man. The relevance of another Ojukwu is crafted in Sonny Odogwu’s tribute. “Nigeria is still looking for direction. Inequity and social injustice he fought against are still there. I urge Nigerians and the leadership to correct structural deficiencies and social injustice.” The need for another Ojukwu cannot be more urgent. After the death of Awo, the Yoruba are still in that quagmire of reinventing an Awo icon that had remained elusive ever since. Adieu, the lion of Nnewi.