The Igbos of Nigeria are famous for many things. They are renowned for their sense of industry, business acumen, itinerancy, resilience, proud culture, and for that audacious act of seceding from
As a non Igbo, many thoughts have crossed my mind as to the rationale behind this rather curious decision. Could the title have been conferred upon him out of a sense of wicked humour? I mean the Igbo eldership is well aware that the common language of all Nigerians ‘though tribe and tongue may differ’ is English. Or could it be that the elders were trying to convey a subliminal message to the great man’s subconscious mind for having abandoned them for the safety of
Dim Ojukwu is a larger than life personality. A colourful figure, physically imposing, with a Che Guevara guerrilla type beard cultivated in the days of
Articulate, and with more than a trace of his English public school accent still noticeable in the cadences of his speech – he continues to orate with flourish as occasions demand. But much more noticeable than even his posh accent, is his prominent forehead, one which inspired some mischievous Yoruba wag during the Civil War to name an item of out door crockery after it. Conventional wisdom has it that the bigger the head the bigger the brain and Dim Ojukwu proved this by his deft performance at the Aburi peace talks. During those talks he ran rings around General Gowon to the point of his becoming giddy headed, causing him to accede to positions which were inimical to his overall interest. And it was only after he recovered his composure and became clear headed once again, that he saw the need to recant on his previously agreed positions.
It is not at all surprising that a man of Dim Ojukwu’s stature and background is often in the news for one reason or another. Not too long ago now, he pulled off one of the greatest feats in the annals of Nigerian romantic history by securing the hand of the then ‘Most Beautiful Girl’ in
It has been my privilege to have set eyes upon Dim Ojukwu in the flesh, not once, but twice. Once in 1981 at the
Just before the commencement of the book launch, and with all the invited dignitaries seated at the top table, Dim Ojukwu for some inexplicable reason jumped out of his seat like a man possessed and made his way to the back of the hall as if propelled by some invisible force. I thought to myself, what could possibly be responsible for such a bizarre display? It was all to become clear very quickly.
Bianca Onoh, unbeknownst to most of us present, was at the time being courted secretly by the old war horse, and had been invited to the launch, and had just arrived at the venue. Dim Ojukwu on noticing her arrival felt that it was both fitting and appropriate for her to be treated to a royal and romantic welcome – a public demonstration of his affection. After all, she was a national beauty queen and wholly deserving of his attentions. True to form and in true Gallic romantic fashion he bowed his head and kissed her hand to welcome her, before chaperoning her to the top table to be placed amongst his other important guests.
It was a good show – a free and public demonstration of the art of winning the affections of a beautiful woman. Yes, there was life yet in the old dog! Dim Ojukwu was certainly involved and with something more beautiful than
Watching Dim Ojukwu back then, I wondered what could be responsible for his seeming deviation from matters of national importance to trivialities such as ‘puppy’ love played out on a public platform. Could it be boredom? Or could it be that he had reached the realisation even back then that he no longer commanded a place of authority amongst his own? For in spite of his defining role in the history of the Igbo nation, I have quietly suspected for many years now, that since his hurried departure out of
This ambivalent attitude is noticeable by the Igbos stance of never fully loving him and never fully hating him; never fully accepting him and never fully rejecting him; and never fully embracing him and never fully pushing him away. They appear to tolerate him as relic of their past, rather than celebrate him as a champion of their future. A position clearly demonstrated by their rejection of his senate candidacy in 1983. Under the present dispensation his political movement has enjoyed only modest success in Igbo heartlands. Although this may very well have more to do with the electoral excesses of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, rather than being an indication of the measure of confidence that his people repose in him. I suppose that we will never know for certain.
It may be because of this ambivalent approach of his people towards him that Dim Ojukwu seems to be more engaged these days in the Nigerian project rather than in the re-animation of the corpse of
I’m not certain what use his pension cheque will be to him, seeing that he is and has always been a well appointed man courtesy of his late father’s stupendous wealth and his successful business enterprises in Cote d’Ivoire. If anyone was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and a gold plated AK47 in his hands, it was Dim Ojukwu.
Judging from his comments at the ‘pensions’ ceremony, it is clear that he has more issues with his ‘lowly’ Nigerian rank than with the size of his pension cheque. He feels that he his deserving of a much higher rank; that of a General to be precise, or at least the right to be addressed as one. Whatever the merits of his arguments, it is clear that he views himself as a full fledged Nigerian, and one who has travelled the whole distance from Aburi to
In a way, I actually agree with Dim Ojukwu’s logic. For
Since then, Nigeria, first of all through General Gowon, with his ‘no victor no vanquished’ policy of reconciling and reintegrating secessionist forces within Nigeria; and then Alhaji Shagari with his State pardon of Dim Ojukwu; and finally General Babangida with his return of Dim Ojukwu’s sequestrated properties, have done much to heal the wounds of that conflict. While much has been done in this regard, there is still some way to go yet.
One further gesture the government should consider making – if it is so minded – is to make a grant of the rank of full General in the Nigerian Army to Dim Ojukwu. I recognise that this will involve a quantum leap of faith and enormous amounts of goodwill. And it will undoubtedly be viewed in many quarters as an unnecessary and controversial gesture. But I think it is one worth considering. Had
Should the government adopt and implement this idea, then it will have succeeded for all time in exorcising the ghost of
Were this to happen, I can’t predict what the reaction of the Igbo nation would be, but I imagine it would be mixed. Some may feel that much of the benefit of reconciliation efforts have accrued directly and disproportionately to Dim Ojukwu to the exclusion of others. In any case, I think the Igbos decided long ago that they can and will thrive with or without him. For many of them he represents what could have been, and not what is, or may yet be. That he stood up for them at a difficult period in their history is beyond contention, even if he didn’t stay the course to the bitter end. I suspect that at that moment of defeat he felt it was best to adhere to the wisdom of the maxim that advocates that ‘he who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day.’ And having preserved his life, his fight today seems to have more to do with the restoration of his dignity and the securing of his place in history, rather than the leadership of territory.
As for the ‘Dim’ title, I think I now know why the Igbo eldership conferred such an ambiguous title upon him. In their collective wisdom, it appears they came to the realisation that his once prolific powers were on the wane. And that his relevance to the Igbo nation was in decline; but how to deliver such news to a once great man? Difficult tasks call for resourceful solutions. So what better way to deflate a man’s ego by pretending to inflate it; confer upon him an ambiguous title, one which conveys one meaning to some and another meaning to others – a clever use of double entendre.
Like many of his generation, he is now a lion in winter, his best days are long past. Unfortunately, that is the plight of all men. We enter the world, we perform on its stage and then we depart it; just as Shakespeare said. It was my privilege to listen to Chief Ojukwu in 1989 at the height of his powers. He was not ‘Dim’ then he was bright; he was also the Ikemba Nnewi in all of his glory.
Dim Odumegwu Ojukwu – long may you live!