The Ikemba Nnewi: Leadership Redefined

by Banjo Odutola

In writing this article, I am reminded that in our milieu, it is inconceivable for a Yoruba man to criticise an Igbo leader in a public space such as this. Whereas, criticisms of a leader from Northern Nigeria is a fair game; I reject such hypothesis because the motivation for my past criticisms of Mallam Wada Nas, General Muhammadu Buhari, Senator Gbenga Aluko, Governor Segun Osoba, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, President Olusegun Obasanjo et al, is neither personal nor dependent on what parts of Nigeria they originate. It is because they occupy positions of leadership in our nation and where there are existential shortfalls in their politics, they cannot expect to be absolved.

Therefore, it is wrong for us to be hermeneutically confined because a leader originates from one section and a critic is from another. Everyone, regardless of whether in their names, a vowel follows a consonant or not, deserves to challenge our leaders for we are all stakeholders in our country. Mark it, despite the above exegesis, somewhat, some recidivist dolts would be upset that I dared to explore the leadership of Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, the Ikemba Nnewi in our national politics. So, watch this space, when I shall return to give an account of their illogic billingsgate.

If you are have not heard that the Ikemba has descended into party politics, you had better hear it from me. He has been elected by a voice vote to represent the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) Party in the Presidential elections of April 2003. Let it be beyond doubt that his constitutional rights to aspire to any office in our country is in contention; it is only the premise of his politics that is suspect in line with his antecedents. So, for the benefit of those outside our frontiers, an introduction of the Ikemba is apt for the purpose of this discourse.

He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth; his father Sir Louis Odumegwu Ojukwu was an extremely wealthy man who afforded the Ikemba the benefits of what his money could buy and in comparison to most Nigerians, dead or alive, his breeding is noble and the envy of others. Despite his international exposure, he is a traditionalist to the core, a visionary of sorts and champion of Nd’Igbo politics. After graduating from Oxford University, he joined the Nigerian Army, when clearly his compeers like Yakubu Gowon had not seen the walls of a local University; Albeit, Gowon was later to follow Ojukwu by attending Warwick University, which is not as lofty. Whilst, others believed that a military profession was beneath him, it is argued that he had foreseen the military blitzkrieg on our democracy; he was early to realise that in a newly independent nation, such foray was inevitable. The baseline is that he has long been interested in power and its institutions.

The interest in power may partly be the reason for the secession and creation of Biafra Republic; I shall not attempt to pursue this strand, as it is neither axiomatic nor tangential to my treatise. However, the “no victor and no vanquished” makes the Ikemba and mind you, my emphasis is on him and not his people, one of the luckiest men alive. At least, Gowon said so. But why would I agree with the ascribed luck? Look, the Ikemba is a man who led his people into a war in which over One Million of them died; whichever way, that enterprise is viewed, it is an adventure that resulted in waste and destruction. Yet, his myth as a leader of his people is not dim. He is to many, a champion of a justifiable cause. That may well be good and I am pleased for him. However, the myth surrounding him is unravelling itself and the realities of his presidential aspirations are only set to damage him.

An example in point is the account of George Okoye, who was interested in the presidential ticket of the party. When he learnt that the Ikemba was to be foisted on the APGA as its presidential aspirant, Okoye could not imagine why the Ikemba, who is regarded as the patriarch of Nd’Igbo nation would descend to the level of political party rancour. Aside from Okoye, General Gowon had objurgated at the same political aspirations; he went to the extent of saying it was wrong for the Ikemba to aspire governing our nation. True, Gowon may have stretched the interpretation of these political aspirations; there is nothing wrong in them, if what is philosophically wrong or right is the standard to determine political aspirations. However, I am willing to be bold enough to state that it would be morally unjustifiable and perhaps reprehensible for the electorate to elect the Ikemba as the next president of our nation, which he had fought against in a Civil War.

The positions of Okoye and Gowon are substantively similar but only different in emphases. Whilst, both of them are faced with the moral dilemma of the candidature, there is a constituency forging the Ikemba into partisan politics and that constituency is at pains to explain that the APGA is not an Nd’Igbo political party but a national one. If the appeal of the party is national, there is no need to explain the obvious. No amount of political spin, white washing or Bar Beach water can change the perception of APGA by the electorate.

I suspect the constituency surrounding the Ikemba believes in the existence or recrudescence of Biafra Republic and for them time has stood still. They are most probably the descants of Igbo marginalisation. They are the same people who fail to condemn Governor Mbadinuju publicly for failing their people terribly. It is time to decry the style of Mbadinuju’s governance and its condemnation should come from the fathers of Nd’Igbo nation of which the Ikemba would be a good start. Also, the sycophants of the Ikemba fail to acknowledge that their denizens have risen to be champions of commerce and such success ought to come with responsibilities to earn the respect of other Nigerians.

So, why would the Ikemba set himself up for failure, just as he did many years ago? For example, the Igbo politics is fragmented and it is clearly a House divided against itself. Further evidence is in the recent rejection of Ohaneze. It is now rejected as representative of Nd’Igbo and depending on where your sympathies lay, there are claims that undesirables have hijacked it. Whatever the allegations against Ohaneze, its proclamation that Igbo should vote only for Igbo candidates is infantile and regressive in the least and at best, it is a worrying misunderstanding of current politics in Nigeria. After all, the political landscape shows how fragmented the Nd’Igbo politics has evolved: Okadigbo, Nwachucku, Nwodo, Okorocha, Ekwueme and Ojukwu are diversified in their political loyalties, as it should be in a united country; going by the proclamation of Ohaneze, Nd’Igbo would be voting for all the political parties. If that were the case, what is the point in their threat?

Whether it is acceptable or not, the Ikemba Nnewi is no longer sacrosanct in what he represents and it is about time too. His failed Senatorial bid of 1983 elections and particularly now, that he is descending into an arena in which he should be a kingmaker and not an aspirant for the throne is another foray in futility. George Okoye implied it and I believe him. I would venture to say that when a man, who only recently evoked the spirit of Biafra, all because of politics, steps out to advocate uniting the country, he is unfit to govern as the president of a united Nigeria. That aside, the Biafra war is a desecration of the country; its losses and pains are not peculiar to Nd’Igbo, even though they like to believe they are; the losses and pains are common to the whole nation. It is the genesis of our distrust of one another and a termination of the innocence in relating to one another without hindrance of our cultural differences. The memory of the war should be left buried and not used for politicking because such enterprise would only stand to sensitise and lead us to a future that ought to be avoided at all cost. As a leader, the Ikemba should know better.

So, what are the chances of APGA, the party for which he seeks to be elected? As the party does not have a cross section appeal, it is unlikely that it can win elsewhere apart from Nd’Igbo land and that victory is not guaranteed because of the interests of Nd’Igbo in other parties. However, if the father of Nd’Igbo were disrobed naked in the public arena by way of political defeat, would he not have lost the reverence of his people? Does he want to become a leader in whom his followers do not trust his visions or pursuits? Would the Ikemba not become the Queen Bee, whose existence is only useful for paying obeisance?

The next few months will unleash a great deal of political zing and possibly, we may hear of lesser men in the Nd’Igbo pursuit of power question the wisdom of the Ikemba’s war against the State that he now aspires to govern through the ballot. Also, he may be challenged as to why he did not use peaceful means such as Ghandi, Luther King or Mandela to achieve his dreams for the South Eastern Region. At least, if he was incarcerated like other freedom fighters, he may have lost a life of achievements but over one million of his people would still be alive today. When the dogfight in our politics necessitate these difficult questions, the Ikemba may become answerable to his people to whom he is deity. He, only at that time should be blamed for his predicaments.

Even, if his party does not win the presidency – a likely outcome as certain as death. How would his proclivities be advanced? He has enormous influence in the ruling class of the nation and as George Okoye revealed, many political aspirants of Nd’Igbo extraction approach him for blessings before declaring their ambitions. If that is true, the Ikemba’s political failures may necessitate his people to challenge his leadership, when it is clear that he is prone to bad political decisions. Accordingly, he may forced to learn that graciousness in and of leadership, is always about leading followers to adopt a trajectory that does not lead to one failure after the other. Also, leaders by virtue of their wisdom learn from past mistakes before leading others to another calamity.

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kanayo Akpunonu January 31, 2010 - 10:18 pm

we cant expect anyone, so far not from igbo land to be in favour of Ikemba because, he represents different thing to different poeple but, for we igbos Ikemba is an archetypal leader and excellent visionary of great repute. he foresees tomorrow of how Nigeria would look like even after forty years. please Mr. Banjo Odutola let the legacy of Ikemba stand for all. i wouldnt say more than that


Kelechukwu April 1, 2009 - 10:59 pm

I do not know if you wrote this article out of a genuine concern for Ojukwu’s legacy or if you just enjoy taking jabs at the Ikemba when you see an opportunity to do so. In either case, I reckon that you may misunderstand Ojukwu, Ndigbo and the relationship between the two. Ikemba is revered because of what he represents, but he has never been a political figure in the mold of Zik, Okpara, Mbakwe, Ekwueme etc. Since he lost his senatorial bid in the 80’s, has his status in the Igbo nation diminished? No. Ikemba represents something that is beyond politics to Ndigbo, and even though they may not throng behind him to the polls, his legacy is very much secured. Moreover, he has every right to contest for the office of the presidency, just like every other Nigerian has. He may not have a chance in a billion of winning, but he still has the freedom to exercise his rights.

Engr. Oscar Umeh March 25, 2008 - 11:19 am

Please Mr. Banjo Odutola, go get yourself abreast with political apothoesis of the Ikemba rather cast aspersions on the fortress of his political and traditional image.

kunle otedola August 23, 2007 - 7:52 am

his piece is not objective


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