Magnus Eze, Enugu
Mrs Bianca Ojukwu, Nigeria’s former Ambassador to Spain and widow of the late Igbo leader, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, has sensationally revealed how his husbsnd would have felt about Nigeria were he to be alive today.
Bianca in a chat with Sunday Sun during the Ojukwu Day memorial held on Thursday, November 26, in Owerri, Imo State said that all the challenges starring Nigeria in the face were what her late husband saw many years ago, saying that Ojukwu would, therefore, feel vindicated in the spirit world, particularly with the rise in the clamour for restructuring .
She, therefore, expressed worry over the precarious state of the nation, lamenting that the legacies of her husband, the legendary leader, were being eroded, particularly in Anambra State while berating Governor Willie Obiano for deriding Ojukwu and not living up to the expectations of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) as a party. Excerpts:
Every November 26 is celebrated as Ojukwu Day in memory of your late husband, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu; what do you imagine would have been his reflections on the state of the Nigerian nation today?
I believe he would feel vindicated. He always bemoaned the fact that this nation seemed incapable of lifting itself out of mediocrity and degeneration to the sterling heights and greatness it deserves, but merely obsessed with churning out communiques, resolutions and sanctimonious injunctions while paying lip service to national unity and constructive development. The country is stumbling from one crisis to another, and today we are witnesses to the situation he anticipated and warned against so long ago. He always maintained that the unity of any country that is guaranteed solely by force of arms cannot be sustained and that Nigeria’s unity can only be assured if oppression and marginalization of certain of its ethnicities is addressed and resolved. Since those who are continually denied justice have no interest in peace it goes without saying that in a matter of time pent up frustrations erupt and explode like a keg of gunpowder. Dim Ojukwu has come to be known as the man who saw ahead of his time. Not much has changed since his predictions. He was one of the earliest advocates of restructuring. He was also firmly convinced that the independence package which Nigeria accepted in 1960 was a distorted and unbalanced package of federalism in which one federating unit was designed to surpass the other units put together in every aspect. The existing federal structure has meant two diametrically opposed experiences to the component units. For some, it is an arrangement which guarantees them a large share of the nation’s resources, the levers of control as well as the right to acquire resources not located within their own domain. For others, this brand of federalism remains a debilitating situation whereby they are denied equity in allocation of administrative positions, federal appointments, industrial development, infrastructural development, and even more pathetic, the continual hemorrhage of their precious national resources. Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu till death kept reiterating the fact that in order for Nigeria to survive as one political entity, she must equitably accommodate all its federating units, and also articulate a guiding philosophy to which all her various peoples are committed.
Again on every November 26, Ojukwu Day is celebrated here in Imo State, why has the APGA government in Anambra State not deemed it fit to organize a befitting memorial event in honour of Ojukwu like this one held in Imo?
Well, it’s essentially a problem of leadership. The leader of any political party needs to understand the ethos and the bedrock on which the ideology of the party he seeks to lead is built. Governor Willie Obiano who assumed the position of APGA party national leader, and who ought to have championed this initiative to host a remembrance ceremony for Ojukwu, the pioneer national leader of APGA, and to all intents and purposes, the icon of the party, has deemed it not worthwhile to do so. The last remembrance event that was conducted in Anambra State to commemorate the anniversary of the death of Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu by APGA-led government was in March 2013 under Governor Peter Obi and Chief Victor Umeh as party chairman, but it still doesn’t stop this Anambra State government from rolling out his pictures for campaign purposes whenever the elections come up. The Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu University holds an annual lecture on the occasion of his posthumous birthday, an initiative of Prof. Greg Nwakoby.
Though the family holds a remembrance mass, Chief Ralph Uwazuruike has consistently and single-handedly staged a mega event each year on the anniversary of the death of Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu tagged ‘Ojukwu Day’. You can see the number of people here today, and that this is a carnival of sorts featuring traditional dance troupes with the major masquerades in Igboland, cultural performances, drama presentations, parades, live band, lively speeches as well as an interdenominational service. Each year, this ceremony takes place on the expansive grounds of this Ojukwu Memorial Library and Conference Centre, built by Chief Ralph Uwazuruike (Okenwa). This event is attended by people from all walks of life and from all over the country, even by delegates representing major socio-political groups in the country like Afenifere, Odua People’s Congress, Arewa Forum, Niger Delta Consultative Forum, Alaigbo Development Forum etc. It gives me great joy to see him honoured in this way, not just by his devotees, but other ethnic nationalities. Ojukwu’s personality transcends a political party. He means much more to the Igbo nation. He is the son of the ‘Rising Sun’. So, you will agree with me that in spite of the fact that, as has been rightly observed, the current APGA government has been found wanting in this aspect of honouring him appriopriately, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu is well remembered, especially in the hearts and minds of our people.
What do you believe is responsible for this nonchalant attitude of the APGA national party leader, Governor Obiano?
Well, our people have this saying that a person who was not present when a corpse was buried starts to exhume the corpse from the wrong end. The fact, if one has to be candid, is that Governor Obiano was a stranger to our political party who knew next to nothing about APGA’s founding principles, ideology and history. This is also the case with the current national chairman of the party (Chief Victor Oye). As a result, managing this political movement has proven to be a difficult task for the governor who also doubles as the party leader, especially in his second tenure as he continues to perpetuate the politics of divide and rule whilst exhibiting scant regard for the key political figures and factors in the party that made his emergence possible. The iconic status of Ojukwu as party symbol also happens to be one such casualty and I will use a simple example with regards to party branding which exposes the mindset of this current APGA governor to buttress this point. Obiano declared that he had his own ideas regarding re-inventing APGA as a major political force, but I expressed grave reservations concerning his approach and strategy. For starters, there is hardly anybody in Anambra State and beyond, who doesn’t know that APGA, as a political party, is inextricably intertwined with the personality of Ojukwu as its brand. It is a party for which he laboured right to his twilight hours, hence he is generally referred to as APGA’s eternal leader. You can then imagine how dumbfounded I was, when, a short while after he won re-election for a second term as governor, having campaigned with Ojukwu’s pictures blazing through every billboard in the state, as well as on APGA campaign buses, party uniforms and other paraphernalia, Obiano casually informed me that he would be phasing out all APGA party uniforms that displayed Ojukwu’s image as had been the normal tradition with APGA apparel and would be replacing them with party uniforms that would be branded solely with his own image or with a cockerel as symbol, since according to him, Ojukwu was no longer relevant to the party and (I quote him), that he could “no longer continue to tie the fate and fortunes of APGA to the memory of a dead man.”
What did he actually mean by that statement?
Well, whatever he meant by it, I considered the remark to be rather unfortunate and to say the least, laughable. I had no problem with his solo images on our party uniforms – this is every governor’s right – but I thought his reasoning was acutely flawed and I considered his contemptuous reference to Ojukwu, before me, merely as a ‘dead man’ who was no longer relevant to APGA deeply offensive and disrespectful. It became obvious to me that Obiano (a relatively unknown banker living out his retirement in America) had forgotten so soon how he went about from community to community, pleading with the people of Anambra State who have great sentimental attachment to the Igbo hero, to vote for him in deference to Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu. This raises several questions. Was he now saying that he was not aware of the fact that Ojukwu was deceased when he was using the man’s image to canvass for votes? Even more, did he not visit the same Ojukwu’s grave to pour libations and pray for a favourable outcome for his elections? Are the pictures of that visit not there for all to see? Was this not the height of hypocrisy and opportunism – and even more puzzling, did he not consider it rather insensitive to be making this derogatory statement before the widow of this same Dim Ojukwu, and someone who also happens to be a principal member of the party’s Board of Trustees? I was even more baffled as he continued to unfold his strategy to make the party more national in outlook. There would also be another set of party uniforms, he indicated, branded solely with the image of a cockerel, which he said was necessary because he wanted to ‘export’ the party to Kano, Kaduna, Zamfara, Lagos, and a host of other states in the country and that he would not want to ‘offend’ the sensibilities of prospective party members in the North or in the Southwest of the country by having Ojukwu’s image on the party uniforms. Whilst I concede that party branding is his prerogative, but must he denigrate the value, memory and history of the man who breathed life into the platform that facilitated his emergence as governor? Did any person or group in the aforementioned states ever indicate to him that they were offended by the inclusion of Ojukwu’s image on APGA uniforms? The fact is that anybody wanting to join APGA regardless of state or geopolitical zone already knows that Ojukwu is linked with the party and, therefore, this kind of reasoning by the governor is, in my opinion, irrational. Why must he continue to live up to the reputation of someone whose major stratagem for elevating himself is to diminish the stature of his benefactors? Why should he not accord Ojukwu the honour he deserves? There is an old proverb which says that no reasonable man ever engages in a power tussle with a spirit. Even more pointedly, how could Obiano, as our party leader be vaulting towards clinching the governorship of states in other geopolitical zones when he hadn’t done the groundwork necessary for APGA to secure even one additional state in the Southeast, the party’s home base, in the entirety of his 11 years as party leader? Doesn’t charity always begin at home? At least, it is on record that under Ojukwu’s leadership of the party, APGA was at various periods, in control of three states in the Southeast:;Anambra State under Peter Obi, Abia State for a short while under T. A. Orji, and Imo State under Rochas Okorocha. On his own part, how has Obiano as party leader influenced APGA short of running it to the ground? Judging by these facts, the reason for the governor’s apparent nonchalance is clear. With this type of attitude, why would he deem it worthwhile to celebrate Ojukwu by hosting a memorial ceremony or even by attending an event that other individuals or groups have organized in his honour? His consistent refusal to attend the annual Ojukwu memorial lectures hosted by the Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu University to celebrate this man whose political platform catapulted him from obscurity to the number one position in the state is public knowledge. When I raised this issue at the last memorial lecture, he was so offended to the extent that he mandated his media aides to rain an avalanche of abuse on me. He claimed my admonitions were purely a consequence of being upset at having been denied the party’s senatorial ticket during the last primaries. Any criticism of his attitude is met with invocations of thunder, a flurry of rebuttals, baseless accusations and outright denials. But I have a sacred obligation to the memory of my husband, and all he stood for in this party, to call a spade a spade, regardless of whose ox is gored. Like I stated from the onset, one cannot give what he doesn’t have. Obiano was a banker living out his retirement years in America. He knew nothing about politics, and we share collectively the blame for believing that it is possible to bleed a stone. He may have been a good banker, but the reality is that being able to navigate through corporate boardroom intrigues is one thing, but having the capacity to provide sound party leadership, and having political sagacity is another. Incidentally, the 2021 Anambra State gubernatorial election is around the corner, and he will be expected to produce his own successor under our party, APGA. It is a project that we all, as party faithful are committed to, for the sake of survival of the party. It remains to be seen whether Governor Obiano, with the massive erosion of goodwill that has dogged his administration, will eat his own words and yet fall back on the same ‘dead man’ to solicit votes from the Anambra electorate. If he fails in his succession plan, then he will most certainly be leaving behind a legacy of wasted years.
How are those legacies of Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, both tangible and intangible, being sustained in spite of these lapses?
Chukwemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu will best be remembered for his unwavering commitment to justice, equity and fair play, as well as his resistance to all forms of oppression and marginalization. He never erected any monument in his own honour during his lifetime, but requested a memorial to be erected in honour of a 20-year-old boy named Bruce Mayrock who gave his life by self-immolation in front of the UN building in New York in 1969 to draw world attention to the desperate situation of the war-ravaged people of Biafra. The Bruce Mayrock Centre which is nearing completion is a tribute to that young man’s heroic sacrifice. This was Dim Ojukwu’s concept, and I consider it a privilege to have been able to bring it to fruition. The Ojukwu memorial lecture which gives distinguished speakers and notable personalities an opportunity to expand and interrogate his ideas and philosophy takes place each year on Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu’s birthday anniversary at the former Anambra State university which was renamed the Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University by ex-Governor, Peter Obi shortly before he left office. This remembrance ceremony at the Ojukwu Memorial Library, Owerri, is also another channel and medium where his principles and philosophies are discussed by an array of speakers. The political platform, the All Progressives Grand Alliance, of which he was leader, is a broad-based party, firmly rooted in the Southeast. His concepts, his ideas, as embodied in such iconic documents as the Ahiara Declaration continue to be the focal point of every political and social discourse on the principles of the Biafran Revolution, and these doctrines, though intangible, transcend all. Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu often said that ideas have wings, and no force can stop their flight. What he stood for has largely found justification just as potently in today’s circumstances as it did through yesterday’s course of events. Today, there are so many issues bedeviling our polity which have placed the country on the cutting edge of a precipice. The clamour for an all-inclusive nation and the fuller recognition of the diverse ethnic groups in Nigeria without the seemingly perennial dominance by one group over the others has become deafening.
How in your view, can the various issues facing the country as a whole should best be addressed?
We can begin to talk about this from sunset to sunrise, and we would only just have succeeded in scratching the surface, but in simple terms, the one fundamental requisite is equity. There is an incongruous imbalance inherent in our polity that screams up to the heavens for justice. This federation, as it stands today, presents an unbounded opportunity for some groups whilst for others it presents a crippling erosion of their aspirations and collective possibilities, and we need to tackle this self-evident truth instead of chasing shadows and burying our heads in the sand like the proverbial Ostrich. It is obvious to all that Nigeria is ailing and nobody will cure Nigerians if Nigerians fail to cure themselves. We cannot continue to delude ourselves that we are one united nation whilst the various peoples that make up the country have not, and still do not share the same or similar benefits and privileges. We keep moving from meltdown to showdown, manifest in the unending frustrations and all-pervasive sense of hopelessness prevalent among the populace, most especially the youth, and which gave vent recently to the #ENDSARS movement. We talk of people’s power when in reality, as a people, we have more faith in our bribes than in our rights; we shout of marginalization and deprivation when in actual fact, the political considerations of our so-called leaders and representatives are tied to a revolving circle of party affiliations that are solely aimed at securing their own political ambitions or executive offices, or even ‘amnesty’ when they vacate office, not necessarily any commitment to safeguard the welfare of the people. For this reason, our leaders are constantly on a merry-go-round within the political playground, moving from one party to the other. But at the end of the day, political parties in themselves cannot solve the Nigerian problem. It still boils down to equity and justice.
What about the agitations for secession, most especially the pro-Biafran movement?
Well, as Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu once said, ‘Secession is not like cocaine … it isn’t addictive’. No ethnic group ever thrives in perennial turmoil. However, it is now crystal clear to the entire world that the provocative factors that led to the declaration of Biafra have not faded; even the post war issues are still prevalent…the blatant marginalization of the Southeast and some other geopolitical zones, issues of insecurity of lives and property, unwarranted killing by security forces, inequity in the allocation of national resources and amenities as well as the lopsided pattern in the distribution of federal appointments. These and so many more are still very much with us. You see, agitations for a separate state are to be expected and are likely to be relentless in a situation where the general polity does not accommodate the legitimate aspirations of its component groups. A country, as a concept, is only an artificial construct and is designed for the benefit and harmony of its citizens. It then follows that the happiness and security of the citizen is more important than the structure and design of the state. For a people whom the state seems not willing to protect, to accommodate and even denies the benefits reasonably accruing to bona fide citizens, what is the point of citizenship of that nation? They have every right to question the unity or oneness of that country since their existence within it is suffocating. For this reason, the clamour for Biafra will not abate. So, what we are saying is, if Nigeria is unwilling to grant us the freedom to go our own way peacefully, then the country must be restructured in a way that can enthrone the practice of true federalism so that all its component units can thrive and each ethnic group within it can have a sense of belonging. It is when this is done that this nation can stand any chance of survival, and only then can we have the possibility of bequeathing a more accommodating space to our children and generations yet to come.