In 1939, a young Igbo Nigerian Railway staff, Moses Maduka Nwachukwu, from Ovim, Isuikwuato Local Government Area, Abia State, caused a stir in the Fulani Katsina Emirate ruling house when he sought the hand of their daughter, Binta Fatima Mohammed Diko, in marriage.
The marriage, which got the blessing of the emirate, saw the couple remain true to their respective faiths till death did them part in 1989 when Pa Nwachukwu died after 50 years of marriage. They were blessed on September 1, 1940, in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, with a son. That first child is today, General (Senator) Ike Omar Sanda Nwachukwu, a most distinguished and detribalized Nigerian.
He had his education at the Ladi-Lak Institute and Yaba City College, Lagos, where he passed out in 1959. With the Yaba City College founded by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe having his West African Pilot newspapers in the same premises, young Ike Nwachukwu’s first love was journalism, hence he was a reporter with the newspaper shortly after leaving school.
Again, with reports of the exploits of the Umuahia-born first General of the Nigerian Army, J.T.U. Aguiyi-Ironsi, as the Commander of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in the early 1960s in Congo (Kinshasha), Ike Nwachukwu, with his towering height, enlisted in the Nigerian Military Training College, Kaduna. He was commissioned a Second Lieutenant into the Nigerian Infantry Corps.
One of the most trying moments in Ike Nwachukwu’s military career was the July 29, 1966, countercoup against the Aguiyi-Ironsi military government, led by Murtala Muhammed, and the Nigeria-Biafra war that followed, from 1967 to 1970. His two “mother tongues” saved him from the tribulations of those days. Being the Deputy Joint Military Council secretary, Dodan Barracks, Lagos, in 1970. Ike Omar Sanda Nwachukwu helped in the reabsorbtion and reintegration of returnee Igbo former Biarfrans into the Army Officers cadre such as Ndubuisi Kanu, Ebitu Ukiwe, Chijioke Kaja, Lambert Iheanacho, Godwin Nwadike, et cetera. Kaja, Iheanacho and Nwadike have gone the way of all mortals.
A former Provost Marshal of the Nigerian Army before the December 31, 1983, coup by General Muhammadu Buhari, the new junta appointed Ike Nwachukwu Military Governor of old Imo State with the rank of Brigadier General. In Owerri, he had to contend with the popularity of Dee Sam Mbakwe, the former civilian governor, whom Imo people had voted for a second term because of his unprecedented achievements throughout the old Imo State. Ike Nwachukwu saw to the permanent relocation of the old Imo State University in five different locations to its permanent site at Uturu, now the Abia State University. The government acquired 10,800 hectares of land for the university’s future needs as a mega university till the next millennium.
With the General Ibrahim Babaginda putsch of August 27, 1985, against Buhari, Ike Nwachukwu went back to full military duties as the Adjutant-General of the Nigerian Army. As Minister of Employment, Labour and Productivity, 1986 to 1987, he founded and nurtured the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) with Chukwu Wachuku as the pioneer director-general. With his talent blossoming every day, Ike Nwachukwu, in 1987 became the second Igbo Major General of the Nigerian Army, after Aguiyi-Ironsi. He was appointed External Affairs Minister, 1987 to 1989. His “Diplomatic Soldiering” (apologies to Joe Garba) saw his introduction of concept of “Economic Diplomacy” in the conduct of Nigeria’s foreign policy. The late Joseph Nanven Garba and Ike Nwachukwu, today remain the most charismatic former military ministers of foreign affairs.
His voice in Queen’s English diction always heard at both the OAU (now AU) and United Nations General Assembly on the evils of apartheid added to the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in the later part of 1989. Going back to military duties in a major reshuffle by the maverick Military President Babangida (with the uproar following the retirement of Nigeria’s first four-star General, Domkat Bali), Ike Nwachukwu was appointed the General Officer Commanding the strategic 1st Mechanised Division of the Nigerian Army, Kaduna. Commodore Lamba Gwom was appointed a member of the AFRC to placate the Middle-Belt’s ubiquitous “Langtang mafia”. With that position, he became a member of the Armed Forces Ruling Council of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Still harvesting his competence, trust and reliability, Babangida again in May 1990 appointed him the chairman of the Military Tribunal that tried Major Gideon Orkar after his abortive “most bloody coup in Nigeria” (April 22, 1990) according to then director of Army Public Relations, Colonel Fred Chijiuka. The Kofo-Abayomi Avenue headquarters of the Brigade of Guards, Victoria Island, Lagos, was the seat of the military tribunal.
He meritoriously retired from the Nigerian Army with his head high before the Maradonic shifting of the endless transition programme of General Babangida.
In the build-up of the Fourth Republic, Ike Nwachukwu was in the G36 led by Dr. Alex Ekwueme and Solomon Lar that boldly opposed General Sani Abacha on his bid for military-to-civilian transformation as president of Nigeria. The ambition was cut short on June 8, 1998, with the sudden demise of the maximum military dictator, Nigeria has ever had, Abacha.
A founding member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), General Ike Nwachukwu was the senator for the Abia North Senatorial Zone (1999-2003) and willingly handed over to Comrade Uche Chukwumerije as he promised to go for only one term in the Upper Chamber. He was the chairman of the powerful House Committee on Steel and Power, among membership of other committees.
He participated in the 1994, 2005 and 2014 National Conferences on the future of Nigeria. In 2014, under the President Goodluck Jonathan administration, he was the leader of the Igbo South-East delegation that generously canvassed “Restructuring of Nigeria,” which the ubiquitous Federal might and powers have been choking the federating units to the stagnation of the nation and wastage of resources on 36 states that depend on the Federal Government for monthly allocations. This is not sustainable now as COVID-19 should open everyone’s eyes on the need for restructuring of Nigeria. Unfortunately, those holding the nation by the jugular appear vehemently opposed to such.
His Isuikwuato area of Abia Statem a.k.a “Land of Generalsm” has produced Ike Nwachukwu, second Igbo Chief of Staff of the Nigerian Army, Azubuike Ihejirika, and the first Military Governor of Imo State, Rear Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu, all from Ovim Imeanyi, Isuikwuato. There are other serving and retired military persons who emulated Ike Nwachukwu’s entry into the Army.
Ike Nwachukwu is married to Gwendolyn Tonyesia Yoyinsola Ejiwunmi of Ofada, Abeokuta, Ogun State, whose mother is a Kalabari woman from the Bob-Manuel Ruling House of Abonema, Rivers State. His sons and daughters are married to Nigerians from all parts of the federation.
Ike Omar Sanda Nwachukwu is a true reflection of what Nigeria ought to be, a detribalized Nigeria, where the tribe and tongue may differ but in brotherhood we should stand to build a nation of our dreams.
•Ogbonnaya, former defence correspondent, public affairs analyst and commentator, wrote from Abia State University, Uturu