Odumegwu Ojukwu Chukwuemeka also called Emeka Ojukwu (4 November 1933), was the leader of the secessionist state of Biafra in Nigeria and military governor of Eastern region. It was after Nigeria’s first military coup, in January 1966, that Emeka Ojukwu came to power as governor of the country’s predominantly-Ibo Eastern Region. Though he was himself an Ibo and a lieutenant-colonel in the army, he had not been involved in this Ibo-led plot, nor, less surprisingly, did he take part in the second coup, six months later, which was led by northerners. He was a federalist, which is to say he believed in keeping Nigeria as a federal state.
God had not designed it as such, but the British had. As the colonial power, they had drawn a line round the lands of the three main peoples and 400 or so smaller linguistic groups, governed the mainly-Muslim northerners indirectly through traditional rulers and the mainly-Christian remainder directly, called them in aggregate a nation and, in 1960, given them independence. Two years earlier, a Nigerian author, Chinua Achebe, borrowing from Yeats, had pointed out that “things fall apart”, in a novel of that name. He had quickly been proved right.
The son of one of Nigeria’s most successful transport entrepreneurs, Ojukwu was from the Igbo tribe but was born in Zungeru, in the north of the country. He received the best education – King’s College, Lagos; Epsom College, Surrey and Lincoln College, Oxford, where he graduated with honours in history in 1955. He refused to go into his father’s business and instead spent two years as an unglamorous administrative officer in the Eastern Nigerian public service.
Under pressure from Igbo militants he declared independence for the 29,000 square-mile region. A flag was designed, featuring a rising sun. A currency was issued and the beginnings of a welfarestate were put in place. Ojukwu personally chose a movement from Jean Sibelius’s Finlandia as the tune to the national anthem, in reference tothe Nordic country’s resistance toforeign domination.
By 1969, Biafra was on its knees and Ojukwu fled into exile in Ivory Coast. Twelve years later he was granted a pardon and returned to Nigeria where he formed the All Progressives Grand Alliance and ran for president in 2003 and 2007. In 2008, he received his military pension from the Nigerian government but complained that it ranked him as a lieutenant-colonel rather than as a general, his rank in the Biafran army.
In Nigeria, Ojukwu’s legacy islargely viewed as positive for having stood up for his ethnic group, having proved incorruptible and havingessentially personified the country’s view of itself as constantly riven along ethnic lines. After his death at the Royal Berkshire Hospital – where he had been admitted following a stroke in December 2010 – President Goodluck Jonathan paid him a glowing tribute: “Ojukwu’simmense love of his people, justice,equity and fairness forced him into the leading role he played in the Nigerian civil war.”
Odumegwu Ojukwu Chukwuemeka Full Biography and Profile
Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu was born into a wealthy Ibo family November 4, 1933 at Zungeru in northern Nigeria to Sir Louis Phillippe Odumegwu Ojukwu, a businessman from Nnewi in southeastern Nigeria. Sir Louis business interests were in transport; he made use of the business boom during the Second World War to become one of the richest men in Nigeria upon his death in 1966. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu was born into wealth.
Emeka, as he was fondly called, began his educational career in Lagos, southwestern Nigeria. At 13, his father sent him overseas to Great Britain to study at Epsom College, England. He left Epsom at 18 for Lincoln College, Oxford. At Oxford University, he obtained a bachelor’s degree in modern history and then retuned to colonial Nigeria in 1956.
He joined the Nigerian army , againt his wealthy father’s wishes , hoping to play an integral role in the nation’s affairs once Nigeria had gained independance from Britain.
Officer Odumegwu-Ojukwu’s popular background and sound education guaranteed his promotion to higher ranks. Besides, as at 1956, the Nigerian Military Forces had 250 officers and only 15 were Nigerians. Odumegwu-Ojukwu has an understandably fast rise in the military, eventually becoming the Quartermaster General.
After serving in the United Nations’ peacekeeping force in the Congo, under the legendary Major General Johnson Thomas Aguiyi-Ironsi, Odumegwu-Ojuwkwu was promoted to lieutenant-colonel in 1964 and posted to Kano, where he was in charge of the 5th Battalion of the Nigerian Army. He was in Kano, northern Nigeria, when Major Patrick Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu on January 15, 1966 executed and announced the first military coup in Kaduna, also in northern Nigeria. It is to his credit that the coup lost much steam in the north, where it had succeeded. Lt. Col. Odumegwu-Ojukwu supported the forces loyal to the Supreme Commander of the Nigerian Armed Forces, Major-General Aguiyi-Ironisi. Major Nzeogwu was in control of Kaduna, but the coup had flopped in other part of the country. He surrendered.
General Aguiyi-Ironsi took over the leadership of the country and thus became the first military head of state. On Monday, January 17, 1966, he appointed military governors for the four regions. Lt. Col. Odumegwu-Ojukwu was appointed Military Governor of Eastern Region.
By May 29, 1966, things quickly fell apart: There was a planned Pogrom in northern Nigerian Nigeria during which Nigerians of Eastern Nigeria origin were targeted and killed. This presented problems for the young military governor, Colonel Odumegwu-Ojukwu.
On July 29, 1966, a group of officers of Northern origin, notably Majors Murtala Ramat Rufai Muhammed, Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma, and Martin Adamu, led the majority Northern soldiers in a bloody mutiny that was later tagged “countercoup.” The Supreme Commander General Aguiyi-Ironsi and his host Colonel Fajuyi were abducted and killed in Ibadan; officer of Eastern and Midwestern origin were targeted and systematically eliminated across the country. And the Pogrom intensified. All hope for a united Nigeria was lost. In fact, Colonel Gowon, who emerged as the leader of the pack, admitted in a broadcast that there was no longer any basis for unity.
Colonel Odumegwu-Ojukwu never lost faith in a peaceful solution of the crises, even though citizens of Eastern Nigeria were so traumatized they generally wanted nothing more to do with their fellow citizens turned killers. Yet he persisted on the path of peace. First, he insisted that the military hierarchy must be preserved; in which case, Brigadier Ogundipe should take over leadership, not Colonel Yakubu Gowon. But Ogundipe no longer had the stomach to deal with a riotous army; he was easily convinced to step out and into the Nigerian High Commission in London. On September 29, the final phase of the planned Pogrom was executed, marked by its brutal bestiality. Still, while coping with the mass return of maimed and bruised brethren from the North and West, Odumegwu-Ojukwu persevered; even when it had become obvious to his people that the basis for unity had been irreparably eroded, he still talked with whomever would listen. He never lost faith in seizing the moment to fashion out a lasting legacy for generations yet unborn.
And so they ended up in Aburi, Ghana in January 1967 for a peace conference hosted by General Joseph Ankrah. The brilliance of Colonel Odumegwu-Ojukwu was apparent throughout the talk. He succeeded in convincing his colleagues to sign off on what became known as “Aburi Accord.” Just when everyone thought that Nigeria was back on the path of peace, Colonel Gowon reneged and proceeded to split the Eastern Region unilaterally into three states on May 27, 1967! Three days later on May 30, 1967 and based on the mandate of the Eastern Nigerian Constituent Assembly, Colonel Odumegwu-Ojukwu declared Eastern Nigeria a sovereign state to be known as BIAFRA:
On July 6, 1967, Gowon decalred war and attacked Biafra. For 30 bloody months, the war raged on. Now General Odumegwu-Ojukwu knew that the odds against the new republic was overwhelming, but he preferred to fight for what is right and defend the sovereignty of Biafra against what was obviously an illegitimate regime of General Yakubu Gowon. The unholy Anglo-Soviet alliance, using rogue Egyptian mercenaries fresh from the war with Israel, pounded Biafra and Biafrans with armaments big and small, including the use of hunger as a weapon of war – which resulted in the ravaging kwashiorkor.
Biafra lasted for 30 eventful months during which a potential, indigenous African superpower almost emerged. But the forces against Biafra were enormous. On January 9, 1070, General Odumegwu-Ojukwu handed over power to his second in command, Chief of General Staff Major-General Philip Effiong, and left for Côte d’Ivoire, where President Felix Houphöet-Biogny — who had recognized Biafra on May 14, 1968 — granted him political asylum.
After 13 years in exile, the Federal Government of Nigeria under President Shehu Aliyu Usman Shagari granted an official pardon and opened the road for a triumphant return in 1982. His people of Nnewi gave him the now very famous title of “Ikemba,” while the entire Igbo nation called him “Dikedioramma” (Beloved hero). He was indeed a beloved hero. His foray into politics was disappointing to many, who wanted him to stay above the fray. Afraid of his supposedly overbearing and enigmatic influence, the ruling party, NPN, rigged him out of the senate seat, which was purportedly lost to a little known state commissioner in then Governor Jim Nwobodo’s cabinet called Dr. Edwin Onwudiwe.
General Chukwemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu is a quintessential Igbo man: proud, ambitious, and intelligent. Here is a young man who at 33 had the fate of a nation thrust onto him, and he did not disappoint. He is a rare gem, the unconquered spirit of the Igbo personified. It is not surprising albeit ironic that in 2003 the Igbo are once again turning to the same person, who had lead them in a war to get out of Nigeria’s gyre, to lead them in a political battle back for the now-stabilized center in Abuja.
Odumegwu-Ojukwu is married to Bianca, nee Onoh, the 1989 Miss Inter-Continental Pageant. He is presently the presidential candidate of All Progressive Peoples Alliance.
- Emeka Ojukwu Biography and Profile (AS)