Bye Bye Ikemba. My Tribute to a misunderstood Nigerian

I set out to pay this tribute to the “Igbo Nation” on Facebook, as my last respect to Dim Odumegwu Chukwuemeka Ojukwu. I wanted to highlight the myths about this great man, his people, his vision, politics, love for beautiful women, and his legacy, as seen from the eyes of a Yoruba man, who as a toddler could not understand why brothers were killing themselves, and now as an adult, still cannot understand why brothers are still killing themselves while their rogue relatives continue to steal blue and black.

 In all, I made about five posts on the topic. As I wrote, my Facebook friends commented on the posts. Those who felt strong about certain issues even called me by phone. Their comments not only enriched my understanding of “Ndi Igbo” and their culture, it gave me fresh hope that our nation will be great again. A celebration of Ojukwu is a celebration of the icon and his people, whom the renown Historian – Emeritus Professor Tekena N. Tamuno described as the builders of Modern Nigeria, but that as soon as they abandoned their Nigerian project to fight a war, the object of their labour was lost. Perhaps in reading this piece, you may end up agreeing with Tamuno, or believe like me, that all is not lost.

Ikemba the Igbo man

 The late Lt. Col. [ngr] -General [bfr] (Chief) Odumegwu Chukwuemeka Ojukwu [78] aka “Dim” the short for “Dikedioramma” which means “Beloved Hero” held the traditional title of Ikemba (which means “Power of the People”) of Nnewi a manufacturing settlement in Anambra State, South-Eastern Nigeria. He claimed for himself (in a jocular manner) the title “Eze Ndigbo Gburugburu” meaning the King of the Igbos – Worldwide.

  Ojukwu was born in 1933 at Zungeru in the present day Niger State. Zungeru was then the administrative capital of Northern Nigeria and a station along the North-Western axis of the trans-Nigeria Railway line constructed by the Colonial Masters. It was their rest point and accommodation for the Railway workers. Zungeru is also the Birthplace of another great Igbo man, Nationalist and the First President of Nigeria – The Owelle of Onitsha, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe of blessed memory.

Ojukwu is credited with the assertion that he is first Igbo, before being a Nigerian. The “Igbo Nation” is an ethnic group with roots in the South Eastern part of Nigeria, but whose spread and presence covers the globe. The Igbos,.sometimes referred to as the Jews of Nigeria are an often misunderstood and persecuted nation within Nigeria. So dispersed are the Igbos all over the country, and indeed the world, that if you find yourself in a strange community in Nigeria, if you can find an Igbo man (probably named Okafor or Obi and probably selling patent medicine), or an Ogbomoso woman (probably called Iya Mulika, probably selling Akara) you easily can conclude it is a safe place to stay. If you find neither of these migrants in any community, run for your dear life.

Ikemba and the Igbo Sense

Ojukwu was destined to lead his people to war because he was an Igbo man to the core. The Igbos are driven by a spirit, which I call the Igbo sense for want of any suitable appellation. The Igbo sense includes components such as:

  1. A sense of enterprise. The average Igbo can identify opportunities miles away, and years ahead. No wonder Ojukwu resigned as a Civil Servant and joined the Army, then considered a band of no-good-doers. He was one of the first graduates to enlist in the Army, thus becoming a war general when his people needed one. No place is too far for an Igbo man. they abound in Bodija, Kabul, Nagasaki, Cape-Town and Alaska.

  2. A sense of commerce. If there is something to buy, an Igbo man will be selling it. Matches, spare parts, Brazilian hair, Aircraft turbine even human skull or Oxygen! It was not a problem for Ojukwu to sell Secession to his people, who were equally ready buyers.

  3. A cooperative sense. For an Igbo man, a rich man within a community of poor men, is a poor man. they therefore bootstrap themselves, helping all and sundry along. In any community, everyone helps their fellow brethren. Ask them in Nairobi how the Igbos acquired all the choice properties in Westlands!

  4. A sense of Justice. The average Igbo man abhors cheating. They can spend their last strength and money to prosecute a cause they believe in. No worries, when it comes to stating their cases. No wonder most offices in Onitsha are Law Firms!

  5. A sense of honor. The average Igbo man believes in death before dishonor. They are honorable. They are good at ensuring that the wills of dearly departed ones are executed with precision. If you need a faithful estate administrator, give it to your Igbo Friend! Yes, there are some one-in- twelve Judases who have now elevated money above their honor, but they are a minority

  6. A sense of duty. The Igbo man is conscientious. Go to any of their businesses, they are always there. If not in their first shop, check the second shop. He may not be educated, but has no objections to his graduate wife seeking more knowledge and acquiring a Ph.D. When they hold public offices, it is with a lot of panache.

  7. A sense of order. Monarchy and autocracy is alien to the Igbo culture. The Igbos always have an opinion on all issues. They will allow the majority have their way, but as a minority, they must have their say. They therefore can be angry, if you deny them their say, no matter how trivial the matter can be. Forget the rude and uncultured lot who now despise and deride their elders. They are illiterates in the custom and ethos of the Igbos.

  8. A great sense of pride. For an Igbo man, some things are just substandard and should not be associated with them. A successful Igbo man will never build a bungalow, it must be a multiple decking, not only in the city, but also in his village. He will not buy an ordinary Benz, it must be padded. even if he is poor and can only afford a motorcycle, it must be Honda CD185 with double Silencer. If he is poorer and can only afford a singlet for himself, his wife must tie George!

  9. A great sense of faithfulness and fidelity. The Igbos will endure good times and bad times. divorce rate is low amongst them. Non-Igbos who marry Igbos always express surprise and happiness at their treasure trove. No wonder the other ethnic groups flock to them looking for political bed-mates. Even GEJ emphasized the name Azikiwe, to court the Igbos and again, they fell.

  10. A sense of history. The Igbos may have forgiven the federal troops and commanders for the war, but they can never forget. They still nurse the ambition for a sovereign state any day. No wonder MASSOB remains in charge of Ojukwu’s funeral plans. Most of their members never fought in the war!

Ikemba the Commander of the Resourceful Biafran Army

Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, leader of the seceding Biafran Army commanded a gallant and arguably irreplaceable army even by today’s standard. The National War museum in Umuahia, Abia State is a living testimony to the ingenuity and determination of the people who marched without boots, commanded by “Eze Ndigbo Gburugburu”, aka the People’s General, hoping to actualize the republic of their dream.

Using their array of friends and influence all over the world, they got support from very few countries. UK backed the Federal troops, but America stood aloof. A number of non-governmental organizations were smpathetic. A Biafran returning home to serve in the Army was a matter of pride. The great migrants they are, they returned in droves. Their best brains, using the earlier described “Igbo spirit” coordinated and drew the war plans.

Their Aeronautical Engineers built amongst others, the Biafran baby, a two-seater bomber that took over the Port-Harcourt Air space and was a thorn in the flesh of the Federal troops. Their Petroleum Engineers refined crude oil, to fuel the war. No wastage and no spillage was their mantra. They did not have to import fuel then. Their Mechanical Engineers built the Ogbunigwe, a dust and debris propelling catapult invented to down the Federal MIG planes by being fired vertically, but which held advancing Federal soldiers to a stand-still by being fired horizontally.

Their Electronics Engineers built “Voice of Biafra”. A Short-Wave Radio marvel that ensured that the peoples spirit was lifted into the ninth cloud and at will. Their Civil Engineers constructed a bunker that gave shelter to the “Voice of Biafra”, a critical war Infrastructure. No sensible person prosecuted a war without propaganda. Their unskilled welders concocted metals plates to build Armoured Personnel Carriers called the Red Devils.

An Ethiopian proverb says that “When spiders unite, they can spin a web that will tie a lion”. Such was the web of innovations and devices the Biafran spiders spurn for 30 months. Over this period, the battle cry was “No Retreat, No Surrender”.

The Federal Infantry brigade – Soldiers marching on the ground could not bring this force to its knee.. The Federal Artillery brigade – firing Shells and mortals on an unimaginable scale could not bring this force to its knee. The Federal Airborne brigade – flying the MIG and other sophisticated air crafts of that generation could not bring the force to its knee. The Federal Marine Brigade – approaching from the sea could not bring this force to its knee.

Biafra did not fall, until the forces of “Adam Smith” joined in the battle on the Federal side, commanded by another Economics Lawyer, using food blockades and starvation as ammunition. Salt began to trade at a much higher price that Gold on the informal and still-born “Biafran Commodity Exchange Market”. Lizards became a substitute for chicken, and other atrocities too morbid and better left for other people’s memoirs not mine.

Perhaps Nigeria has not worked because we have failed to recognize the labours of our true Heroes past. The sheer technological ingenuity, manufacturing sagacity and resilience of a nation within a nation that thrived on Research and Development per excellence. A people with swag too strong to break.

Ibo made was the slogan when I was in secondary school and the Malaysians were taking our palm seeds. Made in China was the slogan when I became a freshman and we started to import palm oil. We thought we could build Telecommunication switches. Now that my generation and our unexplored ingenuity is almost wasted owing to crass ineptitude, our children will probably continue to import petroleum and Telecommunication switches from China – What the blessed team of Ojukwu engineers worked not dreamed, should be exported out of Umuahia. Now we are left with reminiscences.

Ikemba’s wound that Cupid wrought

Ikemba was an “Officer and a Gentleman”. The lives of soldiers revolves around three vices and two passions: The combined vices of Cigarette, Booze and Women and the passion for sleek, fast cars and Guns all add to the composition of a Soldier!

 Ojukwu survived and ran from artillery fire on the war front but fell for the piercing arrow of sheer beauty. How else can one explain the love and passion that led him to marry a one-time Most beautiful girl in Nigeria – Former Bianca Onoh, daughter of the former Governor of Anambra state – Dr. Christian C. Onoh. Elder Onoh only kept away from the wedding of his friend who was 30 years older than his daughter, he did not send hired assassins to extinguish the Ikemba, nor did he take the law into his hands, hoping to settle the quarrel and embarrassment with a cutlass.

Bianca, even with her degree in Law and sheer beauty, acted true to type of most Igbo ladies. She remained humble, submissive and very much in love with Dim, i.e. her husband, their age difference immaterial. They went on to have three lovely children. In return, Emeka Ojukwu treated his wife like the royalty she is, making them the toast of most celebrity magazines in Nigeria, who never really found a scandal around the duo. Even a War General who could shoot at will can love from the heart.

While some would argue that this singular act of dating his friend’s daughter exposed in him a man who had no self-control and could not take his eyes off a friend’s beautiful daughter under his watch, it is instructive that Bianca’s father later forgave the love birds before his demise. Such is the heart of a typical loving and doting Igbo father. Slow to recognize unconventional love, but quick to appreciate the fruits of such enduring relationships.

Ikemba and the Changing Igbo Culture

Igbos, traditionally are people that believe strongly in education. Gradually, a new breed of Igbo men are becoming visible. They are young, rich, fetish, not very educated, and will readily disrespect their elders in the village, because they believe only in three things: Money, Money and Money.

Gradually, Igbo women are beginning to step up and fill the void created by the men. More women are fighting the oppressive aspect (misuse) of the Igbo culture and are succeeding, one step at a time. The pride in the new generation Igbo man believes money is the essence of life, and money solves all problems.

After he was pardoned for leading the Civil war, Ojukwu returned from exile and joined politics. He vied for election as an Anambra State Senator in 1983, but was roundly defeated. Perhaps Ojukwu was no longer popular, or Ojukwu could not excel in election engineering or Ojukwu underestimated the cash and carry process called election in Nigeria. Perhaps his beloved people no longer vote according to their conscience, but proportional to the morsels of “Better Life”, “Family Support” or “National Award”.

Ikemba, a Warrior not Vanquished

Ojukwu gave some account of his role in the Nigerian Civil war, with a book captioned “Because I am involved”. He explained in the book, that “The concept, Biafra, was a line drawn for a persecuted people to have a beacon of hope, a line drawn so that a fleeing people can at least hope that once they cross it, they have arrived at a goal, a line drawn so that a hated and persecuted people can at least know that once they reach there, they would have love and succor. This is why there was no declaration of that line as a republic until certain acts of war were initiated against the persecuted people.”

One need not wonder where these ingenious fellows who turned adversity into great advantage are? Nigerians have long mastered the art of throwing away the child with the bath water. The surviving scions of these unsung heroes are all around us, most are too timid to tell the stories of their courageous fathers and uncles, who got ruled off-side by our Thieves and Fiefs!! I assert that up till now, there are many Nigerians who are scared of the “Igbo Sense” and will not venture outside their comfort zone of paranoia, for fear of being out-ranked by these perceived gifted people.

To the people, whose cause Ojukwu championed, on whose account he went from riches to rags, on whose account he lost all, except his dignity, he were truly a hero. Maybe someday, the Children of Christian Pheasants from Ihiala will play with the Children of Moslem Mullahs in Zamfara, with both parents watching and saying “Adupe lowo Olorun”. That is when we can say we have a truly united nation called Nigeria, not a nation of parasites and vain fellows

Ikemba and the Final War

In concluding my tribute to this great Icon of a great people, we must note his closing wish also expressed in his book: “I have had my belly full of wars. I will always fight for the welfare of the Igbos, though this time around, on a table of dialogue”, “In Aburi, I stated the Igbo case and I will continue to do so wherever it is necessary”

It is now necessary in the great beyond. He is now left to fight the cause of the Igbos on the celestial plane. He has transformed from flesh to immortality. Ikemba now lives in the minds of each and everyone of those who truly and earnestly wish for a united and indivisible Nigeria. A nation flowing with milk and honey, where our counts will not vote on our behalf, but our votes will count. The scars of the Civil war is a gentle reminder that it is not yet uhuru.

Ojukwu actually died when the civil war ended. that was when his fighting spirit was broken. No wonder he was defeated in the senate election in 1983 by a political neonate. what we are celebrating is the demise of his body. the container vessel of the great Igbo spirit in him.

Ojukwu may have been a traitor to Nigeria, but even those who fought on the Federal side have not demonstrated thereafter that they believe in the survival of Nigeria as a truly prosperous nation for the good of it citizens, rather as a goose that continues to lay them plenty golden eggs. Those souls that perished in the cause of showing that there is some lopsidedness then and even now are the true heroes of the never say die country called Nigeria. I mean the real Nigeria that cannot be expressed with a mere geographical boundary.

Adieu, the great symbol – Dim Odumegwu Chukwuemeka Ojukwu (Commander of the Biafran Army). Ikemba Nnewi, Eze Ndigbo Gburugburu. Let the labors of our true heroes never be in vain.

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