Ojukwu, Fighter of Ethnic Injustice and Nigerian Development Dream
Mr. President and Board, Members of Igbo Cultural Association of Edmonton (ICAE), Nigerian community and friends in Edmonton, I want to thank you especially for your time and presence to grace this unique memorial service in honour of General Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu. As a keynote speaker, my duty is to unlock the theme and relate it to the issue of our gathering today. It is with both the key and remarkable note of recognition and appreciation that I open the memorial service for Dim Ojukwu to be well deserved from our part here in Edmonton of Canada.
Truly, here is a man, Dim Ojukwu who was born in Zungeru of Niger State of Northern Nigeria about 78 years ago. He emerged into a top rate millionaire family, his father a transport guru and greatest investor of his time. Ojukwu subsequently did not allow himself to be carried away by the wealth and fame of his father. He studied and carved out an identity for himself to change his people and society for the better. This he did by becoming a district community organizer for liberation from poverty and injustice. Dim Ojukwu schooled in Lagos and England and graduated with first class in modern history at Oxford University. He played sports of all kinds and won coveted awards in the midst of discrimination and sometimes with controversy.
After his studies at Oxford, he returned to Nigeria, and as I said already, served as a district officer in Aba and Udi. A year later, he joined Nigerian army even at a low recruit level against the wishes of his influential father – as the first Nigerian with a First Class MA Degree. If Ojukwu had not been called up by destiny (akaraka ya), he would have ended up being a teacher in a university or any college of the time. Truly, gifted students like him were quickly sent to schools to teach – to produce and transmit knowledge skills. Moreso, with the wealth of his father, he could have continued to work for an academic Ph.D in any choice university in the world. But that was not his calling. I am sure in England and having been a student of modern history, he knew what sacrifice and honor can mean from military culture and society with regard to nation building. He knew that Nigeria needed a strong and educated army to work on Nigerian unity and development. He gave Nigeria that glimpse of purpose and action. He mattered to the army. And indeed, before, during and after the Nigerian Biafran civil war in which he was a key person, Ojukwu remained relevant anywhere and any time. He never let his people down. He stood by them and for them. In doing so, he shaped for himself an excellent place in history of which we have gathered here to share for inspiration and to offer him our tributes. Dim Ojukwu should best be described as an agent of transformation for Nigerian history. Up until his death on Nov. 26 2011, and his burial and mourning, on March 2, 2012, Ojukwu stayed fighting and promoting the cause of Nigerian unity. Three times, he contested to be president and that shows how genuine and historic he was to the cause of promoting Nigeria. In 1982 when he was granted full pardon to return home, after 13 years in exile in Ivory Coast, he was given a hero’s welcome. Other incidents reflect how much Dim Ojukwu was loved for giving his all to his people as a hero. There was a story testified by his wife Queen Bianca Ojukwu of how market sheds were pulled out to let Ojukwu pass when traffic hold up caught with his journey in one inland Igbo area in the 1990s. No one in Nigerian history had been offered such a perception to secure and respect him as a top Odegwu nwoke or a high sacred kinsman.
We are here to salute – a man of the people; one who chose to work selflessly in defense of his people. The job of a soldier is what? I ask you. To govern or to defend the vulnerable population, provide them with security and to say to them, I am here as your soldier to fight for you, to die to make sure you live. So Ojukwu we know did that when it became necessary in the full context of UN’s convention and human rights principles of survival and existence.
He is the man we have gathered tonight to celebrate; one who understood Nigeria deeply with ideals bothering on giving to the other. Late Prof. Pantaleon once framed it this way: Ojukwu was a helper and defender of justice for the people who were denied, not a hinderer. History has spoken, seeing him as a man who lived beyond his time. Ojukwu’s likes were hanged when they proved so prophetic and challenging to the powers that be. But he became a security risk. Touch Ojukwu, you will touch disaster, an ethnic tsunami-earthquake.
Let me quickly mention that at the end of Nigerian civil war, General Gowon pronounced the war as a “no victor, no vanquished” situation. What does that mean? Social scientists, war scholars and historians have interpreted the sagacity of that pronouncement in diverse ways. I will say one; it highlighted the national indulgence to be Nigeria. If one side be made to feel or look defeated, conquered, restrained and controlled, Nigeria will fail to be. And by realizing that the Igbo were visibly present in every village of Nigeria, it made no sense to think of defeating such a group. How can one think so? That would have resulted to defeating the nation in itself of which was of the Igbo in every community? To think of defeat therefore would have meant to shoot irresponsibly Nigeria on its own political and development feet. It was sure to say that General Gowon listened to counsel in that frame. The Igbo were not defeated; but were redirected by the cause of history to return to be Nigeria. Immediately the Igbo re-migrated and re-occupied Nigeria as it is today. It signified that Ojukwu knew it all as a just war to save lives being wasted in the North of Nigeria in the 1960s. Saving lives and community of people to have a life is a good thing. Any governor in Nigeria today who cannot save lives and properties in his state should be impeached, jailed or even killed to give peace and development a chance. It is strongly cultural to restore lives and dignity of a cultural community.
From General Ojukwu, a four starred general, buried and mourned by the whole Nigerian world, in particular the Igbo, Nigeria has experienced the sacrifices necessary to forge a common unity. Ojukwu modeled a dream for Nigeria. His Ahiara dream speech comparable with that of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. of America also in the 1960s shared similar wisdom and dream of libration from injustice, inclusion, security and opportunity. Dim Ojukwu handed to Nigeria the Ahiara Declaration of 1969 to surge to unity and development.
Ladies and gentlemen, all Nigerians, friends and Canadians, we have gathered to give honour to whom it is fully due. We have come to celebrate the life and times of an outstanding, visionary, pragmatic and collective and distinguished Igbo and Nigerian ICON, Dim Ojukwu. What Nigeria is today, was an outcome of Ojukwu’s making through the circumstances of the 1960s ethnic injustices. Ojukwu is a symbol of life and culture, a national and intergenerational hero. Dim Ojukwu received the best funeral in history. On’est jamais vu. He did because he satisfied many things through his personhood and ideals. Ojukwu was a business mogul like his own father whom I encountered through my cousin in Lagos in the shipping business. An orator, philosopher, historian, politician, family man, ardent Catholic, soldier, people’s leader, chief, Eze Igbo gburu gburu.
When Ikemba, Emeka Ojukwu poured out his feelings as shown below, he was letting us know that forever he bonded with his people and committed his life, opportunities and resources for Ndigbo in every village and town in Nigeria to get secured in weaving Nigerian unity together. He declared:
“I Have Paid My Dues.’ For you (Ndigbo), I abandoned all ease and embraced pain. For you, I impoverished myself to buy your protection. For you, I walked every battlefront to assure your welfare. For you. I stood when every other person crouched. For you. I endured 13 years of bitter exile. For you. I endured 10 months of maximum security prison. For you I embraced priestly poverty. For you I continue to struggle…What I have said is not harsh, it is only the unclad truth and it reflects only the intensity of the love I harbor for my people." --Ojukwu
I invite all of you to open up and embrace history in Ojukwu and Ojukwu in history. A mega figure of culture. His place is assured and we truly stand to learn and endure. Na mbo ka-obidoro; O si n’akara aka ya. Thank you all for your time. May his gallant soul rest in Peace. Adieu Dim Ojukwu.
Keynote Speech Delivered on Saturday, March 3, at St. Edmund’s Catholic Parish Hall, Edmonton, Canada by Dr. Patrick Iroegbu to the Igbo Cultural Association of Edmonton, Alberta Canada.