With pained feeling I bid Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu farewell as he returns to mother earth. Undoubtedly, the Igbo will forever be awed and serenaded by the aura, charisma, bravery, confidence, intellect, mythology, mischief and betrayal of the Ikemba. They will forever worship at the altar of his Biafranism and romanticise its good, bad and ugly legacy. The man Odumegwu-Ojukwu was a confident anarchist. Today, he remains in our memory for making a courageous stand and shouting: “Who Dares Wins”.
He was a visionary and a prophet’s prophet. When he saw our salvation and speedy freedom from servitude, we rejected his call for repentance. When he saw the lies and sins of our high priests, we saw hope in their sermons just as we now embraced the platitudes of a President Goodluck Jonathan transformational agenda. When he saw the stark dichotomy between the North and the South, the measureless odium and vexations, Ikemba made for a defining moment and confronted all the seeming oppressive tendencies with total determination. And like Frank Sinatra, he ‘did it in his own way’ through the shattering power of his ‘ogbunigwes’.
In spite of his silver-spooned background, urbanity, lady-killer-good looks, charisma and ivy-league education, he soiled his princely hands in the Biafran struggle with notorious, not to say, demonic zeal. And because Odumegwu-Ojukwu hated behind-the-scene, softly-softly approach to the sufferings of his people, he embraced the direct action orthodoxy as we now see in the Occupy this, Occupy that revolution. For embracing an iconic paradigm, enemies called him arrogant and impatient. In many pathetic, cack-handed attempts to denigrate his warrior oeuvre, implacable critics are calling his resort to armed rebellion as sheer exercise in delusion and military infantilism. The roaring lions and the evening wolves will not allow his body to rest without feasting.
The critics reasoned that the honour, bravado and machismo of the Biafran war left unhealable scars and lingering wounds without achieving the Biafran project. The enemies of the Biafran war see no contradiction in projecting countercultural statement. They are unafraid to call the war an unpopular disaster from the crazed soul of a war mongering fantasist. Ikemba is accused of going for the sweepstakes of warfare without pausing to map alternative lines of peaceful separation before choosing his own track.
This argument may be forgivable. What is unforgivable is the strand of unpleasant populism that surfaces from time to time in gratuitous references to the Biafran war from the pro war camp. Watch this…there is this tragic emblem still being worn by Biafran paganists, that is the Neo-Biafranists, who grind out greasy judgement, condemnation and canting rebuke of the role of the Pan-Yoruba universe in the war. What then now? Late Chief Obafemi Awolowo had long gone home. Ikemba is on his way to meet his maker. Awo and Odumegwu-Ojukwu, the duo contestants for our tribal loyalties, may have departed, what still remains among the Yoruba and Ndigbo is the yawning clannish intolerance that really threatens our mutual bond. Can we continue to live in our settled habit of mutual intolerance and suspicion?
This is the classic case of how tribal identities are created and re-created through the struggles, statements and actions of our leaders. To any commentator, the Biafran war story is a thorny jungle. There are toxic mixes of factors, all, blindfolding us to take whatever side suits our emotion. The Biafran war is too argumentative. Yet, we have to strip off Biafran veneer and strike at Igbo collective wailings. The received orthodoxy from the Igbo nation was that the Northerners unleashed genocidal mayhem against their clan in the North. An Odumegwu-Ojukwu response was war. Now that Boko Haram is rolling out heavier dice of genocide against the Ndigbo, where is an Odumegwu-Ojukwu to save his clan from extinction?
Here, I do not want to stir, remix old quarrel, open old wound but to replay those toxic mix of factors that led to the armed rebellion against Nigeria’s injustice. However, the Biafran war has given us the extraordinary pretext to frame profound existential questions. We must ask ourselves what really, really motivated Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu to dig the trenches and launched the Biafran war. What problem was he trying to solve through ogbunigwes? What injustice was he trying to correct? By any standard, Ojukwu was a fine soldier. God had prepared him before he was born as a liberator, a Mosaican deliverer and a prophet from Nnewi. Liberty was a hidden agenda of his war. Though the longing for freedom is universal, the question is freedom from what? The sharp division, injustice, intolerance and corruption of 1966 are still with us and with far more savage forms but where is the Odumegwu-Ojukwu or the messiah to call us to arm?
Then is it right to keep on making a mountain out of the molehill of the Biafran war? Is it right to keep on releasing rebellious new songs and furious dance steps about it even when the warrior is on his way either to hea… or he.. Can we continue to use the memory of the war to accuse, intimidate, control and exert contrition from non-Ndigbo?
Can the Ndigbo continue to affirm their conceited valour of the Biafran war while fastening their helplessness on political marginalisation? The immediate challenge for the Ndigbo or Biafran chauvinists is to halt flaunting the ephemeral, super hero glory of a ‘wuruwuru’ leader but to reinvent an Odumegwu-Ojukwu icon that will embody the approving qualities of valour, tenacity, industry, genius, long suffering and hardwork commonly associated with an average hardwired Igbo modern man. Without his immediate clone, the dream of an Igbo president come 2015 will run into a deadly nightshade of pure tick tock. Adieu Ikemba as you go into the timeless terrestrial.