BreakingNews 29/3/2014 - On Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu

[ Masterweb Reports: Valentine Obienyem reports ] - On the 4th of May, 1996, the Nri Kingdom crowned Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu Ezeigbo. It generated a lot of controversy. I am proud to be one of those that argued that Ojukwu was eminently qualified for such an honour. I wrote in the papers on the development.
Today, the UNN will honour him with a posthumous Honorary Degree in Law. I wish to re-present my argument in 1996 to show that no honour is enough for that illustrious son of Igbo land.
On Whether Ojukwu Deserves The Title Of Eze-Igbo
There is no primary school boy of Igbo origin who does not know that title taking in Igbo land is a step towards the recognition of a person’s achievements. Honour involves the expression of respect, which is due to a person either by virtue of his role on a particular occasion, or by virtue of his status or rank, which is expressed in titles and demonstrated in deference. Hence honour is not only the internalization of the value of society in the individual, but the externalization of his self image in the world.
In a complex society like Nigeria, individual views may differ, and different groups may have different standards for acknowledging greatness. But the significance of the acts and the granting of dignities are essentially the same: they place the seal of public recognition on reputation that would otherwise stand in doubt and endow them with permanence. Therefore, to value a man is to honour him; and the honour in Igboland often comes through titles.
Thus by endowing one with a title, his achievements are institutionalized, even as he is indirectly urged to do more. Igbos therefore cultivate, cherish and promote an elitist culture whose parameter is judged by the excellence of one’s achievements and commitment to the upliftment of the people. A lot of things have happened but the urge to excel and to be titled remains the heritage of the Igbo spirit. Unless Igbos continue to respect hard work, they will become misguided progenies of their illustrious ancestors.
In Igbo land, leadership is not an exclusive preserve of a single family or lineage: leadership is not in blood but is achieved. Igbos know the principle of individualism and keep it. They could only allow persons of proven superior traits to lead them. There are many such people, but Ojukwu stands out.
In achievements, antecedents and capability, not many of Ojukwu’s critics in Igboland can confidently dream to match him, or exude his charisma! In thinking of the man’s character, Innocent Okafo said: “Ikemba is from all indications a man of proven integrity, man of his people, and voice of Ndigbo as well as the defender of Igbos’ interest in our national life.”1 Chekwas Okorie concurs: “Igbos recognize in Ojukwu the qualities of a hero in war and a great man in peace, a mind imbued with a high sense of justice and pride, and a courage unshaken in the command of armies.”2 What is the secret of Ojukwu’s attraction, of his enormous seductiveness to the Igbos?
The secret is very much open: Igbos have tested his leadership, and found their interests secured in his hands. If there is one thing on which many Igbos agree, it is that Biafra would have been unthinkable without this one unparalleled Odegwuanyi as Zik used to call him. There could not have been that national dedication to a cause, that fantastic faith in their own strength, which the people displayed under him. He made Biafra the credo of a mass movement, and he, essentially alone, created that mass movement itself. None of his associates, not even those who criticize his taking of the Eze-Igbo title, could show any comparable combination of ideological ability with practical, cool politics, and his exceptional talent to organize the Igbo masses.
On the day he made his triumphant procession, after his return from exile, through Enugu to Nnewi, it was overwhelming to watch the masses of people who jubilantly greeted him in ecstatic enthusiam. It was as if mass intoxication had overcome more than half of Igbo people along the way wherever Ojukwu came into view. Some had tears in their eyes (tears of joy) because they were deeply moved by what they saw and heard. Igbos must have longed for him, else how shall we explain the eagerness with which they welcomed him. Many Igbos still regard his pardon as the supreme success of Alhaji Shehu Shagari’s Presidency. If after his return, he had promised to bring Igbos back to the mainstream of Nigeria politics, that has always been his goal. Some people feel that he has not quite fulfilled that, but they should be objective enough to judge him vis-à-vis the political situation in the country. Indeed, we have not played real politics that would have made his dream come true. In the end, the ultimate question should be: Has Ojukwu had an opportunity to advance the Igbo course and did not take it? In contemplating this question, Tagbo Oguejiofor was forthright:
If there is one man that understands the Igbo problem he is the Ikemba Nnewi, Chief Odumegwu-Ojukwu. I have no doubt in my mind that Ojukwu, given the chance Zik had, Igboland would have been the Japan of Africa and the most progressive ethnic group in Nigeria. Apart from being the most popular Igbo man living or dead, his civil war records speak eloquently for him.3
Is it for nothing that he has, more than any other Igbo man continued to speak out against the marginalization of the Igbos? In 1994, single-handed, he mobilized Igbo elders under the banner of Ndigbo and led them to Aso Rock for talks with the then Head of State, late General Sani Abacha. The delegation was not for any partisan interest, but wholly for the welfare of the Igbos. In his speech, he said that Igbos regretted to observe that their sweat, labour and sacrifices had not been matched with fitting appreciation and reward rather our people, even in very recent times, were victims of unwarranted, unprovoked, and merciless destruction of life and property by fellow Nigerians. This was at the heat of the June 12 crisis. So, if the criteria for being the king of Igbos is: one’s love for the Igbo people, one’s care and concern for Igbos, and one’s selfless service to the Igbo people, Ojukwu deserves the title of Eze-Igbo more than any person. He is among the few Igbo men that have had the rather “odd” record of rejecting a party he could have personally gained from because of his people. “It is difficult,” writes a frank Igbo historian, Ebenezer Achebe, “to distinguish where the Ojukwu in him stops, and the Igbo man in him starts.”4
In the past, Igbos had followed many people whose idea of politics did not transcend their selfish schemes. Such false, selfish leaders would rather not have Igbos under one single symbol of unity, because it will prevent their continued exploitation of Ndigbo. These are the people who always distract attention by saying that Igbos have no king and need none. They say that the title of Eze-Igbo is useless and non-existent. It is obvious, however, that Igbos need a rallying point, and are visibly enthused to have found one in Ojukwu. Chief Ignatius Ezeigbo speaks briefly but illuminatingly about this development:
In the north, they are running to take shelter under the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammadu Maccido. In the West, the Yorubas run to the Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuade, while the Igbos are usually beclouded by the fact that they are said to be republicans.5
From the foregoing, the following questions become pertinent: Is the claim that Igbos are republicans an absolute truth to be taken at its face value, and not diluted as metaphor? Does it mean that Igbos are very tolerant, ultra-democratic and highly individualistic? Or does it mean that Igbos have no hereditary government? These questions jostled with each other for answers on 4th of May, 1996.
On the above date, the Nri town as important to the Igbos as Ile-Ife is to the Yorubas, decided to give Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu- Ojukwu the highest symbol of Igbo authority, OFOR NA ALOR, thus honouring him as the Eze-Igbo i.e., the king of Igbos. They did that, having considered the exigencies of the time or as the head Adama, Chief Shedrach Mbanefo assured us, “After having received the requisite spiritual revelations.”6
As expected, emotions were let loose. Some Igbo elite were more frightened than pleased at what they saw, albeit wrongly, as an ominous interlude in the development of Igbo custom. At once, the sturdy rock on which Ohaneze, the apex Igbo organisation was built began to shake. The entire hullabaloo was due to the limited understanding of the import of the title. Ojukwu relieved their fears by assuring them that “Eze-Igbo has no territorial claims. It is purely a pre-eminence over the spirit of Ndigbo.
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