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 I had been a soldier and I know what we do; when you go to war you fight

and when you gain your victory you pillage and you loot; you dominate and

that has been the general tendencies of succeeding governments in Nigeria.



My plans to satisfy Nigerians

Ojukwu . . . Provides insight into how

to move Igbo nation forward
By Paul Odili



Friday, January 24, 2003

As you read this, Ojukwu is in Aba, Abia state to flag off his presidential campaign. "Is Ojukwu serious?", is a common question asked. The other is considering his antecedents, a former rebel leader, went to exile and came back, does he not realise he has an image problem, that will hinder his aspiration. Vanguard knowing fully well that these are the thinking, decided to take him up on these questions. What you will be reading is Ojukwu at his best: deflating questions if he thought he has to; answering them directly and with great insight if he has to. But in the end never evading any.

Why is Ikemba in this race, why are you not out of politics providing leadership from outside of it? And you know there are those who hold the view that if you lose the election, you will only succeed in demystifying yourself?

Ojukwu: One of the problems we have is that our use of English language usually leads us to areas we do not plan to end. I mean let's take what you are talking about, all those people you call fathers of the nation are those who were never presidents of the country, all of them. Zik, Awolowo, Sardauna, those are the fathers of the nation; and they were in politics to the end. You ask me why don't I sit back and not demystify myself and I immediately reply you that you and I are probably not looking at it correctly.

My concept of a hero is that man you see walking in from the sunset tattered, tired with mud splashes on his body and his clothes; that man walking in from conflict is the hero not the man in white splendid robes sitting somewhere. Because you see my view is that when there is a job to be done it is my honour to be among those called to do it. You then say to me you might fail, I laugh at that because actually I do not think that I will ever fail. I might not become president, I might not be voted for as president, I might even be rigged out; remember that none of those that have been termed great ever achieved the presidency of this country. So you might even begin to wonder whether failing an election is not the proper criterion for leadership and greatness, I do not know. You see that does not worry me at all, because there is greater honour in the struggle.

I am in this race because I have so much more to give to Nigeria. I am in this race because I think that I can win the election. I think that I can satisfy the yearnings of Nigerians across the board. You see there are very few Nigerians who have the privilege of seeing the future, perhaps I am one of them. The current wisdom of Nigeria remains prefixed by Ojukwu said so; whether it was 30 years ago, or 20 years ago it is always that I said so and I thank God for granting me life to be able to witness my own vindication. What we are going through now is Ojukwu's vindication and what to do with that vindication.

Your party is relatively new and what you are seeking for it is a tall challenge and that makes the odds a little higher?

Ojukwu: You might be very right, but I do not dwell on that. The date that it was registered makes APGA a relatively new party, but we have been at this for nearly five years you know. I started the Peoples Democratic Congress (PDC) and it was rejected no doubt. But come this time my good friend Chekwas Okorie, who was in fact my secretary in PDC started APGA. Yes pick or choose, the party is relatively new or would need a rather longer incubating period. Then you ask me will that not make my party suffer certain disadvantages, and I say yes that the greatest disadvantage is that it is not an incumbent government and has therefore not suffered from the corrupting influence of the incumbent government.

Ojukwu: I believe that we are putting together a coalition that nobody has seen before in Nigeria. Yes, we did not start in time, but how many months did Zik start NPP - two months. The people of this area are so good that they can be mobilised, in fact they are already mobilised and are lining in wait for action. And when you say that what do the people of this area constitute in terms of population, they constitute number two in population of many states in the country. So can you imagine a mobilised people what effect they can have in the coming election.

In fact, today I was rather amazed when a gentleman came before me six-foot two, I think, and said, "Sir, I am the APGA gubernatorial candidate for Lagos state," an Igbo man already. The type of confidence we never had for a long time, oh no it was possible when we started Nigeria, but which died very soon after independence; that confidence is beginning to return. Do you know something I enjoyed today, I do not think there can ever be political discussion in Nigeria that cannot include an Igbo representative. So already the tripod has been re-established, and this gives us the hope for greater stability in the future.

I am in this business because I believe that Nigeria is not wrong, it is the governance in Nigeria that is wrong. You see Nigeria was built as a federation and any student in social science in any university will know that the first thing in a federation is that no unit of the federation should be preponderant over the others. But because we were most anxious for our independence and because we were most anxious to appease the North; because many of us hold different political philosophies and because at that time the British Labour Party was having a honeymoon with its new found federalism, we were handed over a badly structured federation.

At home the mere fact that we were getting independence was enough, the dancing in the streets, the merry making that we were going to be free, nobody cared about the type of freedom we were getting. I mean to understand the type of feeling we had in those days, we had this specter of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, our political leader going to England to get independence, and at one point rejected the independence in order to wait for the North. He could have thought differently, but no he did not.

What I am trying to say to you is that we were mesmerized with our vision of independence; before today the general attitude was what did we do with that lopsided independence. Sardauna, Sir Ahamdu Bello took one look at it and decided there is no other way to dominate this amalgam other than by force. In that, Obafemi Awolowo tended to agree, but he wanted to dominate by force of intellect, force of money, and up to a point ideological force; force it had to be.

It is that, that made Ahamdu Bello to seize up the North by booth straps, Awolowo by free education; on our side I humbly think that we made an error, because we spent sometime celebrating independence. We thought a nation had arrived, we proceeded to make sacrifices, it would be honourable if there was a nation to make a sacrifice for. All our lives, the people of the east have been making sacrifice for the people of Nigeria.

The other two: the north and west have been busy extracting the very sinews of Nigeria. What you find in Nigeria is a nation that is afraid to react, here in Nigeria we accept force as a normal way of doing things. I had been a soldier and I know what we do; when you go to war you fight and when you gain your victory you pillage and you loot; you dominate and that has been the general tendencies of succeeding governments in Nigeria. The defeated in this case have no right. I am not accusing anybody, but I am pointing at things people should look at. If you use force to acquire government then corruption must follow, occupation forces are notoriously corrupt.

Actually what happened was that the Nigerian army did become an occupation force. But what I think that each leader should have looked at is how to balance the Nigerian structure, and when I talk about healing Nigeria, I mean a balanced structure. We must find a way to redesign Nigeria to accommodate other interests; the inequities of Nigeria will always remain crying out for salvation. If the peoples of the east, or west cannot find jobs there is nothing you can do to make them happy unless you find them jobs.

If the people from certain areas constantly find the people they beat at school ruling them there can't be peace. If in Nigeria mediocres constantly rule the clever ones there can be no peace. If I take my son to Port Harcourt and show him the building that belongs to his grand father that is not his, and all his investigations show that I have not sold the property, all you are doing is planting a gun powder, because he will not be happy. It does not matter how long it takes, "that used to be my grand fathers building," he would always say. You cannot blame him and that is why I say Nigeria can heal itself; I say lets sit down and repair the damage of the war, restore to every Nigerian citizen that which rightly belongs to him.

We should sit round the table and re-plan Nigeria. Today everybody is talking about on-shore / offshore dichotomy, but remember that we started out life with the people who own the wells obtaining from the federal government 50% of revenue of resource derived from the area. The army brought it down to 1%; now when they start quarreling and getting angry and you say there is instability in Nigeria; no, Nigeria is not the problem, it is the governance. I was the one that raised the percentage to 13% at the constitutional conference; even that nobody is able to pay. What I am saying is that we can pay for our peace in this country and it will be right. And if we sit down to look at these issues it does not take much to alleviate them. But what is also criminal is to use oil revenue for politics, because it is for alleviating the sufferings of the people.

As the election draws near, the north has settled for Buhari, the west for Obasanjo and in the east there are three of you so far; that does not do the zone any good, I see the persistence of a problem?

Ojukwu: You said you see the persistence of a problem, actually I do not see any, that instead of one you now see three. First, we must understand that we are by nature more democratic than others. The reason there are three is quite obvious, in fact I am surprised I thought there would be more; because in the first place the proliferation of political parties that was done in a random manner gives room for mushrooming of parties. It is quite possible to find a party with a membership of two, and these two can easily nominate themselves, one will be the presidential candidate and the other vice-presidential candidate.

And you know this scenario is not so farfetched and if you use this to pillory one group and say that these people come from your area, I say no. What I want you to look at is the parties that have potentials, and don't forget also that in every society there are some people who are at the lunatic fringe. There are people if it is a true democracy who could form parties to eliminate cockroaches from Nigeria. And if it happens that the leader of that party comes from the north, would you say that the north has two candidates?

Then the other thing is derived from the perception that the north is one; across the north there are institutions that bind the north. If today they summon the emirs all of them will come together, they have their links. If you are thinking of development they are all the same; to a large extent the people of the west are the same. So much so that many years after the creation of states the Edo state reflex is towards the west, because of the persistence of those institutions.

In the east it is not the same. Then you go and ask, but why? The fact is that actually in the east, whatever we had as institution got fragmented as soon as states were created. Not too long ago I was talking to my great friend Olusegun Obasanjo, he talked about the position of the south. And I said to him no, in political terms the south does not exist, because the existence of the south must derive not from rhetoric, but institutions holding them together, because there are none. The only thing that links to the west is the Niger bridge and that is further buffered by western Igbos, these are the problems.

Would you not feel burdened if people look at you and say here is a former rebel leader, who now wants to lead a nation he wanted to pull out from?

Ojukwu: No I would not and I would have a lot of sympathy for the ignorance of that person. But we are a democratic society so I must respect the persons right. Me a rebel, no I have never disobeyed a senior officer, on the other side, all of them have disobeyed senior officers; not only disobeyed their senior officers they murdered even some of them to get to the positions they found themselves. Today, everybody has come to the full knowledge that we were right. How do you stay in a country that suddenly decides to massacre your people wherever they found them within the country. If tomorrow they start doing that we would not bar any option, somebody wanted to secede; what is wrong with that? I want to live in Nigeria, I love Nigeria but it has to be a just Nigeria. If the answer is that I must stay in Nigeria and the other members of Nigeria are my prison warders I don't want to be part of that Nigeria. So nobody can intimidate me with that, and the funny thing I want you to know is that this terrible rebel officer still remains more popular than the loyal officers.

Everybody in Nigeria knows that money is essential for a successful outing in the field; APGA from every indication does not have the financial muscle. How do you plan to handle this?

Ojukwu: Money is very important no doubt, but I am glad that I am not in a party that bribes; I do not buy votes, the APGA has other means of convincing people. What happened at the PDP convention is known to everybody, and I am pretty certain that one thing you will not find with us is driving bullion vehicles into convention grounds. You might say then how do you then intend to do it? I know we are not as rich as the others, but we are richer than all of them in philosophy. I know we are not as rich as the others, but we are richer in commitment. The others are like a gang, they have ganged and shared loot, but we don't. 

We wish we had a little bit more money, but if election takes as high a price as the ANPP and PDP, then one wonders whether elections are useful. Can you imagine how many hospitals can be built with all that money? Can you imagine how many tertiary institutions can be funded with all that money? But rather in other to dip their grabby fingers into the honey pot, they are willing to waste Nigeria's resources. We are willing to go months without paying salaries, months without opening schools. In Nigeria even the judiciary was closed for so many months; you wonder why people get killed every day.

Your opponents look at you and say Ojukwu has no electoral worth, he has never really won an election, what is your reaction?

Ojukwu: I hope and pray all my opponents have been saying that; and therefore turn away from me and go on doing their campaigns, actually believing that Ojukwu has no political value. And it is possible that they might even think like that, because they are the ones who made themselves delusional. But having said that really, lets look at that: When I came back in 1982 I stood for election for the senate seat in Onitsha, I won that election; you know I won the election, because the electoral officer whoever he was from the north resigned his appointment when he was told to falsify my results. Everybody knows this, but some people think they can intimidate me by shutting me up with "you lost the election," living in self-delusion. The fact is that I never lost the election. And then the next one I took part in was the one for the constitutional conference; perhaps I lost that one as well, I don't know.

If Igbo leaders say to you stand down because it would enhance the chances of another Igbo son, would you consider that?

Ojukwu: If Igbo leaders say "my dear Emeka we have looked around, Okafor is better than you" and it is true, who am I. You see the problem is not Ojukwu, I have been head of state before you know. So I know what it is all about, and that does not push me. As far as I am concerned if that is what is agreed, okay. The thing you must bear in mind is that everybody sought the mandate except me. You will not see any poster of mine anywhere, because I was not seeking it. You will not see any application of mine anywhere; whilst others were preening themselves, going around trying to seduce an incredulous population, I was here in my study contemplating the situation in Nigeria, when I was approached.

I am the one person who can say to you, yes I was approached. I was asked, I was pressured, even by non-Igbos who wanted me to come out and put an end to this drift. It is on record that the answer I gave was please, please give me some time; the final answer I gave was that I would go to Nnewi, I would stay a week call it a retreat and after the retreat I would give them my answer. And then I accepted; I am not a reluctant leader like some people pretend to be. I have evidence that for once you might say I am not a reluctant leader, but a reluctant candidate.

When you came back in 1982, you said you were joining NPN because you wanted to take Ndigbo back to the main stream of Nigeria politics. Now with APGA, which is not a mainstream party, does your change not question your wisdom of the past?

Ojukwu: First, as far as I'm concerned it does not worry me, if I am set to change my position as I grow old in this world because I am not of that level of arrogance, that believes in my own infallibility. So no matter how that question is phrased, it does not bother me. Now let me tell you this, when I came back from exile at the instance of the government; I came back and that government had Igbo sons and daughters to the level of nearly 50%, the only person they did not have was Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe on their side. And there is no way you could choose the Igbo leaders in NPP above the leaders in NPN.

So lets understand this; that the decision was deeper than you suggest. I came back to Nigeria and I looked at the geo-political situation, and I looked around and I found that not every Tom, Dick and Harry, were enthused about my return; some were and some were not. And I considered the situation and pondered, should I go to the east and stay in isolation with the NPP government of the east, which was opposed to the NPN government of the federation. I know if I did that I would not last three weeks before I am put in Kirikiri, possibly for certain conspiracies that I did not know existed; with my reputation everybody would believe it.

The other reason is that I found in NPN a rather comfortable democratic organisation devoid of certain brashness I did not like in politics anyway. In the end I found it more conducive to helping my people than grand standing as indeed was the habit of the opposition. You must remember that even at that time just because I allowed myself to be brought back home by one party, the other party considered me persona non-grata. The decision of my return was not taken in a vacuum, have you forgotten; Jim Nwobodo, in those days; by the way we became very good friends in Kirikiri, but that is Nigeria for you, he distanced himself from the returning Ojukwu, so you can understand that the decision was not really hard to make. It took some time because I wanted to check certain things I had not seen for some 13 years.

Your declaration came out at a time Ekwueme said he was going to run, was that a coincidence (interrupts) ?

Ojukwu: It was not a coincidence, we were in the process of producing for us somebody who would fulfill certain tasks and we were taking a rather long time in order to zero unto one man, and I said that I was disgusted with the continued beating about the bush. Fed up with how it was dragging on. I said to my audience I do not know what you people are afraid of, if you cannot find any I will stand up. Coincidence, no. It was a constructive prod to the people entrusted with the task. I have always known I would be the best candidate, oh yes. And when you look at it, none of the candidates can claim better credentials than myself.

What is your reaction to what happened to Ekwueme at the PDP convention in Abuja, where he lost?

Ojukwu: I do not like to answer that question because on matters concerning Ekwueme, after so many years dating back to my return from exile I have decided to keep mum, the reason is because for reasons best known to my own people they have created a false enmity between Ekwueme and myself. Do you know that for a long time we did not say anything; I knew he would lose. As I knew he would lose the previous one. When he came before Ndigbo at his hotel here in Enugu, I said that being chairman of G43 did not guarantee support, and it did not. I told him then that all he was doing was shielding our people from bullets.

This time again it was clear; I knew he would not win. But this time the way and manner his defeat was organised was particularly crude, but I knew he would not win. If I had said anything at that time people would say because Ojukwu said that, and I would have created for myself a rather difficult situation in Igbo land. So I decided not to say anything, let the Ekwueme card play out, and I have been proved right again. We will pick up the pieces and see where we go from there. He was not treated well, that much I can say, but that as well is a word that you do not find common in Nigeria's politics.

People say Ndigbo are politically naive; have you come to the same conclusion?

Ojukwu: There is no doubt in my mind that we as a people are somewhat politically naive. We are a merchant society, we pay and we want instant returns; politics comes naturally to a few of us. But generally as a people we are politically naive. How can a nation stay without even knowing who its enemies are. We are the only race that do not know who the enemies are; as a people we refuse to know that the job of the enemy is to vilify us, rather we keep trying to win the praise of the enemy. You talked about Igbos and naivety, what could be more naive for the Igbos to go across seeking sponsorship from the competing people across the border. I have shouted and shouted that power is not given, the Igbos think it is. It isn't negotiated either, the Igbos think that it is.

When you look at our situation you get this ridiculous concept, where people say "I have seen Alhaji X, he is going to finance me, Okafor," and Igbos believe that. I have been shouting that a non-Igbo who would spend his money to finance an Igbo man to come and rule him, that man has not been born. That is part of our naivety, and the thing is that our naivety can even be seen when we then fail, it is a ridiculous sight to see our leaders almost bursting into tears in public. I agree we are naive.

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Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu (4 November 1933 – 26 November 2011) was a Nigerian colonel and politician. Ojukwu served as the military governor of the Eastern Region of Nigeria in 1966, the leader of the breakaway Republic of Biafra from 1967 to 1970 and a leading Nigerian politician from 1983 to 2011 upon his death.

Ojukwu came into national prominence upon his appointment as military governor in 1966 and his actions thereafter. A coup in January 1966 and a counter coup in July 1966 by different military factions, perceived to be ethnic coups, resulted in pogroms in Northern Nigeria in which Igbos were predominantly killed. Ojukwu led talks and sought an end to the pogroms and hostilities by seeking peace with the then Nigerian military leadership, headed by General Yakubu Gowon. The military leadership met in Aburi Ghana (the Aburi Accord), but the agreement reached there was not implemented to all parties satisfaction upon their return to Nigeria. The failure to reach a suitable agreement, the decision of the Nigerian military leadership to establish new states in the Eastern Region and the continued pogrom in Northern Nigeria led Ojukwu to announce a breakaway of the Eastern Region under the new name Biafra republic in 1967. These sequence of events sparked the Nigerian Civil War. Ojukwu led the Biafran forces and on the defeat of Biafra in January 1970, and after he had delegated instructions to Philip Effiong he went into exile for 13 years, returning to Nigeria following a pardon. Ikemba Odumegwu Ojukwu died on 25 November 2011.—Wikipedia

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Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu (1933-2011). The man who will always be remembered as the face and voice of the attempted Biafran secession from Nigeria in the 1960s. He was a master of vocal expression, though prone to moments of grandiloquence. But he had his moments of effective understatement. I recall an interview conducted in Paris during the 1970s. A British reporter, I think Frederick Forsyth,... was reading him a verbatim account of what his rival Lt. Colonel Gowon had told him at the time was his opinion of his fellow colonel, Ojukwu: "I know Ojukwu. We both served in the same army and I can tell you that he is ambitious. He really cannot be trusted..."

It is a fairly lengthy personal indictment. The segment starts which archival footage of Gowon speaking before the reporter completes the words and puts it to Ojukwu. A pause ensues which is then punctuated by a ball-puff of exhaled smoke before Ojukwu replies, almost lazily: "We had a war in Nigeria. Gowon was on one side. I was on the other. That really is all there is to it."—Adeyinka Makinde

Ojukwu's thinking was excellent, but his actions were premature; though most of today's suffering were caused by Gen. Aguiyi Ironsi and Nnamdi Azikiwe; Onyeka is a rare gem and he knows what pain means.—Francis Adie Ushie

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label 'trafficked' does not accurately describe migrants' lives and that the 'rescue industry' serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice.

"Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality."Lisa Adkins, University of London

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The Warmth of Other Suns

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Wilkerson deftly incorporates sociological and historical studies into the novelistic narratives of Gladney, Starling, and Pershing settling in new lands, building anew, and often finding that they have not left racism behind. The drama, poignancy, and romance of a classic immigrant saga pervade this book, hold the reader in its grasp, and resonate long after the reading is done.

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The White Masters of the World

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By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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ChickenBones Store (Books, DVDs, Music, and more)






update 3 April 2012




Home  The African World  Transitional Writings on Africa  Igbo Marriage   Uche Nworah   / Ugochukwu

Related files:  Remembering Biafra: A Literary Review  Reading Rose Ure  Mezu   Achebe Preface  Achebe Introduction   Mezu and Achebe: An Inside Knowledge    

Achebe Another Birthday in Exile  Banning Chinua Achebe in Kenya  Women in Achebe's World  Okonkwo's Curse  Achebe's Female Characterisation