Ibo warrior who made his peace Remember Biafra? The Ibo do

MISSING PERSONS N0.37 Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu;

Chief Odumegwu

Ojukwu

Ojukwu, who visits Britain this week, is the man who led secessionist Biafra to war and disaster 28 years ago. To some Nigerians - and particularly the Ibo - he is a courageous and heroic figure. To others he is a self-seeking opportunist who squandered hundreds of thousands of innocent lives, then sold out to the very people he had fought.

Almost a million people died in Biafra's three-year struggle for independence from Nigeria, which ended 25 years ago, a conflict described by the Red Cross as "one of the major human disasters of this century".

Chief Ojukwu (aka ''Emeka'') was 34 and the military governor of the federal republic's Eastern Region when, in May 1967, he proclaimed its independence from Nigeria. The move followed the region's steadily deteriorating relations with the government of Lieutenant Colonel Yakubu Gowon, which refused to take action after northerners massacred thousands of Ibos who had settled in the Northern Region.

Today, aged 61, Chief Ojukwu is "a free and ordinary citizen of Nigeria". He divides his time between Lagos (the commercial capital), Abuja (the federal capital) and Enugu (the erstwhile Biafran capital).

"History has not fled me," he said before his departure for London. "I'm held in high respect and consulted on many subjects, not just by my own people but also by the government. I have cordial relations with General Abacha and many others in the military."

It is hard to believe that General Ojukwu, who in the late Sixties fought to resist the forces of another military dictator, and Chief Ojukwu, the placatory patriarch, are one person. But the former freedom fighter is committed to working with the Abacha regime in the context of a united Nigeria.

"There are many who want to fan the embers of ethnic discord," said Chief Ojukwu in the patrician tones he acquired at Oxford. "But the Ibo people want a system which embraces all Nigerians."

Chief Ojukwu was a member of the government-sponsored constitutional conference which advised General Abacha prior to his historic 1 October declaration. On that day, General Abacha, in power for nearly two years, announced it would be at least another three years before Nigeria would be returned to democracy and civilian rule.

"I do not support the military government as such,'' said Chief Ojukwu, "but I cannot wish away the fact that it's in power. I believe we must try to ease the military out but there must be no risk of bloodshed."

His aversion to bloodshed is understandable. The civil war, which broke out in July 1967 with the invasion of the Eastern Region by government troops, was particularly vicious, fuelled by imported modern weaponry. Outnumbered by more than four to one, the Biafran army was doomed. As federals advanced, millions of Ibo fled into the bush where they were cut off from supplies by a naval blockade. By October 1968, the Red Cross estimated 10,000 Biafrans, mostly children, were daily dying from starvation.

Despite the fact that Britain supported and armed the central government forces, Chief Ojukwu likes the country. He regularly travels to Britain and is sometimes accompanied by his wife, who needs medical treatment in London. He also travels worldwide, at the invitation of Ibo communities. "Biafra is very much alive," he said. "It's not so much a territory, as a state of mind."

Chief Ojukwu is active in the Nigerian People's Movement, a political association founded earlier this year to promote national dialogue. With the lifting of remaining restrictions on political activity scheduled for this year, he believes the movement can play a role in shaping the country's future. He also has his eye on the 1998 elections, though to what extent he takes account of his political marginalisation is unclear.

"If I could run for president that would be wonderful," he said. "If I do decide to contest the elections, I'd join a political party, obviously one which would ensure the Ibo are not cheated of their rights under the federal structure.''

Chief Ojukwu takes a keen interest in tennis, rugby, chess and classical music. A Sibelius fan, he chose ''Finlandia'' as Biafra's national anthem.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
video
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Extras
indybest
News
Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has been the teaching profession's favourite teacher
education
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
sport
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sport
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Sport
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform