The remains of the late Biafran leader, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, were yesterday interred in his family compound in Umudim Nnewi, Anambra State at about 2pm, amidst pomp and ceremony, marking the end of his journey on earth. He died at the age of 78.
His burial turned out, unarguably, the best any hero could be offered, as the St Michael the Archangel Catholic Parish, which is situated just beside Ojukwu’s compound, witnessed the presence of dignitaries from all walks of life.
The security in and around Nnewi was also a pointer to the fact that a great event was happening in the industrial city. Every nook and cranny of the city saw plain-cloth policemen and gun-totting security agents keeping watch.
The requiem mass for the deceased started at about 11:45am, when President Jonathan walked into the church premises in the company of his wife, Patience, Governor Peter Obi, Bianca Ojukwu and Emeka Ojukwu Jnr, and other dignitaries.
President Jonathan in his remarks after the requiem mass said he came to Nnewi with his family because Ojukwu was like a father to him. He recalled that Ojukwu took pains to drive to the remote village of Otuoke in Bayelsa State, during his father’s burial, and that since then he had looked unto Ojukwu as his father for paying him the honour.
He said, “In the history of nations, towns, villages, God raises people to do his assignments, and in our generation he raised Ojukwu to lead his people. We are happy, even though we are mourning because he was a fulfilled man".
“You know that the official delegation of the federal government was led by the vice president, Architect Namadi Sambo, and they were in Enugu yesterday (Thursday) for the burial. And I have come here today with my wife and members of my family because I consider this burial my burial. I consider myself as part of the family, so I came here (Nnewi) in that respect.
“When my father died, Ikemba’s health was not that good, but he drove down to my remote village; I almost wept when I saw him, and, since that time, I took him as my elder brother, and he took me as his son,” said the president.
He regretted that the late Ojukwu’s body couldn’t be taken to all the towns and cities of the old Eastern Region, though he blamed it on the exigencies of time.
Anambra State governor Peter Obi in his speech said that President Jonathan had finally brought to an end the Nigeria/Biafra war. He cited his immeasurable assistance to Ojukwu while he was hospitalized, adding that Ndigbo would support his administration to achieve its transformation agenda.
“Jonathan for his kindness has ended Nigeria civil war, and we now feel we belong to Nigeria. We will give you (Jonathan) all the support you need, for giving our hero all the support you have given to him. This is because, what you did for him, you did for all of us", said Governor Obi, who is also chairman of South-East Governors' Forum.
Delivering his homily earlier, Bishop Gregory Ochiagha (rtd) of Orlu Catholic Archdiocese praised Ojukwu for all his good deeds, saying that he will be known as the man whose father was extremely rich, but decided to live a life of service to his people.
Ochiagha said, “It is not a time to mourn. We thank Nnewi people for rolling out the red carpet for celebration, because Ojukwu’s legacies will continue to live for a long time. Here lies a man who had the chance to live a glamorous life, but rather chose to sacrifice his life for his people”.
Though the idea of flooding the commercial city of Nnewi with security operatives was because of the security challenges in the country, some security overzealous security agents literally became a threat to security itself.
They flogged and harassed many admirers of the late Ojukwu who wanted to gain access into his expansive compound to catch a glimpse of the interment of the remains of the late Biafran leader.
Several journalists and dignitaries who could not readily be identified as well as other sympathizers were manhandled by joint security operatives who did not only stop them from going close to Ikemba’s home, but also forcefully pushed them inside the gutter. Several journalists had their working tools destroyed.
Some distant family members and members of the Anambra State government were also seen standing outside the gate of St Michael Catholic Parish.
Indeed, the burial of the late Biafran leader was indeed entirely a military affair. The chief of army staff, Lt. General Azubuike Ihejirika, said the late Ojukwu remained an officer of the Nigerian Armed Forces until his burial yesterday.
The pair of army boots and the white-green-white cloth which was used to cover the casket, were returned to the late Ojukwu’s family, apparently as a memento.
Not a few say that Ojukwu’s burial was one of the widely attended funerals in the country. Besides the presence of the president, the speaker of the House of Representatives and his deputy. Aminu Tambuwal and Emeka Ihedioha, respectively were at both the St Michael Catholic Parish where the funeral mass was held.
Other dignitaries included the Governors of Delta, Cross River, Abia, Ebonyi, Kaduna, Enugu, Ondo-Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, Liyel Imoke, Theodore Orji, Martin Elechi, Patrick Yakowa, Sullivan Chime, and Olusegun Aganga.
The national chairman of All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, and his All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, counterpart, Victor Umeh, and Prof. Pat Utomi, were also in attendance. Several members of the National Assembly, particularly those from the South-East geopolitical zone, attended the burial.
Several hundreds of spectators climbed trees and tall buildings within the vicinity of the late Ikemba’s vast compound to watch the colourful events of the day.
But Senator Chris Ngige, who represents Anambra Central in the upper legislative house, was hailed by the mammoth crowd outside the church when he arrived for the funeral service. And on his way back to Alor, his country home, several hundreds of his admirers blocked the Owerri Road, Nnewi, chanting “ Ngige, Ngige, Ngige ka ayi geso”.
A major disaster was averted inside the church compound, behind the main auditorium of the church, where tents had been mounted for the purpose of entertaining guests as one of the air conditioners suddenly caught fire.
The fire caused a scare in the church compound, as those inside scampered out, while it took some technicians to disentangle some wires that were suspected to be the cause of the fire.
Not long after, right in front of the church compound, another fire broke out from a transformer just as President Jonathan and his wife were making to leave the premises. Some youths who stood on the walls of the of the transformer to look into the church building were lucky as no one was injured.