Following the death of the acclaimed Igbo leader, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, in a London Hospital in November 26, there is palpable fear that it will take a long time to find a suitable replacement for the former Biafran leader, writes MIKE UBANI.
When he hosted the Igbo National Assembly (INA) in Nnewi in 2005, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, announced before the large audience made up largely of supporters of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, including Anambra State Governor, Peter Obi, Chief Onwuka Kalu (Okpuzu Abriba), and Chief Chekwas Okorie, founding national chairman of the party, that he had found a successor. He beckoned on Okorie, to stand beside him, and after eulogizing the Abia-born politician, he told the crowd that “any day I leave this world; Okorie should take over the leadership of Ndigbo”.
Not a few people in the audience were surprised about his choice of a successor. Okorie had invited Ojukwu to fly the presidential flag of APGA during the 2003 general elections. In his reckoning, since the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Olusegun Obasanjo, as well as his counterpart in the then All Peoples Party (APP), Muhammadu Buhari, were both generals in the Nigerian Army, the Igbos must field their own army general, in the person of Ojukwu.
LEADERSHIP gathered that the Presidency was rankled by the choice of Ojukwu as APGA’s presidential candidate, yet Okorie and a few other party stalwarts, including Dr. Tim Menakaya, a former Minister of Health, were thumbs up for Ojukwu’s candidature.
Though the Ikemba Nnewi did well in that election, particularly in the southeast states of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo, he felt he would have scored higher votes in the zone if the leadership of Oha-na-eze Ndigbo, the apex Igbo socio-cultural organization, had publicly endorsed his presidential ambition.
Indeed, INA was formed to counter Oha-na-eze. But the group soon fizzled out due to the refusal of most Igbo elites to be part of the move to dismantle Oha-na-eze.
That was not all. Okorie soon fell out with Ojukwu. The bone of contention was who would be the party’s presidential candidate in the 2007 general election. It was gathered that Okorie advised Ojukwu to retire from active politics and to play an advisory role instead, a suggestion that the “Eze Igbo Gburu” (King of Ndigbo world-wide ) felt was an affront to his person.
The was the genesis of the leadership crisis that had rocked APGA for almost seven years. It was gathered that working in concert with Governor Obi, the Ikemba Nnewi, “anointed’ the national treasurer of the party, Chief Victor Umeh, as the national chairman of the party. In a press release issued to journalists in Enugu about August 2005, Ojukwu promised to give the new party leadership N500, 000.00, to assist the party run its affairs.
In spite of the their rift, Okorie who has the title of Oje Ozi Ndigbo poured encomium on him. ‘‘It is with a heavy heart that I received the sad news that the great Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu was finally succumbed to the cold of death. I fell a personal sense of loss. I had an intensive and close association with the Eze Igbo gburugburu for an unbroken period of more than two decades. During this period, I had the uncommon privilege of drinking deeply from his fountain of wisdom. He has left a legacy of patriotism, courage,rage, gallantry, fearlessness and sacrifice.’’
It was not clear however, whether Ojukwu picked another successor before death came calling last Saturday. Ralph Uwazuruike, leader of the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra, evaded the question when LEADERSHIP asked him during a press conference at the CasaBianca Lodge, the Enugu residence of the late Ikemba, whether the Igbo nation will ever find a successor for the late Biafran leader. “This question is very tough for me to answer”, he said.
The mood in most cities of the south-east is that Ojukwu was a rare gem – very courageous; a great fighter who lived his life fighting for the promotion of the interests and welfare of his kinsmen – a man who stood for justice and fair play. The consensus here is that it would be difficult to find such an Igbo man imbued with the characteristic traits of late Ikemba.
“Forget about a successor for Ojukwu, you can’t find a man like him in our generation, and even in the next generation to come”, said Alexander Maduabuchi, an Umuahia-based land surveyor.
But Nwabueze Ugwu, an Enugu-based legal practitioner said only God will provide Ojukwu’s successor, stressing that “nature abhors vacuum”. He said: “If before a man’s death, he was wearing shoes that cannot be dispensed with; a successor must emerge to take over that shoe. But it is not within any person’s power to find a replacement for Ojukwu. There is no doubt that Ojukwu will continue to occupy a robust place in the minds of the Igbos in particular, and Nigeria in general.
Some residents of Enugu said the immediate past governor of Abia State, would have comfortably stepped into Ojukwu’s large shoes, if he had remained steadfast in championing the cause of Ndigbo. They recalled his many years of battle with Obasanjo, over the marginalization of Ndigbo, but regretted that the former Abia Governor disappointed Ndigbo when he abandoned the Progressive People’s Alliance (PPA), which he formed to rejoin the PDP. Though the PDP refused to re-admit him into the party – forcing him to make a volte- face, yet not a few consider his conduct as reprehensible.
So, who succeeds Ojukwu? Indications are that unless something untoward happens, Uwazuruike would take over the vacant leadership position in Igboland. When he addressed journalists in Enugu, Monday, November 28, he spoke as someone who had already being crowned the leader of Ndigbo.
He urged Igbos resident in and outside the country not to go to work or market on the day Ojukwu will be buried as a mark of honour for the departed Igbo leader. He called on the Nigerian government to use the death of Ojukwu , to show that it believed in the “no victor, no vanquished” policy enunciated by former military head of state, General Yakubu Gowon, at the end of the 30-month Nigeria/Biafra war.
He also called on the Federal Government to immediately create two additional states in Igboland, as well as declare the entire southeast geo-political zone as a disaster area in terms of lack of vital infrastructure. “The people of the South -East are not cowards. The boys are very angry. We know that the government of Nigeria listens to only people who carry guns. The non -violent nature of MASSOB was sustained by Ojukwu . If the Nigerian government may remember – whenever an Igboman starts something, it takes another dimension”.
The implication is that with Ojukwu out of the way, it would be difficult to restrain MASSOB from engaging in violent acts. And any one who is prepared to step into Ojukwu’s shoes could muster the courage to warn the country’s leadership against the dangers inherent in the perpetual marginalization of Ndigbo.
Again, any one who wants to succeed Ojukwu, would be planning to hold a meeting of Igbo leaders to chart a way forward for the Igbo nation. Nevertheless, not a few say Uwazuruike would face many hurdles if he is nursing the ambition to take over the leadership of Ndigbo. “You know it is very difficult to lead the Igbos, and I don’t think Uwazuruike has the charisma and the intellectual preparation to lead the Igbos”, says one Okada-rider in Enugu.
Uwazuzuike may encounter his first challenge in leading the Igbos when the siblings of the late Ikemba would start quarrel ling over the sharing of their late father’s property. Even before Ojukwu’s death, some of his children from his former wife reportedly attempted to seize the Casabianca Lodge, claiming that the sprawling house belonged to their father.
Uwazuruike was said to have sent MASSOB boys to dislodge the “intruders” after Ojukwu’s wife, Bianca reportedly telephoned him to complain about the invasion of her husband’s residence. The implication is that Ojukwu never prepared a will before he died. Uwazuruike didn’t help matters when he also evaded this question. How far can he go?