BY MAGNUS EZE AND GEORGE ONYEJIUWA
Igbo hero, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, who led the people of defunct Eastern Region to a 30-month war between Biafra and Nigeria, died on November 26, 2011. In commemoration of his death, founder of the Movement for Actualization of the Sovereign State Biafra (MASSOB) and the Biafra Independent Movement (BIM), Chief Ralph Uwazuruike, has consistently hosted the Ojukwu Day on November 26 at the Ojukwu Memorial Library built in honour of the Ezeigbo Gburugburu, in Owerri, Imo State capital.
The celebrations were usually marked with fanfare and have attracted the Igbo and other Nigerians from far and near. In the last decade since the Ojukwu Day began, several important personalities from across Nigeria had graced the event including the late founder of Odua People’s Congress (OPC), Dr Fredrick Fasheun; Major Al Mustapha, Chief Security Officer to the late Military Head of State General Sani Abacha and the 1996 Long Jump Olympic Gold medalist, Assistant Commissioner of Police, Chioma Ajunwa.
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The late Nri monarch, Onyesor Obidigwu; former Secretary General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide; Uche Okukwu; Niger Delta activist, Asari Dokubo; former Ohanaeze Ndigbo President General and Secretary General, Dr Dozie Ikedife and Col. Joe Achuzie (Rtd) respectively as well as politicians had also graced the memorial.
Ojukwu Day has become a veritable platform where issues militating against Ndigbo are discussed and solutions proffered. Chairman of this year’s event was no less a person than Afamefuna Ojukwu, son of Bianca, widow of the late Biafra leader. The younger Ojukwu who has become the youngest chairman of the event was fittingly ushered into the arena by the Ijele masquerade, the biggest masquerade in Igbo land.
Painfully, no South East state government has in the past 10 years identified with the Ojukwu Day, this was condemned by Afamefuna. He accused governors of the five South East states of abandoning his father in death. His mother, Bianca, had raised similar issue in the past. She alleged that Governor Chief Willie Obiano of Anmabra State has not given her husband the due recognition, but using his name during elections.
Afamefuna lamented governments of states, which his father fought to defend their people turned their backs on him after his burial. He praised Uwazuruike for keeping Ojukwu’s name alive at all cost and urged the Igbo to use the 10th anniversary of his exit to look back and look deep, while not forgetting the vision planted so long ago:
“Ten years ago, when my father, Ikemba, Eze Igbo Gburugburu left us, I was a child. Yet, I can never forget the outpouring of love that you, ummu nne m, showed him. In life and in death, you stood with him.
“Since that fateful day 10 years ago, Okenwa, Chief Ralph Uwazuruike, who in his lifetime took the baton of fighting for our people, has also taken it upon himself to celebrate my father year after year. As he honoured the Ikemba in life, he has continued to honour him in death.
“In these almost 10 years, no state governor in the South East has done this incredible and noble task, despite the fact that Eze Igbo Gburugburu was our leader through a war to save us from the genocide that faced our people.
“Today, we live in a world where many prefer to forget the battles waged to bring us this far, the sacrifices of so many in this unrelenting quest to end our marginalisation and the continued fight for a just and equitable state that we can live in without oppression. Nobody without passion for his people and a spirit of sacrifice can lead us to the Promised Land, no matter how genuine their intentions may be.”
Deputy Governor of Anambra State, Dr Nkem Okeke, who was the special guest of honour, also commended Uwazuruike: “We are here today to honour the memory of a great man, a true son of Ndigbo. He was a brave man with integrity who loved his people and stood for truth all his life. I am here to show solidarity to his family and I will continue to stand by them.
“Ndigbo are great people and all we need is unity of purpose and with that we can achieve whatever we want. We must stand together and if we don’t do that, we will never achieve our desired position in Nigeria.”
The guest speaker, Prof Proteus Uzoma, presented a paper titled; “The Marginalization of Igbo Nation and the Call for Nigerian unity –The Way Forward.” He noted that the Igbo nation has continued to face enormous political and economic challenges since the instigated and imposed civil war by the General Yakubu Gowon-led Federal Military Government.
He asserted that Nigeria would only be considered normal in terms of where Ndigbo stood vis-a-vis the other ethnic nationalities politically and economically. The Professor of Philosophy noted: “The Igbo people in reality experienced an overwhelming level of disadvantages based on public policies that seemed crafted to undermine their ability to maximize political and economic potentials.
“The restructuring of Nigeria to create more states for the northern states to the detriment of the Southern Nigeria, especially, the South ast was not only an impediment politically; it impacts the economic potentials of the Igbo people negatively.
“Such policies as the failure to rehabilitate the Biafra land after the war, the 20 Pound flat refund to any Biafran who wished to convert the old currency, or deposits with bank prior to the war; the Nigerian Enterprises Promotion Decree of 1972, also known as Indigenization Decree, federal character principle, manipulated population census, creation of states and local government areas in favour of the Northern Nigeria, deliberate underuse of seaports within the Igbo axis, lack of standard international airport and other exploitative actions speak volume.
“These formed many overt and indirect actions to diminish the ability of the Igbo people to compete on a level-playing ground with other major ethnic groups. This has given rise to the current agitation in the South East for equity, justice and fairness.”
He posited that the only remedy to the current agitation both in the South East/South West is restructuring of Nigeria into a true and real federal polity as well as conceding the presidential slot to the Igbo in 2023 for equity and justice:
“The crux of the matter lies in fact that the Nigerian Federal Government has too much powers, plays dominant roles and overbearing influences that have been grossly abused, thus leading to intensified calls for restructuring, coupled with suppressed frustrations and resentment during the military interregnum; resulting in inter-communal violence now threatening the peace and unity of Nigeria.
“Come 2023 and in accordance with the gentleman’s agreement among the Southern and Northern Nigeria in 1998, power must rotate to the Southern Nigeria, and since the South West and South-South have taken their own shots to the Presidency since 1999, ‘to-be-and-not-to-be’ is the question. Will a South-Easterner be the next President of Nigeria or not?”
Bianca in a vote of thanks lauded Uwazuruike for ensuring that the memory of her late husband was kept alive: “Some other person may have given up after two years. But this is the tenth year and I am grateful for what he has been doing including the Ikemba Ojukwu Library he built.”
She called on President Muhammadu Buhari to heed the appeal of eminent Igbo elders led by First Republic aviation minister, Chief Mbazuluike Amaechi, who recently paid him a visit to ask for the release of detained leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu.