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Banjo, Britain betrayed me: OJUKWUíS CIVIL WAR MEMOIRS

Posted by By STAN OKEKE on 2006/05/02 | Views: 2615 |

Banjo, Britain betrayed me: OJUKWUíS CIVIL WAR MEMOIRS

Since the end of the civil war, Dim Chukwuemeka Odimegwu-Ojukwu, had never made specific references about events of the civil war, and how he prosecuted the war. As a matter of fact, he had always deferred his comments on the war until his book came out.

Since the end of the civil war, Dim Chukwuemeka Odimegwu-Ojukwu, had never made specific references about events of the civil war, and how he prosecuted the war. As a matter of fact, he had always deferred his comments on the war until his book came out.

But speaking to Saturday Sun early in the week, Ojukwu opened up, for the first time, on issues relating to the civil war.
"Let me warn you, you are poaching into my book", the Ikemba charged, as the interview went full blast.

Nowhere in history, had the Ikemba discussed the civil war in print. And he did not stop at that. He talked about his relationship with Zik, how he relaxed during the war, how he related with his staff then, his wife, and how he personally led the attack that liberated Oguta. "I commanded that retake of Oguta. Oh! Yes. What I said was, I get back to Oguta, or get back to nowhereÖ"
We brought you the first part of the interview earlier in the week, here is the concluding part. It is vintage Ikemba. Excerppts:


Let me warn you, the only billions I have out of a life of struggle, is what I have between my two ears - my brain. I donít want to give out what rightfully should be in my book. But you know, what I will tell you about this book is that I think it will come out in due course. If not this year, next year. It couldnít be later than that. Iím working at it.
And for that reason, there are certain things, if I decide to keep to myself to this point, I will probably continue and wait till I put them in the book. Ask your questions. Try your luck!

Did you have time to relax during that war?
All my life, I have built up for myself, what I call the Emeka life. You notice, itís Emeka, that is me, as I am LIVE! Those who know me will tell you that I am very different in my private moments. We talk, we discuss, we joke. Some body even said I have a wicked sense humour.

Throughout the war, it was difficult, but one thing that always worried me, mainly because of the Nigerian propaganda, is that they would suddenly burst into my house wherever I was and I would be arrested, perhaps, in pajamas. I donít know any General that looked dashing in his pajamas (laughter). So, to avoid such humiliation, I would never, ever, throughout the years of the war, go to bed in pajamas.
I went further, I felt it was always good to remain what the perception was of me. So actually, whenever I decided to relax, I will put on my boots and my belt, and everything, so that should the unfortunate happen and somebody surprised me, I would not be catching up on my trousers.

Before I sleep, I have to wind down too. And that is why actually, I spend a long timeÖ Never get to bed, till very late. Itís the winding down period. And wherever I think of the war, my thanks will always go to Chuma Azikiwe, who was in the United States in those days. He saw to it that my private collection of records compared very favourably with the NTA. They even, often borrowed from me, the television and radio stations.

Relax? I used to play chess but somehow, during the war, it became more of a chore. It was much of a Ö because, you were fighting a war and on the chessboard, youíre fighting another war. So eventually I gave up. The only interesting thing about giving up chess was that I gave up chess and took on Snakes and Ladders, but there was no contact. I couldnít go on with that, soÖ I liked table tennis but unfortunately, not when youíre under the threat of an air raid. The records (Chumaís music collections for him) were essentially my relaxation. I also did quite a lot of reading. Relax? Thatís about it.
I used to like Isi-Ewu (goat head) from time to time, but it has to go with good palm wine, even up till today, but the only thing is that my wife is so strict on my diet.

My war staff
Like everybody throughout that period, I donít know how to describe it. I was a leader, a companion, and at the same time, people also saw me as a monster, and reacted in funny ways. In fact, to such an extent that those who know me will tell you that when people start shivering, I say, ah! come on calm down, I donít have six men for breakfast, because you would think I actually can do it.

Like I told you what happened when my steward brought me dessert. Standing behind my steward and he saw that I heard him say, "no be sweet dem dey call am,"Ö he looked and saw me there, what do you do? It would have been better for him for the ground to just split open. But that happens very often.
Iíve been driven in a car on the way, in this Enugu, and I remember being halted. The poor policeman didnít even bother to look who was in the car. He just said to my driver, "come on, gbaa ukwu na ani" (come on get down from the car).

My driver was all the time giving him signs to look and see who was inside the car. He said, even if it was Ojukwu in the car, just "gbaa ukwu na ani". At that point I just tapped on the window and attracted his attention. He saw my face, and I have never seen a man shout so loudly. He threw away his rifle and started running. Nobody knew where he was running to. "Obulu ma obu Ojukwu, gbaa ukwu na ani (Even if itís Ojukwu, just come down). Ok! Thatís Ojukwu (laughter).

Have you ever discussed the civil war with your friend, Jack? (Gowon)
We met a couple of times at various places but actually, I donít go back trying to justify myself and I havenít got much patience with anybody trying to justify himself. Youíve done it, and youíve done it, and thatís the truth of it. So the number of times that Iíve met Jack, we talked on contemporary things, I havenít gone backwards with him. No! No!!

With the benefit of hinsight now, and considering your age at the time and that of Jack, could you have gone to war?
I tried and I believe I tried, to avoid war, right to the last minute. I have been trying to get analysts to understand that whatever knowledge I had, I developed in trying to halt the catastrophe that I saw looming. I tried to stop the war. The only thing I would never contemplate was slavery for Ndigbo.
Ndigbo? No! As far as I was concerned Ö remember, before the war, I had helicopters. I had transport planes, and I had the capacity to convert them into fighters. But the aim was never to subdue Nigeria. The aim was to defend our people. Thatís all. But the way you put your questionÖhindsightÖ
I would admit as Iím talking to you, that perhaps, if I had been more mature, I would have probably done better to do good to Nigeria by helping Nigeria. Because earlier on, there were many things I could have done and that could mean fighting Nigeria, and I refused. But today I say, Emeka, the world is not as you thought. That is part of growing up.

Britain, Banjo betrayed me
Ndigbo, as far as Iím concerned came out of this war, each one, everyone that came out, a hero. Because no matter what calculations we made, no Igboman, faced with that situation could justifiably have survived, but we survived. Now the question is, did I feel betrayed? Of course, I felt betrayed. I didnít know Britain could lie as much as they did. But then, you see, I didnít know foreign policy that well. I thought to a large extent that the main thing would be to explain our positions and once they saw the truth, they would stand by it, but no! I considered it a betrayal. I considered Britain the biggest betrayer of the whole period because actually, my education was, I should be very British African. And everything I did, I found out that despite everything that the British imparted into me, those were the things that ached them most about me.

I have no right to be British. I was a native, and thatís the way it went. Very often I say to people, always remember that part of my upbringing was how to reach or keep the bridge. I have always wanted to keep the bridge, for my people too.

Of course, I was betrayed by Banjo. I spent days writing out the project that will take him to Lagos, specifically mapping out where he could go. I was betrayed by his decision to take over Benin. No! He was to circumscribe Benin. That cost us a lot of men, days, weeks.
I felt betrayed of course, when he thought the only way out of the difficulty he had put us into, was to make a coup in Biafra. It was a betrayal that cost them their lives. Itís unfortunate.

Betrayal? I was betrayed byÖ (No! I mustnít give the name, but I will give it in the book) the man who was in fact to destroy Port Harcourt, in front of Nigerians. I felt betrayed. Everything was arranged. He came back and said to me that he didnít have the heart to do it, because there was so much property and he couldnít see them laid waste. But I want to make this point, of all the people I have met in my life, I am now 72, if I have to make a choice, I will always prefer to fight on the side of Ndigbo. There are so many things they can do as well as others. The camaraderie and the honour of fighting on the side of Ndigbo, I donít see anywhere that I can reach that point again.

Did you at any point during that war, feel proud of the bravery of your soldiers?
Oh God! Very proud. Can you imagine here in Enugu, everybody almost despaired, whatís going to happen, the enemy is coming, and so on. And then, in the morning, the radio tells you our troops in Benin have said this, they have done that, the government has been handed over to Biafran troops. Actually, a little confession to you, if today I were Field Marshal, I will maintain that the best thing I did to deserve that was that lightening move to Ore from Enugu, over night. Oh! Yes. Even though I say it myself, it was a masterpiece. I felt proud.

How about the Abagana miracle?
Oh! (prolonged laughter) yes! Abagana was fabulous. The way it took, not us, but the Nigerians, by surprise, the amount of equipment they lostÖbut then I did always believe anyway, that we were better soldiers, because we taught them most of the things. We were the teachers...

What aboutÖ?
(Cuts in) No wait. You have finished. This is my opportunity. What could be better than Oguta? Tell me! And again, I say what a pride for me because I commanded that retake of Oguta, personally. Oh! Yes. The Nigerian troops took over Oguta. I remember I was called and by the time I got within sight of Oguta, the Nigerian troops were putting up the Nigerian flag. I got weak and I cried. It was painful, because it was normally thought that one would make the resolve that I would clear it. Actually, what happened to me then, was more suicidal, because what I said was, I get back to Oguta, or get back to nowhere. And that was why I did not go back.

It was around there that I collected the troops. It was around there that I sent message back to my rear headquarters to bring up the mortars and things. It was there that I prayed to the Almighty to give me the strength and the wisdom and it was there that I received His blessing. And by the next morning, after launching the attack, Oguta was flat. The one little thing I did was, perhaps, I cried. But exactly at the same hour of the morning, 11.00 a. m. I ordered that the Biafran flag be put up in Oguta. They did theirs at 11.00 a. m. too.

That first day when Oguta had fallen, the King of Oguta with his little kids, came and I walked awhile with them. And it was almost in an effort just to give him heart, that I promised that Oguta would be recaptured. And thatís what we did. We didnít do badly.

What about Owerri?
That was something. But as I said, you are poaching into the book.

Relationship with Zik
Let me make this very clear. Itís like going to the village and say, you were the son of Ikembaís steward. What was your relationship with Ikemba? What I mean is this, Zik was so remote. When he came back from America, one of the houses he stopped at, was my fatherís. I remember that I certainly sat at his feet. My mother never stopped telling me how many times Zik carried me on his lap. I mean, touching Zik those days was practically touching the Almighty.

I grew up, he didnít supervise, but he knew about everything my father was doing to educate me. I knew him, and we met at various occasions, in Nigeria, in England anywhere.
There was certainly close unity between the two families. Remember Zik was the president before the war, remember even when the attempted coup, the Ifeajuna effort, a lot was geared towards seizing Zik and his position. To me, he was the old man, and I respected him as such, my fatherís friend. I donít know what kept them together, but one thing everybody in my family knew was that anything that came from Zik became gospel to my father.

During the war, I did what I could, to give him protection. The relationship between him and myself, everybody likes to talk about it. I wasnít up to having a relationship with Zik. He was far ahead, he toweredÖ a giant. What type of relationship do you have with a man you constantly was bowing for, yes sir, yes sir? Even during the war, people were coming to me, asking me why donít I ask him to do this, why donít you ask him to do this or do that. I canít send him on errands.

But I think what you should really educate people on my relationship with Zik was that when he even betrayed, I did not call it a betrayal. As far as I was concerned, it was just a generation thing. He didnít understand the way my generation saw things, thatís all. But the main thing was, I did not do anything, but rather I searched for his own comfort. I sent his wife across, and his family to join him. I could have stopped them.

To me, the old man made a mistake, thatís all. When I came back from exile, we met. When he died, I did not choose to start rushing about like the latter day undertakersÖ People who only make their name at funerals. It was insulting to the memory of the man that one played politics with his death.

The NPP and I
Considering peopleís expectations, I fought a war, considering peopleís expectations, I went into exile. By the time I came back from exile, there was that expectation that I would join NPP, but going back to the previous question, this again will indicate my relationship with the old man (Zik). He was very, very close. But the point is, when I returned, NPP didnít want to discuss anything. I tried to discuss with the leadership of NPP, but it was too impetuous. They wanted more to use my return as a political weapon. The last thing I wanted was another fight.

When I returned, NPP objected to my going to pay my respect to Shagari. "Mba ana abala agu" (empty threat). Thatís what it was. You couldnít have brought me back, he did. There was this charade we had at the Enugu Airport, that I must go to the State House first. And I said no, let me get to my fatherís house first. After that, we can meet all night long, anywhere. Supposing I didnít set foot on my fatherís compound at all? And because I went into the State House here in Enugu, and we were all arrested, would I really be a wise man? I said no. Let me follow everything in all prescriptions, until I got to my fatherís house and pay homage at his graveside. This is not what you play politics with.

Peter Obiís victory
Thank you! You say to me congratulations. I suppose itís a normal parlance of what you ought to say. But the people to be congratulated actually, are the people of Anambra State. Because it is their mandate that has been re-established. I thank the judiciary for the situation we find ourselves in right now.

I want to take this opportunity also to thank my good friend, Olusegun Obasanjo, "Omo-ba". When I last saw him, I had urged him not to interfere with the judiciary. I donít know whether he did, or didnít, but he assured me he wouldnít. And the result I have today would seem to be evidence of his remaining faithful on what he said to me. That is why I thank him also.

All the signs actually come from the hand of the Almighty. The greatest thanks go to God. Can you imagine the millions of prayers that go up to Him every night, asking for one thing, just in Anambra. We thank Him, and I hope that when the government of Peter Obi eventually takes off, it will start with a thanksgiving to the Almighty. Heís done a great job and we the recipients are grateful and will always remain grateful.

State house of assembly
You asked me about members of the legislature. They have their mandate, same as Peter has his own mandate. They were voted in, even as the voting has been subjected, of course,to a lot of manoeuvering, and pushing around. But they are the people said to have been voted in by the people of Anambra. I have every reason to believe that weíll work closely with them, because what has happened is actually a vindication of Ndigbo ni-nee (All Igbos). Thatís what has happened.

The government Ö.? YES! It is APGA, but it is more than that. The government in Anambra today is ĎIgbo government". It is the first time for a very long time Ndigbo have had the privilege of being ruled by the one man they voted for. It is a unique situation and I am very proud and happy about it.
Prior to that, you get people sent from here and there, you know, so many odd people coming, who had references, perhaps, but certainly not references from Igbo. But today we are truly free. The man we voted for, had been adjudged the winner of the election and heís sitting in governance over us. Let me again use this opportunity to plead with everybody, including the legislature, this is our chance, letís not spoil it. Itís so easy to cause havoc but who will you be helping? Not Ndigbo certainly.

You will be facilitating a situation for somebody else, a state of emergency, an administrator chosen, you canít even have any say in the choice. Letís not be foolish, letís not be short-sighted. It is our government. Everybody that is Igbo, is invited to help us nuture that government. The other thing we have to understand is, this is not an end. Itís the beginning.

I know some people in Aso Rock might not like this statement but actually, this is clearly the beginning of the take over of the zone. Under APGA, we intend to work feverishly to ensure that at the next count, we will take over all the states within the South-East Zone. Thatís where we are going. I feel confident with that. Whatever energy is left in me, be sure Iíll be leading the hordes of the masses in support. Weíll get there. Thatís where we are going.

Before Governor Peter Obi went for his swearing-in, his first port of call on arrival from Lagos was your residence. Can you afford us the privilege of knowing the advise you gave him?
Itís a funny one! He wanted me to accompany him actually, and I said, ah! Oga, Ö YES! Oga, you are now the governor. You have gone through the elections under my shadow, you have struggled for three years and nobody knows how much you have spent. Nobody asks you. I know! You have become the governor. Please Peter, this is your day. If I got there, everybody would have started shouting, Ikemba! Ikemba!! No! I think this one time, it is yours. Go! Enjoy it. It is yours. Thatís how he went there. Iím very proud though, that Godís grace made me think in this direction. And when I looked at the television, I was very proud. I said to myself, this is the highest point in my career. I felt proud, and I still feel very proud. With God of course, weíll make it. All together, we will all join hands and make it a great success, a Peter Obi success, an APGA success, and more than anything, an Igbo success.

Godfatherism in Anambra
No! No!! NO!!! God fatherism seems to be something Anambra has been suffering for quite sometime. And even now, there is a godfather. The questions you are asking me, would indicate that at the back of your mind, you see me even as the new godfather to Peter Obi. Oh! Yes. Iím not running away from it. I say it today, I am infact, the super godfather. The only difference is that Iím godfather to the people, not godfather to one man, thatís all.

Chekwas has not offended me, butÖ..
I have answered this question in various ways. Let me try and put it this way. Chekwas Okorie has not offended me, but the Igbo in all of us. We know how to obtain forgiveness. First of all, you start by confessing. As a Catholic, I know you go to confession, you ask for forgiveness, youíre given penance, after which you are deemed to have been forgiven.

I have no personal animosity against my erstwhile friend, Onwuchekwa Okorie. Now, if he came in here now, because itís my house, I will stand up, welcome him, and offer him a chair. Because it is my house, I will find out whether he had been travelling long, if he had need to have a drink. I will listen to him. If he says what you said he might say (forgive me), I would look at him. Who am I, I donít know what miracle God wants to perform through him. I most certainly will offer him the opportunity, and that would be, confess , show contrition, due penance, and welcome back. Thatís all.

His wife
Madam? Sheís more beautiful today than she was when I first met her. Sheís very well. I try to take care of her as much as I can. And let me help you, young men. Everybody talks love, love, love, but you havenít got the capacity to maintain love. From the time I chose my wife, I met her, and she became my career. Thatís the way I see her. No leave, no transfer.

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