Speaking the Nations Mind

Reflections: The Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu Memorial Lecture


Good leaders are trailblazers, making a path for others to follow. They inspire their people to reach higher, dream bigger, and achieve greater. Suffice it to say that the Igbo leader, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, Eze Igbo Gburu Gburu and Ikemba Nnewi is, by all standards, a good and exemplary leader.

In view of these rare qualities, the Acting Vice Chancellor of the citadel of learning named after this legend, Professor Greg Chukwudi Nwakoby, on behalf of the Council, Senate, Staff and Students of the Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University, is organizing a maiden Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu Memorial Lecture today, Monday, November 5, 2018. The lecture is to mark the birthday of the late doyen of Igboland.

Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu was born on November 4, 1933 at Zungeru in the present Niger state to Sir Louis Odumegwu Ojukwu, an Igbobusinessman from Nnewi. Sir Louis was in the transport business; he took advantage of the business boom during the Second World War to become one of the richest men in Nigeria. Ezeigbo began his educational career in Lagos.

Emeka Ojukwu had his secondary education at CMS Grammar School, Lagos in 1943 at the age of 10. He later transferred to King’s College, Lagos in 1944 where he was involved in a controversy leading to his brief imprisonment for humiliating a white British colonial teacher who assaulted a black woman. This generated widespread coverage in local newspapers.

At 13, his father sent him overseas to study in the United Kingdom, first at Epsom College and later at Lincoln College, Oxford University, where he earned a master’s degree in History. He returned to Nigeria in 1956.

Chukwuemeka Ojukwu joined the civil service in Eastern Nigeria as an Administrative Officer at Udi. In 1957, after two years of working with the colonial civil service and seeking to break away from his father’s influence over his civil service career, he left and joined the military, initially enlisted as a Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) in Zaria.

Ojukwu’s decision was forced by his father’s pulling of political strings with the then Governor-General of Nigeria to prevent Ikemba from getting an officer-cadetship. They however believed that Emeka would not stick to the grueling NCO schedule; but Emeka persevered.

It was not until an embarrassing situation between Emeka and a drill sergeant named Fort-Lamy wherein Emeka corrected the Sergeant’s mispronunciation of the safety catch of the Lee-Enfield rifle that the British Depot Commander recommended Emeka for an officer’s commission.

Emeka proceeded, first, to the Royal West African Frontier Force Training School, Ghana and Eaton Hall where he received his commission in1958 as a Second Lieutenant. He was one of the first and few university graduates to receive an army commission. Ojukwu was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel in 1964 and posted to be in charge of fifth Battalion Kano.
On Monday, January 17, 1966, Lt. Col. Odumegwu-Ojukwu was appointed Military Governor of Eastern Region. By May 29, 1966, there was a pogrom in northern Nigeria during which Nigerians of southeastern Nigeria origin were targeted and killed. This presented problems for Odumegwu Ojukwu.

He did everything to prevent reprisals and even encouraged people to return, as assurances for their safety had been given. In January 1967, the Nigerian military leadership went to Aburi, Ghana, for a peace conference. The implementation of the agreements reached at Aburi fell apart upon the leaderships return to Nigeria and on 30 May 1967, as a result of this, Colonel Odumegwu-Ojukwu declared Eastern Nigeria a sovereign state to be known as BIAFRIA. On July 6, 1967, Gowon declared war and attacked Biafra. Ikemba later left the country and after 13 years in exile, the Federal Government of Nigeria under President Shehu Shagari granted an official pardon to him and opened the road for his triumphant return in 1982.

Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, in 1994, married former Miss Bianca Onoh (Former Miss Nigeria and ex Nigeria’s Ambassador to the kingdom of Spain). On November 26, 2011, Ikemba Odumegwu Ojukwu died in the United Kingdom following a brief illness, aged 78. If he was alive, Ezeigbo gburu gburu would have been 85 years old today.
Until his death, the icon was the leader of the All Progressives Grande Alliance, APGA, having contested Presidential election under the party. In view of those outstanding accomplishments, the Anambra state government, in 2014, renamed the former Anambra State University Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University.

From the foregoing, it is obvious that Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu was a shining star worth celebrating. Thus, everyone is invited to this epoch-making memorial lecture with the theme, ‘’Between Force of Reason and Reason for Force: Legacy of Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu’’ today, Monday, November 5, 2018 by 11am at Chief Ben Nwazojie Law Auditorium, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University, Igbariam campus. Professor Chidi Odinkalu will be the Guest Speaker.

Governor Willie Obiano is expected as the Special Guest of Honour, while Professor Chukwuma Soludo will Chair the event. You are all invited.

Written By Prof. Solomon Ekwenze