FORTY-TWO years after the Nigerian civil war ended, the Igbo nation declared yesterday that the impressive manner in which the Federal Government and the entire Nigerian nation accorded the leader of the defunct Biafran Republic, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu a befitting burial has confirmed that the war has actually ended.
Chairman of the South East Governors’ Forum and Governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi who made the declaration on behalf of Ndigbo at the final funeral rites and interment of the late Ikemba Nnewi, said that President Goodluck Jonathan has actually ended the civil war, and for that reason, all the support his government needed to succeed would be given to him by Ndigbo.
Obi spoke even as President Jonathan who personally witnessed Ojukwu’s burial with his wife, Dame Patience Jonathan, described the deceased as God sent, saying he came into the world to perform a specific assignment.
This was even as Igbo traders in Bauchi, Kwara, Nasarawa and Kaduna states among others closed their shops in honour of their departed leader.
Obi whose speech drew loud applause from the large crowd of dignitaries that attended the Requiem Mass at St. Michael De Archangel Catholic Church, Nnewi, before Ojukwu’s burial, expressed gratitude to President Jonathan for the deep interest shown in the burial of Ojukwu.
He said: “From the very first day I had the opportunity of discussing with you about this great man, I told you he was sick and had gone for a medical check-up in the United States. You called me to your office and wrote a letter saying you wanted me to send this letter to him, a letter of get well soon. And when I gave him that letter ,he said, ‘is it from the President?’, and ‘I said yes’. He said, ‘okay I will thank him when I come back’.
“And when he came back you (Jonathan) wanted to go and see him and he said, ‘No, I will go and see the President because he is the President of the country’. As from that time, you showed love, you showed a love a son will show to his father. Mr. President, let me tell you, by this singular act of the love shown to our own father and hero at this time, you have ended the Nigerian civil war.
“The Igbo feel that by the love you have shown, we now feel less excluded from Nigeria by this singular act. All I will assure you that by this singular act, we from this part of the country will give you all the support your government needs to succeed. You can count on us any day by what you have done for our hero because what you did for him; you did for all of us.’’
Obi also thanked the governors of the old Eastern Region and Delta State who for the first time came together to say “this (Ojukwu’s burial) is for all of us.
“I remember Governors Amaechi and Imoke say, ‘Peter, put it in writing because what we are doing is for the burial of the governor of old Eastern Region’ and they were proud to be part of it. And what is more interesting; when I told the Delta State Governor what we were doing, he saidwe were excluding him, that he will be part of it. He said ‘whatever you people are contributing, I will be part of it’ and he did. Governor Uduaghan’ I thank you.
“No other Nigerian, no other Igbo man has government of Nigeria and everybody shown this kind of love and with this love, I say again, you can count on us,” Obi added.
Addressing the dignitaries, the clergy and members of Ojukwu’s family at the funeral service, President Jonathan said he decided to come down with his wife and members of his family to attend Ojukwu’s funeral because “I consider this burial my own burial”.
He said that Ojukwu made him proud when his father died, explaining further that, “even though as at that time his health was not that good, he drove down to my remote village in the swamp of the Niger Delta. I almost wept when I saw him and since that time, he takes me as his younger brother, he takes me as his son.
“Today, we are witnessing his last journey to Mother Earth. We condole, specially the children, his wife and direct family members who had been interacting with him, daily hearing his voice, words of advice but now, they can no longer get that privilege. We thank God for everything,” he said.
The President also noted that in the history of nations, countries, towns, villages, communities and families, from time to time, God raises some people to do specific assignments and some of such people do the assignment in such a way that history will write them differently.
“But in most cases, it is when you step aside from such responsibilities or you depart the Mother Earth that people will really picture and know who you are. We have seen leaders even in Africa and in the world, and some good examples in Africa that served as presidents of their countries and of course even their corpses were not allowed to go back to their countries. That tells you the kind of their leadership. Ojukwu is one of those brought by God to lead the people,” he stressed.
Jonathan said he had never witnessed the type of Ojukwu’s burial and thanked Ndigbo and the church for their support and honour for the late sage.
Odumegwu-Ojukwu died in London on Nov. 26, 2011, and was flown into the country earlier in the week and his body taken round the five South Eastern states.
The Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Azubike Ihejirika, read a funeral oration, while the Catholic Bishop of Nnewi, Most Rev. Gregory Ochiagha, presided over a requiem mass for the departed ex-soldier.The burial witnessed large turnout of people from different parts of the country, particularly the old Eastern region where Ojukwu held sway as governor.
But his funeral was held amidst tight security mounted by members of various armed forces in the country. Everybody, no matter their status in life, was thoroughly searched by security operatives while entering into the church and the adjoining Ojukwu’s family compound.
At a point when the large crowd made to surge into the expansive Odumegwu-Ojukwu’s compound, some unknown security men sprayed a substance suspected to be teargas which forced many people including Reverend Fathers and Sisters, women and children into shedding tears.
A young girl of about 13 years fainted in the process but members of the Red Cross Society rushed her to their stand outside the premises where they battled for about an hour to rescue her even as her mother and other siblings were seen weeping and cursing whoever sprayed the teargas.
Fierce-looking soldiers whipped several people while trying to gain entry into the compound to witness the burial proper and in the process some
On the other hand, movement in and out of Nnewi was seriously hampered by security operatives as all the roads were blocked even as markets, offices and other economic activities in the town were completely shut down in compliance with the two-day public holiday declared by the state government in honour of Ojukwu.
Travellers who had to pass through Nnewi yesterday waited till the end of the burial ceremonies before making their journey.
As early as 8.00 am, stern –looking soldiers and policemen, as well as members of the Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC, blocked the Oba –Okigwe, Oba –Nnewi and Nnewi –Nnobi roads which are the main entry roads to the town and motorists who thought it would last for few hours had to stay till about 3.00 pm when the church service ended.
Those affected could not even be allowed to go beyond the blocked areas on foot as the security used whips to scare them out of the area.
As expected, the burial of Ojukwu provided an opportunity for people, especially those engaged in edible items, to make brisk business.
For instance, the stretch from the Nnewi North local government headquarters to the home of Ojukwu served as eateries and drinking places and those who were not allowed to enter either the church or the Ojukwu’s compound enjoyed themselves while the ceremony lasted.
The burial also provided avenue for praise singers who positioned themselves at strategic places to eulogize their leaders as they trooped out of the church premises.
Most surprisingly, members of the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB, disappeared completely from the scene and all their threat to take charge of the burial did not materialize.
With the presence of President Goodluck Jonathan at the burial service, even Assistant Inspectors General and Commissioners of Police were seen screening people at the gate of the church.
The burial was witnessed by President Goodluck Jonathan, his wife, Patience, the governors of Anambra, Abia, Ebonyi, Cross River, Delta, Ondo and Kaduna states, as well as other top government officials and politicians.