It was a scene of national reconciliation on Monday evening as East , West North and South parts of the country were united to honour the former rebel leader, Dim Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, whose body was flown back to Nigeria in readiness for burial on Thursday March3.
The body had touched down on Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory while in transit to the home base of Eastern Nigeria, allowing for a national honour by all sides of Nigerian society, especially top government officials, paying their last respect.
The former leader of defunct Republic of Biafra died November 26 last year almost after a year of bedridden, having been struck with massive stroke and flown to the United Kingdom for medical attention.
Ojukwu’s triumphant come back, having answered the ultimate divine last call however brought together all arms of the government in an apparent reconciliation groupings symbolising a united Nigeria, putting behind the old wounds the former rebel leader inflicted through a declared civil war.
And so, as demanded by Ndigbo leadership, Ojukwu got a hero’s welcome, just something near a national honour coated in Army drape as on arrival at the tarmac of Nnamdi Azikiwe Airrport, Abuja, officers in ceremonial uniform marched forward to receive his coffin in apparent move for the nation through her leadership to bear Ojukwu farewell.
Signs of full military honours were obvious as atop the casket bearing the Ikemba was the national colour of green-white-green covering the casket with a pair of military service shoes, a sword and a military cap.
The ceremony was sober. Not so the tributes; they were effusive and generous. President Goodluck Jonathan led the way.
The arrival of his remains at the Nnamdi Azikwe Airport, Abuja opened the final lap of his funeral programme, which will climax in his burial on Thursday in his home town, Nnewi, Anambra State.
President Jonathan was represented by Vice-President Namadi Sambo.
Other personalities at the ceremony include: Senate President David Mark, Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives Emeka Ihedioha, Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) Pius Anyim, Anambra State Governor Peter Obi, Adamawa State Governor Murtala Nyako, former Governors of Enugu and Anambra States,
Okwesillieze Nwodo and Chukwuemeka Ezeife.
First Lady, Patience Jonathan was there.
Also at the event were Minister of Labour and Productivity Emeka Wogu, Minister of Health Onyebuchi Chuwku, FCT Minister Bala Mohammed, Chief Tom Ikimi, Senator Uche Chukwumerije, Senator Chris Ngige, former Minister of Education Oby Ezekwesili, former Minister of Women Affairs Josephine Anenih and Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Lt.-Gen. Azubike Ihejirika.
Arch Bishop of Abuja Catholic Diocese John Onaiyekan prayed for the repose of Ojukwu’s soul after sprinkling holy water on the casket.
Jonathan described the late Ojukwu as an advocate of a united Nigeria whose sterling qualities no words can adequately express.
He said the legacies left behind by the late Igbo leader remain indelible, citing “the legacy bequeathed to the Nigerian Army and the innovations he instituted that are now the hallmark of military processes and procedures”.
“Let it not be said that Ojukwu died when the country needed his services most. Let it rather be said that Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu lived and served with all his might when the Igbo and Nigerians needed him most. He stood up and fought for what he believed. He stood for justice. He refused to compromise. He challenged man’s inhumanity to man.
“Faced with the pogrom of his kith and kin, he stood his ground and fought until the last plane left Biafra. His bravery, courage and sacrifices live after him. Whatever perceived mistakes he made, or people think he made, will for forever be interred with his bones.”
First Lady Patience Jonathan noted that the late leader was not only a pride of his people but someone whose good qualities should be emulated by all Nigerians.
He described the late Ojukwu is an accomplished Nigerian Leader, a hero whose life, work and principles were devoted to protecting the integrity of humanity.
“Here lies the remain of a great man, recorded in history for his humility, simplicity, decency and superior intellect, Chief Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu. The Ikemba will always command a place of pride in the records of our country, as one who sacrificed his comfort and privileges to identify with the poor and the voiceless.
“For him, his liberty and privileges were without values, if his folks remained in chains. For him, selective liberty was unacceptable. He was a true patriot, committed to the defence of the dignity of man.”
On behalf of the entire women of Nigeria, she paid respects to the man, “who spent his life and times in the defence of truth, justice and fairness”.
The First Lady urged Nigerians to emulate the good qualities of the accomplished Nigerian leader.
“The best that can be given to the dead is to ensure that his legacies live on. Let us continue to pursue peace with all men and be our brothers’ keepers. We must continue to be patient and tolerant, as no meaningful development can take place without peace and security of lives and property.
“I call on you today to form a vanguard of a new world, build on love and patriotism, always leading the advocacy for peaceful resolution of our differences. This is the surest way to immortalize this uncommon Nigerian, and dignify his memory.”
The Senate President, who said he was close to the late Igbo leader noted that Ojukwu was one of Nigeria’s greatest leaders. “He was a fine officer and gentleman, dedicated to his cause and principle. He was a great defender of his people; he stood for justice all his life and he stood for the common man.
Pleading with leaders to emulate the qualities that endeared the late Ojukwu to his people, Mark added: “Though he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, he ignored it by standing for the common man. He connected well with the common man”.
Ihedioha, who described the demise of Ojukwu as an end of an era, said Nigeria lost a political treasure in Ojukwu’s death while Africa has lost a statesman of uncommon abilities.
He said the late Ojukwu’s place in Nigerian history is already assured because he will be “remembered for his fearlessness, courage, outspokenness and stoic belief in justice, equity and fairness. And I strongly believe that history will be fair and kind to Ikemba for standing up against injustice of his contemporary times.”
The Deputy Speaker urged Nigerians to draw inspiration from the “principles he stood for to right the wrongs of the past and present so as to move the nation along the path of equity and justice”.
Minister of Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Bala Mohammed said the late Ojukwu represented what the Federal capital stood for – unity.
“The late Ikemba had a vision of a true and prosperous Federal States where every citizen finds joy and fulfillment. He had a vision where every citizen lives without fear in any part they are, devoid of voice of tribalism and discrimination, religious nepotism with their potential threats and where the courage and forthrightness are not rendered weak by corruption and greed”.
Former Minster of Women Affairs, Josephine Anineh said Ojuwku did his best for his people and the country but that the present crop of leaders and the youth appear not ready to learn from his qualities.
“He lived and died way ahead of his time because his courage and understanding of issues were well ahead of his generation.”
Former Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) National chairman Okwesilieze Nwodo said the turnout at the funeral was a pointer to the love the people had for the Ikemba.
“His was a leadership that was not forced; he never begged for leadership because He was a leader they believed because he never disappointed his people, he was always there whether good or bad, he was a man with integrity”.
Ezeife also commended Ojukwu’s leadership qualities.
Minister of Labour Emeka Wogu said Ojukwu’s contributions to nation building cannot be overemphasized. “He lived and struggled for the people. He was a determining factor in the political landscape of this country.
Chukwu who said Ojukwu meant a lot to Nigerians because of his dedication to his cause said Nigerians should use this opportunity to be open and honest towards each other.
“We should use this opportunity to be open and honest to ourselves and move forward because we have come a long way”.
At about 1.10 pm, the corpse was moved by the military pall bearer to the waiting Nigerian Air Force aircraft for the journey to Imo State for another leg of the ceremonies
Source: The Nation