Ikemba Nnewi, Chief Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu
The Federal Government is "seriously" considering holding a state burial for the late Ikemba Nnewi, Chief Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, who died on Saturday in London, THISDAY has learnt.
Presidency sources said last night that although some hardliners might be opposed to the idea because Ojukwu led a rebel army that almost broke up the country, "the fact remains that at the end of the civil war in 1970, the Federal Government declared a 'No Victor, No Vanquished' stand".
The source revealed that President Goodluck Jonathan is further persuaded by the fact that President Shehu Shagari granted full pardon to Ojukwu which enabled him to return from exile and run for the Senate in the 1983 general election.
“After the unfortunate civil war and his return to Nigeria, Ojukwu clearly preached a message of one Nigeria for the rest of his life. He was a patriot till his death,” a presidential adviser said Sunday night.
A state burial entails full Federal Government presence at the ceremony while his coffin will be draped in the national flag. It is symbolically a celebration of how important a deceased person is in the nation’s history.
In his tribute last Saturday, Jonathan said Ojukwu’s place in history “is assured”, noting that he left behind “a record of very notable contributions to the evolution of modern Nigeria”.
He said Ojukwu’s immense love for his people, justice, equity and fairness “which forced him into the leading role he played in the Nigerian civil war, as well as his commitment to reconciliation and the full reintegration of his people into a united and progressive Nigeria in the aftermath of the war, will ensure that he is remembered forever as one of the great personalities of his time who stood out easily as a brave, courageous, fearless, erudite and charismatic leader”.
Meanwhile, Ojukwu’s associates said he joined the ruling National Party of Nigeria (NPN) in 1983 because of his love for the Igbos and his desire to reintegrate them into the national politics after the war.
Alhaji Tanko Yakassai, who was then the Presidential Liaison Officer to the National Assembly, said Sunday: “We, the former Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki, Igwe of Ogbunike, John Ume-Enyiora, myself and late Chief C.C. Onoh were instrumental in convincing Ojukwu to join the NPN when he returned to Nigeria after 13 years of self-exile.
“The basic aim of persuading him to join the NPN was to reintegrate the Igbo to the mainstream national politics after the civil war. Then the Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP) was the ruling party in the South-east states of Imo and Anambra and we believed that Ojukwu should no longer play regional politics. We met and went to him and convinced him to join the NPN, at least for the sake of the Igbos and it eventually paid off when the NPN won Anambra governorship election with Onoh as the governor.”
For this “singular love” for his people, Yakassai said, Ojukwu was a man of courage “because it was rare for anyone having declared war on his fatherland to turn round and canvass the unity of the same country that he fought against”.
There were indications Sunday night that the funeral ceremony would hold in February next year as the family members consider the options ahead of them.
A senior government source told THISDAY Sunday that “the burial cannot hold until February next year, although January is still a possibility. The family will eventually decide, but Ojukwu was an international figure so they will not take the decision in isolation of that fact”.
THISDAY gathered that Sunday, two South-east governors were locked in a meeting with the family members in London. At the meeting were Ojukwu’s son, Chukwuemeka; widow, Bianca; and the governors of Anambra and Imo States, Mr. Peter Obi and Owelle Rochas Okorocha, who were both elected on the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA).
Ojukwu was the national leader of the party and was its presidential flag bearer in 2003 and 2007. One of the major issues discussed at the meeting, according to a source, was when the remains of the departed Igbo leader would be returned to the country.
Bianca, who is the Presidential Adviser on Diaspora Affairs, had returned to London shortly after Ojukwu’s 78th birthday which was held at his GRA residence in Enugu and put together by the Leader of the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra, Chief Ralph Uwazurike.