Philip Emeagwali, biography, A Father of the Internet, supercomputer pioneer, Nigerian scientist, inventor

Nigeria-Biafra Civil War

34 Years Later


By Obi Nwakanma
Vanguard (Nigeria), November 09, 2003

 EVERYONE knows that Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu’s father, Sir Louis Phillipe Odumegwu-Ojukwu was the wealthiest Nigerian of his generation: a multi-millionaire businessman, who had been chairman of UAC (West Africa), the Nigerian Stock Exchange, director of Shell-BP, had vast investment in property in Lagos, Kano, Port-Harcourt, Enugu, Onistha and other places and owned controlling shares in many of the top blue-chip corporations that still operate in Nigeria today, Emeka Ojukwu could have walked naturally to a life of ease and indolence. In actual fact, by today’s value, Sir Louis Ojukwu’s wealth would be in the range of about ten billion in proper sterling. But returning from Oxford University, where he had taken an Oxford M.A. in Modern History from Lincoln College, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu turned his back to all that, and chose service- because it was his own path to freedom, and to greatness, on his own terms.

His biographer, the English writer Frederick Forsyth has given an account in the book, Emeka, of how Ojukwu’s helpless father had tried to lure his Oxford-educated son to become a director in his company in 1956, and about how his restless son chose instead to enter the civil service. Seeing that his mind was made, Sir Louis goes to his friend, the British governor-general, Sir James Robertson to try and convince Emeka Ojukwu. The governor-general offers Emeka any job he wanted, including as senior assistant secretary in the governor-general’s office. Ojukwu rejects the offer, and on his own terms secures a rural posting to Udi, in the Eastern regional civil service. We have also come to know how Ojukwu entered the Army as the first Nigerian university graduate to earn a commission. At a time when the military was not too sexy, Ojukwu, apparently with an eye on history, sought a commission. His influential father once again intervened to stop his son, using the governor-general once again to block Ojukwu’s commission. Failing to earn an officers commission, Ojukwu decides to go through the lowly route - he joins as an other rank - a private with a Master’s degree in History from Oxford. This is hardly the act of an arrogant, power-hungry person.

It is apparent that Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu was driven by a sense of destiny. He was in any case, a child of destiny. For those who are wont to see something magical and symbolic in coincidences, it is not for nothing that the two greatest leaders from among the Igbo in the 20th century - Nnamdi Azikiwe and Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu - were born in the same month of November, in the same little town, Zungeru. It was as though Chukwu had forged a generational baton. Ojukwu’s political consciousness evolved very early, and very quickly. As a ten-year old boy in form one at King’s College in Lagos, in 1943, he too had already joined the anti-colonial struggle. That year, he joined senior students like Tony Enahoro and Ovie Whiskey among others, to stage an anti-war, anti-colonial protest against the colonial administration, for which some of the students were reprimanded, others conscripted to fight, and from which people like Enahoro emerged into national limelight. Ojukwu was tried as a juvenile in the courts in
Lagos for his participation, and two pictures essay that moment: when he lay sleeping at the docks, and when his father, Sir Louis, carries him still sleepy, on his shoulder at the end of proceedings. Ojukwu’s radicalised consciousness was possibly sharpened when his father sent him off to school in England, to Epsom College, soon after the King’s incident. Black, stubborn, and opinionated, Ojukwu might have earned himself some unsavory record. But he was a sportsman. He was brilliant. He was a rich boy. He was inevitable. In Oxford, Ojukwu joined the socialists, even though he rode about in a Rolls Royce.

All these may have figured when he chose to take a stand against the genocide that followed the events of 1966. The British, afraid of the "red scare" and the safety of their investment in post-colonial Africa already had his records. Let me then sum up the event: Ojukwu as battalion commander in Kano resists Nzeogwu’s end of the coup in the North, an action which leads to the collapse of the Ifeajuna-led coup of January 1966. Ojukwu as governor in Enugu resists the Gowon led coup of July 1966, insisting upon the next officer in rank, Brigadier Babafemi Ogundipe, after the death of Ironsi, to take over the mantle of federal administration. His move was to preserve the integrity and discipline of the Nigerian Army. Ojukwu’s resistance leads to the massacre of Easterners, especially the Igbo. Ojukwu’s attempts conciliation, going right up to Aburi, and proposing the foundational thesis for the evolution of a modern Nigerian state under clear federal principles. Gowon reneges upon pressure from his British minders and their agents in the Nigerian civil service, and levies war against the East.

Ojukwu fights to protect the lives of his threatened people, and in the interval, creates what may possibly have been the most advanced, most progressive modern state in Africa. The evidence of administrative efficiency was there in the way Ojukwu mobilized the civil and bureaucratic structures of the East in Biafra.


The evidence of technological advancement was there, in the establishing of the first University of Technology in Nigeria at Port-Harcourt, and in the war production that went on, in spite of the minimal engineering infrastructure that was available. The retired Supreme Court Judge, Paul Nwokedi has recounted the premise for which the Soviet Union refused to support "a young nation seeking self-determination" when as Ojukwu’s envoy to Moscow he asked the same questions. Andre Gromyko’s, response to him was instructive: "Pauliya, Europe will not let you go…you have not fought this war for one year and you’re already producing your own rockets and rocket fuel…" he said to Nwokedi in 1968. That comment is a tribute to the visionary leadership of Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu.

It is instructive, even ironic, that everything Ojukwu stood for has become the cornerstone in the struggle for the emergence of true Nigerian state. The plank of the current minority agitation, led by the late Ken Saro-Wiwa, and now by the Ijaw for a more equitable place within the federation was clearly articulated by Ojukwu in Aburi. The search for a "true federalism" was articulated by Ojukwu in Aburi. The fight to preserve the hierarchy and integrity of the Nigerian Army was the very basis of Ojukwu’s disagreement with Yakubu Gowon. Ojukwu has established in clear terms the basis of his vision of a modern state in the "Ahiara declaration."


Higher moral authority


Nigeria has been unable to contradict Ojukwu. Not one of his detractors can make a claim to a higher moral authority, and that, in sum, is the legacy of Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu. That he fought for the highest principles and values, everything against which Nigeria turned its back: the preservation of human dignity, the integrity of political leadership, the survival of the Igbo and their minority neighbours and the rehabilitation of the Igbo within the polity. Ojukwu continues this fight - the struggle for Igbo rehabilitation has become the struggle of his life - because as he has argued, in his comments to the National Reconciliation Committee (NARECOM), established by the late Sani Abacha "without justice, there would be no reconciliation"

Ojukwu’s critic often point to his "self-demystification" on account of his involvement in politics since his return from exile in 1982; especially his dabbling with the NPN. Ojukwu has himself argued that he does not want to be a "myth" when there is so much work to be done. This is an act of courage. His work, he has said, is to "heal" Nigeria from its demonic self. Others have seen him in the context of his choice of the title: "Eze-Igbo Gburugburu" arguing that Ojukwu wants to be King. But Ojukwu knows his people too well - that there is no word for "King" in Igbo. That the word "Eze" means "leader" and not King. He has in his own subtle way said that he reigns in the heart and not on the throne. And he is right in taking the role - Eze Igbo gburugburu - it means, only one thing: the burden of true leadership - the leadership of the Assembly of Ndi Igbo. It did not begin today, it began with that song: "Ojukwu wu Eze Biafra…" - Ojukwu is the leader of Biafra. Destiny thrust that role upon him. He has borne it with great strength and character. There is no doubt that Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu has faltered, made mistakes, and made some questionable choices in his dialogue with his people - but he is not an infallible deity, although many people would prefer him to be; he is just a great leader. The greatest leader of his people in the other half of the 20th century. Buffeted, spat upon, exiled and isolated, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu still reigns in the heart of the people - the Igbo - to whom he has sacrificed his career, his wealth, and even his health.

While some strange ones strut about making claims to Igbo leadership, the Igbo know who their true leaders are. The evidence is there, whenever Ojukwu speaks, the true Igbo listens because they judge him to be true. Hopefully, when he has batted a century and not out, and shed his mortal body, the true Igbo shall raise their voice in that song:

Enyi o, enyi o o…

Enyi Biafra ala la -

Enyi Biafra ala a la …

Enyi Biafra ala la -



Odumegwu-Ojukwu bu enyi Biafra

They shall wrap that body in the green and black colours of the struggle, with its sign of the rising sun, and place it carefully into the vaults and it shall it shall enter into the pantheon of Igbo deities. That is what his chi prepared for Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu.


Philip Emeagwali, biography, A Father of the Internet, supercomputer pioneer, Nigerian scientist, inventor

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Philip Emeagwali, biography, A Father of the Internet, supercomputer pioneer, Nigerian scientist, inventor