Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu
By Christopher Isiguzo and Emeka Osondu
He was formerly the rebel leader of the defunct Republic of Biafra whose attempt to break away from the country led to a 30-month civil war.
But yesterday, he received the highest military honours and encomiums from the country as his remains were buried.
The commercial town of Nnewi, Anambra State, stood still for several hours while the remains of Chief Chukwuemeka Odum-egwu-Ojukwu were laid to rest in his country home in Umudim, Nnewi at about 3:15pm.
Thousands of Nigerians, including President Good-luck Jonathan trooped to the town for the final burial rites which commenced with a burial mass at St. Michael De Archangel Catholic Parish, Umudim, Nnewi.
The President, during the burial mass described the late Ikemba Nnewi who died in November last year as "a man that God sent to lead his people.”
Jonathan said he had to personally attend Ojukwu’s interment at Nnewi despite sending an official federal government delegation led by Vice-President Namadi Sambo to the state function in Enugu on Thursday, "because I consider this burial as my own burial. I consider myself as part of the family.”
He said Ojukwu moved him to tears a few years back when the late warlord attended his own father’s burial in the creeks of the Niger Delta: "Since that time he took me as his younger brother and took me as his son.
“From time to time, God raises people like Ojukwu to lead his people. We thank God for making such people. In the history of nations, the history of countries, the history of kingdoms, towns, villages, communities and families, from time to time, God raises people to lead them. Ojukwu was one of those programmed by God to lead his people. Ojukwu had a vision that was beyond the comprehension of his contemporaries.”
The Anambra State Governor, Peter Obi, said Ojukwu made personal sacrifices to serve humanity in spite of the fact that he had a choice to live a life of luxury, “having been born into a home of a rich man.”
Obi said: “Ojukwu was courageous enough to take decisions that were right irrespective of the unpopularity of such decisions."
He therefore urged Nigerian leaders to show such courage and do things which, though deemed unpopular, will be in the overall interest of the people.
The governor praised President Jonathan, whom he said has now made the Igbo people "feel less excluded" from the affairs of Nigeria with the interest he has shown in the things that affect Igbo people.
He promised that the people of the South-east would continue to give the President their support for what he did for Ojukwu “because what you did for him, you did for all of us.”
Rt. Rev. Gregory Ochiagha, the retired Catholic Bishop of Orlu, who delivered the homily, urged the people to pray for Ojukwu "because he lived his life as a true Nigerian.”
He said, “Ojukwu choose a life of sacrifice which should be emulated by today’s leaders. His death should therefore bring to the fore a new crop of Nigerians who will see personal sacrifice as a requirement for public service.
“The need for good moral life to be the measure of leadership is therefore pertinent. The time has come for a redefinition of the declaration of assets by public officers. It should no longer be the declaration of material asset but the declaration of virtues. Virtues such as love, concern for others, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, truthfulness gentleness and self control."
Ojukwu’s journey to mother earth began at about 11.37 am when his widow, Bianca Ojukwu led a procession of the family members and accompanied by close associates into the church to signal the commencement of the funeral mass.
By 11.53 am, eight military pall bearers took the casket bearing his remains to the church, followed by Catholic Bishops, including Bishop of Nnewi, Owerri, Oshogbo, Sokoto, Umuahia, Orlu and others led by the ArchBishop of Onitsha Diocese, Most Rev. Dr. Valerien Okeke. The casket was later placed on a podium in front of the altar.
The Eucharistic Holy Mass kicked off at about 11.58 am officiated by Most Rev. Dr. Odili Hilary Okeke assisted by 12 Bishops while the parish choir rendered several songs.
Other dignitaries who paid tribute included former head of state, General Yakubu Gowon; first President of the Republic of Zambia Dr. Kenneth Kaunda; former vice president Alhaji Atiku Abubakar; the Senate President, Dr. David Mark; Nobel Laureat; Professor Wole Soyinka; literary Icon, Chinua Achebe, amongst others.
Others include former Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku; governor Theodore Orji of Abia, Rochas Okorocha of Imo, Sullivan Chime of Enugu, Martin Elechi of Ebonyi, Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta and Liyel Imoke of Cross River State.
Also present were former governor of Anambra State, Dr. Chinwoke Mbadinuju; Senator Ben Ndi Obi; Senator Chris Ngige; ANPP National Chairman, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu; representatives from Spain, Ramon Baldrich and Joan A. Pares.
The remains of the late Ikemba were eventually taken to his country home in Umudim, Nnewi, where he was interred.
The ceremony was witnessed by thousands of people who came from all over the country. Security agencies had a difficult time controlling the crowd that turned up to witness the burial of Ojukwu.
Two fire incidents, which could have ruined the event, were promptly checked. The first was a fire that engulfed an air conditioner, while there was a spark at a power transformer outside the church building which was quickly put off.