The Imo State government last week started the programme to immortalise the late Igbo leader and Biafran warlord, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, writes Charles Ajunwa
Owerri, the Imo State capital, was a Mecca of sort last Thursday, as people from all walks of life besieged the city to witness the opening of the Ikemba Odumegwu-Ojukwu Centre built by the Imo State government in honour of the late Igbo leader and Biafran war lord, Dim Chukwuemeka OdumegwuOjukwu. The late Ojukwu who passed on in a London hospital on November 26, 2011, was accorded a full military burial by the Federal Government at his home town, Nnewi, Anambra State on February 3, 2012.
Last week’s inauguration of the Ikemba Odumegwu-Ojukwu Centre together with the members of the Governing Board, no doubt lived up to expectations as notable Igbo sons and daughters, friends, youths, political associates and immediate family members of the late Igbo leader gathered at the massive centre to honour their late hero.
The centre which has a world class auditorium, administrative block, heroe’s villa, heroe’s hall of fame and the children’s park, has a total of 19 Board members and four institutional representatives.
Those in the Board include, Prof. George Obiozor (chairman), Prof. Fabian Osuji (Director-General/Chief Executive), Prof. Anya O. Anya, Dr. Alex Oti, Prof. Fred Onyeoziri, Prof. ABC Nwosu, Igwe A.I. Ofuebe, Nick Onyechi, Prof. Omako Okoh, Dr. Agom Eze, Chief Tyndale Aneke, Mr. Maxwell Agu, Chief P.C.Echeruo, Prof. Ebere Onwudiwe, Prof. B.A.Okorie, Prof.Augustine Esogbue and Prof. S.JS.Cookey. While the institutional representatives are chairman of World Igbo Congress (WIC), Joe Eto, Director Centre for Igbo Studies, Imo State State University, Prof. U.D. Anyanwu, Director Centre of Igbo Studies, Abia State University, Prof. Elochukwu Amucheazu and secretary to the Board, Mr. Chike Orjiakor.
Imo State Governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha who looked fulfilled when he mounted the podium, started by saying that “Ojukwu represents an ideal leader; a selfless leader. He never thought about himself but others. Ojukwu was a true leader and an icon. He became poor because of the sake of his people. He abandoned wealth that he might fight for a course that he believed in. So Ojukwu to me, was a great man and greater in death.” According to him, the late Igbo leader deserved to be homoured as he represented the “Igbo and Igboness.”
“It has always been my dream to have a centre for the Igbos and the Ikemba Odumegwu-Ojukwu Centre is indeed a dream come through which provides the platform for people to look into our past, our present and our future. So, the centre is basically to look into the Igbo past, the present and the Igbo future and there is no other better person to be so honoured in that centre than the late Ikemba Ojukwu who actually stood for the Igbo and Igboness.
“Today, having inaugurated the board with calibre of people like Ambassador George Obiozor, shows that this would indeed become a rallying point for Igbo renaissance, Igbo culture, Igbo history, Igbo technology. I believe that Igbos have a lot to offer the world if given the opportunity. So, if we have a centre like this, where our children can anchor as a take-off point to rediscover who they are for the sake of development, the centre will build bridges of peace and development across the world,” Okorocha noted.
Okorocha who did not foreclose the inclusion of more people into the board of the centre especially women and the youth, said “It’s not a closed door appointment s so far. Before you are appointed into the board of the centre, we must have looked at your credentials and find out you are an impeccable character and a good person. “
Explaining why the event was low key, he said it was “an Igbo thing organised by the state. It’s like what Imo State is donating to the Igbo nation. So the organisation at this time is local but having inaugurated the board probably in the future if the board has other programmes, they can invite the likes of all Igbo brothers and sisters. We want to make it a smaller event today just to kick start and inaugurate it. Having started it we are going to hit the ground rolling and all Igbos will be invited here.
Okorocha who also harped on Igbo unity, said said Igbo leaders irrespective of party leanings should key into the message of unity, togetherness and progress espoused by the late Igbo leader whom he described as an enigma.
Commentating on the Ikemba Odumegwu-Ojukwu centre, Uwajumogu said its realisation was because of the maximum support it got from the Imo State House of Assembly.
According to him, the Assembly passed a law for the establishment of the Ikemba Odumegwu-Ojukwu centre which he said provided a subvention for the yearly running of the place. The Speaker said that the law also provided for two-year renewal tenure for members of the Board.
In his welcoming address, Osuji who described the Board as “galaxy of distinguished Nigerians” said the members are ready to confront the challenges facing the Igbos. He said apart from the centre carrying out research and documentation, it would periodically organise seminars, conferences and workshops on contemporary issues especially as they affect the people of the South-east.
According to him, “the Board will in no distant time begin to unravel the mystery of the Igbo race” adding that thelate Odumegwu-Ojukwu’d principles and values are needed to shape the future of the Igbo race.
On his part, the Chief Judge of State, Njemanze said the establishment of the Ikemba Odumegwu-Ojukwu Centre “is very important to the existence of Ndigbo in Nigeria” adding that “in death Ojukwu has transcended party politics.”
Speaking on the honour done to his late father by the Imo State government, Emeka who looks more like his father in terms of stature, when mounted the podium recalled with nolstalgia how the body of father was laid at the same centre for a night during one of the activities marking his final burial rites. “When I saw the edifice I thought my father will never die. My father was an Igbo man to the core.”
In his acceptance speech, Obiozor started by thanking all the Board members of the Ikemba Odumegwu-Ojukwu Centre for responding to the “Imo State Government clarion call,” adding that “we shall do our best and we will not disappoint you.”
According to the revered diplomat, late Odumegwu-okjukwu experience should serve as a potent reminder to all Igbos. “The injustice done us caused us much” adding “our leaders must be alive to their responsibilities so that they would not be taken for granted.” He also implored the political leaders to know what their people wanted at any point in time.
Those who graced the event include, Governor Rochas Okorocha, Speaker of the Imo State House of Assembly, Hon. Benjamin Uwajumogu, Chief Judge of the State, Justice Benjamin Njemanze, former Nigeria’s ambassador to America, Prof. George Obiozor, former Education Minister, Prof. Fabian Osuji and Chief Benjamin Apugo.
Others are National Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Chief Victor Umeh, Mr. Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, Senator Osita Izunaso, Chairman of Imo State Council of Traditional Rulers, Eze Samuel Agunwa Ohiri, Chief Mbazulike Amaechi,
The Ikemba Odumegwu-Ojukwu Centre, which is a creation of a law passed by the Imo State House of Assembly, was said to have been conceived by Okorocha during the first week of his government in 2011.
The Omenimo Dance Group from Imo State which is nationally and internationally recognised entertained the audience with their powerful dancing skills which got intermittent ovation from the elated crowd.