The first son of Emeka Ojukwu, the late Biafra warlord, Dede Ojukwu, in a chat with journalists, spoke about the cordial relationship that existed between his late father and his late lawyer, Dr. Tunji Braithwaite. He also spoke about the Biafra agitation and the activities of herdsmen in the South-east. Shola Oyeyipo brings the excerpts:
You talked about a very robust relationship between the late Dr. Tunji Braithwaite and your late dad; how close really were they?
They were very close. As I mentioned, Dr. Tunji Braithwaite, at a time was my father’s personal lawyer and for you to have a personal lawyer you know what it means. For every human being’s endeavour you have intimate relationships with your doctor, your accountant, your lawyer and your priest; they were very close.
If you look at it, my father had three very identifiable Yoruba friends, but if you looked at them you will see that they looked physically identical. He had Engineer Fashola, who was his closest Yoruba friend, an uncle to the former governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babatunde Fashola. He had Prof. Wole Soyinka. Then he had Dr. Tunji Braithwaite.
That was why during the ceremonies marking my father’s transition, they were all well represented. Dr. Tunji Braithwaite at the Tafawa Balewa Square ceremony looked Nigeria in the face and told Nigeria that Dr. Dim Emeka Ojukwu did not fight Nigeria. He said rather, he defended the Igbo people. He didn’t fear of any recrimination – he didn’t fear anybody condemning him but he rose up to the occasion. He said that he was a very truthful person. Braithwaite kept my father’s secrets and you never heard of anything that transpired between them till he died.
Typical, he said he never fought Nigeria but people have been misled to believe that Dim Emeka Ojukwu fought Nigeria. He never fought Nigeria. He defended the Igbo people.
Then Prof. Wole Soyinka gave a memorable eulogy of his friend and that is what friendship is all about. That is why in Igbo word we cherish such things as ‘Azuka’ and ‘Azubaeze.’ That person who is your friend demonstrates that friendship contingent on what that person does when you are not there, not what he does when you are there.
So, your family must have lost a friend with the death of Dr. Braithwaite?
Oh yes we did, because a cord runs through Dr. Braithwaite, Kanmi Ishola Osobu and Gani Fawehimi. I grew up knowing them as lawyers who fought vigorously to defend the oppressed. They don’t mind about money. There was a time there was riot at the University of Lagos, Segun Okeowo went there and was lying on the floor.
They got up and went to defend the students when they realised that those students could not have paid them anything. That is the type of people they are. They shunned their background in order to make Nigeria a better place.
But if you look back at the kind of relationship between your father and some of these people you are talking about had and looking at what Nigeria is today, where can you say is the missing link and what would you say is the future of this country based on that kind of relationship?
The future of this country is bright but then it could be more solidified if we eschew those things that divide us. We allowed a division, a kind of tribalism – trying to undercut one and other and that is the bane of the Nigerian society.
When they grew up there was no Yoruba boy, there was no Igbo boy and there was no Hausa boy. That was why when he sees Dr. Tunji Braithwaite he says Tunji ‘ki lo n’shele?’ (What is happening?). When he sees Wole he will never called him Prof because they all grew up together. He called him Wole. But now we have started knowing our differences. The corruption came in when we started introducing this is my fellow Igbo, this is my fellow Yoruba. It was never like that.
What then is your take about those who are agitating for Biafra State now?
My take is that they should agitate for Biafra. They should be supported to have Biafra. The worst thing in a marriage is if you say a marriage is indissoluble. No! A woman is like a bird, give her chance to fly she will fly away, after some time she will fly back into the cage and she becomes yours forever but if you cage her and tie her in, she might even destroy your roof in order to go out.
So, the solution to Biafra is within Nigeria; make the Igbo comfortable and make sure that everything is okay, because the easiest thing to do is leadership but some people misconstrue it. Some people misuse it.
For instance, if you come in a year and you are talking about budget and the Ministry of Works says we have 3600km of road to tar – that is what can be accommodated in the budget and we have 36 states. If you say okay, since we have 36 states every state should take 100km, nobody will be interested in that your post as the president of this country but when you move and say because I am from Nnewi I am going to take 300km, there will be problem. So, it is because of the iniquities in the country that we have agitations; remove those iniquities and I bet you there will never be any agitation again.
Are you worried about the issue of herdsmen, especially their incursion into some parts of eastern states?
Yes, I am worried and it should be stopped. It should be stopped because we are talking about survival. We are talking about the means of livelihood of a people. The means of livelihood of the people in the east is farming. The means of livelihood of the people in the north is shepherding but you cannot sacrifice one for the other. You cannot say because you need pasture, you let them roam about, you feed your animals in somebody’s farm and they trample on the farm and destroy the whole crops. It is not done!
Actually, the problem is because we over-concentrate our energy in one place. In London and all those places, the agricultural population is usually about one or two per cent of the population and they are the richest.
Somebody has a grazing field, he has a farm and he has about 300 herds of cattle then he buys fodder to feed his cattle there. He doesn’t start parading the streets of London because you want your cattle to move about. So, the rights of the people in the east should be respected and the violence that is attendance is something that should be discouraged earliest
The solution to Biafra is within Nigeria; make the Igbo comfortable and make sure that everything is okay, because the easiest thing to do is leadership but some people misconstrue it. Some people misuse it…it is because of the iniquities in the country that we have agitations; remove those iniquities and I bet you there will never be any agitation again