Fresh from exile in 1982, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu joined the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) signifying the beginning of his politics. NDUBUISI ORJI writes on the philosophy that informed his political trajectory.
Thursday, December 01 , 2011
Photo: Sun News Publishing
When Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu joined partisan politics in 1982, not a few were bewildered. Even more confounding was his choice of political party. Late Ojukwu after 12 years in the Ivory Coast had joined the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). His decision to pitch his tent with the NPN raised several questions.
The major question was why NPN of all parties. The reason for this was not far fetched. Prior to his exile in early 1970, the Igbo leader had led the Igbo nation in a war to secede from Nigeria. The general expectation that he would have joined the Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP) led by the late Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe. The NPP was seen largely as an Igbo party, more so when NPP controlled the two eastern states of Anambra and Imo at that point. While the NPN on the other hand was perceived as a Northern party.
Many had insinuated at that point that Ojukwuâ€™s membership of the NPN may have been part of the deal he reached with the government of Shehu Shagari, which granted him a state pardon thereby making his return to the country possible.
Even the government of Shagari was shocked that he joined politics. According to the Alhaji Umaru Shinkafi , Director General of the Nigerian Security Organization at that time said the Ikemba involvement in partisan politics was not part of the understanding reached with the government before his return.
Commenting on the events of those days, Shinkafi told a national daily â€œI do not know about (Alex) Ekwueme, but it was certainly not President Shagariâ€™s wish. He didnâ€™t want Ojukwu to get involved in party politics, even in NPN.â€ But then Ojukwu disappointed them all and embraced partisan politics.
In joining politics, he was motivated by the same factor that influenced him into joining the civil service as an assistant district officer . That is service to the people. It was that burning desire that also drove him into confronting the Federal Government led by General Yakubu Gowon.
Ojukwuâ€™s involvement with the NPN changed the tempor of the politics of Eastern Nigeria. He declared for the Onitasha Senatorial seat on the platform of the NPN. The NPP government in the old Anambra State under the watch of Chief Jim Nwobodo was already giving Vice President Alex Ekwueme tough time. To effectively checkmate the NPP, which already had a militia group , he formed the Ikemba Front. The Ikemba Front came to be more than a match for the NPP militia group. Shinkafi explained that â€œEven before Ojukwu returned, Ekwueme and Governor Jim Nwobodo were having a running battle in the area. NPP already had a militia. Ojukwu only reacted by forming his own militia. Several times I went to the East and urged Nwobodo to respect the office of the vice president. However, in responding to NPP and forming his own militia, Ojukwu went beyond expectation.â€
At the end of the 1983 senatorial, Ojukwu host to the less popular NPP candidate In 1983, he contested the Onitsha senatorial poll, but lost to a relatively little known Anambra State commissioner in then Governor Jim Nwobodoâ€™s cabinet, Dr. Edwin Onwudiwe. But the NPN won the governorship of the state. Some political historians have said that NPN deliberately sacrificed Ojukwu because they could not fathom how to handle Ojukwu if he ended in the senate of the Second Republic.
Alhaji Tanko Yakassai, who was then the Presidential Liaison Officer to the National Assembly, said â€œThe 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.â€ For the Igbo leader â€œI joined NPN to bring the Igbos into the main stream of Nigeriaâ€™s politics since I was the one that pulled them out in the first place,â€ Ojukwu was quoted severally to have replied when asked why he joined the NPN upon returning from Ivory Coast.
The failed senatorial adventure was not Ojukwuâ€™s first romance with politics.
During the 1978 election, the late Biafran leader had nursed the idea of contesting for the Nnewi Federal Constituency on the platform of the Great Nigeria Peoples Party (GNPP.) He was nominated in absentia. According to the Ikemba in his book. Because I am Involved , â€œ I was convinced that such a momentous change (1978 transition programme), such an event must not take place without my being an issue. I made contacts with my compatriots individually and as party member , finally it was the GNPP, under Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim that settled upon my candidature. The campaign began in earnest. I was nominated in absentiaâ€. He said he was motivated by Nkwame Nkrumah and Kenyatta who had moved into power from prison. However, the dream was stillbirth as the military authority reacted negatively to the idea of his participation in the transition programmes, thereby forcing Waziri and others to deny him.
Not loog after the 1983 election, the military struck. The General Muhammadu Buhariâ€™s regime that toppled the civil administration clamped Ojukwu and other politicians of that era into prison. . He was detained for 10 months.
Having put his hand in the plough, there was no going back for the Igbo leader politically. In the third republic , he joined the National Republican Convention, NRC, and aspired to contest the presidency. He said the surest way to show that the civil war had ended and the Igbo fully integrated into the affairs of the nation was to allow the Igbo become president.
However, General Ibrahim Babangida promptly disqualified him from running for president alongside other â€œold breedâ€ politicians. During the General Sani Abacha regime, he was one of those elected to the National Constitutional Conference (NCC) of 1994 to 1995.
At the inception of the fourth republic, Ojukwu first joined the All Peoples Party (APP, now All Nigeria Peoples Party) in the Fourth Republic. Together with Dr. Olusola Saraki, Chief Tom Ikimi, the late Lamidi Adedibu, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, Dr. Ezekiel Izuogu, the late Chief Sam Mbakwe, all political soul mates who could change Nigeria along defined lines. Their efforts at building a strong national party failed when the APP lost at the 1999 polls, as many of them left for the ruling party. But Ojukwu soldiered on. He later founded the Peoples Democratic Congress which was not registered as a political party.
Then in 2002 with Chief Chekwas Okorie, the former military governor formed the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). It was in APGA that he came close to realizing his dream of offering service to the people. Though the two attempts he made at governing the country on the platform of the party was not successful, the party won governorship elections in Anambra and Imo State in the last general election.
He was the partyâ€™s presidential candidate platform in the 2003 presidential poll. He fought the polls against President Olusegun Obasanjo, General Buhari and other contenders and came third. He repeated the quest in 2007 and came sixth. However he did not participate in the last election though to ill health.
Ojukwu no doubt had an eventful political career. But his main regret would be that he never lived to see an Igbo man elected as Nigerian president. Because that for him would mean the full integration of Ndigbo into Nigerian polity after the 30 moths bitter civil war, he led to give the Igbos a better deal in Nigeria.