- FORMATIVE YEARS (Growing up and early years)
Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu was born on November 4, 1933 in Zungeru, Northern Nigeria. His father, Sir Louis Odumegwu Ojukwu was one of the wealthiest businessmen in South- Eastern Nigeria. As a result, ‘Emeka’ as he was fondly called had the privilege to attend the best schools in the world.
Emeka Ojukwu started started his secondary school education at CMS Grammar School, Lagos in 1943 aged 10. He later transferred to King’s College, Lagos in 1944 where he was involved in a controversy leading to a brief detention for assaulting a white British colonial teacher who humiliated a black woman. This event generated widespread coverage in local newspapers. To allow the scandal to die down, Emeka was sent away to study in Britain at the age of 13. He completed his secondary school at Epsom College and moved on to Lincoln College, Oxford Univerity where he earned a bachelor’s degree in modern history. He returned to colonial Nigerian in 1956.
- ACTIVE YEARS/ BIAFRA WAR
Emeka Ojukwu joined the civil service in Eastern Nigeria as an Administrative officer at Udi, in present-day Enugu State against his father’s wishes. In 1957, within months of working in the civil service, he joined the army. As one of the few graduates in the military, Ojukwu rose quickly in the ranks. He came into national prominence upon his appointment as military governor in 1966 and his actions thereafter.
During the early years of Nigerian Independence, political turmoil, riots and ethnic rivalries culminated into a civil war in the latter half of the 1960s. Igbos were murdered in mass during the chaos, and more than a million survivors fled back to their tribal area in Eastern Nigeria. As the governor of the region, he made an attempt to strengthen the bargaining power of the Igbos. Significantly, the failure of Yakubu Gowon to honor the Aburi Peace accord eventually lead to the East declaring the Sovereign state of Biafra.
Chukwuemeka Ojukwu will be remembered for his courage and inspiration as the leader of young Biafra during the war period. To the Ibos, he was everything that Winston Churchill meant to the British during the second world war and more. Under his leadership, the latent resourcefulness and ingenuity of the Black African was brought to the full attention of the watching world for the first time. Commenting on the many feats achieved by the Biafran engineers, including the construction of a functioning airport, effective weapons and ‘novel’ petroleum refineries, a British newspaper aptly described Ojukwu’s Biafra as a manufacturing workshop as opposed to Yakubu Gowon’s department shop for the dumping of foreign goods’. The respected Professor Eugene Arene had this to say:
‘I can make the assertion here that if what the ‘Biafran’ Scientists had achieved in weaponry and general civilian goods manufactured (without any foreign technicians and inputs) and the tempo with which they did those things, had been harnessed by Nigeria at the end of the Civil War in January 1970, when Gowon made his famous quote ‘no victor, no vanquished’, Nigeria might not be where it is now scientifically and technologically…’ “The Biafran scientists (The Development of an African Ingenous Technology)” January, 1996.
- AFTER EXILE
The Civil War ended after 30 months (January 12, 1970) and Ojukwu opted for voluntary asylum in Cote D’Ivoire. After 13 years in exile, the Federal Government of Nigeria under President Shehu Shagari granted an official pardon to Odumegwu-Ojukwu and opened the road for a triumphant return in 1982. The people of Nnewi gave him the now very famous title of “Ikemba” (Power of the people), while the entire Igbo nation called him “Dikedioramma” (Beloved Hero).
Since then, the former Biafran leader has become active in the National Party of Nigeria. His advice is often sought by Nigerians and the African community. He has encouraged the military to support Nigeria's slow transition toward democracy.
On 26 November, 2011 Ojukwu died after a brief illness in Britain at the age of 78. The Nigerian Army accorded him the highest military accolade and conducted a funeral parade for him in Abuja, Nigeria on 27 February 2012, the day his body was flown back to Nigeria from London before his burial on Friday, 2 March. He is survived by his wife Bianca, three children from Bianca, three from Njideka Onyekwelu (his second wife) and an adopted child from Cote d’Ivore and others.