Jonathan, others pay tributes
THE journey to the final burial of the former Biafran leader, Dim Chikwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, on March 3 began at the Presidential Wing of Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, yesterday afternoon as his body was received amid full military honours.
Wrapped in Nigeria’s national colours, the golden brown casket was taken off the British Airways aircraft from the international airport wing into an ambulance, which conveyed it towards the Presidential Wing. It was received by pall-bearers who included brigadiers-general, colonels and lieutenant-colonels.
On top of the casket was a pair of military shoes and a ceremonial cap. The pall-bearers were led by a Nigerian Army funeral party, which provided solemn military music as the body was taken to the Presidential Wing.
Vice President Namadi Sambo and the wife of President Goodluck Jonathan, Patience, led the President of the Senate, David Mark, his Deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, Deputy Speaker of the House, Emeka Ihedioha, other members of the National Assembly and Federal Executive Council, governors, other top Federal Government officials, traditional and cultural leaders to welcome the body of Odumegwu-Ojukwu.
Members of Odumegwu-Ojukwu’s family, including his widow, Bianca, were on hand at the airport reception.
Sambo, who spoke on behalf of President Jonathan, described the late Odumegwu-Ojukwu as a worthy example of public accountability, probity, good governance and fervent advocate of justice.
He said “no words can adequately express the nature, character, legacy and lessons bequeathed by this soldier and gentleman.”
Sambo described the late Ikemba as an advocate of a united Nigeria, noting that the legacies he bequeathed to the Nigerian Army as its first quartermaster-general “are now the hallmark of military processes and procedures which till date are in use. Let it not be said that Odumegwu-Ojukwu died when the country needed his services most. Let it rather be said that Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu lived and served with all his might when the Igbo and Nigerians needed him most. He stood up and fought for what he believed. He stood for justice. He refused to compromise. He challenged man’s inhumanity to man. Faced with the pogrom of his kith and kin, he stood his ground and fought until the last plane left Biafra. His bravery, courage and sacrifices live after him. Whatever perceived mistakes he made, or people think he made will for forever be interred with his bones.”
The Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Onyeabo Azubike Ihejirika, led the Army High Command to the event.
The army’s funeral party later performed the full military honours for Odumegwu-Ojukwu, including the last post (ceremonial gun-salute) and reveille. After the ceremony, the body was moved by the military pall-bearers to the Nigerian Air Force C-130 Transport Hercules for its journey to Owerri, Imo State.
Odumegwu-Ojukwu, who effectively left the Nigerian Army on May 27, 1967 as a lieutenant-colonel when he declared independence for Biafra, is receiving full military burial following the pardon granted him in 1982 by former President Shehu Shagari. Based on that, Odumegwu-Ojukwu, along with other officers and men of the Nigerian Army who fought on the side of Biafra were approved for benefit from military pensions.
Odumegwu-Ojukwu had in 1957 joined the military as one of the first and few university graduates to join the army. The first was O. Olutoye (1956), followed by Odumegwu-Ojukwu (1957), Emmanuel Ifeajuna and C. O. Rotimi (1960) and A. Ademoyega (1962).
Odumegwu-Ojukwu, who was not an active participant in the first coup of January 15,1966, was appointed the military governor of Nigeria’s Eastern region on January 19, 1966 by Gen. Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi. Lt.-Col. Odumegwu-Ojukwu held the position and rank till he declared Biafra’s independence on May 30, 1967. This precipitated the Biafran war that lasted from May 30, 1967 to January 15, 1970. Odumegwu-Ojukwu led the Biafran forces and after the defeat of Biafra in January 1970, he left the country.
After 13 years in exile, the Federal Government of Nigeria under President Shagari granted him pardon, opening the road for his triumphant return in 1982.
Tomorrow when the remains of Odumegwu-Ojukwu will be brought to Aba, Abia State, in compliance with his will, has been declared a work-free day to enable residents of the state pay their last respects to him.
Besides, the Igbo community in Benue State has restated its commitment to remain peaceful despite the persistent killing of their relations in some parts of the country.