The abortive attempt by Biafra to split from Nigeria was led by military leader Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, who was born in Nigeria in 1933.
Despite the opposition of his affluent father, Oxford-educated Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu enlisted in the Nigerian army with the hopes of playing a significant part in the country’s affairs when Nigeria obtained independence from Britain. Instead, he became the leader of the Biafrans during a brutal civil war in Nigeria as a result of his ethnic allegiances and political developments. Despite winning some early wins, his army was up against troops supported by Britain, Russia, and the majority of Europe. Odumegwu Ojukwu battled to prevent the eradication of Biafra for three years. An estimated eight million Biafrans slowly starved to death as a result of supply routes being disrupted. Odumegwu Ojukwu lived in voluntary exile following the end of the civil war in 1970. In 1982, he was invited back to Nigeria, and as the African nation plots its course for the future, Nigerian officials have consulted with him.
In 1933, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu was born in Zungeru, a village in northern Nigeria that was a British colony at the time. He was the son of Sir Louis Philippe Odumegwu Ojukwu, one of Nigeria’s most prominent Ibos and a highly wealthy businessman. The younger Odumegwu Ojukwu consequently received the greatest education money could buy. In the Nigerian capital of Lagos, he received his elementary education in a private Catholic school. He became the youngest student in the history of the adjacent King’s College before he turned ten years old.
Odumegwu Ojukwu’s father transferred him to Epson College in Surrey, England, two years later so that he may complete his secondary education. Odumegwu Ojukwu was naturally athletic, and throughout his time in England, when he wasn’t in class, he improved his abilities on the playing field. He was the rugby and soccer team captain in school-sponsored athletics. In the discus throw, he also broke the All England Junior record.
Odumegwu Ojukwu was granted admission to Oxford University in 1952. His major was history, and he earned an honors degree in 1955. Odumegwu Ojukwu pursued his passion for athletics as an undergraduate while also pursuing his extracurricular interests in play and journalism. During this period, he was a leader in the West African Students Union’s Oxford chapter. He was also well-known for his showy sports cars, which he routinely drove between Oxford and London at high speeds. He first met Njideka, a female law student who would later become his wife, at Oxford.
Away from the Sheltered Life
Odumegwu Ojukwu had access to the top echelons of British colonial Nigeria because of his Oxford University degree and well-to-do father. But instead of relying on his father, he made the decision to work. Odumegwu Ojukwu was appointed by the Nigerian government to the position of assistant district officer in the town of Udi, where he was in charge of rural community development. Later, he performed the same duties in the cities of Aba and Umuahia. He developed a reputation as a pioneer in community development for his ability to comprehend complicated problems quickly and for his fair recommendations.
He enlisted in the army in 1957 in an effort to further remove himself from his privileged upbringing. His father did not speak to his son for the following 2.5 years since he was so opposed to the choice. The younger Odumegwu Ojukwu was commissioned as a second lieutenant while completing officer training at the Officer Cadet School at Eaton Hall in England. He returned to Nigeria in 1958 and was assigned to the Fifth Battalion in Kaduna after attending the Infantry School at Warminister, England, the Small Arms School in Hythe, England, and the Royal West African Frontier Force Training School in Teshie, Ghana.
Odumegwu Ojukwu was swiftly promoted when Nigeria obtained independence from Britain in 1960; by 1961, he was holding the rank of major. He worked with the Nigerian First Brigade in the Congo as part of a United Nations peacekeeping mission as one of his duties. Later, he was the first Nigerian officer to ever enroll in the Joint Services Staff College in the United Kingdom. Odumegwu Ojukwu became the first Nigerian quartermaster-general in the Nigerian Army in 1963 while serving as a lieutenant colonel. In 1965, he received his first solo command when he was named commanding commander of the Nigerian Army’s Fifth Battalion in Kano.
Nigeria’s early years of independence were challenging for the nation. A civil war broke out in the second half of the 1960s as a result of political unrest, rioting, and ethnic tensions. The Ibos, Nigeria’s largest ethnic group, saw widespread murder during the pandemonium, and more than a million survivors—some accounts put the figure at almost four million—fled back to their ancestral home in eastern Nigeria. The military governor of the area, Odumegwu Ojukwu, took over in the middle of the 1960s in an effort to increase the Ibos’ negotiating position.
First, he opposed the Ibos’ attempt to secede from Nigeria and pushed easterners to embrace a loosening of links with the rest of Nigeria. Odumegwu Ojukwu was described as “a calm and reasoned voice arguing for an unified Nigeria long after other influential Ibos had furiously given up hope of preserving the union” in a 1968 Time magazine article. According to his detractors, Odumegwu Ojukwu had a personal interest in maintaining the unity of Nigeria because the majority of his father’s inheritance was located in Lagos.
However, Odumegwu Ojukwu changed his position and supported the separatists when it came to the safety of the Ibos. He and Yakubu Gowon, the chief of staff of the Nigerian army and the man in charge of the country’s federal government, appeared to be getting close to a deal that would have given the Ibos some autonomy while remaining part of the Nigerian federation at one point. Odumegwu Ojukwu was doubtful of the Nigerian central government’s capacity to defend the Ibos, and Gowon was unwilling to permit the eastern area to keep a separate army.
Odumegwu Ojukwu grudgingly pushed for the easterners’ freedom. On May 30, 1967, at an event in the regional capital of Enugu, he formally proclaimed the independent Republic of Biafra. He also made a suggestion that the Ibo Genocide may have been facilitated by the Nigerian central government at the time. Then, after assembling an army, he drove out the northerners from Biafra, ordering them to leave for their own safety due to the influx of Ibo refugees.
Odumegwu Ojukwu had little sympathy or assistance from the world community when the conflict first broke out in 1967. However, the majority of Western Europe, the Soviet Union, and Britain supported Nigeria. The central government of Nigeria first erected a naval blockade along the Biafran coast before sending troops to the east, where they were greeted by Odumegwu Ojukwu’s rebel forces. The troops were largely Muslims from the northern region of the country. At first, the Biafrans seized control of key locations in Nigeria’s central area and the abundantly resourceful delta of the Niger River. The dispute intensified into a full-fledged civil war as a result of the central government’s retaliatory deployment of more armed forces.
Odumegwu Ojukwu oversaw Biafra’s overarching military strategy, but he delegated most tactical choices to his brigade commanders and frequently sought guidance from Ibo elders. Although Nigerians generally referred to the civil war as “Ojukwu’s war” and portrayed the military chief as a power-crazed Hitler who was destroying the unity of the new Nigeria, he downplayed his contribution to the fight. Odumegwu Ojukwu said to Lloyd Garrison of the New York Times Magazine, “Independence is not something that one individual can declare on his own. Freedom that lacks foundation is useless.”
By 1967’s conclusion, Nigerian soldiers had retaken the Midwest and barred the Biafrans from reaching the sea. The Ibo heartland was impenetrable despite the fact that they had encircled the Biafrans. However, the Biafrans were confined to mangrove swamps and hardwood forests and were unable to provide for their daily needs. Meanwhile, during strikes on Biafran major areas, Soviet-built warplanes, many of which were flown by paid Egyptian and British pilots, severed supply lines and caused significant deaths.
As a result, Time reported that Biafrans were perishing from starvation at a rate that was roughly estimated to be 1,000 people per day. Other accounts say that during this time, up to 8, 000 people per day in the region perished from famine. The Ibo people supported the war effort despite the hardships. Thus, Odumegwu Ojukwu started a PR campaign to obtain much-needed goods from the outside world. Press releases and images of famished Biafrans were distributed by him. He urged a number of nations, notably Belgium, the Netherlands, and Czechoslovakia, to stop supplying arms to Nigeria. Odumegwu Ojukwu longed for airlifts because he saw them as a sign of the rest of the world supporting a beleaguered people.
However, by October 1969, understanding that he would not gain much support from abroad, he made a request for UN mediation to secure terms for a cease-fire and to launch peace discussions. However, the central government of Nigeria was unwilling to accept anything less than total capitulation and appeared to view famine as a weapon of war that would save it from having to send troops into battle. Odumegwu Ojukwu said to Time reporter James Wilde around this time, “What you are seeing today is the finish of a long, long journey.
As we were forced out of one location after another, it started in the extreme north of Nigeria and progressed progressively south. Here in the Ibo heartland, this route is now known as the road to the slaughtering. By year’s end, 125,000 Nigerian soldiers had split Biafra in half. The insurgent country fell in January 1970.
Under Gowon’s direction, the Nigerian central government took action after the civil war to guarantee that the Ibos would be treated as neighbors rather than as vanquished foes. To reintegrate the Ibos into a united Nigeria, programs were created. As part of a broad amnesty, many Biafran military commanders re-joined the federal administration. However, Odumegwu Ojukwu chose voluntary exile and accepted the president of the Ivory Coast’s invitation to travel there. When questioned about his activities, he responded, “[W]hilst I live, Biafra lives,” as reported in Newsweek. Shehu Shagari of the Nigerian government extended an invitation to Odumegwu Ojukwu to return to Nigeria in 1982.
The former Biafran leader has since started participating in the National Party of Nigeria. Although he failed in his attempt to win a seat in the national senate, many groups within the Nigerian and wider African community frequently seek his counsel. In order to facilitate Nigeria’s gradual transition to democracy, he has urged the military. He openly backed the Nigerian Republican Party in 1993 because he believed it would be the strongest protector of eastern interests in governmental affairs.
Further Reading on Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu
Dostert, Pierre Etienne, Africa, Stryker-Post Publications, 1990.
Hatch, John, Nigeria: Seeds of Disaster, Henry Regnery Company, 1970.
Schultz, John, Nigeria … in Pictures, Lerner Publications, 1988.
America, February 8, 1969, p. 162.
Newsweek, March 24, 1969, p. 55; January 26, 1970, p. B49.
New York Times Magazine, June 22, 1969, p. 7.
Time, August 23, 1968, p. 20.
“Biafra versus the Federal Military Government of Nigeria: Oil and War, ” ICE Case Studies, http://gurukul.ucc.american.edu/TED/ICE/BIAFRA.HTM (March 13, 1998).
“Lt. Col. C. O. Ojukwu, ” NewJan Communications, http://www.nigeriangalleria.com/portrait/bios/ojukwu.htm (March 13, 1998).
“Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, ” http://freeweb.pdq.net/qualitech/ (March 9, 1998).
Click Here To Join Us On Telegram Now!!!
Do you find Xclusivepop useful? Click here to give us five stars rating!
Leave a Reply