She was just a teenager at the time. And given the nature of forced conscriptions into the war at the time, young male adults were forced into the war, while young female adults were forced into the kitchen – those to cook for those fighting the war. One of those in the kitchen then was the Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
In her superlative tribute for late Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, the finance minister recounted how she became a cook for the Biafran soldiers during the war.
Describing Odumegwu-Ojukwu as her hero and the hero of all Nigerians, she said: “During the war, my father was a Brigadier in the Biafran army. I was also a teenager at the time. As I said in a tribute recently, I was cooking for the Biafran soldiers at the war front. So Ojukwu was my hero and he was the hero of all Nigerians, and we want his soul to rest in peace.” She asked: “Have you ever seen someone who received this kind of tributes from all over the country, even from outside the shores of this nation?”
Okonjo-Iweala noted that the death and burial of the former Biafran warlord and leader of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), had united Nigeria, describing the requiem service preceding his burial as a sober and uplifting occasion.
The minister told journalists shortly after the internment of the remains of Odumegwu-Ojukwu at the weekend at Umudim community in Nnewi, Anambra State that he was a man who in death united the whole country, noting that although when he was alive, he seemed “like a divisive figure”.
According to her, “But that’s not the case; he has actually brought everybody together. Look at the calibre of the personalities who attended the ceremony – from the speaker of the House of Representatives to the president, the First Lady. So we want to thank the Ojukwu family for having given us a great hero.”
Asked if there was any lesson people could learn from the life of Ikemba Nnewi, the minister declared: “Nigerians can learn to be principled, to be resilient, to believe in their country, to be patriotic, to be courageous, stand for what you believe in.
“This was a man who stood for what he believed in. And like the priest said in Enugu during the funeral at Okpara Square, no one has come out to say that Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu ever stole one naira from public funds. That’s the best example you could ever have. Let it be said of all of us when we depart that we never stole one naira.”
Reminded that Nigerians do not seem to have pointed out any of Odumegwu-Ojukwu’s faults, she retorted: “There is no human being who doesn’t have any fault. I don’t think I am qualified to even talk about whatever must have been his faults, right now. But I am sure that if he were here today, he was a great man and great people admit their faults.”
It is a tribute to his greatness that three days after his burial, the echo of his funeral has continued to reverberate in his Nnewi, Anambra State country home.