Jonathan: He sacrificed all for Nigeria’s unity
Rawlings: Nation still faces what he opposed
Soyinka: We need Ikemba’s spirit
LIFE anew. Those two words best captured the mood in Enugu yesterday as Nigerians from all walks of life and foreign leaders gathered to honour the late Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu. Indeed, the man himself seemed to have risen as his enigmatic presence was palpable in the festive occasion to herald his interment today.
For the second time since the burial rites for the late hero started last week, President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday eulogised the late Biafran leader, describing him as a “rare patriot and humanist.”
He said the Federal Government was committed to addressing the inequalities of the past to build a healthy and virile nation.
Jonathan had at the Namdi Azikiwe Airport, Abuja, where Odumegwu-Ojukwu was given military honour, said he was a sincere leader.
Jonathan spoke yesterday as former Ghanaian President, Jerry John Rawlings, lamented that the unfortunate circumstances that made Odumegwu-Ojukwu lead his Igbo kinsmen to the civil war in 1966 were still prevalent in various shapes in the country and causing pains for the people.
He listed the circumstances as inequality, corruption, injustice and disregard for the basic rights of Nigerians.
At an event at the Okpara Square, Enugu marking the continuation of the national funeral rites of Odumegwu-Ojukwu, Jonathan said his administration was determined to overcome the vices that had drawn the country backward by ensuring true reconciliation among the diverse ethnic groups.
Represented by Vice President Namadi Sambo, the President described Odumegwu-Ojukwu as a “selfless Nigerian,” who sacrificed personal and family wealth for the unity and peace of the country, stressing that his life affected humanity in several positive ways.
“I have no hesitation describing him as a rare patriot and humanist; a rare patriot because his life epitomised real love for the country, a relentless and committed Nigerian, a special breed; and a patriot who wanted the best for his country, a prosperous great nation where no one is oppressed,” he said.
Jonathan added that the late Nigerian leader was a man whose eulogies have been adequately expressed across the country and the global community, stressing that they were indicative of the kind of life he lived as an extra-ordinary Nigerian.
Drawing from the words of American statesman, Benjamin Frankline, the President added that Odumegwu-Ojukwu’s virtues would continue to live as “he not only write things worth reading but did things worth writing about as evidenced by the number of things that have been published and written from within and outside Nigeria.”
Wishing him farewell to the great beyond, the President said the country had lost a rare gem, whose contributions to the progress of the country would remain unmatched for a long time.
Rawlings, who charged Nigerian leaders to promote the virtues that would ensure unity and sustained development, further asked African leaders to promote and protect integrity, stressing that it was what was required in the political and social interaction of the people.
Former Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, who was represented by Prof. Benjamin Marire, said Odumegwu-Ojukwu loved Nigeria and his people.
“He opted to fight the perceived injustices against his people. May his gentle soul rest in peace,” Gowon, who led the Federal Government to prosecute the Nigerian Civil War form 1967 to 1970, said.
Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, said Odumegwu-Ojukwu started his struggle early in life especially as it concerned the freedom of his people from injustice.
“He was a courageous leader that was able to promote unity among the Igbo tribe. He fought for equity, peace and justice in the country. Today, the question still remains whether Nigeria has taken decisive steps to address these issues,” he said
According to Soyinka, “such strong will and character is required for inhabitable environment and positive principles that would encourage productivity and development of nationhood. We require this spirit to move forward. We celebrate the fact that this is a time in man’s life when his page will be closed but his legacy will remember him. Odumegwu-Ojukwu has left us but his works live with us.”
The chairman of the event, Navy Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe (rtd) urged Nigerians to emulate the spirit of selfless services of the late hero, adding that he was a fearless man, who in the midst of abundance chose to fight for the common man in his country.
“He spent his own money to empower the people. This is what we have to emulate and fight for our existence,” he noted.
Also, former Commonwealth Secretary General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, urged the people to use the death of Odumegwu-Ojukwu to positively affect human lives, especially those of his generation, saying that he was like a proverb of truth spoken before its time, which should also serve as a lesson to all and sundry.
National Chairman of the Burial Committee, retired Justice Chukwudifu Oputa, urged Ndigbo not to allow the spirit of Odumegwu-Ojukwu and the virtues he lived for to die by imbibing selfless services for the unity and development of the country.
River State Governor and Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, Rotimi Amaechi, said the history of Nigeria would not be complete without the Nigeria/Biafra civil war and the role Odumegwu-Ojukwu played, stressing that the nation must remain steadfast in his legacies and build a country where all would smile.
His Anambra State counterpart, Peter Obi said that there were so many lessons that need to be learnt from the death of Odumegwu-Ojukwu and called on Ndigbo to be united and continue to be their brother’s keepers, saying such would gladden the heart of the late Ikemba.
Enugu State Governor Sullivan Chime in his tributes, said the state would continue to mourn the Ikemba for the giant strides he performed, declaring that Enugu obliged to host the event leading to his final burial because he made the state his abode as well as its prime position in the old Eastern Region.
The body arrived in a military helicopter, which touched down at about 4.30 p.m. at the Ekwueme Park, where it was received by eight military officers. Obi led the procession accompanied by the widow, Odinaka Bianca Odumegwu-Ojukwu, National Chairman of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), Chief Victor Umeh, Mrs. Margaret Obi and members of Ojukwu’s family.
The eigth militarypall-bearers conveyed the casket decorated in national colours, with a boot and cap through an arcade to a raised platform where they rested the casket. The military band played the national anthem.
Rev. Alex Ibezim, the Anglican Bishop of Awka, led the clergy to conduct a prayer, asking God to use this opportunity to unite the Igbo race, bind Nigeria together, “while our labour may not be in vain.”
The body later departed for his hometown, Nnewi in a military helicopter for a scheduled wake last night.
The ceremony was attended by Secretary to Government of the Federation, Anyim Pius Anyim, Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Emeka Ihedioha, former Senate President, Ken Nnamani, ministers, members of the National Assembly, Senator Ben Obi, All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) chairman, Ogbonnaya Onu, Chief Jim Nwobodo and Prof. Laz Ekwueme.
There were also Governors of Ebonyi State, Martin Elechi, Cross River’s Liyel Imoke, Godswill Akpabio (Akwa Ibom), Theodore Orji (Abia) and Rochas Okorocha (Imo), Anglican Bishop of Enugu, Revd. Emmanuel Chukwuma, Archbishop of Methodist Church, Enugu, SKC Ugo, Bishop Obi Onubugo of the Throne of Grace and Catholic Bishop Callistus Onaga, among others.
Ojukwu’s remains had arrived the Okpara Sqaure venue of the programme in a long convoy at about 10.50 a.m. amid shouts of Ezeigbogburugburu by thousands of sympathizers, who had thronged the venue as early as 7.00 a.m.
It was followed by an interdenominational service led by Bishop Onaga after the pall bearers had brought down the brown colour casket from a military ambulance.
Masses at the event wore different colours of T-shirt with various inscriptions to mourn Ojukwu.