General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB) should return to Presidency in 2011, says Dim Odumegwu Ojukwu

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Chief Dim Odumegwu Ojukwu


It may be difficult to determine which of the two Dim Odumegwu Ojukwu loves most: Ndigbo or his wife Bianca. If you speak to Ojukwu you immediately come away with the impression of a man married, as it were, to both. However with age taking its toll on the Igbo icon [he is in his late 70s] Bianca, his ageless wife, is like the guardian angel attending to his needs. That was why she stayed home on the appointed day for an interview with Daily Sun. she stood by her husband all through the interview to ensure that ‘he did not say anything volatile’ and that he was ‘frugal’ with his answers.

Ojukwu would naturally detest any bid to ‘cage’ him. At a point he got angry and called off the interaction. Ironically it took Bianca’s intervention to get him back on the hot seat. He then fielded questions within the ground rules, namely that you do not drill him for more than an hour and that you do not insist on all your questions being answered.

Age may have slowed him but not his articulation and his unflinching consistency over his beliefs.

Forty years after, Ikemba still believes he was right to have declared a war in defence of Igbo people but would flatly refuse talk about the war. He believes that Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida has a ‘sense of humour’ and ‘may have something to offer’ should he decide to return to the seat of power at the presidency. The interview is vintage Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu. Below are excerpts:

His Excellency, why did you choose to pursue a career in the military ?

I must confess you caught me pants down there, completely off guard. But I thought everybody knows why I went into the Army. I joined the Army to serve the nation. I also joined the Army because I liked the military. I also joined to prove a point to myself, the point being that, as many people said and thought, at that time, that I was not[speaking in Igbo] Onye aba aba nna[meaning a jolly good fellow spoilt by wealth]. I wanted to make that point to myself first and then to others. I needed to show that whatever needed to be done in my country, I would do my own part. I joined the Nigerian Army and I am proud to say that I continued to serve to the rank of General. I don’t know how many of us can boast of that. I am very proud of that. I have been seen in action in the barracks. I have been seen in war. That’s it

Maummer Ghadaffi has on two occasions in one month called for the splitting of Nigeria. The senate President described him as a mad man. What’s your take?

No, I would not go as far as calling him a mad man. He is a leader of his people and I respect that fact. If you look through my entire career you would find that even with a country as close to us as Ghana, at no point have I suggested what type of government they should have because it is not my business. Having said that, it is clear that whatever Ghaddafi thinks, he has every right to his thoughts. But as a political leader he should note that he has no right to decide for Nigeria what Nigeria should do. So I say to him, my friend Ghaddafi please shut up

40 years after the civil war, would you say the circumstances that led you to draw a line of defence for your people have abated?

I hesitate to answer that question because I don’t like to be boxed into a corner. Quite a lot of the issues have been raised over the years. But whether they have abated, I would say yes to a certain extent. However, that we are today still talking about the safety of our citizens is really sad. What are our leaders doing and why is our society so fragile. By now Nigeria should have grown beyond all these sectarian crisis and insecurity which now makes people scared of travelling to or going to live in some parts of the country. I feel we should have gone far beyond that. But, more than anything, I want to make this very clear, namely, that it is for this kind of things that we have leaders. I call upon the leaders to guarantee the safety of our people. I hope I have made myself clear. Let me add that here I also speak as a General.

The Anambra election has come and gone. One of the remarkable things about that election is that you stuck out your neck and your reputation for Governor Peter Obi. What did you see in him?

Every one is already talking about the outcome of that election. I was very proud of the campaign and I am still very proud that I made a call and despite all the rough things people say about Ndigbo, it appears very clearly that Ndigbo listened to what I said. And by that they obviously accepted me as their leader. They acted in accordance with my wishes. I am very proud of this. You are Igbo and you know how difficult it is to get Ndigbo together to accept one person. I am proud that I told them this was my last wish and they responded. But then don’t laugh at the next thing I am about to say but I am hoping that Ndigbo will still be available to do other ‘last wishes’ that I would have.[general laughter] you understand?

I do sir

Yes because I am still very much around and I will ask for more last wishes[ more laughter]

You have not talked about Peter Obi?

Oh yes Peter Obi. To start with I like his modesty. No doubt about that. He is one leader who does not come here to see me as though he was attacking a fortress. He is very modest. Whenever we have to talk, he comes as Peter. He does not bring half a brigade as entourage as the others would do. You notice also that whenever he talks he keeps to the point and does not elongate matters unnecessarily. I like Peter and I hope I would be more useful to him in his career. The truth, however, and Peter can claim this more than everyone else, while I can say that I have helped him in his career, he can also stand up and say that he has also helped me in my own career. You can see that there is some mutuality in our interaction. But having said all these my advise for him is that he should try to be more of a politician than a businessman.

The country has waited for 40 years to read your war memoirs and it has not come. Will it ever come?

Yes it will come. From time to time I tell myself that I am just starting. Again it is this question of the last wish. I say it is the last wish but somehow the almighty says no it cannot be the last wish yet. War memoirs you call it, well it will come out in the course of my own memoirs. When you say war memoirs, I tell you straight away that I do not want to be remembered necessarily as a soldier. I want to be remembered as a patriot. I will write and I will explain whatever needs to be explained about the war time. I will do that because I want the truth to be available.

What time would that be sir?

[long pause, then his wife Bianca says] He had only just started. So it would be difficult to say when that would be.[another long pause then Ojukwu says] what I find amusing is that I am being asked to determine when what I have described as my final act would be. I have already said to you that there will be many other final acts and I pray to God that it would be so. But one thing I would tell you is that I made a promise to my wife, and you know how much I love her, I promised her that I would not leave her without my own testament.

So it is sure to come

Yes. It is coming.

What’s your comment on Goodluck Jonathan’s emergence as Acting President and do you think he should run for 2011 elections?

Has there been any problems over his emergence. As far as I am concerned he is a Nigerian citizen, and the most prominent one at that for now. If he wants to continue then he should run for elections next year. It is not a north and South thing and I noted it that he is a Nigerian and he is free to run and he should run if he wants to continue to be in charge of the country. From that point of view yes, he can run for as long as the constitution of Nigeria permits him.

The papers reported that you are backing Iwu’s reappointment and that you have endorsed his return as INEC boss

Absolute nonsense. Why should I back him? He did a good job and I am proud that I stood up to say yes you have done well. I will do that for any Nigerian who has done well, not only because he is an Igbo son who is producing for Nigeria a good result which the whole world applauds. Iwu did a god job in Nigeria and Anambra, as far as I am concerned. People who are making comments about good elections are not just talking about Anambra. For a long time people have wondered whether we are capable of conducting elections. We have shown that we are capable of conducting elections and producing results that the whole world will look at and acknowledge.we have successfully had a civilian to civilian handover. That is certainly a plus.

Should he be reappointed?

Oh, come off it. I am not his employer. The question of his reappointment is between himself and his employer, why should I dabble into his job. People said when he visited the other day that he asked for and got my support. No such thing happened. Let me use this opportunity to put it clearly that he came to visit me on his way to Abia where he had a job to conclude. At no time during the interaction during his visit did he seek my support nor did I give to him the said support for elongating his tenure in INEC or for seeking another mandate. As I said in the opening of my response that is a matter between him and his employer which, in this case, is the federal government. I was not even consulted when he was appointed so how can I now be instrumental to his reappointed.

Why were you unable to win election into the senate in 1983 even when the Igbo nation stood still on your return from exile in 1982. what happened?

It may be that the people did not want me. But there are records of what happened. And I don’t go beyond that actually because I felt that whatever happened to me then was a temporary set back. I want you to always remember that most leaders are not really idols where they come from. Anything could have gone wrong. One thing I have suffered from in this sense is the fact that Ndigbo would seem not just happy that I am there but they would like to claim every inch of my skin as theirs and they would like to control every bit of my blood too.

It is natural. In fact instead of just rejoicing that I am useful to them, they seem to have cast themselves in a tug of war with Nigeria, whether Nigeria has a greater pull on me or they. You will always find that even in Nnewi I am at once their most popular son yet I know that Nnewi people feel that they have been cheated by the rest of Nigeria that did not father me and are coming out now to claim a lot of me. These petty conflicts you can find any where. But let me put it very clearly, I have said this before and I will continue to say it: I came into politics for the Igbo course. I came in to do what I can to rescue Ndigbo. I shall continue to do so and my focus remains that entity called Igbo. That’s all about that.

If you have the opportunity to present your self for the Presidency, would you do that?

[long pause and then Bianca says] No

You wont allow him

Binca: No

Ojukwu: you heard her


That’s my answer

You had said in the past that you will not condemn Massob neither would you support them but right now their leader Uwazurike is being held..

[cuts in] most unjustly. Uwazurike, like anybody else must have made mistakes though I have not seen any yet, but why should he be detained for three months. What is worse is that even in court his accusers do not bring him forward to answer to the charges against him. I don’t want to be a scare monger but really, to be honest with you, I am not sure that he is still alive.

It is a terrible thing for an Igbo man to disappear like that before our very eyes. No the Igbo race certainly has it as a bad mark against the Federal government that has locked him up, so-called, for three months. We demand, I will demand on their behalf that we be told in clear terms where Uwazurike is. Where is he, why does he not attend court when he is under the care of the Federal government in the prison and in circumstances where the government want him to answer to the charges preferred against him. Where is he. I have asked this and I say to the federal government that I shall continue to ask; find my brother Uwazurike, tell me where he is.

If what you say about him is right, I would feel better if he were permitted to come out and answer to his charges. Its only fair. keeping him away is culturally an abomination. How can a man just disappear and we cannot give him the rightful honours which he deserves as a human being under our culture. Secondly, if you think as a government that he has committed certain offences, I now ask the government, has his wife committed the same offence. Why must his relations and brothers be punished. Bring him out. Tell us where he is and above all give the courts the opportunity of pronouncing him guilty or not.

I hope I have made myself clear. Ralph Uwazurike cannot just disappear into thin air. Each time they come to court to say they have adjourned for one reason or the other, yet the man is in the custody of the government that is adjourning. That is not right. It is this sort of thing that makes me to often wonder whether it is not part of the suffering of Ndigbo because I can’t see any other tribe or any other group being handled in this off hand manner. If he has done wrong let him go to court. Try him and let us hear the verdict

Yes. But it for these kind of things that Ghaddafi has called for the country to be split if certain people are going to be treated like second class citizens in their own country

If I had said what Ghaddaffi said I would stand by it but I did not. And we have not reached a stage where we hire Ghaddaffi to come and be our advocate. He has his own problems. Please Ghaddaffi don’t mix your problems with ours and if you feel that you have to talk come and talk to me. I am the leader of Ndigbo. The name Ghaddaffi does not appear in our lexicography.

Biafrans were said to have refined oil during the war and thus had fuel that they used. 40 years after Nigeria is importing fuel. How does that make you feel?

It makes me feel awful, and there are many things that make me feel awful. I don’t expect every problem to be solved at the same time but there are many things we could do better than we are doing now. These things were done but the people who did them should come out and be counted. I have become notorious for waving the ethnic flag but I am always proud of the opportunity because what I am after is equity for all the citizens of the block I serve.

In 1966 when Nigeria experienced the first military intervention, did you think the circumstances at that time warranted a coup?

You will be surprised. As junior officers in the Army, practically every thing that happened got us thinking of the possibility of a coup detat. So when you ask do I think that circumstances warranted the coup my answer is yes. As an Army officer I thought Nigeria needed a shake up at that time.

Do you think you were right to have declared a war in defence of Ndigbo in 1967. Was it the right thing to do at that time

Of course I was right. Even now I still believe I was right and I will even go further to say that if I found exactly the same situation again I would wish that I have the courage to be as right as I was then. Are you with me.

I am with you sir. But some people did not think that you were right even at that time and I understand that they advised you to use diplomacy rather than war. I would not know whether looking back you would say there were correct

There is no situation where you wouldn’t have some supporting and others not supporting. They have their right to support or not to support. But I should warn you that if you think you are leading me into a situation where I would review the war, I think it is better for you to recognise that before you stands a brickwall.

Why wouldn’t you want to talk about it

[flares up, eyes popping out] because I don’t want to

ok sir. Lets go back to the beginning. You were said to be a pampered child. How true

[Turns to Bianca] Darling was I a pampered child

Bianca: well I always tell you when you throw tantrums that we need to go and wake up your mother from the dead so she can come back and take better care of you because she may have spoilt you. Yes you are a pampered child.

Ojukwu: My wife thinks I was pampered

Was it true that as a child you lacked nothing as a young boy growing up?

That’s how I saw it but others might have seen it differently but I certainly had everything that was necessary. I went to the best of schools, CMS Grammar School, Kings College, Lincoln College Oxford and so on. Yes my father did the best he could to bring me up and I always say, and it doesn’t take anything off me at all, that the product which finally he got justified his efforts

People generally say that Ojukwu is a stubborn person. How do you see yourself?

I hope I remain stubborn. If this is stubbornness yes. But the important thing is to get things right. If you look around in Nigeria we tend to sweep things so much underneath the carpet only to come back to start picking them bit by bit. If the verdict is that I am stubborn then I draw comfort from the fact that Winston Churchhill was stubborn, Napoleon was stubborn. I draw consolation that today Mandela is stubborn. All around me the names that keep coming up are the names of those very stubborn people. If I am stubborn then there is just one point I want to make about stubbornness and it is this; I believe that I am stubborn for the right reasons.

Your fellow soldiers, Olusegun Obasanjo, Muhammadu Buhari, IBB have all had opportunities of leading this country at one time or the other. Now some of them want to offer themselves again for the same position. People have said that soldiers are not really good administrators. Should they come back?

I don’t join the group that would casually say that soldiers are not good administrators because I know that in the army you are trained to administer. I know that in the army you find great administrators who lead men to make the highest sacrifice known to this world. Soldiers are very good administrators. In fact you cannot be a good soldier if are not a good administrators because I know that in the army you are trained to administer. I know that in the army you find great administrators who lead men to make the highest sacrifice known to this world. Soldiers are very good administrators. It is only in the Army that you would take a man and administer all his needs until his death. That is true administration.

Obasanjo ruled for eight years

Did he

Yes sir. He was there for two terms . Could you assess his tenure?

[long pause] you are asking for trouble but I would not succumb. Let other people decide on his regime

why would you not want to talk about Obasanjo’s regime?

[cuts in, voice rising] because he is too much of a colleague of mine. I do not want to`get into this personal conflict

No sir it is not personal

[flares up] I am talking about Obasanjo who you want me to talk about.

Yes but we are talking about his regime not his person

Well his regime and himself are the same and I ask you to shut up

Muhammadu Buhari wants to return as Head of State

Does he?


Well he has not told me. When I see him next time I shall ask him

There is also IBB who ruled for eight years and now touted to want to return to office

I don’t know that he wants to come back. But Babangida happens to be the one I know a little bit about. If for nothing else I like his sense of humour and I believe that a man endowed with such openness might have something to offer

You think that if he wants to come back he is welcome?

Oh yes why not. In fact any body who wants to have a shot at the Presidency is welcome, provided they go the right way. Don’t come back to office through the wrong way such as a coup detat then I will tell you that you are cheating. But if you are going to go through the elections, campaigns, and get people to vote for you and they say you are the man then that’s ok by me.

After eight years IBB and others who have had a shot before can come back if they wish

I would even go further to say that if 16 years were possible provided the man is healthy and his senses are still intact and his coordination is still alright then he should offer himself for the job and if the people want him so be it.

What are your general views on the recent ministerial nominees by Acting President Goodluck Jonathan?

Generally speaking my attitude to the names is that there is too much recycling going on and I believe it is not a good thing to recycle people over and over again. Most of the problems that persist in Nigeria derive from this tendency to recycle. There are many people in Nigeria and my advice is that the authorities should look deeper and look round. They will find the men and the women who can do the job.

What do you hope to see in the next year’s elections?

We know the constitution. People should go through it and make sure they present themselves in the best way.. what do I hope to see? I have indicated for example that if INEC does what it did in Anambra recently then I look forward to their taking charge again. But if they cannot then the leadership should move aside. They have done their bit. That’s the way I see it. I would like to see a transparent election. Now don’t go and slay me on the pages of your newspaper but I would also want to see an Igbo man emerging as winner of that election.

Do you think sir that the Igbosare ready to take the Presidency?

Why not

If they are going to take it which party will provide the platform?

I must congratulate you for being persistent. Mark you I did not say stubborn. What I say is let them have their chance. That’s all. I am certain that they will be up to the task provided nobody puts obstacles on their way.

Will your party which at the moment is not doing too well work hard enough to be that coveted platform.

If they do not work hard enough it would not be for my lack of trying. I will keep pushing that they work hard enough and produce what I expect.

People believe that the party Ojukwu leads should have been the leading party in the South East. But that has not happened.

Is that what people think then I say Amen.

But that has not happened

Lets wait till 2011 then


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