Emeka Ojukwu Jr., a legal practitioner and son of Igbo leader, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, tells BAYO AKINLOYE what he knows about Gen. Muhammadu Buhari’s meeting with Ojukwu and why he disagrees with the President’s statement that Nigeria’s unity is not negotiable
What exactly transpired between your father, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, and Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) in 2003 on the issue of Biafra and the restructuring of the country?
I didn’t attend the meeting. I was not privy to what happened. But the indices point to the unassailable fact that the meeting (between Ojukwu and Buhari) held. Why I say so is, remember that Gen. (Olusegun) Obasanjo assumed power as a democratically elected president in 1999. I think the time of the meeting must have been the period leading to Obasanjo’s second term. At that time, there were people who felt he didn’t perform well. So, there was a build-up and upswell of political opinions to see what could be done either to change him or whatever. So, they must have met.
Not long after that, there was a one-million-man march involving my father, President Buhari and Chuba Okadigbo. When he (Ojukwu) came back, he told me about the one-million-man march but he didn’t tell me about the discussion he had with the President. They were no strangers and you could not had a one-million-man march with someone you have not discussed anything with. In his life, the way he lived, my father always wanted peace for everybody. About the meeting holding, yes, it did. But as for the finer points of the discussion, I cannot tell you this was what was discussed or not discussed, because I didn’t attend that meeting. If I had attended that meeting, I could pointedly tell you offhand what was discussed. But I would never be in a position to say that the President is a liar.
On record, your father was the first person to agitate for the emancipation of Igbo people by declaring an independent state of Biafra. How would you situate that moment in history with the current agitation of the Indigenous People of Biafra and The Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra?
The agitation of IPOB and MASSOB is a valid agitation. The only thing I hold against them is their methodology. But for somebody to fight for self-determination I do not see anything wrong in that. It is like a marriage; there are times the situation will be rosy and pleasant, there are times there will be some upheavals. So, we must give room for those things. No one should say those boys shouldn’t talk. They are allowed to talk. But what I am against or what I frown on is their taking over the road because when it comes to roads, there is what we call “access.” If a Yoruba man wants to go to Port Harcourt (Rivers State) or Aba (Abia State), you should not try to block the road, saying you want to vent your spleen because of some certain grievances. You’re obstructing him and if you succeed in doing that, you’re proving that there is no government and there is insecurity.
If there is a need to demonstrate or do whatever, then they should go to a stadium, book the venue, go to the police to get a public permit to hold a demonstration and you can all stay in the stadium, have (a protest by) candlelight and get the media to cover the protest – that’s enough of a message to pass across to the world. It is better than recruiting a group of young children from the universities, indoctrinating them and pushing them to get on the roads to do whatever they think they like; acting that way doesn’t help anybody. Their agitation must be devoid of violence. Any agitation must be devoid of hate speech. The reality is that nobody has a monopoly of hate speech. Everybody should be civil in relating with their fellow men. We must eschew hate speech to avoid bad consequences.
President Muhammadu Buhari, in his Monday broadcast, stated categorically that the unity of the country is settled, not negotiable. How do you relate that to the call for an independent state of Biafra?
I don’t think the tone of finality in the President’s speech is right. I have always said Nigeria is a product – a child – of negotiations. It is a child of negotiations in that when they started the agitation for the country’s independence — Zik (Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe) from the Igbo side, Chief Anthony Enahoro from South-West, and (Ahmadu Bello) the Sardauna from the North — they were all going to London. They had problems but they patched their differences and, ultimately, without firing a gunshot, the British government gave independence to Nigeria. For somebody to wake up and say ‘there are no negotiations’ is not in line with the fact that an agreement is susceptible to review and renegotiations. Since it is not really possible to see the future or what will happen in 50 years, agreements are subject to review and negotiations. An agreement over time requires reviewing or renegotiations. So, if we are all pleased with it, there will be no pocket of agitations or discontent. But the pocket of discontent and agitation is a throwback showing that we are having problems with implementation (of the agreement to remain as a country), thus calling for renegotiation. In that regard, it is important that everybody should be carried along.
What I don’t like is a situation whereby the government sponsors people. As of the time they were convoking the last national conference, it was my view that the Federal Government should not pay the delegates. I suggested that each ethnic nationality should choose and sponsor a delegate to the confab; you submit your interest under a bigger umbrella; once all views are gathered, then we will harmonise them and look for the best way to implement them. The reason why we are having problems is that people believe that the constitution we are using was at no time agreed on. They feel that it was the military that gave us what we have now.
Do you think the restructuring of the country should be left to the National Assembly and the National Council of State as indicated by Buhari?
It is a step in the right direction. What I feel is that the last regime that organised the 2014 national conference did not do enough. You cannot go to the market to buy all needed ingredients, cook a meal and not serve it. Delegates to the confab were assembled in Abuja for about four months with each paid N4m. What was the problem in implementing their recommendations? Why would anyone play politics with that by saying ‘vote for me’ and the recommendations will be implemented? But we are not God and things did not go the way some people expected. Maybe if the election result had gone their way, we would not have the situation that we have today. The will of God or the mind of God is not that of the people. Maybe the Peoples Democratic Party government felt that they would be there for the next 60 years. When that failed, you should expect that there would be a lot of frustration. Also, a lot of looted money linked to some people now might not have been accounted for if the previous government had continued.
Do you think your father, who first championed the cause of Biafra, would be proud of Nnamdi Kanu’s determination in seeking for an independent state of Biafra?
Well, he’d be proud. He was not a jealous person – he was always very free. If you remember exactly what he said: ‘I hold the torch, but my problem is that I am looking around for a young man to pass on the torch.’ So, if Nnamdi Kanu shows that he is the person that will bear the torch, I don’t have any problem with that. But my problem with him is (that) the language being used (by him) is not refined – the language is heating up the polity. I pray that the meeting the South-East senators had with him will ensure that caution is exercised in the language used. I am a party to that. In fact, that (language used) was the dividing line between the two of us – it started when I said ‘don’t insult people’ and all that but he stuck to that. I didn’t want that to happen because I have a name to protect.
I think Nigerians should love one another and agitate within the confines of the law. I should also add that we know the history of Nigeria; when did we start to feel bad about one another? If we come to the conclusion that things were going on well until 1960 or 1963, then, why can’t we go back to that point and start from there?