DEBE, first son of the late Biafran secessionist leader and Ikemba of Nnewi, Dim Chukuemeka Odimegwu Ojukwu opens up on the Biafra struggle, the crises in the family over the estate Ojukwu left behind, Nnamdi Kanu and IPOB leadership, among many other topical issues. Excerpts.
Fulani herdsmen are marauding; killing, maiming and raping people. What should be the permanent solution to it?
Personally, I don’t think the grazing reserves bill on the floor of the National Assembly is the solution, because the reserves should be in the places where the herdsmen originate from, because we have different cultures, and different means of sustenance. People in the South-east and South-south are mainly farmers. You don’t graze on their farms, because the farms are their means of sustenance, just like the herdsmen see the cattle as their own means of sustenance. You don’t sacrifice one means of sustenance for another. If they feel, for instance, that their means of livelihood in Sokoto or Kano states is cattle rearing, they can set up grazing reserves there, which I think is okay. In France and Britain, they have ranches where they shepherd their cows. And they go out and get their feeds. They don’t allow the cows to start roaming the streets of London because they need to eat grasses. I believe that grazing reserves should be done with the basic law in the siting of industries which is closeness to the source of raw materials. They should restrict the grazing reserves to the North, and they can come down to the South to buy the things they need to feed their cows, instead of trampling on yam and cassava farms.
Why did the president not react to the carnage in Enugu state the same way he has always reacted to those agitating for Biafra?
The most important thing is to first identify the people. There are various ways of committing crime, and the intelligence of these criminals varies from one person to another. You can say that the intelligence of the herdsmen and the collusion with the security agents are more sophisticated than that of the Biafra agitators. There are many Biafra agitators of which I am one. I am one, but I subscribe to the legal and diplomatic agitation; not the violent agitation.
Not the IPOB agitation?
IPOB? We own IPOB . IPOB belongs to us. We formed IPOB. IPOB is not a group. IPOB means Indigenous People of Biafra, of which every Biafran is a member. So it is wrong for one person to arrogate to himself who is IPOB, and who is not. What happened was that most of them were misinformed. If you are agitating, you don’t block the roads. You must give unimpeded access for free flow of the economy. It is when you start stalling the economy that you incur the wrath of the security agencies. The law of riots and unlawful assembly is very elastic. It gives very wide powers to peace officers. And by peace officers, we have magistrates, police officers and military officers of the rank of 2nd lieutenants, and ASP (Assistant Superintendent of Police) upwards. It says when you perceive that an assembly is likely to be riotous, you read the proclamation. When he has made the proclamation, he gives them 10 minutes. After the 10 minutes, they can use tear gas first, and after that, if it persists, they can use arms. That is why we are suing for referendum, because we want to know those people that are interested to be Biafrans.
But some people say the pacifist approach you want to adopt will take you nowhere.
The problem there is that as far as we are concerned, Nigeria is a child of peaceful negotiation. Nigeria was under colonial masters, and you cannot tell me that it was a stroll in the park for the independence agitators to wrest freedom from Britain. They did a lot of constitutional conferences; they went to London, argued, joked, used wits to get independence. I never read in history that Zik bore arms against the British government. It was a diplomatic warfare. We had a civil war which cost us about four million people. We don’t have to be myopic. Our group has succeeded in being given observer status at the UN and AU.
But your leader has been in detention for several months?
Nnamdi Kanu is not our leader. It is a misconception.
Who is your leader?
The leader of IPOB is Chief Justice Eze Ozobu, the former chief judge of Enugu State. The next in command to him is Dr Dozie Ikedife. Then we have Col Achuzia. We have many people involved in that. It was that body that set up Radio Biafra. Radio Biafra is part and parcel of what we are doing.
But Nnamdi Kanu is a director of radio Biafra?
Yes he is, but not the head of IPOB. The thing is that media has its potency. And because of his visibility; people were talking to him and he was talking to them. That was why he became very popular. And he used that to assume leadership.
But the Publicity Secretary of IPOB, Emma Powerful and other officials always address him as their leader?
He is not the Publicity Secretary. All those people were just given positions to make them relevant. The main IPOB under Eze Ozobu has a media department. They were just on the verge of creating those positions. They were very careful in creating those bodies because they were wary of this kind of thing. It is exactly those fears that have finally manifested?
Is IPOB factionalized?
You can say IPOB is factionalized. MASSOB is also part of IPOB. IPOB is for everybody that subscribes to the idea of Biafra. That does not mean we don’t have that leadership role.
So what are you doing to secure Kanu’s release from detention?
He came to Nigeria. He was very insulting on air to the Nigerian people. If he had submitted himself to the elders, the elders would have advised caution.
Is it because he strayed that the elders are not helping to secure his release?
The issue is whether he has committed an offence. And the government is insisting he has committed an offence. So you cannot go and tell the government, ok you must release him because he is our son. What we should be asking for is speedy and proper trial. After the trial, if it is proven that he committed an offence; well, there is nothing we can do. He could have stayed in England to lambast the administration, and nothing will happen to him. He didn’t take the advice of the elders.
How best do you remember your late father?
I remember him, especially for the few private moments we shared. Very few and far in between, but then, very rich. And it was those things that he taught me that have today become an armour. Those things that were thought to be very innocuous, very simple, are the things that are helping me, and have really helped me to put my head high and survive many of the travails.
With the renewed clamour for Biafra and the activities of IPOB, do you think he is turning uneasily in his grave or sleeping peacefully?
No; he won’t be turning in his grave because the best thing was his intendment on Biafra. He said his people would be better protected in Biafra, and I share the same sentiments. That’s why any where you see me, I will always tell you I am for Biafra. But I am not for violent Biafra, because what I will not subscribe to is the further decimation of our people
How would he have handled the situation, if he were alive?
It is the same legal and diplomatic way. And that was why, if you remember vividly, he said the Biafra now is that of the mind.
That means he made a mistake the first time by going to war?
He didn’t make a mistake. It was what was the fad then. But with the benefit of hindsight, if we had adopted guerrilla warfare we wouldn’t have lost any war. Even now, it is easy to get Biafra in one week, if we want.
How do you get it in one week?
It is for every Igbo man in every part of Nigeria to come back home, and stay at home. If you have a bag of rice you share it with your neighbour, and we manage. We won’t stay up to one week; there will be negotiations for Biafra. But the problem that happened which is what being out of Biafra caused, was that immediately after the war; people started going back to other places.
Remember that for three years we had survived on our own; but when you go out to other places you start digging in, and the more you dig in, the weaker you become. For instance, it is easier for the Hausa man to take actions because when he comes to your place, he doesn’t come with big beds and all that. He comes with a mat, so when he feels threatened; he rolls up the mat and goes away. At times, he abandons it. The greatest problem we have is the acquisitiveness in our people. We acquire a lot. You don’t come to somebody’s land and start building mansions and acquiring land and other things. It doesn’t make it easy for us to go home. That’s why when you go to some places as an Igbo man, they offer you land free of charge.
What is the situation on the wrangling within the extended Ojukwu household?
The wrangling is very simple. It is a fight between good and bad, lies and truth. You find out that two people are fighting, one is telling lies, and the other telling the truth. When everybody admits that one is telling the truth, then there is no problem. There is no issue there than an attempt to steal property that rightly and legally belongs to me.
It is a struggle for property, and if everybody has accepted that this thing belongs to this man, let him be there; then there wouldn’t be any problem. But now, feeling that something belongs to you, and maybe by their own personal calculations or whatever, you are not tall enough, or strong enough, or sighted enough to know that it belongs to you, they will try to take it. Then, along the line, I was able to find out what was going on.
What did you find out?
That these things belong to me. And that was why the hatred was there, because I am not too tall, I am not the most handsome man.
Now that you have claimed what is yours, are you waving the olive branch? Will you share it equitably?
I will not wave the olive branch. The only thing as I said is that there is a pot of beans on the fire. The pot of beans was prepared by my mum. By no stretch of imagination can I finish the pot of beans. But you cannot come and shove me away, and tell me you will give me part of the beans that my mother prepared and left for me. The first thing you do is to agree that this pot of beans belongs to “Akpunwa”- (strong man). Akpunwa, can you give us some? Akpunwa, will be happy that you even accepted that this pot of beans belongs to him and graciously give you some. That is the truth. You cannot kill Dim Odumegwu Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, because he is the only child of his father. You can’t do that. That is unjust. That is unnatural. His father acquired his wealth. If God wanted him to have 100 children, God would have done it.. But God made it in such a way that he only had one child. And God also made that child to be very popular.
But I thought you have uncles? One is a professor, another an engineer.
That is not the bone of contention. Having a child; there are different ways. You can have an adopted child. You can have a professional child. You can have a spiritual child. What I am talking about is natural child, biological child. I say it without any fears. My grandfather had only one natural child, and that was my father. It is not that somebody will come out and say it is because of long association. Even as I am here, some people are claiming to be my children. Some people come and say, “I love you uncle. I want you to adopt me.” But because of the problem we have had in the family, I am reluctant. There was one I told please; I can’t be your father. And he begged, and I said please, it will create problems. Ofu osisi adigh alu madu n’anya ugboro n’abuo (one stick cannot poke one in the eyes twice) I cannot make the same mistake he made. The truth is the truth. He is the only son of his father. When my father was alive, they were not talking. If he felt threatened by them he would have killed them during the war.
He had the power of life and death during the war. He could have just bent over, whispered to his lieutenants to take them to the hottest part of the war front. And they will be shot like dogs. But he did not, because he didn’t feel threatened. He went on exile for 13 years and none of them recovered those property. When he came back, the government gave them back to him.
When he handed them over to his son, he was alive. He knew what he was doing when he handed them over to his eldest legitimate child, and if he were alive, he would have said who are these thieves? I don’t know them. But he was here, and I was managing his property. He was here; I was with him all the way. I spoke with him one on one, and he told me the story about everything; only for them to turn round to say this one must be MU-MU, let us kill him. They never challenged him when he was alive.
Your father’s wife Bianca is also in court. Why?
Yes, she is in court, because she was sleeping with him. When you sleep with a man, some of his thoughts go down in your head. And when you’re close to your parents some of their thoughts filter into your mind. Does it not surprise you that we always seem to be fighting for identical things? She is fighting the same people I am fighting. What is the problem between both of us? It is the issue of who will be the captain. I refused her to be my captain, because she is a woman, it is against Igbo culture. But, as a woman, she has other ideas. She wants her children to assume the mantle, but they are so small. It does not follow the natural sequence.
What about the WILL that your father left behind where he ceded most of the property to the kids?
That was part of the scheming to steal some of the property. It was a forged Will. That is why it is in court. And that is why I am surprised that people still talk about Will. There is no Will. The problem that is there is supremacy. She feels she has to be my mother. She cannot be my mother. My mother is much; much older… In fact, my mother is the friend of her mother. They were mates, living together. She can only be my stepmother.