The ‘own-goal’ that was Ojukwu’s cameo in Buhari’s speech

by Alexander O. Onukwue

President Muhammadu Buhari has only just returned from London but his first address to the nation would have taken a good number of Nigerians to events at Wembley over the weekend.

But first the main issue: according to the President, he had the pleasure of being a host to Chukwuemeka Odimegwu Ojukwu, the late leader of the defunct Biafra, in 2003 at Buhari’s home in Daura. That was an election year in which both men were defeated by the incumbent Olusegun Obasanjo in the Presidential polls, but Buhari did not mention if they met before or after.

What he says is that they “discussed in great depth till late into the night and analyzed the problems of Nigeria” and “came to the conclusion that the country must remain one and united”.

Using that as a point of instruction to the irritant IPOB group would have been a stroke of diplomacy and evangelism, if he did not immediately ruin it with a shade on the very same subject of exultation, Ojukwu, less than 15 seconds after.

“We shall not allow irresponsible elements to start trouble, and when things get bad they run away and saddle others with the responsibility of bringing back order, if necessary with their blood”.

Of course Ojukwu infamously fled the Biafran cause with a Mercedes Benz and some thousands of pounds to Freetown, Sierra Leone, leaving his generals in the untenable position of either being exterminated or captured in surrender. As it was among the military leaders of that era, it has remained a low point of Ojukwu’s history till date.

It was not a wise move for the President to have sought a moral whip for IPOB in Ojukwu in the first place, as he is definitely not an infallible authority of reference in their mission to recreate a sovereign nation of South Eastern states. He is not their patron saint, surely not as regular in their mentions as the maverick Nnamdi Kanu. Every Nigerian and IPOB member knows that Ojukwu would, if he were alive today, not stand for a separation, having been driven as much by a low esteem against General Yakubu Gowon that it was about the fact of the ongoing pogrom of Igbos at the time.

For Buhari to have summoned him as the moral compass, and then throw dust to his halo, only made the reference more improper.

As for that matter at Wembley, the striker who was supposed to come in and seal a win for his team, nodded past his goalkeeper in true striker’s fashion. He did get bailed out by a teammate eventually.

Just maybe Buhari, in the things he said after the Ojukwu gaffe – “Every group has a grievance. But the beauty and attraction of a federation is that it allows different groups to air their grievances and work out a mode of co-existence” – would have sufficiently made up for that own-goal?

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