Before he died in 2011, leader of the Biafran secessionist movement, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, had assumed four personalities: he was a hero, a villain, a rebel, and even a ‘one-Nigerianist’.
Editor’s note: This essay is available in print in our latest issue on African Revolutions and Revolutionaries. Buy the issue here.
When Lt. Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu declared Biafra’s independence from Nigeria in May 1967, he became a well-known but contentious figure and the subject of numerous debates. To some, Ojukwu’s decision was inevitable as the aftermaths of two coups in 1966 posed an existential threat to the people of Nigeria’s Eastern Region. To others, by challenging Nigeria, the largest and most promising of Britain’s colonial legacy in Africa, Ojukwu attempted the unthinkable. But a blend of Ojukwu’s past and his choices after declaring Biafra a republic, succeeded in making him one of the most controversial figures in contemporary Nigerian history.
Before he died in 2011, Ojukwu had assumed four personalities, some distinct, some overlapping. He was a hero, a villain, a rebel, and even a ‘one-Nigerianist’. While his rebel personality seems to have stuck, the fact that he flipped sides to become one of the major promoters of ‘one-Nigeria’ is interesting though clouded by his much earlier reputation. His ‘wrongs’ reverberated so much that it ridiculed his attempts to right them. Yet, at his prime, he was cherished by some, just as he was despised by others. The most interesting aspects of his personality lie, however, not in his reportedly brash persona but in his courage to apparently mend fences. The latter, however, remains a neglected theme in the discourse on Ojukwu’s legacy. Who, therefore, was Ojukwu?...
This essay is available online to paying subscribers only. To read the full essay, start a subscription from $1.99 / month (students) and $5.99 / month (everyone else) here.