It was rather fortuitous that I happened to listen to the excellent Jerome Okolo give at a talk today at London’s TEDxEuston. His life story seemed to be one of a young man popping up in the right places but always at the wrong time.
And having witnessed the tragedies of so many different peoples, he then began to confront the unspoken tragedy of his own country; the Nigerian Civil War.
The man who came to symbilise that war, perhaps more than any other Nigerian, Dikedioramma Chukwuemeka Odimegwu Ojukwu, passed on today at the age of 78.
Personally, when it comes to leading your people to war, I set the bar for leadership at Abraham Lincoln, a man who understood that more strength was required in not pulling a trigger when you had a gun in your hand than in doing the obvious. I am not sure that Colonel Ojukwu fully took account of the risks before leading his people to a war for which they paid an outrageous price.
But one must never fall into the temptation of blaming the shortness of a woman’s skirt for the rape she suffered. What happened to Ndigbo in that war was wrong. The killings were senseless and totally unjustified no matter what the ground rules were at the time.
A country ought not to leave a matter like Biafra unaddressed because doing so then makes it ‘normal’. Ever since then, it has been one violence or the other visited on Nigerians either in Zaki-biam or Odi or on our bad roads and terrible hospitals…not to forget that most violent of government actions, unbridled corruption.
I am not a believer in inter-temporal punishments but I believe that even if you were not a party to the crime, you can help in putting right a wrong.
The Ikemba’s passing is another teachable moment for Nigeria. We never have a shortage of these moments but we are consistent in never learning anything from them. This is a moment when we are once again reminded of the unresolved issues from our past…another chance to at least begin to understand that the rattling sounds we hear whenever we open the Nigerian closet is of skeletons that have been left unattended to.
I pray for the repose of Chief Ojukwu’s soul and that God will grant his wife, children, family and all who have come to look up to him in one way or the other the strengthe to bear this loss. I pray that God will grant him eternal rest and keep him in the palm of His hands for all time.
I am also tired of waiting for the Nigerian government to do what I think is the right thing. I often get the feeling that this is beyond them.
It is not right that I share the same passport with people who were brutalised in the name of keeping us all together. It cannot be…especially as the things that keep us together till today are not things any sane person would be proud of.
And so, on behalf of myself and myself alone (Feyi Fawehinmi), I want to say that on the off chance that these atrocities were committed in my name by even the most convoluted degree of separation, I say to my Igbo brothers and sisters, I am terribly sorry for the things that were done to you and your parents.
Si kele onye nti chiri; enu anughi, ala anu
Those things were not right no matter the causes of that war. They go against everything I have come to know as just and right.
To the 700 killed at Asaba who Jerome Okolo has managed to name individually and the 1 million others who might never be properly named, these things were wrong. And to me they will always be wrong.
I dont know how anyone else feels about these things, but I know how I feel.
I also hope we get to a point where we can sit down with our past, not to apportion blame, but to come to be able to realise the deep error of our ways and move on from them with the understanding that they must never be repeated.