Even in death, Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu’s reputation for controversies is not waning


Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu admitted to being stubborn. Apparent as that trait was, the former leader of the defunct secessionist Republic of Biafra had yet a more glaring attribute. He was controversial. Virtually every decision he took drew loud reactions. Peter Okpara, author and communications analyst believes that “since his return to a tumultuous welcome in 1982, controversy stalked Odumegwu-Ojukwu’s every move: controversies based on perception, controversies that have nothing to do with the man’s substance. Whether Odumegwu-Ojukwu made a move for personal interest, regional interest or national interest, it was controversial.”


Nothing divides Nigeria today more than the Nigerian Civil War of which Ojukwu was a key protagonist. While many analysts blame him for leading an ill-prepared Biafra to war in which about a million people were killed from 1967-70, his adherents hero-worship him for leading the charge to liberate Igbo, his ethnic tribe, from Hausa-Fulani domination. The debates and quislings subsist. It has taken an intensely parochial dimension this year following the publication of There Was A Country by academic and novelist, Professor Chinua Achebe.


Having fled to Ivory Coast at the twilight of the civil war, and his subsequent return to Nigeria in 1982, Ojukwu generated controversy in quantum. His entry into civil politics and membership of the then ruling National Party of Nigeria, NPN, raised eyebrows and was perceived as doing the bidding of the then president, Shehu Shagari, who granted him state pardon. His decision not to pitch tent with the Nigeria Peoples Party, NPP, which controlled many eastern states, sort of questioned his claim to being the Igbo leader.


Apart from politics, the former warlord’s matrimonial affairs also raised eyebrows of Nigerians. His first marriage to Elizabeth Okoli lasted only a few years. Reasons for the collapse remain shrouded in controversy, as none of the two partners spoke publicly about it till his demise.


The next affair with Njideka Onyekwelu also hit the rocks after the couple had three children. Although the woman spoke glowingly of him, the real cause of their divorce which happened in Ivory Coast is traced to Ojukwu’s decision to take another wife. He also had a fling with another lady simply named Victoria.


Then there was Stella Onyeador, sister of society lady, Angela Onyeador. Stella was Ojukwu’s spouse at some point. Although the liaison did not produce a biological issue, it ended in acrimony over the custody of the child they adopted while in Ivory Coast.


Then entered Bianca, heroine of the most celebrated relationship saga in Nigeria’s history. There were rumours in hushed tones in 1989, that Bianca, then reigning Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria, MBGN, and daughter of Chief Christian Onoh, governor of the old Anambra State, was having an affair with Ojukwu. The escapade drew Chief Onoh’s angst, as he felt Ojukwu’s action was tantamount to betrayal of friendship and trust. The former governor threatened to disown his daughter in a bid to deter her. But she was too enthralled by her new-found love to be disaffected. Fame magazine, a gossip weekly that dared to publish the story earned Ojukwu’s fury and he promptly approached the courts, alleging defamation. The magazine lost the case and paid a heavy price. But a year later, the affair blew open. Ojukwu then properly married the same woman he had denied he was dating!


Even when he had become physically incapacitated before his death, he remained a strong controversy-generating machine, as many people tried to profit politically from his ill-health. His health was a subject of acrimonious exchange of words between Emeka Ojukwu Jr., his son and Bianca, Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State and others. Emeka Jr. alleged that his father’s health was being poorly managed by the governor and Bianca. Both denied the allegation. The matter was only laid to rest when Ojukwu, who was said to be in a vegetative state, passed on in a London hospital.


Penultimate week, the family commemorated the anniversary of his demise. His will was also read at an Enugu high court by the Chief Registrar of Enugu Judiciary and Probate Registrar, Mr. Dennis Ekoh. No mention was made of Debechukwu Odumegwu-Ojukwu, his son, in the will. Tenny Haman, of whom public knowledge is very dim, was mentioned as a beneficiary of the inheritance.


As expected, the document and perhaps the codicil have become subjects of litigation. There are accusations bordering on doctoring the document. Others have simply refused to honour it. Some directors of Ojukwu Transport Company for instance, have approached a Lagos high court, urging the court to bar Bianca who got a huge slice of her husband’s will from intruding into the firm. The envoy has filed a separate suit in another court in Lagos praying it to grant her access to the company as stipulated in the will. These legal battles will linger until the cases are determined, keeping the man’s controversy legacy alive.


—Nkrumah Bankong-Obi