Ojukwu: The legend lives on

THE SUN Newspaper

When Vanguard Newspapers came up with the idea of searching out Nigeria's top Five Greatest Living Legends, not a few people were doubtful. Doubtful as to how that could be achieved in a country as vast as Nigeria, where everyone sees themselves as stars.

Arriving at the number of those to participate in the election was as worrisome as the election proper. But the greater worry lurked in the ability of the organizers of the project to rise above partisanship and deliver the votes as cast. The doubts would soon fizzle out with the realization that the newspaper house had carried out similar projects in the past.

The issue of who amongst Nigerian artistes were the sexiest in Nollywood set Vanguard Newspapers apart as thorough. Up till date, the verdict of Nigerians on that matter, as published by the newspaper, whether in the male or female category, has not been contradicted. As a result, Nigerians (knowing that their views are always respected) have continued to cast their votes unstintingly each time the media throw such opportunity open to public participation. And, the results had never failed to reflect the wishes of Nigerians, even those who unavoidably could not participate.

However, unlike the sexiest man and woman in Nollywood projects, the search for the top five living legends was not restricted to a particular trade. Rather, it cuts across many professions, ranging from politics, law, religion, teaching, business, diplomacy as well as sports. Arriving at the twenty people, out of which the five eventually emerged, was in itself a daunting task because of avalanche of names that have excelled in their chosen professions.

At the end of it all, the results showed that Pastor Adeboye, the self-effacing Pastor of The Redeemed Christian Church of God and an Applied Mathematician, came first with 34.8% of the total votes cast. In tow were the highly celebrated Nigerian international, Nwankwo Kanu with 9.7%, the fearless Military Governor of the defunct Eastern Region and ex-Biafran leader, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu came third with 8.8%, lawyer and rights activist, Late Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN) came fourth with 7.4% and finally the Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka came fifth with 7.0%.

Nothing could have been more beautiful with the way the result turned out. It showed the degree of fame each and every one of the stars enjoys, especially the politicians among them. If the vox populi were to be determinants to political offices, Nigerians would have made their choice without recourse to arm-twisting and subverting influences that always mar election results in the country.

With this, the politicians would have known where they stood with Nigerians. Some have erroneously mistaken their continued appearance or reappearance on national scene as a sign of acceptance by the common folks. While others believe that having the capacity to alter the mechanics of control by brazenly subverting the institution of government to advantage is a confirmation of popularity. But, these opinion polls would help in no small measure in letting them know their rating status amongst ordinary Nigerians.

One politician whose performance in the living legends contest stands out as great is Dim Chukwuemeka Ojukwu for many reasons. Here was a man who defied the feudal north and called the bluff of the intimidating federal might in order to extricate his people from immediate extermination. This he did at a cost most Nigerians would baulk at. In order to halt the determined extirpation, he lost not only personal comfort but the primacy of position within an organization he was clearly among its leaders.

Taking a third position among the chosen five and the first in the category of politicians that made the list is no mean feat. It goes without saying that Nigerians are quite appreciative of their leaders no matter how hard revisionists of history try in the contrary. Ojukwu has a rich history, one replete with uncommon feats and many firsts. He means different things to different people. To some, he is a rebel with a cause; to others he is just cocky, and to a greater majority he is the best thing that happened to his generation. Whichever way he is seen, Ojukwu remains till date an enigma, who is feared and liked with equal passion.

Born of high parentage, Ojukwu, early in life chose a path only a few would brave. He evinced courage in the face of daunting challenges. Though his provenance was aristocratic- even ducal, he nevertheless aligned himself with the cause of the common man. He quite early divorced himself from the comfort of riches and charted a path that would eventually endear him so highly to history. That course has continued to accord him primacy of attention in a congregation of equals.

In the political arena surfeit with wimps and sybarites as leaders, Ojukwu dared to be different by calling a spade by its name. He chose the path of service at the expense of great personal comfort. Determined to reverse what many would easily accept with groveling obeisance, he declined his father's offer of position in Louis Ojukwu's business empire. With this, he defied the first concept in family wealth acquisition and sybaritism.

He refused to be ensconced in Ojukwu's great wealth as is wont with children of the rich, while they play possum to the poverty of their immediate environment. Amidst the political challenges of his time, the Ikemba had other ideas to what use he intended to put his services for his people. Wealth, it would seem, had less attraction to him hence he opted for administrative job in the Udi province from whence he veered off into the army.

His role in the post-independence crisis in the country seems to becloud the fact of his wealthy family background. Not many people know that Ikemba's father was the first Nigerian millionaire and the first black man to live in Ikoyi or that he was the first Nigerian graduate to enroll in the army even as a recruit and rose to become its first quarter-master general.

This is not intended as a recast of Ojukwu's heroics (for enough has been said and written on that), but just to show that his emergence as the only living legend in the category of politicians was not in error. One thing is quite certain, getting leaders of Ojukwu's ilk in our society today is difficult, not because of want of those with similar backgrounds as his, but for the simple reason that many tend towards materialism with mindless relish.

The children of the rich in our society today are more comfortable remaining under their father's shadows than carving out independent personalities. Some are so indulgent that their only contribution to the State is being celebrated as big spenders, coming close to no other in aesthetic pleasure and sartorial elegance than the Arab oil magnate, the sybaritic Ednan Kashoggi.

Any wonder wealth is today being elevated to the status of an idol and men worship with uncommon dedication at a great expense. Leadership traits like steadfastness, sincerity, boldness, selflessness, and determination are certainly lacking in those who parade themselves as leaders in our midst. And this may well continue in the near future if we fail to address crass opportunism that characterises our political leadership. Leadership qualities are not hobbled in pettiness nor consumed in unbridled ego, but they show themselves in nobility of mind and tenacity of purpose in the face of daunting challenges.

Ojukwu's leadership even in post war Biafra is something akin to a mass movement. It is on record that at the dawn of civilian administration in 1999, his party, APGA, won almost all the states in the Southeast and also made appreciable impact in other zones of the country. Even though the results were not allowed to stand unlike in the search for the living legends, yet the people are unwavering in their attachment to Ikemba. You would easily see within MASSOB, currently led by Uwazurike, those that would commit self immolation at Ojukwu's behest without a whimper.

No living Nigerian is known to enjoy such followership among their people. In fact, that type of dedication can only be likened to the one Fidel Castro enjoyed with his July 26 Movement in Mexico (though a guerrilla group) which aided Castro in his overthrow of Fulgenzio Batistuta's government in Cuba and equally made American soldiers eat the humble pie in the Bay of Pigs.

Ojukwu is, indeed, a legend, for no Nigerian has been discussed as much as he. Nor has any had as many books written on him by both local and international scholars. By the sheer force of his personality, Ojukwu has engraved his name in the Hall of Fame of the first one hundred notable Africans. His personality is so magnetic that even the ex-beauty queen who married him at the age she did had a wide range of choices but opted for the Living Legend. That was a further confirmation of his consummate personality. Surely, the man is an asset to his generation. The legend lives on.

Anyaduba writes from Abatete


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