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Col. Joe Achuzia: Warrior and hero

The last thing I expected to happen in this season was the passing away of Col. Joe Achuzia. The late war hero from Asaba in Delta State and my humble self from Umuiku in Abia State, so physically speaking, were not relations and I can confirm we were not friends.

Therefore, I would be right to say that we were not close. On the other hand I was bonded to him just like many Igbo were and that was because Achuzia’s lifestyle and activity transcended Nigeria. Those who have listened or read his interviews even in old age would attest that the man was a very brilliant and knowledgeable personality. He was also very bold, some would say he was a military man but then it is in this country that we saw generals of the Nigerian Army crying and begging junior officers to spare their lives when they were arrested over allegations of a coup plot. I have also seen police men run away from robbers’ gunfire and telling those around that after all they were also flesh and blood. So, one is not necessarily brave and bold because he enlisted into any of the forces. You are bold because of what you carry inside and your convictions over issues.

As a soldier he was very brave, those who saw him in action nicknamed him “Air Raid” and it was in the Biafra/Nigeria war that Achuzia showed his mettle. I was a very young child during the civil war, so I couldn’t fight as a soldier but then I was old enough to hear and understand the many stories told by those who fought in that bloody war. The Achuzia story was interesting; it was like stories about legends that we have read in some of the literature books. One of my cousins who fought alongside Achuzia gave us stories about how the hero barked orders. For instance he said when the battle was tough and it seemed the enemy was gaining advantage, and boys attempting to run away, Achuzia would say “If you move, I move you.”  He said Achuzia never retreated, he rather believed in finding solutions to any kind of development.

Achuzia fought for Ndigbo and nothing, circumstances or denials could make him say he was not Igbo. He was proud of being an Igbo and did not hesitate to state his readiness to fight and die if need be on behalf of Ndigbo. He died in his 90s but until he breathed his last few days ago, this hero was still fighting and defending his people Ndigbo. He was not shy or afraid to speak truth to power. Many times he told the federal authorities that Ndigbo were still being relegated in the scheme of things and that unless this injustice was rectified, agitations for Biafra Republic would never end; if anything the young generation who don’t know anything about the war but who feel the pains of deliberate marginalization of the South East would be provoked into regular agitations some of which would be more intense in nature than what has been witnessed in the past. Because of his sacrifice for Ndigbo, Achuzia worked himself to become a cult hero among his people and since he died the entire Igbo land has never been the same again.

His death took everyone by surprise. He was old quite alright but because of his wisdom and what he represented the people wanted him to stay with them a little more. There is still among the Igbo this fear that they may have to fight again to properly re-establish their identity. This thinking may be wrong but it continues to gain currency because of the things they see happening to them and around them. Security checkpoints on all roads in the area including remote village communities, frequent Customs harassment and recently herdsmen menace are some of the issues that fuel the fear of possible outbreak of conflict and that is why some of them think their brave men should never die. The East is mourning and I want to believe Nigeria too. The transition of this great man has brought to my mind the ugly way our nation treats her distinguished citizens. We neither listen to them nor take them seriously. Ekwueme died and we began saying every good thing about him especially his great qualities but if we recall properly we would observe that it was us who denied him high office, disgraced and frustrated him out of center stage of political activities and in his lonely corner we forgot him there and nobody saw any reason to consult him; at best we converted him to an artifact which prominent figures went to look at when the call of duty took them to the area he was staying. Not even Igbo political figures found Ekwueme fit enough for regular consultations. Mbazulike is there, talking sense and nobody is listening how much more consulting him. I have gone this length to show that if we took advantage of the knowledge and experience of Achuzia, it is possible some of the agitations emanating from South East and South South may not have come up. Now he is gone and the problems are there. Like others before him, we have allowed him to go to the grave with his wisdom. This is very unfortunate indeed.

The family of Achuzia has officially announced his passing away and many Nigerians have reacted. I am not, however, impressed with the manner the leadership in South East responded to the news. I expected and still expect Ohaneze and our governors to have reacted in such a way that we make a big issue out of the transition. Achuzia gave his life for the people and to better Nigeria. The Igbo ought to lead the rest of Nigeria to celebrate him. It is time Ndigbo begin to celebrate their own and to show that service to community has a big reward. It is not late; I hope our leaders will wake up and use Achuzia’s funeral to introduce a new era in the South East. It would be heartwarming to see all of our governors, National Assembly members, Ministers, and political stakeholders attend this funeral. It should be a great day for Ndigbo and Nigeria. Adieu Achuzia.

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Online Editor: Aderonke Bello
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