I’m coping like any other widow
From CHIDI NNADI, Enugu
In the last one year Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu’s widow, Bianca, has lived without him, she said though it has been very challenging, she is nevertheless coping like any other widow in the world.
The wife of the late Igbo leader who is now Nigeria’s Ambassador to Spain told Daily Sun that the one year anniversary of her husband’s death was like just yesterday, saying that it has been very difficult for her to come to terms with the death of Ikemba Nnewi who died on November 26 last year in a London hospital.
For six months after the burial of Ojukwu, his amiable wife Bianca even when she had been appointed ambassador by the Federal Government remained in the country to mourn her husband, wearing the traditional black Igbo mourning clothes.
And one year on after the death of Ezeigbo Gburugburu, Bianca says she is very grateful to President Goodluck Jonathan and his wife, Dame Patience Jonathan, for the kind of state burial accorded her husband, saying that Ojukwu got the best funeral in the country, one that even surpassed those staged in the past for presidents who died in office.
On the part of controversies that trailed the death of her husband, Bianca was optimistic that when the Ojukwu will is read at the end of this month by his lawyers, the issues raised after his death may be settled as she believed that her late husband was not a man given to half measures in all he did.
For the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) her husband left behind as national leader, she said that Ojukwu would be surprised and amused in his grave on certain attitude of some of the leaders of the party, particularly the factional National Chairman, Chief Victor Umeh, who once said he would expose all he knew about Ojukwu’s death, saying “those who once called him ‘leader’ have shown no sense of decorum and have sunk to the lowest depths by making wild allegations concerning issues as sensitive as his health for the purposes of cheap blackmail and to settle political scores. For me this is a very deep insult for anyone, let alone someone who claims to be his party’s helmsman to inflict on his legacy.”
It will be one year on Monday November 26 (today) since your husband died; how has it been this one year without Ojukwu?
On November 26th (today), we will mark one year since my husband died, starting with a memorial service at St. Michael’s Church, Nnewi, but to me, it seems only like yesterday and it’s still very hard to come to terms with his death. When I walk into his study and his personal areas within our residence, it’s hard to believe that he won’t be coming back. Our children sometimes carry on as if he went on a long journey from which he will soon return and subconsciously, carry out the same exercises such as cleaning his shoes and arranging his closet or other small tasks which they joyfully performed for him. Though it’s been hard for all of us, I find out that it’s been most especially hard for Ndigbo to say goodbye, to accept that this is one exile from which there is no return. Ironically, in death, he has become larger than life and his persona has transcended the history books and is firmly embedded in the psyche of those who truly love him.
Immediately after the death of Ikemba how did you feel trying to begin a new life without him?
I can only say that coming to terms with the loss of a loved one is one of the greatest challenges for even the most resilient person. The past year has not been an easy one, but God has been faithful and has fulfilled His promises in my life. Sometimes, He uses human beings as angels to guide your steps. I count myself especially blessed in view of the fact that my husband had very loyal and dedicated friends who are very protective of me. Moreover, it’s been quite a busy year and being engaged in diplomatic duties has helped redirect my mind from constantly focusing on the deep feeling of loss, confusion and emptiness that invariably accompanies the death of a loved one.
Are there things your husband told you that would help you as a widow?
My husband was very philosophical about life, and this probably explains his fascination for the hour-glass, I guess, because he was a very reflective man. We were frequently engaged in conversation over endless cups of tea and he would sometimes express the most profound of thoughts, which though I didn’t realize their import at the time, have become my guiding principles today. For instance, he said that the single most important bone in the human body is the back-bone; that without it, man would remain perpetually on his knees. He would also say that the less travelled road is the most rewarding, but you only realise that when you get to the end of the road. He also made me promise him not to raise children who would become strangers in their homeland. I guess also, that being the only surviving son of his mother in a polygamous environment caused him a great deal of loneliness and fuelled his love of people. He collected friends, vagrants, pen-pals, artists and clergymen and treasured them with a passion born of a lonely upbringing. He ran an open house and was a great listener, which explained why his reception areas were always like an airport waiting lounge. He truly loved people. He would say to me that ‘Nwanne di na mba’ which in Igbo means that ‘brother-hood is universal’. He had great friends from literally every part of the country and beyond and also had a great sense of humour and from time to time would come up with a witty remark like ‘beware of any man with a weak hand-shake’! He always did say that he was quite looking forward to meeting God because he had many questions to ask for which only He (God) could provide the answers. It is said also that ‘knowledge comes with death’s release’. I guess he now has that chance.
Do you think the Ojukwu family will be the same again with the exit of Dim Ojukwu?
Well, it would be wildly optimistic to believe so. His death is akin to the fall of the Iroko, the greatest tree in the forest, the tree that provides the shelter for the birds, an umbrella for all and shade from rain and sun. He was caste in the mould of the patriarchs of old and effortlessly combined the role of sage, judge, benefactor, protector, advocate, warrior and teacher, and I can say with almost all certainty that with our Iroko gone and the birds scattered all over the forest, things will never be quite the same again. His demise has created an enormous void in our family because he was the last point of intervention, but it is my hope that the many areas in which his influence was overwhelming such as within his family, his community, his political party and most especially our people, will regenerate and in time we shall all come to terms with his departure and learn many vital lessons from his life and times.
Do you see the reading of the Will of your husband settling some of the dust raised in the Ojukwu family after his death, particularly the one relating to the Ojukwu Company?
My husband’s lawyer, Barrister Emeka Onyemelukwe, who in the last 20 years has represented him together with Barrister James Ezike in all legal transactions, has informed us that as my husband directed, the Will will be read one year after his death. We have been notified that this will take place at the High Court, which has custody of the Will, at the end of the month. The Will may or may not settle some of the issues raised following his death, but then, the Ikemba was not a man given to half measures. He was always clear on how he wanted things to be done. I believe that no matter how fair the Will is seen to be, there will always be those who would want to cause mischief and inflame an already volatile situation. Regarding his properties, I think it is safe to say that it is his prerogative to deal with them as he chooses except perhaps with regard to his Obi which is his homestead in the village, which by tradition he is expected to bequeath to his eldest surviving son. What we are going through today as a family has been the experience of many great families through the ages, especially where there are half-siblings involved. Greater tolerance and understanding are required in these circumstances.
Are you satisfied with the kind of burial given to your husband and how do you think your husband will feel in his grave with that kind of burial?
His is one of the few circumstances where the refrain ‘death where is thy victory, where is thy sting?’ rings very true. What more can I add? I think it is fair to say that nobody else in Nigeria’s history has ever been given this kind of funeral, not even presidents that died whilst in office. I will never tire of thanking the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan and his wife, Dame Patience Jonathan, because it takes great generosity of mind to bestow greater honour on a man born great. I also take this opportunity once again to thank the governors of Anambra, Imo, Ebonyi, Enugu and Abia states, as well as the governors of Akwa-Ibom, Delta, Lagos, Rivers, Cross River and Niger states for their support and pre-burial commemorations. All those too numerous to mention, who stood by us in our time of grief, all who paid condonlence visits, Ndigbo and Nigerians both at home and in the Diaspora, all the countries which sent delegations to the funeral, as well as members of the diplomatic corps, clergy and the war veterans – our family remains eternally grateful. A special appreciation goes to MASSOB and Chief Ralph Uwazurike. I would like to believe that even in Heaven, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, knows that he has won the most glittering prize of all – the undying love of his people.
How are you coping as a widow?
I am coping like any other widow. There is no manual that effectively prepares you for the changes that take place with the demise of your other half. You learn from your own experiences and also from other people’s experiences and you also learn certain bitter lessons about human nature and the fact that some people find it easier to prey those they perceive as weak, vulnerable or defenceless. My husband would probably have been a little surprised by the attitude of some of those he considered his kith and kin. Moreover, even within his political party, those who once called him ‘Leader’ have shown no sense of decorum and have sunk to the lowest depths by making wild allegations concerning issues as sensitive as his health for the purposes of cheap blackmail and to settle political scores. For me this is a very deep insult for anyone, let alone someone who claims to be his party’s helmsman to inflict on his legacy, but then, I think he might even have found this mildly amusing. He was always very understanding of human nature; according to him, a drowning man would even attempt to clutch at a twig or straw in a river in order to save himself; therefore, in this light, this turn of events though disappointing, is not entirely unexpected.
My husband was a great shield to me and our children, but God in His infinite mercy makes each day a little better. As I said before, God will sometimes send you an angel in human form when you are weary and unable to rise and walk. But all in all, people have been kind and gracious and though I have had many challenges, I consider myself truly blessed.