From DOM EKPUNOBI, Onitsha
It was in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart that one of the elders of Umuofia declared: Looking at the mouth of a king, one will never believe he ever sucked at his mother’s breast. Taking inference from this, one could also say that looking at Chief Ignatius Udealor one would not believe he has passed through difficult times to become what he is today.
Udealor’s mother died 12 days after his birth, to herald his troubles. Over the years, he experienced real difficulties of life but ended up successfully. At 70, he, by all standards, is a man whose story could be an inspiration to others struggling to make it in life.
In this interview, Udealor told his story.
Could you please tell us a bit about yourself?
I am the son of Mr. Emmanuel Udealor, a farmer and fisherman. He was baptised just before his death. My mother was Mrs. Nduka Udealor, (nee Nwanwuna). I became a motherless baby soon after I was born. My mother died 12 days after I was born and that started my troubles.
How did you manage to survive?
My elder sister, Okwuegbunam, who was married then, picked me up from that stage and started taking care of me. I grew up to recognise her. I lived with her at Mmiata Anam until I grow up a little and my father came for me.
I attended St. Theresa’s Primary School, Umueze Anam, where I was serving as a househelp to one Elias Ekweze. When I could not cope with him, I left the same year for Umolum to live with one teacher, Mr. Paschal Udealor and within that same year, my father became sick and I was sent home to attend to him. When my father eventually died, I stopped going to school for quite some time because I did not have any help.
At what point did you resume school?
I started again in 1965 when I began to do some menial jobs to raise some funds, I took my Standard Six examination. I was actually 20 years when I started primary one. It was funny that my teacher, in one of my classes, was my agemate and I felt humiliated each time I did something wrong and he flogged me. It was not easy to subject yourself to that kind of situation, but I wanted to get western education.
Were you able to attend post-primary school and if so how did you manage to do that?
I grew up to become a great fisherman and with that, I was able to finance my post-primary education. I first went into Prince Commercial Institute, Onitsha and in 1962, I relocated to St. Mary’s Secondary School at Ifitedunu.
We learnt you joined the Nigerian Army at a point. What led you to that?
The story of how Igbo were treated in the Army made me to enrol in the Biafra Army and I joined on June 13, 1967.
Did you relate closely with Ojukwu in Biafran Army?
Apart from meeting Ojukwu at various points during the war, I met him closely on January 12, 1970 before he departed. He left Amorka Airstrip at 1am. That was the day I also met Col. Onwuatuegwu at Njaba Bridge, which connects Okwudo and Umuaka Orlu.
What would you say about the war?
War is generally not good. Disputes should be resolved through dialogue and not by means of war. That goes to say that the war could have been avoided if everybody applied some caution. However, I must however say that I am amazed at the gallantry of Biafran soldiers to have sustained the war for a long time, with virtually no sophisticated weapons.
As a soldier that fought on Biafran side, why do you think Biafra failed?
Biafra failed for three principal reasons. One was the activities of saboteurs. Some soldiers sabotaged the progress of the war, to the disadvantage of the people. Two, there was insufficient arms and ammunition. Lack of fighting instruments affected Biafra so much. Thirdly, activities of some churches also affected. Some churches played some roles that led to the fall of Biafra. There were wrong prophecies, which some army commanders believed and which worked adversely against Biafra.
Would you say that the issues that led to Nigeria war have been resolved?
The issues have not been resolved. The Igbo man is still being marginalised. The South-East has the least number of states among all the geo-graphical zones in the country and people pretend that all is well. All cannot be well until Igbo are put in their right places.
You were once appointed Special Assistant to Governor Alison Madueke on Special Matters. How did this happen?
It was only God that used Rear Admiral Alison Madueke to give me that appointment. I did not know Madueke before then and I was surprised when my name was mentioned, because I did not anticipate it.
The Igbo are clamouring for a chance to produce the next president of Nigeria in 2015. Do you think they have a chance?
Igbo are the problem of the Igbo. It is near impossible for Igbo to produce the president of Nigeria, because they are not united. Unless they unite and speak with one voice, they cannot achieve that. As it stands, even if all the other political zones sit back and ask the South-East to give the nation a president, they cannot resolve and bring out one person because everybody believes he is the right person to assume the position. We Igbo have no respect for seniority and superiority.
In Anambra State, the people of Anambra North Senatorial Zone are saying it is their turn to produce the governor of the state in 2014. Do you subscribe to that notion?
I don’t believe in rotation for the governorship of Anambra State. In my opinion, whoever feels he has something to offer the state should come out and the people should elect the best among them. It is not the issue of where you come from, but what you will offer the state. The state has not sat anywhere to discuss rotational governorship and we may not get it right limiting our choice to any particular senatorial zone. Let me add quickly that there is no peace in the zone and even if the zone is asked to provide the governor for the state, it will still be very difficult.
Knowing that life is what must terminate one day, if it happens, what would you want to be remembered for?
I went to be remembered for my effort in showing love to the people around me, for maintaining peace in this area and for giving my children the kind of training that will carry them through in life. I have nine children and I gave all of them university education and good moral up-bringing.
What is the hope for a better future for Nigeria?
The bottom line for Nigeria being in the planet is peace, love and mutual understanding. Our resources are overwhelming and if we utilise our resources well, we shall grow to be one of the richest countries in the world.